For the next two weeks I will be in Ireland. My husband Andy, our friends Eyleen and Tom, and I have anticipated this trip for a year. We will drive around the southern half of the country for more than a week and end up in Galway for an eight-day pilgrimage with Christine and John Valters-Painter of Abbey of the Arts. The four of us are excited. I cannot speak for my three companions, but I have been just a little, or maybe, a lot crazy in the past few days.
Traveling is not new to me. I am on airplanes at least once or twice a month. So why all of the nutsiness, obsessing, and over-planning now? After Ireland, Andy and I will fly to four other countries for another two weeks. With temperatures ranging from 45-85 degrees, preparations for the varied climates and itineraries add to the insanity. In my fantasized self-image I am a flexible, easy-going, and spontaneous woman. In reality, fearful and controlling might be more apt words for my present state of being. My clothes have been packed and repacked. Various pairs of shoes have do-si-doed in and out of the suitcase. The list of expectations and hopes I have for this trip is lengthy. It includes fresh succulent mussels, dark treacly beer (I don’t even like beer), breath-taking scenery, spiritual transformation, leprechauns, fairies, the Holy Grail…. I should know better. For the half-dozen decades of my Christian life, checked-off expectations have almost never been the outcome of my spiritual pilgrimages and journeys.
To examine this long list of expectations I drew a template after the fashion of Mondays’ blog post called Two-Stroke Doodled Prayers: “Choose two strokes/shapes and draw only those two shapes.” Paths and stones seemed an appropriate choice for an Ireland trip with lots of walking and a stony terrain. I made a few copies of the template just in case of a prayer catastrophe and am glad I did. On the first template, I brainstormed my petitionary prayers for this trip. It looked more like a list of demands for “Santy” (Irish word for Santa) than a page of prayers. The next step was to color the template. But the clutter of words in the drawing felt burdensome, like a backpack full of stones. I wanted nothing else to do with it.
I took another copy of the template and just started to color. I added some lines and dots. The second encounter with this template felt much different. I started to relax. Maybe I needed to release all of those earlier expectations before I could sense some air and see some light around this Ireland trip. Very few words entered my mind on this round. But the word “Christ” kept coming to me. Christ is not a word I use often in my prayers. But these phrases came unbidden: “The friendship of Christ, the kindness of Christ, the forgiveness of Christ, the protection of Christ. Christ everywhere.”
In preparation for the pilgrimage, I’ve been reading Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by Irish priest, poet, and philosopher John O’Donohue. In a section called Taste and Speech, O’Donohue says, “Poetry is the language of silence. If you look at a page of prose, it is crowded with words. If you look at a page of poetry, the slim word shapes are crouched in the empty whiteness of the page. The page is a place of silence where the contour of the word is edged and the expression is heightened in an intimate way….In poetry your language will find cleansing illumination and sensuous renewal.”* Those sentences help me to articulate why I like to pray with pen, colored markers, and few words. It’s as if the spaces in and around the visual prayer provide room for God to come in. When my page and my mind are full of words, God can hardly get in a word edgewise.
*John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, (New York:Harper Collins Perennial, 2004), 67-68.