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!!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Why you shouldn't put the kitchen pots on the labyrinth

August 1, 2011
I finally got the labyrinth made, with a little help from my friends. Well, a lot of help, actually.
First Teri, a university teacher from the U.S. who teaches on peace and reconciliation, and is also here volunteering for a few months, had to drive me to Coleraine (about 45 minutes away) to the B+Q (kind of exactly like a Home Depot) for a large tarp and some black electrical tape. Then Maureen and Colin from England, who are here coordinating worship this week, helped me get it started.
It’s been a few years since I made a labyrinth, but I’ve done several in the past, so I pulled some instructions off the internet and hoped I would remember the process. They had an outside labyrinth here at Corrymeela years ago, but it became too much to maintain, and it was finally taken up. The idea of a portable labyrinth which could be taken outside or used in the Croi was very appealing to the staff when I approached them about making one.

Paul, the Director of the Centre, was most enthusiastic. “What I love is that you are just going to make it happen” he said. “At Corrymeela, there’s no shortage of ideas, but sometimes it stops there.”
Yikes, I thought ... the pressure’s on now.
The activity didn’t start well. It was a cheesy tarp – thin, and smaller than I would have liked, even when I taped the two tarps I had bought together. I tried not to sound too whiny as I mumbled to Paul as he walked by that I thought one got better, and bigger, tarps in Canada. “It will be wonderful” he said.
My bright idea was that we would make it outside on the pavement in front of the house. It was a bright sunny day, and we would have a large flat surface on which to work. It didn’t seem that windy out, but for awhile it looked like Colin, Maureen and I were playing the parachute game. Every time we tried to unfold it even the smallest gust of wind would catch it and fill it with air. Colin ran around with a bucket collecting large rocks from the garden to anchor it down.
“Maybe what we need are some heavy pots from the kitchen” I mused. Maureen, wanting to help, thought that was a great idea and ran into the kitchen. Within a few minutes she emerged with four large, heavy industrial pots to anchor the labyrinth. It was the perfect solution. We proceeded to mark the paths of the labyrinth, me holding the broom in the centre, rope with marked path widths tied around it, and Maureen on her hands and knees making the markings in concentric half circles for the top of the labyrinth.
We were getting along very nicely when about twenty minutes later I looked up to see Moira, head of the kitchen, and Shay, kitchen staff, walking out the front door in their matching black and white striped aprons, hands on hips. They approached me cautiously, with a look of disbelief in their eyes that said, “what’s the crazy Canadian up to now?”
Moira said ... “So I was looking out the kitchen window and noticed that you have some of our kitchen pots on the pavement out here.”
And I said, just as cautiously, ... “So I guess that’s not something that we should have done?” And Moira, very patiently and diplomatically, but firmly, told me precisely what the health inspector would do if she drove up (which she did a few days ago) at this moment. I apologized profusely, they took their pots back to the kitchen, and Colin fetched more rocks.
To be fair, Moira and Shay did come out afterwards, genuinely interested in what the heck we were doing. Because we were in such a public space, we did generate a lot of questions and the interest of many during the afternoon. After several hours in the hot sun, the top half of the labyrinth was marked and taped. We took a break for a cold drink.
When we came back to do the lower half, when we continued to measured it out, it appeared that we had made an error and there wasn’t enough room for the last, lower path. I tried not to panic, as this would be a huge snafu. But, I have to say, this seems to happen every time I make a labyrinth. My little mathematically-challenged brain always gets befuddled by the geometry of it all.
By this time I was just too tired, and I knew Colin and Maureen were too. I suggested we move everything inside (we were still having problems with the wind ...) to the Croi and finish it later. We got it to the Croi, laid it out, and I released Maureen, thanking her profusely. I knew I just had to sit with the damn thing and figure it out, like Jacob and the angel.
I looked at the instructions. I counted the paths. I recounted. I looked at the labyrinth. I looked at the instructions. Something just wasn’t right. Why couldn’t I see it? Finally, it dawned on me. For the lower half, you have to move the broom two paths to the right and then mark the paths. It changes the whole curvature of the bottom paths, leaving only six paths instead of the eight I thought I needed.
There was enough room after all! O joy, O bliss!!! My reputation was saved. I finished the lower right quadrant, and knew I could recruit some help to finish it off after dinner, which I did. Thanks to Irene, one of the summer volunteers, for coming and helping me finish it.
As I prepared a special worship service for Sunday to launch and bless the labyrinth, I was reminded once again about how wonderful it is as a tool for reflection ... as a metaphor for one’s life. On the internet I found this quote from a woman named Caroline Adams:
“Your life is a sacred journey. And it is about change, growth, discovery, movement, transformation, continuously expanding your vision of what is possible, stretching your soul, learning to see clearly and deeply, listening to your intuition, taking courageous challenges at every step along the way. You are on the path ... exactly where you are meant to be right now ... And from here, you can only go forward, shaping your life story into a magnificent tale of triumph, of healing, of courage, of beauty, of wisdom, of power, of dignity, and of love.”
Several folks gave it an inaugural walk after the community worship time. Of course, I see all its flaws, and wish it were heavier, and bigger ... but no one else seemed to notice them. And already folks are beginning to think about how to use it in their programs with children, or as an evaluation tool with groups.
I have, however, thrown down the gauntlet with a challenge to all ...
“Find me a thicker, bigger tarp, and I’ll build a thicker, bigger labyrinth.”
What was I thinking? And with no kitchen pots? Now that will be a challenge.