What I’m reading to prepare for the Northern Ireland Retreat

Several books are on my bedside table right now, as I reflect on the spirituality and political history of Northern Ireland (and Ireland in general) in advance of the Contemplative Spirituality and Radical Activism immersion experience coming up in August.

First, to deepen my sense of Irish history (particularly in relation to the politics of Northern Ireland over the last 50 years), I’m reading Ireland: A History by Robert Kee. It’s a sobering look at just how troubled Eire has been, with its sad legacy of colonialism and religious persecution.

To deepen my sense of the central spiritual question of the retreat — how to integrate contemplation and activism, particularly nonviolence — I’m looking at three books. Resistance and Contemplation: The Way of Liberation by James Douglass is a Vietnam War-era classic that considers this all important relationship between silence and peacemaking: what Douglass calls “The Yin and Yang of the Non-Violent Life.” Meanwhile, William H. Shannon’s Seeds of Peace: Contemplation and Non-Violence considers this issue particularly in regard to the thought of Thomas Merton. And Una Kroll’s Vocation to Resistance: Contemplation and Change provides an Anglican and woman’s perspective to the connection not only between contemplation and peacemaking, but also environmentalism, reconciliation, and resisting the idolatry of our consumer culture.

Finally, just to keep things light, I’m checking in with an old friend: John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, which seems as relevant, and poetically luminous, as ever.

So there you go. If you aren’t coming to Northern Ireland with us, at least you can explore the same spiritual geography with these books.

Faith, Doubt and Perseverance
Busting the "Goody Two Shoes" Stereotype of Saints
Why Trappists Make Great Spiritual Guides
Talking about "Befriending Silence"
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Ellen N. Duell

    Thank you for these book titles! They all look very good! I own one treasured book by John O’Donohue–I just went to my bookcase, and couldn’t find it–but I WILL–

    With much appreciation, Ellen Duell

  • http://meadowsweet-myrrh.blogspot.com/ Ali

    Fantastic! I was just thinking of doing the same thing myself (and then felt like I was back in my over-achieving student days ;). Thanks for the recommendations.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    From one over-achiever to another, these are all easy reads (although the history of Ireland is heartbreaking). If you haven’t read O’Donohue, treat yourself, it’s a lovely book.

  • http://nemo235.wordpress.com nemo235

    Aren’t you a little scared? I mean Northern Ireland is literly a war zone.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    What I really would like, with God’s grace, is to find the courage to do this kind of work in Israel.

  • rodney neill

    235……I live in Northern Ireland and to decribe it as ‘literally a war zone’ shows breathtaking ignorance!!!!!!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Rodney, I think Nemo’s perception of Northern Ireland is unfortunately not that uncommon among Americans. I’ve had several people ask me in person similar questions. Part of the reason why we’re doing this retreat is to help Americans who don’t understand Northern Ireland, to do so better. I know that I, even as the American retreat leader, will be coming to your country with precious little knowledge of the recent history and current political climate. My colleague, Gareth, who is from Northern Ireland, will be taking the lead on the retreat in terms of guiding us to discern the work of the Spirit in the peace process. My role on the retreat to is to provide more generalized spiritual guidance in terms of meditation, contemplation, reflection on the ancient history of Celtic spirituality, etc. But as for Northern Ireland today, I’m coming to learn as much as any other American. Reading Kee’s history of Ireland has certainly been an eye opener.

  • rodney neill

    i hope you and the other people on the trip have a great time and enjoy your trip to Norrthern ireland!