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Hallo again to all.

The 'Holy man': it's been a cultural notion for millennia. A 'holy man' is not a man who is holy; it is a man whose identity includes being perceived as holy. There are probably holy women, too, but the concept of the 'holy man' is in our culture firmly bound to masculinity. Some holy men are holier than thou. Some holy men make you want to be more like them, while others are repulsive, making you want to be less like them. Elmer Gantry

Holy men in literature who come quickly to our mind include Elmer Gantry, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Dr Frederick Chasuble. Jesus often seems to have picked on holy men, perhaps most visibly the Pharisees and Sadducees, foils to Jesus' rhetoric and walking examples for his parables. The story of the 'rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day' probably makes it harder for people whose vocation puts them in purple shirts to avoid being thought of as holy men; if you're going to wear purple and fine linen, you probably have to be more careful than the average person not to act so holy.

For some reason, people who aspire to be holy men seem in general to want to attract attention to their holiness. One player in the world of Anglican power politics describes himself on his website by saying '[name removed] is a humble man who speaks simply with no guile', and goes on from there to make sure you are aware of just how holy he is.

We all know real holy men and women. But since they don't go around issuing press releases about their elevated level of holiness, we sometimes fail to notice how thin is the membrane that separates them from θειότης (theiotēs). And they tend not to think of themselves as holy; probably if they did, the frail nature of us humans would gradually erode their purity so that not long after starting to think of themselves as holy, they would want you to think that way too. Once that happens, it's only a matter of time until the first press release.

Yesterday was Michaelmas, the Feast of Michael and All Angels, which celebrates the Archangel Michael, administrator of cosmic intelligence. It seems to us to be appropriate to apply some cosmic intelligence and use this time (while we're digesting our stubble goose) to try to identify and appreciate and thank God for the true holy persons in our lives. It's probably best not to say anything to the people we identify, lest it start to go to their heads and ruin them.The flying pig

One of our favourite 'true holy persons' is an oft-grumpy man born shortly after World War II, known to his closest friends as 'the flying pig' and lovingly called 'FP' by his family. He's called that because of the number of times he's beat the odds of some disease or trauma. Despite childhood strokes, leukæmia in his thirties, near-fatal accidents, a string of bad luck that would have pushed Job over the edge, and recently a dire strain of small-cell cancer for which he is still being treated, he's managed not just to cling to a sense of what really matters about life and faith but to project it, to radiate it. He's been through a half-dozen things that doctors said would kill him, but didn't. Most people see the grumpiness a long time before they see the holiness, and the murderous chemicals being used to treat his cancer have knocked his brain for a bit of a loop, so that he sometimes forgets what you've just told him or misunderstands on first reading. We've seen his co-workers scream and want to throw things because of his chemical-induced lapses of judgment and memory. But holiness has nothing to do with brain function, or even with piety (even though he has a lot of trouble walking, he still could manage to attend church more often than he does). Holiness is something far more subtle than piety or even grace.

We think that humans are sufficiently fallible that making a conscious attempt to become holy is almost certainly enough to prevent it. It's something that you are because God made you that way, not something that you have disciplined yourself to be. Neither you nor your public relations staff can make you holy; only God can do that. But all of us can in this Michaelmas season (harvest in the Northern hemisphere and planting in the Southern) appreciate the subtly holy around us, even if we catch ourselves wanting to grab and choke them from time to time. You will find some of them in pulpits and cathedrae, but the odds are probably better elsewhere.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 30 September 2007

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