Editor’s Note: The Rev. Jared Houze, vicar of All Saints Episcopal Church in Colorado City and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Sweetwater, wrote the following letter to members of his congregations as they, along with others, face life in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Rev. Jared Houze, his wife Ericka Colon-Houze and their children. Submitted photo
Dear Church Family,
I’m trying to learn to speak Irish. (Emphasis on the word trying)
I listen to one of those “conversational Irish” instructional recordings in my car or I listen through my headphones while doing chores around the house, repeating phrases aloud. I’m part of a Facebook community for Irish language learners and I’m always looking at other online resources. Now, I recognize it’s not the most practical of languages to learn. Then again, practicality has never been a guiding virtue in my life. Wiser friends and loved ones tend to help me discover “the practical.”
While in Ireland last May I got to hear Irish spoken for the first time. After being taught a few words and learning more of the language’s history, I fell in love with it. Complicated though it may be, I enjoy attempting to shape my mouth around words and phrases once outlawed by the British Empire. If you want to subjugate a people and rob them of their dignity, take away their language. Ocasr Wilde once wrote, “I am Irish by race but the English have condemned me to talk the language of Shakespeare.”
The Irish language is full of beautiful phrases, passed down from generation to generation. Over the past several months I kept stumbling upon this phrase.
Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine
“It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”
Oddly enough, after spending some time practicing its pronunciation, the same phrase appeared in another book I’m reading by Irish poet and theologian, Pádraig Ó Tuama. From him I learned something about this phrase. The word scáth can also be translated “shadow.”
“It is in the shadow of each other that the people live.”
I had to put the book down. Because this phrase that I found rather warming now took on a different tone and brought forth questions.
Are we providing a shelter or are we projecting a shadow? How can we tell the difference?
As the nation and our world continue to respond to the Coronavirus, I think we can see this old Irish phrase play out in front of us. We are witnessing decisions and efforts being made that seek to provide shelter for people, especially the most vulnerable among us; and we can also see the projected shadow–fear, anxiety, suspicion, political manipulations. But then again…
What if it’s not an “either/or” — what if it’s a “both/and”? What if it’s not we’re either being a shelter or we’re being a shadow? What if it’s more complicated than that? As all of us carry within us the raw materials to construct shelters and cast shadows. What if the beauty of this old Irish phrase is that set within it is a deep reality. That it is only in the shelter of each other that we can face our shadows; and it is only when we face our shadows together that we are able to find our shelter.
Psalm 23 is a familiar Psalm. In that old King James English that Oscar Wilde was condemned to speak it reads,
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow…
But what happens in that shadowy valley? This imaginative Psalmist sees something else…
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me and Thou preparest a table before me…
Shadow and Shelter.
It is not after its passing but rather within the shadow that shelter is found.
In these coming weeks as we support our communities’ efforts to protect those most vulnerable and as we learn to be compassionate citizens who follow the guidance of our medical professionals, it will undoubtedly cast shadows of anxiety, uncertainty, fear, and doubt. But in naming and facing those shadows we are able to find a shelter in each other. So reach out to those who are ill, to those who are shut-in, to those who have to close the doors to their business, to exhausted parents, and to those who live alone. Listen to them, love on them, create spaces to be in the shadows and shelters of each other. For it’s not only in the shadow and shelter of each other that the people live, it is where God is and always will be.
Jared Houze is vicar of All Saints Episcopal Church in Colorado City and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Sweetwater.