Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
February 2015 - Volume 15, No. 2
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The Blarney Stone

Here’s why I’m good at what I do. It’s like the inherent balance of a three-legged stool. The three equally important foundation stones of my professional career are:

One, I have a good professional education. Two, I have an abundance of life experience. Three, I have kissed the Blarney Stone.

Let me take them each in turn (or you can skip to #3 - it’s probably the most interesting).

1)  A good professional education

My undergraduate degree is from the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Iowa. My major was a special program in the humanities, the core of which was based on dialogue between and among otherwise very separate voices - for example ‘physical science and the nature of man.’

I went to seminary at one of the better protestant seminaries in the country - The Theological School (Methodist) of Drew University, in Madison, New Jersey. The three years there and a following year at New College (the theological faculty) of the University of Edinburgh each provided a rigorous academic discipline involving the ancient disciplines wrestling with the modern world of real people, world political and social systems, as well as care for those alienated by each. 

When the time became right, I spent four more years part-time seeking the skills and accreditation of a particular psychotherapeutic system - at that time Transactional Analysis and Gestalt Therapies, through the Huron Valley Institute in Ann Arbor. The primary attraction was an international testing and accrediting analysis that was particularly rigorous.  

In each of these these three academic areas, I felt if I was to be accredited, I wanted it to be because I had to work hard and be stretched into new maps of the world.

2)  An abundance of life experience  

I was raised in a Methodist preacher’s family, where the standard in those days was to move every year or two to a new congregation. My parents were well educated, cultured, (not overly religious, thank God) and always encouraging us to interact with the larger world beyond the smaller towns where we often lived. They were often at odds with the world - they were both life-time pacifists and liberal thinkers. And they never had any of us shy away from appreciative encounters with the larger culture - including the folksy simplicity of many of our neighbors.

3)  Kissing the Blarney Stone

Up to this point, what I have written is a somewhat dull apologia - deep and enduring for me, but likely of little interest to a casual reader.

The third leg of the stool is the one I often cherish the most. In the Spring of 1967, while a theological student in Scotland, my wife and I used our Spring Holiday time to tour Ireland. And in that touring, I found opportunity to kiss the legendary Blarney Stone - also called the Stone of Eloquence. (We also have other terms for it as well, such as smooth talk, flattery, persuasion, malarkey, baloney.)

Blarney Castle is in County Cork, in southernmost Ireland.  It’s primary fame is to house the Blarney Stone. To access the stone, one needs climb some 100 steps to the top of the castle. Castle steps have a design and mystery (and danger) of their own, not at all like the easy rectangular stairs of your first apartment building.   

The stone itself is set into the wall below the battlements.  There was a time when seekers had to be held by the ankles and lowered head first over the battlements. Today, more caution is given to the safety of its visitors. There’s a small access opening under the battlements, and a few iron bars preventing you from falling backwards crashing toward sure sudden destruction scores of feet down the outside of the castle wall.  Still though, to kiss the stone, one has to lean backwards (holding on to an iron railing) from the parapet walk. The prize is a real one as once kissed the stone bestows it’s gift of eloquence (aka “blarney”).

What is nowhere advertised in the literature is that once on your back, your ankles being held, and you have allowed gravity and a couple iron railings to take you out and down to the viewing and kissing angle, the surface of the stone itself is replete with every conceivable shade of lipstick smudges.  My wife, who a few years earlier had taken a public health course at the University of Iowa, immediately declined to participate. But she was willing, bless her, to hold my ankles while I did.  There was no way, after traveling this far around the globe, I would pass by this conclusion to the rounding out of my professional career.

Blarney - the capstone

I call this the capstone of my professional qualifications. My formal professional (and personal) education is a great gift, and I treasure it. My many life experiences are also a great gift (with some exceptions, of course), and I treasure so many of them. Yet I find many folks who, though also well endowed with each, still to be quite unimaginative and even boring. These first two foundation stones can still be devoid of life, or ‘soul.’  A two-legged stool has little stability unless it’s leaning up against something.

It’s that third leg of the stool, the kissing of the Blarney Stone, that makes sure I’m alive. That’s why I’ll call it the ‘capstone’ of my aliveness, that which holds everything together with the glue of life - or life lived to the fullest.

There are, of course, religious parallels - three of which come immediately to mind.  St. Paul in I Corinthians speaks of the gifts of faith, hope and love, but the greatest (that which holds the others together and gives them life) is love. Moses in his journeying, noticed off to the side a bush on fire, burning but not being consumed. He ‘turned aside’ to check it out, after which nothing was ever the same again. And there’s the Holy Trinity. There’s the Father, and the Son. But without the gift of the Spirit, there can be intellectual and beneficent ardor, but still no real life, non of that wildness that can make even the religious world really interesting.

Summary challenge

This is not meant to be a bragging. But rather an autobiographical account that hopefully can be a model or reflection for your own formation of a well-rounded and rich life. Keep attentive to those opportunities invite and enhance your own “life” - or your own “blarney.” Don’t let the lipstick smudges throw you off. Don’t let the necessity to turn yourself upside down or fear crashing down a castle wall always deter you. I could go farther and say don’t let some of your fears and anxieties prevent you from “going for life.” 

As you know, especially within the words of my Newsletters, my purpose is to cherish and serve the human hunger for life.

In many ways, I personally can be still be somewhat timid and even shy. But yet, now almost 50 years ago, I kissed that Blarney Stone. And my world has never been the same.    

And so for you, my good readers:

Always consider there are options,
Never take anything too seriously,
Live boldly, enjoy authentic Blarney, and
As ever,

Pay Attention

Comments (2)

  • Food for my soul

    Thank you for being my inspiration today! Many ‘difficult’ tasks at hand where I often turn myself one-dimensional when dealing with these difficult situations. A constant reminder not I hold my breath but breathe through the situation bit also embrace it so I can learn and feel all things to achieve a fuller meaning of God. Understand my purpose in this life and this world. Despite having not seen you for many years, you should know my husband and I credit the Holy Spirit through you, of keeping us like minded in our family. Thank you for helping us find that balance of self and others. As time has passed , we now take on bigger tasks of our own and others and thank you for being a servant of The Lord in our faith journey. For us and out children!

    — Katie Paraiso, 2/2/2015
  • Imagination

    Love it! I have held onto the ‘railing’ and I would call that the hope that’s kept me going. Good post Bill. Thanks

    — Askalice, 2/2/2015

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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