Jim Cogley: Reflections Tues 22 Aug – Mon 28 Aug 2023

A Pilgrim’s Perspective – Tue Aug 22nd

Arrival in Our Lady’s Island (Tessa Gallagher)

When I look up at the pale blue skies I notice a few drifting clouds. They remind me of a wispy seraph floating by, blowing a trumpet to welcome my arrival. A sigh of relief shudders through my tense body and I relax as the night draws in. My focus shifts to the half-moon sitting resolutely in front of me, promising wholeness. I long for wholeness, for the shattered parts to be glued back together. I wonder where the other half of the moon is hiding? What lies behind the dark side of the moon? I remember the unholy times when I was half of a whole person. I have lived in and through ‘the dark nights of the soul‘. A slight breeze stirs me out of my reverie and my spirits are raised. There is still beauty to behold. Words cannot truly describe the indescribable. Minds cannot fully penetrate the impenetrable, or fathom the awe and wonder of creation, or solve the complexities of life.

Wed 23rd August – Personal Pilgrimage

Some things in life cannot be explained or fixed. Life is a precious gift of creation. It is heartbreaking when life ends, tragic and traumatic when it ends suddenly or too soon. Wasted if it is only half-lived. I don’t want to come to the end of my life saying if only. So, I’ve come to Our Lady’s Island. It’s not peace and quiet that I seek but vitality, to feel the energy of this blessed community, to give and receive. It’s a time to listen, to watch, and learn from others – the wise and the humble. It’s an opportunity to journey with pilgrims, to find healing. I don’t want to walk in the footsteps of those who have walked before me, rather to seek what they sought. Our Lady’s Island is a place that stretches the limits of possibility, stimulates creativity, encourages spiritual growth, plants seeds of faith, hope and love. It re-energizes the soul and stills the mind.

Thurs 24the Aug – Identification with Mary

Lady’s Island is also a place of Mary. I was never drawn to the meek, docile, compliant or silently obedient images of Mary. I do relate to Mary, a woman of strength, who was pregnant, homeless, a refugee; Mary who knew the pain of widowhood, and the difference in losing a child. A loyal mother who stood at the foot of the cross, keeping vigil, a mother who lost her only son. I share all of these things with her. Mary witnessed the Resurrection, she saw the scars, the lasting wounds which we carry too. I’m inspired by Mary of Pentecost, who not only survived her sorrows but thrived again. She was steadfast in faith and trusted always in her son and her God. Mary is a woman who knows and shares our losses and struggles, our woes and our wellness, our sorrows and our joys. In this little place in the southeast corner of Ireland I know that I am coming home both to myself and to the Mysterious Presence that dwells within and without. Our whole life is a journey to bring us home, whether it is to our own hearts, or the hearts of others and ultimately to the heart of God.

Fri 25th Aug – The Open Heart of Hospitality

In the community of Lady’s Island, Hospitality forms the warm beating heart of each pilgrimage season and is regarded as an indispensable ministry. It is the most wonderful and practical way of making visible the love of God and allows visitors to see a human face and find a listening ear when needed. The practice of hospitality calls us to have an open heart, to be generous and gentle, and to see beyond outward appearances. A lovely story is told about a little girl who had been invited to meet President Lincoln at the White House. She was warned beforehand that he wasn’t very good-looking and not to be shocked by his appearance. Lincoln took her on his knee and chatted to her in his gentle humorous way. Later, she said to her father, ‘Daddy, He isn’t ugly at all. He’s just Beautiful’. Hospitality goes way beyond looking after physical needs and external realities. It is much more about having the grace and wisdom to see the beauty of each human soul.

Sat 26th Aug – The Boomerang Effect

On most mornings when the weather permits I take a walk around the Island. It is still called an island because it was originally surrounded by water and it was the early monks that built a causeway. One day recently I sat down at the Head of the Island at my favourite seat and found myself praying for all who would walk that path and use that seat as a place for reflection. As I prayed a blessing on them all, that their burdens would be lifted, and they each would find joy, peace and contentment the thought struck me that in so doing I was also praying for myself. It is also I who walk that path regularly and generally sit on that seat. Life always acts like a boomerang and what we give out is what comes back to us. Whether my prayer wishes were positive or negative it was I who was destined to be the beneficiary.

Sun 27th – Who do people say I am?

The question posed by Jesus to his disciples was one that surrounded him always. Even from his birth people were already asking, ‘Who is this child?’ and ‘What is he going to turn out to be?” In a way, he is the last person who needs the answer to the question because of all people he knew exactly who he was and what his life was about. As a man in public ministry he was someone whose impact touched everyone, someone who caused a strong reaction wherever he went, both favourable and unfavourable. At the time there were all kinds of rumours and ideas going around about him. Why is he saying the things he is saying and why is he doing the things he does. Why does he always seem to be on the side of the underdogs, the sick the poor and the oppressed?

So, he himself poses the question everyone is asking. ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ It’s an easy one for the disciples to answer, ‘Some say you’re John the Baptist and others say Elijah or one of the ancient prophets come back to life.’ It would appear that they had some belief in reincarnation in those days. Then comes the bigger question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ It is only Peter who answers that one by saying, ‘You are the Christ, the son of the living God.’ The word Christ is not a surname like Murphy or Kehoe but it means the Anointed One of God here on earth to fulfil a divine mission.

Applying those questions to ourselves is something we always need to do whenever the scriptures are read. Who do people say that Christ is? Having grown up in a Christian family in a Christian culture it’s relatively easy to answer with what we learned about him as we grew up. That he was born of Mary, that he grew up in Nazareth, that he worked miracles, that he died on the cross. But then the question goes much deeper. Who do I say that Christ is? In other words, who and what is he to me? Is he just a historical figure like Moses, Buddha or Mohammad or is he the resurrected Lord of my life? Do I have a personal relationship with him? Is he real to me?

For me it wasn’t until I lost my faith in the Church that I found personal faith in Jesus Christ. That may sound a bit strong but as a young man I did more or less lose faith in everything, including the church and God. Looking back, it was a necessary part of my journey towards a more mature faith. Having grown up as a Catholic I knew to some extent what that was but now I was forced to ask what does it mean to be a Christian. At its core I found that Christianity is about having a personal relationship with Christ where I accept him as my Lord and Saviour. That’s a far cry from having admiration for him as a remote historical figure. For me it meant trying to unpack the gift of baptism and confirmation to see what they meant and also to face the challenge of whether I was prepared to hand over my life to him. I can look back on a point in my life where that did happen and while up to that I had practiced my religion now my faith became real and something I was experiencing. For a long time, I had an overwhelming sense of being loved and that my life had meaning and purpose. To come from religious practice to faith experience is a huge step that each of us is called to. In life each of us surrenders to something so why not to Christ.

Mon 28th August – Annual Cleansing

Lady’s Island is a place of Pilgrimage. Every year, tens of thousands walk the ancient path that people are known to have prayed on for at least fourteen hundred years. Untold footprints of pain, hardship and suffering are left behind. It was once one of three islands before being joined to the mainland by a causeway. The surrounding lake is really a lagoon that is adjacent to the sea and separated from it by a sand dune. The water that is quite saline rises each year and covers the pilgrimage path. Salt is a cleansing agent, so symbolically the pain of each year is cleansed naturally. Around March the Lake is cut and the water is released back into the great ocean and for the space of a few weeks before the cut in the sand dunes naturally closes over. A new supply of salt water meanwhile enters the lagoon and so the stage is set for another year. It is a beautiful example of regeneration at so many levels that makes it a natural place of pilgrimage.

Fr Jim Cogley

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