Advent Retreat – The Way in, Longing


There’ s beautiful Welsh word, ‘Hiraeth’. At its simplest it translates as ‘longing’ but it has all sorts of subtle layers of meaning. It can be longing for a return to the past or for an as yet distant future. Above all it is the particular longing experienced by the exile, looking back to his or her homeland and longing for the day they can return there.

In a real sense we have all become exiles this year. We are exiled from much of our familiar world by the Coronavirus pandemic. We are cut off from all manner of things and people. We are exiled from our favourite pubs or restaurants; from our chosen forms of exercise or watching our favourite team. We cannot go to our favourite services in church or sit in our familiar seat. Indeed we may not be able to go to church at all. We cannot enjoy theatre, the cinema or concerts. We can’t reach favourite places or familiar overseas holiday destinations. Some are exiled from their jobs by lockdown or redundancy. We are all afraid of being exiled from our traditional ways of celebrating Christmas together.

Above all we are exiled, to a greater or lesser extent, from people whom we cherish. We cannot visit friends, we cannot have our relations come into our homes and, perhaps most painful of all, we can’t visit our relations in care homes. Physical touch, so vital to our sense of well being, is denied us.

Like any exile, our longing ranges both backwards and forwards. We look back to the good times, the ‘normal’ times with regret and sadness, perhaps kicking ourselves that we didn’t appreciate more what we had when we had it.

We look forwards, longing for the day when, metaphorically, we can ‘go home’, get back to normal, resume our daily lives, our work, our leisure activities and our relationships.


Saint-Saens – Carnival of the Animals: ‘The Swan’