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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Tuesday Evening Melody: “I Have Never Loved Someone” by My Brightest Diamond

by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor

As a kind, five-minute gift to yourself, listen to and watch the song by My Brightest Diamond. It has beautiful lyrics and is performed deliciously from a set recorded in Berlin this year.

I have never loved someone the way I love you 
I have never seen a smile like yours 
And if you grow to be a king or clown or pauper 
I will say you are my favorite one in town 

I have never held a hand so soft and sacred 
When I hear your laugh I know heaven’s key 
And when I grow to be a poppy in the graveyard 
I will send you all my love upon the breeze 

And if the breeze won’t blow your way, I will be the sun 
And if the sun won’t shine your way, I will be the rain 
And if the rain won’t wash away all your aches and pains 
I will find some other way to tell you you’re okay

Padraig O TuamaPádraig Ó Tuama, a native of Cork, works in chaplaincy and peacework in Belfast, Northern Ireland. You can read more of his writing at In the Shelter and in his new book of poetry coming out in 2012.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.


The Wrappings of Love in Enveloping Arms: An Advent Reflection

by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor

The Nicest Place on the Internet (screen grab)

There’s an internet site called The Nicest Place on the Internet that I came across the other day. I’m not sure how I saw it — a link from a tweet, or something somebody wrote.

When you open the site, an acoustic version of “I Have Never Loved Someone” by My Brightest Diamond begins playing. While it’s playing, short videos of people hugging a camera are played. There seems to be an unending slew of people who have sent in these YouTube videos of themselves approaching the camera. That’s all it is: the song on repeat and these videos of people hugging the camera that’s filming them.

My first time meeting Protestants from the north was at a church camp in August 1987. I was eleven years old. I spent my camp asking the poor Protestants if they were Irish or English, with a curiosity I usually reserved for asking whether certain characters in Wonder Woman were goodies or baddies. At the end of the church camp, one of the Protestant women, a woman with blonde hair called Annette, said “Give me a hug.”

I didn’t know what she meant. I didn’t know what hugs were to give her one. I didn’t know that I had one to give.

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An Easter Sunday. A Sacred Echo. Solidarity in a Small Hell of Our Own

by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor

Boys in silenceA sign hangs on the wall of a Taizé community in Burgundy, France. (photo: forteller/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

It is Easter week. This week, we remember the events from Thursday’s meal to Friday’s torture to Saturday’s silence and Sunday’s mystery.

Years ago, 13 years ago in fact, I fell apart. I was 22 and I had already been sick for a year. It had started with a bad flu that had never gone away. After 12 months, I was bewildered and dizzy and achy, confused with a fatigue and an illness that would take a further five years to diagnose and a total of nine years to recover from.

Up until that point, I hadn’t spent much time contemplating chronic illness. However, after a year of being ill, hearing doctors’ opinions, berating myself with my own opinions, I was firmly contemplating chronic illness. When you are chronically ill, there are some things to learn — you must learn to relate to your sickness, and you must learn to relate to your feelings about being sick. In the face of these two lessons, I was gutted with a raw fear in the face of the unknown.

For Lent that year, I read a chapter of Job every day. It was less a religious exercise and more an exercise of survival. I needed some kind of echo of the bewilderment, loneliness, and confusion. Job became a friend. I heard his grief, and I heard his sadness.

Cristo è risortoTaizé community celebrate the ascension of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. (photo: Damien Mathieu/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

And, for the last two weeks of Easter in 1998, I went to a monastery in eastern France for two weeks of silence. Looking back on it, it might seem unwise — responding to a hollowness inside me by going to a place of silence. I don’t know what prompted me to go, but I went. I was welcomed by a gentle monk who showed me to my small room and told me that it might not be a good idea to read all the time.

Il faut écouter, avec les oreilles de tendresse, à ton propre silence,” he said. “You must listen, with ears of tenderness, to your own silence.”

Ha! I was petrified of that silence. I read The Lord of the Rings in five days flat.

It took 11 days before I began to relax. By that time, it was Holy Thursday, and the time when the Last Supper is remembered. That morning, the brother spoke to the pilgrims gathered for a few minutes after breakfast to set a tone of inspiration for the day. He noted how Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke, “I have earnestly desired this meal.”

He didn’t paint a picture of a Nazarene who ran to the arms of Roman torture willingly, but he depicted a character who believed enough in a way of life to take that way of life to the death. The monk spoke about how Jesus lived the last days of his life in a way that was faithful to the life he’d always lived — calling enemies and dispossessed ones “friends,” having concern for his mother, accepting help from a Cyrenian stranger, looking for moments of life while life itself was draining away.

I don’t know what happened, but somehow, I began to breathe. I remember I was sitting in a chapel, listening to a German nun tune an eclectic zoo of musicians into some kind of harmony. Nothing cataclysmic occurred — it was just that I began to fear my own darkness a little less. I began to feel where I had only known numb and lonely survival. I began to feel that if I am here, then perhaps I am here with a companion. There were few words of prayer; there was a deep sense of accompaniment. I began to recognise that I didn’t need the words to describe the chronic illness that was indescribable.

That Easter Sunday I cried. Not because of some miraculous resurrection. I had eight long years to wait before my health began to improve. I cried because, in the words of an old monk, I heard an echo of an understanding that went beyond words, and, in that echo there was companionship.

Taize, BurgundyTree at Taizé community in France. (photo: etch indelibly in the mind/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

Years later, when studying theology, I came across Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Von Balthasar is noted for many things, one of which is his poetic retelling of Christ’s descent into hell. He said, “Jesus descended into hell. He is dead with us, and disturbs our loneliness. … God, in the weakness of love enters into solidarity with us who find ourselves damning ourselves, in the form of the crucified brother abandoned by God…and in such a way that is clear to the sinner that God-the-Forsaken is so for my sake.”

Each year on Easter Sunday I find myself moved. Not because there is a happy ever after ending to all of our stories. It is quite clear that there is not. I am moved because of a sacred echo of a hope that there is solidarity for those who feel like we inhabit a small hell of our own experience. The hope of Easter doesn’t damn this hell with a bleaching light. Rather this hope enters and squats with us. The celebrations of Holy Week for me are not about cataclysmic resurrections, but about being moved to follow in the life of the Nazarene, bravely entering into loneliness with a small spring of consoling company.

Padraig O TuamaPádraig Ó Tuama, a native of Cork, works in Belfast, Northern Ireland as a faith & peace worker of the Irish Peace Centres. His poetry and writing can be found at Hold Your Self Together.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.


Ronan Kerr Was Not a Judas: Betrayal and Peace in Northern Ireland at Lent

by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor

Police Officers Carry the Coffin of Constable Ronan Kerr
Police officers carry the coffin containing the remains of Constable Ronan Kerr to the church of the Immaculate Conception in Beragh, Northern Ireland on April 6, 2011. The First Minister of the British-controlled province, the Protestant Peter Robinson, broke with decades of tradition to attend his first ever Catholic mass as Constable Kerr was laid to rest. (photo: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)

While working with Holy Family Parish in North Belfast over the last few weeks, I have encountered much wisdom. One woman, Ann, quoted one of her university professors who said, “Any ideology carried to its logical conclusion is a dangerous thing.”

Now, I am sure that there are library shelves worth of arguments that could add nuance and subtlety to this statement. However, the death of Constable Ronan Kerr on April 2nd has given us something more weighty than a library to consider when reflecting on Ann’s quote.

Ronan Kerr was 25, involved in Gaelic Games and a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). A Catholic, he was part of the growing sea change in the active members of the Police Service that was set up in response to the reports and enquiries and settlements and agreements of the 1980s and 90s. The organisational predecessor of the PSNI had a significant imbalance — for a 52 percent Protestant to 45 percent Catholic population, there was at times over 90 percent representation from the Protestant community. In an effort to redress this, the PSNI (formed in November 2001) had, up until two weeks ago, a 50-50 recruitment policy. A huge majority of Catholic/Nationalist/Republican groups have given backing to the organisational structure of the PSNI — but a fractionally small minority, allegedly including those who planted the bomb that killed Ronan Kerr, objected.

Ronan Kerr was possibly understood by this small minority as a traitor — someone who had abandoned the values of what it means to be Irish by joining the police service that serves a jurisdiction of Ireland that is not part of the Republic. I am guessing that this combination of Gaelic Games, formed with the dual purpose of promoting traditional Irish sports and culture, with active service as a policeman was considered a juxtaposition too far, and a contradiction that needed to be met with force.

The force that met him was placed under his car, in a small plastic container, and it exploded, killing him. The following day, on Mother’s Day, I thought about his mother. She spoke out last Monday with dignity, strength, and conviction.

Crowd Gathers in a "March for Peace" Rally in Omagh, Northern Ireland
Thousands of people walked in the “March for Peace” rally in Omagh, Northern Ireland on April 10, 2011. Commemorating the death of Ronan Kerr, a woman holds a sign reading “Not in My Name” with a photo of the murdered police constable. (photo: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)

It is Lent and, as part of my work, we are looking at unusual relationships in the gospels. This was how I met Ann. She is part of a parish group examining how Jesus of Nazareth related to people who were different, people who were marginalised, people who were on the fringes, whether because they were lowly or because they were haughty. As we meet together to discuss these narratives, we examine the characters involved and consider the question of to whom these stories might speak today, and how we might demonstrate the subtlety of relationship depicted in the interactions of the text.

Last week, a group of us considered Judas. Judas is depicted as a traitor. Matthew and Mark’s gospel accounts introduce Judas as the one who betrayed Jesus. Luke’s first mention of Judas paints him as a traitor, and John, in addition to calling him a traitor, calls him a devil.

It is safe to say that the writers of the gospels inherited the outrage of the original disciples — that one of them should betray Jesus. Yet, there is a story of Judas that we must consider. When he betrayed Jesus with a kiss, Jesus called him “Friend.” Following the death of Jesus, Judas repented, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood" before ending his own life.

As we discussed Judas, we thought that his agenda may have been a more political one — to begin a revolt, to start a flame with the small spark of an arrest of Jesus of Nazareth. That he was disappointed by the outcome of death is evident. And so, we gave time to widen the character of Judas in our imagination, seeing him beyond categories.

Irish society, north and south of the border, has at times been characterised by people who have loudly declaimed each other as traitors. In order to consider the question of who the character of Judas is in the gospel, we have had to pay attention to his own actions and his own words, not just the words of those who caricature him. If we are to apply something from a close narrative reading of the text, we must recognise that the term “traitor” is too easily used, and too easily thrown.

Members of the Public Write in a Book of Condolence for Police Constable Ronan KerrRonan Kerr was not a Judas, he was not a traitor. With his life, words, and body, Ronan Kerr was holding within himself identities that are symbolic of a shared and peaceful future for all on the Island of Ireland. He was one of many, Catholic and Protestant, who embody within themselves the delightful and radical combination of identities that one time were considered juxtapositional.

I believe that the character of Judas had lost his own self. He had forgotten what it meant to be in relationship with real people because his relationship with his ideology had become supreme. In some ways, I consider those responsible for the death of Ronan Kerr, who as yet have not yet claimed responsibility, to be addicted to the chaos that for so long dominated the life of society in the north of Ireland.

In light of Ronan Kerr’s death, we spent a long time speaking in a congregational group about how Jesus would speak to the bombers. We have outrage, fear, protest, desires for justice, and desires for peace each speaking loudly within us. If we are to learn from Judas, we can learn that an ideology, taken to its logical extreme, removed from the narrative of everyday, ordinary people who wish to live a peaceful life, is a frightening and dangerous thing.

About the image, middle: Members of the public write in a book of condolence for police constable Ronan Kerr. (photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Padraig O TuamaPádraig Ó Tuama, a native of Cork, works in Belfast, Northern Ireland as a faith & peace worker of the Irish Peace Centres. His poetry and writing can be found at Hold Your Self Together.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.


What Stories Do We Tell?

by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor

Last year, while working with a primary school class here in Belfast, a child said:

"Pádraig, let me ask you a question. God loves us right?"

Avoiding the complexity of anthropomorphic projections of human experiences onto God, I answered, from the heart of me, with what I hope.

"Yes," I said.

"And God made us all didn’t he?" she continued.

I avoided discussions of “made” and “He” and said:


"Tell me this," she said, "why did God make Protestants?"

When I asked her why she was asking me this, she said:

"Well, they hate us and they hate Him."

I had been amused at the start. Now, I was not amused. I wondered what stories were educating this funny, witty, engaging, and lively child.

This child understood some human lessons and had learnt them well. They hate us. They hate our God. They are unknown, and the hollow story we tell is that they are also unknowable.

Another child that I was working with once drew a picture of a big boot, kicking a small figure. The boot was labeled “Catlichs” and the boot “Purdestints”. He could not yet spell, yet he knew the rules of the story he believed.

There is an Irish saying that I love: ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine. It translates as “it is in the shelter of each other that the people live”. Krista’s interview with John Paul Lederach reminds me of the intentionality we must incarnate when working with our lives to create avenues out of violent conflict. We must nurture unpredictable relationships. We must share shelter with people whose shelter we would rather not share. We must share stories with people whose stories we would rather not share. This may not be popular, but it may just save us.

Nationalist Protesters Block RoadLast week, I watched from my window as a band parade made its way from commemorations in the city northwest up the Crumlin Road. My flat is about 300 yards from the place where a sit-down protest was underway to stop those parading. The history of both groups, one mostly Catholic-Nationalist and one mostly Protestant-Unionist is important.

What is also important is that each was saying to the other “We belong here”.

“We belong here” has often been coupled with “And you don’t”, a point which we’ve proven in Ireland with grief and grieving. The slow, slow antidote to this story of not-belonging has always included something that is older than language — a positive encounter with a person who represents the thing that we think we should hate. There are stories from here that make me cry and hope every time I hear them — stories of bravery, honesty, truth-telling, sheltering, and embrace across every possible barrier to belonging.

Part of my work is facilitating discussions between people who are interested in building relationships with those who are perceived to be an “other”. Earlier this year, one group spoke of their neighbourhood’s trauma following a shooting on a Friday afternoon in the 1990s. Seven men left dead. One of the women said “and there’s many that died whose hearts kept beating”. She spoke of a Protestant paramedic who tended the bodies of Catholic dead who was so traumatised that he could never return to his work. While we speak of 3,700 people who lost their lives from our 30-year conflict, we all know someone who kept their life, but who felt like they’d lost it. There are stories within stories that are desperate to be heard, and when they’re heard, they bring us to the place of encounter and empathy, which is the essence of hope and humanity.

The riots that brought attention to Belfast last week are localised. This doesn’t mean that they are ignorable. They are not. They speak to a deep wound in our capacity to remember. A mostly-ignored government funded “Report on the Past” was published last year. Its recommendations are brave and I hope we can pay attention.

I am thinking now of Anaïs Nin who said: “We do not tell stories as they are. We tell them as we are.”

And who are we in this part of Ireland? We are people who all know stories of hurt, pain, division, separation, fury, and prejudice. We are people who have loved the land we live on. We are people who have done and spoken and created and given beautiful things and terrible things to each other. We must be educated by the stories that gave rise to last week’s events. We must engage in Lederach’s vision of the moral imagination to hear, include, and transcend these events.

And, we must tell different stories. Not necessarily new ones, but deeper ones — stories of remembering, belonging, safety, and shelter.

Padraig O TuamaPádraig Ó Tuama lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland where he works in reconciliation and chaplaincy initiatves, primarily with the Irish Peace Centres’ Faith in Positive Relations programmes. 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 posts occasional poetry at Hold Your Self Together.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

Photo Caption: Nationalist protesters block the route of Loyalist Protestant Orangemen in the Ardoyne area of North Belfast, Northern Ireland as they return home from their traditional Twelfth of July celebrations in the city center on July 12, 2010. (photo: Stephen Wilson/AFP/Getty Images)


A is for Alleluia

by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor

"Olibhear" Twomey

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.