How Much Does A Good Deed Weigh?

On the ruins of an ancient cathedral in Ardmore, County Waterford, on the south coast of Ireland, there are a series of pictures carved in stone. Each picture tells a story from the Bible, and most of them are still complete enough to be recognisable. Adam and Eve are under a tree, and three wise men are bringing gifts to Jesus. Solomon is there with a sword, making a judgment between two women who claimed the same baby. There’s also a pair of weighing scales—but what Bible story is that?

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Capturing A Moment

The warm sunlight is filtering through the trees, there’s music in the air, and amid the bustle of the servers and the clink of the cutlery there’s a constant hum of lively conversation. I’m not there. I don’t even know where it is, but when I look at the painting of this scene that hangs over our mantle, I can hear it all. I can feel it all, and I love it. I love how the painting reminds me of moments like this one in real life, when I’ve been in seats like these with friends and family around me. I’m glad the artist captured this moment (wherever it was) and held on to it for me with his brush. I’m glad I found the print to hang in my house, to remind me of my own moments like these.

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You Can’t Explain The World Without Poetry

Science has limitations. It can tell us what things are made of, but it has trouble telling us what they are made for. Sometimes, if you want to explain the world fully, what you really need is a poem. Most of my poems come to me while I’m walking home after dropping the children to school, looking around at the world and trying to see the familiar things that surround me for what they really are. That’s where these three came from:

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Lift Up Your Head

Halloween is a dark holiday, but I don’t find it very scary. Costumes and plastic skeletons don’t intimidate me. It’s all pretend, and for most people, the main point is sugar. I find the news headlines in my Twitter feed a lot more terrifying. Some of the themes are the same—darkness, death, and evil running free. I guess the decorative ghosts and tombstones and skeletons do contain an element of realism: there is real darkness in this world, and real death. At our point in history, there’s no question that the real skeletons on this planet outnumber the living humans by a long shot. That’s a sobering thought. And there are plenty of other fears for those of us who aren’t skeletons yet—from disease and disaster to dystopian decisions and disturbing trends and growing disorder and disunity, you don’t have to look far to get a fright these days. 

In Luke 21, Jesus warned his disciples about difficult days that were coming. He said, “People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world.” Does that sound familiar? But he tells his disciples: “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

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The Places I Used To Pray

There’s a spot on a lonely quay beside a river where I used to go sometimes to pray. It’s in the middle of a town, but it’s quiet there because it’s not on the way to anything and there are prettier spots nearby if you’re going for a walk. I revisited that spot recently, a little older now than when I used to pray there. I feel the time that has flowed passed, like the water in the river, always flowing since before the Vikings founded the town in the first place. 

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Someone Else’s City

I took a walk on someone else’s street, someone else’s everyday avenue, in someone else’s city. To me, it was all new. I’d never seen the buildings before, or the trees, and the next corner was a complete mystery that drew me on to look and discover. I didn’t know anyone who lived there, or who their cousins were, or what church they were baptised in. But they knew.

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Going Back To Normal (And Everyone’s Exhausted)

Restrictions are lifting in Ireland, and we’re going back to something like normal. We’re picking up the threads of life that were untouched for so long and sliding back into routines we used to think were immutable until they weren’t. It’s good. We’ve been waiting for this, looking forward to this, and now it’s happening. 

And now we’re tired. I keep hearing it from all kinds of people, in all kinds of ways, and feeling it, too: The old threads of life that were so familiar feel funny in our hands now, and heavier than we remembered. The jobs we used to do and schedules we used to keep feel harder, and somewhat foreign, like running through water. Yes, we’re all happy about life returning to familiar forms. But we’re also exhausted, and it’s showing. 

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Everything is Ordinary, Everything is Wonderful

Gold is just a rock. Money is just fancy paper—or these days, even less—ones and zeros floating invisible out of our mobile phones with a little bleep. But then, mobile phones are really just a collection of sand, a few bits of rare stones, and some electrically charged lithium-ions and such. Even the hands that hold them are a mix of basic components like carbon, water, calcium, and a few other things.

When you really break it down, life itself is a collection of dead elements and minerals. Under a microscope, the colours and patterns of flower petals and butterfly wings are lost in a confusion of nucleotides and mitochondrion and smooth endoplasmic reticulum.

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The Song of Streams

This poem is an old one, which I posted here on my blog three years ago (it’s hard to believe the blog has been going that long). I am re-posting it today because most of you wouldn’t have seen it back then, and also because I’ve been thinking about these ideas a lot recently as I’ve worked on the manuscript for “Dream Small.” When the book comes out, you’ll see that one of the chapter titles uses a phrase from this poem—I’ve called it, “The Upside-Down Ladder.” I have to say, though, that the original inspiration for this poem came from a scene in “Hind’s Feet on High Places,” by Hannah Hunard, a book I highly recommend. 

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