Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Rovings I

There is a word in Hebrew for a Jew who returns to Israel. It is a word I would recognize if ever I saw it again. I had an Irish memory that did not forget.

There are twenty million holders of Irish passports, born in Ireland, scattered throughout the world. If I could believe the man behind the bar at a pub in Killarney called O’Connor’s, last week. There are six million people in the United Kingdom who have an Irish grandfather or grandmother, if you believe information on the internet.


I had breakfast at a guest house in Galway with a book, across from 2 women from Toronto who were putting on a production of a play about The Great Famine, in the midst of 4 weeks of research. Later that night, I caught up with them in a pub in the Aran Islands and got the details of what they were doing. I never got to ask if either of them had caught a glance at the book at the guest house, Synge: a Celebration. In the book was a piece by Anne Enright, whose quote I jotted:

“The wars we fought about contraception, abortion, divorce were not about virtue–or only incidentally so–it was about breeding. It was about maintaining stock. The nation faced a demographic shift towards the young. We could not believe that the nation had to over produce just to keep still. ”

The man behind the bar at a pub in Killarney last week had made mention of The Great Famine, and what would have happened in Irish history if the diaspora had not taken the millions of immigrants since the Great Famine across the sea. Somewhere in my reading, perhaps in Thomas Keneally’s The Great Shame, I thought the number was 40 million. With the passing of 8 generations, the number was listed as over 80 million people, if you believed Wikipedia. At some point, the census on the Irish cousins would cease to include people like me, though according to my twin sister’s DNA study, 95 percent of her ancestry came from the Emerald Isle, with a bit thrown in from Scandinavia which would explain my red hair. As the 80 million had intermarried, with their pedigree no longer pure,as the Irish took over the world, when was enough enough? 

“We could not believe that the nation had to overproduce just to keep still.” I had come home to a commercial on Public Broadcasting System channel two nights ago, between shows, where it was said by a young Asian actress, “ Over population was stealing our future.” I was sill trying to digest what exactly was meant. About the fears trying to be stirred. By the organization who had sent a check to the publicly funded PBS channel, funded mostly by tax money. There were too many people in the United States? The young lady thought? And PBS had broadcasted her idea. After going in search of what it meant to be Irish, in 1850 or in 2010, back afterward home, in the United States which had way too many people? And if she thought over population was, in her life, already stealing her future, I wonder what she thought about Asia where her ancestors had clearly come. And, in the words of the song, “How Long Has This Been Going On?”

Maintaining stock. The conflict in just maintaining stock. In breeding. When you were newly married and there was within your own household this demographic shift towards the young. And the line to the bathroom was getting longer in the morning. That young Asian women apparently did not like to wait in line. Perhaps without the proper gratitude for the world she was born into. With the indoor plumbing in a heated bathroom.

When you grew up on the affluent side of the tracks, the realization that this was a competitive world seemed so unfair. When your hunger and longing were, at this point, not as great. Like in the times of The Great Hunger. Or what had happened in post -World War II China. Or in Bengal during World War II. When you were forced to compete with the hungry. And you had some kind of concept, perhaps based upon your higher education, that you were so much better.

Lynda Callaghan
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Under Watch

Juxtaposing the religious news, involving the Vatican at the end of 2009. About some irregularities and omissions in religious life. The news from Ireland, which involved the priesthood in the proclaimed year of the priest. While the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States continued, the pope was busy on one front with the news from Ireland. Pope Benedict XVI has convened Ireland’s bishops for a two-day meeting on February 15-16 at the Vatican to discuss the ongoing fallout from the priestly sex abuse scandal in the country.

It was in November 2009 that a report by an independent Commission of Investigation, headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, looked at the handling in the years 1975-2004 of 325 sex abuse claims in the Archdiocese of Dublin. That period of time was under the reign of John Paul II. The conclusion of the report was that during those years, rather than being concerned about the victims, Catholic leaders were more interested in “the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church and the preservation of its assets.”

The President of the Irish Republic, Mary McAleese, in her speech at the annual pres­entation of greetings from the Diplomatic Corps on Saturday rebuked a senior Vatican official who suggested that the recent child-abuse scandals were in some measure peculiar to Ireland. Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, is Dean of the the Diplomatic Corps. The Ryan Commission report in May 2009 had cited 800 known abusers in over 200 Catholic institutions, over 35 years. The November 2009 Murphy Commission report dealt with priestly sex abuse in the country over 29 years.

That Papal Nuncio to Ireland must not be a real sensitive guy. If he read the news on December 4, 2009, the Irish Times was reporting that Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said it was discourteous that Papal Nuncio in Ireland did not respond to the two letters sent to him by the Murphy commission in February 2007 and earlier in 2009. The previous reluctance of the Papal Nuncio in Ireland to contribute to the report, and then the delay of one week before finally commenting upon findings of the Murphy commission led to calls for the Papal Nuncio’s expulsion in Ireland. Fine Gael leader in the House, Frances Fitzgerald, said the report of the Murphy commission should mark a defining moment in the relations between church and State. The Papal Nuncio in Ireland has denied ’showing contempt’ for the State institutions by refusing to respond to requests from the Murphy commission for information, according to Ivana Bacik (Labor).

It was also in November 2009 that the major superiors of United States women religious congregations had a deadline to respond to and return a questionnaire, as part of the three-year visitation of U.S. women religious congregations. Showing some understandable contempt, as the congregation’s regular status report had been sent to Rome, the president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas said that her congregation had responded to the questionnaire by forwarding a copy of their constitution back to the visitation office and indicating where answers could be found to specific questions, according to a piece by Kevin Clark in America. His article quoted the superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus chosen by the Vatican’s choice to head up the inquiry, Mother Mary Clare Millea: “When I recently met with Cardinal Rodé, he assured me that the Holy Father continues to show his interest in and support of the Apostolic Visitation.”

The maintenance of church secrecy was mentioned in the Murphy Commission report, as one reason the priest abuse was able to continue. The president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Sister Waskowiak, was also quoted on the matter of secrecy of the nun inquiry: “We believe we have a good story to tell and we would like to tell it; we know we are not perfect,” though the level of secrecy the Vatican is maintaining about the visitation and how the congregations will be evaluated is “not matched by the transparency they are requesting of us. . . . I would hope for more dialogue.”

Sister Waskowiak also seemed to be commenting on the sensitivities of the males in the investigation: “What women religious groups are saying is that the instruments being employed are not satisfactory for us to be able to tell our story . . . We continue to speak from different paradigms of religious life.”

In a November 4, 2009 radio interview, Cardinal Franc Rodé said the nun investigation was a response to concerns, including by “an important representative of the U.S. church” regarding “some irregularities or omissions in American religious life. Most of all, you could say, it involves a certain secular mentality that has spread in these religious families and, perhaps, also a certain ‘feminist’ spirit.”

While two Italian news web sites reported that an October 2010 date had been set for Pope John Paul’s beatification, Pope Benedict has yet to formally signs a decree recognizing beatification.

Living With Ghosts

Living with the ghosts. I was soon to be in Ireland. In a land where the people were all the time living with their past.

Seeing the ghosts come out over time. In the aging faces of children.

Purportedly issued by the fourth century Roman Emperor Constantine I, the Donation of Constantine, now called a forged Roman imperial decree devised probably in 750, transfered authority over Rome and the western part of the Roman Empire to the pope. The Donation granted as Constantine’s gift to Pope Sylvester I and his successors dominion over lands in Judea, Greece, Asia, Thrace, Africa, as well as the city of Rome, with Italy and the entire Western Roman Empire. The text claimed the Donation was a gift to Sylvester for instructing Constantine in the Christian faith and miraculously curing him of leprosy. Emperor Constantine I would retain imperial authority in the Eastern Roman Empire from his new imperial capital of Constantinople. This document then continued to be used by medieval popes to bolster their territorial and secular power in Italy.

In 1155, to curb ecclesiastical corruption, the authorization was given from Pope Adrian for King Henry to invade Ireland, in the form of a Papal bull. The deed was done in 1169. With authority based a lot on the remnants of a forged Roman imperial decree. And so the English ruled over Ireland.

A certain lack of self-worth developed among people when they were colonized. In the culture of the domination, the conquering one is affirmed all the time. Or when you were deemed to be dependent, under current theories of feminism.

What did it mean to be Irish, when you were ruled from an island across the sea? When you wanted to have power? A people marginalized, a people nostalgic for the past. A people set apart, not allowed to marry the English. A people set apart by their religon, after Henry VIII, when Roman Catholic churches were suddenly Anglican. Nostalgic about the time prior to 1691 at Aughrim. When you were colonized. and young people wondered what they wanted to be? Who they wanted to be?

What did it mean to be Irish, after the Catholic Emancipation of 1829. When you were deemed important to the crown, until people began to starve. There are those who say that Celtic music was written by bards to stir the self-worth of a people. After people began to leave, or starve to death.

Living with the ghosts. When you were colonized, and religion was viewed as the great divide that stirred people. But when Protestants and agnostics were also stirred. Stirred to be more than they were.

What did it mean to be Irish? After a great scandal? When you were colonized, and the church failed you. In the form of Papal bulls. Then? Now? Or people who failed the church?

So begins a trip to discover how I was, how the Irish were, passing on the heritage? Seeing the ghosts come out over time. In a land where the people were all the time living with their past.

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Sports. Exercises. Recreation. Leisure. All the pasttimes. How do you spend your time? Outside of work? Wired to be active and engaged, not passive and inert?

In the world of technology, how do you remain engaged in the real world? In what becomes a kind of rote work where people have to get to work at a certain time……do a certain amount of things and then leave at a certain time. Daniel Pink was on NPR discussing his book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” He talked about the context of work that makes so many people passive and inert. And he discussed awakening a validated sense of autonomy and purpose at certain companies of its workers. Changing the context of the real sense of workers. The five senses, and their desire to do things because they are fun and interesting. What William Blake described as the inlets of the soul. The five senses which lead us to something.

Daniel Pink said, “ In many ways, it is our context that makes us passive and inert. But if the context is changed, I think all of us can awaken that real sense, that scientifically validated sense, of autonomy and purpose and the desire to do things because they are fun and interesting.”

We are wired to be active and engaged, not passive and inert. In a world seemingly with nothing but reality programming. Where presently no one was reading, either the news or new books. Ask your local bookstore manager. “The Real World” on MTV from the last decade was now reality programming, everywhere. And, for me, not exactly Emmy Award winning stuff. Unscripted. No one was taking the time to write new scripts? I wondered why.

C. Michael Curtis is a writer for the Atlantic Monthly. He put together in 1998 a collection of stories by world reknown writers of English of mainstream fiction in a book titled God: Stories. The short stories were about spiritual experiences, in lives intertwined with religion. “Each of them asks in a voice, however idiosyncratic, where, if anywhere, is God in the life we live. And how is one to tell?”

Unscripted. To try and find God in places where God is not supposed to be. However idiosyncratic, with the five senses. Sight, sound, smell, taste and a sense of touch which lead us to feel something within.

True art is proven over time. Things that have value remain, for all posterity. Art left behind, recorded by how honest the artist was to the idiosyncratic. Not so much to make money, but to survive like others in the community with whom they lived. Not so much to entertain as to call the question in a voice, an idiosyncratic voice, where, if anywhere, God was in the life we live. And so the five senses which lead us to something within.

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Dreams of Colombus

Mary Black is a singer of Celtic songs. I was driving home listening on her compact disc “Looking Back.” To her rendition of “Colombus.”

I had discovered Mary Black sometime after I was out of college. It was when I was young, and I never had wanted the burden of having a couch. Moving around. Encumbered. It was and is a good clue about my life.

In the New World there is little thought of the travels of the modern Columbuses. Immigrants. Who seek shelter night and day. Led with the maps and the beautiful charts. As if they would work in the real world.

Distance. Mary Black is a singer about things far away which can get twisted. By the distance. “With your traveling heart…Every time your panic starts. When your partner is traveling hard…With your maps and your beautiful charts….And you dream of Columbus.”

About those charts. Charting the joys and fears. The ups and downs. That rendition of “Colombus” was a love song. About a relationship. “With your maps and your beautiful charts.” It only took me two decades to make the discovery about the song. That it was a love song.

In ten days I would be in Ennis where, if I stayed a few weeks, I could hear Thomas Moore speak. As the author of The Soul of Sex, he writes that sex is the most penetrating mystery of the soul. He quotes William Blake as saying that the 5 senses are the inlets of the soul, somehow reproducing our images. In the process of the pleasure of sex, there is always sex with strings, and all the pain of human life. It is not purely physical, no matter how much someone might think. “The soul,” he writes, “will not submit to our manipulations.”

Sex is full of meaning so much that attempts to deny meaning have a way to come back to haunt. Poets, musical artists, and theologians try, Thomas Moore writes, from east to west, to reconcile expressions of love to sex and morality, in every layer of human expression; and to pass on that morality to the next generation. Sex ultimately is the expression of human emotion and a measurement of both the physical body and the imagination to the human spirit beyond myself in the gravity ridden world which determines that my image and likeness survives, despite my own mortality. Ordinary life meets the divine to complete my humanity. “When I first saw you, I knew that you were divine,” Anchises said to Aphrodite. That, in Greek mythology, was his motivation for sex.  Because the sex spirits come from another world.

Led with the maps and the beautiful charts. As if they would work in the real world. The quest for the divine. Charting your loves. With your maps and your beautiful charts.

Genealogy. To the best of my knowledge, of my 4 grandparents, the ancestors of three had come from what is now the Republic of Ireland. The fourth came from Ulster, which is on the same island in the days when Ireland was one nation, without it own sovereignty. With maps and beautiful charts, there used to be intense passions and emotions associated with the issue.

Unencumbered, in the gravity ridden world. I always loved Celtic songs about things far away. I was in a Irish pub in Warsaw in September 2001, surrounded by Orangemen following the Irish football team that Leon Uris wrote about in Trinity. They were singing different Irish songs, traveling hard — a lot different songs than the ones I had learned, when I had been in Derry in 1977. Things can get twisted. And crazy and crowded. By the distance. With your traveling heart. Since 1977, St. Patrick’s Day was not for me a festival any more.

“Every time your panic starts.” In the immediate aftermath of September 11th, a group of Polish skinheads arrived that night in the midst of one Guinness. As the War on Terror, essentially a war about religion, began. And somehow, based purely on language and with the no affinity for the cause, I was identified to be one of them. With my face serving as the map and the beautiful chart, with a row was about to start, for which I did not know the reason, to one Polish skinhead with his baseball bat, when all I knew how to say in Polish was “Kiss me,” and “Thank you.” And all this transpired after the Irish Peace Accord. Except that the pub owner summoned the police, and order was restored.

The 5 senses are the inlets of the soul, somehow reproducing our images. In the process of the pleasure. Of love songs. And encumbered passions.


It was a week after Christmas and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse
The temperatures explains why there are no little mice,
they, like roadways and water pipes, had all turned into ice.

But what to my wandering mind would appear
but the visions off Ireland, and dark Guinness beer.