Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mystery, not miracle

When I was writing Climbing Brandon: Science and Faith on Ireland's Holy Mountain I read a little book on Celtic spirituality by the Irish priest John J. O Riordain, called The Music of What Happens. O Riordain takes his title from an old Irish fairy story of the hero Fionn, who asked his fellow champions what was the finest music in the world. They offered their choices: the song of the cuckoo calling from the hedge, the ring of a spear on a shield, the laughter of a gleeful girl, and so on. Then they asked Fionn his opinion.

"The music of what happens," said the great Fionn, "is the finest music in the world."

I'm not altogether sure what is the meaning of the story, but it seems to reflect the pantheistic nature of pre-Christian Celtic thought. Certainly here in the west of Ireland some of that druidic "music of what happens" lingers beneath a veneer of imported Mediterranean dualism -- matter/spirit, body/soul, natural/supernatural,. O Riordian tries hard to reconcile Christianity with the Celtic reverence for "what happens," but I fear it is a lost cause. The important thing in Christianity, as I experienced it, is not the patterns of nature, but the interruptions of the patterns -- the miracles, the mortifications of the body, the transubstantiations, the rejection of the material world with all its works and pomps. The goal is to get out of here as soon as possible, to another more spiritual place, to be saved, raptured.

And then I read Peig Sayers' Reflections of an Old Woman, one of the books that came out of the Blasket Island, just there, over the hill:
It was a lovely night, the air was clean, full of brilliant stars and the moon shining on the sea. From time to time a sea-bird would give a cry. Inside in the black caves where the moon was not shining the seals were lamenting to themselves. I would hear, too, the murmuring of the sea running in and out through the cleft of the stones and the music of the oars cleaving the sea across to Ventry.
The birds. The seals. The waves. The oars. The music of this world, this world of flesh and blood and sea and stone. Saint Augustine said it was a waste of time to attend to such things, because they are of no use in reaching blessedness -- and so it was in the Christianity of my youth. Not so for Peig Sayers. For her, it was all blessed. The birds, the seals, the sea, the oars. In this she was closer to her druidic ancestors than to the theologians of the south, those dour men with their Greek abstractions and Roman legalisms. She heard the music of what happens. For her, it was the voice of God.