After one returns from pilgrimage,
the sense of living inside a movie recedes.
Then certain remembered single images stand out.
For me, Father Michael Rodgers,
Glendalough pilgrimage guide, quiet in demeanor,
kindly in manner, yet passionate in his love for his special place
How many times had he told the story of St. Kevin and the Blackbird?
Thousands, I’m sure.
And yet, after he had invited all of us to contemplate,
when our attention was redirected from him to the beauty all around us,
he laid down his walking stick
and eased his aged knees into the position of prayer,
cupping some water in his hands and bringing it to his face.
I saw his humble posture out of the corner of my eye.
He wanted to be visible only to God, but there I was with an iPhone.
Guiltily, I took a split second to freeze the moment in time.
He never saw my theft.
Father Michael had just declared that ALL of us,
not just an inspired few,
are “prophets, poets, and mystics.”
We have the power to choose through our intention and attention.
I came home and discovered, once more, that intricate webs of thought
connect me to other pilgrims and prophets. And poets.
Edward Hirsch must have met someone like Father Michael in order to write this poem:
“I’m Going to Start Living Like a Mystic.”
Father Michael in Glendalough and American poet Hirsch, undoubtedly
strangers in “real life,” seeming to be in deep conversation with each other.
Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, in one of his loveliest poems, explains what
the prophet, the poet, and the mystic have in common:
doing the right thing for the reward of doing the right thing.
Where every act is a labor of love.
Astonishment was my first response to Ireland.
Now lingering images and powerful words,
connections between the visible and invisible,
travel with me on my quest for the sacred in everyday life.
Fortunately, two recent books in my life have strongly reinforced these connections.
Click below to read my reviews of these two books (I gave them both five stars):
On the Brink of Everything: Gravity, Grace, and Getting Old by Parker Palmer
How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning, and Community by Judith Valente.
If you want a sneak preview into themes that both books share, start with Tracy Rittmueller’s detailed, researched, blog post on 23 spiritual practices taught by the Rule of St. Benedict.
Have you seen anything lately that arrested you like the image of Father Michael kneeling did to me?
This is lovely and worth contemplating. The companion books are calling to me!
Thank you, Linda. I hope you add both books to your pile and that they bless your life.
Shirley — I love what you said: “We have the power to choose through our intention and attention.” And now I have two more books added to my must-read list. Thank you.
Laurie, you have been one of my teachers in seeing the connection between these two words — and in focusing on the power to choose. Thank you. I am confident that both books will inspire the inspirer in you.
I listened to the Seamus Heaney video before reading this post, which put me into the right frame of mind for contemplation. Thank you for taking me deeper into my own spiritual quest as you recount yours.
P.S. I suspect you muted your phone before stealing the photo. Probably I couldn’t have resisted either . 🙂
Oh good, Marian. That video is the best version of several I watched. And I especially love it because it was recorded on Heaney’s 70th birthday. He only lived four years after that. 🙁 I love this story, and I’m sure you will also: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/10281153/Seamus-Heaney-told-wife-dont-be-afraid-minutes-before-death.html
Oh yes, my phone is almost always on mute, and it was turned off completely in Ireland except for WiFi. So there was no aural disturbance. I hope that Father Michael does not mind. He is too far away to ask, but if he thought one little egg of love for nature and for God would hatch and fly away because they saw this image, I feel sure he would permit.
The visions you paint…of living without grasping or being greedy, remind me of St. Francis of Assissi, whose feast day is today, who lived soaking up the blessings of Brother Sun and Sister Earth..rejoicing at all that we are given completely free every single day.
I am interested that Edward Hirsch wrote his poem in 1950 and that it seems so fresh and current.
Thank you for the book suggestions; they look great.
Thank you so much for this lovely post, Shirley, about your reflections on Ireland. A deeply reflective person such as you are and a deeply spiritual place like Ireland. A perfect match! You mention two of my favorite poems and poets — Edward Hirsch and Seamus Heaney — and one of my favorite people, Tracy Rittmueller. And thank you, thank you for mentioning my new book “How To Live: What The Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community.” It is an honor for me just to know you read it. To know that you enjoyed it, is a deep grace. Looking forward to more of your Ireland reflections.
Judith, how wonderful to have your voice here, having had the chance to hear it by phone and read it on the page. I knew I had been steered to Edward Hirsch’s poem by someone, and upon re-reading your book in order to review it, I discovered that person was you! I hope we get to meet in person soon!
Dolores, you will enjoy both these books to the full. Your life has prepared you for them. The Hirsch poem is fresh because it names experiences people have had in all ages. I need to give credit to Judith Valente for pointing me to the poem in her book. We need the wisdom of the mystics more, not less, as we appear to be teetering on the brink of destruction in so many ways in the external world.
I’m on vacation and reading a John O’Donohue book titled “Beauty – The Invisible Embrase.” It calls us to awaken to observe beauty in our lives. Good thoughts to ponder. (I visited Ireland a year ago and would love a pilgrimage journey again.)
Hi Nancy, I love that book too. My recollection is that I underlined at least a sentence in every paragraph. So much wisdom and grace in his writing. Thanks for checking in, and I hope you get back to Ireland. It’s one place I don’t think I would ever tire of visiting.
Fr. Michael Rodgers guided pilgrimage at the Glendalough lakes was a highpoint of my Celtic Pilgrimage two years ago. Reading your post brings that all back with such appreciation. Judith Valente is a resident of Normal, Illinois, too. We recently were blessed to have her with us as the input person on The Art of Pausing at a quiet retreat for our congregation. Appreciated your reflections and am recalling my own God-drenched pilgrim experience.
Wonderful connections here, Jane. I met Judith through Tracy, whose comment is below and whose blog post I link to above. When I heard that Judith was living in Normal, I knew there would be a Mennonite connection also. But then, Mennonites and Benedictines were connected from the beginning through Michael Sattler! Many blessings on your continuing pilgrimage, whether again in Celtic lands or in the great American heartland.
Thank you for this beautiful poem/video, Shirley. I am continually astonished by these “intricate webs of thoughts” which connect us. I was working on my next blog post, got stuck, and popped over here knowing I’d find some inspiration (which I did, for my soul as well as to unblock my writing), and then was surprised —and honored— to see your link to my last post.
I couldn’t believe how much serendipity there is among all these wonderful webs, and I have you to thank for so many of them, Tracy. I love what you are doing on your blog. And I know how much energy, love, and research went into those “23 spiritual practices.”
Glad you found the link. Hope it brings you readers. But most of all, I hope you continue following the pilgrim path ahead and find angels and companions on the way ahead.
This is wonderful, Shirley. I’m glad you’re finding guidance from books, teachers, and from a pilgrimage. I’m leading a workshop on Aging and Grief in Columbus Ohio a month after a workshop by Parker Palmer there. That’s a challenging act to follow, but I hope to rise to the occasion.
I think of the powerful Hindu rituals I saw in India, sometimes complex, but often a simple washing of head or face or feet. Recently, I attended a dedication of a new gateway with two Tibetan monks with bells, chanting, and flowers thrown in the air as offering. And then my own quiet rituals when I walk to the woods to visit Vic’s cairn or wash my face in the stream. Each Monarch release feels like a prayer–that’s 90+ release prayers since late July–and earlier in the season each bluebird hatching felt like a miracle. I’m grateful Nature gives me many chances to pray.
I know you will bless many people in your presentation, Elaine, just as you did with your amazing TEDx talk. Parker is indeed a wonderful speaker, but you need not fear following him. Your description in this last paragraph of the experiences past and present that are helping you through your own grief, and your very presence in the room will be a balm to many in the audience, I am sure. I love your last sentence especially:”I’m grateful Nature gives me many chances to pray.”
Hello, Shirley! Your name sounds familiar to me so I wonder if we may have crossed paths previously, but if so, I do not know when or where. I have been working for a while now with the idea of pilgrimage as a vehicle for telling one’s own personal story so am delighted to read this post and find your site. Most of all, I am humbled and flattered to have discovered that you found and incorporated my video of Seamus Heaney’s poem! I found you through the statistics on my youtube page which show me where people are finding and watching the video.
Of course, I cannot take credit for the power of the video. It’s all Seamus Heaney. But I did give the poem space and breath in editing his 70th birthday remarks so that each line has time to linger in the air a just a bit before the next. Putting it together with music, along with bits of audio and video from my own visit to Glendalough was a small “labor of love,” to borrow Heaney’s words. If you have not yet listened to the original audio of his remarks on his 70th birthday from which I edited my version, I would highly recommend it. He elaborates a bit on writing the poem which is charming to hear. (I included the link to it in the description section of my video on youtube.)
I hope to return to Glendalough for another visit and when I do, I want to be guided by Father Michael Rodgers!
How delightful to find your comment here and to be able to speak directly to you as the creator of the wonderful video embedded above. I did see the original, but your video with the text included, music, and locale is so delightful! I have a personal interest in the origin of the reading, since I turned 70 this summer myself. 🙂
I don’t know if we have met. I’m off to check out your work online.
Many blessings on your pilgrimage called life. I hope you get back to Glendalough.