Monday, May 30, 2011

The Long Twisting Journey to Iona of the Heart / Danny Boy

Today, here in the United States of America we are celebrating Memorial Day, remembering all those who died in service of our country, in wars foreign and domestic.  It is a sad day, even while we are proud of those men and women.

When I was growing up, we all were marched off to Church by my father on Memorial Day, as if it were a holy day of obligation for us. It was, morally. The rest of the day was celebrated in our Queens, NY neighborhood much as the other civic holidays were, with BBQs in Sunnyside park, baseball games, races, etc., and surrounded by family and friends, many of whom were also vets. Without some reminder, it is too easy to forget the unique meaning of Memorial Day.  

In a way, every surviving vet has suffered a certain kind of death/loss just by having been through and witnessed war and loss so close and personally, living through and watching horror, friends die, and sadly sometimes having to kill as well, etc. I mourn their loss today too--a kind of death of innocence for our young women and men. My cousin Danny returned alive from the Viet Nam war but suffered until the day he died (prematurely) with the horror of the faces of the men he killed personally.  He suffered more from that than from his own physical wounds.  As he put it to me not long before he died, "I was a good Catholic kid like you, with the same Irish grandmother and family life, a kid like you, taught to love people, but I had to kill them..." It was a kind of death in him too.   He called me one night and talked about only wanting to die, because he could not sleep because of the faces of those he killed haunting him.   "Each of those soldiers was somebody's son or grandson, like me..." he cried.  "I killed them up front and personally, or I called in the bombers to kill them by the hundreds.  I just want to tell them how sorry I am."   He asked me if I knew any priest who'd been in Viet Nam--someone he could talk with, someone who was familiar with the ghosts too.  I did.  One of our deacons in Brooklyn rushed to Danny's side.  Another, a bishop I knew in Virginia was on the phone with Danny daily.   They could relate.  Part of Danny died in Viet Nam.  We all knew his ghost here for the years that followed.  No deacon or bishop, not even those in his family closest to him could vanquish those deadly memories.  Danny's heart gave out years before it should have. 

We are an Irish family.  Danny was our own Danny Boy.  I grew up with him, cousins, who like many NYC Irish-American families, were as close as brothers and sisters in the old neighborhoods.  We come from that race that sometimes prides itself on its fierce Celtic warrior ancestors.  That blood runs through our veins, and we don't deny it, although some of us are happier not to be warriors.  Yet, that trait, redefined and refocused, like dogs learning to refocus their prey instinct into guarding or shepherding animals,  is what can help us be brave enough to face the troubles of life, the pain and challenges, the self-centered preoccupations and give us the courage to go beyond ourselves to love, protect, instruct, guide others.  The early Celtic Christians did just this--they took that warrior spirit and did battle against evil within themselves.  It's a great transformation when possible.  It helps us discover that Iona of the Heart...that place of personal resurrection, our center, our Christ, and gives deeper meaning to our lives.

We all watched our Danny try to do this in his own way after Viet Nam.  He tried to refocus.  He was shooting at humans one minute, and being shot at, heard his name called out in the air, grabbed the ladder rope from a helicopter, still shooting as it whisked him away from war, and the next day he was back on Long Island. He tried to refocus as best he could, given that history and exit from war.   He was gifted and highly intelligent.  He tried to overcome his ghosts, and all that haunted him from war, and he was a magnificent cousin and friend.  He just didn't see it in himself.  I trust in that Communion of Saints we cling to as Christians, and that Danny Boy is now at peace with himself and those whose life paths crossed unhappily with his in Viet Nam.

May God grant peace--that peace that passes our understanding to all who have died serving their countries, their neighbors, or total strangers, those who have died either directly in the wars, or from the wounds received in action.   May God give us all the wisdom to put an end to war.  Amen.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Date of Arrival at Iona of the Heart or The Second Coming

Iona of the Heart!  That holy place in each of us, that "place of resurrection", that solitary place St. Columba's rule tells us to find is our place of transformation, and it is not a one-time event, but continuously calls to us to be renewed, reformed so as to live the life of Love we are called to live.

This rapture thing, so filled with fear rather than the "rapture of love," is getting sadder and sicker as it becomes more evident that so many are going to be hurt.  The "second coming" happens every time a life is transformed by the FIRST coming of Jesus and all He taught!  THAT's the lesson--a mystical lesson about inner transformation of our consciousness, our awareness of our spiritual being choosing in freedom to love--but some would rather focus on taking the words literally than do the work of changing their priorities and values.  It's easier to deal with a Boogieman God than a God of Love Who obliges us to live a life of love!

I've done a lot of joking about this May 21st date.  The "predicted" earthquake, the craziness of millions of dead bodies being raised from their physical graves or wherever they ended up at the bottom of the sea or the bellies of fish, being tossed around (those not glorified) and five months of us all stepping over them waiting for our final destruction on October 21st!   I think it's all nuts, but more seriously, I believe it is such an ignorant deception distracting people of good will (mostly) from the meat of Faith, and encouraging them by fear to depend only upon the milk of Faith to sustain themselves.  Depending upon the milk means we remain as children, thinking as children, reasoning as children.  When we put away childish things we reason as mature beings, and it's far easier to see clearly that it is only by Love that we are "saved."

Depending upon "the milk" means we go no deeper than the words of the story.  We look not to the lesson or the intended meaning (personal transformation from being self-centered animals to loving caring creatures), but remain content with the story that feeds our own agenda, anger, fears, and our need to be in control of others and especially those who differ religiously.  We understand God in our image.

Being fed by "the meat" of Faith (the mystical reality) nourishes us spiritually so that we no longer see reality only as through a mirror dimly, but with the clarity that comes from unselfish love.  Life becomes so much more than a "veil of tears" but a promised land of contemplative union with the Creator...and one another.

We can't stop with the words.  We need to progress on toward the Word, the true meaning.  We can study, we can consider and learn from theologians, we can look to the endless world stories telling about the beginning and end of the world, but unless we go within, meet God there, we learn little of the lessons all are intended to teach us.  When we go within, open our minds and hearts to the living God, we will surely be caught up in the rapture of endless Love, with that God Who IS Love.  The rest of life then flows from that...

The picture here is of the remains of two people discovered under the remains of volcanic ash.  They knew the meaning of eternal love, by the looks of them.  I don't believe God's idea is much different, frankly.  Care for one another to the end!

Enjoy May 21st and give God thanks for knocking at the door your heart each day.