Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sodbusting, Volume 1

It has been almost four months since I've posted on the Guitar Pilgrim.  And while I enjoy writing and reflecting on what's going on here on St. Stephen's Green, blogging is a luxury – especially when you have many liturgies to do with precious few resources.

About the same time I wrote my post during the Octave for Christian Unity, Newman Church was approached about an extraordinary opportunity – televising St. Patrick's Day Mass from our humble sanctuary.  More on that two-month project later, but back to the matter at hand.

Looking back on eight months since landing here in Ireland, one of the best descriptions I can use is "sodbusting."  And yes, we're working in the Auld Sod – so maybe the pun is intentional.

Twenty years ago, when Michele and I moved into our home in Granger, Indiana, we decided to create a series of raised beds for gardening in our backyard. The task was backbreaking – shovel and spade, digging deep into the hard earth and turning it over, leaving the turf upside-down, buried under the soil so that it eventually fertilised what was about to be sown – this took weeks to do.  But eventually, the task was done, and the earth began to yield her fruit.

Sodbusting: it is the task of turning over impacted ground, breaking it open, and releasing the hidden gifts so that they may grow.  And it's the best descriptive analogy to what this first year has been like here in Dublin.

When we first arrived here, our choir loft ("gallery," in Irish-speak) was a junkyard of broken pews, splintered wood, chicken wire, dust and mould.  It took months to clear away the dirt, remove and repurpose the old timbers, treat the area for infestation, even remove walls and partitions so that the choir could have an active hand in the liturgy.

Once that that was done, the earth could begin to yield its fruit again.  We purchased a set of five new cabinets, and ordered sheet music from all over the world: chorales from Taizé, some of the best-sellers from the Folk Choir's octavo series, anthems from Ireland, England and America. Psalms were added from the precious repertoire of Fintan O'Carroll, masses from both Ireland and America.  New Irish composers' works began finding a place in our filing system.  All of them were carefully sowed in alphabetical and thematic order, ready to use and to be organised into what the choir(s) had never had before: choral folders, with legitimate, written sheet music contained therein. Harmonies that could be given to the sopranos and altos, tenors and basses.  And instrumental scores for the eventual arrival of flute, violins, viola and cello.

The pictures above and next to these words show the transformation of one small corner of Newman University Church.  Portion by portion, section by section, we've been hard at work revitalising this old gem, this beloved sacred space, visioned by a priest and poet and philosopher a century and a half ago.

And now, all we need to do is continue to sow the seeds.  The earth is ready, painstakingly tilled and prepared.


  1. Over and over, I say it to myself: this thing you're doing excites me. But I'm not just excited for you. I'm excited for Ireland. Be well, do good work, and keep in touch...

  2. Beautifully expressed, Steve. Continued prayers for your dedicated work in the fields.