The Irish Spirit – Issue No. 4
Where I Find God captures the spirituality of those living in twenty-first-century Ireland who believe in God. There is not much sign of a remote fearsome God but here is instead hope in a loving, caring God who dwells within us and all around us.
Each believer has a unique story to tell of his or her relationship with God and the variety of stories underline that uniqueness. God’s extraordinary felt presence in the ordinary and the everyday, in the joys and griefs, in the easy days and the days we cannot bear to face, is also underlined throughout. As this excerpt testifies, even the most devout believers can struggle at times to find God. Hopefully this will encourage and inspire, renew faith and lighten the spirit.
Sr Stanislaus Kennedy
I like to think of my life as a journey, a journey from God to God. But actually, there are two journeys: an outward and an inward. My outward journey was into education, work, ministry and service. That journey took me from Dingle to Dublin, to Kilkenny and back to Dublin; from home, to school, to the novitiate; and to the service of the poor, in Kilkenny Social Services, Focus Ireland, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Young Social Innovators and the Sanctuary. In each place I have found God, especially in the poor, vulnerable and marginalised people I encountered on my journey.
The second journey is an inward journey. That is the journey into my true self, the I am, the God within me and around me; that is my journey into prayer and meditation and towards my ultimate home in God. These two journeys are of course closely intertwined. They interact with and affect each other all the time. And so it is that when I come to describe the inward journey of the soul, I begin always from my involvement with the poor. The poor are, and have been, a source of life and healing to me every day of my life. As I walk with them, I have begun to understand better Jesus’ relationship with the poor of his time. He said ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’, and his whole life demonstrates his love for the poor and his belief that those who were rejected by society are blessed.
Throughout my life, God has also spoken to me through my weakness. Through the cracks in my life, when I was open to it, God’s radiance shone. Life taught this to me: the more I surrendered, the more I was able to let go of false images of myself, and see and accept myself as I really was: vulnerable, weak, afraid, anxious. And once I began to accept this, I began also to realise that God wanted to meet me there, in my brokenness, and that I could only really let God in through those broken parts of me. This was not something I could have done by myself; it only happens when I let God take over. And that is how it is that the radiance of God lights my way and leads me safely down the road home.
Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, ‘Sr Stan’, is a well-known social campaigner and founder of a number of voluntary organisations, including Focus Ireland, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Young Social Innovators and the Sanctuary. She has received numerous awards and tributes in Ireland and elsewhere for her outstanding work for the marginalised in society. She is the author of several bestselling books, including To Live from the Heart, Seasons of Hope, Day by Day, The Road Home and Moments of Stillness.
Fr Peter McVerry
I do not find God anywhere; God finds me. The question for me is: ‘Where do I look for God?’
Imagine a person sitting on a riverbank on a beautiful day, enjoying the sun. There is a child playing on the riverbank beside him. Suddenly the child falls into the river. The person on the river bank jumps in and rescues the child. What will the parents of that child do? Of course, they will go the hospital to assure themselves that their child is alright. But after that, what will the parents do? They will want to find that person to thank him/her for saving their child’s life.
To look for God, we have to look not up into the sky, nor in our churches or mosques or synagogues, but around us: to look at the poverty, the suffering, the loneliness of those around us. That is where I have to look for God. When I reach out to try and take some of that suffering off their shoulders, then God will come to find me, to thank me for what I have done for God’s children. And when God finds me, I meet God. When I meet God, I am filled with a peace and joy which is unshakeable.
I meet God in the pain of those around me.
Fr Peter McVerry SJ has been working with vulnerable young people in Dublin for the last forty years. As a social activist Peter is a strong advocate for those who have no voice in society. He has written extensively on issues relating to young homeless people, such as accommodation, drugs, juvenile justice, the Gardaí, prisons and education, and spoken on these issues to groups around the country.
I was always aware of God and spirituality in my life. I know that sounds like a ridiculous thing to say, but religion played such an important part in my upbringing. With a surname like Pope I guess I had to be Catholic, huh? My father Mick was head of the local parish council for many years, and religion remains a huge part of who he is; even to this day Dad and Mum both have an amazing faith. For me it’s not about one specific religion, despite being brought up a strict Catholic, and it’s not about attending church every week either; to me it’s about what I believe to be God’s greatest message: ‘That you always treat others as you would have them treat you.’ I try to embrace that message every day.
I would like to think that God and God’s children consider me a kind, empathetic person, that in my time on this world I am making a difference to someone else’s life too. In that regard my charity work is a huge part of who I am as well; maybe in the end that is God’s purpose for me. I still believe that my God is watching over me every day, guiding me. Nobody is perfect and we all slip up – after all, to err is human – but if we try and live our lives as kind, thoughtful, caring people, then in my mind at least that is what God wants from me, whatever religion, faith, or beliefs I have.
I also find God in nature and children, in the beauty and purity of a young child’s laughter, in the buzzing of the bees and the colours of the seasons. God is nature, God is innocence. Today we live in a hustle-and-bustle world: everything is about change. People need to slow down and take stock of what is really important in this world, like the beautiful planet that God created, that some are intent on destroying, and the beautiful creatures and people that inhabit it. At least that is where I find ‘my God’.
Brent Pope is a New Zealand-born rugby player, professional rugby coach, and one of Ireland’s best known and most respected media personalities. Brent has been prominent as one of RTÉ’s main rugby pundits since 1993. He is also a children’s book author and a charity worker.
I suppose you could say the easy answer to this is ‘God is everywhere’. To explain a little more, this is my opinion, and to fully explain you must also understand that I wouldn’t consider myself to be overly religious in any way. But I do believe there is good and evil and sometimes in this complex world of ours these get mixed up and cause disruption to our daily lives and understanding.
When I say God is everywhere I believe God is in nature with the bursting of life that spring brings; it can brighten your mood and offer peace and well-being. This is God.
I believe God is in humanity and compassion, when you see reactions to natural disasters across the world and the generosity of people with their time, donations and all types of help that humanity offers to others.
Kindness in others is one of the finest examples of where God is. It carries across all communities worldwide and, from the smallest gesture of goodwill to the sacrifice of some for the benefit of others, this is where I see God.
Kindness is not limited to humans, and to me the return of unconditional love from animals is one of the biggest influences on when we find God.
Tommy Fleming is one of Ireland’s finest solo singers, with a hugely successful international singing career. On 30 March 2012, Tommy lost both his parents, a tragedy that inspired both his autobiography and the recording of the album Begin, which Tommy describes as the most ‘cathartic work he has ever done and a fitting and personal tribute to his beloved Mother and Father’.