Channel hopping while driving from Belfast to Dublin last night, brought the chance to hear the conclusion of an RTE programme on the relationship between people and the land; the loss of connection between people and the land on which they lived creating a sense of alienation.
The speaker argued that capitalist society with its exploitative nature would lead to a resurgence of Marxism, which had forecast such a sense of alienation. Reasoning from delight in a Connemara landscape to a conclusion that the Communists would make a comeback seemed a step too far: societies that managed to alienate their entire population in the past century were chiefly those who experienced the oppression of Marxism.
However, understanding our alienation from the land does seem to offer some explanation of our loss of spirituality. Land and a sense of place had a deep place in Irish thought and without them there is an important link with the past missing.
The Eighth Century Irish monk working in his monastic scriptorium delighted in the world around him.
Over my head the woodland wall
rises; the ousel sings to me;
above my booklet lined for words
the woodland birds shake out their glee.
There’s the blithe cuckoo chanting clear
In mantle grey from bough to bough;
God keep me still! For here I write
a Scripture bright in great woods now.
Such lofty thoughts did not arise in the process of negotiating the building site that is the M50 motorway.
Without a recovery of a sense of place and a reconnection with a spirituality rooted in the land, it is difficult to see the church reconnecting with people.