Friday, June 10, 2005

On the mountain


A splendid day -- for Ireland -- warm sunny, calm. Off at 7AM for the hill. Mount Brandon, Ireland's second highest and, as readers of Climbing Brandon will know, a big part of my life for the past 35 years. The photo shows my walking companion Maurice, my age almost exactly but an all-year regular on the mountain. He has to shift into a lower gear when he walks with me.

The subtitle of Climbing Brandon is "Science and Faith on Ireland's Holy Mountain," and the book considers the topic that seems to spark most comments on this blog: Can one live a life of attention and celebration without invoking myths or miracles?

For a few centuries after the conversion of Ireland to Christianity, while the new faith was still in the thrall of Celtic druidism, something like what I'm talking about happened here. Columbanus, one of the early Irish Christian scholar/saints, asked in a sermon: "Who shall examine the secret depths of God? Who shall dare to treat of the eternal source of the universe? Who shall boast of knowing the infinite God, who fills all and surrounds all, who enters into all and passes beyond all, who occupies all and escapes all?" Those who wish to know God, he said, "must first review the natural world." For those earliest Irish Christians, as for the pagan Celts before them, the creation was the primary revelation.

Writing about Celtic spirituality, Noel Dermot O'Donoghue speaks of the Irish perception of a Presence in the world, existing somewhere between light and darkness, clarity and mystery. The God of the early Irish Christians was the King of the Elements, Righ na nDul, he says, and adds: "Just as Christianity became wedded to logos in Hellenism, and to authority in Romanism, it became wedded to nature and the natural world, in all its various levels and regions, in the Celtic world."

By virtue of my own background, I know the Christian tradition best, but I suspect the same trichotomy can be found in every religion. Only in the third part of the triad are we likely to find common ground for people of all faiths, for the same reason that scientists of all ethnicities, nationalities and religions achieve consensus.