Welcome and Introduction
You may ask what has the horrors of Christchurch got to do with Irish blessing? Quite a bit actually. For Ireland, as any brief journey into its history will show, is littered with sectarian hatred, prejudice, violence – violence that at times has been stoked by religion, but also violence that has been confronted by religion, by a Celtic spirituality seeking to repair violence – repair the tears in the fabric of human community.
Today the 17th March we remember St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and the blessings of that land. In the world of spirituality, Ireland holds a special place as a wellspring of Celtic inspiration – a unique non-dualistic way of seeing the world, often portrayed in images – like this one behind me from the Book of Kells - swirling interconnected lines and images and imagination.
As Ireland is known for its linen, in the world of spirituality it is known for its weave – the weaving together of sacred and profane, beauty and pain, into what is called blessing. Blessing is an attitude, an approach to a life fully lived. Blessing weaves it all together. So, like in a prayer I’ll lead shortly, ‘we-in-thee-trinity’ is acknowledgement that God is in that weave, not external to it or doing the weave, but inseparable from life and death, joy and heartache. Blessing is also an act of creativity – bringing the imagination, ‘fairies and giants’, into the kitchen of our everyday. Likewise poetry is not a nice pretty side-dish at the banquet of logic, reason, and prose, but the very cutlery and crockery by which we partake in the feast of life.
This weave of all of life’s experiences, including god, into an act of creativity and poetry, is what is called blessing.
And so we pray…
Shamrock of life,
holy we-in-thee- trinity,
greening of the valleys,
grace in all things..
guide our steps,
widen our vision
seeing blessing in the weave
of the fragile and the mighty
of the always invited and the never
of the fairies and the giants
of the dancers and the doubters…
in the great swirling tapestry
A Wee Word on St Patrick
The dates of Patrick's life cannot be fixed with certainty, but there is broad agreement that he was active as a missionary in Ireland during the fifth century; even maybe the 4th. He is regarded as the founder of Christianity in Ireland, converting a society practising a form of Celtic polytheism.
‘Converting’ is a funny word. It might be better to say that knowledge of Christianity, wrapped in the cloak of Patrick’s Briton, came across the Irish Sea and was planted alongside the bush of Celtic polytheism. In time that cloak deteriorated somewhat, and in the rich and imaginative soil of Ireland, the roots of that early Celtic religion and the roots of the Jesus movement became entwined.
A couple of things about Patrick:
At the age of sixteen he was captured by a group of Irish pirates and taken to Ireland as slave for six years, after which he escaped. It was in Ireland that he adopted the faith of his youth and called himself Christian.
Back in Briton, Patrick studied Christianity. Then he decided to return to Ireland (to the people who had enslaved him). He heard a call from God, “We appeal to you… to come and walk among us."
And walk he did, sharing his faith. However, Patrick's position as a foreigner in Ireland was not an easy one. His refusal to accept gifts from kings placed him outside the normal ties of kinship and patronage. Legally he was without protection.
In time he had great success in influencing people to convert to Christianity.
Lots of legends about Patrick: including the shamrock, and ridding the Ireland of snakes [BTW post-glacial Ireland didn’t have snakes!]
Walking is also Lenten activity – 40 days of walking! Walking, keep walking; and find the words of walking.
The Notion of Blessing
Blessedness is something
found unexpectedly when
distraction causes us to pause.
May the gracious be blessed
as they hold both the bruised
and the bruising in their compass.
May the impure be blessed
knowing that we are all
May the confused be blessed
with an encouraging song
and it’s soothing spirit.
May the gentle be blessed
as they wait upon the diminished,
protected from grinding demands.
May the sick be blessed
with both care and company,
sensitive and unobtrusive.
May the dismayed be blessed
with the gift of patience
and the spur of impatience.
May the sore be blessed
with a shower of kindness,
an empathetic distraction.
May the dying be blessed
by those who watch with them
held in their own time.
These so blessed, and many more,
hold out to us fragments
of the heaven called hope.
I was brought up with the idea that a blessing was words from God, uttered through the mouthpiece of a minister, and bestowed on us. They were, at their best, nice words: we are loved, we are wanted, we are valued, we are precious, we matter [I am loved, I am wanted, I am valued, I matter]… And then came in time, as it does for many, the disconnections begin, the belittling by others, the pinpricks of hurt, the disbeliefs in this foundational affirmation, and the disbelief in a deity capable of both pronouncing and bestowing them.
But blessing, a way to express both gratitude and connection, remains important; and maybe even more so this fragmented, dispiriting, and violent age. The need to weave the disconnected bits back with the threads of abundant life is urgent, pressing. We need to learn how to mend the tears in the fabric of humanity.
The older I’ve got the more inclined I am to express my theology, if it needs to be done with words, in the form of poetic prayers or blessings; and occasionally a story.
I want to talk briefly about blessings, and in particular the piece you’ve just heard called ‘Monday Morning Beatitudes’, which for those us with ears tuned to the sounds of the Bible uses Matthew chapter 5 as a counterpoint.
Blessedness is the ability to hold the tension of seeming opposites, and try to weave both into our living. So the second verse has the gracious holding both the bruised and those who do the bruising in their compass. Carefully. Painfully. Hopefully.
Yet, like the opening verse says, blessing has an element of surprise. We are going about our normal course of life when for some reason or another we are distracted. And rather than experiencing the distraction as a nuisance or curse, we can pause and see the beauty that had been there all along but unnoticed. There is a sense of gratitude in blessing.
The 3rd verse is something of a critique of ‘Blessed are the pure in heart’, for it reminds us that we are all impure, and that we are all unfinished artistic masterpieces.
Indeed most of these Monday Morning Beatitudes, like the Matthean ones, are commenting upon perceptions of who is important. Rather than praising the blessedness of the brave, the rich, the strong, the successful… they include the confused, the dismayed, the sick, the sore, and the dying. But we must not fall again into a duality of favoured and un-favoured ones. The point of including the confused, for example, is not to scorn the clear-sighted but to hold and value both.
Sometimes these verses point to the source[s] of blessedness. So for the gentle as they wait upon those who have been diminished [and in doing so are blessed by the diminished], the waiting itself can serve as protection of their gentleness from incessant demands.
Similarly those that keep watch with the dying are blessed, not just by the one they are tending, but by the ability of those watchers to put aside the demands of Mr Time [chronos] and be there in the timeless moments [kairos].
At the end of the service today I’ve written a blessing which again points to the weave of life, and the lack of distinction between the categories – ultimately false – of sacred and profane. So ‘saint and sinner’, in the first verse are ‘one in us and we in them’. For we, like the next verse states, are all ‘fragile beneath’ [though some hide their fragility better than others] and all need to find belonging.
The notion of trinity, in this context, is not a dogmatic theological statement anchored in the 4th century Cappadocian Fathers, but a concept of all things being in god, being held sacred, and god being in all things. Trinity [maybe best with a small ‘t’] is the imaginative and visionary idea of all belonging. For is anything outside the infinite? Including ‘fiddle music, tatties, and belly laughs’?
Many blessings call down, or call up, the notion of peace. Probably the most common religious blessing is “Peace Be Upon You”. Which in turn invites the question of what is peace? Is it troubling, is it tranquil, or is it both? In Hebrew and in Irish thought it is a vision of all the threads – of class, race, gender, sick, healthy, pained and joyous – being woven, and thus held, together without compromising the dignity, individuality, or beauty of any.
In our notices last week I asked those who like to write, to create a short 4-line blessing and bring it along. That was before the horror of Friday afternoon. I would invite you now to turn to those around you – in groups of 3 or 4 – and talk about how your wish we could respond, and what 4 line blessing might be appropriate now. How do we show solidarity?