5th August 2022

Recently attending my local health centre for a routine blood test, I was welcomed into the treatment room by the middle-aged practice nurse with a friendly ‘Come in, Mr Stewart!’ By the time the sample was taken, I’d become ‘luvvie’, and at the end, as she sent me on my way, it was ‘Thank you, Ken’, which I imagine she’d picked up from her computer screen. Perhaps not strictly professional by today’s standards, I was amused rather than offended by this growing familiarity because it reminded me of my growing up when shop assistants, waitresses, children and sometimes complete strangers might be addressed with something like ‘love’, ‘flower’, ‘pet’ or ‘sweetheart’!

It might be regarded as patronising or demeaning by some today, but back then I think it was usually intended as an unthreatening way to establish a temporary relationship to allow some transaction or functional conversation to take place – ‘Could you tell me how to get to the Town Hall, please, love?’ Very occasionally – the shop had no other customers, or the bus was delayed – the conversation might continue for a while longer, and two strangers who’d never meet again would muse together amicably on the human condition or the price of carrots. Ah, the simple joy of such undemanding human encounters!

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews commends an hospitable openness to strangers (Heb 13:2) because it might just lead us to discover that we’re entertaining angels. I don’t know if I’ve ever entertained an angel unawares, but if I have, I hope I was good company – though not overly familiar, of course.

Ken Stewart