A is for Alleluia
by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor
A is for Alleluia.
A is for Ashes and last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the day when many denominations observe the beginning of Lent — the 40-ish days leading up to the Last Supper, the death of Jesus, the finding of the empty tomb, and the mysterious appearances of Jesus.
Lent comes from the Latin word for Spring. So, it seems that Lent is for Spring.
When I was a small boy, the talk in the class was what you were giving up for Lent — crisps, or lemonade, or, for the radically committed, sweets. Last Tuesday, eating pancakes and lemons, some friends discussed what to give up. We were all agreed: Lent is less for giving up, and more for making space.
We make space to contemplate what it is that we will celebrate in 40 days’ time. We make space to recognise our faults. We pray a little more. We allow our emptier stomachs to remind us of the pithiness of our observations in comparison with real hunger. We give more money. We confess. We reconcile. We listen to emptiness for a while. We do not say Alleluia.
This Ash Wednesday, I went to Clonard Monastery between work meetings. There were workmen, nurses, office people, people in tracksuits, children, teenagers, young, old. We lined up and had ashes, made from the burnt palms of last year’s jubilant celebration of Palm Sunday, smeared on our foreheads with the words “Turn away from sin and return to the Gospel”. After Mass, I walked from the Catholic Falls Road through the city centre into the Protestant Donegall Pass. I wiped the ash from my head, aware of offence and violence.
This year, I have been a sometimes-absent, sometimes-silent friend. I have been bad at communication. Good intentions, frankly, have not been enough. Decisions about what charity to give to have resulted in distraction, not action.
I am hoping that empty space will create something for me. I am giving up eating anything between meals. Three square a day for me. And, pithy as it seems, I am also giving up sweet things. Hard core for me this Lent.
On Holy Thursday, the Eucharist is removed from the tabernacle in the church. We attend the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, reminding ourselves of the emptying of God by God. We remember the descent of our tortured and abandoned brother into Hell. We allow emptiness to create hope.
A friend of mine told me a month ago that he’s been diagnosed as HIV positive. Another friend is in the gut-clenching grip of heartbreaking decisions. Someone is unemployed. Someone is lonely. And I am hoping that Lent will create a bit of space for me to commit my time, my body, and what love I can give. Such resolutions will not, please God, end with an Easter celebration, when a fire will be lit outside the monastery and we will process into the church with springtime candles lit from that same fire.
A is for Allel…
Mr. Ó Tuama, originally from Cork, works in Belfast, Northern Ireland doing chaplaincy and community work, mostly through the Corrymeela Community and the Irish Peace Centres. Part of his community work involves writing poetry to encapsulate some of the stories of living and dying in the context of the Irish conflict.
He submitted this essay through our First Person Outreach page. Submit yours too.
Resting, and Remembering John O’Donohue, in Ireland
by Krista Tippett, host
I am back in the office after the first real extended period of rest I’ve had since we started producing SOF weekly six years ago. Esther Sternberg’s analogy of a “reboot” was completely apt. I had to shut down, in every way. My dear colleagues created the space in our collective work life for me to be able to do so. They changed my e-mail password (at my request), so I could break the habit of e-mail; it took me weeks to stop trying to log in, compulsively, practically in my sleep. I called this my e-mail sabbatical.
And I went back to a magical place, the Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat, where I had gone once before, three summers ago, when I was finishing my book. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever experienced, but I was a crazy person on deadline.
This time, I was able to soak up the beauty, to read as much as write, and write what gave me pleasure. I spent lots of time in a hammock on a little island that the locals call “fairies’ island” and that does feel utterly enchanted. I have always been drawn to islands and craggy places where you feel like you are on the edge of the world; and as you can see on this map, the Beara Peninsula qualifies.
I also enjoyed the friendship and cooking of the visionary owner/director of Anam Cara, Sue Booth-Forbes.
Sue never met John O’Donohue, but [S]he named her retreat after his [John O’Donohue’s] book, Anam Cara, Gaelic for “soul friend.” I learned about him from her, and this time was able to tell her all about the wonderful conversation I had with him, back in Minnesota, before his untimely passing.
I thought of him there, felt his spirit, and was differently attuned to the meaning and working of beauty, especially in that place — recalling his observation that the Greek word for “beauty” is the same word for “calling,” for example, and that a defining quality of beauty is that we feel more alive in its presence. I have spent time since pondering a wonderful statement he made, so true for me right now, that beauty isn’t all about “nice, loveliness like” but a “kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”
John O’Donohue’s Landscape
One of the exciting aspects of my job as a producer is the opportunities our web site opens up for multimedia content. As soon as we started producing this week’s program, I wanted our audience to be able to see the Irish landscape John O’Donohue described in his conversation with Krista. I desperately wanted to see it. I’m of Irish ancestry (75%!, I’d proudly tell people on St. Patrick’s Day as a kid, dressed in my Kelly green shirt with a “Kiss me, I’m Irish” button), and someday I hope to make it to that emerald isle.
When I asked John O’Donohue’s business manager, Linda, if she had any photos of John in Ireland, she graciously offered to put out a request to friends and family. Within days I’d received over a dozen photos of both the Connemara region where John most recently lived, and some of Fanore, a town in County Clare where John attended elementary school, and where he is now buried. Will O’Leary, a veteran Washington Post staff photographer and close friend of John’s, shared some of his photos. His wife, NPR reporter Jacki Lyden, was also a close friend of John’s (she recently offered a remembrance of him on NPR’s All Things Considered). Another longtime friend and professional photographer, Nutan, shared photos he took of John in 2005.
In producing the audio slideshow, I was struck with how well the photos illustrated O’Donohue’s language in his poem “Beannacht” — a word I’ve heard translated as both “blessing” and “passage.” It’s about finding comfort in loss, and I consciously tried to match the photos to the poem’s tone, mood, and pace. I learned that John wrote this poem for his mother, Josie, at the time of his father’s death. According to Linda, his father “…was a farmer and a gifted builder of dry stone walls — a dying art still much revered — from whom, John’s brother Pat said at his funeral, John learned the art of fitting words delicately and fittingly together.”
Poems of a Late Wandering Irishman
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
One thing we know about our fan base — they (you?) love words, especially poesy. The response to Tess Gallagher’s poem about her time with Thich Nhat Hanh made that clear.
So, in one of Krista’s limited face-to-face interviews (see Shiraz’s post about what a more typical interview looks like), she was regaled by the lilting tongue and picturesque poetry of the late Irish poet John O’Donohue in September. Mr. O’Donohue passed away earlier this year, but his verse lives on.
Colleen crafted a lovely audio slideshow (keep your eye out for her post) of O’Donohue’s recitation of “Beannacht” threaded with phototgraphs of scenic Celtic landscapes taken by several of his dear friends. And, since many of O’Donohue’s recitations won’t make it into the final, produced program, I wanted to offer them up here for download — or, if you prefer a more expedient and organized approach, through our podcast.
All of them are mp3s you can download. Just right-click your mouse and select save as:
A Blessing for a Friend on the Arrival of Illness
A Blessing for One Who Holds Power
For the Pilgrim a Kiss: The Caha River
For the Pilgrim a Kiss: Between Things
For the Pilgrim a Kiss: Body Language
Since You Came
And, my apologies for all the parenthetical comments. Yowza!
Irish Singing, Old School
by Mitch Hanley, senior producer
In production on next week’s homage to the late John O’Donohue, I have been researching Celtic music, attempting to not have a show full of jigs and reels, but to have a good cross-section of this genre. I came across this style of Gaelic singing, sean-nos, meaning “in the old style,” in a YouTube video of Iarla O’lionaird (fronts the band Afro Celt Sound System) singing in a pub.
Imagine yourself in a tucked away nook of Ireland, hearing this haunting, sad melody, carrying you back some thousands of years. It is just beautiful.
Also fun is trying to follow along with the words…
Bog braon, bog braon, bog braon don tseanduine,
bog braon, bog braon, bog braon don tseanduine.
Cuir a chodladh, cuir a chodladh, cuir a chodladh an seanduine,
cuir a chodladh is ní a chosa is bog deoch don tseanduine.
Ubh chirce, ubh chirce, ubh chirce don tseanduine,
ubh chirce is blúire ime is a thabhairt don tseanduine.
Feoil úr, feoil úr, feoil úr don tseanduine,
feoil úr is braon súp is a thabhairt don tseanduine.