This article originally appeared in Chicago’s ‘Irish American News’ magazine for June 2015
The Soul of the World and the Elephant in the Room
Right. Deep breath. This is the difficult first article which follows the one where I came out of the closet.
Perhaps the wrong choice of words, considering that two days after I send this small parcel of thoughts speeding across the Atlantic, we will be casting our votes on Same Sex Marriage on this side. No, this is a closet of a different colour.
What I mean is that last month I mentioned in this column that — after a year of very hard questioning, searching and thought – I embraced the faith of my late father. Or re-embraced, maybe. I had left the Catholic Church in my early twenties (much to his sadness) and yet here I was in my mid-fifties, not only going back to it but finding that suddenly I can’t seem to explore it enough!
Now, I have no intention of boring you with the zealous joy of the reformed prostitute; but for those of you have read me and even commented in email over the years, I can’t just leave this sitting here like the elephant in the room. Because over those years I would regularly – regularly – have taken some pretty vicious swipes at what I saw as just another religion; and I saw any religion as not a fertilizing force but a destructive one.
It wasn’t one thing led me to reconsider everything I’d dismissed over the previous three-and-a-half decades. There were many reasons, some of which I wouldn’t be comfortable talking about. However, once I let down the defenses it was as if those proverbial scales had fallen away –and yes: it is the sort of experience that has you talking in superlatives and clichés.
Look, I’m not a particularly moody person; I don’t think that being in my company is going to depress anyone too utterly. What I do have is that Celtic blood which leads me to often quite gloomy thoughts. I’ve always seen the bad side of things rather than the good; always preferred to, if the truth be known. You know that old saying: ‘All our wars are merry and all our songs are sad’. Well, since I made a conscious effort – and it all culminated one afternoon, sitting alone in an ‘empty’ church – to just open myself up to Jesus, it has been like suddenly stripping away all that horrible fatty tissue that stops us from feeling the underlying delicacy and beauty of this astonishing world.
I’m not out to convert anyone else, by the way; I remember how those bloody characters really made me grind my teeth. I will share one thing, though. The feeling you get when this happens is like looking at one of those 3D images where everyone can see a shape except you. Only when you do see it, you can’t ever again not see it. You feel like nudging the next guy in the ribs and pointing it out to him too, amazed that now he can’t see it.
This is all new to me, so if I sound corny or naïve I’ll ask you to cut me some slack, just for the moment. The point is that when you take the blinkers off you begin to get this feeling of ‘connectedness’ everywhere you are and in everything that you do.
A while back I took a walk up to the beautiful Renville area, just three miles outside of my home in Oranmore. As I stood looking out over the water and across the bay to Ardfry House on the far side, I thought the feeling of being linked to everything would overwhelm me. It wasn’t some sort of vision or even anything that someone else might have found particularly interesting.
It just suddenly hit me that some scenes from the film ‘The Mackintosh Man’, starring Paul Newman, had been filmed at Ardfry in 1973; that it was directed by John Huston, who kept an estate outside Craughwell, the next village up from Oranmore, for many years; that a while back I went to a special screening in Galway of his final film, ‘The Dead’, at which his daughter Anjelica gave us some wonderful reminiscences of growing up there; that Paul Newman was to later return to Ireland and do some real good through his Barretstown charity foundation…
I felt as if it went on and on; and that if I just thrust my fingers into the soil of this land I would find connections to all parts of the world and all sorts of disparate personalities. I was left –quite literally – shaken; shaken and filled with this extraordinary feeling of happiness.
There’s an expression from Plato that I don’t suppose has crossed my mind since schooldays: anima mundi, something like ‘the soul of the world’. I genuinely feel now that if you leave yourself open to the positive instead of endlessly dwelling on the negative, that feeling which comes is almost its own reward.
Which isn’t to say that I’ve had an accompanying overnight conversion into feeling the milk of human kindness towards everyone — not by a long chalk. When I heard our political gougers last month actually attempting (and succeeding) to terrorize whole sections of the people that they are supposed to represent, then it wasn’t Christian thoughts I was having, I can promise you that.
I’m talking of their contemptible threat to extract money for the hopeless mess that is Irish Water right from the source of wages or pensions. Especially in the case of older members of my community who were genuinely fretting, I found that I had to explain that this was only a proposal and that it was unlikely such a thing could be passed.
Of course, it wasn’t any help that our increasingly complicit media worded the headlines in such a way that it appeared as a done deal. Swinishness isn’t alone the preserve of our politicians, most of whom I now simply regard as the enemy.
So… a long way to go before I get the meaning of forgiving ‘those who trespass against us’; and if I’m honest I’ll probably never ever be at that stage.
For the moment, though, I would just like to thank those of you who took the time to write and offer kind words last month. I appreciated every email sent; even the couple that expressed disappointment with me. It was also a pleasure to discover that I’m not the only person who has been enormously impressed by Fr. Diarmuid Hogan in Oranmore.
By the way, we had a visit to the village yesterday that pointed up just how much times have changed.
Prince Charles was at the Marine Institute here and there wasn’t a bother on anyone. There were a few demonstrators in Galway (one guy who kept warbling on about the Six Counties couldn’t, when asked, actually name them) but overall it was a good visit and a nice indication of a country that is seeing the partial healing of some very painful wounds. Not all will agree, of course; but in general that was almost wholly the feeling here, at least.