Friday, August 14, 2020

WILD HEART: A Brooding Beauty

From the movie 'Alpha'

'Wild at Heart' is the book I came upon in the sitting room at home. Wild is the unmanaged beauty of Ballyloughán, the beach where we swam and played as children, getting roasted by the sun. A brooding beauty. The sombre grey of the sea beneath a vibrant Western sky.  Dark and pale blue, brown and orange with a blazing white setting sun at its centre. The song of curlews echoing. I have gone there every day of my quarantine. Mostly in the early morning. 

Brooding beauty, a wild and wounded heart - all of these are held together in one life, vital aspects of that life. I love what is wild even though I am generally a quiet kind of man. Maybe it's because I'm quiet that I love the wild particularly the wild sea. There's something honest about a storm at sea; it is an honest encounter with God and with myself and with creation. No room for pretence. 

Some years ago the image of the wolf became strong in my prayer. The wolf scratching at the door. A hungry ravenous wolf! Wolf in sheep's clothing. And I came upon this poem by Charlotte Perkins Gildman - 'The Wolf At The Door'.

"There’s a whining at the threshold,
There’s a scratching at the floor.
To work! To work! In Heaven’s name!
The wolf is at the door!" 


At first I saw the wolf, a haunting horror, as external to myself and that I was its target; the wolf being the dangerous forces in society that attack and seek to destroy the innocent. The wolf was the destructive person who attacks and seeks to destroy, to subdue me - mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

And then one day it dawned on me that I am myself the wolf or that the wolf is inside me, a wild, destructive, dangerous force within. A daunting and frightening realization but God, as ever kind and merciful, reminded me of the prophecy in Isaiah - "the wolf lives with the lamb" (11:1-10) - which is an expression of the return to the peace of Paradise, the harmony of Eden which comes with Jesus the Messiah. In the past week I have described my back garden as Paradise restored. Restored so beautifully by my sister and brother. A labour of love they said. Making it a safe place in which to contemplate the wild and the wound that I must wrestle with.

So, as well as the wolf there is a lamb within and the two forces come together in peace. Jesus is the Lamb of God whose gentleness, stronger than all strength, tames the wolf. It is in the surrender of the wolf to the Lamb that true peace is arrived at, the surrender of the self to God, without losing the distinctive beauty of either. 

"They do no hurt, no harm on all my holy mountain, for the country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."

There is the lovely movie 'Alpha' that tells of the companionship that developed between Keda who was left for dead by his tribe and the wolf abandoned by her pack. 

The harmony, reconciliation and peace that is being shaped within me is what I pray for in society and in every person; praying that Jesus will heal the wound within us that is often the source of the erupting anger that lashes out or lashes oneself from within.

I think God is wild at Heart as is evident in the coming of the Holy Spirit. The wind that rocked the house, a kind of "tormenta" that you find in Argentina. Upending, uprooting, usettling. Re-ordering. It is evident in Jesus walking into the storm on the lake inviting Peter to walk there with Him. Jesus at ease on the wild sea, Jesus sleeping within the storm bringing His own peace to it. 

Ezra pound writes about Jesus in the 'Goodly Fere'

"Like a sea that brooks no voyaging. 
With the winds unleashed and free 
Like the sea that he cowed at Geneseret...

A master of men was the Goodly Fere
a mate of the wind and the sea."

Fere is the Old English for companion or mate. And he is surely my Goodly Fere!

To speak of God as wild, the wild wind of the Spirit does not mean chaos or disorder. The most perfect order is to be found in the wind that blows where it will, the Holy Spirit. Gerard Manley Hopkins also describes the Blessed Virgin in similar terms. He calls her "wild air, world mothering air." And it's always struck me that she is wild air because she is of the Holy Spirit. She is the spouse.

It is Jesus in John's Gospel chapter 3 who speaks of the Holy Spirit in terms of the wind that blows where it will. "You can hear its sound but you can never tell where it's coming from or where it is going and so it is so it must be with those who are born of the Spirit." I am meant to be, we are meant to be like the wind that blows where it will. The wind of the holy spirit, the wild wind of the spirit.

Storm and calm are both necessary aspects of nature. They are aspects of reality. They are real. And so is the wound.

I wasn't expecting the book 'Wild at Heart' to speak of that but when it fell open on the floor the first line I saw simply states that every man carries a wound. I know that.

Something interesting has been happening to me in these days of quarantine since I came home. Neil Diamond's song is on the playlist in my head - 'Home is a wounded heart'. I feel really well in this house, in my bed, in the garden in the way that I haven't felt before and it's a really good place to be in. But I'm also keenly aware of a hurt I experienced. It feels like a fresh wound but it strikes me now that it is a very old one. Someone simply picked a scab and opened what was already there. It was done by action and by a silence that scared me and it simply said that I am not wanted, that I don't matter, that I have been judged to be less important than others, that I can be let go without a word. It brought me right back to a place I did not want to revisit, the experience of the original wound. It's the curse of being sensitive and the power of new hurts to awaken old ones.

So I wrestle with this in my garden Paradise and as always the readings from Mass and the Bible in general offer me sure guidance, understanding and healing. And not just for me but for all our experiences of hurt, hurts much greater than mine. 

The first Word is that I must forgive the other from my heart (Matthew 18:21-19:1). The second Word is Jacob wrestling with God, an experience that leaves him both blessed and injured (Genesis 32). Hurt is real and leaves its mark. The third is that God takes notice of the injured and rescues us, so that the hurt turns out to be a blessing and the wound can be fertile ground, it becomes a scar made beautiful by Love. A wild and brooding beauty!

"You were exposed in the open fields; you were as unloved as that on the day you were born. I saw you struggling in your blood as I was passing, and I said to you as you lay in your blood: Live, and grow like the grass of the fields. Then I saw you as I was passing. Your time had come, the time for love. I spread part of my cloak over you and covered your nakedness; I bound myself by oath, I made a covenant with you – it is the Lord who speaks – and you became mine. I bathed you in water, I washed the blood off you, I anointed you with oil – it is the Lord who speaks.” (Ezekiel 16)

In Ballyloughán I have witnessed the joy of children running onto the beach, a joy that brought light to the greyest of days. Here in my Paradise I am bathed and anointed on sunny days that have given me the pleasure of long visits from my family - outdoors and at a safe distance. Grandnephews, nieces, nephews, sisters, brother. And the kindness of neighbours on either side. Dogs bark, seaguls cry, robins sing and God is in this place!


  1. ‘I am not wanted, that I don't matter, that I have been judged to be less important than others, that I can be let go without a word. ‘This jumped out at me when reading this profoundly, erudite, honest and humble article. Sad to read this hearfelt feeling, but the rawness and honesty is amazing. It is not my experience of you, your generosity, empathy, compassion, cognitive abilities and humanity. It is your wound that gives you these gifts.
    Kintsugi is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — built on the idea that in embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art. Slán.

  2. Thank you for your profound insights so honest and true
    . I just read today from Maryknoll Global Concerns that every suffering and death is taken by God to transfigure and resurrect something new and better.