Thin the Veil: On writing between two worlds

Published in PlainViews | April 16, 2008

I have been a writer all of my life. Poetry, journalism, short stories, plays have filled my resumé up until and after I returned to graduate school at fifty to become a chaplain. In seminary I met my future (second) husband Steve who had lived in Ireland in his “other life” and would talk about “Eire” while we sat at the local Irish pub.

A Masters Degree in Spiritual Direction with a concentration on Celtic Spirituality informed my intention to see the magic Isle. In 1999, we moved to Virginia where I became a hospice chaplain. Although I had worked with dying people in hospitals, hospice work shaped my soul. It was a privilege and an honour to walk with these families as their loved one left our world and entered the next.

When Steve finally brought me to Ireland during Holy Week 1999, I realized that the “call” to Ireland was also the call to the perfect metaphor for my dying patients. Ireland was the land of “thin places”, where the New Year, Samhain, was the time when the dead entered their old homes and spirits wandered freely with the living. It was a land “between two worlds”, historically and actually as it moved from the old Ireland to the new Celtic Tiger.

The ancient Pagan Ireland, overlaid with Christianity, was what shaped the people, the land, and the Church. One Spring day in Lent, I sat by a 3000 year old ring tomb in County Kerry, weaving a Bridget’s Cross as women have done for centuries. I had learned to weave this symbol while staying on Iona on a prior trip to Celtic sites in the UK, Wales and Scotland. As I sat there, I could hear the lambs call for their mothers and I realized that I could have been in any century waiting for the resurrection of life in spring, Beltane, and/or the resurrection of Jesus from Ireland’s “new religion”. I was between two worlds: between life and death, just as were my patients.

This “aha” moment drove me for the next six months. Steve and I decided that if I was to move to Ireland for a brief time to write the book that was taking shape in my mind, then I would do a discernment about the possibilities. I researched housing, publishers and agents and within a month I had a cottage in the west of Ireland, a car, a “loaner dog” and an agent. I guess I was supposed to go.

The six month writing adventure turned into six years in a small 300 year old cottage in Kenmare, County Kerry. During that time I experienced 9/11, the death of my best friend in the US from brain cancer, and the death of many of the “old ones” in the small town in which I lived. My six year journey informed my book, which changed and evolved during my sojourn until it was at last published. I arrived in Kenmare on Samhain Eve, November 1, 2000, and left after “launching” my book, Thin the Veil: Living and Dying within Celtic Spirituality, there on November 1, 2006. I came back to the States the following day.

I have given readings from the book on this side of the pond, as well as in Ireland. People are curious about how the Irish believe we are so close to those who have died. I answer their questions with my own experiences, from my years as a chaplain. Yes, I believe that it is important to open the window to let the spirit fly up to God after death. And, I also believe that we must leave the window and doors open during the “thin times” to let the spirits enjoy the living, to sit by the fire and to tell stories.

Thin the Veil: Living and Dying within Celtic Spirituality, BookSurge Publishing, Charleston, SC, 2006.