Yesterday was St Patrick’s Day but it was entirely fortuitous that we chose to watch half a TV programme at lunchtime on - an Irish poet! Despite the fact that these days, Seamus Heaney is a staple on the English curriculum in many schools, I knew very little about him. In this week of war and desperate news from the Ukraine, in some mysterious way, I found the programme a source of nurture.
The programme was made five or six years after Heaney’s death in 2013. It featured Heaney’s wife and children and the brothers with whom he had grown up - all of them reminiscing about his childhood and family life as the background to the poems. Marie, his wife of fifty years read some of the love poetry that he had written for her - simple, profound, moving. The sustaining power of the Heaneys’ love relationship and the poetry about it rang many bells.
But somehow, what stayed with me was the sound of Heaney’s voice. The experience of hearing him reading his own poems - spoke to me deeply in a manner entirely different from what happens when I had read them to myself. What gave them particular currency was time of war and hatred in which they were written - against the backdrop of life in Ireland during the worst of the Troubles in the 70s. I was inspired by the simple but profound truth to experience of his words and the music he managed to make without denying his country’s darkness. Listening to the magical lilt of his Heaney’s Irish brogue brought to nurturing life his description of poetry as ‘the music of what happens’.
The second sound of comfort this week came from St Martin’s in the Fields in London on their digital channel St Martin’s Digital. Morning prayer and the Wednesday evening communion service for Lent, Bread for the World featured thoughtful religious words and sublime music. I listened often with my eyes closed... Sometimes I knew the words and music. Sometimes I couldn’t hear the precise words that were being sung. But there was a pure kind of solace in just absorbing the prayers and the soaring sounds of the solo soprano.
The spirituality of Seamus and St Martin’s - I’m sharing them here in the hope that others may find nurture - and perhaps even share their own resources during time of war.
Scaffolding by Seamus Heaney
Masons, when they start upon a building, Are careful to test out the scaffolding;
Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points, Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.
And yet all this comes down when the job’s done Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be Old bridges breaking between you and me
Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall Confident that we have built our wall.
An excerpt from a prayer by Fred Pratt Green
In the just reward of labour, God's will be done. In the help we give our neighbour, God's will be done. In our worldwide task of caring for the hungry and despairing, in the harvests we are sharing, God's will be done.
For the harvests of the Spirit, thanks be to God. For the good we all inherit, thanks be to God. For the wonders that astound us, for the truths that still confound us, most of all that love has found us, thanks be to God.