Monday, January 14, 2008

Whiskey Liturgy for John O'Donohue

Last night we had a beautiful Ikon service remembering and celebrating the life of John O'Donohue. It struck the right note with poetry, song and personal reflection. We also had a liturgy based around his favourite drink. If you enjoy it please raise a glass in memory of a man who lived life well and fully.

A whiskey Liturgy remembering the dead

An East Belfast Aristocrat recently said “ I don’t get those pop and idol shows / the good things they take a little longer.” And he’s right. Good food , good wine , yeah even life itself takes time . Many writers are fans of whiskey, a golden nectar that represents the process of creating something beautiful over time. John liked his whiskey – or firewater as he liked to call it. Whiskey is a common drink at an Irish wake and it is a living symbol of the process of life we all go through to become what it is we are meant to be.
(lift bottle of Bushmills…..)

Take some pure irish spring water, malted barley and yeast.

Grind the malted barley grains into a coarse flour. Mix it with hot water to form a mash. Then add a little yeast to trigger fermentation. Take the whole mix and triple distill it in vast copper pots. Finally it’s ready to be matured. At Bushmills they use American Oak barrels and Spanish sherry, madiera wine and port casks. The whiskey will gradually become what its meant to be ….. sitting in these barrels for 5, 10 , 15 or 20 years. And yet we are still not there …. Finally a team of blenders will combine the whiskeys from different barrels together to get the taste just right, and the journey finishes in the bottle held in front of me. Or almost finished because the whiskey still has one task left.It is to be drunk, perhaps in a celebration , or in mourning , or simply in appreciation. Maybe it will fuel conversation, or thoughts that will change the world. Finally it will be consumed.

Even the name is a thing of beauty. When the English soldiers came to Ireland they would ask what this fiery drink was ? and the locals would reply “Uisce Beatha” ….. in Gaelic it means the water of life, gradually anglicised to whiskey …… but I like water of life best !

John used to call it firewater and it is but it’s also the water of life. Its strong, It is sweet and bitter. It burns on the way down but after you have tasted it, you know that you are alive.

Tonight is not just about John, its about celebrating life , affirming life and remembering those that have made that journey ahead of us. I’m going to invite everyone to come up and have a shot of whiskey or a non alcoholic alternative …take it, drink it, walk to the table and turn over your glass and say a prayer or simply just remember someone who has passed on …. Celebrate their life and be inspired to live your own. The chapter on death in Anam Cara ends with a 13th century Persian prayer/poem which is a call to life …….” Some nights stay up till the dawn as the moon sometimes does for the sun. / Be a full bucket, pulled up the dark way of a well then lifted out into light. Something opens our wings, something makes boredom and hurt disappear. Someone fills the cup in front of us, we taste only sacredness. “

Remember that dark is not all there is …… beyond all dark there is a shining river of light and all the death that ever was , set next to life would scarcely fill a cup.
Come share the water of life and drink to lives well lived. In the name of Christ amen.

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