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BOOKS Meditation on a mountain


Gooing up the holy mountain

Meditation on a mountain

Former Westport Rector Gary Hastings has written a spiritual guide to Croagh Patrick

Áine Ryan

WATCHING Croagh Patrick during the Christmas of 2002, the priest and poet, Patrick O’Brien wrote: “24 December, It wears a dark face./ Hard to imagine anyone/ Going up or down … 26 December, Winds scale past gale force./ The whole world seems to break./ The mountain stands still … 29 December, Just the peak. A fin/ Cutting the surface of cloud./ Fear of the unknown.”
The spiritual ambience created by these poetic observations provides a perfect prelude to Gary Hastings’ evocative new book, ‘Going Up The Holy Mountain’, which was launched recently in Matt Molloy’s pub Westport, by Father O’Brien.
In his Foreword, O’Brien comments on how the natural pantheon that is Ireland’s holy mountain is such an appropriate mountainscape for this work. Like its flautist author and former Church of Ireland Rector in Westport, the book is filled with ‘the woodwind  grace of light and the passion of the breath and fire’ as our patron saint, Patrick, ‘has been this past century rediscovered as one of the great mystical saints.’
The chapter entitled, ‘Mountains, Religion and your Mind’, describes the imposing physicality of the pyramidal mountain on the surrounding land and seascape. Here, Gary Hastings sets the scene for the ensuing chapters on Pilgrimage, Prayer, Meditation which open the pathway towards the exploration of the Stations.
“The Reek has its toes in the island-speckled waters of Clew Bay, its head in the clouds and the bogs and hills of Mayo and Connemara around about it. It has slopes of heathers and whins, scree and tough wiry sedge, boulders and craggy sharp rocks. Hard winds and soft winds play around it. A long plume of carded cloud flies from its peak, On other days a thick grey mist, neither water nor air, shrouds and hides it. People say it’s ‘holy’.”

Desert in the air
HE observes that this mountain, like any mountain, is ‘an in-between place’.
“It is neither earth nor sky…. It is a díseart – a desert in the air, implying bare rock, baking sun, blasting wind, driving rain, blinding mist and snow and hard ice; but also it is a díseart – a secluded retreat, a place apart.”
Like the cross-millennial cultural and spiritual story that is the history of Cruach Phádraig, or Cruachán Aigle, as was its name in pre-Christian times, this book provides many layers of nutrition for the searching soul.
It provides prayerful and meditative tools to help ‘move closer to God in the silence’ and discover that elusive ‘gap between words which allows them to make sense, the pause between the musical notes, which allows the tune to form’. Meditations from the Christian tradition are enhanced by the inclusion of profound meditations on nature – air, fire, water, stone, soil, light, plants, animals – which help transport the pilgrim and climber towards the peak of this highly symbolic mountain.

Ethereal intimacy
THE foundations of Going Up the Holy Mountain may be based on  the physical pilgrimage along the rutted and steep pathway of the 764-metre high mountain that is Croagh Patrick. Its stations –  stopping places - such as Leacht Benáin, Reilig Mhuire and Leaba Phádraig on the summit – may give explicit guidance to the novice or the veteran of this spiritual  odyssey. But Gary Hastings explores the ethereal intimacy offered by this natural amphitheatre : “This book is for your own private mountain, the one most accessible to you, even if it’s just in your eye, your heart, your mind.”

“The soil, the stuff that plants grow in, that covers the rocks and bones of the Earth, is the medium for all growing, living things to exist on or in….. Be aware of the life beneath your feet, life intimately connected with your own, the heritage bequeathed you by your ancestors, plant, animal, fungus, microbe and human.”

“We don’t usually see light. Light is what we see by, see in, see with. We only see or notice it when there isn’t enough or there’s too much and our eyes can’t function. In between we just see. Light is neither wave or particle solely ….. Seeing isn’t a simple thing. What comes up inside our minds when we look at something has been processed and analysed and judged before we receive the images in our consciousness.

‘Going up the Holy Mountain, a spiritual guidebook’ by Gary Hastings is published by Columba Press and on sale in local bookshops (rrp €14.99).

The author
Originally from Belfast, Gary Hastings (pictured) was the Church of Ireland Rector in the sprawling parish of Westport from 1995 until 2009. He was educated in the University of Ulster and Trinity College Dublin before being ordained into the Church of Ireland in 1993. He is currently the Rector of St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, Galway and Canon of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. He is a well-known traditional flute player.