Here we are, Saturday night. Tomorrow I leave this green island and set off across the Atlantic. If I told you that, as the old adage goes, I’ll be taking only pictures, I would be lying. Of course I have taken my share of photos, but the things I take that matter most aren’t concrete enough to be put in any box, and certainly won’t fit in my suitcase. Dozens of flower pictures can give you a mere “snapshot” of the sensory experience that has been at the heart of the Burren Study Week, but they cannot capture the respect I have gained for a creature the size of a beetle who contains the complexity of an elephant; who shares one third of my genes; who has come from an evolutionary path, an “ancestral line,” much longer than my own; whose existence allows my own to be possible. I could show you a picture of the limestone characteristic of the Burren landscape, but this wouldn’t do justice to the reverence I experienced placing my feet on slabs that carry visible markings of ancient glaciers; that have been carved for millions of years into complex cave systems; that are the reincarnated “guts” of ancient forests, of an Ireland that sat on the equator before it was slowly pushed north by the persuasion of energy from the core of the earth. I could point out to you the images of friends that I have made during my time here – companions on the journey. Still, this would not give you a clue about the camaraderie we built listening, questioning, sharing stories, discovering subtleties of nature, taking walks, breathing deeply, standing alongside one another in speechless awe, and discussing with passionate voice the beautiful fruits and ugly struggles that eco-advocates face. I could even try to explain a photo of one of the many “sacred spaces” we visited during our ventures, but this would do little to sum up a collective act of praise that I can hardly articulate – the idea that at a distant time and on countless occasions since, women and men have been drawn to the creator and have chosen this place to express their love for the One who has given shape to all; a place where we too can now join plants, animals, and even the rocks crying out in praise. On this… very… spot. My friends, I have taken more than pictures.
But for now, they will have to be enough. I feel the currents of awakened energy flowing, and already they seem to be scheming innovation that will likely find its way to my classroom, my school, my parish, the US Columban community, and only God knows where else. As a reflective being, I am grateful for the ability to change – to bring about revolution – and I know that my fellow creatures are counting on me. Despite the devastating reality that awaits, I find myself going forth energized by passionate peers and a new sense of mission. I know conversion of hearts is never easy, but if creation has taught me anything these past two weeks, it is to trust in “cosmic moments of grace.”
Many thanks to all who made this trip possible: to the beautiful Columban family, especially the D.C. office, to inspiring Burren peers, and to leaders and eco-vangelists John Feehan, Elizabeth McArdle, Sean McDonagh, and Carl Gasper – your dedication has and will continue to awaken faith in countless lives and protect the integrity of creation. Thank you for this.