February 16, 2014
Let the wind and the rain and the hail go high ...
This line, from the popular Irish song “Mairi’s Wedding”, was stuck in my head after we heard it at O’Connors, one of the favourite local pubs, last night. We had it all yesterday – wind, rain, and some even experienced hail on their afternoon walk into Ballycastle.
It was a wild and crazy day weather-wise at Corrymeela yesterday. Always needing to find something to worry about, I worried that someone might be blown off the cliff if they got too close. The wind was that strong. Now I wonder if it’s possibly a metaphor for our time here ... a metaphor for the shared new experiences that blow into our old asumptions and preconceptions, for the water that refreshes and quenches our thirsty souls in the form of friendships, coastal beauty, and community reflections, and even for the occasional discomfort that comes from being pelted with new ideas, stories of pain and hurt, and facing our own unresolved conflicts.
We arrived at Corrymeela about 6 pm on Friday night – somewhat later than expected because the bus driver assigned to us wrote down the wrong day for pick up. When Alana called him, he was surprised to hear we were waiting at the George Best Airport – he thought we were to be picked up on Saturday. He assured us that he would be there within the hour, which he was, but initially it was all a bit anti-climatic after our long journey. Upon arrival, we were greeted in the pounding rain by Yvonne Naylor, our faciliatator for the four days in Corrymeela. I worked with Yvonne many times during my summer stay in 2011, and she worked with the group of students on last year’s trip, so it was great to see her again.
We also met Conor from Northern Ireland (or, as he would say, the North of Ireland ... more on that later) and Anni from Germany, who were the volunteers assigned to our group. And, Paul Hutchinson, former Director of the Corrymeela Centre, who met the group in Nova Scotia just two short weeks ago, joined us for early conversations and dinner. It was also a wonderful reunion for Alana, who had been a mid-term volunteer from October to December. Both volunteers and staff alike came running through doors and hallways to greet her upon our arrival.
Saturday was spent in some fairly intense content sessions on sectarianism, the History of Northern Ireland, and a video about Corrymeela’s work in the schools and the community. Yvonne explained sectarianism as “a system of attitudes, actions, beliefs and structures at personal, communal and institutional levels which always involves religion and typically involves a negative mixing of religion and politics.” She explained that sectarianism arises as a distorted expression of positive, human needs, especially for belonging, identity, and free expression of difference. It is expressed in the hardening of boundaries between groups and in dehumanising or demonising others. We all agreed that although sectarianism is not a word that is used much in Canada, the concept and existence of sectarianism certainly exists as we related stories from our own experiences of groups in Canada that have excluded others because of a difference.