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Reflections for Website Newsletter update – April, 2016
As we prepare to embark upon our 37th annual east coast spring tour, we wanted to share with you some reflections from our travels and updates about our musical family over the last two years.


We had a very special Celtic Yuletide season 2015 with sold out shows and lots of new music inspired by our recent adventures in Ireland.  A grand addition to our tour line-up was Brittany’s husband Prescott, a former opera singer with a resonant baritone voice, taking the place of our singer Colleen who was herself off on hiatus in Ireland.  Many thanks to all who attended, and joined in the festive singing and processional!  January 2016 found me right back in the shop again with a nice back-log of harp orders.  Ah, good to be making sawdust again, in the solitude of my harp-making hermitage in the woods.  It has always been a good balance for me, to have seasons of music-making interspersed with seasons of harp-making and teaching.
We have been to Ireland twice recently, in 2014 and 2015, both times in September with glorious weather, journeys to the magnificent Skellig Michael and other sacred and ancient monuments; amazing pictures (see our slide show on the home page), new friendships and experiences, a traditional music festival in Dingle, loads of musical inspiration, and finally our discovery of a magical island in southwest Co Cork, Cape Clear.  More reflections to follow.
Our most recent journey to Ireland reminded us how important it is for us to connect with that ancient landscape along with its profound culture past and present, with a future one can only imagine.  Following our 2014 trip, I composed a harp piece called “The Hermit’s Cave” –  

We began our adventures on the Burren, a mystical limestone landscape spanning 160 square miles in Co. Clare, filled with ancient stone dolmens and structures, some dating back 5,000 years.  We were sent by our host on a mission to find the cave of a 6th century hermit, St. Colman McDuach.  Back in the early days of a blossoming Celtic Christianity, he was sent by St. Enda of Aranmore to do seven years penance on the Burren.  Several colorful legends surround this character; suffice it to say that after much hiking and searching, we found his small cave on a mountainside, concealed by a grove of hazelnut trees.  Just big enough for one person, I sat inside for some time in silence, trying to imagine such an austere life, so long ago… my mind wandered to a metaphor about the cave from esoteric literature, in which the pupil enters to plumb the depths of inner life, experiences a near-death like sleep while absorbing wisdom among the stars, and emerges in the daylight ‘reborn’.  With my small harp there in Ireland, I began this musical meditation on the hermit’s cave… yet a work in progress.
Here is a snippet of my journal from that same trip in 2014:
The next day involved much driving, first through the Burren to re-visit the prehistoric Polnabrone Dolmen, a massive “wedge tomb” we initially discovered over 30 years ago.  Back then it was a hike across a grassy field from a narrow winding road, with nothing but a small marker on the road indicating its presence.  Now it has become a major tourist attraction with a big parking lot and rangers attending, and the dolmen itself is roped off to keep people away… alas, the price and problem of popularity and preservation!  The energy is still there, but seemingly more deeply hidden, while tourists mulled about.  As the ranger described to us the problems with vandals and careless people, along with excavations by archeologists, it was a wonder to me that the monument still stood after some 5,000 years.  I remember feeling a deep sense of disappointment, almost sacrilege, as he described how a crane was used to temporarily remove the multi-ton cap-stone in order to enable excavations.  As he began to describe theories about how the ancient builders would have moved and placed such a cap-stone in the first place, using logs and a gradual incline, a part of my mind said ‘no—that long ago, people had a different way of moving very heavy  objects, using a certain mastery of nature-life forces now lost to us…’

During that 2014 trip we discovered the island of Cape Clear on the very southwest tip of Ireland, Co. Cork, well below the Skelligs.  You get to it via ferry from Baltimore, a small town that abounds in colorful historical tales of pirates and political intrigue.  Here we made friends with the folks who run Fastnet House B&B, which is next door to the 13th century Dun na Sead castle built by an Anglo-Norman lord in in 1215, which became the historical home of the O’Driscoll clan. 

A year later, 2015, Pam and I did a concert in that castle, and felt like bards of old.  The next morning early we ferried out to Cape Clear and spent three magical days walking, playing music, and meeting fascinating people from writers to an international peace youth group called “Building Walls, Tearing Down Walls” whose members come from opposite sides of strife-torn countries to work together and learn from each other.  In this case, they were re-building some of the fallen stone walls of a pig farmer; so they learn the ancient art of dry-stone masonry as well! 

Of the ancient sites on Cape Clear, most striking to me were the “marriage stones”, called so in more recent times because it became a place where local couples would declare their love by touching hands through a carved portal in one of the stones.  These imposing monoliths stand about eight-nine feet tall, and are thought to have been the center of a large stone circle at one time.  When I first saw them, I immediately felt the presence of something ancient and powerful, echoes of the Hibernian mysteries.  Undoubtedly these were built by Druids and arranged for solar alignments with the summer or winter solstice.  Below is a poem I wrote for our Celtic Yuletide program:

Cape Clear
We walked hilly lanes through gorse and through heather,
Like raiment of purple and gold;
Windy bluffs and sea arches, and two standing stones,
Silent monuments from mysteries of old-
Thus Hu and Ceridwen stood watch o’er creation
From ancient realms so it seemed;
Guardians of secrets through light and darkness,
Toward a future world redeemed…
The Druids and Bards foretold of a time
When the Sun King would come to earth,
To walk among men and show a new way;
And the solstice would herald His birth!

Being on Cape Clear feels something like being in the arms of a loving mother, even though she can be stern at times!  Here is an excerpt from Pam’s journal:
We’re on Cape Clear sitting in Cotters Pub beside a warming peat fire after our early evening walk on the western side of the island with a brief visit to Lough Errul, when the silvery sky lit up the hills, lough, heather and gorse. The sun was finally beginning to show itself after a day of drenching rain which had made it seem as if we were swimming though the country side, wading streams that had been trails the day before and soaking Philip to the bone.  Philip had given me all his warm and water repellant gear (to protect books, camera and binoculars and help to warm me up) and as I followed up and down the long walk/run back to our B&B I couldn’t help but laugh. What a sight he was. What a day we’d had. (This inspired a new lively dulcimer composition from Philip called “Caught in the Rain”, played at Yuletide with grandson Haydn on percussion)
I’m feeling so gloriously peaceful, serene, deep and purely perfect inner happiness --- just the two of us, together by a peat fire, writing in complete harmony, as enlivened and inspired and dreamy and relaxed as two can be ---here on Cape Clear with a pint for Philip and a glass of Guinness for me and the windy seascape beyond the window carrying away all worries, all obligations, all responsibilities -- just being, BEING, here on Cape Clear -- our Island of peace. I want to return always and forever.
I will close for now with some thoughts on Skellig Michael.  It is interesting that both journeys to this magnificent monastic island in 2014 and 2015 coincided closely the Star Wars filming for the most recent movie, and presumably its sequel.  It created quite a stir and controversy in Ireland between the progressive ‘economic benefit’ side and the conservative ‘don’t defile this sacred monument’ side, toward the latter of which we tended, I must confess.  More, we were afraid that such a world-wide exposure would bring massive crowds flocking to visit, to the detriment of this holy isle.  One the other hand, I reminded myself, the very reason monks came out in their leather boats initially 1,500 years ago was for its sheer isolation and inaccessibility.  To this day, no one can get to Skellig but by small fishing boat, and only on the calmest of days, lest you get dashed against the rock face.  Pam and I were utterly blessed with good timing for our last three visits (2009, 2014, and 2015) – in each case access had been denied for months due to bad weather, and we arrived on the first good day; then access was denied again after our departure, either due to bad weather, Star Wars filming, or (in 2009) someone falling to their death due to vertigo on the precarious stone steps leading up to the monastery. 

I feel at times like my life is a book of destiny, which story is not only unfinished, but never-ending… occasionally I turn a page, the clouds part, the sun shines in illuminating a glorious landscape which I then must put into music…

From Pam’s journal:
Our journey to Skellig, the crossing, the anticipation, the exhilaration, then to touch those ancient sacred stones, to climb each step carefully and consciously, feel the uniqueness of the precariousness of life,  so close to those precipices. I want to retain the feeling that vibrated in my body and that soothed my constantly busy thinking, planning, rushing…
The stillness ~ sitting in that open monk’s cell, alone and pressed up against the stone cross. It had enwrapped my being and I can feel and relive the experience, even today …so far away in time and distance.

Here is a poem I wrote standing on the bluff near Slea Head on the Dingle Peninsula overlooking the Blasket Islands; you could barely make out the Skelligs in the south as the sun was setting over the sea:
Ireland-
Land of ancient stone and brilliant green,
Land of sweeping vastness, realm of Bards and Kings,
And warriors and shining ones of whom the poet sings-
Speak to me of the golden age of scholars and saints,
O land of blood, land of peace,
Land music where, lost and come again,
The harp still rings…

Other milestones of our family:
We are thrilled that our violinist daughter Brittany has received a permanent position with Seattle Symphony.  You can listen to a wonderful interview of Brittany when she was in New York while she was there performing with members PNB Ballet and Orchestra: http://archives.warpradio.com/btr/wgcharchives/CenterStage/031516.mp3

Speaking of ballet, our granddaughter Rowan (15) just did a beautiful performance with PNB in Seattle of a Pirate’s Tale, Le Corsaire.
Morgan and Sylvia, now living only an hour away in Kingston, WA (having moved from Philadelphia a few years ago) are creating quite the homestead with chickens, rabbits, goats and turkeys, along with a successful building and painting business, all of which keeps them busy day and night (including occasional maintenance on our old house!) - How lucky for us to have them so nearby!  Now three of our five live close to home, the other two (Marshall and eldest Geoffrey) are still in Rhode Island within 20 minutes of each other, and two maturing granddaughters each!  Marshall has a successful building business outside of Providence, while Geoffrey teaches electron microscopy at Brown University.  He takes his work to an artistic level in his spare time, with what he calls “Nanoscapes” – see some of them here: https://www.facebook.com/Nanoscape-1398376263750333/

Pam has just completed a beautiful tour with her troupe, Eurythmy Northwest, performing in Waldorf schools throughout western Washington. Pam played the role of Branch, a golden deer from a Jataka fairy tale, along with choreography of piano music by Kodaly, Glinka, and Debussy.

Below are a couple of Christmas poems that sums up our family at a glance, from December 2014 and 2015:

We come to the close of 2015
With gratitude for the good year it has been.
The beautiful music of our Brittany
Brought her membership to THE Seattle Symphony,
While Prescott’s hiatus from university
Graced ALL our concerts with vocal versatility.
Geoff, Erin, Kailey and Lindsey in Riverside stay,
Where NANOSCAPES, cycling, running, soccer and dancing hold sway.
Marshall, Abby, Margaret and Bridget not far away
Are BUILDING and TEACHING; harp, violin and trumpet they play.
Morgan and Sylvia with chickens, kittens and rabbits in Kingston reside
Added sweet whistles and organ at EVERY Yuletide.
‘Cross the Sound, Brenin, Sara, Rowan and Haydn were all the rage,
With cello, juggling, drumming and BRILLIANT Irish dancing on stage!
Meanwhile Pam and Philip as is their wont
Went to IRELAND again for inspiration’s fount.
With harp and dulcimer from Skellig to Cape Clear,
The Muse filled their well with ideas (and good beer!)
Returning with music and stories galore,
Into CELTIC YULETIDE it was all poured.
 
Thus our 37th Season brought warmth and good cheer,
So Peace to you all and a Happy New Year!

Christmas 2014
Within the deep-white pureness of snow
The day after our last Leavenworth show,
Appears a clean slate for the New Year to come
And a reflection of that year which has just been.
 
From coast to coast and shore to shore,
‘Cross continents and oceans and islands galore
Our travels brought visions of a beautiful world
And the people therein, how their stories unfurled!
 
From Yuletide to Maui our music spread joy,
From Spring Tour to Alaska Cruise our strings were employed.
In Wyoming and Magic Hill Harp Camp students enjoyed
The making of music -¬¬- adults, girls and boys.
 
A wedding in Florida brought four generations;
Pam’s uncle in Jacksonville inspires veneration!
Philip’s niece in St. Augustine made nuptial declarations,
Many families came together for much celebration!
 
The Maine island lighthouse was much the same thing,
Pam’s sisters and aunt were like birds on the wing…
Charades in the night, and the laughter did ring
To Faraway, and sailing, all made our hearts sing.
 
Then off to Ireland to find new inspiration;
An ancient Hermit’s Cave to a new island sensation…
A return to the Skelligs, a grand recapitulation;
New music abounds, and still in creation…
 
To our family and friends old and new please come nigh
And visit our home on the Sound by and by.
Magic Hill is ever our favorite place to be
And now new trails are being made to the sea!
 
So, gathering the clan ‘round the hearth in the rain
‘Twas time to do good ol’ Yuletide again!
Our 36th Season brought many good cheer
So Peace to you all, and to all a Great Year !

We’re looking forward to spring and summer – after our tour come festivals, the Celtic Cruise to Alaska (#3!) in June, and our Magic Hill Summer Harp and Dulcimer Camp end of July- see more info and links on our home page; and see more pictures on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MagicalStrings/
 The end for now

Magical Strings and Boulding Family News – December 2011
Did you ever wonder how we came up with the name Magical Strings?  It just came to me one day when riding a ferry, shortly after meeting Pam, who was a dulcimer student in the class that I was teaching at the Market School.  I also had begun building small harps and providing them for the students in my harp classes.  It was definitely time to change the name of my business, Dulcimer Workshop.  I wanted the new name to reflect the magic of the music Pam and I were making together on harp and hammered dulcimer. We started performing together almost immediately upon meeting, playing for children in schools and at Seattle Children’s Hospital as well as other venues around town.  As I stood on the bow of the ferry, returning from a solo gig on Bainbridge Island, the wind was singing in my ears and I heard it: Magical Strings!

That was more than thirty three years ago.  It takes time to reflect on a third of a century, not to mention the three years it has been since we posted a newsletter on our website.

Family wedding picture

 

2011 has been a ‘magical year’ with the highlight being Brittany’s marriage to Prescott Breeden.  It was a glorious event taking place amongst tall firs beside the Hood Canal and overlooking the Olympic Mountains on August 28, which turned out to be the most perfect day of the summer.  All of our five children and six grandchildren along with Philip’s three brothers, Pam’s three sisters, ours and Prescott’s extended family, dear friends and representatives of Brittany’s musical life gathered for a most joyous occasion to be remembered for all time.  Here is a slideshow from the wedding.

 

 

 

 

children playing croquet

 

At a picnic on Magic Hill the day before, we watched the children play croquet in the pasture,build fairy houses in the woods and swing on the hammock while enjoying a feast created by Brittany’s brothers. It was a full weekend of family and festivities, a year in the making.
We took a breather before jumping into our busy fall schedule of building instruments and teaching, Philip at our School of Magical Strings both in our studio in Olalla and on Capital Hill at the Bright Water School where Pam teaches lyre.

 

 

Brittany & Prescott with Wotan

 

We are thrilled now to have Brittany and Prescott happily living in the Northwest, having been on the East Coast for a number of years.  They found a lovely house near Lake Washington which they share with their puppy Wotan, a very large and loving Leonberger. Prescott is growing his business as a top notch dog trainer and animal behavior specialist, while  Brittany  performs frequently with the Seattle Symphony.  She is also Concertmaster of the Auburn Symphony, with whom she will be performing, as soloist, the Shostakovich Violin Concerto on April 28 and 29 in 2012.  She has recently joined the Finisterra Trio, who will be offering some Piazzolla for us at the Seattle Yuletide show on Saturday, December 17th.  Brittany is also Concertmaster for the 5th Avenue Theater production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.  This month when she is not at the 5th Ave, you can find her in the pit at McCaw Hall with PNB’s production of the Nutcracker among other performances-- sixty shows in six weeks! We are lucky to get her for Seattle’s Yuletide at Town Hall. What a treat it has been all year for us to come into Seattle from time to time, meet her for dinner and then see her on stage at Benaroya Hall playing with the Seattle Symphony!

 

Margaret, Lindsey, Bridget and Kailey on the farmIn late October we flew to Rhode Island to visit Marshall on his birthday. He and his twin brother Morgan, both fiery red-heads, were born on Halloween 36 years ago (though they claim to be forever 27) and have been since birth an endless source of creative mischief and merriment. Both are self-employed as builders and designers—Morgan in Philadelphia with his wife Lara (a doctor of osteopathic medicine)—and are much loved by their employees, spreading joy to everyone they meet. Marshall’s wife Abigail is a wonderful 4/5 grade teacher at a school in Barrington, and recently added another master’s degree in mathematics to her own education in the midst of a busy family life on a farm. We went trick-or-treating with eight year old Margaret and five year old Bridget, and in the bitter cold watched them play soccer early one morning.

 

Geoffrey with his Nanoscapes

 

Geoffrey, our eldest, who also lives in Rhode Island, teaches electron microscopy and manages the bio-imaging facility at Brown University. He has always claimed to combine art with science, and proved it this time with a beautiful gallery showing of his electron microscope photography at Johnson and Wales University's Culinary Arts Museum, where his wife Erin is the collections manager.  He calls his images 'nanoscapes' and they are truly awe-inspiring. These microscopic ‘landscapes’ were created from everyday food items one would find in a kitchen! Here are more.

The four Rhode Island Granddaughters in the trees

 

 

This season both of their daughters are performing in a production of Nutcracker in Providence, so we’ll miss having them with us at Yuletide. Kailey, 11, has dreamed of having her own harp and received, as a birthday present, a harp that Philip built for her. Before returning home after the summer wedding, she had her first official harp lesson and a second lesson during our visit this fall.  Bright spirited Lindsey at 6 is quite the soccer enthusiast, loves their family dog and everything about life.        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rowan at yuletide

Brenin and kidsDance is also a major focus for Brenin’s family.  Here in Seattle granddaughter Rowan (also 11 and only two months older than cousin Kailey) is winning Irish dance competitions along with studying ballet at Pacific Northwest Ballet School; she has performed in their productions of Sleeping Beauty, Mid Summer Night’s Dream, Cinderella and will be cupid in the upcoming Don Quixote. Her father Brenin is busy keeping up with all the dance schedules between daughter and wife Sara's Tara Academy of Irish Dance and his own full time work at Holy Names Academy in Seattle. He is our faithful cellist and juggler for Yuletide—he also happens to be our chief cook for the Magic Hill Summer Harp Camp (link to most recent page), creating legendary feasts that have become an important draw for returning students! Their family comes for the weekend to the delight of all, and Rowan will usually teach some Irish dance steps around the fire circle in the pasture at night.  Sara, along with her full time work in running a dance school, home-schools Rowan and their son Haydn, who is becoming quite the dancer and percussionist in his own right. On his third birthday last March, he received a little drum kit, and proceeded to amaze us all with quite a sophisticated percussion performance. This year Haydn playing the ukulele at Kent's Yuletidehe has been seen playing the harp and ukulele on stage at the Yuletide concerts. 

It is always wonderful when Brenin, his family and Brittany and Prescott join us on Magic Hill for a family gathering.  How fortunate we are to have at least two of our five children residing nearby.

 

 

Magic Hill forest

 

Magic Hill with its ancient firs and maples standing on the bluff overlooking the Puget Sound is peaceful and in its resting time of year as the Winter Solstice approaches. After a day's work in the shop Philip looks forward to taking our golden retriever, Sir Galahad, for a walk down to the beach. Galahad loves to run up and down the long sandy strand, grouse about in the trees and underbrush; and if he happens to spy seals or otters out in the water, he will leap in and swim after them. He is a creature of love. When we practice our harp and dulcimer in the living room, he likes to be close by waiting for the moment when he can start singing sweetly to the sounds of the accordion and concertina.
The same beach below Magic Hill where we walk with Galahad everyday is where we collected many colorful stones for Brittany’s wedding.  The stones were beautifully displayed in baskets and offered to the guests after the ceremony to take to the waters edge and cast into the sea making a wish of happiness for the bridal couple, an old Celtic tradition.

 

 

 

Pam, Philip and Gallahad on Cannon Beach

 

 

 

Places where the land meets the sea hold a special significance for us.  After a busy schedule, we like to take Galahad to Cannon Beach for long walks on the vast expanse of sand midst the grandeur of Haystack rock. After Yuletide we will make our annual retreat to the warm sands of Maui for rejuvenation and tropical musical inspiration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last spring took us on our annual tour to the east coast, where we performed from New Hampshire to Maryland.  It was a more sobering experience this time, as there were to be no joyful visits with Philip’s mother, Elise Boulding or with sister Christie who lived in the Boston area.  Both passed away within three months of each other in June and September of 2010.  In the spring of that year we had sat by Elise’s bedside as she joyfully listened to our music and stories.  A tireless worker for world peace all her life, she always claimed that we gave peace to the world through our music. She never missed our annual concerts at the Peace Abbey in Sherborn; even within months of her passing, when she was rarely able to leave the facility at North Hill. She came and added brightness and joy with her great-granddaughters surrounding her!  It was a year of both joy and sorrow, yet filled with reflection upon the preciousness of life.

Pam as Kuri, the sacred white cow, in the eurythmy fairytale

 

Upon returning home from our tour Pam returned to her lyre students at the Bright Water Waldorf School and prepared them for their end of the year performance.  For the past few years she has joined the troupe of Northwest eurythmists for performances of fairy tales which they take on tour to all the Waldorf schools around the region. Last spring she transformed herself into a Sacred White Cow from India for “The Boy with a Moon on his Forehead” Pam also manages to find time once a week to visit Rowan and Haydn, and take our little prince for walks to the park or the zoo.
This Yuletide season, eurythmist and friend Bonnie Freundlich is choreographing a solo work to one of Philip’s earlier harp pieces called “The Stairs”, a lively and mirthful composition inspired by a game our boys used to play when they were young, which involved chasing each other up and down the stairs until, inevitably, one of them would get hurt (they weren’t always the perfect angels you see today…).

 

 

 

 

Music continues to bless our lives as we work on arranging new music for Yuletide. We're looking forward to the great rolling tide of Yule coming upon us; and seeing many of our friends as we celebrate the light that shines in the darkness!

Rowan dancing at Yuletide Morgan and Marshall at Yuletide Brenin's Juggling

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Pam with the hermitage beyondIreland – September 2009
It was an amazing journey with our dear friends the Crowells from NJ, during which we composed two pieces, The Fairy Wind and Barbara’s Cottage (these appear on our CD Celtic Yuletide Live, 2010).  We followed the footsteps of the 17th century Irish harper Turlough O’Carolan and saw his harp on display at the manor home of the O’Conors.  Our trip culminated with a fantastic excursion out to the Skellig Michael monastic island, a return from our first visit 25 years earlier which inspired the CD Crossing to Skellig.  Below is a piece I wrote about that excursion, with my own personal reflections about the lost hermitage on the north peak of Skellig. Here are more photos from our trip.

 

Meditation on the Lost Hermitage
When Pam and I recently traveled to Skellig Michael, she had a transforming experience, while I experienced what you might call an agonized disappointment.  Oh, not that the place didn’t live up to it’s image in my mind of spiritual majesty and unbridled beauty; but rather, that I did not live up to my own vow, after a thwarted attempt 25 years ago, to scale the south peak to the ‘lost hermitage’.  I have had dreams about this place ever since I learned about it, as if I had been that hermit long ago, longing to return to this very place that stands at the threshold between heaven and earth.  It wasn’t so much the new fence with a warning sign saying “Danger -- NO passage beyond this point!” that thwarted me, although it served as a lame excuse I suppose… but rather, I was genuinely afraid to attempt this perilous and difficult ascent, as I have heard it from various accounts.  My disappointment was only deepened when I heard from a fellow traveler afterward that a couple did ascend the peak together in that same journey out there—and described it as a ‘difficult climb, only suitable for those with rock-climbing skills…’ Well, I had those skills once upon a time back in my Colorado days, but nevertheless…

It was interesting how, after our return home, Pam released me from my ‘obsession’, by naming it for what it was—an obsession.  (It also helped, oddly enough, when she told me, upon our descent from Skellig, that I may attempt the climb to the hermitage only after, and if, she dies before I do…).  So there it is.  Two days after our journey to Skellig, a sad and auspicious event took place; an American woman, probably the same age as me, fell from Skellig and died—after which all journeys to the island were put to a halt, for probably a year, for safety review.  Another person had fallen to their death last May.  It is, in fact, a dizzying climb to the summit, where an amazing 5th century enclave of beehive-shaped huts, oratories and passage-ways, built stone upon layered stone, awaits the striving pilgrim and casual tourist alike.  If one looks over the edge of this enclave, it inspires dizziness all over again; not to mention awe for the harsh existence of the monks who built this place, and lived and labored and prayed and sang here so many years ago.

So here I am, back on Magic Hill, surrounded by beauty, reflecting on the experience—not only of  Skellig, but of Glendalough, where we visited for the first time at the beginning of this trip to Ireland.  There, the home of St. Kevin in the sixth century is another hermitage one can view from across the lake: a cave thirty feet up a solid rock cliff above the lake.  What is it about the idea of the hermitage that holds such intense interest for me?  In my youth, I often wanted to be alone, but it was a selfish desire that led to great depression for lack of understanding.  Then came my ‘spiritual conversion’, for lack of better words, which was aided by my mother who was well versed in various spiritual and religious traditions. She had even built her own hermitage on the mountain side above our family cabin in Colorado, and spent a year’s sabbatical there. I became intensely interested in the life of St. Francis, and the Desert Fathers before him who, as it turns out, inspired such hermetic traditions in Ireland.  What is the meaning of the hermitage?

Obviously, it is a place of solitude; inaccessible, where no one can interrupt one’s meditation upon the divine—where one can thoroughly separate oneself from the throng of humanity, and seek the uniqueness of one’s human-ness in relation to all that is.  I came to realize that, for all these amazing places, the hermitage of today lies not on mountain peaks or in desert caves, but rather within the secret chamber of the heart.  No one may enter accept by permission, and this is only granted from one soul to another, in a most sublime covenant.  The challenge for us now is to find a place of quiet in today’s noisy world, wherein we may enter that inner hermitage at an appointed time, when we need to take refuge for reflection.  Whether on Skellig, or in our own room, it is not an easy place to attain—we confront many obstacles.  But once there, we find a vista over the world, and realize our place within the magnificent cathedral of humanity.
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Philip Boulding

Past Year's letters 2008 2005 2004  2003

 

 

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