Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Puffin Outside My Window

September 18, 2011

From about the third day in Corrymeela, I knew that one of the last blogs I wrote about my experiences here would be called The Puffin Outside My Window.

I can’t remember – it was either my second or third morning. I awoke very early, because I was still adjusting to the time difference between Halifax and Northern Ireland.  Plus, the sun was rising in those days at about 4 am. So I awoke, somewhat groggy, raised the window blind, and found myself staring at a puffin hopping around on the grass outside my window. Now, I’ve never seen a real live puffin. But I just knew that’s what it was. I watched it for a good several minutes before it hopped out of sight. Of course, I did not have the presence of mind to grab my camera and take a picture – I was just too fascinated watching it hop around, seemingly just for my amusement.

Later that day, I cautiously asked one of the other volunteers who had been here awhile – “Is it possible that I saw a puffin outside my window this morning?” “Probably not,” I was told, “Puffins usually don’t make their way over here from Rathlin.” Puffins are one of the main attractions on Rathlin Island, just off the coast of Ballycastle, from late spring until early August. There are many things to do and see on the island, but puffin watching is one of the biggies.

So, of course, I then began to wonder whether I had really seen a puffin outside my window. Maybe it was extreme jet lag, and I was just hallucinating. I found myself watching each morning for my little friend, but to no avail. A week later, I got up enough nerve to ask someone else. “Is it possible that I saw a puffin outside my window one morning?”  “Sure” I was told, “entirely possible.” That gave me courage to actually talk about it to others, but with more conviction. “I’m pretty sure I saw a puffin outside my window the other morning” I said. Some believed, some didn’t.

But the story took on a life of its own. One day I thoughtfully compared it to the Holy Spirit. Maybe I was being sent a message of some sort ... but what? Keep watch? All will be well? Now you see it, now you don’t? Feed the puffins? Folks began to talk more about puffins, and in particular, the now mythical puffin outside my window. One of the summer volunteers reported after a trip to Rathlin that there was much talk about the new trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Puffin.

One day I looked out my window and found Teri (who in one of our discussions had very tactfully suggested that maybe it was an oyster catcher that I had seen ...) picking flowers. I opened my window and said “Excuse me, are you the puffin outside my window?” “Yes,” she said emphatically, “I AM the puffin outside your window!” (ps I KNOW it wasn’t an oyster catcher ... it didn’t have a long beak!!)

And of course, the puffin never returned. Or at least, it hasn’t yet. There are only two mornings left, and it truly would be a miracle if it did return, because all the puffins left Rathlin Island several weeks ago. So, I’m left to wonder whether there really was a puffin outside my window that morning. All I have are my fading memories of what I saw.

Somewhere in my puffin thoughts I began to understand that this very well might be a metaphor for my Corrymeela experience when I get home. Was it real? Did it really happen? The farther away I get from it, the more I expect it will seem unreal, fleeting, a brief moment in time.

Fortunately, unlike my puffin episode, I have taken many pictures to help me remember. And I have this blog – which I entered into three months ago with great fear and trepidation and, thanks to your words of encouragement, have been able to keep up. And I also have a journal with more personal reflections. And, the travel book that Tammy at St. Andrew’s gave me is chock full of notes from conversations, worship and reflection times, ideas, songs, games ... people, trips, money spent ... you name it, I’ve written it down!

But I suspect even with all this, after this Wednesday, it will all begin to fade slightly, to feel a bit unreal to me. Was I really here? Did it all really happen?
I also suspect that I will be processing this experience for many months to come. It is my deep hope that I will return to Corrymeela someday, either as a volunteer, or with a group that wants to explore the Corrymeela Community and how it has contributed to peace and reconciliation in the world. Until then, I’m dependent on my memories, my writing, my pictures.

I’m not sure if I’ll write another blog before I get home. My computer battery is dying a slow death, (another metaphor???), and I’m not sure what will happen when it finally goes. I’m hoping I get home before it completely dies. Folks are starting to ask me “What have you learned?” “What are the highlights?” I am starting to answer those questions, mostly in my journal, but it may take some time.

Tomorrow night it will be my turn to experience a goodbye party – something very low key I hope. Tuesday I take the Antrim Coaster one more time to Belfast, and fly out Wednesday morning. This coming weekend we fly to Toronto for my mother’s memorial service next Monday. Prayers for safe travel, strength and comfort are most welcome.

And if you see the puffin outside my window, say hello for me. 

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Is anyone keeping count of how many people I’ve lived with this summer?

September 15, 2011

I am up to 101 so far. That is, people that have lived in the volunteer house, Coventry, since I arrived on June 27. Given that about 30, give or take, can occupy the house at one time, that’s a lot of coming and going in three months. That number covers everyone who was there before me (only one now ...) to those who were here for only a few days. I am the next to leave.

When people ask me, as they are starting to do, “What have you learned here at Corrymeela?” or “What have been your most memorable experiences?”, my response is without a doubt something about the people with whom I have been in  relationship over the past three months – the other volunteers. The long term, mid term, short term, and summer volunteers. I have met people from just down the road in Ballycastle, from many different parts of Ireland and the UK, from all over Europe, and from Africa, the Philippines, the United States, and Canada.

Below are my newest friends and roommates – the new long term volunteer team. They are (from left to right, front row: Matt (new program assistant from the U.S.), Michael (Germany), Stevie (NI), Lindsay (England), Emily (U.S.), Nathan (kneeling, NI), 2nd row: Desi (NI), Aaron (NI), Kelsey (U.S.), me (in front of Kelsey), Tytti (Finland), Anna (Sweden) and Fergal (NI). The photo was taken yesterday on our way home from a day trip to the Belfast Corrymeela office.

Learning to live with 30 people at any time is no small task. Add on the pressures of sometimes up to 100 other folks at the centre for programs, and it’s a small miracle, and a testament to Corrymeela, that things run as well as they do.

One of my own strategies, which became a bit of a spiritual practice, was to try to cultivate a spirit of generosity while here. A spirit that assumes the best of intentions with folks, not the worst. Sure, it’s easy to get grumpy when one wakes up in the morning and there are no clean coffee cups, or there are dirty dishes all over the kitchen counter. But that didn’t happen too often, and when it did, I learned to either clean it up, or walk away from it (after, of course, washing one cup for my coffee!)

And then, most importantly – this is the spiritual practice piece - to let it go. I’m not saying it always worked, but it helped many times. And I’m certainly not saying that I didn’t have the occasional grumble to some of my fellow early risers, but I found myself learning to live with the constantly changing state of the kitchen – clean, unclean, clean, unclean ... and above all, to be surprised, delighted, and filled with heartfelt gratitude for the clean times. Which these days, is quite often, as it seems that the new ltv team seems particularly conscientious about cleaning up each evening.

There are some things best avoided when living with 30 people – like trying to do laundry on the LTVs day off ... of course I forgot that rule today, so ended up in a long lineup for the two washers and dryers. Sure I was frustrated at first ... but in the big picture, it didn’t seem like a particularly important world event to get worked up over.  And, there was a lot of laughter and negotiation involved which I might have missed had I not jumped in.

When I think about those 101 people, and all the conversations I’ve had over the past three months, over a cup of coffee, tea, a meal, a glass of wine, or a beer ... I am in awe. Some of these people I know I will never see again. But I carry those conversations, those encounters, deep inside me. I am changed forever because of them. Each relationship, however brief, has made an imprint on me, and I will never be the same. For that, I thank God every day for guiding me to this place.

Speaking of relationships – today is Pat and my 33rd wedding anniversary. We sent each other the same e-card from Jib Jab ... it was, as he said, an “O Henry moment.” We’ll celebrate next week, but today I went to lunch at O’Connor’s with Jo and had a beer and fish and chips. When she heard it was my anniversary, she insisted on paying. Thanks Jo, and Happy Anniversary Pat.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Ray Davey, and the origins of Corrymeela

September 10, 2011

Before I leave Corrymeela, I would be remiss if I didn’t introduce my readers to Ray Davey, Founder of the Corrymeela Community, and his incredible vision of a centre for peace and reconciliation over 45 years ago. Now in his late 90s, and in ill health, he is still a strong spiritual presence at the Corrymeela Centre, and revered for both his vision, and his tireless work at Corrymeela and around the world in the area of peace and reconciliation.

Award-winning journalist Alf McCreary has written two books about Corrymeela, Hill of Harmony in 1975, and more recently In War and Peace, The Story of Corrymeela, in 2007.(note:  I have a copy of the most recent one to donate to the St. Andrew’s library when I get home.)

Many folks think that Corrymeela arose out of the time that is euphemistically called “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, but in fact the Corrymeela Community predates the time of The Troubles. Although the Centre was officially opened on October 30, 1965, the concept began much earlier in the minds of those who conceived it.

McCreary writes, “It is widely acknowledged that one of the main visionaries was Ray Davey, the urbane and gentle but tough-minded Presbyterian minister who became Corrymeela’s first Leader and Founder.” (p.15) His personal story is too long to recount here, but begins as a son of the manse, takes him through near-professional rugby playing for Ulster, the war years as a prisoner of war, and after that as the first Presbyterian Dean of Residence at Queen’s University, Belfast.

As a prisoner in a nearby camp, Davey was deeply affected by the Allied bombing of Dresden, Germany. McCreary says Davey wrote in his diaries “Dresden was something I could never forget. It underlined to me the futility of all conflict, and when I returned back home, the challenge of trying to do something about conflict stayed with me, especially in my own society which was so polarised.” (p.18)

At Queen’s, Davey created a community of Christians, not just Presbyterians, a truly ecumenical community. McCreary writes, “This was a considerable achievement in Northern Ireland which was still suffering deeply from religious and political apartheid. It was no surprise that the seeds of a wider religious community developed from the experience at Queen’s, and that some of the other main Corrymeela visionaries had learned a great deal as undergraduates, and later graduates, of the university.” (p. 19)

In 1964 two other Prebyterian ministers, Rev. John Morrow (who would succeed Davey as Corrymeela Leader) and Rev. Alex Watson met with Davey. Both men were members of the Iona Community and were deeply influenced by the leadership of Rev. George MacLeod and the practicalities of the Iona Community, combined with its renewed sense of worship and common life. Subsequent to that meeting, another meeting took place with over 50 people from very diverse backgrounds. McCreary writes, “There was an impetus for a Christian Community, but not yet sufficient consensus as to what shape it should take.” (p.21) The group included people who were familiar with Iona, but had also visited Taize in France and Agape in Italy.

Each of these communities were seen as having strong elements of a desired Christian community – Iona, for its central philosophy that God was concerned about the totality of life, and not just the spiritual side; Taize, for its strong spiritual base, and the Youth Village of Agape, in the Italian Alps, with Pastor Tullio Vinay. Vinay advocated that a Christian community must incarnate the problems, the difficulties of men, be they hunger or unemployment in order to bring them the message of the Kingdom of Christ which is a message of reconciliation, of service and of love.

The event that focused the group’s thinking happened in early 1965, when a Holiday Fellowship Centre near Ballycastle came up for sale. It moved folks from the abstract to the very real possibility of creating a Christian community, putting the ideas and visions to the test. Folks actually had to put up their own personal money, and also do fundraising, for a total of 10,000 pounds. When the offer was accepted, the hard work of making the site habitable began. McCreary says “The Centre was derelict, and an army of volunteers was required to make it habitable. This was done through a series of work camps, where people discovered the virtues of hard work, and the welcome surprise of developing skills which they did not believe they possessed.” (p. 22)

That sounds pretty familiar to me, all these years later!

The Centre was officially opened in October, 1965, with about 200 people gathered. Ray Davey welcomed Pastor Tullio Vinay from Agape, who had been asked to open the Centre. This was a man who had not only inspired the founders of Corrymeela, but who had also risked his life sheltering Jews from Nazi persecution. In his opening address, Vinay asked that the Centre should be a “question-mark to the  Church everywhere in Europe so that it may review its structures and task, and may be free from this instinct of preservation, to hear the time of God for its mission in the world.” As McCreary says, 40 years later, these words seem even more prophetic. (p.27)

In the summer worship information package which I received as one of the worship coordinators, it says:

“Ray Davey said of this Centre:  We hope that Corrymeela will come to be known as ‘the Open Village’:Open to all people of good will who are willing to meet each other, to learn from each other and work together for the good of all. Open also for all sorts of new ventures and experiments in fellowship, study and worship.  Open to all sorts of people; from industry, the professions, agriculture and commerce.  This is part of our vision.  We know we are only at the beginning and there is so much to be done.”

Below is a picture of the new Davey Village, opened in the spring of this year, plus the welcome sign when you first enter the car park. Thank you, Ray Davey, for your vision, your leadership, your commitment to peace and reconciliation.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Hello, goodbye, part two, and the red duck in my eye

September 9, 2011

More comings and goings this week ... today we said goodbye to Karen and Glenn from Cornwall, Ontario, who have been here for two weeks. In that short time they made their way into the hearts of everyone with their contributions to the community and the way they jumped in with whatever needed to be done. Karen is also a musician, and to my (and the centre’s) delight, she also bought a guitar to play while here, and to leave behind. Many of the nights she was here she had a crowd of young people around her as she taught guitar chords and rhythms.

We also said goodbye to Teri today. Teri arrived three weeks before me, from Arizona, and left today to teach for a year at Sabanci University in Istanbul. Teri quickly found her place in the Corrymeela Community, and into the hearts of all – offering pastoral support, driving folks hither and yon, offering workshops on peace and reconciliation, supporting groups, doing special projects for the Centre Director, scrubbing toilets ... you name it, when there was something to be done, Teri was there. Her two sons, Jesse and Jason, also spent time at the Centre as summer volunteers while she was here. While it was sad to see her go, we were all celebrating her adventurous spirit as she drove off with Aileen, her “entire life” in four suitcases. The picture below is of Jo, midterm volunteer who arrived the day before me, and was also here last summer, William, one of the chefs in the kitchen, me, and Teri on the day we were cooking the long term volunteers’ farewell supper at the end of August.

It’s the custom for goodbyes that as soon as folks hug and wave goodbye in the car park, they run to the top of the cliff so that they can wave goodbye as the car drives down the steep hill. Of course the driver has to drive a bit slowly as everyone makes a mad dash to the cliff, where the cross is, to wave goodbye. It’s a ritual for all the volunteers when they leave. It’s quite a workout, especially twice in half an hour!

Several instances this week made me realize that I had turned a corner as far as becoming part of the wider Ballycastle community. On Tuesday, I got my hair cut at a local salon. I was hoping to last until I got home, but just couldn’t do it. It’s a risky thing, going to a new stylist, in a foreign country. I’m happy to report that all is fine in the hair department.

Then I had to visit the surgery (health clinic) for something odd that was happening to my eye ... for the third time in about 10 days I had quite worrisome looking broken blood vessels in my eye. Exploding eyeballs I called it ... perhaps the stress of the last month? What worried me was that each time it happened it got a little bigger ... by Wednesday it looked like I had a little red duck stamped into my eyeball. Thankfully, according to the doctor there’s nothing serious going on ... perhaps a very tiny abrasion that has become irritated. “It’s very windy and dusty up at Corrymeela” she said. Which it is, for sure. And, I can also happily report that it’s much better today. Hopefully that’s the end of the exploding eyeballs.

And, the third thing that made me feel like part of the community was that as I was walking down the main street of Ballycastle from the surgery, my most regular taxi driver, Paddy Dornan, drove by and waved at me. “Wow,” I thought, “how cool is that?” Later, after I ran my errand, I found him at the head of the taxi line. I didn’t even have to tell him where I was going (to Corrymeela). “Did you get up to Tor Head yet?” he asked me, knowing that it’s something I want to do before I go home. (I haven’t).

I will miss this place for sure ... but I am beginning to count the days until I get home. Pat asked if there’s anything he should get in for me on my arrival. I’m afraid I sent him a long list ... including Montreal bagels, popcorn, cream for my coffee, a good steak for a bbq, and a huge array of vegetables. Oh yes, and not to have to label everything “Martha” when I put it in the fridge or cupboard.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

My second Belfast adventure ...

September 3, 2011

I haven’t written in a few days because I’ve been sick – for the second time since I’ve been here. I was proud of the fact that I seemed to miss all the bugs that were going around the St. Andrew’s staff last year, but I guess something about living in close community with 25 people increases the odds of catching something once its in the building. Earlier this summer, the same bug kept being passed around for weeks. I fought it off several times, and finally succumbed. Anyway, this time it’s just a typical cold, but it has lowered my energy level for sure.

I had a great two days in Belfast last week. Came in by train on Monday afternoon, and settled in to my room at the Camera Guesthouse, near Queen’s University. It had been recommended to me by Aileen (Corrymeela staff), and it’s where Alana and I stayed for one night a few weeks ago. It’s owned by a young couple, who seem to work very hard at catering to the guests’ needs and comforts. When I checked in, he noticed that I was reading “Game of Thrones.”

“I’m working on that. It’s being filmed up on the north coast,” he said, “Hollywood had come to Northern Ireland.” Which is precisely why I picked up the book after my kindle broke (a long story ...), because I had read an article that HBO was filming the series on the coast, near Ballycastle. He must be pretty busy, commuting from Belfast, and running the B&B. I hope I can get to see some of the filming sites before I leave in a few weeks.

I set out on my mission for Monday afternoon, which was to find claddagh rings for the folks I had promised them to ... fortunately I found a very patient young woman at the huge Irish shop Carroll’s. (“Are you buying rings for your whole family?” ...). I”m happy to say I was successful in my mission.

Monday evening I went back to my favourite little Italian place that I had been twice before. I couldn’t help it ... it seems that once a month I’m craving a really good Caesar salad, pizza, and half bottle of wine. Why mess with a good thing? I came “home” and had a great Skype conversation with Pat – whatever did we do before Skype?

Tuesday morning I met with a wonderful Presbyterian minister named Lesley Carroll, who is the minister in an inner city amalgamated church in a mixed area of North Belfast. She has been there for 14 years, and the church has been involved in teaching mediation and conflict resolution and promoting restorative justice practices in schools, amongst many other things. We had a wonderful conversation, and I know she will be someone I will keep in contact with as I think about some possibilities and projects in my own ministry in Halifax.

Lesley was kind enough to drop me off at An Culturlann on the Falls Road, a cafe, tourist information office, community radio, and the north’s largest dedicated Irish language and media book and gift shop. Of course, I did a bit more shopping and poking around, and headed off to my next meeting, which was with Nicola McKeown, the Schools Worker at “Number 8”, as it is referred to, the Corrymeela Belfast Office.

I have long wanted to understand more about the Corrymeela Schools Program, and I did get a few more pieces of the puzzle as Nicola and I shared lunch. Corrymeela has been working in the schools for many years, and because of that, has a lot of credibility. Working in both Primary and Secondary Schools, Corrymeela facilitates and supports teachers for the delivery of topics and themes such as making choices, communication skills, positive management of conflict, recognizing and valuing diversity, and forgiveness education, just to name a few. Our conversation challenged me to think about how the interfaith community in Halifax could be a resource to the schools, facilitating these kinds of conversations.

After my meeting with Nicola, I hopped on a bus to East Belfast to have a lovely dinner with new friends, Emily and Hedley, and their small sons Liam and Rhys. Emily, from the U.S. and Hedley, from Belfast, both have a history with Corrymeela, and with peace and reconciliation work in Northern Ireland. We had some great conversations, and I was very appreciative of their hospitality.

Wednesday morning I met with long time community member (and former Schools Worker) Yvonne Naylor to show her my draft children’s worship resource, and to plan a session on worship planning for the new long term volunteer team. Then, I hopped back on the bus, and arrived back at Corrymeela about 4 pm. I was greeted with “Welcome back!” “How was your trip?”, which made me feel like I had been away for ages. Life certainly carried on in my absence – sometimes when you are away for a few days, it’s a challenge to catch up, as so much can happen.

All week long, folks have been busy preparing for the new ltv team, which arrives tomorrow. These are 12 folks from around the world who will spend the next 12 months living in community, and providing the main leadership to the Corrymeela programming over the next year. The place has been cleaned, scrubbed, and tidied ... and welcome posters and cards made. The “induction” (think orientation ...) schedule has been largely set, and all is ready! Everyone is very excited for tomorrow.

In addition, there are three groups on site this weekend, one group from Hungary (led by a former long term volunteer who brings a group here every year), a family group, and a university group who couldn’t make it out of the U.S. last week because of the hurricane, and are arriving tomorrow.

Never a dull moment at the Corrymeela Centre!!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Corrymeela Community

August 28, 2011

It’s been a quiet week this week.  All of a sudden, those of us who have been here since June and July are the ones who have been here the longest. We were the ones who were asked to offer leadership for the induction of the 10 new cycle 4 volunteers, who arrived on Wednesday evening.  The pace has slowed down tremendously, as it is the transition week between the summer schedule and the schedule for the rest of the year.

All of a sudden there is breathing room, and time for personal space, reading, and the special projects that we each have had on the go. We hardly know what to do with ourselves. And, there are three Canadians in the new group! Hooray! It’s been wonderful, especially this week, in the aftermath of Jack Layton’s death, to connect with fellow travelers from Canada.

This weekend is also historically the “Corrymeela Community Work Weekend” ... when many community members come up for the weekend to work on the site, fixing, gardening, cleaning ... basically getting it ready and beautifying it for another year.  Throughout the summer I have probably met about 25 community members (out of about 140) through their work with different groups that have been on site, or when they have arrived to do a week of volunteering on the weekly coordination team. This weekend offers the opportunity to meet many more. There are also several members from the Belfast L’Arche Community taking part in the weekend.

As Corrymeela Community members, folks agree to a “Statement of Commitment”, much like in other intentional Christian communities, such as the Iona Community in Scotland, or the Common Life Program at Tatamagouche Centre. This statement includes committing to work for an inclusive and just society, to pray regularly for each other, to give time and work to the community, to care for each other, and to give financial support to the community.

There are small “cell groups” all over Northern Ireland, and in Dublin. Although the community members come together several other times a year at the centre in Ballycastle, their work on behalf of the Corrymeela Community continues in the diversity of work and activities that they are about in their daily lives. Some are youth leaders, some are community organizers, some work for government agencies, some are university professors ... and the list goes on. (Again, the “Corrymeela begins when you leave” principle I talked about in my previous blog.)

Tomorrow, I’m off to Belfast again for a couple of days to get a sense of another aspect of Corrymeela’s work. Corrymeela has an office in Belfast with about a dozen staff members. In particular, I’m going to meet with Nicola McKeown who works in the Schools Programmes, which not only brings groups of school children to the Centre in Ballycastle, but goes into the schools with a virtue-based educational curriculum.  This feels like very exciting work to me, and I’m interested to learn the specifics of how the curriculum has been developed, and how it is delivered.

I have only three and a half weeks left here at Corrymeela. I am fighting the urge to start thinking about the fall, and all the work that awaits me. And, I am still surprised at how my grief manifests itself on a daily basis ... and continue to remind myself that it’s only two weeks since my mother died.  After many years of facilitating grief and loss workshops, I am reminded once again that grief manifests itself differently in each situation. I desperately want to be with friends and family, but also know that I am blessed to be in a place where there is time to slow down and process what has happened.

I hear the chain saws buzzing as I finish writing this. Time to go and join the community.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Cororymeela begins when you leave ...

August 23, 2011

Corrymeela begins when you leave ...

That’s the sign that greets you when you first enter the lobby of the Main House at Corrymeela ... “Corrymeela begins when you leave”. It’s a funny thing to see really, as one is beginning a journey, whether it’s a couple of weeks, several months, a year, or sometimes even more. I could intellectually understand it that first day, but I think now I am beginning to understand it from the heart’s point of view – and probably will even more when it is my own time to leave in four week’s time.

The LTVs (long-term volunteers) left yesterday at noon. It was a long goodbye. As I said in my previous blog, there was lots of processing and reflecting last week. Then, the party Saturday night, then, a formal dinner Sunday evening, and after that, a closing ritual for just the LTVs. Then, yesterday morning, a community worship and blessing, and an “Ulster Fry/Full Irish” breakfast (depending on which part of Ireland you are from) ... and then, there was the long line of folks to hug, and then, off in the Corrymeela bus they went with Peter driving, who I was told has probably done this about 25 times before.

The 2010-11 LTVs (pictured above) are: Jeni (Northern Ireland), Franc (Cameroon), Roland (Philippines), Valentin (Germany), Michaela (Northern Ireland), Sari (Hungary), Yael (U.S.) and Andrew (U.S.). These eight young adults have joined the ranks of Corrymeela LTV alumnae ... hundreds of folks who over the past 40 plus years have formed the heart and soul of this community.

My role during this past week was to plan, in consultation with several Corrymeela staff; a time for them to use the labyrinth to begin their reflection time last Wednesday; the Sunday night closing ritual for just the LTVs; and the community worship yesterday morning. It was a privilege to be involved. Sunday night we used a pilgrimage liturgy adapted from one a community member had written. We walked through the whole site, offering memories of the year at each stop and then scattering seeds from a large bowl. It was a symbol of all the seeds that they have planted during their time at Corrymeela, and also of the seeds that have been planted in them that they will take away, to be planted elsewhere.

Corrymeela begins when you leave ...

We closed the ritual by reading together the prayer attributed to 
Oscar Romero –

 “It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. ... This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, ... We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. We may never see the end results ...”

For the complete prayer, see:

In the closing ritual yesterday morning, I read the passage from Luke (Luke 13:18-19) about the Kingdom of God being like the mustard seed, and also read John Dominic Crossan’s observation that this parable is not so much about something small becoming something big, but about the fact that the mustard plant is pesky, and in fact dangerous, and tends to take over where it is planted.

From my growing knowledge of the Corrymeela Community, it seems like that is how its work has been carried throughout Northern Ireland, and around the world over the past many years – through the peskiness and perseverance of folks who have lived here and caught the vision, and then returned home to do the hard work of peace-making.  There have been visits to Corrymeela over the years from well known peace activists, including Mother Theresa and the Dalai Llama - an acknowledgment of the contributions that the Corrymeela community has made to the work of peace and reconciliation in the world. And this work has largely been carried out by those folks who spend time here, and then leave.

Corrymeela begins when you leave ...

When I was helping in the kitchen after the breakfast yesterday I had a conversation with Rita, long time community member from Dublin, who comes with her family to volunteer for this particular week each year. “I know what it’s like” she said, “it’s devastating, and sad, and there’s lots to be done to help out during this week in particular.” She herself is a former LTV, and a former staff person. “Well”, I observed, “you are also proof that there is life after being an LTV.”

I, along with most Canadians, was profoundly saddened to learn of Jack Layton’s death yesterday. Pat emailed me as soon as the news broke. It occurs to me, after reading his wonderful letter to Canadians, that Jack seemed to understand the Corrymeela principle well (and I have no idea whether he even knew about the Corrymeela community ...) – the principle that work is carried on by the next people in the line, that no one can do it all, and that to be part of a social movement is a great vocation for one’s life work.

Here’s to the 2010-2011 Corrymeela Long Term Volunteers, and to Jack Layton ... may those who come after you continue the work of building a better world.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Mrs. White, with the candlestick, in the parlour

August 20,  2011
It’s dress up time again. Tonight was the LTVs (long term volunteers) farewell party. After living here at Corrymeela for a year, they are moving on, each to the next phase of their life journey. They leave on Monday morning. It’s been an emotional week for them, and for those who have become close to them over the year. This week they have finished their official duties, begun to pack, evaluated, reflected and played together.
Tonight is the playing part. The theme for their party, which they have planned, is “Game On” ... the instructions were to come dressed as your favourite game, or game character. Not being a costume kind of gal, I was kind of stumped until one of the LTVs said “just come as one of the Clue characters ...” aha, I thought, that might be doable. Professor Plum? Colonel Mustard? Miss Scarlett? Mrs. White?
Yes, Mrs. White the maid will do ... when I googled “Mrs. White Clue character”, I found two pictures – one, a very matronly looking, much older woman, in her very matronly maid’s uniform ... and the other a rather scantily clad buxom young woman, in her not very matronly maid’s uniform ... perhaps I’d try something right in the middle?
I wasn’t really getting any ideas until this morning when I came out and Andre, one of the mid-termers, was making large paper flowers out of white napkins for the formal dinner planned for tomorrow night. “Hooray” I said ...”that will work nicely for my hat”. And I was off ... apron, feather duster (well actually, a Swiffer like thing from the Co-op store), and a candlestick made of poster board. Costume complete. Imagine my delight when Professor Plum (Shane O’Neill, House Manager) also showed up at the party!
It’s a great theme for a party, from minimalist (a T-shirt with a Sudoku puzzle on it, a scrabble square on a pizza box) to LTVs Jeni and Yael as an etch a sketch and twister board (picture below), or Roland, Frank and Valentin as rock, paper, scissors, (also pictured) it’s a great theme for a party. Beware fellow Haligonians – I might steal this idea!
Former LTV Eammon, who has just spent 2 weeks in the hospital, came with long time volunteer Anna as the Operation game. Even the leader of the Corrymeela Community, Inderjit, and his wife Kathy, came as a collective snakes and ladders game – he with ladders on his shirt, she with snake hand puppets.
I didn’t think I would feel up to partying, and silliness, but as it turns out, it felt ok. Sometimes, I guess we all need a little lightening up. Thanks to the LTVs for a great party.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Hill of Tara and Bru na Boinne

August 17, 2011
For me, the highlight of last week, other than spending seven solid days with Alana, was taking Mary Gibbons’ escorted tour from Dublin to the Hill of Tara and Newgrange/Bru na Boinne (pronounced, as I heard it, brew na boy-nuh, and it has accents on Bru and Boinne which I didn’t have on my computer ...).
The Hill of Tara was the inauguration site of the High Kings of Ireland, and is situated in the rich countryside of the Boyne Valley, 30 km north of Dublin. There are over 30 visible monuments on the hill, some as old as the Neolithic period, from 4,000 to 2,400 BC, and the latest to be as late as 1,000 AD. These monuments include burial places, stone pillars, and earthwork enclosures that held both ritual and sacred ceremonial purposes.
Bru na Boinne consists of the passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, and is now designated as a World Heritage Site. As such, it is a hugely popular tourist attraction, and I was warned that once you arrive at the site (by bus from Dublin) it was likely that you would wait in line for several hours for the shuttle bus to the tomb and the guided tour, which is the only way to get close, and even inside, the tomb. However, for about 7 or 8 extra euros, one can get a guided tour from Dublin, with a pre-scheduled visiting time for the tomb at Newgrange. I figured this was worth the extra money, so we booked with Mary Gibbons’ tours.
And what a great decision that was. Not only did we get an historical overview of Ireland on the way, from the Stone Age to current history, but we got lots of amusing anecdotes as well ... “Now the Lord of these lands had four daughters, but they didn’t get along ... so he built each of them a very large house ... you’ll see them at each of the four corners up here ...”
And, when we drove through the village of Slane ... “Now that’s Slane Castle on your right, which hosts a yearly rock festival for up to 100,000 people. The village is well equipped to handle that many people, with 6 pubs, a coffee shop, and a hotel that sleeps 16. And, U2 recorded a live album there.” She was a hoot, and looked after each one of us from the time we boarded the bus to the time we got off – including the very busy and somewhat confusing Visitation Centre at Newgrange - like a shepherd looking after her flock.
Newgrange is the best known Irish passage tomb, and is surrounded by a kerb (a continuous circle of large stones) of 97 stones, including the highly decorated entrance stone. It covers a single tomb consisting of a long passage and a cross shaped chamber. At the top of the entrance is a roof box, through which the rising sun on December 21, the midwinter solstice, shines through a gap in the floor of the roof box and into the tomb chamber. For 17 minutes, direct sunlight enters the inner tomb chamber. Each year there is a lottery for the very few people who can actually be inside the tomb on sunrise of the winter solstice.
There were so many things about this place that just boggled my mind. It is remarkable to think that people built this with such precision 1,000 years before the Pyramids, and even before the astronomical constructions of the Mayans. Archeologists can trace the stones used in the building to sites many miles from Newgrange, including some from the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin. The intricate carvings on the entrance stone and on a few of the kerb stones were done with stone implements, as it was before metal tools.
The irony was not lost on me that while we were exploring the tombs of folks from 5,000 years ago, my own mother was breathing her last breaths. It made the day bittersweet, and that’s what my memories of the day will be.

Monday, 15 August 2011

I'm ok

August 15, 2011
Thanks to all those who have sent condolences and prayers – I am deeply grateful. The last couple of days have been somewhat surreal ... said a teary goodbye to Alana early yesterday morning at the Dublin airport (more about our Dublin experience in a later blog) and then began the trek back to Ballycastle.
First, the bus to Belfast, and then a three and a half hour wait for the “Antrim Coaster”, which would get me to Ballycastle about 6:15. In fact, Alana landed in Toronto about 45 minutes before my bus got into Ballycastle.
I was kind of dreading the long day alone, but in fact it was quite bearable – plopped myself at a nice cafe with jazz music playing, bought myself a Sunday Times, and spent several hours catching up on world news and reading analyses of the London riots. Then, the sun was shining, so I walked across the street to the pub to continue reading, have a bottle of Heineken, and sit in the sun at an outdoor table. It was right outside the Crown Liquor Saloon and Europa Hotel, so great people watching too.
The Antrim Coaster takes twice as long to get to Ballycastle as the other bus from Belfast, but is 10 times more picturesque. Plus, the other bus doesn’t run on Sundays, so I didn’t really have a choice. The last time I took it, it was rainy and foggy, so couldn’t see much. Alana and I were going to take it last week to Belfast, but again it was rainy and foggy. Yesterday was the weather I’ve been experiencing in Northern Ireland often – rainy and sunny – which I’ve discovered is perfect rainbow weather.
I must have seen at least six different  rainbows as we wound our way along the coast.  I was snapping my camera madly out the window as we careened around twists and turns in the road, hoping that some would turn out. At one point, I realized that there were raindrops on the window – reminded me of that old country song (or maybe it’s just one of those country songs someone wished they had written?...) “I’m looking out the window through my pain” ... (or is it pane?)
Anyway, somehow the rainbows were comforting to me - always a sign of joy and hope, and promise. When I got back, not many knew what had happened, so there was always an awkward pause when folks asked “How was the time in Dublin with Alana?” and I would say “great” and then - “there’s no easy way to say this ... my mother died last week ...” and then explain the circumstances.
I feel already that I am being held by this community, with offers of time, support, and even a small memorial service if that’s what I want to do. I will miss not being with my sister and extended family on Wednesday afternoon when they gather, but as it turns out, Alana is nearby doing the GO Project evaluation and may possibly be able to get to my sister’s place.
I will continue to allow myself space to grieve, but also remind myself that I am amongst friends and loved ones, both near and far. And remind myself that in the mystery of the cycle of life, rainbows appear abundantly.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Elizabeth Jane Madden; June 19, 1927-August 12, 2011

August 12, 2011

My mother died today. I can’t even fathom the reality of it, although we have been expecting it for months. And, as with my father, I wasn’t there as she made her transition. Again, as with my father, I did phone her last night and my sister put the phone to her ear ... I told her that Alana and I were together, and we were sending much love her way, and that I loved her. And Mindy said that my mom knew that it was me. It should bring me some comfort, but somehow it doesn’t yet.
Because I missed my father’s passing, it was my deepest wish that I would be with my mother when her time came. But it wasn’t to be ... it was probably a selfish wish anyway. I know that my sister did an amazing job of journeying with her these past days, and months.
And so I am left in a kind of stunned state. I won’t be going home for five weeks – and then we will have a small (very short – she would want that) service of remembrance and bury her ashes with my dad in west Toronto in early October. I am blessed that of all weeks for this to happen, my own daughter is with me this week and we can comfort each other. We are both kind of in shock, but at least hanging on to each other. And I feel all I can do is write something down.
My mother was not a happy person generally. For very real issues which I won’t go into now, she had very low self esteem, which translated into fear and control issues with her daughters. She recognized this later in her life, and we were able to have conversations about it in the past few years. As she was reflecting on her life with Mindy and I when I visited last January, she said that she was happiest when she was painting.
Now get this. She always wanted to be an artist, but was told by her father that she couldn’t attend art school. Her own mother was an artist who taught others to paint. When my grandmother died, my mother began to paint. And paint. And paint. For several years, she produced many paintings – both oil and watercolour. Her own family members, including her five brothers, couldn’t believe the talent she had hidden all these years. And then her sister died. And my mother stopped painting. When I pointed this out to her during our January conversation, she said she hadn’t made that connection.
I only have two of my mom’s paintings ... one is of two small boys in the rain which I know she copied from a photo she had seen ... but I always imagined it was my own boys. Wishful thinking perhaps, that they would have been so tender with each other, helping each other through a rain puddle.
I’ve had the Allison Krauss/Robert Plant song (actually it’s an old traditional song) “Your Long Journey” running through my head since my sister phoned a few hours ago.
God's given us years of happiness here, Now we must part
And as the angels come and call for you
The pains of grief tug at my heart

Oh my darling, My darling
My heart breaks as you take your long journey.
My mom and I had a difficult relationship, but there was love. And my heart breaks that her long journey has been taken, but I also rejoice that she is not in pain anymore, that her brokenness has been made whole, and that she is in the arms of God – whatever that means. Rest in peace, mom. I love you.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Legend of Finn MacCool

August 10, 2011
You can’t be in Corrymeela for too long before you hear about Finn MacCool, the most famous giant in all of Ireland, who built the Giant’s Causeway, which is just a few miles from Ballycastle along the northern coast. The story makes its way into adventure learning, arts and crafts, and night time storytelling. There are many versions of the legend, but here is a shortened version of the one I’ve heard here at Corrymeela.
Finn MacCool roamed the Antrim Coast, and was 52 and a half feet tall. Finn wanted to fight his rival, a Scottish giant named Benandonner, so he built a path to Scotland. When Benandonner was out walking one morning and saw the newly laid path, he decided to visit Ireland. He searched the island for Finn’s cottage, and when Finn saw him coming, and saw that Benandonner was much bigger that he, Finn ran to his wife Oonagh and asked for her help, explaining that he thought he was in great danger.
Oonagh was a very clever woman, and put Finn into a bed, covering him with baby blankets. When Benandonnner burst into the cottage demanding to see Finn MacCool, Oonagh welcomed him in for Irish stew and tea. (Some versions have her offering him giant loaves of bread with an iron pot or stones in them, which broke the Scottish giant’s teeth!) When Benandoner saw how big Finn MacCool’s baby was, he became worried that Finn MacCool would be much bigger than that ... so he ran back to Scotland, tearing up the Causeway behind him.
So, here are a few things to know about the Giant’s Causeway:
The distance between the coast of Northern Ireland and Scotland is 11 miles. The Giant’s Causeway, one of the most popular and spectacular tourist attractions in all of Ireland, was formed about 65 million years ago when molten lava, deep in the earth’s core, began to pour out of cracks in the land.
The lava became hard and formed layers of rock, called basalt. After about 2 million years, the cracks in the earth opened up forming again and more lava flowed out. Some of this lava poured into a river valley where it cooled very slowly. As it cooled, it cracked evenly, forming the Giant’s Causeway - about 37,000 basalt columns, each with anywhere from four to eight sides. Once the ice at the end of the last Ice Age had gone, about 15,000 years ago, the shoreline was exposed. (I paraphrased these past two paragraphs from a children's book I bought - Finn's Cool Causeway, put out by the National Trust, UK, because my totally non-scientific brain almost understands it ...)
The rocks and columns really do look man-made. These boulders are rumoured to have once connected Ireland and Scotland - similar rock formations are found in nearby Scottish islands.
So, perhaps one can understand how stories get told about how this wonderful World Heritage Site came into being. In fact, tour guides are also quick to point out Finn’s boot, (that’s how they can figure out how tall he was!), the camel that he rode, and Finn’s pesky grandmother in some of the rock formations.
Both times that I have been to the Causeway it’s been a beautiful sunny day, which is a good thing because it’s a very long walk down to the stones (and of course, a very long walk back up!). These days, there is much construction going on to improve the facilities on site, but that doesn’t deter the thousands of folks that visit every day. From toddlers in strollers to seniors, backpackers, picnickers, and adventurers, folks walk and climb on the stones of Finn MacCool’s Causeway. Perhaps in some way, by doing that, we too become part of the story.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

IPC ISS Part two

As promised, part two of the Irish Peace Centres International Summer School, held at Corrymeela August 1-4.
Although I wasn’t able to take in a lot of the content of the event, I did get to some of the keynote addresses and several workshops, and had many interesting conversations over meals and in the corridors.
This was the aim of the conference, as stated on the Irish Peace Centres website:
“To mark the end of the first phase of Peace III funding, the consortium is hosting an International Summer School from 1st - 4th August at Corrymeela Centre, Ballycastle.  The four-day residential event will engage our colleagues from practitioners and academics, to the groups and individuals with whom we work, as a way of sharing and exploring the learning that has been captured at a local and international level.

The Summer School will be a celebration of thinking, talking and acting for peace where delegates are invited to challenge the consortium and inform us so that the models and programmes for peace-building that are borne out of this dialogue will be both focused and relevant.  ... Irish Peace Centres’ Co-ordinators will model the programmes which they have been delivering and share their understanding of the perceptions and impact that each programme has achieved. The programmes showcased at the event will capture the thematic areas of the consortium’s work: women and peace-building; ex-combatants and storytelling; theology and peace; interpersonal relationships and well-being.”

A highlight for many was the keynote address from Maria Garvey, leader for the L’Arche Community in Ireland. A compelling and inspiring speaker, she introduced us to about 10 members of the L’Arche community who had traveled with her from Belfast. She told stories about how these people had changed their communities,  by their ability to love unconditionally and through their unique perspective on and participation in the world around them. She reminded us that these folks can teach us much about inclusion, seeing past  “the other”, and peace-building.

Inez McCormack, one of the most influential civil rights leaders in Northern Ireland today, and who played a critical role in the 1998 Good Friday Peace Accord, gave a fiery and hard hitting keynote which challenged folks to look at what the word “fairness” really means. From a human rights perspective, she raised the question of inequalities which still exist in poverty stricken areas between Catholic and Protestant communities, and asked the hard question about whether aid money should be distributed on the basis of need, instead of just distributed equally. She also said that if folks don’t always ask the question “Who is not at the table?”, then you become part of the system and part of the problem.

Dr. Duncan Morrow, Chief Executive Officer of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council, also gave an address which challenged folks to begin to ask the hard questions about power in their analysis of the past and as they look to the future. As an aside, Duncan is a long time member of the Corrymeela Community, and his son David was in the first cycle of summer volunteers.
Workshops involved the practical, philosophical, and theological aspects of peace, both in the Irish context and on a broader basis. The stream of workshops that I sat in on were offered by Padraig O’Tuama, on staff at the IPC, under the heading Peaces of Faith. The series provided examples of narrative storytelling with a biblical and theological base, and looked at specific sessions on the GLBT community, human rights, Judas, welcoming the stranger, and land, religion and politics in the gospel.

Perhaps one of the most powerful moments of the conference was on the last night, when a talking circle took place. There were some who were dissatisfied with the fact that the structure of the conference did not allow enough time for discussion after the keynote speakers, particularly after Inez’ and Duncan’s addresses. Although there was a consensus that both speakers had much that was good to say, there was a substantial number of participants who took issue with some comments, and wanted time to talk about it. The conference organizers arranged for a talking circle with the whole group on Thursday evening. It was a very moving experience, as many took the microphone and talking stone, and spoke from their hearts. Many felt it was the beginning of the difficult and painful conversations that were the next step in the process that Duncan Morrow had spoken about.

I will admit to feeling totally overwhelmed by the content of the conference, the history of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and “The Troubles”. I have done a bit of reading about Irish history, and have read the two books by Alf McCreary on the Corrymeela Community which go into “The Troubles” a bit, but I still get confused and befuddled by the complexity of it. However, I know more now than when I did when I came six weeks ago, and I know I will continue to learn as I am immersed here in Corrymeela for six more weeks.

What I heard during that talking circle was the hard work of deep dialogue and deep listening that I have heard in other contexts where folks have come together to be truly open and listen to the other ... in interfaith dialogue, in dialogues between men and women, in dialogues between aboriginal and non-aboriginal folks in Canada, even in the dialogue between family members who have been deeply hurt by each other. The context changes, the content changes, but true conversations of the heart seem to have similarities in any language, in any situation. I am grateful and feel privileged to have been a witness to the conversation that evening.

As I write this, Alana is catching a quick nap in our Belfast B&B before we poke around the town, get a Black Taxi tour, and dinner. I feel blessed!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

IPC ISS Part One

August 6, 2011
I haven’t blogged much this week because it’s been an incredibly busy week. Probably the busiest week of the summer here at Corrymeela. The above acronym stands for Irish Peace Centres International Summer School, and it was held here at Corrymeela from August 1-4. Today, I’ll explain a bit about the Irish Peace Centres and the volunteers’ role. Then in a second blog I’ll reflect a bit on some of the keynotes, content, and conversations that I experienced around the edges.
First though – just a note to say that as I write this I’m dead tired, but over the moon excited. In a few hours I head to Belfast, then to Dublin to meet Alana first thing tomorrow morning. We’ll be back at Corrymeela on Monday for a few days so I can show her around, visit the Giant’s Causeway, Rathlin Island, Ballycastle, etc. and then we’ll head back to Dublin for the weekend before she heads back to Canada. I am grateful that Corrymeela has given me the week off to enjoy my time with her, and also that Corrymeela welcomes guests and relatives of volunteers for short stays.
We’ve had almost a complete turnover of summer volunteers in the last 24 hours. All of the ones who arrived six weeks ago, the same day as me, finished their time yesterday and left Corrymeela, as well as most of the ones who began three weeks ago. They were also dead tired after a very busy week (and, some energetic dancing at the Central Bar on Thursday evening!!). There were tears and laughter as we saw the bus off to Belfast yesterday morning.
Last night at 7 pm the bus from Belfast arrived back filled with new people. Some have been here before. Four of them are former long term volunteers from last year. One young woman from Switzerland was a midterm volunteer last winter. I guess it’s impossible to stay away for too long ... Corrymeela gets under your skin I think. This week’s couple doing Cover are another couple that met here many years ago as volunteers ... “over the kitchen sink” as he put it in his introductory cover speech.
In my tiredness from the week, and after a 12 hour kitchen shift yesterday, I was tempted to skip the induction (orientation) session for the new folks last night. Then I reminded myself about one of my first blogs about the constant comings and goings of folks ... and how I felt when I first arrived, what seems like ages ago. It was time to step up and push through a little longer. I’m glad I at least went to the introductory session last night – by the time I’m back working in the community the week after next, they will be in full swing with duties and hosting groups.
Back to the Irish Peace Centres. This is from their promotional materials: “The Irish Peace Centres is a consortium of peace-building organizations working together to extend and embed reconciliation within and between communities across the island of Ireland. The consortium comprises Co-operation Ireland, a cross-border charity dedicated to promoting better relations and practical co-operation between the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the Corrymeela Community, and The Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, a non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to international peace building and reconciliation with a residential centre in Co Wicklow.
The consortium, established in 2008, is positioned within a dynamic network of groups, individuals and organizations that are committed to promoting reconciliation and good relations. Those involved in the programme include community groups, ex-combatants, faith groups, women’s groups, minority ethnic groups, young people, local authorities and government agencies.” For more information, you can go to
The Conference brought together over 100 peace practitioners, theologians, politicians, educators and community workers for four days. About 30 youth from Belfast also joined the conference on the first day. There were keynote speakers and workshops, and a wonderful group called The Thinkbucket Project (will talk more about them later!) that provided many creative moments and group activities.
All the volunteers, long term and summer, and two midterm volunteers, were divided into four teams which provided alternating shifts from 8 am until midnight. This included all aspects of hospitality for the group - from setting up workshop spaces, hosting breakfast, setting up breaks with coffee and scones, dinner and lunch setup and clean up ... it was huge. On our sessions off, we were welcome to sit in on plenary sessions and workshops, join in on conversations, etc. There was much to hear and take in ... which will be the subject of IPC ISS part two. Stay tuned!!