Thinking Poetry: St. Brendan


This is the first of a regular posting focusing on spiritual poetry/reflective writing of note. Today I will be reading ‘The Questions’, attributed to St. Brendan.

There is very little concrete biographical information concerning the life of Brendan, but he was a contemporary of St. Columba of Iona.

A printed version of the poem can be found in: ‘The Wisdom of Saint Columba of Iona’ by Murray Watts.

Exploring Meaning: Perspectives From Thomas Merton & Viktor Frankl

Merton Fellowship Title

To celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Thomas Merton’s Birth, The Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland and Thomas Merton Fellowship Invite you to a One-Day Workshop:


Dr Stephen J. Costello, Director, Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland
Rev. Dr. Scott Peddie, Thomas Merton Fellowship

Thomas Merton was much influenced by Viktor Frankl’s writings on meaning and often cited the latter’s Man’s Search for Meaning. This day will explore our spiritual search for meaning within a logotherapeutic perspective, relating it practically to our personal quest for purpose and values, through lectures, meditations, and reflective and experiential exercises.

Saturday January 31st: 11am-5pm, Bethlehem Abbey, Ballymena Rd., Portglenone, Co. Antrim (Cost: €55 or £50)

Note: this workshop will have different content to the ‘Meaning with Merton Workshop’ previously held in Dublin.

Bookings/Enquiries to

Viktor Frankl Institute

About Thomas Merton (1915-1968): Trappist monk, poet, social activist and author of the spiritual classic, The Seven Storey Mountain.

Viktor Frankl (1905-1997): Neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, founder of logotherapy and existential analysis, concentration camp survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning.

New Publication: The Other Side of Light

The Other Side of Light Front Page

NEW PUBLICATION: The Other Side of Light by Scott Peddie & Columba O’Neill

In this short collection of poems, the echo of the spiritual life leaves its indelible mark on each page and in each word spoken. 

It is unusual in that it stems from what at first seems to be two divergent spiritual paths: one a Presbyterian Minister and the other a Cistercian Monk. But in actual fact the spiritual convergence is very clear for the reader to see as the poetry progresses. Common themes of silence, contemplation and reflection, among others, make their presence felt and witness to the fact that God is our reality, regardless of how we choose to express ourselves ecclesiastically. 

The Other Side of Light is a testament to the fact that God can be perceived in all things, and the joy of the Christian journey comes from discovering that reality and in expressing it in words.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Columba O’Neill has been a Cistercian Monk, living in Bethlehem Abbey in Co. Antrim, for more than fifty years. Scott Peddie lives in Co. Antrim and is a Presbyterian Minister and member of the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans. He has published two previous books of poetry ‘Embracing Imperfection’ and ‘Looking Inwards: A Bipolar Journey’.

The Other Side of Light is available in Kindle format from Amazon.  In the USA, you can purchase the book here:  In the UK or Ireland, you can download the book here:

If you don’t have a Kindle device, you can download the Kindle reader for your PC, Mac, phone or tablet by visiting the Amazon website.


Etty Hillesum: A Story Of Spiritual Transformation

Look at Etty Hillesum’s entry in Wikipedia and you’ll see that her occupation is listed as ‘writer’.  In actuality, she was so much more than that; anyone who has read her diaries, or secondary sources based on them, would be strongly inclined to bestow upon her the moniker of ‘mystic’ too.  Such mysticism was inextricably linked to her life-circumstances, which consisted of much adversity and ultimate disaster in the indescribable horror of Auscwhitz.

Prior to reading Patrick Woodhouse’s book ‘Etty Hillesum: A Life Transformed’ I had read only short extracts of Hillesum’s writings. What I had read impressed me as spiritually mature and a profound insight into an individual who had succeeded in transcending the appalling conditions Nazi Germany had imposed on the Jewish population of Amsterdam. And so I wanted to read more, but rather than immediately diving in to Hillesum’s translated diaries, I decided to try Woodhouse’s book first.

Etty Hillesum

Woodhouse painstakingly pieces together Hillesum’s life from a dysfunctional childhood, through integration and the emergence of some form of order out of chaos. As her personality developed, Hillesum embarked upon a spiritual journey; as she discovered her true self, she discovered God.   It was this relationship that carried her through a life beset with unimaginable difficulties and turmoil, ending with death in a Nazi concentration camp. It was through the grace of God, and a life of prayer, that Hillesum was able to transcend the despair and cruelty that threatened to engulf her. It was this relationship that taught her that hate was a ‘sickness of the soul’ and it should be put aside at all costs, even although the reasons to hate grew stronger and stronger each day.

Woodhouse succeeds in weaving together the strands of Etty’s life. And so we see her as a deeply spiritual, although not religious, person who connects profoundly with her inner-self and with God.  Here he quotes from her diaries:

“Quite suddenly I had the impression that I wasn’t alone, that there were two of us.  I felt as if I consisted of two people who were squashed tightly together and felt so good and so warm as a result.  I was in such close touch with myself, full of inner warmth, and felt utterly self-sufficient….I discovered with no small satisfaction that I got on very well with myself”.  

That Hillesum’s mysticism was grounded in the reality of everyday life with its struggles and disappointments speaks very directly to us in our modern age, and that is one of the reasons why Woodhouse’s book is so important.  Hillesum’s growing spiritual awareness was not grounded in any formal religion, although it had a distinct non-institutionalised Christian flavour; her faith was experiential rather than academic and as such it was possessed of an intensity that is difficult to fully describe.  Moreover, Hillesum’s journey of transformation is a reminder to the modern reader that a spiritual awakening is a transformative event (or events) and is a deeply personal experience.

‘Etty Hillesum: A Life Transformed’ was a pleasure to read; Woodhouse’s style is engaging and the end-result is a book that is touching, powerful and thought-provoking in equal measure. As such, it is one of those books that will benefit from multiple-reading; there is so much to discover and re-discover in its pages.

A Reflection: Lost In The Forest

Portglenone Forest (Pic by Scott Peddie)
Portglenone Forest (Pic by Scott Peddie)

Walking in the forest today, I found my mind drifting, eventually settling on the words of Pablo Naruda’s beautiful poem, ‘Lost in the forest’. Although Neruda talks at one point of Autumn, the rest of the poem resonated with me. There is something so special about Portglenone Forest in Co. Antrim; it’s history of mature woodland cover since ancient times comes to life with colonies of Bluebell, Wood Anemone and the aromatic Wild Garlic. So much beauty.

Lost in the forest…

Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.

Something from far off it seemed
deep and secret to me, hidden by the earth,
a shout muffled by huge autumns,
by the moist half-open darkness of the leaves.

Wakening from the dreaming forest there, the hazel-sprig
sang under my tongue, its drifting fragrance
climbed up through my conscious mind

as if suddenly the roots I had left behind
cried out to me, the land I had lost with my childhood—
and I stopped, wounded by the wandering scent. 

Portglenone Forest (pic by Scott Peddie)
Portglenone Forest (pic by Scott Peddie)
And then I found my mind settling on some words of Scripture that put all of that into what could be described as its ‘Cosmic Context’. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, writes so movingly in Chapter 1, verses 16-17:

‘For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together’.

Portglenone Forest (pic by Scott Peddie)
Portglenone Forest (pic by Scott Peddie)

The First Retreat Of 2013!

Dear Friends,

The next Merton Fellowship day retreat will be held on Saturday 9th March 2013 at University Road Moravian Church, Belfast (

The topic of the retreat is ‘Practicing Lectio Divina & Contemplative Prayer’; it will begin at 10am and finish at 4pm, with refreshments provided (please bring a packed lunch).

As with all of our activities, it is open to all, regardless of denominational/faith group affiliation or knowledge of Merton and his work. An interest in peace and contemplative prayer/meditation is all that is required.

To book your place, please contact me at

God bless,

Immeasurable Beauty: The Earth From Space

Appollo * Earthrise (courtesy of NASA)

The stunning video below  (posted courtesy of Youtube) features a series of time lapse sequences photographed by the Expedition 30 crew aboard the International Space Station. Set to the song “Walking in the Air,” by Howard Blake, the video takes viewers around the world, through auroras and over dazzling lightning displays. Watching it brings to mind these beautiful words from Psalm 19:1-2

‘The heavens declare the glory of God; 
the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 

Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge’. 

New Merton Fellowship to be Launched in Ireland…

I’ve started a new website for a new organisation – The Merton Fellowship for Peace and Contemplative Living in Ireland.  The fellowship is an informal network of individuals interested in living a life of peace and contemplation based on the example and writings of Thomas Merton, the Cistercian monk and spiritual writer.  The fellowship, which is inter-denominational and inter-faith in composition, will be officially launched on Saturday 10th December 2011 at the Corrymeela Community’s Ballycastle Centre in Co. Antrim

You can access the website here where you can follow the progress of the group, read announcements and find out about our international advisory board and the rationale behind the fellowship.  Please also feel free to contact me for further information………..


Forthcoming Merton Day Retreat

The next Merton Day Retreat will be held at Corrymeela Knocklayd on Saturday 11th June from 10am-4pm
The retreat is open to all and will include watching (and discussing) the film entitled Merton: A Film Biography (by Paul Wilkes and Audrey Glynn).  There will also be some prayer/meditation time, silent time, walking and a period of discussion incorporated into the programme.  The discussion will focus on the concept of love as articulated by Merton in his book The Power and the Meaning of Love (SPCK Publications: Classic Series 2010; ISBN 9780281063284).  PLEASE NOTE: Don’t worry if you don’t have time to read the book!  The discussion will be general in nature and very open.
Lunch and tea/coffee and biscuits will be provided throughout the day.
For further information, or to book your place, please e-mail me at  I look forward to hearing from you!
Oh, and while I remember – I’ve put together a video based on the opening meditation of the first retreat held at Corrymeela.  Here it is: