So once again I’m slightly late in my posting of the blog! However I am off work for the next two days and I look forward to some intense blogging going on. So where are we? If you’re just joining this blog for the first time I am in the process of reviewing Jahméne Douglas’ new album Unfathomable Phantasmagoria. Upon listening to it the first time I was really struck by the sheer enormity of many of the tracks on the album, the vocal range Jahméne manages to achieve and the incredible grace which is to be found in many of the lyrics of the tracks. We are looking at the individual tracks of the album and seeing what is to be found in them. Yesterday we had reached the track When I See Ya. In the blog I looked at the whole concept of Vision and perspective and how the things we see and do not see can have truly life changing consequences. I looked at how everything in life seems to have a reason and purpose.
Life isn’t easy. It’s funny but when I look back on my formative years, all I can think is I wouldn’t want to relive them even once. There are so many things in life I passed up, so many people I avoided, so many people I tried to please etc. Every decision in life, even if it is made carefully is still made on a leap of faith. Faith is something each of us live out on a daily basis. Faith is the subject of the blog tonight as I look at the song My Faith.
My Faith – Faith
Maybe it’s a bit of a cheat using the subject of faith for the subject of a song about faith but for me this one was a no brainer. My Faith is an absolutely gorgeous song. I have said it before, I’ll say it again and I am more committed than ever in my view that the second half of Unfathomable Phantasmagoria really is the stronger half; it is a great deal more honest and it is humbler and humbling. Perhaps it is because I identify better with the songs on the second half of the album. Anyway, My Faith is a wonderful song. In this song Jahméne reveals much of his own humility and humanity and where he turns in times of trouble. He sings about the times in life when things go wrong and where he turns. There are beautiful melodies and counter melodies as though Jahméne were acknowledging that so often in life we are singing one tune and the next we will be singing a different tune which work together in a beautiful harmony.
Essentially the point the song raises is where Jahméne turns to when he needs to find some peace. Peace is a remarkably difficult thing to find in our world today. We are constantly surrounded and assaulted by noise. Just today for instance I was shopping in Belfast (it broke my heart – I passed up a deal on a gorgeous Michael Kors coat at a criminally good price and when I returned it was gone…I know!) and was walking about just enjoying that feeling of not having to be anywhere when I was interrupted by the sound of Christmas songs beginning to play…on the fourth of November!! Alas, there is definitely significantly more noise in the world today than ever. In such madness and such noise, is there any room left for things which seem outdated to many, such as faith? Something which encourages humility, honesty and quietness? I think about my own faith journey and how this came about…
How do I take something, which was for a portion of my life not terribly important to me and then after a specific point permeated every part of my life, and put words to it? It is a huge task. But if I am to be the Catholic I profess myself to be then I have to answer this call. I have to put in the work and at least attempt to evangelize those who may read these words.
In July of this year it was thirteen years since I realised that Jesus Christ wanted to be my everything. In July it was twelve years since I realised that I wanted Jesus Christ to be my everything as well. What took me to this point? Anyone that knows me or has ever had to edit my work knows that I don’t like to give a short answer. Whether this is a positive or a negative point is irrelevant, it simply is what it is. I mention this because it is at this point that I realise I am experiencing a great trepidation. To ask me to explain why I am a person of faith forces me to confront the reason why I turned to God. So this shall be not so much a testimony as it will be something of my own Confession…and I pray these words are received with compassion and understanding for they are not easy ones to write.
It was in my Lower Sixth year of post primary school, St Louis’ Grammar Kilkeel that a marvellous religion teacher Mrs Catherine Lynch made the study of religion exciting. Simply by her ability as a teacher and her eagerness to listen to our questions I found myself loving this subject. I had found a teacher who I felt was genuinely interested in what the student had to say. Our two areas of study were St Luke’s Gospel and the early Celtic church. I wanted to know more and more and suddenly the essays I submitted were coming back either with full marks or a mark or two shy of full marks. Mrs Lynch challenged me to think beyond myself and explore lives of saints such as Saint Catherine of Siena, and Saint Francis of Assisi, two Saints I have come to love and ask the intercession of often. They form a vital part of my own personal chess team of saints. For once in my school life I was an “A” pupil. The only word I can think of to describe how I felt was, honoured. Surely the point of any subject is to find out as much as possible and to express how you respond to the material. And somehow my responses were flowing naturally like a river. Why me?
It is important at this point to set this story in its context: at this stage in my school career I was not a happy student. I didn’t enjoy studies, I didn’t enjoy extra-curricular activities and I lacked any sort of school spirit which others seemed to thrive on. Much of this was as a result of some years of being bullied by others in my year. Why me? I don’t know why bullies do what they do but apparently what I had done was to have skin that tanned easier than others. I was most definitely not a happy student. But suddenly here was a place where the bullying of the past didn’t matter. When I was writing an essay about why the Pharisees and Sadducees felt threatened by Jesus I felt absolutely liberated. I could see the scene so clearly in my head and I could almost feel the incredible burden Christ carried on his shoulders. I am not describing visions but simply my essays almost became like prayers; by engaging with the Son of God I was able to listen to what He was saying, and offer my own response. Suddenly I was listening to concepts like Suffering, Salvation and Redemption and to me they became less like concepts and more like states which I was living through.
In July of 2004 I applied to join the diocesan Youth Team to Lourdes. My twin sister and cousin had been the previous year, and Lourdes formed a huge part of our wider family life. When in Lourdes I met a whole host of young people and young adults who were nothing short of inspiring. Here were groups who greeted each other with hugs. Here were young people who went out together and sang songs together. If they saw you cry they offered you a tissue or a shoulder to lean on, they didn’t deride you. Here were young people who held hands and actually genuinely cared for each other and those they were serving. I remember so vividly in the middle of the week sitting at the Grotto at night. I began to pray and look intently at the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes in the rock. There was total silence (this was after all before the explosion of mobile phone and smart phone technology) and I knew I wanted God to speak to me but I realised the voice I could hear in my heart was speaking in my voice:
“I have been learning so much about concepts such as suffering and redemption. But I am not living a life with Jesus. I am learning about You but not living with You. Even though You have allowed me glimpses into your life…so do you know what? I give up…please take control now and come in.”
And then came the tears. The tears were indeed of sadness; they were years of bottled up pain and suffering. But they were also mixed with tears of joy; tears of the release of giving up a burden and someone else taking it on. A lot of emotion for one evening in Lourdes, but no more than was necessary.
Since that point I have allowed my Catholic faith to become part of everything I do. Sometimes this is done in a dramatic form, at times overly dramatic, but mostly through a small quiet witness. Why did I choose to be a Catholic? Well certainly my parents had me baptised into the faith many years ago, but I believe we all must reach a stage where we have to decide do we want to remain a Catholic at all and whether it be through culture or through conviction? I chose to be a Catholic and embrace all that comes along with it. That includes the responsibilities, and necessities. It includes the hard work and the fun as well. I want to remain a Catholic till my dying day because I want to change hearts. I want to give voice to the love I feel for Christ and the love I believe he has for me and for you. My words are indeed limited, and they are useless at times. But every once in a while the good Lord allows me a word which will touch the heart of another person in a profound way and who knows what that will stir in them? I’m only human at the end of the day, and my words aren’t always kind. But I’m striving to be a Saint. The words I use will pass away eventually, but there is one that will not, and that Word is the reason why I choose to be a Catholic:
“In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” (John 1:1)
My Faith, like that of Jahméne’s is where I turn when I need to find some peace. Faith isn’t easy. It’s remarkably simple but it’s definitely not easy. It is something I struggle with on a daily basis and it scan be incredibly frustrating at times…yet in the times when I get a glimpse of God as I have through endless repeats of Unfathomable Phantasmagoria (and I do mean that honestly – this is a bloody brilliant album) these times overshadow (for lack of a better word) the times of doubt and despair. In those times when I find the one I have been searching for, the Peace I experience is indescribable. Therefore tomorrow that shall be the topic of discussion in regards to the song I Wish.
To anyone who is reading this…I love you.
God bless you.