Thursday, March 17, 2005

Orange and Green

Whether you're wearing Catholic green or protestant orange, today is St. Patrick's day. St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland after having been imprisoned by Druids and, as the tale goes, drawing strength as a crusader from his imprisonment. He probably didn't chase any snakes away because they weren't there in the first place, and probably died on March 17.

For those of us with Irish blood like myself, the day has some meaning. For me it's a chance to focus a little bit of my energy on the Emerlad Isle, or Eire, its Irish Gaelic name. The continuing struggles in Northern Ireland and whether Sinn Fein will ever divorce itself from the politically undermining forces of the I.R.A. aside, Ireland is more important to America than we allow.

First, I've been there. It's gorgeous. Often misty and dew-draped. Richly and brightly green. Just like I thought it be. Its forests burst with ferns and dripping foliage. Its rolling meadows with stacked-boulder frences are roamed by scraggly-haired horses and bold sheep branded with colored spray paint. Its people are the most welcoming I've ever met: warm as if my wife and I were neighbors; honest as if we were family; blunt as if we were pubmates (which we often were). I was enlivened by the Irish human spirit, singular in its humility and its raw grace. Americans, ancestorally Irish or not, can learn from this.

Second, while politics and the attendant incidents of violence color Ireland's religious heritage, its heritage should not be overlooked for what it is: openly accepted and acknowledged, and still vital in contemporary society.

Americans by-and-large seem to have forgotten or perhaps miscategorized the religious heritage of this country.

In Ireland, it seems that everyone talks openly about God. Every other person I met was either paying tribute to God for a perceived blessing or asking God for assistance, out loud, as part of regular conversation. For instance, one might say, "We'll be lookin' to th' West for a break in th' clouds, God 'elp us." Or, "God's will, Shelby'll gettin' inta th' advanced Irish class."

(That said, I also heard the F-word spoken so often in regular conversation--by men, women, and children--that I was amazed. And amused. I was refreshed, actually, because they don't treat that word--which I suggest is free of any blasphemous or otherwise heretical connotations--with kid gloves like we do.)

I am convinced that invoking God is not just tradition in Ireland. The Irish, by-and-large, realize (as in "have made real") their religious heritage and live with that knowledge.

I wish Americans of all stripes were more comfortable with the idea of religion, took their religious heritage more seriously, and considered more carefully what the founding fathers were after when they considered "religious freedom," the Bill of Rights, and their visions of America. Everyone--whether faithful or skeptical or atheist--would better inform the political and legal debates in this country if they were intellectually honest about America's religious heritage.

Third, and finally, the Irish demonstrate why being funny and telling great stories is so important. They love life. Yeah, yeah, there's a lot of gloom and blues in those great Irish tales, but the vigor for life, the yearning for life, the passion for life, pours out of them. We should remember this and take the time to sit, drink, eat, and talk. Tell stories. And laugh more together.

There's a lot more to be said, I know.

For now, Síochán leat. Peace be with you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Accipiter: What a feckin' glate essay, God lov ya! And a happy Saint Patty's Day to ye, auld sol!

That said, do you think it's possible that the Irish invoke God's name as much out of habit as anything? It's hard to believe that all of the God-help-us-es and God's-wills and God-love-yas are true acknowledgements of GOD. Similarly, every time someone utters "g**d*m*" are they really wishing for God to be banished to hell?

God lov ya anyway, me mighty Accipiter. May the wind blow in ye direction.

One more thing: Eire truly *is* a lovely place.

11:35 PM  
Blogger The Accipiter said...

I do think the Irish invoke God's name out of habit. However, they do so in a way very unlike what you experience in America. Here, many people exclaim, "God!" when they are surprised, upset, angry, etc. But the exclamation has nothing to do with God.

The Irish, while their invocations might be as quickly accessible to the tongue, seem to be acknowledging the legacy of God, or God as present, or God as something real. This is what I was attempting to get at. They may not intend every statement as a prayer or wish or communication of some kind. But they come from a richly spiritually cognizant culture where God is not just a memory or a fable, but rather, something more vital. They're invocations are not just convenient. There is weight there.

I'm not sure of the origins of "G-damn," but my understanding is that it has nothing to do with "wishing God banished." Then the phrase would be "God be damned." I understand it to mean "God, [please] damn this damnable thing." In other words, the thing that is annoying is not worth God's favor, or something.

Either way, and by almost any account, one is taking God's name in vain, right? Or is it? I think so, but but a good question to think about.

8:58 AM  
Blogger ajmac said...

What I find interesting is the atheist who exclaims God's name. If I take The Accipiter's name in vain, aren't I doing so partly in acknowledgement of his existence? And if he does nothing about it does that mean that he doesn't exist?

The Irish I'm less concerned about. They think they're in heaven already, anyway, and they might very well be right. I won't be surprised, after I pass, to find myself with a farm on the Emerald Isle.

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