Slí Eile Easter experience in Clongowes Wood
It’s Thursday evening, and the last group arrives. It has been a long day for most, coming from all corners of Ireland. This year was particularly special for me, after four years in the Gardiner St. Gospel Choir, I am now singing with Ballymun and adjusting to the change of scene. But the warmth of the welcome is the same, as we all catch up with friends, old and new.
Around 9pm, after the introduction and welcome, the first moment begins. As the group queues to enter the first of the two main rooms, over the Concourse, which will serve as gathering points and celebration areas for us over the next few days, Bernie plays an instrumental. Each person is given a personal invitation to tonight’s celebration and is asked to sign a scroll, which later runs the length of the altar during the celebration of the Eucharist.
The scripture of the Passover is read, and the group is invited to taste the unleavened bread and bitter herbs, eaten by the Hebrews 3,000 years ago. For the liturgy of the Eucharist, celebrated by Gerry, we move to the second room, where each person is anointed with oil, and in turn anoints the hands of the person behind. It’s nice to see the scroll with all our names, on the altar that stretches right across the room, a gesture of welcome and inclusion.
After the readings we split into groups, and wash each other’s hands. The bidding prayers are personal intentions spoken aloud in the stillness. We stand in a circle and hold hands for the Our Father. The Eucharist is shared by passing the sacred vessels around the group, each ministering to their neighbour.
Afterwards, there is time for a cuppa in the coffee dock. Everyone is eager to catch up, and have a laugh, till the small hours!
Friday morning and breakfast is early! Helen’s group gets us all laughing out loud with their ice breaker game. The next couple of hours are more reflective, with nature images and Old Testament quotations against a background of poignant music. This session first session of the day ends on upbeat note with an inspirational quotation from Nelson Mandela.
And so the days are celebrated with sessions morning afternoon and evening, all animated by small teams from the group itself. And later the laughter and joy and conversations go on into the early hours. A bond of trust, that allows people to share themselves in a real way, sometimes with people they have just met, grows around these sessions.
This was demonstrated later in the final moment of Good Friday, and for me, the event that touched me. At the prayer around the cross, each chose a picture from various images of Christ suffering that they felt most drawn to, those charcoal drawings from Rouault’s Miserere. There was an invitation to share aloud with the group, for those who felt comfortable doing so. First a few got up and said a few words. Then people began to share powerful examples from their own lives, which brought up an array of emotions, and tears of joy, gratitude and privilege to hear others reflect aloud on suffering in their own lives. All were reminded to respect the confidence of that space. It helped to see others in a whole new light. I will always respect the courage, openness and trust placed in us that night.
The Slí Eile Easter Experience defies the tired clichés that are boring and irrelevant to young adults in 2006. At Slí Eile, Easter is something to be experienced. It offers “another way” to bring home the message of the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, a way that is personal, meaningful and to be celebrated. What makes it different is a real sense of community, built up through a variety of faith and justice oriented activities, organised by the lay and Jesuit team and developed over the last five years.
Going to the Easter Experience is like going home each year for the family reunion. Young adults are treated like adults, and are empowered to get involved, to get creative and to lead others. So everything that we experience is the result of our combined efforts.