The forgetting of self

Ill in bed and  reading the breviary at snail’s pace along with the poems of the late great Seamus Heaney.

I rarely write anywhere about prayer or  personal faith because I have  such distrust of religiosity and  pious language. It comes to me more and more in these years, living amidst the  illnesses, atrocious suffering and deaths of friends, that faith in  God is essentially all about God and  not  the self. If we look for the fullness or mercy of God in our own lives (what God has ‘done for me’ or more ominously what I have ‘done for God’)  we risk finding nothing but our own self-preoccupation and blindness, we need to turn again to Revelation in Word and Sacrament, God breaking into  history, God and the poor, the gift of God to humankind, that redeeming power in tradition and  faith.

And dying to self, this too, day by day. The crux of letting go,  moving towards darkness in naked faith.

Seamus Heaney again:

St Kevin and the Blackbird

And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
and Lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.


And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.


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