So, if I’m honest, I’ll have to admit I’m only about a quarter Irish. I have the wonderful last name of O’Brien, which makes up for it, but I’m not %100 Irish. Still, I’ve always felt as if the Irish blood in me was stronger than any other blood in me. I’ve always deeply resonated with the Irish side of me.
When I traveled to Ireland, I was a little afraid. Why? Because I was afraid I’d never want to come back to America if I went to Ireland. I was afraid I’d find something I’d always been missing.
And it was true. I felt at home in Ireland like I’ve never quite felt any other place. I began to realize that my heart is Irish.
Why? Well, let me tell you.
1. The Irish know how to have community.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Irish pubs and their love of beer (I must get this from being Irish, too. I love beer!). But really, it’s not all about beer. Pubs are a local hangout places–a place to see each other, get to know each other, and have a good time with each other. The atmosphere is genial and friendly. They truly honor community and families and friendship. It’s a beautiful thing to see. As I write later on in this post, the Irish have been through a lot of pain. They are honest about the realities we face in the world, yet they stand up together to face pain.
For me, I’ve always ached for real community. I’ve ached to find a group of people who are honest and real and open with each other. That’s very rare to find in America. I’ve only found it maybe twice my whole life. Americans value “rugged individualism,” the pioneering spirit of venturing out on your own with no real help. I believe it is to the detriment of community. We don’t like to be honest about suffering and pain, we want to do it all on our own. It’s very hard to truly connect when we’re all trying to handle things on our own and being so independent that we can never let anyone in.
2. The Irish know how to have joy in suffering.
One of the things that struck me on my trip was how much the Irish have suffered over their history. Viking attacks, English oppression, the Great Famine, fights for freedom, economic woes, etc., etc., etc. Even now, they are just coming out of a big recession, and it’s not the easiest place to live. The Irish are really honest about it. They see how hard the world can be, and they don’t sugarcoat things. (Just listen to some of their songs. Almost everything ends in tragedy! Although they have just as many happy pub songs, too). But the Irish know how to have joy in the midst of suffering. They’re honest about the world, but they’ve never given up.
This was encouraging to me. I’ve had so much suffering in my life, and I can relate to this. I know what it’s like to face pain and injustice, and to be honest about it, but to choose joy in the midst of it, too. To fight and never give up even though the odds seemed stacked against you. I felt like I could be much more honest about my pains in Ireland because they acknowledge things like that in every day life. They are fine with acknowledging pain, and they still rejoice despite of it. I felt less alone in my own pain because of it. I was a freeing feeling. Not one I feel most the time in America. Most Americans don’t like to talk about suffering or pain or anything too uncomfortable. They don’t like to acknowledge that sometimes, life is really hard. (I’m really not sure why this is?).
3. The Irish are deeply creative and artistic.
Our bus tour was saying that almost everyone in Ireland knows how to dance or sing or play an instrument. People gather in the pubs, they sing and play together. The culture is deeply inclined to the arts. When you visit the land, you can see why. The country is so brooding, spiritual, and deep that you couldn’t help but have artistic inspiration (or at least apprentice it)!
As an artistic person, I literally ached as I traveled over the land. I felt my imagination opening and spilling out in deep ways. I saw that the Irish feel those things, too. This was inspiring to me, because I’m an artist. So being in the midst of a culture that embraces those things just made me feel very encouraged and affirmed. This whole appreciation of art, music, beauty, the written word…It’s very, very Irish.
4. The Irish LOVE sharing their culture.
The Irish are an exceptionally friendly and welcoming people. We met some locals, and they all were so eager to share their stories, their music, their lives. It was a beautiful thing. I teared up multiple times when I watched local musicians or singers in the pubs, because I could tell they just loved it. They sang from their very hearts and souls. They wanted to share their culture with us. I even saw a top-rated performing show in Galway with talent that has traveled all over the world, and I still got the same impression. These people LOVE their culture. They love what they’re doing. They genuinely LOVE sharing it with others. (Interestingly enough, folk music and bluegrass originated from Irish immigrants coming over to America and sharing their music. So just goes to show how the Irish love spreading their culture.)
Watching these people share their culture and just be so proud of it, it made me proud to be Irish. It made me want to share with everyone how deeply beautiful Ireland and its culture is. I just…I just can’t help myself. I feel that joy and pride stirring.
So that’s why I devoted a whole month to Ireland on my blog, I suppose. Because there’s something so beautiful, and I just want to share it. I want the beauty to catch on in deep places of your soul. ;)
5. The Irish have a deep spiritual legacy.
I wrote about this last week, but Ireland has a deep spiritual legacy in Celtic Christianity. I’ve always known about Celtic Christianity, but I’d never truly realized how important it was to the history of Christianity until I went to Ireland. The Celtic Christians valued beauty, art, scholarship, service, nature, and deeply loved the Trinity: Father, Spirit, Son. (That’s still why shamrock if their national symbol–because according to legend, St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach the Celts about the concept of the Trinity). They acknowledged a God who was both known and a mystery. They were explorers and never ceased to search for God in unknown lands and regions, in the pages of Scripture, and in their lives.
For me, I have always felt as if my the deepest part of my heart–my expression of Christianity–has never jived with most the American churches I’ve experienced. I’d rather walk along a mountain path, or dance along the ocean’s shores, singing praises to God, contemplating His great love and goodness. I’d rather express myself through art and beauty, and I wholly believe that worship is to create the best quality of art I can create for the glory of God. I’d rather give myself to serving people (like working with human trafficking victims) and living a life of abandonment to the great calling of God. I have a deep respect for nature and animals and how these things speak of God. I have a great thirst for adventure and exploration and seeing new lands, and I believe you can search for God in these things. I love the Scriptures, and I love the Triune God who is three-in-one. I’ve tried hard to develop a true sense of the Father, Spirit, Son in my day to day life. I believe in spirituality that is mysterious and mystical, I believe there are things beyond our comprehension.
I’m a bit of a mystic, maybe. A bit of a Celtic Christian.
So…when I went to Ireland, I truly saw how Irish my heart was. I realized that I don’t have to compromise those things about me even if I live in America. I don’t have to be ashamed of my heart (which I have very often felt ashamed of in America). I can be genuine and honest and deep and spiritual. And it was indeed an affirming, healing, and beautiful experience to be in Ireland. Ireland is my homeland. It’s my country. Being in Ireland was a step in renewing my identity, as I so frequently have written about on this blog.
During the whole trip, it was like God’s Spirit was whispering to me:
Your heart was made to reflect something that is deep, powerful, and genuine. You can be you. You can embrace the deepest loves and expressions of your heart. You don’t have to conform to the cultural expectations of America. It’s okay. The world is big. The world is part of My heart, too. I made other cultures, and I delight in all the diversity of the world. You have an Irish heart, and I am pleased with that.
I think often, a lot of churches in America have this idea that in order to be godly, you have to look, act, and think the exact same way. There’s a lot of American pride that we know God better, that we have special revelation of God in our churches and lands. Other cultures couldn’t possibly have a grasp on God. Or other cultures couldn’t possibly teach us things. American values are always better. America is the best.
Yet hardly any of us originated from America. Most of us came from different parts of the world at some point in history. It believe it is one of the most beautiful things to travel back to the country you originate from. It helps you learn about yourself in deep ways. It helps you piece together why you are the way you are, in some regards. It helps you understand that American truly is a melting pot of cultures, and sometimes things–really important things–can get lost along the way. Part of realizing one’s identity is piecing together those things. Understanding oneself on deeper levels by remembering who you are and where your family comes from.
Traveling to another part of the world helped me see that God is bigger than America. Life is bigger than the American Dream. That God sees all cultures and embraces them and loves them. That there are deep and true things I can learn from other parts of the world and other expressions of life, Christianity, and culture. I don’t have to be a cookie-cutter American Christian. I can be open to exploring and learning and growing from other lands and peoples.
And I can have an Irish heart. God’s okay with that.
(NOTE: I’m not bashing America. I love America, and there’s a lot I am so thankful for in this country. I do believe learning from other cultures and getting out of our American mentalities is hugely important sometimes, though. And I believe the roots of me are Irish, and I’m embracing that). :)