I don’t spend much time shopping in Ireland. I especially avoid anything that looks like a mall. As friend Anthony observed recently, if you’ve seen one shopping center you’ve seen the mall. But this last trip I did wander into a Dunne’s store. Well, it is located near one of my favorite coffee shops.
It was approaching Halloween and I was drawn to a costume display, curious what Irish children favor for the holiday. Turns out, witches. Hands down. Yes, there are other choices. But the array of witchy attire was stunning.
Halloween. Samhain. The beginning of the new year on the Celtic calendar. It’s gratifying to see the wise woman tradition still alive in some wee way. So….boo who? Boo. I’m a witch!
Decades ago, Sly And The Family Stone encouraged us to Dance To The Music. And we do, of course. Because is there another way? The band plays and we step out on the dance floor in whatever figure and fashion is suggested by the melody.
But there is another way. Sitting around the turf fire at Doolin Music House, Christy tells another story. In the tradition of house dances the music is in service to the dancers. If the dancers determine that one among the musicians was not up to the task, they would ask him – and it was generally hims back then – to stop playing. And without question, they did. It was not a case of dancing to the music, it was playing music to the dance.
I sit in the cacophonic noise of the media that surrounds us these days, especially prior to this election. The noise of social media. And it strikes me, pun intended, that more and more we are dancing to this music. Whatever steps this noise suggests. But we are the dancers. We are dancing our lives. What might be possible if we determined the music that best supports our steps? What might be possible if we shut off the discordant music?
Peeking out from under the table as a young lad, he would watch their feet fly. Mesmerized by the movement. Inspired by the music. Enchanted by the rhythm of the nails, embedded in the soles of their shoes, on the flagstone floor.
One of the delights of my current travels in Ireland is spending an evening with Christy Barry in his home. An intimate audience. A turf fire burning at one end of the living room, Christy and James playing music at the other. Christy’s wife Sheila serving drinks and open face salmon sandwiches. And the stories. For we are not just here for the music of two of Ireland’s best traditional musicians. We are also here for the stories. Stories of a musical heritage.
Christy and James, who have played together since they were twenty-one and that was more than a few years ago, grew up in this west Clare landscape. And they remember well the nights when neighbors would gather in thatched roofed cottages to dance from dark to dawn. Gathering after long days of working, the men cutting stone in the nearby quarries, they would dance through the night and return to work the next morning.
Having heard Christy’s stories several times now, when he and James play I can close my eyes and see the dancers. Filling the room with their movement. Sharing the rhythm of music and flying feet on hearth stones. Creating the rhythm of community. Within this rhythm how could their hearts not beat as one? What might be possible if we created such rhythm in our communities?
I invite you to step into this experience through the following video. You will be re-directed to watch on YouTube…and it’s well worth it. “Well, well. You’re all very welcome…”
As it is with indigenous people around the world, the Irish people have deep roots. They share a heritage of culture, history, civil codes, and traditions passed through generations, firmly woven in their psyche, and deeply rooted in the land. This ancient knowing is reflected in their relationship with the sacred, community, and the Earth. It is a knowing being manifest at Standing Rock. Deep roots. A strong tree.
I am so aware of this when I am in Ireland with her buildings that are older than the United States and megalithic landscapes that are older than Christianity.
For those of us whose recent ancestors emigrated to this country, blow-ins, the Irish would call us, our roots here are shallow. Yes, we individually reach back to our indigenous origins. But collectively we have not yet established a deep root system. We haven’t yet had the time.
In a storm, trees with shallow roots are the first to fall. And it looks like we Americans have a storm coming in the aftermath of this presidential election. It’s daunting to think that our tree might fall. But I choose to believe that, as shallow as they may currently be, the roots we have established are nurtured by a fertile ground of democracy and diversity, justice and inclusion, compassion and a creative spirit. A ground that will hold our tree fast as we, together, continue to put down deep roots.
For more than a year, the Irish people have been engaged in a movement to protect their water. Right2Water. And the protests have been massive. In August 2015 more than 80,000 people descended on Dublin. As this protest movement continues to fight a looming privitazation of their water, the Irish people are aligning themselves with the people of Standing Rock. And of course they would.
I just watched a video, published this week, with the following text. Today Ireland repaid solidarity extended to us in 1847 by the Choctaw tribe as we extended that Solidarity to the tribes making a Stand at Standing Rock in North Dakota USA. Massive turn out no matter what RTE says. By the time I reached St Stephens Green the Quays were still blocked as thousands after thousands once more converged on Dublin City centre. We are only getting started.
One notable thing about this video, which is a compilation of public marches and demonstrations across Ireland. In none of the demonstrations did I see a police presence. Oh, I imagine they were there somewhere. But not the looming militaristic robocop force we see at Standing Rock.
The video text refers to the Choctaw nation. Some of you will recall that I wrote a blog post on this a year ago. Kindred Spirits. Thrown off their lands and living in abject poverty, it was the Choctaw people who pooled their resources and sent money to the Irish people who were, in 1847, starving and homeless. It was the time of the Great Hunger, the famine in Ireland. The Irish have a history of subjugation and a heritage of solidarity with others who are being oppressed. Today, that heritage of solidarity continues.
I often quote John O’Donohue in my work. I consider him a spiritual genius. I just never thought I would have occasion to use this piece. But here we are. Unprecedented times on the eve of the upcoming election. Times that call me to look beyond the election to what lies ahead for our nation. Indeed. May we be gracious. May we choose grace.
When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other, May the depths you have reached hold you still.
When no true word can be said, or heard, And you mirror each other in the script of hurt, When even the silence has become raw and torn, May you hear again an echo of your first music.
When the weave of affection starts to unravel And anger begins to sear the ground between you, Before this weather of grief invites The black seed of bitterness to find root, May your souls kiss.
Now is the time for one of you to be gracious, To allow a kindnesss beyond thought and hurt, Reach out with sure hands To take the chalice of your love, And carry it carefully through this echoless waste Until this winter pilgrimage leads you Toward the gateway to spring.