“Teach us to care and not to care/ Teach us to sit still.” Ash Wednesday

“Teach us to care and not to care/ Teach us to sit still.” Ash Wednesday

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An Ash Wednesday I’ll Never Forget:

Chesterton did not actually say that those of us who don’t believe in God will believe in anything, but he ought to have because it’s true. Between the ages of 12 and 20, before I began my return to the Church on February 17, 2010, I believed in, among other things, Buddhism, vegetarianism, pacifism, gay marriage, Marxism, libertarianism, literary criticism and – most shamefully, I think – the literary merits of Finnegans Wake.

Priests looking for youth evangelisation strategies should note that was only the penultimate item on this list that did me any good, for had I not one day found myself writing a rather dull and pointless essay on Yeats and TS Eliot, I might never have returned to the faith. Perhaps the Catholic Truth Society should do up a neat little pamphlet on FR Leavis. But let me back up.

I was a very pious child who grew up fearing hell with an almost physical intensity. Even the sight of shoulder devils in cartoons could fill me with dread. Yet I also struggled from an early age with very grave doubts. I distinctly remember lying in bed aged seven and thinking to myself: “When you die, there is nothing.”

Fast forward half a decade and I had become one of those obnoxious 12-year-olds who should not be allowed to read books. When my catechism teacher told us that skipping Mass was a mortal sin, I decided that there probably wasn’t a hell or a heaven, much less a God who cared what any of us did with his time on Sundays or any other day of the week.

At some point towards the end of my teenage years I ceased to be a thoroughgoing materialist. (How I unclasped myself from Feuerbach’s dank tendrils and came to believe in Something rather than nothing is difficult to say, but I chalk it up to falling seriously in love for the first time and listening to Van Morrison.)

I then became, or so I like fondly to think, America’s last earnest pagan. I do not mean that I worshipped Zeus or Diana – the closest I ever came was burning lavender-scented incense while reciting from Keats, a practice I would heartily recommend to all students reading English. But I did pay homage, almost literally, to things like grey waves, thunderstorms, autumnal leaves, the faces of beautiful women, the smell of lilacs and the first snow. Whatever was out there, the quaint little story about a Nazarene seemed to me too small for it.

Is it strange to say that I cannot remember anything else about that day in February? I have no idea what I ate for breakfast or how cold it was or whether that afternoon was one of those rare occasions on which I did anything at my Gogolian make-work job in the Office of Financial Aid. All I know is that at some point in the course of working on a literary essay I consulted Eliot’s Collected Poems and happened upon “Ash Wednesday”, which I had never much cared for.

But that day in the library I found myself utterly transfixed by this desperate plea for the intercession of our Mother written by an agnostic. (One of my fondest discoveries of recent years has been to learn how much of the poem is a pastiche of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin.) I was especially by these lines from the third stanza:

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain

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Section 1 of Ash Wednesday:

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

Kilkieran High Crosses

Kilkieran High Crosses  are (just) in Co Kilkenny and, along with nearby Ahenny and Killamery, are part of the Ossory Group of High Crosses. Peter Harbison, in the paper A High Cross Base from the Rock of Cashel and a Historical Reconsideration of the ‘Ahenny Group’ of Crosses discusses how these crosses, located on the Ossory side of the border of the kingdoms of Ossory and Caiseal (the Linguan River), marked assertions of local power.

The West Cross at Kilkieran is particularly striking:


Kilkieran also features an unusual high cross, an elongated, somewhat Mannerist-ish structure:

There is also what is referred to on the megalithic Ireland page as the “Plain Cross”, to the East of the West Cross (well, obviously)

Stained Glass from Powerstown, Clonmel, Tipperary Part 1

I have decided to take a slightly different approach to my posts on the Stained Glass of Tipperary churches (other prior posts here and here) – rather than an accumulation of blurry images I will try and be more selective in  my posting. Anyhow, here are some of the interesting windows of my local church, Powerstown.

 

This image of the risen Christ is in the choir balcony:

This image of Our Lady and Jesus is evidently based on an icon, I am unsure which  however and using Google Image search simply throws up more images of stained glass:

The following two images tick the “blurry” box alright, and are mirrored – because they are in the sacristry which was in use at the time. 

Betty Corrigall

From First Known When Lost

Betty Corrigall lived on the island of Hoy in Orkney in the 18th century. When she was in her late twenties, she was abandoned by her lover after becoming pregnant.  She committed suicide.  Given the circumstances of her death, a kirkyard burial was not permitted.  She was buried in an unmarked grave out on the moor.  In the early 1930s, her coffin was discovered by peat diggers.  In 1949, a visiting American minister performed a burial service for her.  A white marker was placed on her grave in 1976.  It reads:  “Here Lies Betty Corrigall.”

George Mackay Brown wrote a short story about her, an imaginative rendering of the final months of her life.  The story begins with an introductory paragraph:

“In the moorland of the island of Hoy in Orkney, right on the boundary that separates the two parishes of Voes (Walls) and North Hoy, a gravestone and fence have recently been erected by some islanders.  Underneath lay, peat-preserved for well over a century, the body of a young woman who had obviously committed suicide.  Only her name survives:  Betty Corrigall.”

George Mackay Brown, “Betty Corrigall”, in Northern Lights: A Poet’s Sources (edited by Archie Bevan and Brian Murray) (John Murray 1999), page 225.

Brown also wrote a poem about her.

Betty Corrigall

The girl buried in the moor

Child
in the blue scarf of wind
begin to dance

Girl
in the yellow coat of sun
ripeness is here

Woman
in the gray sheet of water
steep your griefs

Queen
lie robed from looms of earth
Persephone

George Mackay Brown, Ibid, page 231.

It is said that Betty Corrigall’s body, having been interred in peat, was well-preserved when it was discovered.  “And while that generation of islanders withered slowly into death, one after another, and after death rotted more urgently until they achieved the cleanness of skeletons, the deep peat moss kept the body of Betty Corrigall uncorrupted; though stained and darkened with the essences that had preserved it.”  George Mackay Brown, “Betty Corrigall,” Ibid, page 230.  Persephone in Orkney:  queen of the underworld and goddess of spring.

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From http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/historicalfigures/bettycorrigall/

Stained Glass of Holycross Abbey, Holycross, Tipperary

Stained Glass of Holycross Abbey, Holycross, Tipperary

Holycross Abbey is one of the best known monastic sites in Ireland, a Cistercian abbey restored between 1970 and 1975. I highly recommend a drive from Thurles to Holycross to Cashel(via the Cabragh Wetlands centre for a rather different, but as rich, aesthetic experience) – from some miles away the Rock of Cashel  looms, giving a real sense of pilgrimage. Approaching from the other side of Cashel (ie off the M9 motorway) just isn’t the same.

As Holycross was restored from a ruinous condition, obviously the stained glass is of a recent vintage. Most of the windows in the Abbey are of “bare” glass, which contributes greatly to the austere beauty of the Abbey. In the North and South transepts smaller chapels feature striking, more contemporary glass.

 

Window in true cross relic chapel