Memory, Imagination and Prayer

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It was the early seventies, and the MacNamara family was on the road to Feakle from their home in Tulla, two small towns in County Clare, Ireland. The father drove while his two teenagers chatted in the back seat. The van rattled as it climbed a steep hill while making a detour to pick up two good friends waiting at the gateway with their instruments, Bill O’Malley and Joe Bane. After a little conversation, Joe pulled out a tin whistle from his pocket and played a tune that had just come to him. In the pub in Feakle, Bill took out his fiddle and launched into a set of tunes as other musicians joined in. Liquid refreshments sat by their chair while the kids drank sodas and soaked in the magic of the playing.

This is how Mary McNamara, one of those two teenagers, later described a memory of nights of music that would last for hours. Mary, now a well-known concertina player herself, recently gave a concertina workshop that my wife attended. Jean related something Mary said at that workshop that has stuck in my mind. Mary said that before she plays at a concert, she pictures these old players she learned from in those long nights in Feakle and tries to capture again the rhythm and feel of those moments and then transfer it to her own playing in the present.

If I understand her correctly, I think she was describing a moment of centering. Now, before I practice the flute or whistle in our kitchen in Walton, I stop, breathe, and remember musical mentors I’ve had and try to capture some of the musical gifts these people gave me. Then, when I practice, I am more relaxed and feel centered in something beyond me.

Isn’t this similar to the practice we have been taught about prayer? To first recall the presence of God in ourselves, others and all creation, and then to ask to find a piece of that moment in our daily prayer? Isn’t this really the point of rituals such as grace before meals, where we stop and try to really understand the gift of sharing a meal together? Isn’t this what was behind the old Irish custom of having countless prayers for all sorts of daily activities, such a lighting the turf fire or sweeping the floor or digging in the garden? Isn’t this what St. Ignatius meant by finding God in all things? In a secular, frenetic culture, it’s hard to incorporate even a little of this intentional activity. But if we do, perhaps, just perhaps, we might discover moments of amazement.

I can recall one such moment that happened a few years ago. It was a hot July day and Jean and I were taking part in a week of Irish Traditional music at East Durham in the Catskills. We were sitting under a huge tent outside a pub. It was time for a break, and our friend, Louisa, was selling coffee you would die for. A music session was going strong under the tent. We sat savoring the coffee, chatting with Louisa and other friends who passed by. Suddenly we realized that we were at the hub, the peaceful center, not only of the town, but also of the very week itself.

Today I intend to practice a new tune. It’s called “Joe Bane’s.” I’ll picture a van on its way to Feakle with two teenagers in the back seat.

Jim Haggerty and his wife live in Walton, a small N.Y. rural town in the foothills of the Catskills. They are both retired. Jim is a former Jesuit who spent several years in the Society in studies and active in various apostolic works. He taught in a Jesuit high school and in a higher achievement program for children from the inner city and worked in prison ministry and at Nativity Mission Center in New York City. After leaving the Society, Jim worked for the thirty years with Catholic Migration and Refugee Services, United States Catholic Conference and Catholic Legal Immigration Network, CLINIC in various positions. During this time he obtained a law degree. Before retiring he was director of special projects working on a national effort to assist immigrants and asylum seekers in detention centers across the country. In this effort he helped develop a partnership with the Society of Jesus to create law fellowships in Jesuit and Catholic law schools. Jim and his wife were also “support people” for Jesuit volunteer communities in N.Y.C. for several years. After retirement Jim served on the Board of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and more recently he serves on the Board of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. (IVC) Jim and his wife are active in their local town. Some of Jim’s favorite community efforts are playing traditional Irish music in a weekly session and helping run a monthly “coffee house.” The “session” raises money for a soup kitchen. The monthly coffee house brings free music to Walton.

10 Responses to “Memory, Imagination and Prayer”

  1. john mclaughlin

    Thank you Jim for the story and its connection to the simple but profound act of centering in our lives and of finding God in all of our daily activities.You are correct that in centering we may discover moments of amazement and indeed, I believe, even true peace.
    John

    Reply
  2. Lucia

    Jim, Your beautiful and delicate sharing with the journey of music in your life has transformed those precious moments in the special time of “relating” in prayer by being, doing, encountering seeing… That is a special challenge. It is a powerful reminding that our lives will be waisted if we don’t use every minute by relating with God, seeing Him in every step, seeing His face in others while playing the music of praying by relating.
    Lucia

    Reply
  3. Nancy Walsh

    Jim…..how lovley as always to share your understanding of the presence…….of earthiness….

    & thank you as always for all you do especially with IVC……Nancy

    Reply
  4. Pam Lucey

    Hi Jim,
    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on centering. They are oh so appropriate as we head to Ireland next week to visit all the relies. As you may remember Den’s parents were both born and raised there–his Dad outside Macroom, Co Cork and his Mom on Inishmore, Aran Is. We’re taking the whole family–our son, his wife and our 1 year old grandson plus our daughter-in-law’s folks and our daughter, her husband and our almost 2 year old granddaughter. There will be many sessions and I will think of Joe Bane. I have passed your thoughts on to our Music Director at Holy Trinity, Kathy DeJardin. Miss seeing you at our IVC Board meetings. Still on our Regional Council–I think that’s a position with no term limits! Bless you! Pam

    Reply
  5. Kathy Shimberg

    Lovely expression of lovely sentiments — thank you, Jim. It’s a privilege to know you and Jean and to be able to share music, humor, profound understanding of life’s meaning, and other delights with both of you. — Kathy

    Reply
  6. Dianne Mahoney

    Thank you for your beautiful thoughts. You are speaking aloud the inner voice in my heart. As a long-time-ago fellow music maker with Jean, appreciate your attitude towards music making and enjoying. To me, it is a very spiritual activity, which I would love to do more of these days–making music, that is. I certainly take every opportunity to enjoy it I can. Just wish I could come to Walton again and hear your wonderful music. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

    Reply
  7. Vaud Oberlander

    What you wrote about goes right along with a book I’m reading, “What We Talk about When w
    we Talk about God by Rob Bell.

    Reply
  8. Kevin Tansey

    Thanks, Jim, for your beautiful contribution. Fantastic! I particularly loved your example of “remembering the rhythm and feel” as a means to center oneself. It illustrates to me the importance and power of getting a sense of–or, especially, the non-egotistical feeling about–something, as opposed to our thoughts alone. To me that’s how the sense or feeling of Divine Presence (in anything or everything) totally trumps religious dogma or abstract thoughts of God?

    Reply
  9. Eileen Haggerty

    Very beautiful and touching,Jim. You really should write a book on your thoughts and
    meditations. I center myself on the eyes of those dying at KEYSTONE HOSPICE HOUSE
    here in Pa. Their eyes as death draws near are so telling of their anticipation of their God.
    Very few show fear,the youth sometimes express anger but they do not fight anymore as
    they know their suffering is nearing an end. I am still getting over the shock of how I truly
    desire to be with Gods dying, a deep peace comes over me,usually a few tears but the feeling
    of Gods’ closeness is present in the room as we pray. Your loving sister,Eileen

    Reply
  10. Madeleine Kirk

    Jim, how I wish we had had more time to share stories at the IVC Board meetings last fall during my brief time as a member. Thank you for reminding me of the value of storytelling to get our attention and help us use our imagination creatively to find God in all things. Madeleine, IVC volunteer

    Reply

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