Mystery, not miracle, by Chet Raymo

Fionn Leirg, Ireland

"The music of what happens," said the great Fionn, "is the finest music in the world."

Snowflake by Simply InnocuousWinterviews continues!  From the Solstice (Dec. 21st) till the next Cross-quarter (Feb. 4th), we’re bringing you non-stop interviews and other goodies from big-name authors.  Mark your calendar!

Today we get a special present.  Dr. Chet Raymo, author of When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy, gifts us with a piece from his Science Musings collection.  Happy Holidays!

When I was writing Climbing Brandon: Science and Faith on Ireland’s Holy Mountain I read a little book on Celtic spirituality by the Irish priest John J. O Riordain, called The Music of What Happens. O Riordain takes his title from an old Irish fairy story of the hero Fionn, who asked his fellow champions what was the finest music in the world. They offered their choices: the song of the cuckoo calling from the hedge, the ring of a spear on a shield, the laughter of a gleeful girl, and so on. Then they asked Fionn his opinion.

“The music of what happens,” said the great Fionn, “is the finest music in the world.”

I’m not altogether sure what is the meaning of the story, but it seems to reflect the pantheistic nature of pre-Christian Celtic thought. Certainly here in the west of Ireland some of that druidic “music of what happens” lingers beneath a veneer of imported Mediterranean dualism — matter/spirit, body/soul, natural/supernatural. O Riordian tries hard to reconcile Christianity with the Celtic reverence for “what happens,” but I fear it is a lost cause. The important thing in Christianity, as I experienced it, is not the patterns of nature, but the interruptions of the patterns — the miracles, the mortifications of the body, the transubstantiations, the rejection of the material world with all its works and pomps. The goal is to get out of here as soon as possible, to another more spiritual place, to be saved, raptured.

And then I read Peig Sayers’ Reflections of an Old Woman, one of the books that came out of the Blasket Island, just there, over the hill:

It was a lovely night, the air was clean, full of brilliant stars and the moon shining on the sea. From time to time a sea-bird would give a cry. Inside in the black caves where the moon was not shining the seals were lamenting to themselves. I would hear, too, the murmuring of the sea running in and out through the cleft of the stones and the music of the oars cleaving the sea across to Ventry.

The birds. The seals. The waves. The oars. The music of this world, this world of flesh and blood and sea and stone. Saint Augustine said it was a waste of time to attend to such things, because they are of no use in reaching blessedness — and so it was in the Christianity of my youth. Not so for Peig Sayers. For her, it was all blessed. The birds, the seals, the sea, the oars. In this she was closer to her druidic ancestors than to the theologians of the south, those dour men with their Greek abstractions and Roman legalisms. She heard the music of what happens. For her, it was the voice of God.

This article reprinted under a Creative Commons license.

The author

Chet Raymo

Chet Raymo (born September 17, 1936 in Chattanooga, Tennessee) is a noted writer, educator and naturalist. He is Professor Emeritus of Physics at Stonehill College, in Easton, Massachusetts. His weekly newspaper column Science Musings appeared in the Boston Globe for twenty years. This is now a daily blog by him. Raymo espouses his Religious Naturalism in When God is Gone Everything is Holy – The Making of a Religious Naturalist and frequently in his blog. As Raymo says – I attend to this infinitely mysterious world with reverence, awe, thanksgiving, praise. All religious qualities.  (bio text courtesy of Wikipedia)

Chet Raymo’s Science Musings are now freely available at

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6 Comments on “Mystery, not miracle, by Chet Raymo

  1. Absolutely. The music of this world – what a wonderful expression.

    I’ve always kept a personal motto: “this body, this life, this earth.” That’s in contradistinction to some other body (perhaps ethereal), some other life (previous or next), or some other world (heaven, hell, Tir na nog, and so on). My whole path is focused on developing an ever-deeper resonant experience of this world.

    Or in other words, to hear the music of this world.

    I’m very much looking forward to reading When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy. It’s been on reading list for a while. 🙂

    • I really like your motto! Very true. It’s important to make the best of it and keep your head up so you don’t miss anything. 😉

      Enjoyed the article as well, the music of what happens would encompass all of existence, which would most definitely be the best tunes around.

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  3. ❤ this post. Will certainly keep the line of, "the music of what happens" to mind where ever I go.

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