“On the Fourth Day of Hanukkah my true heart said to me, get thee out of thy cabin and go to the Holy Well of St. Patrick.” All of you know the tune to sing that alternative lyric to. Part of this time of year is always endless loops of Christmas music, so that even if you aren’t Christian and you don’t celebrate Christmas, you will still KNOW every possible Christmas song there is. That’s okay, most of them are really beautiful and my anger around this has completely dissipated over the years.
I am in a very Christian, truly Christian place, where folks practice their religion whether they are Catholic or Church of Ireland or Celtic/Pagan. All three of those forms of worship are part of my adventure here. I hope to be able to celebrate Solstice with a woman who follows the Gaelic calendar and rituals. Whether I manage to gather with her or not, I will definitely be engaging with the night, with Solstice, with the stars and offering thanks for this time of year, this time of turning.
It gets dark around 4p.m. and the sun or light doesn’t appear until around 8:45 a.m. So, that’s over sixteen hours of black, dark night. I am loathe to turn the lights on and find myself very averse to them. I use candles or low wattage lamps if I want light after dark. The darkness is bliss for me and mutes all my pains and my anxieties. That may sound counter-intuitive, but it is what is true for me. I often feel like going to bed around six or seven in the evening.
I still don’t sleep more than several hours at a time, but it is lengthening. I’ll get four hours in a row now, then two or three more. Brother Thomas has started praying for me to be able to sleep. His shining prayers are working, and the long hours of darkness as well. I so long to dance and dream with the Holy One in that place of deep slumber, which I am only barely doing here. Deep sleep will be a gift if and when it comes.
So, back to the getting out the door and walking to St. Patrick’s Holy Well. We just had Storm Desmond here and a great deal of Ireland is under water, folks have rivers running through their homes and the winds and rain were fierce. Many, many folks have lost everything. My little cabin Clare has been a solid haven from all storms outside. I am warm, dry and protected in this very solid stone cabin. My experience of the storm is just one of delight and awe and wonder at the power of the Holy One and the Elements in their constant dance on this Holy Spinning Mother Earth. I am also aware of all those not in joy or delight about this storming and I pray for them within my space of hope and warmth.
On this morning a few days after the wild storming, the sun was shining. I used my iphone to see if there was going to be rain and storms coming or if I might hazard a longer walk. I have not yet completely let go of time and technology. I use them way less, but they are still part of my life and learning to use them and have them enrich my experience, not detract from it, is part of my work here. So, my phone said, no rain expected until later in the afternoon.
The down side to sixteen hours of darkness and loads of rain and 30mph winds, is that you don’t really get much walking or venturing out done. It’s just much nicer inside. So, moving my body out of doors, even in 38 degree weather felt like a MUST.
I had seen signs to St. Patrick’s Holy Well along the small lane that is just near where we are and one of the work-study young women had mentioned that it was truly spectacular and even “more special” than the other Holy Well we had been to. Well that Holy Well, took my breath away so, I was thinking hmmmm, let’s see if I can walk to this one. It didn’t seem too far away.
I packed my bag and started my journey at 9:23 a.m. I knew it would take me at least an hour or two, so I put some nuts and cheese and filled my thermos with hot tea. I took birdseed to offer the birds when I got there and packed my outdoor wool blanket so I could sit at the well comfortably. I layered up and with my trusty walking stick went out the door.
I met Rachel, my neighbor in her red car, at the crossroads near my cabin shortly after leaving. She had her three lovely daughters (all under the age of five) with her and they were on their way to Tessa’s playschool. She asked me where I was off to and I told her. She expressed concern. “That’s pretty far away.” I said “a mile or two?” She said “more like three.” I reassured her that I had many hours to do the walk and that I would go slowly and was up to it and she drove on.
In my mind I was thinking maybe she meant kilometers and it’s not really that far away. I was determined and it was a gorgeous cold day. So, on I walked along the small, wet country lane between stone walls and ivy covered hedges. Streams and rivulets of water, birds and sheep as my companions. I went up and down and up and down the hills and my feet started to really ache. I have plantar fasciitis and bone spurs as well as being a woman of girth. So, my feet take a beating when I walk or dance and I feel it, I feel it acutely.
Pain is not something that stops me though, it just slows me down. I saw two more people on my walk, one elderly man tending to something in his yard came over and said hello. I asked him how far it was to the Holy Well and he said two miles or more. I’d already been walking for an hour at this point, but again, in my mind I went, he means kilometers, it’s just not that far away. He asked me to say a prayer for him when I got there and I shook his hand and continued on my way.
About half an hour later I encountered another elderly man walking towards me on the lane. He was looking for Holly with red berries still attached to use for his Christmas decorating. There is tons of Holly everywhere here, but the winds have taken a lot of the berries. I asked him “how much further to the well?” He said it was quite a ways, perhaps another two more miles.
In my mind I thought, I’ve entered a fairy tale. It’s always going to be two more miles away and I will NEVER get to the Holy Well. He gave me his advice about how to get there and directions and wished me well (all puns intended) and he continued on his quest and I continued on mine.
It started to rain, which wasn’t supposed to happen, according to my iphone weather report. I was an hour and a half or more into my journey at this point. I put my jacket on, the one I’d had around my waist, and hoped it wouldn’t be a torrential rain. It turned out to just be a slight drizzle for a little bit. I stopped by a rusted iron gate and tried doing my foot exercises to relieve my pain and kept hoping the crossroads with the sign for the well would be just around the next bend or over the next hill.
Alas, this was not the case. I just kept walking. I saw a lovely horse in a field and decided to take a moment by that particular field and fence. I made some friendly horse sounds and said hello. She came over to me. She was coal black with a white star on her forehead and a streak of white running down from it. I reached into my pack and took out my apple, thinking horses like apples right?
Two other majestic horses with thick winter fur came up at this point. The alpha female, of this group of three, was white and rust colored. She nudged the other horses away as if to say, “I’m in charge here.” She looked at me and I cut my apple into three sections and explained that I would be giving something to each of them, even if she was the “alpha.”
I offered the apple sections to each of them and none of them were interested. They were interested in me. They put their heads down for me to touch. I spent a good ten minutes or so communing with these horse beings and was grateful for them. They didn’t want my apple, but since I’d gotten it out, I took one of the sections and eventually continued on my way.
I walked on and finally after two and a half hours came to the crossroads with the signs for the Holy Well. At this point the sun was shining in my eyes and it was hard for me to see too far down the road. I had taken my sunglasses out of my pack before I left the cabin, thinking “sunglasses, who needs those in this weather?” Silly me. I turned down the road that said Cemetery and Holy Well, but I couldn’t see either of them. I kept walking and thought I must be close. I was in great pain and in tears at this point, but I took heart that I was too close to give up and besides the walk home wasn’t going to be any better if I never made it to the Well, so, I should just keep going.
And I walked another fifteen minutes or more and there was another sign pointing me to the left, so I took that road. Then I saw the cemetery and thought that the well was in the cemetery at the back or something. I went into the old, old cemetery and walked around looking for this Holy Well that seemed impossible to locate. It wasn’t in the cemetery, or it was hidden from me.
I walked all around the cemetery and saw a gate and a road and what perhaps was a statue down that way. I thought, hmmm, perhaps that’s the well. AND IT WAS! YAY, HOORAH, HIP, HIP HOORAY, I made it. Three hours and 3.6 miles from when I started I found what I was en route to. It wasn’t no two mile walk!
There were three gates, all of which I opened and went through, before I got to the actual Holy Well. The final gate was to the walled in area that surrounds the Holy Well of St. Patrick. There was a large statue of him and another with Mary. I took off my boots and my wool socks and walked down the steps to the well. I sat on the cold wet stone and cried and gave thanks and put my feet briefly in the Holy Well waters and asked for their healing. I then laid down on the stone next to and over the Holy Well, which is supposed to heal your back.
The Well was in shadow and it was chilly, but I was in my layers. I laid myself down on the stone and cried and said prayers for the man who had asked me to and for all beings in pain, myself included. I chanted the Shecheheyanu prayer and just laid there looking up at the trees and being grateful beyond belief for having arrived.
I took out my cheese and my nuts and drank my hot tea. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more grateful for a hot beverage. It was magnificent. I offered some tea to the trees and scattered some birdseed, apple slices and cheese for whatever animal beings or Fey Folk might want or need those things.
Then, because I had my trusty technology with me, I got out my phone and texted Brother Thomas, who I knew was out doing the weekly shopping. I asked him if he could pick me up on his way home and told him I’d be walking along the road. He and I managed to communicate via text and he said he’d be along in about a half an hour. I prepared myself to leave the Holy Well.
I’d wanted to stay longer and had packed my paints and my prayer shawl and my prayer book. But I didn’t want to walk another three hours home and I knew the rains were coming, and I was getting chilled. I said my goodbyes to the trees and the Well and as I closed the third gate Brother Thomas drove up. I cannot tell you how grateful I was to see him, to see that car, to know that I had made the effort and gotten there, but that an angel would carry me home and one did. By angel/Brother Thomas flight, it only took seven minutes to get home.
I’ll return to this place and spend long hours there, but I’ll know the way and plan accordingly. My feet are not hurting and neither is my back. The miracle of this place continues to unfold in me right now in this season of miracles, Jewish and Christian.
May you find your way and continue to walk on against pain and obstacles to all the miracles waiting to unfold for you.