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My Search For A Deeper Spirituality

A personal story of searching an spiritual growth over a period of sixteen years.

By Tony Shields  
  Due to a family illness a radical change took place in my lifestyle 16 years ago. I decided to look at who I was and what made me feel good, feel angry, feel ashamed, feel guilty, feel positive and what it was that made my life worth living. Over this period I've looked at and tried different groups unity groups, groups for men, charismatic and meditation groups, prayer groups. All this searching was a quest for my soul or my spirituality.

The first group I got involved with was a bible study group. Looking back on this experience now it seems quite miraculous how it came about. It was Lent and I started going to mass again after many years away. I was shy and awkward at first because I felt a certain guilt. This is probably normal for a Catholic brought up in our guilt-ridden church of the 50's. While I was attending mass in Mount Argus I picked up a leaflet about a bible study group under Father Anthony O'Leary. I said to my wife "I would like to join this group". I knew Anthony as a child and wondered if I would find it difficult. But I kept attending mass sometimes in the morning and sometimes in the evening.

To get to the point, one evening I was leaving the church after mass and the local barber was praying as usual at the back of the Church. I put my hand on his shoulder and said 'say a prayer for me'. Instantly he jumped up and came after me. He told me that he had been trying to get the courage to speak to me for a couple of weeks. He started telling me about a Bible study group held in his mother's house every Thursday night and that they were looking for new members. He asked rather shyly if I would be interested in joining. Without hesitation I immediately said yes, I would very much like to come along. The strange thing was that his mother lived just around the corner from were I was living.

Throughout the evening there was much joyous singing and I found it very up;ifting and spiritual.

I joined the group and soon realised I had been searching for a group like this since I was seventeen when I bought my first Bible. The group was made up of men and women from all walks of life. I was made very welcome but I was apprehensive. For the first five or six weeks I just sat listening to the discussion before I got involved. We used to choose a passage from the gospels and spend time discussing it to see how it effected our lives. I was very excited over this and how it came about. Brendan, the barber, has become my Anam Cara (soul friend) in a thoroughly spiritual way. Both of us are continually searching for more and new ways of looking at our lives.

After some time Brendan invited me to attend a prayer meeting in Avila with himself and his wife. I remember when I arrived at the first meeting looking around to see where I could sit. I saw a priest and thought it would be safe to sit beside him. Everybody seemed to know each other and seemed to be very friendly.

The meeting started with some singing. Then the group started praying in a very wierd language that I did not understand but I listened. Next, individuals stood up and spoke about their lives and how they had been healed of all sorts of ailments, alcoholism, cancer, depression etc. I was impressed by some and frightened by others. The priest sitting beside me noticed and told me not to be afraid that this was normal. Throughout the evening there was much joyous singing and I found it very uplifting and spiritual.

When the meeting was over I spoke to a few very friendly people who asked about myself and asked me to come back again. I had a lot of doubt but I went back and started to enjoy the meetings. I began to get involved in the meetings and shared my own story. I did the Life-In-The-Spirit seminars and was 'baptized in the spirit' again. It was only at this time that I understood what my confirmation was about. I made a lot of friends through the charismatic renewal group, and am still in contact with them today. The one thing charismatic renewal taught me is the deep love Christ had for me and everybody around me no matter what we have done.

While this was happening I was still attending the Bible study group. Then I was introduced to audio tapes called "A Man's Approach To God" by Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan from the U.S.A. These tapes are about male spirituality and deal with the relationship a man has/had with his father and grandfather, his left brain and his right brain, his male side and his feminine side. The main topic Richard talks about is the relationship he has with himself and how we feel about ourselves. This is something we in the group had been trying to articulate and now found somebody that could help us. We started a 'men only' group and have met every Sunday for the past twelve years.

There is a great bond within the group. There are many different problems among the men and we try to help one another. We start the meeting with prayers, then meditate for a time and discuss our agreed topic for the day. Then there is a period when anyone who has a problem can share it with the group letting go of past hurts, forgiving those who caused the hurt and most of all forgiving ourselves. This has been a great learning experience. It also helped individuals in the group to build their spiritual life through caring and trusting people. We are a group of men who are travelling a different path to others even though our jobs are very important to us. We are all searching for our own spirituality through our past and present lives.

When my eldest son was about six, he expressed an interest in playing Gaelic football. So off we went and joined our local GAA Club. This started a new chapter in my life. I started to help train the children and felt I was becoming part of a community that I had not been part of since my childhood. I was discovering things about myself I did not know.

When he was eight he started playing with a team which I later became manager of. There were wonderful games and experiences with the boys that would do your heart good. To me this was a spiritual experience.

As they grew older and became more competitive they had to be disciplined and taught that winning wasn't everything. This really helped to build their character and was good for both body and spirit. We did win very many games but that was not the most important thing.

Then last year a young man, Paul McGirr, died during a match in the Ulster Minor Championship playing for Tyrone. He was 18 years of age. This had a profound effect on me, as my team was just approaching this stage of their football careers. I share with you a piece I wrote as a tribute to Paul the day he was buried:

Yesterday you got up excited because today you were going to play for your County in the Championship. Something you longed and hoped for since you started playing.

It was part of the culture that I lived in, part of your past, your future and your children's future.

Mass and breakfast, check the gear. Mother was nervous, father was also, brothers and sisters were all so proud of me, one of their own playing for Tyrone.

Buddies called out Good Luck! Butterflies are lovely and good to put you in your place, you have to be grounded.

Tyrone is my home, my family's home for generations.

The match starts with speed and I am up for it. I feel it in my gut. I get a point, later a ball comes in, its 50/50 between me and the goal-keeper.

He comes out, I go strong for it, punch to the net, the keeper hits me and I go down, everything is fuzzy, I am knocked out.

I am outside of myself looking down at what is happening, people trying to revive me. I seem to be somewhere else.

They take my body away, but I remain, the match goes on. I'm there, but I'm not there. I'm fleeting between my body and the match. That is were I want to be.

People are working on me, punching me in the chest, I'm coming and going. I'm back at the match, nobody notices that I am there. I'm there, but I'm not there. I'm back at my body.

I hear somebody saying, he's dead, he is dead. My Mam cries out, I ....I try to comfort her but I can't.

Dad turns away in tears. I only seem to remember him cry once before. He is shocked, broken-hearted.

My brothers came, sister came - everybody is so sad.

This person came and said I must go with him. He was so caring and kind. I had no problem. He told me I could help them in the future.

We go to a place of great light and beauty, everybody is so kind and caring, people keep coming and going, time means nothing - as if I have been there before.

Am I dead I ask?, No - you are alive forever, you will never die, you are all loving and gentle now, no agro, no fighting, everything is alright.

My friend tells me your life on Earth is over - you will meet Jesus soon.

This year the team I managed completed their campaign and won the minor county championship of Dublin. This was the most important game of their lives and the spirit bonding within the team was fantastic. I found it was a very spiritual experience for myself as I had been with the team for the past twelve years. Other parents shared with me a similar experience. I have learnt a lot from my son and these young men. One little story I want to share with you although there are many: One day when going to training I was very frustrated. I was giving a lift to a seventeen-year-old boy who had become a regular on the team and had become a friend. He noticed I was angry and he said to me quietly 'Be Still and Know'. I was quite shocked and my mood changed in seconds. These young men, their trainers and myself have a common bond for the rest of our lives.

This leads me to my growing interest over the past 10 years in Celtic spirituality. I love Irish poetry, music and dance. This led me to Inishmor the largest of the three Aran Islands. Inishmor has become my spiritual home because it is so barren and beautiful. The sea, the stones, the boreens connect one very easily with the past. I love to visit historical sites and old church ruins on the islands where St. Brendan and St. Ciaran lived. I find it one of the most spiritual places in Ireland.

Reading John O Donohue's book Anam Cara , or Timothy Joyce's Celtic Spirituality , or Dara Molloy's Aisling magazine you can see there are a lot of people out there searching for a spirituality and a new or old way to live. The writings of Patrick Kavanagh, Seamus Heaney and Brendan Kennelly have influenced me a lot on my journey.

Through my search for a deeper spirituality I have met Buddhists and Hindus. Through reading Thomas Merton, Bede Griffith, Thich Nhat Hahn and many others I have been helped on my journey. Their search for inclusiveness and unity in all religions and spirituality has been encouraging to me. Walking on the same earth, breathing the same air, drinking the same water our differences are only in our approach or delivery of our message. Christ said that if we do not have love we have nothing. Love is everything spirit of forgiveness helps us to understand ourselves for it is in understanding ourselves that we grow in our own spirituality.

Nothing has prepared me for where I am now and everything has prepared me.

Tony Shields lives in Dublin.
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