Notes from Windward: #61

One of the wellsprings of the community movement is the urge to just chuck it all, to leave the clutter and stress of modern life behind, and head off into the tranquility of the woods. As in the old Shaker hymn, we seek the blessing of simplicity, and hunger for a more authentic and focused life.

There's nothing wrong with that, and nothing new about it either. I was recently studying a book which dealt with the role of St. Patrick in the conversion of Ireland, and came across this translation of a poem by one of Patrick's converts, Saint Manchan of Offaly. He wrote:

Grant me sweet Christ the grace to find -
Son of the living God! -
A small hut in a lonesome spot
To make it my abode.

A little pool but very clear
To stand beside the place
Where all men's sins are washed away
By sanctifying grace.

A pleasant woodland all about
To shield it [the hut] from the wind,
And make a home for singing birds
Before it and behind.

A southern aspect for the heat
A stream along its foot
A smooth green lawn with rich top soil
Propitious to all fruit.

My choice of men to live with me
And pray to God as well;
Quiet men of humble mind -
Their number I shall tell.

Four files of three or three of four
To give the pasalter forth;
Six to pray by the south church wall
And six along the north.

Two by two my dozen friends -
To tell the number right -
Praying with me to move the King
Who gives the sun its light

A lovely church, a home for God
Bedecked with linen fine,
Where over the white Gospel page
The Gospel candles shine.

A little house where all may dwell
And body's care be sought,
Where none shows lust or arrogance,
None thinks an evil thought.

And all I ask for housekeeping
I get and pay no fees,
Leeks from the garden, poultry, game,
Salmon and trout and bees.

My share of clothing and of food
From the King of fairest face,
And I to sit at times alone
And pray in every place.

In the centuries after the death of St. Patrick, roving bands of Irish priests founded hundreds of small religious communes in a broad band streatching from the stony islands off the Altantic coast of Ireland to the mountains of northern Italy. It wasn't until later that St. Benedict formulated the more formal and rigorously organized religious communities that became the multinational corporations of their day.

As I read Manchan's description of his ideal community, I was touched by how close it matched sentiments expressed by modern communitarians.