Yesterday marked the halfway point of my journey abroad. I’ve been in Ireland six weeks.
It’s been a time of deep silence and solitude and “facing myself.” I haven’t been much moved to to take photos, partly because the light, or lack thereof, doesn’t much lend itself to my amateur efforts.
Nor have I been much moved to share my experience–partly because I’m not sure what the experience is (!), and partly because our deepest and most private and therefore most inviolable feelings and thoughts and experiences by definition take place far, far away from a screen of any kind, and are desecrated by “sharing.”
From here, I’ll take a bus next Friday to Northern Ireland to be picked up by a couple of new friends who have offered to host me for a couple of nights and show me some of Co Fermanagh.
Then–because six weeks of solitude has not been nearly enough, I’ll go to Ards Franciscan Friar on the shores of Donegal for a four-day silent retreat.
One thing I’m thinking of is that I need/want to become an Oblate, I’m not yet sure where. Obedience to a Rule–to order the day, week, and one’s life–is very appealing (on paper, ha ha). To break off in the middle of a sentence when the bell rings–yes. I could practice more of that. To do one thing at a time. To sit down and pay attention while eating. To be more careful of the words I speak.
Without, of course, becoming an automaton. You run into these people sometimes who seem so intent on becoming “perfect” that they end up withholding everything, including their vulnerability and their humanity. Then again, becoming too “perfect” is not ever going to be my particular danger, laugh-cry smiley face.
Still, the point would be to acknowledge to myself, to God, and I suppose in some sense to the world that my life is ordered to something other than the world.
I started the Oblate program at St. Andrew’s (Benedictine) Abbey in Valyermo in the high desert outside LA a few years ago. Then COVID blew everything apart and I moved to Tucson. Still, in many ways my spiritual heart is in California (along with some of my dearest friends)–so I am going to pray, read, ponder and I know the good Lord will guide me.
I thought this morning of a/the great paradox: the vocation of the artist, the desire to become a saint, require willing the one thing: profound focus; the paring away of all that is extraneous. But the vocation also requires being willing to step outside the lines, to inhabit the outskirts.
It’s the paradox of the life of Christ, and of the Gospels, that defines my life. (And also why Desire Lines is such a great concept/phrase).
I’m forever firmly grounded in the Church—which ALLOWS me to inhabit the outskirts. The Church is my sanctuary, my home: the arms of a mother and a father.
Meanwhile, I have been wandering about Oughterard chatting up anyone who gives me the slightest encouragement. In this way, I feel certain I have met at least half its inhabitants.
The guy who was walking the tiny girl at the Connemara Pony Show who came in last place, and who was also spotted seating people at Powers Thatch, Bar and Restaurant, is named Rory, I learned from Angela, who lives across some secret bridge off Owenriff Way and takes long walks with her dogs Connor and Chippy. Mike Walsh, who owns and lives on the main street, beside Conneely’s Coffee, is the brother of Dermot Walsh, the undertaker who is married to Lin. Christine O’Malley who my friend Patrick who was here for five days and I met while walking near the waterfall, turns out to be the mother of Martin, who tends the donkeys for Jamie and Karl, in whose house I’m staying.
Vincent runs a kind of phantasmagorical jumble shop at the north end of town and presents me each day with a sprig of heather, lucifer, or lavendar. “Ye’ve a good attitude!” he sings out as I scurry by in the driving rain, which I take as an acknowledgment that after six weeks of summer darkness I haven’t yet crawled under the covers and given myself over to death.
No, seriously, the weather has slightly improved and I’m kind of used to it by now. In fact, it’s perfect walking weather. I set out in the afternoon, usually for the Old Bog Road, which has no traffic, no houses, and very few people. Also, all along the verges are blackberries, which are not this year a bumper crop but still.
One thing I know already: I wouldn’t have missed this adventure, these people, this place, for the world.