Some background first! This post was inspired by the work of John Moriarty and specifically the festival held in his hometown of Moyvane, Co. Kerry, Ireland in late-June 2024. If you are not familiar with John or his work, I would encourage you to start walking towards it. A gentle first step is listening to John in his own words.

And now for the post itself:

I was sitting in the garden having breakfast on the Sunday of the festival when a Robin Redbreast – my uncle as I can him – landed on a chair opposite, staring at me.

My uncle and I have a good but somewhat distant relationship. That morning he was different. Gone was his unusual wariness. He held my gaze with both eyes. I threw a few offerings on the table, pointing to the food and inviting him to move closer. As he accepted, I could feel John’s spirit moving through him. It felt like he wanted to converse, not in English but in some deeper ancestral language.

I have spent my whole life immersed in language and in languages, living as I have in and between different cultures. I was lucky perhaps that the Irish-infused English my mother and grandmother spoke taught me at a young age that languages are not really just about words. And yet we obsess about and over them. We value people by how many words they have read. By whose words they have read.

In truth, language is ultimately about communicating what we value. Through words and beyond words. What is said, what is unsaid and what is embedded in the very scaffolding that holds the words. English, with its 70% nouns, is a language that invites us to divide up the world into parts; into resources; into commodities. The tree. The grass. The animal. Those parts can then be seen as separable from the whole. But how can what we call the tree be seen as separate from the earth that holds it, the rain that nourishes it or the birds that call it home?

John is inviting us to speak a deeper language. An eternal language. A language of unity rather than division. A language that includes rather than excludes. Perhaps John’s words – magical and lyrical as they are – may be like the flowers in a meadow, catching our eye as they wave in the wind, moving us as they dance. But what else may be going on in the meadow? What is not waving at us? What are we not noticing?

As Lao Tzu paradoxically had to remind us “The Dao that can be named is not the eternal Dao”. John too had to speak his words out into the world. How else could we have heard them amidst the noise of modernity? But perhaps they are not the eternal Dao either. Perhaps instead we might see them more like maps pointing us to deeper territories. To deeper conversations with the very earth we walk upon.