July, 2014, I buy several books of poetry in a Belfast booksmith, including “Selected Poems” by Belfast’s son John Hewitt. I pack the book into my luggage and take it with me on the next leg of my journey; a pilgrimage of sorts, a homecoming, and a mysterious gathering of strangers walking and tale telling and music-man healing and Guinness tasting, in Kilkeel and Cultra. The book remains packed for several days.
July 10, 2014, and I cozy in to a little Kilkeel cottage with my fellow pilgrims. I take note of the country walls about us, invisible lines of heft and pull and balance, boulders gathered from the fields and lifted into place, and the walls find their way into my psyche.
Sunday July 13, 2014, we begin a time of silence and solitude, from 1 pm until the following day at 11:30 am. We are asked to choose a slip of paper or two with words ‘that serve.’ I choose a Thomas Merton quote, then find myself seeking out the Hewitt book of poetry and a phrase that sticks;
I am the green branch asking for the flower
John Hewitt, ‘The Green Shoot’
I take a walk, chewing on the words, repeating them over and over in my head. I walk along the county roads, bounded by country walls. Again the walls. I look. I listen. I return after a couple of hours and write;
The walls, always the walls, my eyes drawn equally to the spaces as much as to the weight of boulders. At first I think it is the wind they must build for, a feat of engineering with revelation built in. If they build and leave room enough for the wind to pass through, the walls will stand forever. But the more I look, the less I see of stone and more evidence of green invasion, seed and wayward bits of bracken carried by wind or wild beast finding cracks and crevices rich with possibility to root in, find purchase. And so a transformation takes place in the spaces, created hollow where light and rain and soil collect. The wall does what the wall does…encloses, defines, stands firm with unquestioned ownership. But is is also a catchment for transformative work, where green shoots take root and thrive, become saplings, become trees, where ferns and grasses fill margins, where moss softens hard surfaces and wild vines climb, and poke through. And slowly, the stones, displaced from the field and placed by hand, become unified by green…and then, small creatures build their homes, raise young, trust in the shelter of the green mass that is slowly enveloped by the earth.
I am the green shoot asking for the flower
I am the green shoot asking
I am the green
This line of this poem in this place for me becomes a prayer as I consider my life and my ask for the flower and a feeling that change is coming through the angst and doubt and struggle I find myself in. I believe in my purpose. I believe I ask God and he hears me. So many of the things I previously held true are dropping away, and yet the truth that I exist and I ask and God hears and gives good gifts remains. This God is close up. This is a new way of being. Can I dare ask this…yes, I can.
I am the green shooting asking for the flower
I chew on this for the entire time of solitude. I write and write and write. I cry. I sleep. I wake and write again. I have other encounters that impact my spirit in a deep way. I return to Kelowna. I live my life differently than before I left. I make difficult decisions. I withdraw from church. I have written of this before. The journey before Northern Ireland, and after.
TODAY: Thursday, May 26, 2016 I recall the line of the poem, almost two years past, and so much since then. The metaphor of the walls still speaks, but I return to this other metaphor of the green shoot and…suddenly I see flowers…maybe not the flower but maybe, just maybe there are more than just one?
How audacious flowers are, how heady and lovely and unnecessarily necessary to the life of the plant, or not? Why else do we green so, why else does the sap flow, if not to some glorious showing of what is happening in us, and the possibility that the flower comes before the fruit. I don’t know what it all means, but I know some things…
My part of messy belonging within the Metro Community, the gift of bearing witness and holding space for the beautiful broken ones on the streets and how they are just like me, has become vital and fragrant to me, like a flower
and like this…
a community awards nomination has been gifted to me, unexpectedly, and with humility and surprise I see it is also a flower, whether I win or not, I am opening to this possibility that who I am is who I am supposed to be
and like this…
that while there is so much I can no longer say for certain, and while some of my theology is deconstructed or rebuilt or may be forever lacking structure, I only need look at the glory of the natural world and all God’s creatures and at this incredible life I get to live, and my heart bursts open like a flower, the fragrance of gratitude
Back to the wall…and I have to wonder what it is about the wall that matters now, aside from the perspective of the green shoot and the flowering, I mean? And why must it mean anything at all, rather it is helpful for me to find meaning. I do think there is something to be considered in this wall, still something in the placement of the stones and the spaces, and still there is something about the shoots rooting in the spaces, finding a nurturing spot to grow and yes, to bloom.
What is the stone wall? I don’t know. Perhaps my core belief in God, or a foundational structure that is required to root in and cling to? Perhaps. Or the idea of inert stony places in our lives coming alive, assimilated into an ecology of plants and creatures and all living things connected when there is room enough to believe it so? I don’t know. I leave that to you to consider.
Many years ago my then very young son Malcolm told me there were messages in the winter trees that God wanted him to hear. What a gift that he knew that then.
And so, I wonder…