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The infamous denizen of Porlock, maybeHallo again to all.

A writer once noted that 'Lent comes unbidden and resented — a liturgical person from Porlock who stops everything interesting'*.

Hands up if you remember the Person from Porlock! (Those of you with your hands in the air have doubtless read Walton's Life of George Herbert, too.)

Here's a little help for those of us who can't straightaway recall if the PfP was an investment banker, a minor figure in Barchester, or a typo for 'parson from Porlock': He was rather an actual eighteenth-century personage, an intrusive man of business who interrupted Samuel Taylor Coleridge's writing of 'Kubla Khan'. The story goes something like this:

'Coleridge recalled that he fell asleep in his chair when he was staying at a farmhouse near Porlock in 1797. He had taken opium, to which he became addicted, and he was reading about Kubla Khan's palace. In his opium dream he imagined a poem of perhaps 200 or 300 lines. When he awoke, with the whole work clear in his mind, he began writing: "In Xanadu, did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure dome decree..." But after a while, he was "called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour." That made him forget the rest of the dream. And that's why "Kubla Khan" runs only 54 lines and remains, by its author's account, unfinished'.

Rosa GallicaNow back to that fascinating simile between Lent and the PfP. We don't find it sound. Lent isn't at all unexpected in the Anglican Communion or indeed in any communion that follows a liturgical calendar. It will come, bidden or unbidden. And being enmeshed in Lent-resentment for 40 days is a frightful thought.

We know that every year Lent's solemn gates will swing open, inviting us into the land of rethinking, repentance, and, far beyond its borders, resurrection. The late, great 'gesima Sundays' served as something of a seasonal alarm clock, warning us of the approach of that solemn fast, but we still know 'it's coming', no matter what the Sundays before are named in our various prayer books. Lent is no unexpected interruption of our lives, it's rather a given.

But this Sunday — the fourth in Lent — is traditionally known as 'Lætare Sunday', a rose-coloured rest-stop along the way, where the church doffs its sombre hangings of purple or its 'Lenten array', exchanging them for a rich pink, if a parish is lucky enough to have frontals and hangings of such colour. Every Sunday is a day of resurrection — even in Lent! — and not included in the 40-day countdown. But Mid-Lent Sunday seems to place an exclamation point on that, stressing that even in the most barren places there will come unexpected joys. Of course, like Lent itself, Refreshment Sunday circles round every year, but for us its arrival still brings a surprising relief from the weight of Lent.

So we're apt to think of the Person from Porlock more like the Fourth Sunday in Lent, an unexpected arrival when we quite had something else in mind and were busy keeping to our quiet solemn Sundays, with altars bare and crosses covered. With our gracious, loving God, you never know who's knocking at the door. Surprise!

So we trust you rejoiced and refreshed, dear friends, and are back on that Lenten road. See you there.

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Last updated: 22 March 2009




*This was in a column in The Times (London) perhaps five or six years ago; we cannot locate it, alas, so can't attribute the author.

†This sprightly overview of the PfP by Robert Fulford is from a column originally published in the Globe and Mail (Toronto).

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