The atrocity of Paris taunts with its threat of hopelessness. With nearly 130 dead at this writing, it is the worst loss of life in the French capital since the Second World War. The latest slaughter at the hands of intolerance and extremism tempts us to meet bloodletting with more bloodletting. How else can we respond?
Just a few weeks before the Paris attacks, an anniversary was observed at Corrymeela in Northern Ireland. Fifty years ago, the Corrymeela community was founded by Ray Davey, a Presbyterian chaplain who had witnessed the bombing of Dresden during World War II and then spent time as a prisoner of war. Back in his home country, Davey grew concerned about the sectarian intolerance and violence that threatened to engulf those on either side of the border. With a group of students and volunteers he took a simple step: to create a place where dialogue could take place, among believers and non-believers, even before the “Troubles” erupted.
According to the Corrymeela website, Davey described it as “an open village where all people of good will” could gather to talk and begin to understand their differences—social, political, religious—and find ways to live with them. A piece of land was purchased about 60 miles north of Belfast and Davey and his volunteers began to build. In the 50 years since the community has thrived thanks to volunteers and staff who make it possible, and has been visited by those involved in peace making between Northern Island and the Republic of Ireland, and others, such as the Dalai Lama. Mostly it has been a place of welcome and hospitality to many from fractured communities that have taken part in retreats, conferences, prayer, making art, and musical performances. More than 11,000 people visit each year.
At the heart of the Corrymeela campus is the Croí, a chapel that opened about 15 years after the founding of the community. The Croí is literally the heart of Corrymeela—it sits at the center of the campus but it is also heart shaped, with two interior chambers. In fact, the word Croí in Irish means “heart.” It is unlike any of the other architecture at Corrymeela, which appears inspired by the vernacular rural buildings of the Northern Island coast. The Croí was designed by architect Norman Hawthorne, who explained that he was inspired by ancient Irish Christian sites, (according to the Corrymeela website). Hawthorne has described this building as a mixture of architecture and landscape, and its curved, rubble stonewalls, tufted with grass, seem to emerge from a gentle hillside. The Croí is an embrace of stone and land. Its domed interior appears as a womb—a curvaceous place for prayer, meditation, and reflection, illumined by skylights, slender stained-glass windows, and candles. The architecture of the Croí and the mission of Corrymeela are so well wed—a sacred space that is a type of midwife to the goal of reconciliation and a new life amid peace.
A long way from Paris, Corrymeela is a reminder of what can be gained from dialogue among people of faith—even amid the ashes of such horrific acts that fuel hopelessness. Corrymeela’s little chapel, which encircles those who come looking for direction and hope, shows that maybe the best place to start that journey is at the heart.Michael J. Crosbie is the Editor-in-Chief of Faith & Form and can be reached by email at [email protected]