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Monk in the World Guest Post: Joanie McMahon

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to our Monk in the World guest post series. Read on for Joanie McMahon’s reflection and illustrations inspired by Christine’s poem, “St.Gobnait and the Place of Her Resurrection.”

During my university experience, I had the opportunity to study the Irish language for two years, and I reveled in all the songs, whimsical idioms, and stories that were passed down through oral tradition. My first Irish teacher told us about St. Gobnait, the nine white deer, and her miraculous bees. I was intrigued by the mystery and symbolism surrounding St. Gobnait’s story, and when I was asked to create a series of illustrations for my studio art degree, I remembered St. Gobnait and her remarkable life. However, I am strictly an illustrator, not a writer, and I needed to find a text that told her story concisely. That’s when I found Christine Valters Paintner’s poem, “St. Gobnait and the Place of her Resurrection,” which was not only a succinct telling of St. Gobnait’s life, but also spiritually and visually compelling. Using the poem as a framework, I built nine illustrations around Christine’s words. The process of drawing these illustrations fused my love of Irish folklore, nature, and my Catholic faith, all of which was beautifully wrapped into Christine’s poem.

St. Gobnait and the Place of Her Resurrection

On the tiny limestone island
an angel buzzes to Gobnait
in a dream, disrupts her plans,
sends her in search of nine white deer.

She wanders for miles across
sea and land until at last
they appear and rather than
running toward them

she falls gently to wet ground,
sits in silence as light crawls across sky,
lets their long legs approach
and their soft, curious noses surround her.

Breathing slowly, she slides back
onto grass and clover and knows
nothing surpasses this moment,
a heaven of hooves and dew.

Is there a place for each of us,
where we no longer yearn to be elsewhere?
Where our work is to simply soften,
wait, and pay close attention?

She smiles as bees gather eagerly
around her too, wings humming softly
as they collect essence of wildflowers,
transmuting labor into gold.

~ Christine Valters Paintner, Dreaming of Stones: Poems

Joanie McMahon is an artist and illustrator from Upstate New York. She earned her bachelors in studio art from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and she now serves as a domestic volunteer with Franciscan Mission Service. She believes in uplifting the beauty of the ordinary, and can often be found befriending and illustrating the squirrels that terrorize her backyard.

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