Ireland. Land of great beer and great hearts.
My Christmas trip would turn out to be one of the most fantastic experiences of my life, but I’ll wait till the wrap up to finish that thought. I look at this trip as a furthering of my understanding of childlike-ness and a deepening of my capacity to give and receive love. The Epic Christmas Journey began at 6:15am Friday morning.
I woke up, got the girls all ready for school, we got out the door and dropped them all off at school and headed to the airport. As I described to my host mom the various things I would be doing on break, religion once more popped into conversation. Now I’ve mentioned before how one of the best yet hardest things for me here has been that my host family has no particular practice of religion. This is not without reason, I’ll grant them. My experience of Catholicism in Germany has been remarkably dull and heartbreakingly hypocritical. So I am not surprised that someone would seriously question the validity or point of my beliefs. However I’m not one to push, and I’ve accepted the questions and comments as they come. Hopefully the Holy Spirit has a plan here.
This particular morning’s conversation was gold. Why, for instance, would a young man with so much potential choose to become a priest? Is it really so ridiculous to say that a dead body eventually becomes a part of, say, a tree leaf (Hinduism)? Why do bad things happen to good people? Is heaven- or rather, eternity- for real?
I love these talks. I live for such conversations. Mine is a faith that begs to be shared, not hoarded, but often the sharing has to be invited, not dumped out. 1 Peter 3:15 says that we must always be ready to give reason for our hope, and to some extend I can say that the whole point of my theology degree is to be better prepared for such a question. Ours is a religion of reason but also of deep faith, and it is thrilling to be able to articulate that to someone who genuinely wants to understand- and has never had it explained before. I got on the plane that morning feeling not proud of myself but rather inexplicably happy. Part of that had to do with the fact that I was embarking on a much needed break. Part of it was that I was on a plane, and I love flying. Part if it was that I was going to see friends, which hasn’t been part of my life for 3 months. Part of it was that I was going to IRELAND. But in retrospect, I believe the inexplicable part came from the Holy Spirit as a result of my speaking truth. I don’t brag- it’s something that everyone can do- but if you’ve never openly and confidently shared the reason for your faith, I encourage you to do so unashamedly. Because this weird happiness thing is pretty cool.
So I sat on the plan flying to Ireland with a smile on my face and a ton of excitement inside. I was flying to Ireland! Did I mention Ireland as my destination? Yeah. I was stoked.
No Claire trip is complete without a little wandering (aka, getting lost), and it took me a bit to find my friends waiting for me in town. Suitcase in tow, we explored a little bit of Dublin and ate giant burritos at a Mexican restaurant recommended by the family we were staying with. Yes. Mexican. It was delicious.
This first day was primarily a walking tour of the city which included a Christmas market. Before returning to our house, we did a little bar hopping in the most quaint pubs we could find. (and don’t forget I still have my suitcase!) The first pub gave me the best stout I’ve ever had and found us sitting at the only free table next to 5 Irish men who immediately invited us to push tables together and join in conversation. They were all home for the holidays, coming from Australia and England. Through them we learned that the biggest pub crawl after St. Patty’s day is this weekend when every one is home, and we were also invited. We also learned which streets to go for the messy pubs (where there are fights) and nicer pubs (where there are probably no fights). We left them in good spirits, after sampling some hot whiskey, and left to find another pub and hopefully some food.
Second pub we walk into is SO full, and a kind group of Irishmen sitting near the door confirm that this is indeed one of the best pubs to come to in Dublin. Too bad there’s literally no room. They help us by giving us directions to a pub that is probably more empty and serves food, to which we soon went and had dinner. After dinner we decided to return to “the best pub,” and to our surprise our friends were still sitting there- upon seeing us great shouts were raised by all, us girls included, and we were invited to take a seat, which we did. By this time we’re going a bit crazy over how friendly everyone is. This group of people were having a work Christmas party, of all things (or should I say of all places), and they told us lots of thing we didn’t care about and shared a bottle of wine with us which we did care about. Rando Irish people are great.
My family is part of a community of people who meet regularly outside of regular Sunday mass for fellowship and worship. These groups of people committed to challenging one another in the faith and holding each other accountable for living awesome lives have been a huge part of my life and who I am today. They can also be found in almost every country around the world: something I was excited to explore while in Europe. What visiting communities looked like was basically me and my friends showing up at the house of people we’d never met, and both parties willingly offering or accepting a warm bed and good food. Weird, crazy, awesome.
The family in Dublin was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed late night conversations over tea. The three of us girls had come on a perfect weekend, as college groups from both Dublin and Belfast were gathering for a giant Christmas party, and we were invited. This was our last full day in Ireland, and it was packed.
The day began with an 8:3oam bus from our family’s house to the Guinness factory in Dublin. Ooooh yay. I’ll just say this: going to a factory doesn’t sound super interesting, even if it is the Guinness factory, but this
was fantastic. If you’re ever in Dublin, go. You won’t be disappointed.
We returned just in time to head out on a hike with the college kids. A hike that we were assured would be more leisurely than real hiking, but which 3 hours later proved to be very much a hike. It was awesome. We walked about 10 miles up through the countryside of Ireland, a trip I will never forget. We returned with about an hour to recoup and then joined the best Christmas party ever.
One of the things community life involves is a special meal on Saturday nights that serves as a intentional welcoming of Sunday. It consists of a few prayers and brief worship, and is something I’ve been familiar with for years and years. What I wasn’t expecting was to encounter those same prayers and songs at a random men’s household in Ireland at a table that snaked through 3 rooms with about 60 other people from all over the world. I can’t explain how cool it was to be with so many people and how much at home I felt with people who shared the same traditions I have back in the States. After the short prayer we enjoyed the most enormous feast I’ve ever been a part of. After great conversation we cleared the tables and broke out more desserts and drinks and commenced with the rest of the celebration.
Since we weren’t the only visitors that weekend and many of us were staying with families in the area, they sent us home by midnight. Normally I’d say thats way too early to end a party, but we were waking up at 4am to catch our flight to Scotland the next day, and so we didn’t complain. The next morning our host brother woke up to drive us to the bus stop and stayed to make sure we made it on the bus. We left Ireland feeling exhausted, very loved, and wanting to stay. It twas a wee trip but a memorable one indeed.