The company of William Blake
Aerial warfare during the Dawn Chorus:
The Dawn Chorus saw in Sunday morning. Mooney went Wild. Paddy Glackin and Donal Lunny competed with the bird song and were humbled. Every morning has its music. I watched the heron this morning poised to dive for its cereal. There was only one heron on the river Tolka today. The egret didn’t turn up either. I smiled but the bird was too busy to reply in kind. I was remembering a few days ago when I watched an aerial battle between the heron and the grey crow. It was an aggressive show. I moved along today in the quietness of the morning. Everyone was taking this bank holiday seriously and were bedbound. The sounds were only of the birds and the wind and the rain. The swan was on its nest. Some ducks were waddling close by the nest without being a nuisance. The other swan was on the pond. I am told that swans are monogamous. (Mostly). I hear also that the pen and the cob take turns on the nest.
As I moved along to the music of the morning, I saw a robin. I smiled. These are such adorable birds. However, apparently they are quite territorial and will fight to protect its patch. Our local parish sister Liz gets rather emotional when she is told that the robin is a terrorist and a murderer! I will take her on a visit to another friend of mine from the distant past and she can preen herself to William Blake’s portrait of her favourite bird. I strolled along and met the blackbirds and the starlings. All of them were so busy with breakfast, that this passing stranger was ignored. They carried on with their food. We shared the space with respect. And I smiled yet again. The daffodils have left us. The rain. The music of the birds. The colours. The wind. Everything speaks to me and I begin to write as I walk.
Auguries of Innocence
To see a World in a Grain of Sand;
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand;
And Eternity in an hour
A Robin Red breast in a Cage;
Puts all Heaven in a Rage
William Blake was neglected in his lifetime but much discovered after his death. He is a delight in the colour of his writings and in the vividness of his paintings. He was extravagant too in the glamour of his faith which was expansive in his understanding of spirituality. He died before he could complete his work on Dante’s Divine Comedy. He supposedly told Kate, his wife, (as he was dying) that she was an angel and a lodger observed those last moments and said: “I have been at a death not of a man but of a blessed angel.”
The weird goings-on in Politics:
Politics is the gift that keeps on giving. Poor Boris. The curtains and the wallpaper. Even John Lewis got caught up in the argument. Carrie Symonds clearly tried to tidy up Boris and improve the living quarters. She is obviously upmarket and Boris is rather bush! (We used that line on the danger for some of our men in Nigeria getting careless …. Going bush). One No 10 insider was quoted as saying, “They had champagne tastes and a lemonade budget.” Even Marie Antoinette’s historical character was exhumed. “Let them eat cake.” (The ordinary people of course). Carrie was dressed in that garb in the media. The carry-on of Barbara Amiel and Conrad Black came to mind too. They tried out that drama in their day. It is a very amusing story but plays well in public. Many enjoy Boris for his careless and chaotic appearance; his throw away lines; his easy and casual use of the truth; his wit; his playfulness. I shouldn’t do this but the locals here also recall Mick Cleary with similar regard. Carrie is trying hard but has made mistakes. It was political madness to have antagonised Dominic Cummings. Boris clearly isn’t paid enough to fund his wives and to look after his children. Micheál Martin is paid more. As is Ursula von der Leyen. Even Joe Biden is paid more! I was rather amused by Ursula’s vehemence when she spoke to the European Parliament. She didn’t like being left chair-less at the meeting with Erdogan. Was it really such a major faux pas that it deserved top billing? And then there was Arlene who was chopped down ruthlessly. Today (Monday) is the centenary of N. Ireland.
Munster beat Leinster in rugby. Well Ronan O’Gara did. Katie Taylor did her job. Some of my colleagues are aghast at women boxing. Such delicate gentle creatures (they say). I don’t find them like that! Lewis Hamilton did it again. Rachael Blackmore had a quiet time at Punchestown but Willie Mullins was supreme. Geraint Thomas has his victory on the bike. Even Garreth Bale scored a hat-trick for Spurs. Jose Mourinho must have a wry smile. Pep is spoken of as a genius. Man United and Liverpool suffered a take-over by the fans and the match was postponed. The snooker is still on and has been intriguing – I am told even without Ronnie the Rocket. (Mark Selby has just won it!)
Lessons for learning:
We are opening up the churches on Monday the 10th May. It will be good to be back. I was thinking of those strange times online reflecting especially on those funerals. The intensity of the preparation. With ten people. With thousands online. I was thinking of the challenge. Adapt. Adjust. Many, if not most, of those who came for funerals were unfamiliar with church ritual. The challenge with them then was to make sure that they felt central to everything. In some ways, the Ritual had to be stripped of the formalities of religion. Too much God would be very off-putting! There was no hiding place for the few and no hiding place for the ministers. Our language had to change. It had to be their language. The dead person was very alive even in death to them. Everything had to focus on their world. Our foreign language (of church) had to be curtailed. They had to be totally involved. We were the learners. We couldn’t dare make them feel uncomfortable or unsure in such unfamiliar surroundings. The intimacy of the occasion and the pain of grief was a lesson. It was always very moving to hear them speak of the person in the coffin. And then they did all the little jobs which gave a glimpse of the person too. There was sadness and laughter but above all, their words spoke into the heart of what Liturgy has to be about always, and not just at those times. It is about the people who are present. It is about their lives. We are artists as a collective. Our work of art is created together. If the priest just rambles on with his holy words; the occasion is almost blasphemous and very unwholesome. There is a lesson and a challenge here. We can’t come back to what we were and did.
I arrived recently on the periphery of a conversation. I don’t have the genesis of how it drifted along towards some comments on celibacy. An elder lemon suggested that celibacy had a dehumanising effect on the business of ministry. He reflected on his life and experience. Celibacy can lead to selfishness and individualism, he said. Parish life, he said, forces us into the messiness and complexity of ordinary living. But some can escape with the construct of celibacy into their own private and tidy world. Our liturgy and our pastoral work might be quite different, he said, if we had the sheer botheration of putting up with the compromises and difficulties of every home. Celibacy is artificial. It is an escape from reality. He went on to say, that we should even pay attention (and learn) from how men cared for each other in ministry over the long lockdown. Were we interested in how the others were coping? Were those in leadership interested in us? Was the basic humanity in evidence? Did all those religious who talk of community have any real idea what community actually means? His final line was – the women religious have done all of this much better than the men. Men can get caught up in doing things and administration and become dried up prunes! At that stage, I said something frivolous and moved away. But it was an interesting conversation. There is little doubt that there is something of the truth lingering and lurking in that casual conversation. I wonder. It is like an exam paper: Discuss!
Indi speaks with all the certainties of being young:
She purred on hearing how pleased some were at reading of her wish for Baptism. I didn’t dare whisper to anyone the thought that she was looking forward to meeting people on such an occasion rather than caught up in the Baptism! However. There is something more to all of this. She wants to dress up. She likes dressing up. She is happy being photographed. She isn’t shy being the centre of attention. But she likes this God-stuff too!
She launched into a speech on the phone the other evening which surprised me. She understands that I am involved in the God-business. She admits to not knowing much about all this God-thing. But she has her views. She protests that she is simple and has much to learn. It goes this way: “I know that I am special; that no-one is exactly like me; that somehow God has sent me to make a difference.” She then takes an extraordinary look at Religion. She describes it in this way. “God is big. God has given us a wonderful world. God has made marvellous people. God loves us but sometimes has a very strange way of showing it!” Then she says: “All religion should be joyful. If it is full of love and full of treasure, to be discovered; every day is special. We should be singing and dancing and laughing and making music.” She is certain that everyone who has faith and really believes – should be full of banter and nonsense and fun because they know that life is bigger than now and bigger than anything that happens and that there is more. She has no time for dreary and dull people of religion. Her final word is: “Religious people should be fun.” I think she needs to baptise us.
Seamus Ahearne osa
Indi’s ‘comment’ on seriousness reminded me of this little poem of St Teresa, in Ladinsky’s Love Poems from God:
‘How did those priests ever get so serious and preach all that gloom?
I don’t think God tickled them yet. Beloved – hurry.’
(From Máire our photographer).