15May Michael Harding believes in solitude, not celibacy

I’m a great believer in solitude, living like a monk in quiet contemplation. I’m not so sure about celibacy, though – it sounds like hell on Earth

I FOUND NUTS in the shed, and I’m not sure where they came from. Some say they might be stones from the cherry trees, brought there and cracked open by birds. Others suggest a rogue squirrel, occupying the shed over two harsh winters. And the pine marten and the hawfinch have also been accused. There are even theories that the stones are from plums, not cherries at all. So it’s been a dizzy week of debate in the kitchen.

And I’m upset because I was hoping to dismantle the shed and put up a new building; a room with no windows on three sides, and just a big patio door facing the lake, a lean-to with skylights, its rear end to the world and its open face to the lake, where I can be alone and read Chinese poetry.

Because the Chinese are coming. Leitrim has always been open to strangers. Years ago it was invaded by Germans in dungarees after Clannad became fashionable in Bavaria, and since the Chinese intend colonising Athlone, it’s only a matter of time before they come up river to Drumshanbo. Which will be good for Irish music because the old 19th-century flute has had its day, and a new sound would be exciting. Chinese flutes would freshen things up, just like bouzoukis did when the Germans arrived in the pubs.

Although my day in the pub is over. I just want a room where I can be alone, and look at the lake. Where no other view is possible. While the lady wife is indoors with neighbours, drinking green tea and discussing the advantages of brewing orange marigolds, as they are wont to do, I can remain aloof in my solitary den and look at the water.

I’ve always been romantic about solitude. The sculptor shaving dust from stone with a chisel, or the monk delicately doodling on cowhide, are to me examples of how beauty grows in singular contemplation.

And although I value solitude very highly, I’m not at all convinced about celibacy. I tried it once. But it was too public for me; I felt I was a puppet in a bizarre choreography of the unconscious mind. I suspect the practice will eventually be abandoned, like castration was in opera circles. Not that celibacy is merely a psychic castration; there’s more to it than curtailing the libido.

Celibacy is a declaration that one will remain without a wife; ergo without a companion, ergo without children, ergo without all the consequent tenderness and intimacy that such family ties nurture in a human being. (You can see I was well schooled in Latin.) Like suicide bombers, celibates are a sign of paradise and the afterlife. They say no to the flesh in slow motion; bombers do it with a bang.

These acts of renunciation are made in the name of Heaven, signifying a defiant confidence in a future realm, in contrast to which all pleasures and comforts on Earth pale into insignificance. The black-robed, sterile male has carried this sign of contradiction in unconscious societies for centuries. And he will continue to do so until, eventually, society wakes up, becomes more conscious, and comes to terms with humanity’s brief existential moment on Earth.

We are beings for death. We carry our own death within us. We no longer need a costumed player to console us with the possibility of heaven or frighten us with the proximity of hell.

The male celibate has lighted fools the way to dusty death for centuries. But Shakespeare’s wisdom prevails: life is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. And the question remains: what did Jesus signify, as he died on the cross in an existential moment of obliteration, after admonishing God for abandoning him? And how might the concept of a crucified God sustain us now in these times of anxiety? Those philosophical conundrums, like a lot of other things, were brushed under the carpet during the superstar papacy of John Paul II, when the intellectual elite of the church were ordered to be silent, or else leave the building.

I suppose I’m lucky I’m not still celibate. I have no fear that anyone will knock on my door and tell me to hold my tongue. I’m just alone. Depressed in a shed. Deeply in love with a solitude that may be broken only by a rogue squirrel or the voice of the beloved inviting me to come inside because supper is on the table.


6 Responses

  1. Kevin Walters

    Our valiant friends we must defend.
    A MOCKING BIRD or was that the wife I heard
    Going nuts with rolling pin “get you in”
    Hell on earth a wife’s curse
    To the Lord I no longer pray
    He’s not going my way
    But the pub is not so far away
    Sound of fury all is bawdry
    Celibate or not the path home I have forgot
    On twisted lane I feel no shame
    I stand aloof I want proof
    Doodling in my den I think all is well
    Dust and cowhide, manifestation of pride
    Lake and beauty my eyes grow droopy
    A chiselled stone is my hope alone.

    In singular contemplation hope and expectation
    I wondered out from no not where
    My spirit as the clear morn air
    With glint of morning light I was your delight
    I danced with the morning breeze, played the leaves upon the trees
    The grass was my pleasured bed the flowers feathered for my head
    The clouds were but my cloak, my face shone with the sun
    I was you lover I was you son
    I was Adam before the deed
    I was the tree the sky the breeze
    I was the garden I was Eve you the sower and I the seed

    The black bird entered the wondrous tree in dry branch entwined he
    With yellow eye and crack of wing all was lost nothing still
    I had become as separate thing
    Your seed polluted by that black squawking, squealing, squeaky thing
    I heard you weeping for you son O loving Father what I done

    On broken branch I entered time in downward spin
    Tumbling bush fly and weed, polluted seed and sprouting horn into spike
    and thorn I was born
    You the breeze followed with the morning dew, promising to make all anew
    Before the day was done you would again embrace your son
    You nailed your own heart to a dry piece of wood
    Bleeding profusely droplets of precious love
    Tenderly watering your seeds of love
    Blessing the heart that willingly receives that heart to shall surely bleed, scattering fly and weed
    Father I am the new watered seed, lifting me gently with you breeze
    The husk shall fall and I shall run with squint of light gleam of morning delight
    Tossing feathered flowers from my head
    Lifting my cloak from my dewy pleasured bed
    Skipping and dancing with the breeze
    Frolicking the leaves, hovering above the trees
    Again I am Adam also Eve
    In the garden with the breeze
    With the bright glance of the morning sun
    Father your song is sung.
    In Christ

  2. Eileen

    Michael and Kevin, I cannot match your poetic creativity and, as with most poetry, your contributions will take some reflection before the depth of their richness is plumbed. So here I just merely want to acknowledge the literature above and its inherent wisdom. I quote another poet as a tribute to you, because you are doing what she requested:
    Pay attention: Be astonished: Tell about it. (Mary Oliver, Red Bird,2004).

  3. John Collins

    Like Eileen I will take your words woven on the page Michael and Kevin and adjourn to a quite place…. maybe not a shed ! but the garden with the breeze sounds inviting and reflect on how beauty grows in singular contemplation.

  4. Eric Conway

    It seems to me that Mr. Harding has a very distorted, sexually obsessed view of human nature. One can only speak from experience. Some of the most grounded, compassionate, decent men & women I have met have been celibate, while some of the most obnoxious, sexually deviant individuals I have encountered have been married individuals. To get real, the stats in relation to sex abuse clearly show that non-celibates are the real problem. In another sense Mr. Harding’s analysis & use of such terms as sterile male are very offensive to married couples who cannot have children. I know many such couples who take great solace from the pastoral support provided by their clergy in these circumstances.

  5. Paddy Ferry

    Eric, rather than Michael Harding having a very distorted, sexually obsessed view of human nature, I think he is simply acknowledging what psychologists tell us and that is that our sexuality is the primary font of our humanity.

  6. Eric Conway

    Thank you Paddy. Many psychologists I’m aware of would disagree. Just to elaborate. There has alway’s been a very close complementarity between the sacraments of Marriage/Holy Orders. The precious elememnts of fidelity to vows, unconditional love, etc., resonate in both sacaraments. And as I have indicated, many couples I know (including yours truly) have drawn great comfort in times of marital trial from the fidelity of our Pastors to their vows; one lends solidarity to the other. The alternatives to the Catholic concept of marital love/fidelity are either a joyless puritanism or a form of paganism (a la Michael Harding ), which reduces marriage exlusively to its procreational/sexual function. Both alternatives are inadequate/unfulfilling.