The talking sea:
I was exhausted and managed to get away for a week. The quiet and warmth was very special. The flamingos looked at me each morning, stuck their heads in the air and then ignored me.
The sea and the waves chatted noisily. Sometimes it seemed very loud and agitated. Occasionally it was gentle. The little birds intrigued me as they rushed out to catch the left- overs from the incoming tide. Somehow their little legs managed to avoid being tossed aside by the waves. At times, I couldn’t move as quickly as they did; I got splashed.
The mornings were lovely. I thoroughly enjoyed the big long empty beach. It was only the two of us: The ocean and myself. The great mystery of the changing waves; the colour; the size; the collective of waves becoming a communion; the noise; the sheer power and chatter. Human beings are very puny beside the great mystery of the sea. The days out in Portugal were magnificent.
The unruly waves. The unpredictability. The changing colours. They spoke. The outside world intruded. I should have left the mobile and tablet at home but I didn’t.
What is holy? What is secular?
Literature/Poetry prompted me towards at least the possibility of saying something and remembering how little I understand. I could see how the ‘littleness’ and ‘inadequacy’ of each of us and especially of myself, is shown up in the effort of the poet/writer/artist to express the ‘more’of life. Many of us feel lost literally for words to express either the wonder in life or to make any sense of the awfulness in life.
Flaws and failings:
Where does an acceptance of flaws; of vulnerability; of fragility come in? We are very unaccepting of failure or of even mortality. We want everything fixed. We want the health service to cure everything. We want money thrown at every social ill. We want the Church people (priests especially) to be wonderful and perfect human beings and saints.
Everything is not perfect or perfectible. Ennui is often the dirt in our culture and too often in Church life and ministers. There is a soreness in the body politic. A clamour for certainty and for clarity. Life isn’t like that. It has shades and shadows. Any artist knows this. But most of us aren’t artists. Any person of Faith knows that and too often we aren’t faithful.
We want clarity. The Bible of nature speaks eloquently. The sun appears. The days brighten. Light and Shade. Any artist has to be able to catch the changing moods in colour. Can an artist ever be truly satisfied? Can any of ever be truly satisfied that we make the best of each day and of our gifts and of what we are asked to do? We have to learn. Job 38 always speaks to me.
The failure of certainties:
The rigid certainties of our past are humbling. The QED of the Theses when we were supposed students. The dismissal of the adversarii was extraordinary. But that is our past. The collapse of that system is not a disaster but a reminder of humanity. We were fools and sometimes the ‘establishment’ was very foolish.
We only get glimpses of reality. We hear some of a story. We cannot but be humble. Every day talks to us of humility and the only real response is the bowed head before something too big for us. I smile often at how many say that young people suffer from youth! How true it is, that education is usually wasted on the young. But so much of what we did in our prolonged training now shows up how un-educated we really were. Again until and unless we are committed to always learning and always being humble – we cannot be Faithful. Moreover, if ourselves and those around us cannot be grateful – neither can the Eucharist be celebrated.
Absolutes and superlatives
The superlatives of Trump sound like ourselves of the past – without the anger and viciousness. Brexit and its stupidities remind us of how foolish people can be. The absolutes are never the right answer to anything.
We have been there as Church and in some ways many of us are still there. Populism comes in under the same certainty. A dismissal of the status quo. Rejection. Without a realistic view of how things can get done. Simplistic summaries is not only the preserve of today’s arrogant world. We have done it. We could almost illustrate what can happen when people get lost in their own certainties.
Church characters of the moment:
The pope gathered in Rome with representatives from all over the world re clerical abuse and how it is dealt with. It was sobering.
George Pell is convicted and jailed. Theodore McCarrick has been dismissed. Carlo Vigano, Gerhard Mueller and Raymond Burke can’t cope with the different hues of the pastoral reality. Frederic Martel finds the Vatican full of gays which is extravagant. Philippe Barbarin is convicted of a failure to deal with offenders.
Divesting is an issue in Ireland – the political establishment catch the popular distrust. The religious emblems in hospital may need to find a different home. Church people who were once the moral guardians in our country, are now figures of fun and sometimes hate. There is a story but it is only part of the narrative. We can feel beleaguered and depressed.
The misery literature of the News:
The misery literature or the ‘caoin’ of faith (politics and everything else) is now the prevailing wind. We can feel got at. We can feel accused of sexual chaos. The paranoia can reign supreme in Church life. Of course there is embarrassment. Of course we are deflated. Of course the Church is battered. Of course the priesthood is in a mess. Of course the official institution was ridiculous. But that is only one part of the painting.
Any minister of the Gospel who is alive meets a different world every day.
It is the world of faith. It is world of mystery. It is world of wonder. It is the graciousness of life. It is the love in life. It is the privileged moment where the very depths of humanity are met. It is the sacredness of life. It is beauty of God’s revelation. It is the trust of people. It is the presence of God in ordinary life. It is kindness and fun in parish life. It is the sacrament revealed in the children. It is the banter among us. It is hospitality everywhere. It is just being there with the sick, the dying, the dead and the bereaved. It is the ancient ones who are full of prayer. It is the old ones who have never given up. It is the Liturgy which stirs the innards of our humanity. It is the world of God who speaks into everyday lives and speaks out of every day experiences.
There is a world alive and well and living locally which hears the outside dark news but relates God to their own experiences. God is too big to be made small. Faith is too rich to be ever struck down by a cultural desert which eats into our spirit.
‘Good News people’
It is a strange world that bad news is more gossipy and attractive than good news. Any minister of the Gospel has to take that seriously. We have to be ‘Good News’ people. That doesn’t mean we have to ‘dance in the aisle’ or become ‘happy clappy folk. But we are people who have a view of a bigger picture and can give a real context to every day and always have a broader outlook. We can’t be a slave to the News or to the Moment. I repeat any minister of the Gospel/any Church leader who doesn’t bring laughter and hope shouldn’t be allowed to continue in the ministry. Unless we exude hope and life and love and grace – God is being reduced to our own miserable limits.
The stirrings of Spring and the talking sea:
The sea talks. The Spring stirs and challenges me. The little ones demand more from us. The artist within is called out of us. We need to accept failure, to accept our own limits, to keep on writing and living poetry. To dredge the depths of our shared wisdom. Let the song of God ring out in our lives. We may be swimming in a rough sea – but we can do it. What we have to offer, is great. Seamus Ahearne osa