|Poppies at Ballintubber Abbey, April 2011|
And then who is to say what is timely or untimely about death, or about anything for that matter? The Eastern philosophers and mystics constantly call on us to observe life in the full, observe the very impact this, that or the other occurrence has upon us emotionally and spiritually, and indeed intellectually. Instead of questioning or judging, relax and attend to what life is saying to me in X, Y or Z occurrence. Such objectivity, such a sense of stillness, such an attitude of mind, such a state of heart requires constant training, constant awareness, an easy, yet sharp consciousness of life. The true mystic in this sense is the true observer par excellence, the primal or original or essential witness. He or she has been schooled in the hard lessons of life and has learnt their life lessons well. They grew simultaneously in age and in wisdom as the Bible puts it.
|Folklore: The call of the cock when the Lord had risen|
And dying and death are distinct parts of that Mess and that Chaos. And so speaking in another metaphor (or simile if you have a penchant for precision) from the Bible, we read that "death comes like a thief in the night," often totally unexpected. We never know the day nor the hour. I have for a number of years - the last ten or so - often been expecting the soon demise of my beloved mother, and yet she still lives on, content in her demented state, smiling often and eating well. And who is to say whether her death will be timely or untimely. Again I seem to remember other words from the Judaeo-Christian Bible that the Lord God's time is not your time or my time. Whether one is a believer or an agnostic or an atheist one can still appreciate the spiritual and wise content of these words. It is saying to us in the here and now that in many senses the complexity of life and our sheer infinitesimally small intellect versus the infinity of the universe with its infinity of possibilities and explanations leave us gasping in awe or floundering in confusion.
|Headstones, Ballintubber Abbey, Co. Mayo|
I remember the late Denis Carroll, D.D., the brilliant theologian, philosopher and historian who lectured me at college saying once that every time he walked to the graveyard to bury another one of his flock (he was for a great part of his life a priest, but left and enjoyed some twenty years of married bliss before he died relatively young some years back) he actually did feel a twinge of doubt as to whether there was anything beyond us or not. While Denis was a great Christian theologian, and in some senses an excellent Roman Catholic priest, his was a brilliant, cultivated and sharp mind which could ask the deepest of questions as well as giving the deepest of answers. With Frs Enda MacDonagh and Gabriel Conor Daly. O.S.A., Denis made up the triumvirate of our greatest Irish Liberal Theologians. He was always humble enough in the Socratic sense to declare his own ignorance and doubts, too. This is what essentially drew us as students to this wonderful man and excellent scholar.
I have also long liked the wonderful writing of the Irish Times journalist John Waters who quite sagely opined some years back that the Roman Catholic Church ( and indeed the Protestant ones) are great at celebrating those important rites of passage: viz., baptisms, marriages and funerals, which he described as rites of "hatching, matching and dispatching." No truer word could be said. Whatever about the intricacies of theology; whatever about the debates as to whether God exists or not; whatever about the faults and failings and sheer corruption of some elements in the Church; whatever about our faith or indeed our doubts, it's the symbols and the metaphors and the use of those symbols and metaphors in healing ritual that really matter. In essence all those ceremonies or rites of passage are in themselves important because of the very artistic way the carry our pain as Professor Levine has been anxious to teach us, and as I have attempted to describe in my more recent posts.
God be with you, Mary O'Sullivan. You were a lovely woman and a fine soul. May the force of life, whatever it is that weaves the warp and woof of life together, strengthen and comfort the bereaved. In the Gaelic language which I taught for some thirty years we say: Solas síoraí do'd anam uasal agus leaba i measc na naomh go raibh agat go deo: "May the light of eternity always shine on you and may you sleep among the saints forever!"