Soon many of us will be saying “hello” face to face. Masked, but still face to face! As I thought about reopening after our long lockdown, I decided to go back and reread a wonderful book (that you must all read!), In the Shelter, a spiritual memoir by the Irish poet, storyteller and theologian, Pádraig Ó Tuama. I interviewed Pádraig for a Newbigin House event held at Saint John’s in 2019. The book’s title comes from an old Irish proverb, “it is in the shelter of each other that people live.” He relates ideas of shelter and welcome to journeys in life. Combining poetry, story, scripture, and Celtic spirituality he opens up gentle ways of living well in a troubled world.
The Irish word for “shelter”—scáth—can also mean “shadow.” He explores how what is experienced as sheltering for some can be shadowing for others, how life together is an experience of both. Which leads him to a simple spiritual practice: to say “hello” to experience, to greet life, especially the things he doesn’t want to greet. He says hello to old wounds, to unexpected sadness, to the things that don’t seem to change. He tells them, “you’re here and I’m here with you.” He names the simple truths of the present.
Here’s a short selection that I hope you find helpful. It’s an invitation during these troubled times to sit with God and with your experience, to name the simple truth of the present and greet it. It’s an invitation to get past the noise and back to the sound of your own breath:
“Neither I nor the poets I love found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder. I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus. I recognize and greet my burdens, my luck, my controlled and uncontrollable story. I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story, my unloved body, my own love, my own body. I greet the things I think will happen and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day. I greet my own small world and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day. I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day, and hope that I can hear some stories, and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead. I greet God, and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet. Hello to you all, I say, as the sun rises above the chimneys of North Belfast. Hello." —from In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World