A “vacation” to Ireland became a spiritual journey
I recently had the opportunity to go to Ireland for two weeks on a final “road trip” with a friend before she committed to monastic life. We spoke for months on the telephone plotting and planning, until finally the big call came: she had booked our airline tickets.The wheels were in motion, there was no going back. We were off to Ireland and my life hasn’t been the same.
How does a journey begin? Is it merely a decision: choosing a suitcase, having an intention, saving money, destination? Perhaps those are significant factors. For me the single most important element was my mother, my childhood, my family heritage. Sometimes I think this journey began even before that, it began with my own mother’s conception and inculcation into the family origins. I am of Irish descent and I have the genealogical documents to remove all doubt as to the particulars. I look forward to passing them to my children and grandchildren.
My mother’s dream for as long as I can recall was to visit Ireland, our homeland, her spiritual homeland. I likewise wanted to see the place of our origin so it was with a real awe and humility, and not a little jet lag, that I stepped from the airplane onto Irish soil… or at that point Irish cement.
There is quite a difference between a vacation and a pilgrimage. This began as a vacation in my mind. I was looking forward to being “in Ireland” for goodness sake; bed and breakfasts, driving along the ocean road all the way to the Dingle Peninsula and lots of photos and souvenirs. This, however, was not quite the way things worked out. Ireland was on its own time, slower, quieter, more spiritual, telling me to step out of my worries and cares and be present to the creation that is Eire, that is Ireland. And so I was.
Of course it was easy. There were sheep everywhere, no where to run or hide from these iconic images of the Paschal Lamb and the lost sheep. Driving down narrow winding Irish roads the sheep seemed within reach.
On our first real day of “touring” we found a Marian grotto just along the roadside. It looked exactly like photographs I had seen in my dream books about Ireland. I knelt there on the roadside and prayed before a very beautiful and weathered statue of the Blessed Mother and asked her protection for us on this journey and also to bless those whom I love and am carrying with me in my heart.
Later that morning we parked the rental car and walked down a dirt road and as we crested the hill the ocean lay before us, a beautiful blue expanse bordered by clean sand. Walking towards the water felt as if I were going from one realm to another. The tide was beginning to go out and with each step I took into what had previously been covered by water, I realized a new meaning of the concept of proportion. Caves bordered the water and looking into them and then back to the ocean I thought of Catholic theologian Thomas Berry and his understanding of all of God’s creation as the “great curriculum.” I began to understand beyond the words in his book, and I began to know this in my bones.
After we left Donegal and drove south to County Kerry, all the way at the other end of the country, the outer landscape began to change a bit. The wildness and dark desperate beauty of the West of Ireland began to fill me, to overfill me and to flow into the journal I was keeping, the conversations we were sharing, the prayer I was making, the prayer that was making me.
Standing on the shore of Dingle Bay in temperatures of 50 degrees in a misting rain and brisk wind and gazing into the gray horizon, all the distractions I packed and brought through customs began to fall away, all the worries, all the negativity, the doubt and I became truly present to the gift of life, real life which is from God. I was beginning to understand where my blood came from.
Kim Long is the Director of Religious Education at St. Mary of the Pines Church.