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So exclaimed Mary R Woodard (no period after the letter R), her body broken by decades of washing, ironing, and cleaning for others in St. Louis, Missouri. As a child she hunkered down in a ditch in Christian County, Kentucky, and watched her twenty-year-old uncle lynched for looking at a white woman. Following her move North as part of the Great Migration, her experience of racism morphed into “bitter with sweet meanness.” Psalm 37 protected her gentle spirit from its contagion.

 Into Mary’s life came another outsider, Jane Ellen Ibur, a toddler living in an affluent home with a swimming pool. Screaming battles with her parents led her to seek Mary’s bosom, in their basement where she ironed.

This little girl subsequently became a teacher and a poet who honored her mentor in this poetic memoir, both wings flappin’, still not flyin’ (2014). Their mutual selflessness defies words: Mary’s habitual recourse to God and Jane’s care of her the last eleven years of her life—such reveals the brilliance of the Sacred Feminine.

We learn from them.

 

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How many doors do we open and close within a given day: to our homes, our cars, to our places of work, to institutions and places of commerce, to homes of friends? Are we aware of the different kinds of doors, hinged, folding, sliding, rotating, up and over, and so many more, some with locks and some without? Does crossing their threshold alter our energy? What or whom are we keeping in or keeping out?

 

Such questions must have influenced the earliest reproductions of both single and double doors depicted upon walls of Egyptian tombs in the Nile Valley. Here, the door symbolizes an area, closed off from the profane, similar to later ornamental doors found on mosques, monasteries, cathedrals, and temples, orienting the worshipper toward its mysteries within. And museums around the world preserve doors removed from ancient Eastern and Western homes. A set of Roman folding doors from a first century AD estate in Pompeii, ruined by Mount Vesuvius, can still be seen in the Archeological Museum in Naples.

 

However, there is another door closer to home, the door to our hearts. Its challenge is to pray for discernment, to discipline our instincts, and to savor the new knowledge that crowns this effort. Thus we thrive in our flawed humanness and bring our unique gifts to fruition among others.

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Her voice has been likened to discovering robin’s eggs in a raven’s nest, a sweet wildness that pierces the soul. Another describes her music as a celestial staircase, leading to the presence of the divine.

Who is this woman who jettisoned years of training to access the voice of her Inner Spirit? Who continues surrendering to this arduous process, becoming one with her song in performances all over the world? Whose listeners are transported to wordless realms of pristine beauty?

An accomplished player of the harmonium and the whistle, a collector and publisher of Celtic folk songs (sean-nos), an expert in plainchant, her world expanded with the influence of her four Johns: teacher and composer at Cork University College, Sean O Riada; composer, John Cage; poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue; and John, the Evangelist. Ever she listened, in silence, honing her ear to her heart’s voice.

An avid spirit eventually compelled her to reframe her gift of song within the discipline of theology, her lifelong passion. Guided by Dr. Eamonn Conway, director of the theology department at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, she produced her 2003 ground-breaking doctoral dissertation on the listening God: theosony, a word she coined from the Greek Theos (God) and the Latin sonas (sounding).

Urged by her friends to share this unique process to the Sacred, she composed Listen with the Ear of the Heart – An Autobiography, published in 2009. It, too, sings.

Sounds True carries two of her CDs: the 1996 River of Stars and the 2004 Mystical Ireland. YouTube also carries her music. I invite you to listen.

I hope to meet this exceptional woman during a visit to Glenstal Abbey, County Murroe, Ireland in March 2014.

Her name is Noirin Ni Riain.

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