In August 2010, just past the waxing quarter moon, I attended a retreat on Celtic spirituality and peacemaking in Northern Ireland. The hosts of the retreat asked us to respect the safe and sacred space created by the community, and refrain from attributing direct quotes to any of the attendants or speakers. With that in mind, the following are excerpts from the journal I kept.
Day Six — The Wise Man in the Woods
It's about 10 PM, and our day of silence has technically begun. Which means I may actually have half a second to write and complete my thoughts.
We came to a bird lookout-hut, a small wooden hut with horizontal slits all along its walls giving a view of the shoreline of the lake. The weather was rainy and gray — my hair was damp and matted down from the walk there — wind whipping the blue-gray waters of the lake into whitecaps. Absolutely gorgeous.
T. told us some (admittedly rambling) stories about the sacredness of the land, standing with our feet on the land and standing before the burning bush, hearing our name called by God. Clearing a space — he moved his hands in a gesture, repeated several times, of clearing and opening a space. Moving and evocative, in a rambling, stumbling, cobblestone-path kind of way. Then he presented us, like a communion, with tiny white stones from the very shores of Northern Ireland (though I forget where exactly he said) and sang a prayer-song — that might have been Native American* — as we sat together in quiet contemplation inside the hut. Stamping his feet occasionally, loud and thumping, tumbling, trembling the wooden boards below us.
I felt deeply centered, and after the prayer I went down through the grasses all the way to the shore, the water's edge. By then the sun had come out as the rain-heavy clouds had blown on, and the field was full of tiny bugs and butterflies like little bits of paper, flitting through the grasses, drifting like the seeds from a dandelion. I stood on the shore letting the sun and wind bathe the white stone in my palm, then bent to wash the stone in the waters of the lake. Breath, blood, bone — wind, water, stone.
Walking back by myself, others ahead conversing and some lingering behind, I sang to myself a few awens, letting the notes tumble over themselves softly — noticing this time the breathless beauty of the forest, the foxgloves all purple and nodding, springing up everywhere among the trees along the path.
The experience was definitely a strange and interesting one — I'm not sure I can describe it exactly. They played a CD of an Irish man singing the "Our Father" prayer in Irish Gaelic, but to music that sounded distinctly Indian/Eastern in flavor and had this deeply resonant tone pulling through it the whole time. As the song played, I could almost feel — or no, I guess I could feel, or seemed to — the energies pooling and swirling around him in the center of the room. Even with my eyes open, it seemed I could see the movement, like a drag toward him. Like the way your eyes seem to drag across a still surface if you've been watching your feet as you walk for a while and then suddenly stop — the ground seems to keep drifting forward out of habit even though you can see at the same time that it's actually still. That was the sensation.
So I closed my eyes, and sank into that feeling of energy, and began to try to direct it in a gentle way of healing around him. After the song ended, several people each in turn spoke words of prayer as they laid hands on him. I didn't lay hands, as I felt slightly uncomfortable since they were not praying to my god, exactly. But as T. was finishing, I began to pray to Brigid as healer and guardian of the holy healing wells. Weirdly, just after this, when J. then began to pray, she immediately began speaking of the healing welling up from the earth to surround him, and using imagery of the sacred wells.
Coincidence upon coincidence. There are times I write things in here from my own reflections that are then brought up later in conversation, seemingly at random. J. was not with us the other morning when we spoke about Brigid and the holy wells that Patrick claimed. I wonder what exactly we are making, in our shared silences each morning. If we are to take the reality of the spiritual life seriously, is it possible we are making connections in our communal silence that we did not expect? I wonder what the others think of this...
And who says Christians don't do magic? I only worry that, not knowing that this is what they are doing, they may not always do it well. Yet they have such beautiful trust in God, so beautiful. To feel held and upheld that way, by the World, by the Word... My trust in the Song and Center is not always so strong, though I always want so much to believe.
And now, a day of silence that begins tonight. So much to think about and process. Oddly enough, I find myself missing the company of everyone. Already. I find myself wondering what the others are doing — did they go to bed early, are they taking advantage of the "grace" rule to go to the pub tonight before retiring, or are they in their rooms being silent as I am? I've left my door open, because I feel like I have to express some kind of receptivity or hospitality even in this silence. A shut door when a person cannot ask to enter (or call out an invitation to come in) is such a wall. Perhaps we do not have the structures or customs in place to sustain this kind of community silence for very long...