We Are Not Tigers: The Need To Be Noticed

‘The Life Of Pi’ tells a powerful story that is layered with many meanings – physical, emotional, mental & spiritual.

Following a shipwreck the only survivors are Pi Patel, a 16-year old boy, and a tiger. They end up - just the two of them - in a lifeboat drifting across the Pacific Ocean and in the course of the journey the boy trains the tiger to give him his space on the boat. They even develop a connection with each other and when they are on the verge of death the tiger’s head is resting on Pi’s lap.

They survive. The boat drifts onto a beach where the boy collapses and the tiger simply walks away straight ahead into the jungle - out of the boy’s life forever. What hurt Pi was that the tiger left him without even looking back and in his desolation the boy is expressing something that is essential in every human life – that we be noticed, acknowledged by another, that we matter. Not so much for the things we do but simply for being who we are in all our stages of life – an maybe especially in times of transition, uncertainty.

The parting moment in the movie stirred all sorts of memories in me. The one I loved died suddenly without a word, without a glance in my direction; I came to the end of a job I had been doing for years and those with whom I had worked most closely let me leave without a word of acknowledgement. These are hard silences, even if useful for our development.

Young people emerging into their own new identity need that identity to be recognized; people entering into retirement or old age also need their new identity to be acknowledged.

Human beings need to be recognized, noticed, acknowledged for who they are and what their lives mean, that the experiences we have gone through have a meaning. This is not just a nicety of life – it is essential for our complete development.

It’s one of the basic principles at work in the Baptism of Jesus. God the Father might have said that Jesus knows who & what he is, that he doesn’t need to be told. But that’s not how God works. To Him every human person, every human life is worthy of notice and acknowledgement and so he looks at Jesus and tells him “you are my Son the Beloved, my favour rests on you.”

This is at the heart of the Christian life – that each one of us in Baptism is seen by God, approached by God, spoken to by God – “you are my Beloved”. And part of our Baptism also is that we become the eyes and the mouth of God; that we represent Him and that we notice and acknowledge every human life. The Church, each baptized person cannot ignore one single life, cannot be indifferent to one single life, must cherish every single life from the moment of its conception up to the moment of its natural death.

Getting Ready For God: Thoughts on Purgatory


I was in my room in Dublin one bitterly cold January day, getting ready to fly to South Africa to give a retreat to the Pallottine Seminarians there. Travelling light had become second nature to me and the case on my bed was fairly small but while I was packing it a voice inside me said, “you don’t need all this stuff.” But I ignored it because anything in it was actually essential – my bible, notes, just enough clothes.

And I arrived at Heathrow for the flight to Johannesburg, checked in my little suitcase and boarded the flight. By now the temperature had dropped to minus 7 and we were left sitting a long time in the plane while they made up their minds to fly or not. When they decided they would fly they discovered that there were no baggage handlers to put our luggage on the plane and after another long wait the pilot announced that we would fly without the luggage. There was a discontent murmur among the passengers but I just smiled as I thought of the voice I heard back in Dublin.

In Johannesburg they took our details and promised to send on our bags. My destination was a farm out in the country a good distance away. The temperature was thirty degrees and by the third day my bag had not arrived and I was in a bad way. My clothes reeked!

On that third day one of the students, Cosmas, came to me to say he would give me some of his clothes to wear. He is much taller and bigger than me and I thought I’m going to look ridiculous but there was no other option. So, he gave me his clothes and took away my own to wash them. Every second day he did the same. He was an angel of mercy and I in need of it! And my bag never arrived!

This journey has become a parable for me of my journey home to eternal life, a symbol of what might happen to me in death when I pass from this world into the next. It is a process of being carried, an experience of letting go of the unnecessary aspects of my life, a stripping away of the old clothes, the washing away of the sweat and grime of the journey and being clothed with something new. I was no longer in control.

Purgatory is the name given by the Church to the stage in between death and our arrival into the fullness of life in heaven, an experience of purification in the fire of Divine Love, that fire desired by the mystics which is spiritual and not a physical burning. It is the stripping and burning away of what is imperfect so that we can put on what is perfect, not a legal perfectionism but the perfection of Love, the perfection that comes from Christ that we cannot attain by our own efforts.

My sister Evelyn and I were talking about purgatory and she was surprised when I said that I will spend time in that state after I die. She thinks I should go straight to heaven but I know that I am not ready and will not be ready for full communion with God.

I will need to let go of my resistance to God himself; I will need to be stripped of my resentments and desires for revenge; I will need to divest myself of and make some recompense for the hurts I have done to others; the injustices towards others that I have tolerated; for my disregard for God’s earth, the ways in which I have participated in its destruction. These are some of the things I will need to shed and let go of and I hope too that I will be consoled for the hurts inflicted on me in life, that the wounds of life will be somehow transformed or glorified.

One of Ireland's most demanding pilgrimages is St. Patrick's Purgatory in Lough Derg, an island on a lake in County Donegal, a place of penance and prayer. Once you get on that island there's no getting off and no avoiding of what must be done but at the end there is a real sense of having been purified and it serves me as a good example of what Purgatory might be like. It is devoid of pleasure and devoid of sleep for a day, a night and another day. The one moment of pleasure is getting into bed after 36 hours of wakeful penance. And then it's done!

Getting ready for God to me is like getting ready for my wedding and I see myself as a fisherman coming home on his trawler after a long labour at sea, with salt and grease and the odour of fish embedded in my flesh. I would not go directly from this noble labour to my wedding without meticulous preparation, a deep immersion in a thorough cleansing, because I would want to look and smell and be my best for the one I love. I want at least the same and more for God.

And in order to become our best selves in the presence of God we need others to help us, the souls of our loved ones need us to help them by our prayers, especially by the Mass. That’s why we dedicate ourselves to this during the month of November.

This weekend is dedicated to the memory of our loved ones who have died and we bring to God our own personal experiences of grief asking God to fill our emptiness and console our sadness. On Sunday afternoon we will go to Fairlight cemetery for the blessing of the graves, keeping up an ancient tradition of praying for the holy souls. We also dedicate the Coventry Patmore chapel which has been redecorated and will be reserved as a place of prayer and remembrance, a place of peace and consolation for all of us in our grief.

LATE MORNING: Poems From Tanzania



Waiting

Across the field
To dawn at sea

A corner in the midday sun
Beneath the sky at night

Alone within his heart

The warrior waits for death
The watchman waits for dawn

To this have I been called
To wait on God
A moment forever
In expectancy of surprise

(Makiungu 1981)


The Rag

It was used
To clear the floor
Of muddy footprints
On rainy days

Thrown out upon
The weeks and months
Of harsh winters
Perishing

The home of worms and snails
Till taken in
Soaked and worn
To help the fire
In some strange way

Then set aflame
Consumed

(Makiungu 1982)



Late Morning (For Maura)

How many times
You peeped into the room
(when I was sleeping late)
Wishing, thinking
We could be together
Chatting

And how were you to know
That when I sit beside you
Look into your eyes
Or come home to you
I am filled
With silent peace, content
With the look of
An expectant mother
Knowing I have arrived
Safe to sleep

Once I thundered
Childish fury in your face
And chased away
Your first lover
By staying too close

As you bore it
With my teenage oddity
And adult depression
Letting me wash my clothes
In the bath
To work it off

And you understood
My silence
As you understood
My presence
As you understand

(Galapo 1985)


Thirst

Dripped once
With drenching dew
Now dried
And parched
These mountain slopes
My soul
Thirsting
Straining upward
Unfulfilled

I've longed for You
With clouded passion
Seeking
Shade and shield
From the sharp sword of fate

Climbing
All my life
I'm always almost there
Almost always
Missing You

In night-like absences
Perceiving
In the dark
The shadow
Of You standing by
To rescue me
From hands too strong

Would you spirit me away
To cool cloisters
Tasting Your thirst for me
In full flood
And silence


Grace

She came to me
In the night
When our mourning
Had long since ceased
And taking me by the hand
She walked me
In the light
Smiling, speaking
But I heard not a word

Never have I seen
A star so bright
Nor a moonlit night
So beautiful

And I wonder
Who am I
That I should dream

(Galapo 1985)


Dad

I often thought
You should have been a monk
With your silent ways

And in a thunder-stormed room in Rome
One night I was afraid
and wished you were there
Sleeping through it all
Like you used to do at home

If you had gone to a monastery
There would never have been
Those China factory days in Sunner
Walking down Pearse Avenue
Where I got to know you
Or Friday evening chats
And pints in Jacksons or wherever

If you were a monk
You wouldn't be Dad
Nor would I be me
And I'd still be afraid
Of thunder!

(Galapo 1985)


I Wonder

A dawn that brings
No sunshine
Keeps me in bed
Wondering
If tomorrow
Will let me fathom
What I still don't understand
At dusk
That the sun
Has made its journey
Through the sky
While the news repeats
What it's always said
That we've repeated
What we've always done

And I wonder
About tomorrow
- will it make more sense,
Will there ever be peace?

(Galapo 1985)



Rheinberg War Cemetary



Their sleeping place on earth
Is still and sad
Their silenced cry
Who stand in line
Unarmed
Where they had fallen
Armed

Some named
And others known
To God alone

There is beauty
In their resting
A beauty born of war

But WHY the war?

(Thurles 1978)

KNOWN UNTO GOD: Remembrance Sunday


It’s the summer of ’78 when ‘Saturday Night Fever’ is in full flight and I’m a student working in Germany for the holidays.

That same summer I went to visit the Rheinberg War Cemetery, the resting place of more than three thousand victims of World War II. I was struck by the silent stillness, the sheer beauty and peace of it and I pondered the contrasting uproar of ugliness, the unspeakable suffering that gave birth to this place.
War is an awful reality that I cannot understand but I find in myself a great respect for every single person who has served in war in any capacity; the selfless generosity and courage is deserving of my honour and admiration.

And the peaceful silence that rests over such cemeteries seems to me to speak of promise – God’s promise of a lasting peace that is eternal, a peace that only Christ can give, a peace that will perhaps elude us as long as we live on earth, a peace that will find its fulfilment in heaven. Such a promise in no way is a justification for war but God has a war of turning all things to good.

Most of the headstones in Rheinberg bear the name of the one buried but there are 158 that bear no name and at the bottom of the headstone is written “Known Unto God” – this more than anything impresses itself on my heart and mind.

Known unto God is the most important knowing there is but it is part of our human makeup to ignore such knowing because we really want to be known by those around us. To be known and noticed and appreciated. Small things like someone noticing your new hairdo, the meal you cooked, the job you did in the garden and how we suffer when the ordinary things of our lives go unnoticed.

It’s a harsh reality for many people that there is no one there to notice anything about us and God is inviting us to pay attention to the fact that He takes notice of every single aspect of our lives. For sensitive souls, for the scrupulous of a certain generation this conjures up notions of God watching us in a fearsome way, ready to catch us out as soon as we make a mistake.

I’m thinking about God noticing in an admiring, appreciative way. This matters when one is left feeling unimportant, insignificant in life.

When my mother died, I suddenly realized that I was no longer anybody’s son. My father was already 18 years gone and I became nobody’s child in this world. It hit home to me when someone asked, “whose are you now?”

It happens to the widowed or when one’s child has died. It creates an emptiness that cannot be put into words and in some way we became nothing for a while, a long while.

I’m thinking about a book Maura gave me years ago – ‘Even the Least Thing Has Meaning’ – and I’m thinking about a single leaf on top of a tree that I was admiring one day in Tanzania. That leaf is visible to no one except God and the birds and in that lies its meaning – that it is seen by God, known by God, admired by God who created it and that is enough. During that little meditation I was feeling very insignificant and, on the edge, and it was a grace that I could accept that it was enough for me to be seen and known by God. Ultimately, I am a son of God and that’s enough.

It’s what we come across in the gospels – the supreme importance of what is little and seemingly of no account. The child. At our family Mass on Sunday we have aa rather lengthy offertory procession – someone suggested that it takes half an hour which is not true.

Maybe it takes ten minutes but it is important because every single little thing presented there by the child matters to God, every single child matters as do the parents who walk with them. They represent all of us and somehow, they are making all the little offerings on behalf of the whole community. After Mass today a little girl came to me with a fallen, fading leaf which she handed to me saying, “this is for you Father Eamonn!” Even the least thing has meaning!
It is one of the lovely things I liked about the offertory in Tanzania. Not just the children but every person in the congregation came forward with an offering – some with money, others with a few onions or eggs or a bag of grain – essential aspects of life, things that matter however small.

There’s an offering taking place in today’s gospel (Mark 12:38-44). People putting money into the treasury, some putting in a lot and maybe feeling important in doing so but the one who catches the attention of Jesus is the poor widow who puts in two small coins. She might have put in the least amount compared to all the others but, for Jesus, she has put in everything she had and so her offering is wholehearted, completely generous.

So, when we find in life that we have little or nothing to give, it’s important to give all the same because it matters in itself and it matters to God with whom what is insufficient becomes sufficient, more than enough.

The widow of the first reading reminds me of a little experience I had at communion time at Mass one time in Worth Abbey. I was given the chalice to share with the people and as soon as I saw it, I said to myself, “this is never enough for all this crowd” and I felt a bit annoyed with the priest who had put the wine in the chalice, that he hadn’t put in more.

And so the people were coming to me one by one and I kept thinking that this will never last, the Precious Blood will run out when the words of the Prophet Elijah came into my mind, words spoken in today’s first reading - “The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail” ( 1 Kings 17:10-16)– and so it was with the chalice. When Communion was finished there was actually some left over. More than enough in the end!


ON OUR HEARTS AND ON OUR LIPS: Holy Water for the Children


It’s an idea I got from Elaine in Shankill, giving the children in school a bottle of holy water to bring home; small plastic bottles that remind me of Caroline in St. Anne’s Resource Centre, Caroline preparing hundreds and hundreds of them in preparation for Easter. Good ideas always need someone who will do the practical part.

I brought up the idea at the Spiritual Life committee in Sacred Heart School here in Hastings. Head Teacher, Mr. Hellett loved it. He sourced the bottles - 250 of them - got them filled with water and labelled with each child’s name.

And so, on Wednesday, Eve of All Saints I spent most of the day in school going from class to class. The children, from the youngest up, were very enthusiastic about the Mission I was sending them on and they all understood the idea of mission. Their task was to bring the holy water home to bless their families.

The chats we had were lovely and they had a very good grasp of what a blessing is, when a priest gives a blessing – the bread and wine at Mass, babies at baptism, the sick.

Particularly with the smaller ones, I would kneel and have a child bless me as a demonstration of what they might do at home with their parents. But, of course, they had their own ideas! Parents wouldn’t have to kneel – they could be blessed sitting on a chair or on a couch. And apart from blessing parents they were keen to bless everyone in the house, including pets. They could bless doors and windows and the graves of those who died. One girl was going to bless her grandmother who is ill. All their own lovely ideas.

Two suggestions I made were, one that they could bless their pillow. This made a lot of them laugh and I would say, “you don’t have to pour the whole bottle on your pillow, just a tiny bit on a corner!” I heard since that one girl went home and blessed the four corners of her pillow.

The other suggestion is that they could bless their lips, their speech. That too caused amusement but it’s one that I’m serious about - how we as Christians should watch what we say, how words have the power to bless or hurt, to lift up or bring down. The blessing we use before the reading of the Gospel at Mass is appropriate – with our thumb we bless our minds, our hearts and our lips that we might worthily proclaim the holy Gospel. St. James’ teaching on the tongue is worth reading – in chapter three of his letter.

For the actual blessing of the water I got each child to hold their bottle in their two hands and asked them to close their eyes and repeat the prayer after me. “God our Father, we ask you in the name of Jesus to send your Holy Spirit into this water to make it holy. We ask you to bless us and our families, our friends, our school and our teachers. Mary, mother of Jesus, we ask you to pray for us today and every day that we may be safe. Amen!”

Looking down at the faces of the children during this prayer was one of the most inspiring things ever – their sincere earnestness! I felt like the luckiest, most blessed person in the world, so grateful to be here at this time in my life

LOVE CRIES: Poems for November



LOVE CRIES

Love cries
Because it loves

Its tears selfish
And not selfish at all

It cannot bear absence

Not loving the one
For whom it would
Give its whole life

If it could be measured
It would have
The length and depth
Of tears

Floods and Oceans

For Love is water
In all its shapes
And temperament

And when I die
Do not put sweet words
On my lips

I will not say
That I am only gone
To the next room

I will not ask you
Not to cry

I should not tell you
Anything about how
You should grieve

But if I would
I should ask you to cry
And cry as you must
Until the time for letting go

And I would ask for the flowers
Of your garden

Cascading their fragrance
Like incense all around
About us as testament
To our loneliness and loving

The loving that is perfected
In all its expressions


THE SCARF (In Memory of my Mother)

We do not grieve
Like those who have
No hope

But we mourn
All the same
And weep like Jesus

For death is loss
To those who remain
Our letting go
No casual achievement

We labour and ache
For contact
A physical connection

I pick up the scarf
I bought for her
In Paris

Feel the smoothness
Of her skin

The soft scent
Of her perfume
And carry it with me
A year or two
Until the fragrance

Fades away
No longer
Needed


WHEN THE TIDE SUBSIDED (In Memory of my Father)



He lay there basking
Content and nicely proud
Wandering back in time

A dreamer dreaming
Alone on a beach
Waiting for the tide to come

The tracks of his feet behind
And before him
The quiet sea seemed not

To move
But it stole steadily stroking
The sand

Lapping about his feet
Surprising him from sleep
To a waking moment

Waiting for us to come.

“It would want to be soon”
He said and sounded
Strong

Like calm clear water
Swelling
Surging

Suddenly sweeping him
Away
In the silence of the night.

And when the tide subsided
There was nothing left of him
But his remains

Arched backwards
Like Jesus shocked
Upon the Cross

“Into your hands O Lord
I commend my spirit”

For the last time.



YOUR ABSENCE

White light shivers
On a black metallic sea

A mischievous wind
Chills the bone

And I like stone sink
Into the darkness

Of your absence

You are so absent
And I am so lost
Without you

My earnest desire
Is to expire
Retire with you

In the cool cloisters
Of a heavenly sun

To run
From all that is unbearable
run, run, run

Before the dawn
Breaks again.


BEAUTY OF THE SKY


She leaned forward
From the back seat
To speak of the singular
Beauty of the sky

Her right hand resting
On my left shoulder

Our eyes meeting
In the mirror

For the last time

For the last time
We walked the Prom
And never said goodbye

Or anything significant
As a last saying
That I might cling to
As some kind of assurance


IT WILL SPRING AGAIN (In Memory of Maura)
I went faithfully
Among bare trees

When life was cold
And hope obscure

And grief like frost embittered
In my taut and tightened heart

Dried out
Cowhide
Stretched

Kneeling beside her grave
With my backside in the air
To kiss the damp and grey
Brown earth instead of her

And aching to touch
And aching for some kind
Softening warmth

To Spring

And it Sprang, so it did
For a while
And it will Spring again


LONELY ENDING (In Memory of Paul)


The stillness of a staring horse
Residue of Autumn rust
On near-bare trees

November mourners
Gaze at the opposite
Shore of the quiet lake

Pondering what was witnessed
There by God's creation
The lonely ending

A wounded beautiful life
Pushed beyond the edge
Of no return

Into the deep emptiness

Denied the right to love
And see and touch
To hear and hold

His one Beloved Child

And in the cold
Dark stillness of the dawn

We are left with unanswerable
Questions, unspeakable

Loss

But this I know
That God is close
To the broken hearted

And always sends his Angel
To attend to the Gethsemane
Of our lives


THIS PATCH OF EARTH (For the Children)

I have dabbled
In aloneness
Dipping my toe

Into the shallows

A safe distance
Close enough to feel
The comfort of friends

God with skin
God shedding skin

He tripped me
Into ice black
I fell

Descending right down
To the lower regions
Black panther prowling

Where Christ has gone

The deep recesses
Mother of all sorrows
That knows no solace

This patch of earth
This grave
Those standing round

The only environment
In need of saving now

This patch of earth
This grave
Beautiful body

Dearest child
The third to sleep
In this soil

Parents riven
To shreds

I am plunged
Into their
Nothingness

My soul abandoned
On the altar

Rebuffed

Lost for words
When God accused
Is held to account

Disappointed
That he did not take
Me instead of her

It's what I asked
(Earth Day, April 22, 2016)


FAREWELL TO EDWARD

I am present
At his passing
This fine strong gentle

Man

Builder of boats
Husband father grandad

Deep strength of faith
On his knees even

In his agony

I brought him
Communion

He loved the sea
In me and made

Tea

Made me feel
Special

While we talked
Galway and other
Common ground

Fingering old timber
Caressed like the tender
Flesh of a loved one

The last call
Talked of hours

Urgent

Time to heed
Better instincts
Without hesitation

All generations gathered
Around his fading moments

To sing and say
Final farewells
Whispered in his ear

One by one
Unrestrained Love
Anointing


Praying
Sé do bheatha
a Mhuire

Child's head
Resting on his breast
He falls asleep

Slips away
Rested


PRAYER

(In memory of my cousin Paul who found solace in the words of this poem and whose tragic death has given these words another meaning. November 3, 2012)


Place me on a shore at dusk

By the sea’s healing waters
Where thoughts like boats
Go floating by my mind’s eye

Some circling round
Or anchored to distract

Yet not to hide your Light
My Love

Place me at dusk on a shore
Where the soul’s calm sea

Is stormed and laid to rest
At your command

To contemplate your Light
My Love

This I ask
Amen!


THE FINAL PRAYER

In the end
When there is nothing
Left to say

And I cannot pray
Prayers properly

With the finger of silence
Resting on my lips

May the Holy Spirit come
As breath

Breathing over
The outer whitewashed
Handsomeness

To the shabbiness
Of my inner being

Whispering the Name
That is dearest to my heart

Delight of my eyes
Passion of my soul

Jesus!

The only Name
The final Prayer
The ultimate Word