Finnegans on the Path to Waking

Since I’m starting to pull together the “Desire” issue, I’m especially struck by these lines from “Little Gidding” by T.S. Eliot, which a reader graced this blog spot with after my last post:  “This is the use of memory:  For liberation–not less of love but expanding of love beyond desire, and so liberation from the future as well as the past.”   I’ve never thought of it this way before, but remembering is a way to expand love beyond clinging, beyond the anxieties and needs of the moment.   Remembering can be a path to compassion, a way off the wheel of conditioning that determines the future as well as the past.   The trick is remembering ourselves and those we love right in the present moment–bringing a finer, more liberated attention right into the thick of things.

Lately, I’ve come to suspect that this liberated attention comes from the heart, not the mind as we usually think of it.   The other night at our “Parabola Live” event,  Phil Robinson sang a great rendition of “Finnegan’s Wake,”  an Irish ballad that arose in the 1850s.  In the ballad, the  Tim Finnegan, born “with a love for the liquor”, falls from a ladder and is thought to be dead.   Lo and behold,  whiskey gets spilled over Finnegan’s corpse at the wake, causing him to come back to life and join in in the celebrations.  Whiskey causes both Finnegan’s fall and his resurrection— and good old wiki reminds us that “whiskey”  is derived from and Irish phrase that means  “water of life”.

Phil Robinson reminded us that “Finnegan’s Wake”  was the basis of  James Joyce’s final and according to some his greatest work Finnegans Wake (1939), in which the comic resurrection of Tim Finnegan is employed as a symbol of the universal cycle of life.    A few days later, Phil sent me the wiki link that described how “as whiskey, the ‘water of life’, causes both Finnegan’s death and resurrection in the ballad, so the word ‘wake’  also represents both a passing (into death) and a rising (from sleep). ”   Wiki goes on to explain that Joyce removed the apostrophe in the title of his novel “in order to suggest an active process in which a multiplicity of “Finnegans”, that is, all members of humanity, fall and then wake and arise.”

It really astonished me to learn that Joseph Campbell borrowed the “monomyth,”  i.e. the journey of the hero that appears in mythologies in virtually ever culture,  from Finnegans Wake.  Heroes were important to Campbell because they conveyed universal truths about the path to meaning and liberation. Intriguingly, Campbells’ first important book (with Henry Morton Robinson–no relation to Phil) was A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (1944). I have to confess that I haven’t read either of those challenging book.   But I have read The Dead, which I excerpted in the “Love” issue.   Come to think of it, the protagonist Gabriel Conroy can be understood as a kind of modern hero.  He comes to glimpse the kind of remembering that Eliot’s great poem speaks of.   He moves past selfish vanity to compassion.   He learns that beneath the surface glitter and glare of the social world(everything about Conroy from his hair to his glasses and shoes is shiny)  there is deeper world of love, a subtle world where appearances and divisions between living and dead dissolve.   Like Finnegan, he died and glimpsed a new world.  He waked up.

13 thoughts on “Finnegans on the Path to Waking

  1. I’m glad you liked the T.S. Eliot quote Tracy.

    In the Episcopal Churches “Book of Common Prayer,” Holy Eucharist Rite I liturgy, you will find these words.

    “For in the night in which he was betrayed, he took bread;
    and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave it to his
    disciples, saying, “Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given
    for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

    Likewise, after supper, he took the cup; and when he had
    given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink ye all of this;
    for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for
    you, and for many, for the remission of sins. Do this, as oft as
    ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me.”

    “In Remembrance of me,” it seems like those words, in one way or another, have been with me most of my life in both a sacred and secular context.

    How often do you ever thing about an old love or an old desire, old connections? I’ve recently reconnect with several different people I once knew intimately, through some of the social networking applications that run at full force across the internet. And I’ve learned that I like making these reconnections with people I have not seen in 10, 20, 30, and in several cases 40 years or more, back to my childhood even. Keenly aware that I’m getting longer in the tooth year by year. A part of it is just the fun of it all, but it is also good to know that someone from your youth, maybe someone that you loved and lost, is now just as happy and blest in their life as are you. It makes you feel good, knowing that they are doing well, that they have children, maybe even grandchildren.

    So, it’s good to make these connentions again, even if I am no longer the person I was then. There is a part of me that still remembers who that person was, or I at least have a memory of a memory of who that person was then. Our present identity, whoever we think we may be today, is certainly a product of our memory. So is our whole sense of reality in many ways, memory is absolutely critical in maintaining that sense of continuity, of moving from one moment to the next. You already know this of course, you live with it every day. This is how we live our lives; this is how we find our way home every evening, by remembering.

    “In Remembrance of me.”

    Our longing to make a connection with the divine, the More, the Presence, God, works the same way. It really is a calling that we hear deeply, that we listen for constantly in many different ways; it is a remembering, isn’t it. Tracy, you are right on target when you say it comes from the heart, and that the trick is to remember ourselves and those we love now, in the present moment.

    Which is why I now need to rush off, get home, and remember that my wife Joanne ask be to do something as soon as I got home. I think it was turn down the AC, walk the dogs, feed them, and then get them out of the way before several friends of hers decend upon our home tonight. LOL – Have a good evening.

    And thanks for helping me to remember that one of these days, I too need to read “Finnegan’s Wake.”

    Ron Starbuck
    Houston, Texas

    1. “In remembrance of me,” remembering the sacred in the midst of life….Thanks for this, Ron, as always.

  2. Tracy, thank you for the timely post on “remembering”, for one thing.
    I say timely because my daughter’s mother-in-law just passed away after a 26 year battle with breast cancer.
    I was struck by the remembering as my daughter was asked to write the eulogy. It is beautiful and a wonderful tribute to a woman who was always upbeat, loved life, and had that “joie de vivre” that helped her, along with her faith to live as long as she did with never a complaint…even in the end.
    So, as to remembering, I am struck by the choice that we make when it comes to memories. When someone dies, we usually walk away from the service thinking of how wonderful the person was, and, sometimes even the though “If only I had remembered this or that!” How we remember is our choice….with or without compassion.
    When my father passed, I had the Latin inscription,”Non omni morare” put on his graves stone. (I shall never wholly die). His spirit lives on in me and in those who knew him. and I do believe in an afterlife as well.
    Ron,the Catholic Mass has the same words, and I think we had use of them before your
    church. LOL! Sorry, couldn’t help the little jab.
    Yes, I think that Christians believe in the resurrection because of Christ. But other religions have the same sort of belief too.
    Haven’t you ever wondered what elephants think when one of their own die, and they stay by its side for sometime before ever moving on????
    As for whisky, I have to think, a little okay, but too much is “spiritus contra spiritum.” Spirit against the spirit.
    Again, thanks for the new post, Tracy.
    Now I must get ready for the “wake”! May she rest in peace.

    1. Elizabeth – I do believe that the Roman Catholic Anglican Rite uses those exact same words, word for word. I’m not sure about the history though. Ah, something new to research on the internet.

      Vatican II did change much of the liturgy though, although I’ve heard there are some places that will still do a Latin Mass. And I know of some Episcopal Churches that still do a “Solemn High Mass” (sung) or Anglo-Catholic Tridentine Mass on special occasions.

      Peace – Ron

    1. Elizabeth,

      I was trying to think of some appropriate response on the lose of your friend. Maybe this poem will help …

      Or even this one for friend who had breast cancer, we are told by the doctors that they got it all. My Aunt had breast cancer, but lived well into her 70s.

      We can say prayers for healing even after a death, especially then I think.


  3. Michel de Salzmann

    When speaking in a meeting, give just the essence of your experience, the principle about work you have discovered, not the details.

    Much stronger to present just the essence.

    Must be sensitive to the atmosphere of the group and help us to be together in work.

    This word, that word, does not matter as much as feeling, in each moment, the call to something. Called to something higher.

    To really see and know oneself well, to feel the necessity of this relationship with the finer, the living mystery – to open to the universe, see myself more deeply – then what words come can transmit and penetrate.

    You must feel the necessity in yourself of being related to this energy – the need to see. Then what you say to others can transmit something.

    The energy is discovering me. Be prudent about describing it to yourself as one thing or another – or wanting it again. If I have an experience the same for a hundred times, then maybe I can say that is nature.

    How to preserve the wolf and the sheep, both intact? Does the functioning devour the contact with finer energy?

    When speaking, don’t consider, just begin. In the silence. Speak from the love of it, and the words will come. If talking becomes ordinary, it will have no action. But if you respect and love this energy you are called again.

    Align with this energy. Simple. Natural. This relationship is everything – most important – and then to bring it into life.

    1. This finer energy, which some think of as God, does find us, and usually at moments when we are at a loss, when someone we love is lost, when all seems lost.

  4. Ron.
    Thank you for sharing your poems with me. They are very beautiful and touching.
    I too had breast cancer, so Diana and I had not only a grand daughter that we shared, but also a common disease.
    The eulogy that one of her best friends gave was soooo touching!
    She made up an imaginary conversation with Jesus, and in the imagery she shared her important people and events in her life. It started out with Jesus saying, “Welcome.Diana, and how did you like the life that I gave you?”.
    I can’t do it justice, but I asked her to share the eulogy with me and she will e-mail it to me.
    It was a beautiful service, and Diana was a faith filled woman who battled breast cancer for 16 years, and never a complaint!
    May she rest in peace.
    Again, thanks for your thoughtfulness!

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