Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What did the Irish ever give me?

I, Patrick the sinner, am the most rustic and the least of all the faithful, and contemptible in the eyes of very many.
-opening line from the Confessio of Saint Patrick
I was once informed by an Irish medieval historian over a pint of Murphey’s that most of the legends surrounding Saint Patrick were doubtless false. It was politically expedient for any town to claim roots to the saint, his reasoning goes, and it was not humanly possible for one man to have been founding churches in all the towns who trace their roots to him across the island.

I don’t remember how I answered my friend. I do remember feeling almost as sorry for him as he did for me. The atheist felt sorry for the ways I as a naive Christian (or naive American—which is worse?) believed whatever local legends people spouted out, and I felt sorry for a medieval historian who misses the beauty of his field of study because his worldview could not allow for mystery.

And today as we break Lent to celebrate the feast of the man who seemed to spawn churches in his footsteps, who could not be burned or poisoned drowned or stabbed by any king or druid he encountered, who sailed back from the continent on a slab of rock, who lit the way through darkness by his fire on the Hill of Slane or the lights from his fingertips, who beat his drums loudly and quickly enough (and until you’ve heard Irish music, you can’t appreciate that one!) to make all the snakes flee into the sea, I am in no mood to sort between legend and history, whatever that would mean. And as today is my birthday, I am going to excuse myself from the task of explaining the “right” way to read legend or to understand mystery.

The Irish have given me a world (quite literally) soaked in living mystery, an appreciation for the beauty and livability of suffering from their stories and music alike, a life-long love of the colour green, my knowledge (such as it is) of reading Latin and Greek, banter and quirks enough to make a foreigner feel at home, a handful of sonnets I couldn’t help but write while I was there, a push-start in a pinch, faithfulness and foibles that are interwoven like a devotion to the Eucharist and the pint, stories where anger and reconciliation are too closely knit to separate, reminders of the gentleness of God, and a heck of a day to celebrate a birthday. Today, I raise a pint to Patrick and the Irish.


Kate said...

Happy birthday!

Christian H said...

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday, dear Em,
Happy birthday to you!


WV: foloness