100 years is a long time! The twists of our history have given us all social and spiritual amnesia, leading us to a somewhat mythical view of our Irish history. I sense many of us look back with rose-tinted glasses, whilst at the same time many focus forward with cynical hearts. Both rob us of faith. Both rob us of His presence. Jasper Rutherford 24/7 Prayer Ireland
Nailed! Yep, I’ve been the one with the rose-tinted glasses, the one with the cynical heart. Looking back to Patrick and Brigid heart aglow for that golden age of Irish history as it became Christian, but looking ahead with fear and doubt as the winds of secularism blow.
When we discussed some kind of celebration of 1916 as a church leadership, the response was – well – MIXED. Our beloved American pastor was so up for it! But of all the Irish in the room, from both North and South, there was only one who was enthusiastic. The rest of us were reticent, unsure, dubious. What exactly would we celebrate?
I found I could not even articulate what I thought of 1916 personally. Brought up as a Catholic in a family that had been divided by the Civil War which followed, I had heard very differing stories.
My Granny, who lived with us, said no-one in her village in County Limerick had been all that impressed initially as news of the 1916 Easter Rising filtered through, although the mood changed after the executions. She had never been in favour of the Free State herself, and she had found it difficult going back to learn the Irish language in the 1920’s so she could keep her job as a national school teacher. From Julia, she went to Síle overnight, as Gaelic names become politically correct in the new regime.
My other Grandmother, who was also a national school teacher, was apparently a true Republican, a gaelgóir who loved the Irish language, and gloried in the revival of Irish culture. She died when I was only two, so I never knew her personally. But on the wall of the sitting room in Templemore, County Tipperary, there were only three photos: Pope John 23rd, John F. Kennedy and Pádraig Pearse. My mother laughingly referred to them as my Grandmother’s Holy Trinity.
And then I encountered Jesus through the Charismatic Renewal and joined a radical New Church movement, far from the Catholic fold. Suddenly all my cultural assumptions, where I was a comfortable part of the native majority, fell apart with this new found faith and cultural identity. To be Irish meant to be Catholic. All the rest ‘dug with the left foot’. To my mother, I had joined an American ‘born-again’religion! The only other person we had ever heard use the term ‘born-again’ was Ian Paisley -usually shouting on the TV, and he was certainly NOT a member of anyone’s Holy Trinity in the Republic back then.
In the 2000’s, we became part of a local charismatic Church of Ireland – which led to some more shifts in cultural perspective. Our Rector and his wife were from the wee North so I made my first acquaintance with Poppy Day in November, which commemorates those who have died in war – particularly soldiers in the British army. It was strange to hear them spoken of as heroes to be honest; but stories of the loss of neighbours and friend in the Troubles were very moving. I did lots repenting and forgiving.
Then, visits to Northern Ireland for Summer Madness started as our teenagers’ youth group went up to Belfast and then Castle Shane annually. I had never been in the North since the 1970’s when our bus passed through Northern Ireland going to the Gaeltacht in County Donegal. I remember thinking the faces of the young British soldiers were so, so young. Just teenagers, like me.
And I bring all this baggage to the discussion of 1916 to our independent, charismatic, evangelical church today in 2016. We have at least 15 nationalities in the church, so clearly reflecting modern, multicultural Ireland.
What would the men and women of 1916 – many deeply religious Catholics- make of us, make of Ireland in 2016? They deliberately timed the Rising to occur at Easter to symbolise a resurrection of our nation. What would they think of a ‘nation once again’, perhaps, but one deeply and bitterly divided for so long as a result of their sacrifice?
Even though I struggle to make an overarching narrative of this mishmash of conflicting thoughts and impressions from the past, laying aside all rose-tinted glasses and and faith quenching cynicism, I have to ‘press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 3:14)
Despite all our past failures, in Christ, I believe there is hope for this country; in Christ, we have a future. In the #100days100years movement of prayer, are we seeing the smouldering wicks of faith re-igniting, starting from the North, as, it is claimed, St. Patrick foresaw?