Even today when I see the ocean or come across fields full of haystacks I am overwhelmed by my first encounter with the soul of myself, writes Good Samaritan Sister Helen Anderson.
BY Helen Anderson SGS
I first met her when I was about four years old and although the lexicon of my childhood limited my capacity to name her, I knew her to be my soul. The context of this awakening was on a visit to my mother’s family farm on the west coast of Ireland. Although our family home was in Dublin, we would regularly visit our mother’s family home in Mayo. These visits were a source of delight as there was a great sense of adventure in travelling by train all the way from Dublin to the west coast.
At the farm, what was most significant for me was the experience of being able to roam all over the place and to know the pure joy that such childish adventures could bring. My mother’s family seemed to adopt a laissez-faire style of management with regards to the chickens, which reflected a trusting attitude in providence. In my own little free-range world, I gleefully followed the chickens into the hedges that provided a border between land and sea.
The sights, sounds and smells of the ocean also spoke to my child’s heart of how expansive the natural world was. When the tide was low we would assiduously search for cockles. The close connection with the earth and the ocean that I encountered on these holidays nurtured my nascent trust in God’s creative energy and loving kindness.
Even today when I see the ocean or come across fields full of haystacks I am overwhelmed by my first encounter with the soul of myself. On these visits to the country, I also gleaned from those around me, that the gifts of nature were not to be taken for granted or used carelessly.
On one occasion at the farm I was told not to do something, which did not concur with my precocious perception of liberty. Because I thought my freedom was being curtailed, I threw a huge clump of turf into a pail of fresh milk.
I knew what I had done was wrong but I distinctly recall that when everyone heard about it the concern was primarily about the loss of the milk, especially as the farm only had one cow for milking.
What has remained with me from this experience was the gracious way my grandmother and uncle explained the consequence of what I had done. Whilst they were a bit bemused by my childish angst, the emphasis was on the fact that my act of rebellion resulted in the loss of the milk. This milk was to be used for the daily needs of the family, so the loss of a whole container of it was not a small matter for a household full of people looking forward to homemade butter and fresh cream.
Although it is easy to engage in a retrospective analysis of my errant ways, what I learnt from this incident was that resources are precious and finite, and that what one does affects others for either good or ill.
It is over 50 years since I first had an awareness of God’s loving presence in the world around me. Again and again I have come to the felt sense that God is beaming out in all of creation. I have also had many reminders that this experience of being awestruck by beauty has to be counterpoised with an awareness and response to those who do not have all that is necessary to live with security and dignity.
At this stage of my journey, I have become an eager student of those scientists, theologians, philosophers and poets who call me again and again to rejoice in the gifts of creation and to walk upon the earth consciously and conscientiously. It has become clearer to me that I need to be as receptive as was my uncluttered child’s soul to the gifts of God made manifest all around me.