Another Poem

Recited in John Huston’s “The Dead,” although I don’t think it appeared in the original Joyce:

Donal Og

Translated by Lady Augusta Gregory, from an eighth-century anonymous Irish poem


It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;
the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible,
that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday
and myself on my knees reading the Passion;
and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

My mother has said to me not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or as the black coal that is on the smith’s forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you put that darkness over my life.

You have taken the east from me, you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!


Remembering Faith

“I’m trying to sell people on routine,” Fr. Walter told a group of lay Dominicans a few weeks before Easter. I asked him to explain, later, what he meant by that. “I don’t want you to get addicted to the highs and lows of spiritual life. When prayer becomes routine, dry, that’s when it becomes work–and prayer is work, most of the time.”

Routine–my third Triduum at my parish. All of the songs were familiar, the preaching somewhat predictable. I didn’t experience highs or lows (aside from missing Hyacinth, whom I always miss this time of year), and I tried not to be annoyed by that. I remembered my first Holy Thursday overnight vigil, waking up at 5 a.m. on Good Friday morning and running up Morningside Drive four blocks to the church to sit longer with my friends, and then drink coffee together in the rectory and look for excuses not to leave until Tenebrae began.

“These are my best memories now,” Hyacinth wrote to me, and I wrote back, “They are mine too! I want to cry!”

“Remember, and don’t cry!” he replied.

Remember. Relive in your body what the Lord has done for you–literally, put the members, the pieces, back together, reanimate what was scattered. There’s a reason God prescribes repetition–for the Israelites in the desert, at the Last Supper, do this again every year and remember. As I took part in the most dramatic liturgies of the year, I was forced to recall the other times I’ve participated in them, perhaps with greater emotion, but also with greater turmoil. Do I want to return to the girl running up Morningside Drive? Maybe for a fleeting moment, but no longer. It’s with the repetition that I’ve learned some of the hardest lessons of my faith, and I see now that having the pristine image of a newly beloved religion shattered is the only way to grow closer to God, as strange as that sounds. For, though our earthly ideals might seem perfect, though the past may seem like a paradise, now we only “know partially and prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (1 Cor 13:9-10).

The painful reality of growing up in our faith allows us to recognize that, while what we have here is beautiful, it cannot satisfy. And perhaps that is what Fr. Walter wanted to emphasize as well–that we repeat to learn, we repeat to find truth, to discover the core of the mystery of faith and wonder at it while realizing that there is still much more we can’t yet see.

Running on Fumes

92 retreatants, 6 priests, 4 religious brothers, about a dozens sisters, a gorgeous retreat house in Connecticut, and 48 hours. Twice a year for the past 10 years my young adult group has been using this basic formula to run retreats (except that 92 retreatants used to be about 25– now our waiting list is double that). There’s a moment in the course of the weekend–things are running, smoothly or not so smoothly, people are laughing in the halls, or praying in the chapel, or sitting in the rocking chairs on the lawn drinking tea and talking about God, when you realize that the retreat has taken a life of its own, that you are no longer in charge.

When I was the maid of honor at my best friend’s wedding, I was pretty nervous the night before the big day. A priest friend gave me some very helpful, blunt advice, “Just remember: it’s not about you.”

And that’s the main thing I walk away with after the weekend is over–as people share with me little stories of grace of which I was completely unaware, as I watch my good friends tear up with gratitude before the Blessed Sacrament, as I see the lines of young people waiting to go to confession, some for the first time in years. It’s a freeing thing to be able to trust in the moment, to hand over the reigns and commit oneself to kindness and to work. The success (I don’t like to use that word in regards to spiritual matters, but it’s the most apt one I can think of for now) of one’s efforts has nothing to do with your personal disposition toward it–whether you’re insanely nervous (ahem), doubtful, etc.

When given to, people get generous, they open up in unexpected ways, and the things that seemed impossible the night before are suddenly no longer challenges. I witnessed so many acts of generosity and courage this weekend. One retreatant driving another to urgent care at the hospital mid-day Saturday. A priest staying two hours later into the night than asked to hear confessions. A heartbroken young woman who had recently given her child up for adoption, still trusting in God.

Today, allow God to surprise you with his gifts. Put no bounds on him; let go of the reigns. Put your goals for Holy Week to the side for a moment, and see whether there might be something additional God wants to give you, and imitate his generosity. “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you” (Lk 6:38).