The Naming of a Child

I’m back with my blog after a few weeks’ hiatus while I was gathering ideas, much as a squirrel gathers nuts for the winter.

When the latest Royal pregnancy was announced last week, bookies started taking bets on the name that would be bestowed upon the baby. Why such feverish interest in such a trivial matter as a baby name.

Naming a child is no trivial matter. A name brings a child into being. It gives them a shape, an identity, a history. Little wonder then that naming ceremonies form part of many of the world’s major religions. And in recent years, people with no fixed religion have begun to create their own rituals, with secular naming ceremonies.

Creating Naming Rituals

I was given the honour of presiding over the naming ceremony of a family member, the younger member of my own extended family. This ritual is often presided over by a secular celebrant, but as the ritual is so new, people are free to make their own rules. I was delighted to don druid’s garb and officially welcome this new and much treasured arrival into our clan.

Naming Ceremony
Me in druid garb at the naming ceremony

 

A secular naming ceremony is not so different from a christening, the naming ritual most of the gathering would have been familiar with. There were readings and a speech. Solemn promises were made. And two names were bestowed on the new arrival, names full of history and significance to both sides of the family. Old family names now brought back to life.

As I officially welcomed the child into the world and pronounced the names he had been given, the child made a sound, of delight, of recognition that a profound event had taken place, a ritual bordering on the sacred. A ritual that allowed the child to take his place in the world, with names that open the doorway to who he is.

 

Pictures of Post-Catholic Ireland

Last weekend, Ireland received a visitor whom some regarded as extra special and others regarded as controversial – the Pope. Much has been written about his visit, so there isn’t a great deal more I can say about it. But I do carry two pictures in my mind which I think neatly represent this country’s relationship with Catholicism.

In one picture, thousands of people stand before the Pope at a shrine in Knock, in the windblown West of Ireland. They clutch rosary beads and wave yellow and white papal flags. In unison, they chant responses while the pope leads them in the Angelus. Soft rain falls on them, but they are oblivious, their rapt faces focused on the small white figure standing in front of them.

Pope Visit to Knock
Crowds gather to see the Pope in Knock. Photo credit: The Irish Times

In the second picture, another crowd gathers at a garden in Dublin, singing and swaying to the strains of a popular band. In their hands, they hold coloured placards which proclaim truth and justice. They are standing in solidarity with people who have suffered abuse at the hands of the clergy.

Stand for Truth Protest
Stand for Truth Protest. Photo Credit: The Journal.ie

Creating a New Picture

These are the pictures of post-Catholic Ireland, a country with a strong kernel of faith, but a country which is also kicking down the walls of the institution that it clung to for so long. Seeing these two pictures, I was faced with the uncomfortable realisation that none of them quite fits me. I admire the faith and devotion of the people in the first picture and the integrity and compassion of the people in the second.

I don’t go to Mass anymore, and for many reasons, I think it would be hypocritical to go on calling myself a Catholic. But nor do I want to kick down the walls of the institution. What will be left for us when those walls are gone?

Those of us who fall into the uncomfortable vacuum between belief and disbelief, what I call the floundering faithful, may have to create a new picture for ourselves. It will be interesting to see what picture emerges in the coming years. I would like to think of it as a collage of different beliefs, resting

 

Does the Universe Give Out Parking Spaces?

I was going to a concert one night with a gloriously scatty woman. Knowing her propensity for lateness, I said I’d walk to the venue and meet her there. But she would not take no for an answer, so I diverted myself with an episode of Sex and the City while I waited for her to collect me.

Sure enough, her beep sounded in the street a full ten minutes after she was supposed to arrive. But since this woman is blessed with the luck of the gods, we still arrived at the venue with three minutes to spare. As she pulled in, she invoked the name of her dead mother to help her secure a parking space.

‘I always ask my mother to find me a space,’ she declared. ‘It never fails.’

And sure enough, a space appeared – just beside the entrance to the venue.

 

The Universe
A benevolent universe that supplies parking spaces.

Well, Does It?

Is the universe really that powerful? If we trust it, does it give us what we want? Or do good things happen because of decisions we make? These are the questions that ping-pong around my brain when I should be thinking of whether we need milk.

I love the idea of this woman’s mother acting as a sort of celestial valet, guiding the woman to the desired parking spot. Magical thinking, some scornful types might call it. Just the same, it’s a marvellous thought.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that the woman’s parking success was due to the timing of our arrival. We had arrived after most people had parked and settled themselves inside. And when they arrived, they probably assumed that such a premium parking space must be reserved for a musical VIP. Since it hadn’t, my gloriously scatty companion was able to snaffle it. Fortune favours the last-minuters.

Half Choice, Half Chance

In my experience, there’s no getting away from the fact that good things come through good decisions and hard work. But I do believe that if you make the right decision, and if you work hard enough, the universe may just give you a helping hand.

 

A Sacred Space

I took this picture at St Patrick’s Well near Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, in Southern Ireland. It has been a place of worship for Christians and pagans for thousands of years, and there’s a real bang of sacredness off it. When I visit it, I leave cleansed, and connected to the essence of life.

St Patrick's Well
The church at St Patrick’s Well: a sacred spot.

 

Stopping Strangers on the Street

The voice was warm. It was a voice that invited you to stop, to help. It broke my stride as I made my way along the street. The voice belonged to a young man wearing a beanie hat, who said he was doing research about people’s favourite things to do in the town.

 

Thinking he was doing a project as part of a college course, I expounded on the delights of the restaurants. Picking up on his American accent, I said several of them served American food, because as a nation, we Irish were fond of all things American. Then I asked him what the research was for.

Turned out he wasn’t doing research. Turned out he was a missionary for a Christian church.

Missionary
Street missionary: selling to strangers on the street.

I didn’t turn tail and run. It would be hard to show that level of disrespect to a man of faith, even if he did have bad teeth. So I heard him out, extracted myself and went on my way.

Selling Your Wares

I couldn’t fault the friendliness of his manner, but as I walked away, my mouth was flooded with the sickly-sweet taste you experience when you realise you’ve been manipulated. He had presented himself as someone looking for help, when in fact he wanted to sell me something, in this case spiritual enlightenment.

It’s easy to come up with a retort in hindsight. I resolved that next time I meet a missionary, I’m going to ask them how long it will be before the Apocalypse comes. And if they say they don’t know. I’ll shake my head sadly and say, ‘You’re no good to me, so.’

Cruel, perhaps. But it’s better than being taken for a mug. Still, I don’t know if I’ll be using that retort. Because it’s likely that I’ll be walking faster from now on. When someone like that stops you on the street, it damages the chances that in the future, you’ll stop for someone who genuinely needs help. And that really does make me sad.

 

Sunday Swimming Ritual

First, there is the fear. It curls around me as I edge my way down the steps to the water. My brain plays showreel of images: a seal taking a bite of my belly, my body being dashed against the rocks, sucked down by a whirlpool of water. I push on towards the ladder, knowing that the images will evaporate once I hit the water.

 Shock and Awe

Then comes the shock. As I lower myself down the ladder, rung by precarious rung, the water begins to bite. When I run out of rung, I push myself into the water and all the breath leaves my body. I keep pushing, out, out into the open sea. And surrender myself to awe, at the expanse of sky above me, at the expanse of sea all around me. And my body floating in it. I am privileged to be cradled by water, to float on the edge of vastness.

Guillamene Cove
The place where I do my Sunday ritual. Image from http://www.outdoorswimming.ie

Then the thread snaps, and it’s time to go in. A sense of urgency returns as I make for the ladder, for the steps that blur into each other, with a handrail so low that it’s submerged by water. But now is the time for warmth, as life returns to my numbed limbs. I wrap myself in the blanket of my towelling robe. And I wrap myself in a blanket of banter. 

Sea Swimming Community

I am surrounded by a community of people brought together by water: some to swim, some to dive and some just to watch. They bat remarks back and forth, about the water temperature, the weather, the state of the nature. Laughter breaks out often. No names are needed: the language of water is enough. This is not a place of worship, yet I fancy I can hear a whisper of the divine.