What is it about Ireland that seems so intensely spiritual? Every time I visit I experience an island driven by longings, yearnings, deep passion — striving always for something just beyond reach.
Over the millennia this desire has expressed itself in many amazing creative efforts. Stone passage tombs or stone circles built by Neolithic people, stone bee hive huts for Christian hermits, midieval cathedrals,, even contemporary monuments all witness to the drive to design and create that seems to define much of Ireland.
On November 5 we went to Bru na Boinne, a site of three passage tomb structures built 5,000 years ago. Yes, FIVE THOUSAND years ago! This was my third visit. I’m surprised each time by how moved I am by this place. Somehow it impresses me in much the same way as other “thin places” we’ve visited. I hesitate to write that lest someone think I’m becoming a neo-pagan and will soon start worshipping the sun.
But I do empathize with these stone age ancestors. I suffer in the winter from lack of light. I celebrate the winter solstice, December 21 (my dad’s birthday) in my own quiet way — thankful for our faithful God who designed creation so that now our light deprived northern clime begins to turn back slowly towards the warmth and light of the sun. How much more must these Neolithic people felt the desire for and need of the power of the sun at the shortest day of the year!
They went to immense efforts to build these passage tombs that precisely aligned with dawn on the shortest day of the year. On that day, the rays of the rising sun shine in an opening above the door (the roof box) and illuminate a center point 19 meters away within the darkness of the tomb. Without the wheel or any metal tools, they hauled stones from County Wicklow, 93 kilometers away, as well as huge boulders from a nearby riverside and mountains. The construction of the tomb must have taken generations, yet they persevered to create the structure that still stands today. How deep must have been their yearning for something beyond themselves — light, abundant life, eternity!
The morning we visited Newgrange, the best known of these passage tombs, I had read the story of Acts 17.22-23. The Apostle Paul is in Athens and, asked by Greek philosophers to explain the Good News, he offers this: “‘People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.'”
The people of the Bru Na Boinne lived about 1,000 years before Abraham. They longed for a Power and Life beyond themselves. Yet it would take about 3,000 years, until 432 A.D. for that Good News to be brought to this Island by St. Patrick.
More about him next post!