This 3-day retreat draws its inspiration from the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh who was fascinated by a God he finds in the fields, in the hedgerows, in a cut away bog and in the waters of the Grand Canal. His spirituality throughout, is remarkably close to that of Laudato Si’.
Kavanagh’s poems suggest a man fascinated by God. He found God in the fields, in the hedgerows, “in the swamps and marshes…”, in short: “in the bits and pieces of every day.” Few writers, secular or sacred, have more persistently engaged in figuring God out. The mysteries of the Catholic faith and the unfolding liturgical seasons are liberally interwoven throughout his writing. References to the Holy Ghost and to Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter abound.
The reluctance of critics to recognise the spiritual dimension of his work may come from a reluctance to let go of the image of Kavanagh as a gauche country farmed, often boorish and drunk. Yet, Kavanagh insists that the “angel” and the “clay” are one, both within himself and in the world at large. The-Christ-who-comes-among-us appears in “a January flower”, in the heart of a primrose and in the riot of colour “in a cut-away bog”. Creation, even its most commonplace aspects, reflects a sacramental aura. Throughout his writing, Kavanagh sees creation as a marriage between the sacred and the earthy. He deliberately finds “pockets of God” in what might be considered unseemly places: “where the sow roots and the hen scratches”.
Kavanagh sorely wanted to explode the impression given by the Catholic Church in Ireland in the 1950s that God was reserved exclusively in the locked tabernacle, and that without attendance at Mass there was no worship. In his vision, the things of heaven and the things of earth are inseparable. He sees a mystical meaning in flowers and weeds, he is astonished at “the spirit-shocking wonder in a black slanted Ulster hill” and surprised by fields that are “part of no earthly estate”.
The spirituality implicit in Kavanagh’s poetry is remarkably close to that of Laudato Si’. His instinctive ecological awareness promotes a love and respect for the earth that inspires the sense of responsibility we need to care for creation and ensure its well-being. As a poet-farmer, Kavanagh finds God present in a “dark sod” of earth. As ploughman, he prayerfully “turns the lea-green down” and “paints the meadow brown with his plough” while he watches the March trees “in suspense” as they await the call to life by “the Word, that in the beginning stirred.”
* Can be a 6 Day Retreat if combined with Sr Colette Kane’s Retreat July 16th to 19th.
Dr Una Agnew is a St Louis Sister, Professor Emerita of Milltown Institute, Dublin, Spirituality Dept. author of The Mystical Imagination of Patrick Kavanagh; A Buttonhole in Heaven (the Columba Press, 1998) reissued (Veritas, 2018). Love’s Doorway to Life: An Alternative Biography of Patrick Kavanagh, (Eist, Audio Productions, 2017 www.eist.ie an audio triple CD compilation with her brother Art Agnew.