Pádraig Ó Tuama

PÁDRAIG Ó TUAMA is a theologian and writer from Northern Ireland. I first came across his work on the podcast On Being. He has a community in Belfast that helped bring peace to the region.

For me, his thoughts on welcoming the stranger are revolutionary because he points the light back on oneself. I am the stranger, the parts of me that I don’t understand, that I reject, and that I struggle to love. All of me I must welcome.

Here is a short reading from his book In the Shelter for you to listen to. Every time I hear it I am heartened and find myself greeting the day with a little more grace.

Click Here to Listen


by Elizabeth Honan Amber

The knot rises in my chest
My heart plummets
Like an elevator in free fall
I try to move away from the action
At all of these feelings —

A friend comes to visit
intending to give comfort.
They see my emotions lathered up and agitated,
My body a knot of tension.

Unsure what to do
They sit and take my hand.
‘Remember,’ They begin,
‘God is in control.’
Don’t worry,’ they continue,   
Everything will work out.’
After a while they finally say,
‘It could be so much worse,
You should be grateful.’

My shoulders tighten and I wince.
My mind rebels at the implied ease
From pain to joy.
I know it is right to give thanks and praise,
And yet…

I have been in the presence of Gratefulness.
She has come to me in the unlooked for moments,
Like the sun breaking through the clouds,
Warm and embracing.
Like a crashing wave
Spraying me whole again.

Her presence feels
Like a passionate kiss
Rocking me to my core
Leaving me speechless,
And knowing something I almost forgot.

She is a visitation,
A sacred moment shared only
By her and the one she seeks.
An angel of sorts.

The temptation to summon her,
To reduce her presence to mere trick of the imagination
Incanting, ‘Thank you God I am not…’
Is to diminish the sacredness of thanksgiving.

She travels through sunsets and stars,
Not through the public transit of advice.
To compare your burden to others
Does not ground you to the path you are called to.

To feel grateful is a fullness,
A lightness of being
Connecting you to the Source
And to This moment.

Another friend comes to visit.
They sit and they listen,
Saying ‘I’m so sorry.’
And, ‘It’s okay to feel these things.’
After a while they gently invite me to be here, now,
Making room for me to ask, ‘What is here?’
As we sit together they reach out, take my hand and whisper,
‘No matter what, you are not alone.’

I pull this reassurance into my heart,
My body relaxes and my mind slows,
Like a horse released from a frantic pace.
I take in this moment and realize,
I am seen.
And I am so grateful.


“S’awful to grow up,” said Velvet

“Nope,” said Mrs. Brown

“Why isn’t it?”

“Things come suitable to the time,” said Mrs. Brown.

… “Childbirth,…an being in love. An’ death. You can’t know ’em till you come to ’em. No use guessing and dreading. You kin call it pain… But what’s pain? Depends on who you are an’ how you take it. … Don’t dread nothin’, Velvet.”  – National Velvet by Enid Bagnold

I keep reading this scene in National Velvet over and over. This intimate moment between Velvet and her mother resonates deeply. Velvet is looking into her future, and is wondering if all it holds is bound up in corsets and childbirth. From her vantage point of 14 years old, it all looks so bleak. She tells her mother how much she likes herself now and doesn’t want to grow up.

I know exactly how she feels.

My own inner Velvet Brown is panicking at my future, at what I imagine having a double lung and liver transplant will require of me. I know I can do it, I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about my poor spirit; the wild in me that already has to be bridled by adult responsibility along with the added strain of chronic illness. But I’ve more or less figured out how to do it.

Having everything about to change again, and take on an unknown future of new rules, new medications, new risks…. It is a lot to fathom. Like a girl staring at grown women with babies and boobs, wondering – “how in the world do I go from this, to that?”, I am undone with dread.

The scene with Velvet and her mother is most poignant because it isn’t so much about a mother telling her daughter to want the responsibilities of womanhood, but rather it is a mother understanding the struggle of holding two conflicting realities in your body. You want what your heart wants, and you realize that your heart’s desires are going to change. You will dream new dreams. But for now Mrs. Brown can lay a standard for the journey – don’t dread. Meet those new dreams when they come. To greet them and take them into your heart is not a disloyal act to the dreams you hold in your heart now. Can we want something new? What does that say about the truth and fire of what we have today? This is the tension.

It’s easy to get stuck on dreams. I know this all too well. It took a fire, literally, to pry out some of the ones that needed to be let go of in my 20’s. It was excruciating. To not have children of my own, to not have a dependable body, to not have exactly what I thought I ought to have. It took a long while to grieve.

Reading Mrs. Brown’s wise words feels like coming up upon the ocean and hearing its distant rhythm against the din of traffic and sea gulls. The part of me that is salt and water calms at it’s presence and I remember, don’t dread, just let it be. I am holding on to this centering place.

I am not a little girl anymore, I can see better from my 35 year old self than I could from age 12.  I am still right to be worried about my spirit, to worry about the wild in me. But I continue to be naive to think that she, my spirit, is so easily broken by rules and statistics. I cannot look too far into the future imagining a body I don’t have yet. I don’t know what it will be like to breathe with someone else’s lungs. I cannot keep dreading the process and wondering if I will still be myself when I wake up. I have to keep remembering, “the map is not the territory, and the menu is not the meal.” Imagining is not the same as living.

In a way, I’ve done this before: I was a girl once and now I’m a woman. I used to think the dreams of my youth would last forever. As much as I loved dreaming those glorious and daring dreams, I’m glad I made room for new passions. It is comforting that I am part water and salt, and like the ocean I have to allow the tide to work at my dreams, letting them to become something new.