Am I Crying or is it the Gift of Tears?

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My name is Dominic and I am a crier.  This is not something I am ashamed of.  In fact quite the opposite; it’s something I rejoice in and have done so for some time.  In recent years it has become something I give thanks to God for.  It is also something which I now begin to ask questions of: why do I cry so much?  How does this impact on my life?  What importance does this play in my life?  To be quite honest the conclusion I have drawn is that my tears play a vital role in my life and I am more thankful than ever for them.  However the question that lingers is whether or not my leaky eyes are nothing more than my rather sensitive nature – a nature which I am certain of – or if they are in fact a gift from God otherwise known as the Gift of Tears.

Jesus Wept

The Gift of Tears is not something we read about in the Bible, although Jesus himself was not exempt from this particular element of the human condition; the briefest verse found in the entire Bible contains two brief words “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35).  We do not find mention of this Gift in the Catechism.  Rather we have experience of this Gift passed down through our history.  Pope Francis has spoken in the past as tears being a charism (gift) which is oft times attributed to the lives of the Saints.  We see this gift present in the lives of Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Mary Magdalene and many others.

saint ignatiusWhat is the Gift of Tears though?  Perhaps the best place to find explicit mention to this gift is in the diaries of Saint Ignatius of Loyola who speaks at length of times in his day in which he was moved to tears by the love he felt for God and felt such great consolation in these times.  He received this gift while celebrating the Mass; to be held in a moment of such divine intimacy.  Perhaps the crucial bit here is not so much the tears which Saint Ignatius wept but rather the consolation he experienced in that moment which would draw him ever closer to his union with the living Christ. 

As with all gifts from God, through the Holy Spirit, the Gift of Tears does not equate its recipient with holiness.  The one who receives this gift is no holier than thou.  Neither are they any closer to God than those of us who are simply sensitive!  Rather, God simply endows them with this gift as an act of consolation through which they may be better attuned to witness the presence of God in their life, or to assist in a difficult decision which God has presented them with.  By all accounts it is not a once off event for many people who have received this gift.  The Gift of Tears is nothing more and nothing less than another example of God’s invitation to intimacy.  Truly a beautiful and humbling gift.

Where does this fit in my life I hear you ask?  Well it’s a bit of a tricky one for me because  I know I am a sensitive sort.  How am I to distinguish between the moments in my life in which I am crying normal tears of emotion and those moments of grace?  To help me with this I shall outline two occasions I recall crying profoundly; one shall be a natural emotional response and the other shall be one in which I believe God touched my life with his Gift of Tears.

In January 2004 my paternal grandmother passed away.  At the age of sixteen this was the first occasion in which I was fully aware that death has touched my life. All through the days of waking my Granny O’Reilly I do not recall shedding one single solitary tear.  Finally the morning of the funeral came round.  I remember sitting on the stairs in my granny’s house with some cousins while the prayers were being said.  All of them crying.  We were each brought in to say our last goodbye.  As I kissed my grandmother on her forehead I was suddenly – and rather painfully – aware of the fact that I would not set eyes on her again in this life.  Boom.  Tears began to flow…and did not stop – literally did not stop – until well after the burial that day.  Did I feel consoled?  Well yes I did, but not in any kind of particularly supernatural way.  I felt no closer to God.  Though the importance of that day still resonates with me.  These tears were not God’s gift to me – though they certainly were abundant!

imgp2478I contrast that with an event which took place just last year.  I was travelling home after attending Méabh Carlin and Hannah McCauley (The Goretti Girls) launch of their music album I Will Wait.  Méabh and Hannah are two phenomenal young women and I am honoured to call them friends.  It was a remarkably prayerful and spiritually enriched evening of music.  My mindset that evening was a tad stormy though; I was encountering all kinds of questions surrounding where I fit in God’s world and questioning his presence in my life.  I was travelling home listening to the album and as I was approximately half way home the final track began; Here I Am.  As I heard those beautiful words being sung “With your grace, I can see your face and I know I’m not alone”  the tears streamed down my face.  I wasn’t sobbing, I wasn’t gulping or weeping but rather was crying real tears.  I began praying so earnestly  I couldn’t contain it!  I want to know Him better and be his witness.  I wanted to receive His forgiveness.  This was a gift.  I believe wholeheartedly that while yes God is working through these two friends of mine, but in that moment I  also received the Gift of Tears.  Since that evening in times of struggle or uncertainty I put that album on again and again and remember how that moment of intimacy with the  living and loving Christ felt.

I believe this magnificent gift is one which we need a great deal more of in our world today.  We only have to look around us to witness the many acts of barbarism we exact on each other.  While yes indeed in our present epoch we need people of extreme sensitivity who will be compassionate and empathic, but equally we need people who will allow their tears to transform their hearts and in doing so transform the world.  I invite you to pray, ask for the Gift of Tears and be drawn ever closer to a deeper more profound union with our Lord.  Or as Méabh and Hannah so beautifully sing; “Help me Jesus to spread your fragrance everywhere I go.  Amen.”

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Why are we Infatuated with Death? Omagh, Charlottesville and The Disappeared

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We are infatuated with Death.  We go through life in full knowledge that at some point in our lives our bodies will through one way or another cease to function and we shall die.  All through time Death has followed us and we have tried through various means and methods to understand it better and in some cases defeat it.  There are those who see Death as being that final foe who is ultimately unconquerable while others see Death as a friend who shall be embraced with gratitude when our time comes.  Death is the last barrier to be crossed at which point we shall receive answers to those big questions which have assailed humanity since the beginning of time: where did we come from and where are we going?  One way or another Death comes to us all.

I have always had a curiosity for what took place in Ireland during the Troubles.  This was sparked on a very specific date; my family and I were travelling home from our annual holiday in Donegal in August 1998.  On this occasion my father took the decision that we would stop in Derry for some food and travel home via the Glenshane Pass and not take the usual route through Omagh.  As we travelled we encountered many ambulances, fire brigades, police cars and more.  What Unknown was looking favourably upon us that day I do not know but had my father taken the decision to take our usual route home we would ultimately have found ourselves in Omagh on the 15th August 1998…an awful Day of Death.  I cannot begin to imagine how different my own life would be had circumstances been different but what I have come to realise since that day is that every human’s life hangs in a delicate balance between Life and Death.

CharlottesvilleIf we take a look at the world around us at present we shall see so many places where Death is making its mark in a most profound way.  There are acts of terrorism, mass starvation and poverty, devastating natural disasters, genocide, killing of the unborn and more.  Many of these are preventable yet humanity stand idly by.  Questionable political leaders have taken office while others have maintained their grip on power and kept their boot firmly on the neck of their people for years.  Here at home Death has had quite a reign.  Thousands of lives have been lost, families have been shaken and shattered.  Innocence has been snatched as a child removed from their mother’s breast and silenced.  In a time of supposed ‘peace’ political institutions have been rocked to their foundations and felled.  In times such as these is it possible, or even sensible, to have Hope?  If so, where are we to find such Hope?

In a very odd way, which is perhaps inevitable and fitting given the utter complexity of this place we find ourselves, in the last while I have found Hope in Death.  I have been following and have been affected in a profound way over the recent coverage of Anne Morgan’s journey to Rouen, France as the search concluded for the remains of her brother Seamus Ruddy (RIP) who was murdered by paramilitaries in 1985 while working as a teacher in Paris.  Mr Ruddy would join fifteen other lost souls known collectively as the Disappeared; those who were murdered and had their bodies buried in unknown locations during the Troubles.  Mr Ruddy has since been brought home to rest, but there are still those who remain lost.

There is something brutally chilling about this whole concept of being Disappeared.  Without wanting to cause offence to any family members of those who were disappeared I can only imagine that the pain they have experienced is absolutely unquantifiable given that not only has their loved one been murdered but they do not have a place of rest.  This sense of resting is hugely important to our understanding of Death.  When we speak of one who has died we tend to use the expression Rest in Peace – a beautiful expression.  Even the act of burying a loved one can be incredibly beneficial to our grieving process.  Just as the ground upon which we walk is sacred so too are graves.

Jesus Wept

If we look to the Gospels I believe one of the most beautiful evocations of Death is to be found in John 11: 1 – 44; The Resurrection of Lazarus.  If conditions permit I should like to write further on this passage and I suggest all take time to read it in it’s entirety.  What can it tell us? 

Firstly if we examine Jesus’ language upon realising that Lazarus has died we see he tells the disciples, “Our friend Lazarus is resting, I am going to wake him.” (Jn 11:11)  Jesus knew that Lazarus was resting in peace but took the decision to raise him from the dead.  Why?  To show not only that Jesus actually had power over Death (physical and spiritual) but also to glorify God further.  Perhaps it was also to remind us what sort of god God is.

If we desire to know God better then we must spend time with this particular time in Christ’s life.  His life was not exempt from experiencing suffering, pain or Death.  His divinity did not excuse him from experiencing the myriad of emotions we each experience at the death of a loved one.  It tells us, “At the sight of her tears, and those of the Jews who followed her, Jesus said in great distress ‘Where have you put him?’  They said, ‘Lord, come and see.’  Jesus wept.” (Jn 11:33-35)

What a poignant moment.  I can only imagine the pain Jesus experienced at this moment, particularly when Mary and Martha use Jesus’ own words to show where Lazarus was buried, ‘Come and See.’  If I were to imagine this scene in song it would certainly fit with Peter Gabriel’s beautiful I Grieve.  Yet Death itself submits to Jesus.  Death who will take the life of every one of us regardless of our stature or standing must now kneel before this carpenter’s son, this simple Rabbi who is Lord of all.

What this Gospel story drives home is that God is not some distant and uncaring deity.  What other god deigns to not only live with their people but also to weep with and grieve with their people?  Apologies Stephen Fry but what other god would share our tears?  There are none.  Only Jesus Christ is Emanuel, God With Us.  What I have found so touching about Anne Morgan’s story is that she has been so incredibly open to receiving information on the death and burial of her brother, just as Jesus was.  That when information is given it is listened to and she is grateful for it.  The families of the Disappeared need this information.  As time passes those who hold such information move ever closer to meeting their own Death.  But here is Hope; it is never too late.  If you are reading this and you do hold such information then I implore you, pay it forward.  You too can point the way to where someone’s loved one rests and allow them the peace to grieve.  Those who have died now rest in peace, but those who remain live with their grief.  I beg you; afford them some small measure of peace.  Let the dead rest in peace and may we the awake live in peace.  This can be our Legacy. 

Hope

Jahméne’s Unfathomable Phantasmagoria – My Next Adventure (Strawberries & Cream)

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Introduction

As some of the readers of this blog will recall back in October/November of 2016 I set forth on a bit of a voyage through unchartered waters.  For those not familiar essentially I had just purchased a copy of Jahméne Douglas’ second album U.P (Unfathomable Phantasmagoria).  From the play button was hit I was captivated by this remarkable work of art.  I listened to the album, re-listened to it and continued to do so; trying to draw fresh meaning from every one of the pieces contained.  I posted a review of sorts of the album (www.dominicoreilly25.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/unfathomable-phantasmagoria-an-album-review/) which led some readers to ask me would I write about some of the individual songs, which led to two weeks blogging about the album and every piece on it.  It was a process I was incredibly proud to engage with.

How delighted I was when I discovered some time ago that Jahméne would be following this album up not immediately with a third album but a book of his poetry.  As soon as the book landed in the post and I had begun engaging with this new piece of art I knew I wanted to write some more.  But how best to write about a book of poetry?  This was the bit that has been tricky for me.  After some reflection and reading through the poems I have settled to take one and reflect on it and what thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories etc it conjures up for me.  Surely that must part of the meaning behind every artist; the artist does not create just for the sake of it but rather does so to impact on the life of another.

Therefore for the topic of this blog I decided to take a poem which would not be selected for any other specific reason other than I liked the sound of it at first! Yet after reading it, rereading it and reflecting on it I am not surprised that this was the poem I settled on today.  I have chosen the marvellously titled “Strawberries & Cream”.

Connection

Strawberries & Cream go together so well don’t they?  They’re almost perfect together.  Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a connection with someone else that felt like that?

I absolutely adore this piece and were I to sum it up I would do so in one word: connection.  In this poem the author so beautifully and honestly bares his soul once more and tells us a story of having encountered someone and desiring a connection with them.  It’s something I (and I am sure countless others) am able to relate to on a very raw level.  Who could forget those occasions of falling so helplessly for someone and for believing that you connect with them on a very deep level?

We’ve all been there: we meet an other and upon realising what we feel for them suddenly they are all we can think about.  We crave hearing their voice, hearing their words, reading their messages, seeing them in the flesh, etc.  We play over in our mind’s theatre that one wonderful moment in which these two souls met for the first time and the world was forever changed.  The connection which has been established may be that of a romantic nature, or perhaps it could be two people who nourish each other through friendship, or on a spiritual level etc.

The human heart desires love.  I have said it before and say it again I shall, I recall reading someone once say that the deepest desire of every human heart is simply to belong and I couldn’t agree with this more.  In this poem Jahméne cries out to an other out of a desire to belong with them.  To take this leap requires incredible humility and courage.  Upon realising that their desire for the other may not be reciprocated he spells out what so many of us feel; pain.  How many of us have felt as though we were just waiting around for someone who would not return?  It’s certainly a part of my past and when  I read this poem I am transported back to that time and remember the deep hurt which I felt.  Is this a bad thing though?  No says I!  If nothing else then I can at least learn from the hurts of the past, not to avoid being hurt in the future (it is inevitable) but rather to remember that when I do get hurt and badly at that, that the pain does ease and becomes nothing more than a mere memory.  There is hope in this poem, albeit a very subtle hope.  For me that is what I have taken from this piece.  In many ways it reminds me of the majestic Nina Simone singing Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ckv6-yhnIY)

Going Forward

I believe in connections.  I believe people who have never met can share wonderful connections.  Kindred spirits.  Jahméne’s work continues to reach out and touch my life and the lives of many others.  He continues to inspire and play a positive role in the lives of others.  He is a genuine bona fide artist and role model for many young people today.  His message is one which should be heard by so many.  We have all encountered pain in our lives, but what we do with that pain will be what defines us.  Jahméne has already crafted a remarkable legacy so I cannot wait to see what he will do next.  He shows us that dreams are never out of reach and they are achievable!  Someday perhaps my dream of meeting this incredible artist and talking with him will come to pass.  That would be remarkable.  For now though I shall continue spending time reading the works of this kindred spirit and hope his work reaches as many as possible.  One thing is for certain though; Jahméne has touched my life in a very positive way and we who saves one life, saves the world entire.  Thank you Jahméne.

If anyone has read today’s blog and is interested in hearing more reflections on Jahméne’s incredible book Unfathomable Phantasmagoria then please do not hesitate to comment on the post, tweet me @DominicOReilly or reach me through the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/DominicOReillyWriter).

If you haven’t already then do buy a copy of Unfathomable Phantasmagoria (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unfathomable-Phantasmagoria-Jahmene-Douglas/dp/1521439133/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502643734&sr=8-1&keywords=jahmene+unfathomable+phantasmagoria) and you won’t regret it!  Why not follow the man himself on twitter @Jahmene

Peace, love and blessings to you all.  Thank you for taking the time to read this!

x

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Can we end the Reign of Pain?

They made a Desert and called it Peace: Can we end the Reign of Pain?

Aslan-Narnia-320x480“My son, my son,” said Aslan.  “I know.  Grief is great.  Only you and I in this land know that yet.  Let us be good to one another…”

Aslan, the great lion who is portrayed as a God-like character has been so hurt and so victimised by this young boy in C.S Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, yet still weeps for (and with) him and grants him his heart’s desire.  A beautiful image of the God who made us.  Truly C.S Lewis was a man who understood pain on a deeply personal level.  Perhaps more than anything he understood how to present the raw realities of pain as seen through the eyes of a child.

If we take a look at the world around us at present we see what I can only describe as the reign of pain.  The recent events in Manchester which have seen some twenty two souls lost (Lord, be good to them) while attending an Ariana Grande concert have rocked each of us to our very core. Yet when I observe the responses to these horrors by many people online the majority of those posting are not asking “What can we do to inflict further pain on the world?” but rather, “How can I alleviate your pain?”  Because each of us, is at present, in pain.  Each of us is in some way, suffering; so the question is what shall we do with this suffering?

Suffering and pain is nothing new to the world.  As long as there has been life on this planet, and as long as man has been able to think for himself, then suffering and pain have followed.  | could not begin to list the many ways we have inflicted pain on each other.  To my mind, suffering is painful and suffering is perplexing.  However, suffering can and does hold a deeper meaning. Extremism is all around us and this is a real cause for concern.  There are some who call certain religious figures, politicians or public figures that advocate non violent responses “radical”, but I can’t help but think we are in need of something or someone radical right now.  Jesus was a revolutionary.  William Wilberforce was called radical.  Martin Luther King was considered dangerous.  Dorothy Day was thought of as a troublemaker and Bobby Kennedy was referred to as ruthless.

Where is our bravery to take a chance and have a bit of faith in those around us?  We can be more than just a reactionary people who meet violence with more violence, pain with further pain, and death with more and more death.  As Tacitus said of Rome, “They made a desert, and called it Peace”.  Only when we have reduced our world to total rubble and eliminate all life from it can there be a total peace.  Or will we be revolutionary radicals; dangerous troublemakers who are ruthless advocates for a peaceful world?

If there are no final answers to the direction we are moving in then what are we to do with our pain?  Personally, I carry out small acts of kindness.  I try and make someone’s day a bit brighter and a bit kinder.  I try my best to live up to the challenge set out by Bobby in 1968 when he echoed the words of the ancient Greeks: To tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.  Why?  Because every experience and every encounter with those I meet provides an opportunity for my life to go in a different direction.  In doing so I can change the course of history.

We can allow ourselves to hold onto the transgressions of ourselves and others and become incredibly bitter through this.  Or we can allow our hearts to break free from the reign of pain and contempt and soar free to contemplate the face of Christ.  We can be merciful as the Father is merciful.  It’s a beautiful challenge because if we do engage in this act then we can join in the redeeming work of God’s Kingdom.

“Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.” “Truly I say to you, this day you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23: 42-43)

This man, known to some as the Good Thief is known to the Catholic Church as Saint Dismas, the first Saint.

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There is peace on earth.  It mightn’t be of a universal kind imagined by people such as myself but as long as there are good, true and beautiful people who are willing to stand up for the cause that is worth standing up for then I think we’ll be doing alright.  As long as children are given the chance to be children and not have their innocence stolen away then I think they will turn out alright.  As long as we let the message go forward that every person who exists is loved, is willed and is needed then the world should be just fine.  But we absolutely must do our bit.  It’ll do no good waiting for someone else to take up the reins.  For now, embrace your pain and your suffering.  Through it you will find something new, like a Kitsugi vase.

The following note was found in Ravensbruch Women’s Concentration Camp and illustrates just what we are capable of when we accept God’s invitation to intimacy and mercy:

“O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of evil will.  But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted upon us; remember the fruits we have bought, thanks to this suffering: our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this; and when they come to judgement, let all the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness.”

May those whose lives were taken in Manchester rest in the peace of Christ.

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I Hate Goodbyes

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Well that’s right folks, this is going to be an emotional post!  It’s something I’ve been thinking about recently and today it was brought home in a rather emotional way for me.  I absolutely hate good byes.  Even though I know the people I have said goodbye to are ones I will see again, but still there is pain there.  Why I hear you ask?

It really struck me this evening that the people I was saying goodbye to are family members that I have never met before.  They have been visiting us all here in Northern Ireland for a week.  Every one of us has bonded and drawn closer to each other in a very profound and meaningful way.  This would be alright and something which one would not have to get too emotional over.  However, something much more profound has occurred.

The more I thought about it today the more I asked myself; where does my love go?  Certainly my faith…yes absolutely my friends, but perhaps the biggest avenue for my love is my family.  I am tremendously blessed beyond measure that I have a family that I can love and that love me.  When I say family, I don’t just mean the immediate parents and siblings…I don’t even just mean cousins, aunties, uncles, grandparents…I don’t even mean great uncles or aunts, second cousins, distant relatives etc.  I am blessed in that I meet people that I am told are relatives and that is all there is too it.  This week was a particular blessing to celebrate a great uncles 90th birthday and to spend time with these family members I had not met before.

Today we spent much time as a collection of family members having a day out together.  I love photographing such days.  Part of me enjoys my almost natural role in the background but I genuinely love being able to photograph such moments from the background.  The reason for this is because when you do so, when others are not aware that they are being photographed then you see them as they truly are; without pretences or acts.  When you photograph your family in such a way then you see how truly beautiful they are; individually and collectively.

My family are my heart.  When I meet new family members and spend time with them it is almost like finding new parts to your heart.  The more family you find the more complete your heart becomes.  Certainly that is true of me.  Then when you have to say goodbye, it is almost like that piece of your heart which you have discovered and grown to love has to leave you.  It is almost painful…no, it is painful.  Even though I know we shall meet again I think perhaps the pain which is felt can almost be considered selfish because you just want your heart to be complete once more…

Alas for now, we must say goodbye, if but only for a little while.  The good news however is that for those new beloved family members my heart goes with you wherever you go.  You are my heart and all my love goes with you.

I Stand With the SDLP

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Recently I composed a poem about Margaret Ritchie of the SDLP.  I was invited to pen one on the SDLP as a whole…the poem has been changed slightly to reflect the result of the recent General Election…I hope you enjoy it and see just why I stand firm with the SDLP.  I dedicate this poem to the three Members of Parliament who lost their seats in this election and those members of the SDLP who blazed a trail for so many of us to follow.  I thank them for the service they have given and the example they have set for us all.

 

In a time of woe it seemed all was lost

Trouble reigned, innocence paid the cost

The land and its people were each torn apart

Yet from this darkness was born a heart.

A young gallant group both daring and tough

Came together crying “Enough’s enough!”

Ready and willing to take up the fight

To work to end our troubled plight.

From Belfast town came Hendron, Devlin and Fitt

There was Paddy O’Donoghue and Currie with grit,

Young Seamus Mallon provided a calm

From Derry came Hume the great sainted man.

A party was born which called for peace

It is everyone’s task, the fighting must cease!

We must move on together or die one by one

The journey has started and the work has begun.

There were so many others in those early days

Too many to mention so much we could say

They each did their bit to complete the task

To bring Ireland together, to get agreement passed.

The struggle went on with much energy.

We still had poor housing and poverty,

Injustice, unemployment, inequality,

All of these were faced by the SDLP.

But all in the party were ready and able

To keep all engaged with talks at the table.

The road was not easy it had many bends

But we’re working for peace, Yes that is our end!

Then somehow, somehow after much work and stress

An agreement was decided; we could clean up the mess

It was put the people to have their say

And the people said Yes on that Good Friday.

We’re twenty years on and the party remains

Now Colum Eastwood is holding the reins,

We’ll trust in him as we did John Hume

For he fights for us all from the womb to the tomb.

There’s so many councillors on the ground

Doing their bit, they don’t half get around

We’ve activists and folks like Ronan McCay

And Gerry Cosgrove the indomitable General Secretary.

We’ve Justin McNulty in Newry town

Colin and Sinead in my own South Down

Dolores Kelly holds Upper Bann

And West Tyrone has Dan McCrossan.

In March Pat Catney made history

When he was elected to serve Lagan Valley

Belfast North is defended by Nichola Mallon

While Colum is joined by Mark H Durkan.

We’ve John Dallat in East Derry’s core

And Patsy McGlone the mighty gaeilgeoir.

Claire Hanna is the one for Belfast South

Who epitomises the party’s youth.

In Westminster we had our three MPs

Alasdair, Mark and Margaret Ritchie

They were all up to the task you can ask anyone

For the SDLP work is never done.

They worked for the marginalised and the forgotten

They exposed injustice and systems which were rotten

They rallied against foreign airstrikes from above

Yes!  They deserve our thanks and our love!

But now they’ve been ousted by the politics of fear

And extremism on both sides is shifting into gear

Where are we heading, who among us can tell?

Are we all on a one way road to a Brexit Hell?

I stand firm with the SDLP

I’ll not abandon them in this time of need.

I have hope in my heart that a new day will dawn

When people will finally listen to where we went wrong.

The peace which we want is never out of reach

There’s just more to do and more lessons to teach,

Every one of us is sister or brother

We’ve no call for hate, we can love one another.

The SDLP will always be there for you,

Whether you’re Muslim, Christian, Atheist or Jew.

We’re the party that works for every single strand,

We’ll always have hope for our New Ireland.

 

 

Professor Patrick Johnston: In Memoriam

Patrick JohnstonIt is with the deepest sadness that I had learned of the passing of Professor Patrick Johnston; President and Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast.  In the coming days I am certain there will be many tributes paid to this quietly heroic man who worked tirelessly in cancer treatment and care.  There will also be much said about Professor Johnston’s contribution to Queen’s University.

I wish to express my deep sadness at Professor Johnston’s passing.  Many will know that Professor Johnston was one of the contributor’s to my book Space for Grace.  When I initially made contact with his office regarding the possibility of an interview I did so in full knowledge that I was a novice as far as journalism goes.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Professor Johnston had politely declined to take part in the book.  I was absolutely delighted that he did in fact agree to take part.

When I met with Professor Johnston to conduct the interview I could not have been received in a more welcoming and open way.  We chatted for over an hour about university life, the nature and need of faith in a university setting, living in a diverse society, the treatment of cancer, and more.  I could not get over how candid Professor Johnston was.  More than that in my own questions and responses to his words Professor Johnston was incredibly engaging and gave me the impression that my own contributions were genuinely meaningful.  At the opening Mass for the Academic Year 2016/17 I couldn’t have been happier to be able to present Professor Johnston with a copy of the book itself and was delighted to see how happy he seemed to be to receive this.

There can be no mistake, through his openness and the kindness extended to me my own sense of purpose in this life has been vastly improved.  I shall be forever grateful for his life and for his work.  I shall remember him in my prayers as I shall remember his family and extended family.  Some of the words he offered in his reflection seem to have a greater poignancy for me tonight.  In our time together Professor Johnston reminded me (and all who have read the work):

“I continue to be delighted, surprised and re-energised by what individuals can do when they all work together for a common good; whether it’s health, education, social justice or innovation and enterprise.  The impact of individuals working together, creating an energy and a path for good is really what faith and religion are about, though often it is not perceived in that way.

You have to accept and be pragmatic about what you can achieve within certain environments but it doesn’t mean you have to accept the here and now. It’s about creating hope and creating ambition which is also where religion is very important because it is partly the unknown.  You’ve got to believe in something to aspire to and part of that is faith.  This is one of the lessons I learnt in my early medical career in dealing with cancer patients, that the most important thing for a cancer patient wasn’t the treatment; it was that someone cared for them and was listening to them, that they had hope. 

I’m very enthusiastic about the importance of faith in shaping people. Our faith shapes how we interact with each other and how we deal with suffering and the daily challenges that make up living. That’s where you see the richness of what priests and the Chaplaincy do day-to-day. We don’t hear enough about what priests and volunteers in faith based organisations do for society. Those people who are quietly working away day to day consoling families, helping the poor in society, supporting individuals with terminal disease, staying up at night, providing selfless care to individuals when they are at their most vulnerable. These are the people who are helping to nurture educate and shape society. They’re not looking for accolades, they’re not looking for badges of distinction; they’re just doing it because they’re passionate about it, they care and they believe it’s the right thing to do. Those are the sorts of acts and the type of leadership and commitment we need to both herald and value more as a society. If it wasn’t for those people and their commitment, society would be in real trouble. It’s amazing what hope and faith can achieve.”

Thank you Professor  Patrick Johnston for your life, your faith and hope.  May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs come to welcome you and take you to the holy city, the new and eternal Jerusalem.  May choirs of angels welcome you and lead you to the bosom of Abraham; and where Lazarus is poor no longer may you find eternal rest.

Professor Patrick Johnston rest in peace.  God bless you.

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The Black Family Reunion – All That I Love About Ireland

Imagine in your head for a moment having the opportunity to meet someone who you have looked up to for many years.  Someone you have admired greatly.  Someone that you have up on a pedestal.  Someone you would dearly love to meet but never dared hope that your paths would ever cross.  Now imagine the opportunity has presented itself in which you might actually just meet this person.  Finally I should like you to imagine that feeling or encounter and then double it!  Such an occasion took place last night in my life…

IMG_2126.JPGMy sister Aoife and I journeyed to Dublin to attend the Black Family Reunion concert in Liberty Hall.  For many years now I have been a huge fan of Mary and Frances Black.  Not to mention having had quite the crush on Mary Black for many years…and still do!  After the concert we had an opportunity to meet the family and chat to them.  Finally that moment in my life which I never dared would take place was here.  I had the opportunity to actually speak with Mary and Frances Black…what did I come out with I hear you ask?!

Mary was the first one I approached…she greeted me warmly and very kindly signed my cd…and the words suddenly tripped out of my mouth before I could stop them…

“Ehh…we’re O’Reilly’s!” In my head I could hear myself shouting “Stop Dom stop! That isn’t what you wanted to say!”  Yet the words decided that they would keep on making their way out of my mouth before checking with Sense if they were meant to do so yet… “Yes, we’re from Newcastle…County Down!  We saw you in Belfast nine years ago…tonight…it was truly wonderful.”  What!? What even…the poor woman! Who is this stumbling stuttering fool making absolutely no sense in front of her!?  Why didn’t you tell her about the first time you listened to her sing One in a Million?  How you had to stop the car because you were crying so hard at the absolute beauty of her performance and storytelling.  That might have been an interesting story to relay!  Yet she was remarkably kind and grateful.  Mary was only too happy to pose for a photograph and we moved on.  I saw Frances up ahead and thought I would say hello…perhaps I’d have better luck with my words there…

I approached and said “Hello Frances…” so far so good I think to myself…I know whatIMG_2128.JPG you’re thinking dear reader.  How did I follow this one up!?  Well naturally with a “We follow each other on Twitter…”  Yes because what else would I say! In my head I found myself saying “No!! Don’t do it again! What is wrong with you, fool?  You have addressed crowds of hundreds of people and do so with total calm and a cool head!  Why not now?”  Frances was, like her sister, nothing but kind, welcoming and utterly charming.  We chatted about how Aoife and I were celebrating our thirtieth birthday and had travelled up from Newcastle for the show.  Why not tell Frances about how you were sat awestruck during the show as she beautifully sang All the Lies and how it is only now that you understand and appreciate the song?  Would that not have made some sense?!  Alas!

As we made our way down the stairs to leave I found myself thinking, Why?  Why didn’t I tell them?  Really if I had taken the time to stop and think then I would potentially have been able to tell both Mary and Frances just what the music of their family means to me.  Unfortunately I did not.  Fortunately I now have the opportunity to at the very least write about what their music means to me and hope that possibly they may read these words.  I never dared I would meet them…perhaps I can hope against hope that they will in fact read these words…what does the music of the Black Family mean to me I hear you ask?  Well quite simply…the music of the Black Family embodies everything which I love and hold so dearly about mother Ireland.

Shall we proceed?  I think we shall…

As I mentioned previously, the concert itself took place in Liberty Hall theatre.  This is significant as Liberty Hall was home to the Irish Civilian Army in the early twentieth century.  These brave men and women who struggled and fought with every fibre of their being for the rights of workers.  Many of these are rights which I certainly take for granted often in my daily life.  Even to be able to take the time to remember those heroes of Irish history who are oft times forgotten is time well spent and it is something I plan to remedy in my own life now.

The concert begins as many great music sessions do.  Somebody begins by giving us a song.  In this case it began with Shay, followed by Martin, Mary, Michael and eventually Frances.  Every one in their turn is given the opportunity to give their party piece as it were.  In between is a chance to hear stories of the songs themselves and what they mean to the performer.  At any given time one member of the family could be telling a story and another member might interject with another point, thought or joke.  It is such a lovely dynamic.  Sitting watching the family perform it is clear that you are indeed in the presence of a family as you watch how they interact with each other throughout the song.

There was much reference to the family’s parents and the many lessons learnt from them, not to mention references to the next generation of Black Family performers who were present at the concert.  It almost feels as though you are sitting in the middle of a family gathering and not a concert.  It was a real delight for me to see Roisin O’Reilly and Aoife Scott, daughters of Mary and Frances respectively taking photographs throughout the show.  They are artists whose progress I have followed with great enthusiasm and will continue to follow.

The music itself is a tremendous gift.  I could not begin to express every single feeling brought up by the music which I experienced last night.  What I can say however is that here in Ireland we have been given a most remarkable tradition of storytelling through song.  We are a nation of poets and singers.  We are revolutionaries and peacemakers.  We are the life of the party and yet carry great sadness.  We are one of the strongest people imaginable yet we have been oppressed and subjugated for so long.  However when we look at the history of Ireland the great thread that runs through our story is not just our temerity and unwillingness to yield to those who would try to step over us, but also our compassion and kindness for those we meet.  We are a nation still very much in tune with the land from which we have come.  We are not afraid to cry.  We are not afraid to say when our hearts have been broken.  We are not afraid to speak out against injustice and wrongdoing.  We are a nation of Lovers and Dreamers.  I am proud to call myself an Irishman.

If you were to ask me to illustrate the Spirit of Ireland I would tell you to listen to the music of such artists as Liam Clancy, Luke Kelly and the Black Family (amongst many!)  As one who enjoys singing a ballad or two I am fully aware of the great legacy they have given us.  To those of you who may be reading this that enjoy singing songs of Ireland but are unsure of yourself, I urge to remember how important your craft is.  You have no idea whose heart you are touching through your beautiful voice.  If you are up performing I invite you to take a look into the audience and find the guy who is sitting with his elbows on his knees propping his head up…look at the tears in his eyes and the smile on his face.  Perhaps you will catch his eye for just a moment and realise that yes…he gets it.  He has found the connection he has been seeking.  Your music has touched his heart and filled it with love and joy, or sorrow.  Perhaps you are singing about injustice and see that yes he gets it.  For the time you are singing you see that you have made this young man realise that he is alive.  Whether he has numerous moments such as this or just this moment is irrelevant…because right now, he is alive and knows that his life is a gift…he is Home and at Peace…

Why didn’t I tell them?

The Encounter


Occasionally I put pen to paper and jot down my thoughts on small events which to some would be meaningless…to me they mean the world. The following took place on a bus a few years ago and this briefest of encounters held me captive for what felt like a lifetime…a very wonderful lifetime. Still I do not know who she is, perhaps I have met her since, regardless! The human heart only seeks love…belonging! This moment will live with me forever…
By apparent chance you sit beside me

I had seen you go climb up

Now here we are

Shoulder to shoulder.
Like mirror images we sit

Heads inclined, earphones in

Occasionally shifting ourselves

Growing closer.
The bus rumbles on

The sky is getting dark

I put my head back

Eyes closed.
At times I think I feel

Your eyes on me

Suddenly I am hit

With sweetest perfume.
Who could you possibly be?

This beautiful girl

With the golden hair and

Deep dark eyes?
I look in the window pane

And catch a reflection

For one eternal moment

Eyes meeting.
You reach up to fix your hair

The beautiful curve of your neck

Your nimble fingers in hair

Working magic.
The bus reaches its destination

We gather up our things

After an all too brief thank you and smile

You go…

‘Twas Beauty Saved the Beast

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Anyone who knows me will know that Disney’s Beauty and the Beast holds a particularly special place in my heart.  In fact I have blogged about this film already here on the blog and how I continue to hold this film in such high regard as I approach my thirtieth birthday (https://dominicoreilly25.wordpress.com/2017/02/13/approaching-30-laying-my-cards-out/)

Tonight however I have returned from seeing the latest Disney live action reimagining of a classic.  I was lucky enough to be treated to a night at the cinema by my twin sister and her wife.  We had a wonderful evening together, there was plenty of craic but I was constantly aware that the visit to the cinema would be an emotional one.  This story really does mean that much to me; so much so that it can be difficult to put into words often enough.  However I think it best to make the attempt while the emotions of the film are still fresh in my heart.  I hope that there are no apparent spoilers however if such a thing concerns you please read no further until you have seen the film!

Before I begin I should mention one of the elements to this film which I absolutely adored was that it in fact stayed truer to the source material that the 1991 version. The themes of stealing a rose, asking Beauty to dinner, the link between Gaston and the Beast…they’re all here! 

What I should like to do is to take a look at the two main characters of the film and what I have learned from them…indeed what lessons in self they have reminded me of.Emma Watson

Belle is to my mind one of Disney’s greatest heroines.  Voiced by Paige O’Hara in the 1991 classic Belle exuded a wonderful independence and passion.  It’s one of the elements of Disney I think we tend to get a bit mixed up: Belle isn’t exactly a Princess.  It is also important to remember that it is Belle who saves the Beast…on a number of occasions in fact!

Emma Watson’s portrayal of Belle in this new vision is no different.  She remains independent and passionate.  However now she embodies several other qualities which while they were not lacking from the 1991 animated version are brought out in a much stronger way through this vision.  Now Belle is absolutely fearless, feminist, feminine and honest to the core.  The many dynamics which exist within the film between Belle and the three male characters in her life is deeply affecting.  She treats her father Maurice with nothing but kindness, patience and gratitude for how he has raised her; so much so that she is willing to give up her freedom and in many ways her youth for his life.  She is patient with Maurice’s numerous eccentricities and does not judge him for these, but rather uses them as an opportunity to show him how much she cares for him.  Finally she expresses her gratitude often for how Maurice has brought her up.  A beautiful example of how we are to treat our parents and those who care for us.

In regard to Gaston I believe it is in this vision that we see some of the clearest difference between the animated Belle and the live action vision.  There are certain lines of dialogue from the animated version that are now missing.  They are significant as their absence only highlights further that Belle is a wonderfully strong icon of feminine strength and kindness.  Her honesty with Gaston gives him the opportunity to grow into a kinder person, yet he constantly fights her on this.  In many ways Gaston’s fate is a tragic one as although Belle does not have any romantic attachment to him she does in fact care for him.  Who knows, perhaps she may even go so far as to love him?Dan Stevens

Finally we have the Beast.  I believe the Beast and Gaston are inextricably linked.  Masterfully portrayed by Dan Stevens this offering of the Beast is to my mind, totally different to 1991 animated version.  Why so?  Because we can witness the tragic nature of the Beast to a greater extent in this version which was not brought to the fore so much in the animated version.  We see that this is someone who was once very much a man who had it all and has had his entire identity wiped away.  This tragedy is brought to the fore in the all new song for the film Evermore (which I hasten to add I am currently learning to add to my repertoire!)  However where Beast differs from Gaston is where he begins to cease resisting the kindness of Belle but now rather seeks to complement her loving kindness.

This is represented beautifully for me in the Tale as Old as Time dance sequence in which when Belle approaches the Beast she curtsies to him.  He in turn bows deeply to her.  Neither one is in a position of authority or dominance over the other but rather recognises the other as an equal and a partner in whom to share one’s love.  The Beast brings all this up with such honesty in his song Evermore.  The power in this scene cannot be downplayed.

The great lesson this has taught me is one of humility and recognising further the real beauty of the feminine.  We men are strange creatures.  Truly there exists a Beast within each of us…including me!  What is the Beast within me?  It is the Beast of Stubbornness, Selfishness and indeed the Beast of Irrationality!  To mention a few.  However I too am blessed in that I have been able many times in my life to have the opportunity to calm these beastly qualities and turn them into something of Beauty.  It is thanks to the powerful women in my life (both family and friends) that I have been able to achieve this.  I am forever grateful to them for that.  I have needed the example set for me by many men in my life however it really is so true that the male and female do complement each other.  The beautiful feminine brings out something beautiful in we males and likewise we too can bring something out of them which may have been previously thought as hidden.  Does this make you any less of a feminist?  I do not believe so.  We need each other just as we need strong figures of those of the same gender as us in our lives.

I have been asked if I think the live action version is better than the animated version.  I cannot answer this because I am watching this film as an adult who has grown up with the animated.  For me and where I am at present in my life I cannot wait to watch this film again and see what lessons it offers upon second viewing.  However simply to close I should like to harken back to the words sang so beautifully by Emma Watson and previously Paige O’Hara:

“Ahh! Isn’t this amazing?  It’s my favourite part because you’ll see; here’s where she meets Prince Charming, but she won’t discover that it’s him till chapter three…”

Be patient with love.  Be patient with yourself, those you love and those who love you.  Eventually, come what may they will see past the Beast to the Prince that resides within.  It is entirely up to you just how deep you want that Prince to hide…allow him to come to the surface and you will be stronger for it.  Be open to love and be open to loving.  That is the greatest lesson these films have taught me and I shall be forever grateful for them.

Most importantly: find someone to share this love with!

Much love to you all for taking the time to read this!

Twitter: @DominicOReilly

Facebook: Dominic O’Reilly Writer

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