Remembering Forgetting

Reprinted from The Common Good, no. 22, Advent 2001

by Ciaron O’Reilly, Otford Press, 2001.

Foreword – Daniel Berrigan reflects on Ciaron O’Reilly

Unpretentious, sturdy, bracing; also irrepressible, a spontaneous combustion of community and solidarity.

But also more solemn implications; classical, biblical, deeply traditional. A worthy commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, following to the letter its rhythms, from upper room, prayer and liturgy. to the streets and confrontation with the powers. Such are reminders as I ponder Ciaron’s text, labours of love wafting him afar, from Australia to East Timor to England (he might have added the US as well, where he and I first met, happily for me).

How can his story not be deeply serious? Lives and deaths in huge numbers are at stake, under the collusion of awesome principalities – systems greedy and foolish and armed tooth and claw against the innocent and unarmed; (or in the principled faith of Ciaron and his companeros with all due deliberation – the disarmed).

My brother Philip, presently a ward of Mr. Bush’s justice warren, has remarked on a compliment that often comes his way. In his estimate it misses the mark.

He is, so falls the praise, a ‘man of singular courage’. No, he avers, don’t speak of courage. Speak rather of faith.

I ponder that quite serious distinction. I think Philip sees the matter somewhat like this; courage is a kind of set-jaw attainment. You heave and heave, putting shoulder against the invisible wall of fear, routine, family, ego, chic despair, the ho-hum culture of the self damned. And in time the wall falls to a rubble. You walk.

Faith is something else again. It’s a gift, albeit a gift that demands, in the inelegant phrase, being worked on. But a gift

nonetheless, with all the implications of a ‘first move’ on the part of Someone Else, of probable undeservedness on the part of you, me, anyone.

The closest analogy I think is falling in love; it happens, it comes home like a clap of lightning, for the moment, the epiphany, it stops the breath. None of us can claim to deserve it, most of us pause at times to wonder at it. Me, greatly loved?

Yes. The Gift, infinitely to be honoured, esteemed, cozened with a Capital Letter.

Anyway, the word occurred to me; faith, as I followed Ciaron across seas and continents, this restless nimble spirit, this (literally and metaphorically) Gifted one of our torrid, tormented era.

The dreadlocks, the elegance, the hefty frame, the rhetoric of scorn and celebration, the sheer brazen unstoppable vision embodied; Ciaron talking the talk (the right talk, the rare and endangered truth), Ciaron walking the walk (a trail of tears to be sure, but a joyous dance as well).

He’s been there, done that; he’s on pilgrimage with those who pay up. He knows there’s no free trip, there’s a toll gate along every highway.

Stand somewhere, walk there, sit there, refuse there, sing there, get dragged away there. Pay up, or join the inhumans.

God help us and God be thanked. And hey there, Ciaron – a kiss of the hand to you,

The Irishman, he’s living (count them), two times a life!


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