Harold’s Hand


In memory of my friend Harold Bertha, who died recently

Often, at the altar rail, I’m there, but not so

very there; cupped hands receive the bread,

lips sip the holy wine; but all the while I’m

wand’ring through my yesterday or tracing my

tomorrow’s fears, leaving little room to feel the

sacred sign and seal etched deep into the

clutter of my noisy, needy soul.

But I remember once, not long ago, the

mystic wine and bread transported me and

seamed me to a vastness far beyond my

solitary pew, my petty fretfulness;

bound me deep to ancient, ever-present healing cross;

tinged tongue and soul with foretaste of a heavenly feast to come;

wrapped, enclosed me in a joyous, holy openness.


And then that sudden hand upon my shoulder;

hefty, solid, strong, it reached into my solitude;

brought me back to the very here and very now of

shuffling feet and downcast eyes and kneeling hopes,

all waiting for a taste of God upon their tongues.

I remember taking Harold’s hand, aged and weathered,

burly, rough; remember looking deep into his

furrowed face, creased by scores of years, but with a smile as

warm and gentle as the summer sun; and in his touch I felt

another sign and seal, fixing me to Now, bonding me with

him and with all earth-worn saintly sinners begging grace.


Harold is no longer Here; now There,

but etched upon my shoulder—the forever

print of Harold’s palm, and fixed within my

soul the endless shining of his smile, a gift I’ll

carry with me to each holy altar rail; as well to every

ordinary altar where I work or play or pray each day.

9 thoughts on “Harold’s Hand

  1. Good Lord, this is so tender, it makes me ache for Harold’s palm on my own shoulder. A poet AND a pastor . . . Carol — these are your gifts that I carry with me.

  2. Oh my– for me the most powerful, poignant piece you have written. Please keep you r expressions of this gift of experiencing coming to us. Bj

    Sent from my iPad

  3. My experience, in a sense the opposite, is perhaps a fitting partner. As communion assistant I was distributing the wine as worshipers came to kneel at the alter. Harold usually came toward the very end, since his pew was in the back. So I looked up, expecting him — and he was not there.
    And each one dreams that he will be enduring
    How soon that one becomes the missing face.
    I miss him

  4. During the four years I spent considerable time in Pearl River with my Mother, I got to learn of Harold both from her and from his friendly greeting every Sunday when I attended services at GSLC. As I read your thoughts on Harold, I briefly chuckled since Mom had some wonderful words about Harold and in the next breath some not so wonderful words. I believe they had one of those relationships that allowed for like/dislike at the same time. I was sadden to learn of Harold’s passing. GSLC will miss his service and dedication. God’s Peace

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