Pay fierce attention to the holy of everything

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Baby examining leaves and grass

Yet again once again I am in a classroom of seething bubbling grinning headlong small children, and as usual they are sizzling my mind and heart with their open honest genuine unadorned naked cheerful silly goofy piercing brilliance, and after I explain some things they really want to know, like why my nose is all bent and bumpy (answer: angry elbows on basketball courts, and immense brothers), we get to talking about miracles and God and gods and how words like God are all webbed and hoary with history and meaning and opinion and blood, and are there other words for the things that we are hinting at when we say words like god and miracle and reverence?

And off we go, to the teacher's astonishment (she is sitting politely in the corner with a look I know all too well, a mix of Is this a good idea? and Lordy, they sure seem into it), talking about how all living things have the spark of holy somehow, even hornets, and how maybe the spark gets blown out somehow, like in terrorists, and how maybe just paying fierce attention is the most eloquent way to pray, and how there are so many things for which we don't have words that mean much, words that do anything more than affix a small label to the incomprehensibly vast and crucial, that we easily forget that the things are quite real, and not merely ideas. Like love, for example, I say. You need love like food, like water, and if you don't get it and give it you'll wither and get smaller and meaner and brittle and eventually your skin becomes a prison in which you live alone, wailing.

 

"Isn't that why human beings were given the extraordinary gifts of imagination and humour, to try to put lies and blood out of business after millions of years? Could we find new stories that make the old ones skitter away wailing into the dark, never to return?"

 

We talk about how religions are useful at their best but murderous corporations at their worst, and how religions are probably best thought of as clans and tribes and guilds and languages and vocabularies and compasses and houses in which you know the layout so well you could walk around barefoot in the dark and not stumble once. We talk about how there are all sorts of illuminated beings in every sort of context, and how some beings serve their fellows by being great listeners, and others have healing hands, and others are good at getting everyone to come to a disgruntled agreement about the direction of the voyage, and others are terrific mothers and fathers and aunties and musicians and clowns and dancers and builders and fixers and teachers and learners, and how some beings are lucky to discover that their skill, their gift, the thing they love to do and do really well, is to pay fierce attention to the holy of everything, to notice the flourish and song of holy and the awful of bruised and broken holy, and report on this to their brothers and sisters, which is, of course, everyone.

Such people in the ancient Irish tradition from which I came, I tell the children, are called seanachies, which means story-catchers or story-sharers, and their job is really important, because stories of grace and courage and humour and love and wild tenderness are compass points and lodestars, and if we don't catch and share stories that matter, we will have nothing but lies and blood, and can't we do better than that? Isn't that why human beings were given the extraordinary gifts of imagination and humour, to try to put lies and blood out of business after millions of years? Isn't that the point of the best stories, to be bigger than stories of lies and blood? Could we find new stories that make the old ones skitter away wailing into the dark, never to return?

 


Brian Doyle headshotBrian Doyle was the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, the author most recently of the essay collection Grace Notes, and a long time contributor to Eureka Street. Brian died early Saturday morning 27 May 2017 following complications related to a cancerous brain tumour. He was 60.

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With confident hope in God's mercy, we see Brian with the Seanachie of seanachies, listening to a story that cannot end.
Roy Chen Yee | 30 May 2017


Thank you for Brian all your essays in Eureka Street. We will miss you until we meet again.
Ian Fraser | 30 May 2017


'...stories of grace and courage and humour and love and wild tenderness are compass points and lodestars, and if we don't catch and share stories that matter, we will have nothing but lies and blood, and can't we do better than that?' Brian was proof that we can. Vale !
Barry Gittins | 30 May 2017


Seeing God in our fellow men! Surely this must be the key to heaven on Earth.
john frawley | 30 May 2017


That was beautiful to read....may he be with the best storytellers
Fiona | 31 May 2017


Theology in One!
Mahdi | 31 May 2017


Brian filled every space in which he moved with the sacred. I loved his flow of brilliant words. The world has lost more than it realises. May all those who grieve grow in the same awareness he gave us
Patricia Taylor | 31 May 2017


So sad to see this wonderful man leave us so early. He had, still has, the skill to cut through the fluffy nonsense and extra unnecessaries of life and reveal with humour, charm and unassailable honesty what living is all about, from the awe and joy to the broken and suffering. I have loved reading his wandering thoughts and will certainly miss them. Thanks for the memories.
Anne Doyle | 31 May 2017


Brian's last paragraph is an excellent epitaph.
John | 31 May 2017


Thanks for that wonderful poem, and for a life of loving and giving that was Brian Doyle. My condolences to all fellow poets and those who knew him
Jean Sietzema-Dickson | 31 May 2017


Lyrical, tender, filled with wonder - yet concrete and incisive at the right moment .....That was Brian's writing for me. Thanks be to God for a life well lived. Vale Brian
Wayne Sanderson | 31 May 2017


I am so sad to hear of Brian's death, but his teachings on grace, love and myriad daily realities, will live on in the wise and joyful stories he told. Thank you, Brian, and deepest condolences to your family and friends.
Julia | 01 June 2017


What wonderful words - and a wonderful life - to ponder and not forget. God bless you, Brian.
John Bunyan | 01 June 2017


Brian Doyle does the ancient Irish thing: his word sing, leap and spring from mind and heart onto the page, from where they dance into his reader's day and, hosted gladly, stay.
anon | 01 June 2017


God bless you now in ever pervading spirit Brian . Your stories will live on in our hearts!
Cathy J | 20 July 2017


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