Certainty of Death, Small Chance of Success

This is going to be rather a long post, so brace yourself or just give this one a miss. Personally, I think it’s worth a read. But then again, I am a little biased.

Firstly, the Easter Rising. I don’t want to say too much in the way of background, or even commentary, because it’s a complicated thing and I’m not Irish. But I’ll give you some cursory details and a bit of my personal experience and understanding and leave it at that.

For those of you who didn’t look it up last week, the Easter Rising was a sort of armed rebellion in Ireland, mostly Dublin, pressing for Irish independence from the British Empire in 1916. Americans, myself included, don’t often think of Ireland as a colony, but it totally was. Anyway, the Rising began on Easter Monday with the reading of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic by Patrick Pearse outside the General Post Office. Essentially, there was a great deal of fighting all week with the rebels surrendering on Saturday. The GPO was almost totally destroyed, along with much of the surrounding neighborhood and central Dublin. Almost five hundred people died, over half of which were civilians, including forty children. All the planners of the Rising were executed. The Irish Free State was established in 1922 following three years of a war for independence as a British Dominion under home rule, followed by a further year of civil war. The Republic was declared in 1949 after the passage of a new constitution in 1937 and here we are, in the Republic of Ireland/Poblacht na hÉireann.

Anyway, the commemorations. They were omnipresent and comprehensive. Selected post boxes (normally green) were painted red, the color they were under British rule. Huge posters and sheets were up on buildings denoting specific events, picturing what the building looked like in 1916, with important figures from the history of the Irish independence movement, or simply with the 1916/2016 logo. On Sunday, there was a parade, as per usual, with an extensive military presence. An Uachtarán and Taoiseach (President and Prime Minister) were present, there was a wreath-laying at the GPO, and the Proclamation was read out. I watched this all from the comfort of the home of my pastor, where we had met for brunch and a ‘service’ because our normal church location was within the cordoned off zone of the city center. Afterwards, I went into town to see some of the aftermath and take some pictures.

On Easter Monday, also a state holiday, I went back into town for more 1916 (because I hadn’t gotten enough, apparently). I was lucky enough to be near (within earshot) of the Royal College of Surgeons when they laid the wreath (simultaneously to variety of other sites across the country) and played the national anthem on the bagpipes. If you’re unfamiliar with the Irish national anthem, familiarize yourself. It’s quite a song. Anyway, I wandered around St Stephen’s Green where they had set up a sort of period fair sort of thing. People had stilts and hula hoops, basically. One of my professors, the Wednesday before, referred to the “fetishization of 1916” and he was right on the mark. Ah, there’s so much to share but this post is already so long. If you have specific questions, I encourage you to ask (either me or Google, it’s all good). There was a lot going on, and things will continue for some time, I expect.

I saw a newspaper article on Easter Sunday about the Rising and commemorations and everything. I want to share the beginning of it with you, just to give you a small taste of being Irish in 2016 and how everything fits (or fails to fit) into the history and the present of this Irish Republic. The headline was Our Rebel Hearts.

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“It is fitting, isn’t it, that we can’t agree what it was about, or what it achieved, or what its legacy is, or how best to commemorate it. We could barely agree when to commemorate it. Easter, a movable feast, a date that shifts. Nothing is immutable in Ireland. Everything is up for change.”

I don’t know, like I said, I’m not Irish. But there’s one Irishman’s thoughts. How much is truly up for change, who can say. But a century on from 1916 certainly offers an opportunity to visualize the next century for Ireland and all the promises and challenges therein. And with that, I turn to a discussion of a different set of rebel hearts–the ones for which a certain Jew died approximately 2,000 years ago–and the annual commemoration thereunto appertaining.

You may know that I often really agonize coming up with titles for these posts. I feel like they are such a focal point, and I typically muse them over at length. This week was especially difficult to decide. Candidates included Cuimhnigh, Déan Machnamh, Athshamhlaigh (that’d be Remember, Reflect, Reimagine as the slogan for commemoration events outlined above) and Shepherd! or There’s Another Country (for reasons outlined below). But I went with this memorable Gimli quote and I’ll tell you why.

Basically, life is a terminal condition. And I don’t mean this in a depressing way (for once), but just as an observation of the inevitability of mortality. And, in the end, most of us will have little impact on the greater course of history. It just sort of is what it is. But life is life, too. And, as Gimli reminds us, what are we waiting for?

There’s a grand struggle about living in the world on a variety of levels. On the one hand, you have, like, spiritual warfare. On the other, you have, like, summoning the will to leave the house this week. Somewhere in between, you have the sorts of things that I often talk about in this blog: structural inequality, violence, systemic racism ect, ect, ect. Sometimes I feel like a part of that small group of soldiers standing outside the Black Gate. Quaking in tremendous fear. We, like they, cannot achieve victory through strength of arms. But by participating in the fight, we can participate in the victory. There’s something powerful about yelling and running into the fray. For Frodo. For a cause infinitely greater than ourselves. It’s not a perfect metaphor (no metaphor is–that’s why it’s a metaphor), but I think there’s something to it. For those of you less metaphorically inclined, I’m talking about Easter.

Anyway, just a few final thoughts for this week. I know I said that April was going to be a poetry month. And it will be. But I never said that March wasn’t going to be. So here, on this final day of the month, I have a couple things for you. The first is just a single stanza from a larger work by Cecil Spring Rice, some of you may be familiar with it–the third stanza of The Two Fatherlands well known through the hymn I Vow to Thee, My Country. The first two stanzas talk of patriotism and the sacrifices that the speaker is willing to make for love of country. It’s very nationalistic, but also influenced by the devastation of the Great War. The third stanza, though, takes a different tone altogether, it it’s what I think is relevant this week. So here it is.

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

Lastly, I’d like to leave you with a full poem. This is a translation from the Spanish by Longfellow of a poem by Lope de Vega called El Buen Pastor or The Good Shepherd. It’s a lovely and delicate sonnet. I find it moving any time, but particularly poignant in these days surrounding Easter. I’ll let it speak for itself and you may think of it as you wish.

Shepherd! who with thine amorous, sylvan song

Hast broken the slumber that encompassed me,

Who mad’st thy crook from the accursed tree,

On which thy powerful arms were stretched so long!

Lead me to mercy’s ever-flowing fountains;

For thou my shepherd, guard, and guide shalt be;

I will obey thy voice, and wait to see

Thy feet all beautiful upon the mountains.

Hear, Shepherd! thou who for thy flock art dying,

Oh, wash away these scarlet sins, for thou

Rejoicest at the contrite sinner’s vow.

Oh, wait! to thee my weary soul is crying,

Wait for me! Yet why ask it, when I see,

With feet nailed to the cross, thou’rt waiting still for me!

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