I feel nervous about leaving Ireland.
I want to stay here as long as I can. I want to be on the moors and by the sea and with the people. I want to listen to Irish music and eat Irish food. But I know I must go eventually, and when I do, I don’t know when I will be back again.
I think these nerves are present in me because God is easy to feel here. I feel overwhelmed by God’s presence in the raw, natural beauty of this place. (I found myself wondering today if there is a word that means more than beautiful. Perhaps there is an Irish word that captures what I think I mean. ) It is easy to connect with God here because it is easy to connect with people here. The American accent immediately starts a conversation. Then when I explain why I am in Belfast, the conversation deepens. But I think the real reason that it is easy to connect is because the people are willing to be vulnerable. They all have a story to tell and many are willing to tell it.
I feel nervous about leaving Ireland because it is easy to be with God here. I know that it should not always be easy to find God, but it sure is nice. I also know that I am merely scratching the surface. It is easy to run away from your problems and find refuge in another place. I often think about the line from Mrs. Doubtfire when Daniel (Robin Williams) is desperately trying to hold his marriage together. He suggests a vacation with the kids, but Miranda (Sally Field) says “Oh Daniel, our problems would just be waiting for us when we got back.”
We cannot run away from our problems or our fears or our mistakes. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to, and it doesn’t mean that to do so might make living easier for a time. And right now, in Ireland, it is easy for me to be with God. So I think I’ll stay here for a wee bit.
After arriving severely jetlagged, we have had some sensory-filled days of harrowing drives, unimaginable vistas, and a (literally) warm welcome while exploring Ireland. We have visited museums, cathedrals, pubs, and some of the most beautiful country churches. We have met scores of people and every single one of them has been at least pleasant if not downright lovely. One interaction particularly stands out to me, it took place at St. George’s Parish Church in the heart of Belfast. There we met Billy, a life-long parishioner and knower-of-all-things. Billy toured us through the Nave, sat us down for tea, and, among the Irish-American history lesson, began talking about the Israel-Palestine conflict and its effect on Catholic-Protestant relations. I commented that double layers must have escalated tensions tremendously. His response was, “Double? If only there were just two!” In that moment, I realized that I had been trying to reduce the history of Ireland and her people into an easily-digestible summary. I had been looking for a simple way to explain hundreds of years of relationships in a paragraph or two. Billy taught me several lessons that day, but the most important was this: things are never as simple as we want them to be, and we must honor the complexity of human relationship. That reality is tough and beautiful and agonizing and entirely inhabited by the Holy Spirit, just like this dazzling island.
These first three days in Ireland have been filled with immeasurable beauty. I have heard beautiful music, eaten delicious food, and spoken with lovely people. Alas,no place of beauty is perfect, and through some very poignant conversations I am beginning to learn about the history and current day struggles of groups of people fighting to be able to form their identity. I have heard stories of just how complicated it can become and has been as politics, the church, and a colonial history are added into the mix. I am looking forward to exploring these topics with people that I will have the opportunity to listen to their stories, and I look forward to sharing my experiences and learnings with you along the way.