Persistence and Impermanence

I pace upon the battlements and stare
On the foundations of a house, or where
Tree, like sooty finger, starts from the earth;
And send imagination forth
Under the day's declining beam, and call
Images and memories
From ruin or from ancient trees,
For I would ask a question of them all.

 W.B. Yeats, The Tower

Wandering through the ruins of the sixth century Irish monastery, Clonmacnoise, we were struck by the persistence of the monks who rebuilt here after each attack of foreign and domestic invaders. Over a thousand years ago the Vikings first burned the monastery, then came back numerous times to pillage again. The Irish themselves sacked the place regularly until it was finally finished off by Oliver Cromwell's army in the 17th century. Thirty times the holy place was ravaged. Yet, time after time stone was placed upon stone to rebuild the small, crude houses of worship.

The golden chalices and reliquaries are gone. The illuminated scriptures are gone. The people are gone. The stones remain. Two round towers and the broken walls of eight small churches persist in the rain.

Above the green bank of the River Shannon, standing at St. Ciaran's 1500 year old grave, we marvel at the endurance of his followers who stayed put despite their fears. What was it that held these monks to this spot for 1100 years despite attack after attack by forces of darkness? What power did they have to carry on their work in the face of persistent disaster?

Along with marvel at incredible persistence, comes the thought that despite all their efforts this place is a ruin. No work, no prayer could stand against the ravages of time and events. Material things, given enough time, fall to ruin. The enduring legacy of these monks was not the physical structures they built, though these are inspiring in themselves. The true gift they gave us was their love of learning, their desire to know the truth. While the rest of Europe was falling into the darkness of ignorance, they studied and preserved ancient knowledge. They flourished in their literacy, and reseeded Western Civilization with the love of scholarship. Without these prayerful, tenacious souls carrying the word back to Medieval Europe, who knows where we would be now?

Some questions to ponder:

How well do I persist in the face of adversity?

 Do I rebuild after being pillaged, or do I tend to give up?

 Am I easily discouraged from creating something new or preserving something worth saving?

 What in my sphere of influence is worth preserving?

 What is it in my power to create?

 How can I more fully realize my creative potential?

 What will be my lasting legacy?

 Will it be noticeable to those that come behind me?

 Will it be of a material nature?

 Will it be intellectual? Emotional? Spiritual?

 How can I enjoy the spirit of creativity while appreciating the impermanence of the fruits of my work?

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© 2002 Tom Barrett