It’s only words and words are all I have
I went down to the Tolka this morning (Sunday). No one else had ventured out. The park and the river and the air and the talking sky and the waking morning were my companions. The birds had stayed in bed. But I was thinking of the kingfishers. Two people came to tell me that they had seen the kingfisher on the River Tolka during the week. Rob and Tony were glowing. They spoke of the flash of colour which they said was beautiful. Was it one or two or three? They couldn’t say. It was a thrilling moment for them. It hasn’t happened for me since last year. I was a little envious.
But I did see the buds appear on the Weeping Willow. I noticed the differing personalities of the various trees. The swans had taken to the pond, off the island. The ducks were beginning to ramble. The water hens appeared. The daffodils smiled as I passed by. The heavy rain had relented until I got back. Every morning is a revelation. As Mary Oliver might say: “I don’t care if you believe or not; for me this was prayer.”
Shackleton and Endurance:
‘Endurance’ was located recently. It was seen as a protected historic site. A sacred treasure. The family wanted nothing disturbed. It had lived up to its name; it had persevered and endured. It stirred up many memories. The heroism of Ernest Shackleton. The miraculous escape/survival of the 28 men. The cat and the dogs didn’t. The work of Frank Worsley (captain). Our own Tom Crean. I remembered seeing the One Man Show with Aidan Dooley. I could feel the fear; the cold seemed to overwhelm all of us in the audience. So, 107 years later, the boat wanted to talk again. One News outlet suggested that Shackleton reminded them of present day Zelenskyy.
Una Agnew and Paddy Kavanagh:
Una Agnew has an article in the current edition of The Tablet. It is called ‘Healing a Great Hunger.’ Her piece is prompted by a book of Elizabeth O’Toole called ‘A Poet in the House.’ It is a delightful article. The world of grace and godliness is everywhere. The mellowing of Paddy, by being in a home with children, is told exquisitely. The combination of Una’s words; the description and experience of Paddy’s recovery over six months and then Paddy’s own splashing of words, is heart-warming. It spoke loudly to me of today’s Transfiguration story. This awkward character was so delicate and artistic. His words became flesh. Here was a real theologian – a minister of the Word. The rest of us (professionals in the business) have to be embarrassed at how inadequate we really are. Una. You have taken us to that mountain. And it is wonderful for us to be here.
“Get a bit of God into us.”
The structured life of the past has somewhat returned. There are Baptisms. There are First Communions. There are Confirmations. There are Weddings. We meet in the Church. I was involved in three Weddings last week. Our First Communion children came to Mass too. Our Confirmation children came to Mass. During our chatting, one little one responded to a question on why they want to make their First Communion: “We want to get a bit of God into us.” She may have been very literal. The present language among the school children is often of ‘Holy Bread.’ I wince a little. The conversation went on. The adults spoke of coming to Church because they like coming; because it sets up the day; because it wakens them up to God; because the sharing at Mass is very special. But I was thinking. Baptisms now can so often be bordering on crowd control. The party afterwards is much more important than the Ritual in the Church. A Wedding now is often loud in its quietness; very few even know the basic responses. Funerals can be almost silent. But there is something of God present at funerals if we do lot of preparation. So how do we somehow get ‘a bit of God’ into those moments? I think that is the job we have as ministers. Every day. At every Mass – does something of the Transfiguration occur? Does any of it happen? How can we help this to be there?
We are very familiar with the ‘holy words.’ We are so familiar that often-times, very little of God can happen. The formal Liturgies are quite frequently more off-putting than inspirational. The challenge now is to work at that ‘bit of God.’ To catch the moment. The sacred moment. The God-moment. As priests we become very familiar with words (or with jargon). Our word can become rote and even boring! A holy place. Sanctuary. The Holy Mysteries. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. But the sheer repetition of everything can kill the spirit. The words flow out of us. But is it a God moment? Are we God people? What happens when we meet? How do we coax the whisper of the sacred into the gathering? The overload, at present, of Masses (for everything) does that make it possible? Is Mass an avoidance of serious thinking and imaginative reflection? At Meetings a Prayer becomes an easy Our Father and that is it. That is cheap. When I see all the accoutrements of what is supposedly called Liturgy; betimes. I wonder, is it all effluent and un-thought and clichéd? Is there a need to strip it all back? To pare it down. To censor those words full of bombast rather than revelatory? The crudity of the official language foisted on us, is unholy and off-putting. But the serious question isn’t what is given us but rather what do we do with it, where we are? Are there any Paddy Kavanaghs among our present day Liturgists? That burning bush. That holy ground. Those shoes off. Is it wonderful for us to be here? At times. I don’t know.
Indi was quiet:
It was a cold day. She was chained into her chair. She was locked in and well covered. She hadn’t been well. Now she arrived at a church. I could see the graveyard. (On WhatsApp). She was talking about God. And about Jesus. And his ma – Mary. The wind was blowing. She could still talk. I was surprised to see her in a graveyard. Her mother must be dipping into the past and speaking to her ancestors. Indi rang me afterwards. She liked her outing. She likes her God. She was trying to point out to me on the phone – her playthings; her teddies; her books; her plates (she likes washing up); the birds; the dogs; the animals. She called all of them God. She began to sound like Paddy Kavanagh. She will enjoy her 2nd birthday on Monday 21st March.
Seamus Ahearne osa
13th March 2022.