SURFING in IRELAND
A reflection for water communion
So, are we meant to have fun?
And what exactly is fun anyway? I’ll get back to that.
My inspiration for these reflection came from today’s state, Florida, and the realization that over the years we have used the water service to talk about the spirituality, the symbolism, the interconnectedness, the ecology, the politics, and the economy of water, we have never really talked about how much we rely upon water as a source of pleasure. So often, our journeys are to places near water so that we can partake in the joy of floating, riding, surfing, splashing, sunning, or just gazing upon it. Let’s just pause and celebrate that.
My water came from Ireland, the Dingle peninsula to be exact, a place, I dreamed of visiting for almost forty years, since I studied Irish literature in my Freshman year of college, and became enraptured. But all my dreams of Ireland were of green hills and thatched roofs and country folk and sheep grazing, and blessed be, these things can still be found. Surprising for me was the extent to which water is part of every aspect of Ireland. Why wouldn’t it be! The place is surrounded by oceans and seas and permeated by streams, rivers and lochs. The story of Ireland is the story of an island and its water, including its tears. I got my little vial of water from a place that felt like the end of a very long pilgrimage, the ocean near the gravesite of Peig Sayers, a resident of the Great Blasket Island who wrote An Old Woman’s Reflections, my first glimpse of Irish literature. This place was holy ground for me. Seeing the Great Blasket from her mainland grave site, driving the roads of the Dingle peninsula, staying at the home of a storyteller and sitting up by his peat fire late with him was more fun to me than anything I can recall in many, many years. But that’s me, I’m a bit odd.
The Irish people are hard workers. I have a lot more Scottish than Irish in me, just a smidgen of Irish as far as I know, but I love to work and don’t get the culture of “fun.” For me, work is fun. Life is full of fun.
Now Ireland has also been home to more traditionally “fun” pastimes, like vacations, cruises and recreation. From the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic, built in Belfast, and sailing from Cobh to today’s surfing culture (yes, I said surfing in Ireland) people have paid large sums of money and traveled far to satisfy their urge for enjoyment. These people who surf Ireland’s West coast come from all over the world to conquer some of the biggest waves anywhere. They are also some of the most dangerous because of their size, velocity, and the rocky shoals beneath them and outcroppings offshore. The surfers have to be towed into the waves in many cases, and sometimes travel as far as eight miles offshore to get the biggest surf. The surfers of Mullaghmore, County Sligo, who have become world famous, are called “slightly crazy” by a BBC article:
Ollie O'Flaherty recalled an occasion recently when his friend and towing partner, Peter Connolly, had to pull him out of the water after a very tricky situation:
"I've definitely had one or two pretty big scares...last October I got wiped out and was stuck at the bottom of one wave and I got picked up, hit and dragged over the reef three times," said Ollie.
In a sport where broken bones, and even death, can be the heavy price to pay for not catching a wave properly, he insists "the thrill outweighs the consequence for me."
Now that’s fun!
Please do not take this as a criticism of cruises, because I know many of you have taken or will take cruises and I am sure you had an enormously good experience. When Eric and Seth and I got to go to St. John as I was invited to preach there, (by the way that was lovely but about one-one hundredth as much “fun” as going to Ireland, for me) we saw the world’s biggest cruise ship in port. We just looked at each other and said, Yikes! As introverts and people who don’t party or stay up late and who just like to be alone, it looked like a very terrifying place. For me, almost any boat situation is decidedly not “fun” because I have motion sickness. So, I save a lot of money and worry not going on cruises! But others may say that this was the most fun they have ever had.
That brings me back to “fun.”
The word “fun” used to mean to trick or hoax. No doubt you’ve heard people hear in Kentucky say, “He/she is just funning you.” But “fun” has come to be an important part of our vernacular, a noun rather than a verb. Almost daily we ask, did you have fun? Or report on Facebook: I had a lot of fun at the festival! If we were to look deeply into our beliefs, I think we’d agree that we believe that we should have fun, we deserve to have fun, that fun balances work and toil, and that we should budget time and money for fun.
Jewish and Christian scriptures actually do not mention “fun” per se, although
So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun. - Ecclesiastes 8:15
"The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'
"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '
"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'"
"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." - Luke 12:16-21
No one is calling for grim stoicism or renunciation!
“The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science. May God deliver us from what the Catholic Church reckons one of the seven sins of the monk — tædium [weariness] — in respect of the great spiritual truths with which theology has to do. But we must know, of course, that it is only God who can keep us from it.”
The quotation is from Karl Barth’s 1957 Church Dogmatics.
Children have lots of fun, and they know how to have it simply and joyfully, until we and the world teach them that they have to buy it, turn it on, that it need batteries, comes packaged, and requires ever- greater thrills.
Maybe, what we really need to emphasize is not fun, something that is not in itself wrong, but that has been co-opted, exploited, commercialized, and made expensive, extravagant, exclusive, damaging to the environment, dangerous, and in some cases just slightly crazy, but recreation…. Re-creation, which water can do, which is one of the meanings of the traditional communion ritual, to cleanse and make new, and which can be done without expense or harming anyone or anything. It can be done by breathing, by smiling, by slowing down, by telling the truth, by letting go, by forgiving, by washing away the residue of expectations and demands upon ourselves and others that cause us grief. May you be surrounded by the healing waters of hope and renewal today and every day. AMEN