The Celtic Prayer Garden


A short distance from Derry, just over the border into Donegal, is a Celtic prayer garden. It's a place of wild beauty set in mossy, heathery bog and woodland which has lain untouched for centuries, its flowers and plants rooted in a long-ago Celtic past noted for its tradition of prayer and pilgrimage. Bright water runs over stones in powerful images of life and redemption. The prevailing silence is softly stirred by the easy breathing of the trees as they reach up from their rootedness to the light and the wind and the rain.

"Thin places" were beloved of the ancient Celts as sacred spaces in which the veil between heaven and earth was perceived to be at its flimsiest. This beautiful garden is described by Neal Carlin, the visionary priest who dreamed it into existence, as a "thin place". It is for many a place of deep spiritual healing, a place which offers the possibility of new life to those who hunger for new life; a place which offers, in deepest silence, the possibility for transformation, for true conversion. In a sheltered spot apart in the garden is a sculpture of the Crucifixion by the Derry artist, Maurice Harron. The Christ-figure is constructed of metal bands, the cross is hewn from an ancient tree. The effect of Christ's crucified body, beautiful and terrible in its brokenness, is powerful beyond words."

"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do;" Jesus was close to death when he spoke those words, yet the words indicate clearly life at its fullest, life at its most insightful, its most compassionate. Jesus, near to death, broken in body, was more fully alive than most human beings are who cling fearfully to a life which they hope will last forever. Moments from death, and Jesus effects an encounter between the love which is forgiving and compassionate - and the evil which is threatened by that love. What a beautiful, celebratory fullness of living is there.

To be free from the fear of one's death is to be free to live. With our dying breath, someone once wrote, we must be prepared to make a fresh start. That intrepid spiritual sojourner, Malcolm Muggeridge, once wrote that "it is precisely because we die that living is so wonderful a gift - whether for a minute or a full lifetime, sick or well, crazed or serene, in pain or delight, no matter, still wonderful."

Further into the Celtic prayer garden there is a clearing wrapped in near-silence: the only sound is the slow music of water, washing over stone. There is a figure standing quietly at the edge of the clearing:  a sculpture, also by Maurice Harron, this time of The Risen Christ. The sculpture is a potent symbol of Christ's love: the figure is making a double gesture - one hand is open to us, the other is raised in a blessing.  My journey had been from the terrible broken beauty of the body on the cross to the calm and serene stillness of The Risen Christ reaching out to us from both his divinity and his humanity. But they are one and the same. I understand that now. A life lived fully to its last breath, fear of death vanquished, resurrection achieved in beautiful loving stillness.


31st July 2019 The Guest House
21st June 2019 The Glorious Abundance of the Almighty
25th March 2019 Shrinking
15th January 2019 Balance is All
19th November 2018 The human hunger for beauty
9th October 2018 Shifting Perspectives
19th June 2018 Thank God I was wrong
16th May 2018 "Today is a new dawn, new, clean and fresh - and so are you, my dear! Don't worry. All is well."
26th March 2018 The Long Winter
7th March 2018 The Gift of Tears
19th January 2018 An Understanding of Kindness
14th December 2017 Do You See This Woman?
17th October 2017 We Are All One with You
7th September 2017 Gaps
20th June 2017 "Love is not loved."
25th April 2017 I Hope You Dance
21st March 2017 From Darkness to Dawn
27th October 2016 The Bright Field
27th June 2016 The Enemy Within
31st May 2016 The Little Way to The Almighty
25th January 2016 Love Immeasurable
11th November 2015 Letting Go
21st May 2015 The Gift of Loss
6th May 2015 Walls
24th November 2014 Leaning into Winter
24th October 2014 Crossing the Road
25th June 2014 Fetters of the Soul
30th April 2014 The Power of Gratitude
10th March 2014 The Darkling Thrush
11th February 2014 Spring
10th February 2014 Masks
3rd February 2014 Dancing in the Wind
21st January 2014 Chains of nostalgia
13th January 2014 Forgiving wrongs darker than death or night
7th January 2014 Singing out Loud
17th December 2013 CHRISTMAS FOUND
9th December 2013 Withering into the Truth
2nd December 2013 The Celtic Prayer Garden
25th November 2013 Missing Dates
18th November 2013 NEARER GOD’S HEART
12th November 2013 Night
27th April 2010 Healing God
25th November 2009 Our Poverty
1st September 2009 Which of the two tigers will win the fight?
1st June 2009 Be your own role model
25th May 2009 The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord
18th May 2009 Power of the real presence
7th May 2009 "Lessons I did not learn in School" - by Bill Gates
30th March 2009 The Long Walk to Freedom
23rd March 2009 Become a Friend
16th March 2009 Ireland in Identity Crisis?
9th March 2009 Love to Pray
2nd March 2009 Life - Giving Words
16th February 2009 Exclusion Policy
9th February 2009 Somewhere the Child
2nd February 2009 The Conversion of St Paul
12th January 2009 Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"
22nd December 2008 A Christmas Parable by Louis Cassels
15th December 2008 Work – from In the heart of the Temple by Sr Joan Chittister
8th December 2008 Am I at home when the doorbell rings?
1st December 2008 Street Corner Christ
17th November 2008 How Did I Get This Busy?
10th November 2008 A Homily for The Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica – 9th November 2008
3rd November 2008 John O’Donohue taken from “Benedictus - A Book of Blessings”
27th October 2008 Charles Peguy 1873-1914, French poet and politician
20th October 2008 The following is an extract from a talk given by Bishop George Lungu of Chipata in Zambia in Africa, to the synod of Bishops being held in Rome this month.
13th October 2008 Excerpt from ‘A Door of Hope’ by Jean Vanier
6th October 2008 A Reflection on Matthew's Gospel 21:28-32
29th September 2008 The Daily Decalogue of Pope John XXIII