Thursday, July 16, 2009

Risidual Banshees

The ancient druids in Ireland, so they say, carved circles onto their monuments and tombs in commemoration of the sun, their primary deity. It is said that when Saint Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary, he carved crosses over them. In the very places of their worship and devotion, the cross would stand and surpass even the awesome sun itself.

Surpass it certainly, but also, as it turns out, include it.

I don’t know if this was intended by Patrick or the early craftsmen who craved the symbol that would eventually become known as the Celtic cross, but the awe of the natural world that is involved in the druid devotion structured around seasons and celestial bodies certainly remained central to the Irish people, a significant and peculiar chunk of the Christian faith throughout the centuries.

This inclusion is not a comfortable, idealized union that involves the best of both and sounds enlightened to our post-modern ears; it also involves some of the bad of both. The same Irish whom Pope John Paul II commended in his visit to Ireland for their faithful devotion, telling them that “every Sign of the Cross and gesture of respect made each time you pass a church is also an act of faith,” made the same signs of crosses to protect themselves from The Gray Man or sheerie or banshees when traveling at night through ominous places in the Irish wilderness. The same Irish who remain deeply Catholic with a strong devotion to the Eucharist are also known for their (perhaps equally strong?) devotion to the pint. The cross has come, certainly, but the snakes are still around.

And perhaps I am learning that God is not frazzled by our residual banshees. If God can see the faith behind Jepthah’s sacrifice of his daughter in the book of Judges enough to include him among the men of faith in Hebrews 11, then I have no doubt he sees the delightful, beautiful, nuanced faith of the Irish, foibles and all (and, it must be noted, not everything that looks like a foible and smells like a foible to an outsider is indeed a foible). Perhaps that gives me hope that he sees mine as well, that he even gathers up my banshees into the redeemed picture and makes something beautiful of it.

They are a lovely people, the Irish.

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