St. Brendan made a big impression on me from afar. When I visited Ireland on pilgrimage, I was impressed in person.
We made many what-we-considered-brilliant navigation decisions to find his final resting place at Clonfert Cathedral. While it hadn’t been torn down to build condos, or anything, I still found it kind of a sad place: unkept, remote, unused, perhaps mostly unknown. My memory of the time of reflection we shared there, all alone with the past, aroused this poem. I share it with you as one of the ways I want to experience Memorial Day. Some people, like Brendan, have fought hard for the faith. I haven’t forgotten.
The fly’s sporadic monotone Disturbs the still air of Clonfert Cathedral – That remote island of memory In a sea of sleepy farms On a sleepy summer day.
The dusty, unused altarpiece Cries out for the old man buried in the yard – That distant vision of voyage In a sea of sleepy faith On a pilgrim’s well-worn way.
A dazzling, sunlit Celtic cross Shines in the door and vainly warms the stones – The pavement hiding the hearty In an earth of rotting flesh And a land’s forgetful day.
A faint persistent irritant Infects the still air of silent reflection – The startled pew-creak of contempt In a tomb for caring men Shrieks the end of Brendan’s way.
When Gwen and I were on the Dingle Peninsula last summer, we did not expect a new grandson to end up with the name Brendan! It is a good name. On May 16, when we remember St. Brendan the Navigator (484-577) I would love to help launch the next generation of daring souls looking for the fullness of their life in Christ. Maybe our own family’s Brendan will be among them.
Each generation has a boatload of people who will set off into the “deep,” looking for God in all the places the Lord can be found. I don’t think it is such a coincidence that Jesus looked for fishermen to be his first disciples. The Lord found another good disciples when he met Brendan near Tralee in Ireland. St. Brendan’s voyage was an inspiration for hundreds of years for seafaring and church planting daredevils. When Brendan got back from his journey of discovering himself in Jesus (and discovering America!) he founded several communities that added to the missionary fervor of the Celtic Church.
I want to be like him, so I ended up on pilgrimage to the place where his daring journey began…
…and where it ended.
In the devotional book, Celtic Daily Prayer I have been using, there is a nice prayer in honor of Brendan. The Northumbria Community suggests we use it on this day. I offer it to you.