My grandfather was a beautiful man. He lived with my family in Dublin for half of the year and in his native Kerry for the other half. His bottom canine tooth was the only tooth left in his mouth but he had the widest smile and the gentlest face. He walked for miles everyday and when he returned he’d often bring home a barley sugar stick (orange or black), as a treat. We all loved him. His annual pilgrimage to Knock was one of the highlights of the year for him and he always took one of his grandchildren on the trip. It was such a treat to get to spend the day entirely on your own with him. Being the youngest, I had to wait until I was old enough and I also had to wait my turn.
As a child, I was a ‘scaredy cat’, plain and simple. When I was learning to skate, I clung to walls, afraid to let go, afraid of falling. When I was learning to swim, I wore my arm bands right up until there was no air left in them. And when it came my turn to go to Knock with my grandad, I missed out on that too, because I was afraid. Two separate rail crashes occurring in the space of fourteen months fuelled my fear and I gave up my chance. By the time my turn to go to Knock came around again, my grandad was no longer well enough for the journey.
Pitching myself forward 40 plus years from the point above, I realise that I nurtured my irrational childhood fears and allowed them to seep into all aspects of my adult life. I cultivated a safe environment for myself. I practised being risk averse and I avoided exposing my vulnerability to others. I took control of things myself and sought to control others too. I was in charge. And in this way, I locked God out.
I didn’t find complete happiness when I was at the helm, for true serenity is found only in God. Despite professing to be religious and despite being active in church ministry, it is only in very recent years that I have learned to let go and let God. It takes practice and time to notice God, but noticing that Presence brings revival to our drooping spirits.
Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd) is one of the most familiar psalms to most of us and we heard it again at Mass on Sunday. I have learned to sit with it in a different way and to recognise it as the story of God’s caring and creative presence in our lives. Instead of being fear filled, I take time to notice the fresh, green pastures and restful waters. Instead of being afraid when times are hard, I realise that God is with me to give me comfort. And instead of being intoxicated by controlling behaviours (my own and others), my cup is overflowing.
Cora O Farrell is married with two adult children. She is a lecturer in Religious Education at Dublin City University and a Godly Play trainer.