Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Unknown Nun

On the plane from Charlotte to Dublin.
Two of our younger daughters drove us to the airport to catch our flight to Dublin, Ireland—I think they were as elated and as giddy as I was for us to be on this adventure. Our baggage (after hard work of planning and packing) cleared without a glitch.
We flew to Charlotte and then across the vast expanse of water—across the Atlantic Ocean. I watched our progression on a screen on the seat in front of me; the tiny plane moved by millimeters over five thousand miles. We landed in Dublin at 6:38 am. After seven hours of sleeping fitfully and sporadically, we came fully awake. We stood up in the cabin of that plane realizing we were in a different country, on a different continent.

The stuff of dreams (at least mine).

I can recount in detail the next couple hours of our trip—details that honestly would mean little to you, so I will skip them, leave them in the suitcase bundled tightly. One thing we did know? We would battle jet lag, and so we made a decision to attempt to stay awake the entire day.
We hit the ground running.

We had only one window of opportunity to see St. Michan’s (short i) Church. A brief backstory would be interesting and helpful here, but for lack of time and space just click on the link and you can read about this church for yourself.
Tucked between modern buildings this 1,100-year-old church seems lost in the myriad of city planning that grows around it. St. Michan’s is across the River Liffey, deep in the inner city of Dublin. We went because this church is famous for its crypt. Well, it’s known not so much for its crypt as for who resides in the tombs beneath the church.

Steve and I descended far too narrow and steep stone stairs to the cool underbelly of St. Michan’s—into the tunnels where people laid at rest with the church’s structure as their tombstone. 
Our tour guide opening the Crypt door.

The Crypt stairs.
We met four of the residents. Saw them face to face.  Yes, we saw them stretched out in their wooden coffins. All the environmental conditions of St. Michan’s lends to the perfect atmosphere for a type of mummification. And through accident and the passage of time four end-of-the-life resting places broke open to reveal four people—whose stories we can only surmise from the inferences in the clues left behind with them in the crypt. Four people who talked and walked and interacted with others. Two men and two women who ate, slept, loved, and perhaps prayed. 

Yes, Steve and I met four people—mummified over the centuries of time, asleep in the hard confines of their wooden coffins. I stood at the door of their crypt and looked in at them—I wondered how they would have reacted to having all of us stare at them unabashedly in their state? But stare I did.
Photography is no longer allowed in the crypt; this photo is from an internet source.
They were so close to me had I leaned a fraction forward I could have touched them, touched men and women who lived at the very least four hundred years ago. I stood in the cool, dry air of the crypt, in the faint light and stared at the St. Michan mummies.

People talked and joked. Our tour guide’s sense of humor played riot around us, but I heard all of this in a muffled way, lost in my thoughts and imaginations.
Four people whose once robust and strong bodies were reduced to the stretch of skin over the stakes of bones—the remains of the tents that they were, that we are. If ever I understood the brevity and temporary state of our lives, I realized this truth here. In the crypt of an old church—gazing at flesh tents preserved by time and limestone and temperature.

Their names are lost to us—unknowns missing hands and with broken legs. We know one was a knight and one a nun.  Their stories? Buried with them, or at least with the few who knew them.
But God knows their stories; their life is not lost to him. He knows them by name. He knows who they were and who they were not. He knows why one lost his hand, and why the other fought in the Crusades. God knows. Death does not hinder the Father; it does not wipe his people from his Presence.

I left St. Michan’s Church with questions swirling in my head. And the crypt remained with me throughout the trip, even after we came home—not in a haunting, specter-type of way, but in fragmented images and unfinished thoughts.
One morning after being home from Ireland for over a week, I was in the middle of getting ready for work. In the midst of the mundane routine of things St. Michan’s and its inhabitants returned to me, full and in color. Not Newgrange. Not Trim Castle. Not St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but the out-of-the-way, mostly unknown, invisible St. Michan’s and his residents.

In Ireland, God had to start me where I was. God (as I say in Growing Room) always starts at the beginning. At the first of things. For months I had fought the waning of life in my spirit, battled until spiritually I wasted to the stretch of skin on bones. The dusk of darkness and the weight of sorrow leaked joy and robbed the moisture and vibrancy right out of me. I felt like a shrunken version of myself.
In my routine of preparing to face my world, the images of the residents of St. Michan’s Crypt came to me.

God took me to a place of death in order to bring me to a place of life.

I recalled the urge of (as morbid as it sounds) wanting to touch the nun’s hand—to just reach out my fingers and brush hers, to create a connection. To tell her I saw her and desired to know her story. I knew she was much more than the shrunken tent before me. At one time she lived animated and full of quickening verve. At one time she knelt and prayed, her voice lifting beyond the vaulted ceilings of her church.
This bride, a virgin consecrated to the Groom, spoke to me across the centuries. From her stone vault, from her wooden bed, she reminded me to live. To live in Him. To die is gain (which gain she had), but in the midst of life, we must learn to live.

To live in the wonder and the mundane, in the beauty and the ugliness, in the darkness and the light, in the sorrow and the joy, in the grief and the bliss, and in conflict and peace.
Through this ancient nun, through her silent and muted lips, and through her unknown story God reminded me to LIVE!

And I rose from my bed, pushed out of my wooden confines and stood.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Lovely Adventure--Ireland


This Ireland Adventure began as just dream—far off, hazed by the mists of all that seemed unattainable. I’m not sure where or when this dream began—the origin of its intensity eludes me. I don’t even see it on the far off peripheries of my mind. It just seems that one day the longing birthed in me, expanding and contracting the small places of me.
Periodically, following some internal compass or map, I searched for photographs of the places I longed to be, spaces in which I yearned to stand. I memorized details and the isolated pieces of the history of the country—of an island flung farther west that any other on the European continent. I read books, devoured and savored novels written by Windsor, Roberts, and Llewelyn. I read through Cahill and Miller and O'Donohue. Perhaps, hoping by osmosis, the ancient atmosphere would be absorbed into the pores of me. For years I tucked this desire away, not hidden, but only wishful.

I remember being on a house date with my husband, my then neighbor friend. We sat in my living room at my massive desk and surfed the waves of the internet on a barge of a computer. I pulled up images that represented my wishes and gushed exuberantly and too enthusiastically to Steve. I remember he listened and looked—acted interested whether he was or not (I found out his thoughts later. He was thinking, “Let’s get married; let’s go!). I made a No Particular Order list (aka Bucket List), and Ireland always made the list, but the reality of going there and experiencing all I had researched and studied just seemed beyond the navigable reality to me.

In 2015 my top Bucket List desire manifested. My first book Growing Room, For Life in Tight Places was published. The vulnerable word-soaked, tear-baptized parts of me printed for the world to read if they had the mind to do so. And some did. I revisited my bucket list. Humbled and elated, I realized I could cross off several things. Unexpected items—ones I hadn't expected to become real or attained.  But Ireland remained.  And behind this one proper noun, a whole myriad of hopeful wishes skipped and leaped.

In April of this year, I turned fifty. Fifty years old. In the beginning, back in the cold and snow and darkness of January and February, Steve asked me what I wanted for this Jubilee celebration. We discussed cruises and Ireland—and the flutter of the wishes in my heart beat its wings, and the butterfly effect rippled the breezes and the band of the atmosphere around me. The wistful dreams began to solidify—the edges becoming sharp and keen, outlined in a thick black line. We waffled, joggled, juggled, switched, and shifted finances, budgets, and schedules. I reneged once (twice) and suggested the idea that we just go on a cruise. A seven-day cruise seemed much easier, planned for us and contained. Safe. He looked at me—searched my face, moved with agility through this labyrinth mind of mine and understood. He understood my fears and the concerns. He called me out, interrogated with a frustrating accuracy my hesitations and reluctance. And he made a decision.

“No, this trip is for your 50th birthday. You’ve always wanted to go to Ireland. We're going to Ireland.”

Plans commenced. Travel agents engaged. Plane tickets purchased.  My research took on a whole new dimension—no longer did I look at The Cliffs of Moher or Newgrange or Clonmacnoise because they were beautiful or represented something greater to me, but because my feet, our feet, might trod across the soil and stone of the place.
I speak of this trip as if it were the greatest longing of my life, but it wasn’t and isn’t. The deepest longing of my life is to be in the Presence of God. To love him with utter abandon, and that the fruit and abundance of abiding in his Presence would spill over into others. But there is something about Ireland—the longevity of its existence, the length of seasons of prayer lifted from its tumultuous terrain that drew me. I wanted to stand, sit, kneel or whatever else in the thin places and silences of its spiritual history.

Little did I know. How little did I know? About Ireland. Or about myself.

God’s timing is flawless—without seam or catch of a thread.

This trip came to fruition during a season of drought. This sojourn came during a time of sparsity and sorrow. I’m processing the journey now—in the moment there didn’t seem to be enough space, but now in the sweetness of my little patch of earth, I have been pondering, mulling, and considering.

As always this Chambered Nautilus place throws open its doors to you. If you are inclined, grab a cup of coffee or tea and join me in the next few posts. 

As the Irish say, “Cead Mila Failte.”
One Hundred Thousand Welcomes.

Welcome to our adventure!

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