Tuesday, July 11, 2017


It was 11 o'clock on Sunday morning and my ride to the Baptist church had not shown up. The service would be starting about now and my mind was going this way and that, wondering what went wrong. I hoped Seamus, who always collects me, was okay.

The morning was beautiful... warm, sweet and crisp, like microwave kettle corn (which I miss tremendously). The sun was bright and I was, as they say, all dressed up with no place to go. I changed into my comfy jeans and opened Safari to see if there was any interesting place I could walk within reason, just to spend the day outdoors.

I was on the verge of despair when the phone rang. I could hardly believe the timing. It was my friend, Andy, who has been conspiring with me for weeks to hit the Derrynaflan driving trail, a series of medieval ecclesiastical sites in the area. Andy has long work hours and lots of other commitments, so I wasn’t sure our plans would ever reach fruition.

“Would you have some free time today to check off a couple of sites?” 
Island in the Bog
“Oh, I might be able to spare a few minutes for it”. I was jumping for joy! I have been in serious "ruin" withdrawal and was just realizing how good a fix was going to feel. 

Our first stop was Derrynaflan Island, also known as Goban Saor’s Island (Goban being a famous church architect of the day), which is a big, unexpected, inexplicable explosion of green in the middle of Littleton bog.  The name, Derrynaflan, means the Oak Wood of the Two Flanns, referring to a couple of clerics who were associated with the place in the 800’s. Yep, it’s old.

Derrynaflan was just another tick off the trail map until 1980 when a couple of guys went exploring with metal detectors. Their wildest dreams came true when they hit 
The Derrynaflan Chalice
the mother lode. As you probably know, because of Vikings and other ill-tempered guests, the monks often buried their treasures when the doorbell rang. We know the Irish ground is saturated with it. Finding it is the challenge. The “Derrynaflan Hoard” is now housed in the National Museum in Dublin and I saw it last summer.

It wasn’t easy getting to the island. There are no road signs and certainly no address. Andy had been there before but still had to rethink a couple of turns. Then there it was in the distance, a polished emerald laid out on a sheet of dark velvet. 

We're almost there!
We parked the car and set out walking. It hadn’t rained in a few days so the bog was dusty and cracked. Like all good adventure walks in Ireland, we had to negotiate a waterway and cross a fence. My eyes were glued to the ground the whole way, just in case a bit of the “hoard” had been left behind. Ya never know!
Five windows have survived the years

These old ruined churches are like fiddle tunes in that, to the untrained ear or eye, they all seem the same. But once you’re on to them, the subtle differences assert themselves with enthusiasm and you never mistake one for the other (well, on fiddle tunes, sometimes you do). 
Brian McLaren, in Finding God, reminds us that God isn’t only found in cathedrals and religious sacraments and rituals (although many of us do find Him there). Nature, art, solitude, community, serving others (McLaren’s list is long) are also vessels through which communion with the Divine may flow. I’ve been thinking about what makes me, personally, feel close to God... how the “fruit of the Spirit” (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.) that St. Paul says we, as followers of Christ, will some day come to yield, is being nurtured in me.

Thank you, Andy.
There was a time when I thought these virtues would rise up in us volcano-style upon profession of faith, spewing forth from nothingness just because, as in creation, God ordered it so. Then I started realizing that maybe the six creative days weren’t literal days and maybe good things take time. And maybe all the circumstances of my life have been a part of God’s continuing creation, the making of me.

Among a variety of other ways, I feel spiritual, connected to God, when I'm stumbling over the rubble left behind by my spiritual ancestors. I’m not so naive as to think they were all "holy, holy, holy" and loved God with all their hearts. But I’ll bet a few of them did. And the “faith of our fathers” inspires me, maybe because history is a gossip, and has the benefit of knowing then announcing all the ways they screwed up... but God remained faithful. 

There’s an eloquent sermon in that for me. And I would have missed hearing it on Sunday if I’d gone to church.

Next post: More along the trail... The Yellow Church (which we were relieved to discover was NOT the Hill of Bones which is an unlucky place) and the Ballinure Graveyard.