Thursday, July 30, 2009

Blackberry summer

Strange summer this. The rest of Ireland complaining about the rain, but here on the end of the Dingle Peninsula, jutting out into the wet, gray Atlantic, we have had more than our share of sunshine. Heaps of clouds drift benignly in from the sea, holding their watery burden for the folks to the east. Still, I don't go for my walk without my fannypack raingear. Sunglasses, yes; anorak too.

And, sure enough, out of nowhere, a sprinkle.

When it happens, I find myself singing:
Asperges me. Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor,
Lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.
Which translates:
Sprinkle me. Sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop and I shall be clean
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Funny how I remember the words -- from the 51st Psalm -- across more than half a century. (OK, I looked them up just now to get the spelling and translation right.) Sixty-something years ago, I piously shuffled along at the side of the priest, in my black cassock and white surplice, holding the shiny brass pot of holy water, while the priest dipped his sprinkler device -- what was it called? -- and anointed the congregants with a gentle rain while we all sang the psalm. At the time, I wouldn't have had a clue what the Latin words meant, except for the "sprinkle," or where they came from, or what hyssop was anyway. Didn't matter. It was a lovely ritual. Loved it then, love it now, along with all the rest of that elemental Catholicism -- the earth, air, fire and water, the bread and wine, the chrism and incense and wax and silky fabrics, the colors that changed with the season, the bells, the chant. Great stuff, that. I miss it, the whole earthy is-ness of it. If only it didn't come packaged with pre-scientific superstition and anthropomorphic theology, not to mention a truckload of triumphalism, paternalism, misogyny, and homophobia.

So I walk bothareens of Ireland, the ditches burgeoning with fuchsia and montbretia and meadowsweet and loosestrife, the sky heaped with clouds in a hundred shades of blue and white, the sea a silver paten, and out of nowhere the raindrops fall on my head. Sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop, wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.