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Progressive pastor inspired by North Clare

INSPIRED by the works of John O’Donohue, American pastor Reverend Ed Bacon sat in a room overlooking the Burren and Galway Bay for a month in 2010 writing the first drafts of his book, 8 Habits of Love. Last week, he was leading a retreat in a hot and humid Mississippi but this week, he is having a retreat of his own and launching that book back on the rocky North Clare coast.

Reverend Ed Bacon will launch 8 Habits of Love this Saturday.“I am coming over on vacation with my wife. So my main goal is to rest and to absorb the beauty, spirit and vibrations of County Clare,” he told The Clare Champion.

Rev Bacon has an easy way about him and is obviously enthralled by Clare’s landscape and people not to mention Irish whiskey, which he also enjoys. He is an Episcopalian priest in the Diocese of Los Angeles and since 1995 has been the rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena.

In his parish and beyond, he is known for his progressive stance on issues of equality and justice across gender, race, religion and sexual orientation. He gained national prominence when, as a guest panelist on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2009, he told a caller that “being gay is a gift from God”. Among his friends he lists Archbishop Desmond Tutu, alongside the Monk family from Ballyvaughan and local artist Richard Hearns.

For five years, a family friend had been visiting North Clare and extolling the beauty of the place. For the pastor, it wasn’t a priority. However, in 2010, a culmination of events prompted his assent. He had become very interested in and influenced by the writings of John O’Donohue and had just signed a book deal so had to begin writing. His friend rented a cottage in Ballyvaughan, told him there was room for himself and his wife and a further room to write. The stage was set for the spiritualist to make his first trip to Ireland and begin developing 8 Habits of Love.

“I wrote many thousands of words while there and then would go to the pubs at night and eat and drink and take in music and walk and pray and luxuriate in Ireland,” he recalls.
Rev Bacon also made a pilgrimage to Clare writer John O’Donohue’s grave while here.

“Friends introduced me to his writings. My assistant knew of him before me and gave me the book Anam Cara. Another friend of mine had given me the book of blessings. That had been very important to me. Then another friend Mike Farrell, the actor, was a close friend of O’Donohue so there were too many John O’Donohue connections coming into me at that time for me to ignore,” he recalls.

Rev Bacon doesn’t have Irish lineage but has always been taken by Celtic spirituality.

“The writings of John O’Donohue have been speaking to me for a long time or in a deep way and that whole notion of the first scriptures humanity ever had were creation and seeing God in the storms and the waves and the rocks and the trees and the light and all of that spoke to me intuitively and I knew there was something there to be mined. Then the entire influence of Ireland and Irish immigrants to the United States has been very important. Being a priest, I was always interested in saints and Patrick is just a highlight in the history of Christianity,” he outlines.

Rev Bacon also credits the Clare writer with giving him the strength to take a strong stance on civil rights and justice.

“O’Donohue, in a very personal way, helped me integrate all of my spiritual history and his notion of there being an inner sanctuary in each human being speaks to me very, very deeply and helps me have courage myself and also helps me courageously stand for justice for all people.”

Rev Bacon was raised in the evangelical church in Georgia, where his father was a Baptist preacher. A moment in Ballyvaughan on his last visit helped him build a greater understanding of elements from his childhood and his early faith.

“How Great Thou Art was a very important hymn growing up and I didn’t like it because it gets into some theology about the cross that I think is not healthy for the Church. It starts with ‘when I look around and I see the grandeur of your creation’. The first Sunday we went to mass in Ballyvaughan three years ago that happened to be the hymn that was sung. All of a sudden, because I had been steeping myself in Celtic spirituality and the understanding of John O’Donohue, I understood the hymn for the first time and was able to embrace it and embrace something from my childhood.”

Speaking about being influenced by other faiths, Rev Bacon believes “the Eucharist, or the Lord’s supper, really didn’t belong to one church, it belongs to God. So I have never respected, in a segregated way, the difference between a Roman Catholic mass and a protestant Eucharist. They are all the same, with the same love and the same God, who is reaching out to nourish all people.

“I found Ireland very open religiously. I must admit I was looking at it from my perspective, which was informed and enriched by John O’Donohue and maybe I was projecting his spirit of openness and inclusion and radical welcome onto everyone. Certainly in Ballyvaughan, we felt very included and very welcome.”
Rev Bacon believes there is “basic humanity” in Irish people and that within that “basic humanity there is divinity”.

Looking back on his last visit, Rev Bacon said, “Last time I was there, I felt like I was under a bit of pressure to get certain word counts written. I am excited to return with a level of relaxation that I could not have the first time and the only work-oriented things I am doing is doing a radio interview in Limerick and one signing. The rest is totally unscripted and unplanned. I am bringing some fiction with me so I plan to just be and read, pray and reflect,” he concluded.

The Irish launch of 8 Habits of Love will take place at Quinn’s Craftshop in Ballyvaughan, this Saturday at 7pm.

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