Life’s a Beach…get on with it!

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So as some people who follow this blog may be aware I have been on a bit of a social media detox this weather.  I have been trying to remove myself as much as I can from using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and indeed WordPress.  I am allowing myself to make one post per day.  Unfortunately this means that when I post something to Instagram it generally directs the post onto Facebook and Twitter as well, so I am incredibly limited in what I can post! I don’t think this is any bad thing as it means that all these intensely heated debates which are raging all over social media can be avoided.

As part of this detox I am also trying to detox my body as well.  I am drinking larger quantities of water, getting out into the fresh air more and continuing to try and build myself up once more.  I suppose the hope for this is that by detoxing myself of these external stimuli then my internal headspace will be clearer and my faith life will be reinvigorated.  Sort of like doing a spring clean and opening up the windows and doors of the house to allow the fresh spring air to permeate every part of the house.  Or as Saint John Paul II would say, “Open wide the doors to Christ.  Do not be afraid!”

Today I had arranged to make a phone call with a dear friend of mine.  I decided to kill two birds with one stone and take a walk while making the phone call.  I don’t know about you but it’s tricky enough to maintain a conversation over the phone while you’re out walking.  My arm kept getting tired holding up the phone and I had to keep switching arms and so forth.  It was bothersome!  So in go the earphones and handsfree and I could chat away to my heart’s content.  This for me is a strange experience.  I can’t imagine how it looks to the passerby on the street or how loud I am speaking without being aware of everyone else being able to hear!  But we managed the chat all the same.  As usual our conversations turn to deep and meaningful matters which was again a strange experience because it feels like your walking along discussing these matters out loud to a voice in your head…a bit like prayer.

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As we finished our chat I had reached the turning point in my walk and was making the return home.  To do this I had to walk the length of Newcastle strand out as far as Murlough bay.  It’s a walk I have done many times over the years and is one I absolutely lovdsc_0009e.  It is a very interesting stretch of beach to walk alone as well.  You can just take your time, or walk as quickly as you like, stop and look around or sit and simply be.  My experience of my walk this time involved stopping every so often as I managed to find a seashell which I thought quite pretty.  As I stopped to collect the shell and place it in my pocket for bringing home a tidal wave of memories came flooding back to me of when I was a child and our family would holiday in Donegal.  Now, I don’t know about you but when I was a child if I found a seashell I thought of as particularly pretty I would absolutely have to bring it home to show my mammy or daddy because who has ever seen a shell quite like this one!?  Nobody has! No shell has ever existed that is as absolutely gorgeous as this one!  This was my thinking today when I would find the occasional shell on the beach as I walked along.  One of my pockets was soon overflowing with big and small shells and a little stone as well.  This all got me to thinking…

Isn’t it amazing to think when we walk along the beach and we find these tiny shells which seem so small, fragile and insignificant that there is indeed a reason for their existence?  This tiny little shell once housed a little crab.  Said crab moved out of the shell when he was bigger and moved into a bigger one.  The shell’s reason for being was not known until a certain point in time.  For the crab to remove itself from the small shell must have been a difficult enough experience but if it is to grow and live its life to the full this was a change, a metamorphosis almost, which had to take place.  This little shell which is left on the beach is just sitting there, seemingly useless now.  Yet along comes a young man who looks upon it and thinks to himself, “I have never seen such a beautiful shell! It’s absolutely perfect.”  The young man then takes the time to appreciate the rough and smooth areas of the shell, its sharp edges and blunt sides, its colours and shapes.  It is magnificent.

Now imagine for a second your own life…in fact since I cannot presume anything about your life I can only speak for my own and perhaps there will be something here you can identify with.  My life at times can appear small, fragile and insignificant.  Yet my head and my heart both tell me there is a reason for my existence.  Perhaps I am shelter for someone who will move onto bigger and better things some day.  Yet for the duration of time in which that person is in my life I will have provided a safe haven for them and encouraged them to grow and live their life to the full.  MY little life lies sitting on the beach of life so often and may appear seemingly useless now.  Yet along comes someone who looks upon my life and thinks to themselves “I have never seen such a beautiful life!”  They will then take the time to appreciate the rough and smooth areas of my life, they will notice the moments of sharpness, all my changing colours and ways of being and still appreciate it for what it is and they too will be transformed.  If you have such a person in your life who can see you in this way then this is something to embrace fully.

I don’t.  But I still recognise in other people these elements.  This ability to see the whole person is possible and occurs on a daily basis.  Even if you think you don’t have such a person in your life then allow me to tell you  this great big not-so-secret secret!  There is someone who looks upon you and thinks that you are, with all your flaws and failings, with all your differing moods and ways, absolutely Magnificent.  There is a reason for your existence.

Life really is a beach.  There is no one singular way you can make the journey home.  There is no one set path.  You just have to do the best with what God gave you and hope for the best in the decisions that you take.  I ask courage for my heart to take risks, and to risk being vulnerable.  This coming Tuesday the universal Church will recognise the feast day of Saint Francis de Sales.  Saint Francis is the patron saint of writers and journalists and is my second favourite Saint Francis!  He tells us that “whoever wants to preach effectively must preach with love.”  As I walk this beach of life I pray to have the humility to know that I am a mere shell, but I am just as important as anyone else.  Whatever I do, whoever I meet I pray that I encounter them with Love.

I am indeed striving to be a better man.  This has been my nightly prayer for the last while and will remain my daily prayer from now until whenever: May I be a better man tomorrow than I was today.  Amen.

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Stormont: We Got what We Paid For

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So here we are with a brand new year for Northern Ireland.  The election year that was 2016 has seen a new Executive up at Stormont and a new Opposition.  The people of Northern Ireland were promised that this new Executive would be the one that would definitively bring Northern Ireland forward into the twenty first century and the people of Northern Ireland voted for it…

Well not quite.  In fact only 54% of the people of Northern Ireland turned out on voting day to cast their vote.  The remainder did not…for reasons I will not begin to understand.  It’s not like your vote really matters is it?  No because if you don’t exercise your democratic right then you can rely on the rest of the country to do it?  Surely.  What have we been given then?  Another crisis funnily enough!

The RHI debacle rages on and now the frustrations of the people of Northern Ireland are showing no signs of stopping.  Arlene Foster remains resolute in her position as First Minister.  The SDLP brought a motion forward in December calling for her to stand aside and allow an inquiry to take place.  Sinn Fein would not support this.  Instead they wanted to…bring forward their own motion calling on Arlene Foster to step aside while a full public inquiry could take place…but it might actually be an independent investigation…or it could be an inquiry, or not…nobody, including Sinn Fein it would appear, really know what Sinn Fein want to happen in this regard.  Meanwhile the DUP ministers and elected MLAs go on television and radio broadcasts to express their outrage at…the media.  Though nobody is quite sure anymore as to who is to blame for this particular crisis.  It could be the media, or it could be those pesky rogue and renegade nationalists who Ms Foster was so cautious of a few months ago…it might be the fault of Republicans or it could just be the fault of men because Arlene Foster is Northern Ireland’s first female First Minister and Lord knows how angry this makes all of us.  Maybe we could just blame the Civil Service?  At least paramilitary groups claimed responsibility when they carried out one atrocity or another.

Meanwhile the current Economy Minister and Finance Minister were working together before Christmas to come up with a robust strategy to ensure that the cost to the people of Northern Ireland in the wake of this crisis was minimal.  Today we find out that the Economy Minister Super-Simon Hamilton has come up with a strategy to solve this crisis…and Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir found out about this strategy when he tuned into the news yesterday!   We were told by everyone’s favourite Sammy Wilson MP today that this is commonplace practice and that Mr Hamilton didn’t need to make Mr  Ó Muilleoir aware of his plans…Mr Wilson also needed to remind us that the DUP were not going to be dictated to by the likes of Gerry Adams!  Meanwhile the Justice Minister Claire Sugden has apparently disappeared off the face of the planet!

Where does it leave us?  We’re in a funny sort of state of limbo at present which is all rather uncertain until the Executive resumes duties on the 16th January at which time we will see what proposals exactly Sinn Fein will bring to the floor and whether or not the other parties will endorse it.  Are we heading for another election?  Who knows.

I am so frustrated about all these goings on at present that I am struggling to put the words together in my head about it all.  Before Christmas it was all referred to as farcical but now the farce seems to have turned into some sort of afternoon soap opera which shows absolutely no sign of stopping.  So what are we going to do about it all?

Here is my suggestion…strange as it may sound because I’m not a politician.  But perhaps that is what makes me someone who should raise their voice given that it is through the actions and inactions of certain politicians that we find ourselves in this particular crisis (until we reach our next one!)  summaryoz_3038737bI would suggest that we take out example from the Wizard of Oz!  Yep!  You heard it right.  There are three vital things which are missing from our current Executive: Brains, Heart and Courage.  It’s so simple really!

I look at the current Executive and I do wonder where is the thought process to make a sensible decision for Northern Ireland?  Where is the heart to do the right thing even if it means having to work alongside people who were once thought of as your enemy?  Where is the courage to put your pride to the side and really do what a politician is elected to do: represent the people who elected you!

At this stage I think we’re pretty stuck.  I do not see Arlene Foster going anywhere at present.  But there is something which we as a people of Northern Ireland can do!  Funnily enough it is the same thing I suggested just before election when I was campaigning for my South Down SDLP MLAs.  It is precisely this:  get involved!

“The people are the majority, and the will of the majority is sovereign.”  (Aristotle, ca 335 b.c)  Aristotle spoke these words some 2300 years ago and they are just as important today as they were then.  So here is what I propose: find a political party that is aligned to your views and sign up.  They don’t necessarily have to be an exact fit because one of the joys of politics is that if you have the brains, the heart and the courage you can have wonderful things called discussions in which all manner of ideas and thoughts can be brought forward and the views of everyone can be respected.  What you see then is that just because someone has a differing view to you this does not make them your enemy!  But rather it makes them someone who you can learn a great deal from and they can learn from you!  

We the people of Northern Ireland deserve a better kind of politics and a damn sight better breed of politician that some of the ones we have at present.  We deserve better than people who will use the political arena to further their own ego, whether they admit it or not.  We need to champion the fantastic politicians who really are there for the right reasons…believe me they are there and I have seen them first hand!

So get involved.  Get in touch with your local branch, get in touch with your councillors, your MLAs and even your MPs.  These are the people who you voted in so put them to work!  If you want Northern Ireland to work then you have to make it work too.  Persist with them, make sure they give you an answer to your questions.  Debate with them!  Scrutinise them!  Don’t be fobbed off!  Tell them your view and why you hold that view to be true.  Hold close to your principles and take a principled position.  Do not listen to the lie that says in politics you have to leave your principles at the door.  We are not tied to the horrors of the past and we are not constrained by this anymore.  We can and we must do better.

Three years ago  I signed up to join the SDLP.  I do not take my membership of this party lightly and I carry my card with honour.  You can too.  Just get up and get active!

Oh Death Where Is Your Sting? 2016 and Celebrity Deaths

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The year of 2016 has been a very strange one indeed.  At the end of the year it is only natural to look back on what has occurred over the last twelve months and try to make sense of it all.  If the year has been favourable to us we will look back and give thanks for all that was good.  If the year has not been so favourable we may find ourselves looking back and wondering; where did it all go wrong?  This year has been one in which many would argue has been particularly difficult.  Why so?  Because at every twist and turn we seem to have been greeted with news of the death of another figure of note.  Call them them what you want: icons, celebrities, legends etc.  Whoever they were and whatever they did at the end of the day they were nothing more or less than you or I; they were people.

The hard truth of the matter is that – simply put – death is a part of life.  Unfortunately there is just no avoiding it.  There will come a day when each of us – at one stage or another – will die.  The interesting thing about those who have died this year have been celebrated in one way or another through mass social media.  After their passing internet blogs, the Twittersphere, Facebookland, Instagram etc, every one of these has been ablaze with prayers in memory of those who have died, messages of condolence for those who have died and many memories or thoughts on how the deceased has impacted the life of the person.  I’ll not lie, in my mind it has been utterly beautiful to watch.

The most recent of these has been the death of Carrie Fisher.  This remarkable woman gained notoriety for her role as Princess Leia Organa in the Star Wars trilogy of the 1970’s and 1980’s.  She would reprise her role in the last years addition; The Force Awakens.  More than this though Ms Fisher became a beacon for so many over the years through her tireless work in raising awareness of mental health issues.  So often when we think of those who have earned the title “celebrity” we think of those who star in reality tv shows and have become well known for their headline grabbing behaviour as opposed to how they have been a positive force for the world around us.

What does it say about our society when such Icons pass away and we mourn the loss of people who we may not have even known personally?  Don’t get me wrong; I was deeply upset on hearing  of the death of Sir Christopher Lee some years ago – Knight, Sith Lord, Wizard, mythological vampire, metal musician and more!  Upon seeing such posts online there will be much discussion as to why are you mourning the death of someone you have never known, why do you celebrate celebrity culture and all the rest.  Yet it would be my view that upon the loss of such a figure we are perfectly entitled to feel a sense of loss and sorrow upon the death of such a person.

Take me for example; I have already spoke of what Carrie Fisher meant to me.  I was also impacted upon hearing of the deaths of such people such as comedienne Victoria Wood.  As we have grown up these people have taught us many lessons in life and indeed love.  In a world so marred with struggle and sorrow those who can provide laughs are indeed people to be treasured.  When they die it does feel like a vey beautiful light has gone out.  What do we do with this grief though? 

We can sit down on the sofa and watch rerun after rerun of their work and lament what a brutal year this was.  We can stand round on New Year’s Eve and cry both our eyes and hearts out that this year, ‘things will be better’.  The irony is of course that we have no control over what tomorrow will bring.  Tomorrow may indeed be the day in which posts begin to circulate online as to my own passing.  I certainly hope it won’t…but it is still a possibility.  So what is the answer?  What are we to do?  My response to this is to be found in St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  In chapter fifteen of this letter Saint Paul discusses rather explicitly the matter of death and what comes after.  There is some real beauty in this particular passage and material which should give us hope for the new year.

In this chapter Saint Paul speaks of death and his own imperfections and sinfulness (something I myself can identify substantially with!) and while I would recommend to those reading this that you read all of what Saint Paul writes in this particular chapter of his letter, I should like to draw attention to a particular passage, in which this remarkable saint writes:

“And as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so we shall bear the likeness of the heavenly one.  What I am saying, brothers, is that mere human nature cannot inherit the kingdom of God: what is perishable cannot inherit what is imperishable.  Now I am going to tell you a mystery: we are not all going to fall asleep but we are all going to be changed, instantly, in the twinkling of an eye, when the last trumpet sounds. The trumpet is going to sound, and then the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed, because this perishable nature of ours must put on imperishability, this mortal nature must put on immortality. 

And after this perishable nature has put on imperishability and this mortal nature has put on immortality, then will the words of scripture come true: Death is swallowed up in victory.  Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin comes from the Law.  Thank God, then, for giving us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.  So, my dear brothers, keep firm and immovable, always abounding in energy for the Lord’s work, being sure that in the Lord none of your labours is wasted.” (1 Cor 15: 49 – 58)

Aren’t these words beautiful?  They give me great hope for the new year because they remind me that those who have died will – please God – be raised up again one day and we shall see each other as we truly are.  We will be reunited with the ones we have loved and lost (temporarily).  Many icons of the past have passed away this year, but that doesn’t mean the lessons we have learnt from them have to die with them.  We can celebrate them in our daily life and can try to live out the messages of love and hope we have learnt from them. 

So let this be my new year’s resolution: let that which is past be past.  Whatever is to come will be but let my faith be in Jesus Christ.  In Him alone is where I find my hope and strength.  Perhaps tomorrow will be the day in which God will call me home.  If indeed it is then know that I have done my utmost to live a life of love.  But do not mourn and do not grieve for too long.  My hope is in Jesus and I pray that he will welcome me home as a loving son.  Please God though this day will not happen for many years to come.

I know the future look uncertain at this stage – I myself am concerned for what will be.  But I hold on to hope.  I look at those around me and I smile knowing that I am surrounded by the love of my family and friends, not to mention the love of my family in Heaven.  What gives me the greatest hope for the new year is quite simply this:

“Jesus answered them, “Do you believe now?  Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone. But I am not alone, because the Father is with me.  I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16: 31 – 33)

Let every day of what remains of 2016, what will be in 2017 and all the days of your life be nothing less than a blessing.  Let every one be a miracle.  Your life is a miracle…cherish it!

My Anxiety – A Little Insight

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This was a very difficult post for me to write but is one I felt was important…

So much of my life is interior.  My interior life is a funny thing.  I wish to share a brief glimpse into it with you.  To those around me I can be the very life and soul of the party and I can be a calming presence amidst the storms and uncertainty of life.  I can be the ear which is ever open and ready to listen to anyone who brings a worry, concern or something they are joyful for my way.  I think generally people enjoy being around me…at least I hope they do.  They tell me they do.  There’s nothing I love more than spending time with those that I care for, making new friends, and just enjoying being in the presence of wonderful people. For a brief space of time my gaze can be focussed solely on one person and my every effort, interest and care will be for them.  This moment can last for a matter of minutes or perhaps a prolonged period of time.

But when the party is over and you and they are gone everything changes.  When I am alone my gaze which previously had been directed at someone else will now turn inward and I cannot help but look at myself.  While previously I had been able to see all the good things in another it’s now as though I can suddenly find it easier to identify many negative things about myself…or at least what I perceive to be negative things about myself.  This way of internalizing and being anxious about things or people is actually quite pertinent to my faith and is something  I can’t seem to stop myself from worrying about.  Not to mention the absolutely exhausting feeling when I know I have to go somewhere where there’ll be a large crowd. 

Suddenly I find myself worrying.  So many times I’ve caught myself walking down the street and worrying about something and then in a moment I’ll stop and ask myself “What was it I was worrying about?  I can’t remember…” so then I’ll find something new to worry about.  I worry about things I’ve said to other people, things I have done or not done for others.  Things I could have done and things I never will be able to.  It’s as though my mind is constantly running and scanning the conversations and interfaces of the day and checking if I have made any colossal errors over the course of the day.  It’s absolutely exhausting.  When I climb into bed at the end of the day I just want to lay my head down and forget about everything I’ve worried about and yet and all something new will pop into my head…of course.

The really difficult thing is in those moments of seeming to really care about someone, when they are gone it is as though my life has lost a certain degree of purpose and meaning.  I find myself missing them to an inordinate degree.  What more could I have done to let them stay a while longer?  What did I say to them that may have upset or offended them?  I must have done something.  The loneliness at times like this is absolutely excruciating as it feels like I’m being torn between a number of potential directions.  In this time it feels as though my heart could actually skyrocket from my chest and go to the one it yearns for in that moment.        

This mindset of mine is tricky enough at the best of times but it is particularly difficult now in the epoch of mass social media.  Now at the touch of a button or tap of a screen I can view old posts about something I was doing this day x-number of years ago.  For me this is incredibly painful because I am instantly brought back to those wonderful moments.  I remember how people made me feel in that moment, I remember how grateful I felt to those who made me feel wonderful for a brief spell of time and needed (and then I worry that I didn’t express this to them…naturally!) and I think to myself…I’ll never have it that good again.  How could I let that moment pass by?  Why do I keep making the same mistakes over and over again?  Not only this but I can now view pictures of what other people are up in their life now and see how they’re getting on…everyone else seems to be doing alright.  It’s like that old song; everybody’s making it big but me.  On top of all this if I send someone a message online or through text I can now archive them and read them back to myself…this can produce any number of feelings, ranging from mild interest, cringing, or absolute absolute pain.  It’s so bizarre.  I tell myself this is is unhelpful to think like this but it’s very difficult not to.

More often than not it feels as though my day is pieced together with various music scores, soundtracks, individual quotes from films which seem to sum up how I’m feeling.  The reason why I write this now is simply to share this brief glimpse into the way my mind works to those that may be interested.  Why should anyone be interested?  Because it’s good to talk.  Of course as soon as I post this I’ll begin to worry about whether or not I should have, or how people will react to it etc.  It’s exhausting.  I have never sought to hurt another person…seriously my heart quite simply would not allow me to.  I think it is for this reason that when I do hurt someone then I feel it in an altogether different way and must do everything I can to try and make it right.  It is exhausting.  I guess my hope in writing this is that someone else who is struggling with a mindset that internalises and personalises absolutely everything and struggles with their own anxiety will read this and know that they are not alone in their struggle…and if I can listen to you I will.  On top of all this I want to thank all my family, friends and indeed followers who have given meaning to my life and provided light in moments of darkness and uncertainty.  Never underestimate the importance of your life, particularly in relation to another person’s.  Be kind to each other…I know how much I blame myself for (it’s just the way I am) so  I can’t imagine how much other people do.

It really is ok not to be ok…by my God it is exhausting. I don’t want to be lonely all the time…Please be good to yourself.

#PrayWithMe #PrayForMe

Making Space for Grace at Christmas

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As you are all no doubt aware we are now into the season of Advent.  Advent is a time of making preparations for the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord…ie: Christmas!   For Christians the events leading up to and surrounding Jesus’ birth can be an extremely dramatic and exciting time of our faith.  In the twelve to fourteen months before his birth everything comes together.  From Gabriel’s announcement to Zechariah in the temple to the shepherds rushing to greet the newborn King this is a time of great mystery and joy.

Advent is our time of preparation and waiting for the birth of Jesus.  Sometimes though, we can get swept up in the hustle and bustle of a commercial Christmas that it can be difficult to remember those who were involved in the Nativity, who real people with real lives, emotions and roles.  These people were waiting a lot longer than four weeks for the Messiah.  

In these twelve to fourteen months it was a time when God reached down and touched his Creation.  He was preparing the world for change.  God showed that he loves us so much that He had to come and live as one of us.  He invites us to do as the people of the Nativity did and come closer to him, to respond to his offer of love.  If we observe the story of the Nativity fully we see how God had made room for absolutely everyone on that first Christmas.  There was even an opportunity for Herod to be transformed.  He could have learned from the Wise Men who visited him.  

The same is true of each of us.  As we approach Christmas we can learn from the wisdom of others.  As many of you know I have recently had my first book Space for Grace: Stories from the Catholic Chaplaincy at Queen’s University Belfast published by Shanway Press in Belfast.   In this book some of Ireland’s best known figures recount their stories and experiences of the Catholic Chaplaincy at QUB.  Whether this was as a student, an academic, a clerical student or staff member.

I am delighted to say that over the last two months a few hundred copies of this book have already been sold and have been very warmly received by those who have purchased them.  As Christmas approaches I can’t help but think that this book would make an excellent gift for your loved ones who may have had their own experience of Queen’s University and the Catholic Chaplaincy.

The book itself costs £15.00 and can be purchased through a number of ways: through me directly, through http://www.shanway.com, or through http://www.waterstones.com

It is also for sale in the Parish Shop in Newcastle or Smyth’s Musique.

If you buy through me (simply send me an email to domoreilly14@gmail.com) with your details and if you would like any books signed I will be more than happy to do this.  Also because Christmas is a time of goodwill I will be only too happy to post your books out to you at no cost.  Christmas is an expensive enough time without having to factor in postage and packaging costs as well!  I know of many other local artists who have books or music for sale at this time and truly I believe these somewhat more personal gifts really do add that something extra to this time of year.

To all who have bought the book so far I wish you a tremendously happy Christmas and pray that it will be a time of great blessing to you and your families.  I am really looking forward to 2017 and seeing what will unfold.  For now though I simply continue to pray for grace.  Not graces, but simply God’s grace.  His grace is enough for me.

God bless you all

Dominic x

Reflecting on Lady of Sorrows – The Goretti Girls

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Introduction

Anyone that knows me will know that the Goretti Girls (www.facebook.com/GorettiGirls) that is, Méabh Carlin and Hannah McCauley hold a very special place in my heart.  They are two young women I admire greatly and found their music to be profoundly moving and helpful in times when I find it difficult to pray.  The music has been a powerful force in giving me something or someone on which to focus and my prayer generally tends to stem from this.  I have written about their album I Will Wait on another occasion and it can be found on this blog (https://dominicoreilly25.wordpress.com/2016/06/04/lesson-learnt-from-the-goretti-girls/).  I owe a great deal to Hannah and Méabh: they were kind enough to provide music for my own book launch back in October.

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Tonight as I was driving home from Belfast I don’t know what compelled me to, however I decided to remove Elvis from the cd player for the evening and return to the Goretti Girls.  One of the reasons I enjoy their music so much is because every time I return to it I take something different away from it.  For me that is a sign of truly great music; it seems ever new.  Everything was fine and I was enjoying the music and then I came to the track Lady of Sorrows…

Lady of Sorrows

This song is concerned with Jesus’ mother Mary and is sang as though from Mary’s point of view after her son has been taken down from the cross.  In it Mary reflects on key moments from Jesus’ in which she was present.  She sings of him as a baby, as a child with Joseph, at the wedding at Cana, various miracles and his crucifixion.  It is a remarkably touching and affecting song…no, not song; it is a prayer.  My experience of it is that it has compelled me to prayer as well.

I listened to this prayer in particular once, and then again and over and over again.  There are three elements to it to which I think we need to pay particular attention to really appreciate it and understand Mary’s role and what we can learn from her the better.

1 – The Guitar

Hannah McCauley plays the guitar on every track of the album; she also plays the fiddle for parts of it as well…and she does so magnificently.  If you can adjust your hearing when listening to Lady of Sorrows, I encourage you to spend a few times focussed solely on the guitar.  Block out everything but the music.  As this track begins it is the guitar which draws us in.  The track begins with a motion as though we are hearing Christ being brought down from the cross and into the arms of his mother.  If we continue with using the music as though it were a motion the scene it sets for me is the following:

Mary has spent some thirty years with Jesus her son.  Jesus came into the world for the salvation of the world and so Mary has spent her time with Jesus constantly sharing him with other people.  The moment he was born she shared him with the shepherds.  Even as a child she shared him with other people.  Then throughout his ministry his life was never his own.  Yet in this moment when his life has come to an end Mary – who has never really left his side – is finally given a few precious moments to be alone with her son.  That is part of the beauty of this song in that it gives us a glimpse into that beautifully still moment.

The music of the guitar almost repeats itself as Mary is brought back to those moments throughout his life.  It brings to mind the repetition involved when we pray the Rosary…the repetition draws us ever closer into the mysteries upon which we are reflecting and praying.  The music here is no exception.  As Hannah lovingly and softly plays it conjures images in my mind of Mary lovingly and softly holding her son in this moment.  The music of this song is a reminder to me that I too must lovingly and softly hold my Lord.  I must cherish Him.  The reason for his life was for your and my salvation…I must stay close to Him as Mary did.

The Cello

A welcome addition on this track is the inclusion of the cello as played by Fr Conor McCarthy.  The cello is a magnificent instrument.  I once remember seeing a film in which the music of the oboe was compared to a lonely desolate bird.  If this is so then the music of the cello is filled with feeling and an absolute outpouring of emotion.  During Lady of Sorrows we hear the cello brought in slowly and carefully just after Méabh has sang, “how is it my son was nailed to a tree?”  I don’t know why but I can’t help but think as the cello comes in with this wonderful outpouring of emotion it is almost as though it represents the tears Mary cries over her son.  Perhaps it is reading too much into it all but the cello’s inclusion here is part of the reason why I find Lady of Sorrows to be such an affecting piece.

The Words

I am blessed to be able to count Méabh as a great friend.  Over the years she has been a trusted friend and confidante.  One of Méabh’s greatest strengths is that she has nothing but love in her heart for those she encounters.  She makes time for all those she meets whether they be family, friend or stranger.  I am forever grateful for having her in my life.  The way in which she sings this prayer complements Hannah’s playing of the music so beautifully.  The two complement each other.  It is so simple and so profound.

The words speak words of love that a mother has for her child.  We know Mary is the mother of God but I don’t believe I will ever fully appreciate what this means.  To be a mother is something obviously I shall never experience and so to understand her role better I have to look towards the women in my life who I love and care for.  I look towards my own mother first of all, I look to my sisters, to my cousins, aunts, I remember my Grannies and I look to my female friends to see the qualities they have which I believe are those which Mary lived out.  It is a constant caring and desire to see their beloved at peace.  This is expressed most beautifully in this prayer.

Towards the end of the song Méabh allows Mary to let out one last lament.  It is reminiscent of the tradition here in Ireland of keening in which women would let out a wail of sorrow for the one who had died.  But after the sorrow comes Mary’s reminder that God is so merciful and kind and she has so much to be thankful for.  What a powerful example she sets for us.

 

All in all I absolutely love this prayer and it made quite impression on me tonight.  The message it drove home the hardest for me is the reminder that what I need is not so much devotion to Mary, but rather more imitation of Mary.  Hannah and Méabh are wonderful examples that this can be achieved.  I remain truly grateful to these women for how they continue to lead this most useless being to prayer…in those moments of prayer I encounter my Lord.  My thanks to the Goretti Girls.

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Two Weeks With Jahméne Douglas U.P – Epilogue

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It is Accomplished! – Right Away

As Christ’s life draws to a close on  Calvary he offers a number of words from the cross.  He tells the Beloved Disciple John that this is his Mother.  To Mary he tells that this is her Son.  In doing so he places Mary into the care of St John, but also places St John into the care of Our Lady.  Jesus gives three stark words before bowing his head and giving up his spirit; “It is accomplished.” (John 19:30).  Jesus’ earthly work may be accomplished but the work of the Church has just begun and Mary’s work has been given a new lease of life.  In placing John into her care Christ places every single one of us into her care as well.  Mary’s love for each of us is equal to her love for St John.  She is mother of the Church and Queen of Heaven.  In accepting this role Mary watches over each of us in our daily lives, walks with us and wraps us in her mantle of loving care and protection.  Truly she is Our Lady; Mother and Queen.

I thought that would be the apt way to close this blog of Fourteen Days With Jahméne Douglas’ Unfathomable Phantasmagoria.  The reason being that while yes my time spent blogging about this album has reached it’s destination, the work still goes on.  This album will continue to touch hearts and minds and reach into those very places in our selves that we don’t let anyone else see or experience.

Right Away is a most beautiful way for Jahméne to close U.P as it really allows the album to come full circle.  We are back talking about the immediacy of God’s presence in our lives.  It’s so true that he never is too far away, he is always present to us and I think part of the message of this album – I believe – is that Jahméne is never too far away either.  He is always very keen to connect with the fans and get their feedback on the art.  He is a great source of inspiration and enlightenment on Twitter, and if you have been touched by his work then you know it is always there to listen to again and reconnect.

So tonight I am going to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the gift of Jahméne’s art.  For his music.  For his life.  I repeat the words found in Right Away:

“So  I lift my hands in total dedication

I lift my voice to give you praise

I lift my hands,

My hands to give you

All my praise.”

Thank you everyone for spending this time with me.  Don’t be afraid to get in touch and let me know what you think.

God bless you all

Dominic

x

Two Weeks With Jahméne Douglas’ U.P – Day Fourteen

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Recap

So yesterday I was blogging about the song Reach You and was using the whole idea of being Limitless.  If we truly believe in who we are and what we are capable of then there is no ends to what we can achieve.  On a purely aesthetic note it would appear that there is nothing Jahméne Douglas’ voice is not capable of.  The way the song builds and builds to the most dazzling crescendo is utter brilliance.  How the song seems to be able to touch us on a very personal level is nothing less than genius.

Alas the fourteen days are coming to a close (with the obvious exception of the epilogue tomorrow and hopefully somewhere down the line a little surprise!) and we have reached our Destination together.  This last official song on Unfathomable Phantasmagoria – If You Just – is a rather appropriate way to close the blog as it does speak of one journey ending and another beginning.  So the theme as these fourteen days ends shall be that of Destination.

If You Just – Destination

Wipe the tears away from your cheeks folks! I know it’s a tremendous sadness for the fourteen days to come to a close however I shall elucidate later on on where I should like to go from here.  Let’s stick with the song for now though and just…try to get through this!

If You Just is a tremendously emotive song.  Almost immediately the listener knows that the track they are listening to has been composed by Jahméne.  Anyone who has ever watched an interview with Jahméne or read his poetry or even just followed the man on Twitter will know that this song just could not have been written by anyone else.  It is completely concerned about the welfare of others, it sings of how we need to hold on to our faith, it repeats a line almost like a mantra or prayer and it is clearly a song which has been composed and sung from the heart.  The gospel choir which sings on the track Dynamic Praise are totally in sync with the ideals this song advocates and there could be no better choice of back up on this track in my opinion.

As I have said it is a tremendously emotive song.  Upon first writing this blog I put forward the idea that, for me, Unfathomable Phantasmagoria reads almost like the story of a relationship.  There is the first half – the honeymoon phase if you want to call it that – in which everything is new, funky and fresh.  The second half of the album is where things have become a bit more settled and the music becomes a great deal more humbling and humbler.  This culminates with the last track If You Just which if we were to visualise it as though in a movie, this would be the scene where the lovers, or the friends or the family members must part ways and must impart advice on to each other.  It’s a bit like hearing For Good in Wicked.  But it doesn’t mean that the bond between the two has been severed but rather that they must carry on, possibly along a different stream.  If this were the ending of it all it would be a rather gloomy note to end this magnificent opus on.  However we know that all endings are merely beginnings.

Anyone who knows me will know of my love for that magnificent book and film Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.  It tells the story of a number of stories which are all tied together.  The story speaks of how our actions today ripple through the aeons to come and we must decide to we want to act for good or ill.  There is a marvellous soliloquy in the this in which one character speaks to the one he loves through a letter:

“I understand now that boundaries between noise and sound are conventions. All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention if only one can first conceive of doing so. Moments like this, I can feel your heart beating as clearly as I feel my own, and I know that separation is an illusion. My life extends far beyond the limitations of me…I believe there is a another world waiting for us, Sixsmith. A better world. And I’ll be waiting for you there…I believe we do not stay dead long. Find me beneath the Corsican stars where we first kissed. Yours eternally, R.F.”

Do you know I really believe that is true.  The ones we have left behind or the ones who left us behind are not separated forever but rather we trust and have faith that there will come a day in which we are all reunited.

This song, If You Just, is a magnificent testament to the desire of the human spirit to be free.  We all desire freedom but only we can answer what we wish to be free of or free from.  Death is not the end.  At this stage I can not help but be reminded of how Jahméne’s life has been touched by suicide…as has my own.  The reason I make this point is because when listening to this song I cannot help but be reminded of those times when I think about those who we have lost to suicide and I always remember to keep them in my prayers.  It is my own way of stating my heart’s desire for the poor soul who has been lost to suicide.  It’s a bit like what is acclaimed in this song.  When all is said and done perhaps what this song says to me the clearest is:

“I wish that nobody felt the need to take their own life.  They did.  So instead of choosing regret I celebrate their life and hope and pray that their spirit is now at peace and free.”

Or to simply quote Jahméne:

“Know you can make it…If you just…be free.”

All in all, Unfathomable Phantasmagoria is an absolutely spectacular testament to the power and unconditional nature of true love.  After spending all this time with the album and going through it on a daily basis I am left wondering: why is it I feel such a strong bond to this work and the artist?  Is it because we are both second born sons?  Is it because I have a twin sister and he has a similar bond with his sister?  Is it because both our older brothers are and were named Daniel?  Is it because we both have a personal faith and relationship with Jesus Christ?  Is it because we both try to express ourselves through various forms of art?

These are all possibilities.  However after all this time and all this soul searching I believe I am able to connect with this music, not just because of it’s genius, but rather most importantly because of it’s heart.  Art without heart and soul is just…inconceivable.  It would be like a barren desert devoid of any light or life.  Love isn’t like that though.  Love is not inconceivable but by it’s nature is tremendously difficult to measure the extent of and is in fact Unfathomable.  Life isn’t like a barren desert but is a series of rather wonderful places and events which can be difficult to figure out and require effort, life is a Phantasmagoria…

Just like life and love, Jahméne Douglas, God bless him, is an Unfathomable Phantasmagoria.

Where to from here?  Onwards…all endings are just beginnings and I hope this is the beginning of something wonderful as I continue to follow the work and words of this prodigious artist who writes and sings with wisdom beyond his years.

Thank you Jahméne.

With all my love and blessing to those who have made this journey with me.

Thank you

x

 

 

Two Weeks With Jahméne Douglas’ U.P – Day Thirteen

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Recap

In yesterday’s blog I looked at the track Forever & Eternity and wanted to see where the theme of Beauty fit in with this remarkable song.  I had originally conceived that this song was a testament to romantic love.  In the end I’m not so sure anymore and believe there is indeed more to this song than that.  All in all this remains one of my favourite tracks from the album.  It is indeed reminiscent of works by artists such as Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye.  There is beauty everywhere in the world around us.  If we know where to look.  While there are sorrows and sufferings, good will always, always, Always trump evil.  Always.  It is Limitless.

Therefore I took the decision to use this theme of Limitless for the subject of today’s blog as I listen to the track Reach You.  Now from the word go this has been one of the tracks on the album which I have enjoyed the most however it is only with listening to it multiple times was I able to see just why that was the case.  What is it about this song that is so spectacular…because it is a truly epic song.  What it speaks of is indeed Limitless.

 Reach You – Limitless

Today has been a funny one for me; I started my day off in grouchy enough form after having not slept well last night.  I was helping with a post primary school retreat today which went down very well and I walked back to my car believing that I had indeed reached the children I was speaking to about matters of faith.  I got a phone call from a newspaper asking could they do an interview with me about the book I have just published which I agreed to.  The interview went (I feel) very well and I look forward to seeing the finished piece.  It’s always a bit strange for me because as one who has spent much time interviewing others to suddenly become the interviewee is a bit nerve wracking!  However I drove home feeling rather upbeat.  I put on Unfathomable Phantasmagoria once again to continue listening to Reach You (it has been playing in the car all day).

Something in particular really struck me about this song.  It is the way the track builds up bit by bit as we progress through it.  I love the wee theme at the beginning on the piano, which if you turn your speakers up loud enough (do they go all the way to eleven?) then follow that little piano tune throughout the song; it is constantly repeated and never changes.  All the way through the song this little collection of bars is repeated over and over again.  So upon one listening to the song I found myself focussing solely on the piano and finding it’s rhythm and place the whole track long…in no time at all I was conducting the piece myself in the car…I don’t know anything about conducting but nonetheless there I was waving my hand about loving every moment.

As I said there is a tremendous build in this song and the instruments come in bit by bit.  The violins make their approach as do the drums and the brass etc.  The vocals on this song alone are worth turning the music up as loud as you can.  If Jahméne has proven in the past that he is capable of vocal acrobatics then his vocals on this song are nothing short of mind blowing fantastical feats of vocal capabilities which at first seem impossible…and yet there he is just knocking it out of the park.  There is one moment in particular which I won’t spoil for anyone but when you hear it…you’ll know…hopefully you’ll say, “Dom was right!”

If we consider the lyrics of the song they too are absolutely steeped in majesty.  I don’t know why but the more I listened to this song the more I began to think “My God!  It feels like this song was written just for me!”  I couldn’t quite believe it as no song has ever had this effect on me.  I don’t know, perhaps it wasn’t actually written with me in mind but nonetheless it certainly felt that way.  Perhaps it is the persona of Jahméne that gives the listener this impression.  Regardless of who this song has been written for if I or you can listen to this and believe that someone is thinking of us then the music has served it’s purpose and Reach You has achieved it’s desire.

In my experience of this song I certainly felt free.  That’s what music surely must work to achieve isn’t it?  Should it not transcend the boundaries of everyday conventions?  Should it not make us feel that we are able to shake free from these human constraints and be the free souls God made us to be?  I think that’s why I love to dance so much.  Just getting wrapped up in the rhythm of a song and being a part of the rhythm and no longer worrying about all the everyday rubbish but just being happy being Free.  Happy being Limitless.  Because in those moments of truly connecting with the music we feel as though anything is possible and the moment feels like it could last an eternity.  Jahméne achieves this on a magnificent scale with this song.  It is incredible…and really I am struggling here; there’s only so many ways to go “Wow!” without using expletives!

As I said before I had an odd couple of days.  I have finished reading Mandy Thomas’ book You Can’t Run and I advise all to read it.  In fact I challenge you to read it.  Just be prepared for it.  I have always been a bit of a sensitive person who feels things incredibly strongly and personally…this book certainly shook me to my core and forced me to take a good look at myself.  Yet as I said in listening to Reach You I felt as though it had been written just for me.  As Jahméne beautifully attests: “There’s no shame in being afraid, in your darkest hour, you can reach out for me. Oh yes, take your time and I’ll lead the way, to a better life, a better love, old memories fade.”

Absolutely stunning.  After listening to…relistening to…and listening to some more this marvellous song I now have an item for my Bucket List…which I didn’t think I ever would!  I have said before I would like to interview Jahméne some day, but more than this, someday, some wonderful day, I would love to hear this sung live.  I want to be there and feel the music, to hear that wonderful piano theme over and over again.  I want to witness Jahméne perform his mind blowing fantastical feats of vocal capabilities which at first seem impossible!  Wouldn’t that be quite something?

Tomorrow however will see the end of the official fourteen days of blogging on the album Unfathomable Phantasmagoria…I am still not sure of where to go from here however there will be an epilogue of sorts with the hidden track on the album Right Away, but tomorrow is the official Destination of this fortnight of blogging.  That shall be topic for the song If You Just.  For now I wish to say thank you to Jahméne; you reached me.

Peace and love and blessings

x

Two Weeks With Jahméne Douglas’ U.P – An Apology

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The Post I Did Not Plan

To those who are reading this, to those who read today’s post and the posts of the last number of days I offer a heartfelt apology.  I can’t believe I got it so wrong.  I knew something was missing in the posts that I had been writing and I was totally unable to put my finger on it.  Even today when I went out for my walk I was praying like mad asking “What am I doing wrong here?  There’s something I’m just not getting right but what is it?”

Tonight I finally got it.  To those who read this, particularly if by some chance Jahméne is reading this, I beg patience.  From the very beginning I have been saying that Jahméne is an artist who transcends comparison.  This is true.  I have been saying that the tracks on the album cannot be taken apart and dissected individually but rather seem to be stronger when they are a single cohesive unit.  This is true.  What I had forgotten was that Unfathomable Phantasmagoria is a work of Jahméne’s.  Therefore the album cannot exist apart from him and the story he has to tell.

Why did I forget this vital element?  Frankly I think it was because I let my gaze slip from the importance of allowing Jahméne’s story to be told and focussing more on what I wanted to say about his story.  I allowed my own selfish interests to eclipse a proper discussion on the music.  This was unprofessional and unfair.  This was a colossal error on my part and for that I am truly sorry.  I cannot help but think I have let a number of people down.

From the very beginning of these posts I expressed that I have felt a great connection to Jahméne’s work.  This remains true.  Why do I feel this connection?  Well, again the answer cannot be given as though it were separate from me.  I know what it is to be hurt and have pain inflicted on me.  I know what it is to find my strength in faith.  I know what it is to lose a loved one in a truly awful circumstance.  I know what it is to believe that you have a tremendous gift to give the world but fighting a constant battle with nerves and uncertainty.  I know what it is to fight with depression.  Since I do not believe in comparison  I simply state this as I want to set my experience of Unfathomable Phantasmagoria in a proper context.

I now see a number of the songs on this album in a rather different light and wish to apologise if my words thus far have caused any upset or offence.  I see there is pain in a number of the tracks and hope my words did not read as too insensitive.  There are only a few days left on the album review but I hope and pray that from here on in the words found on this blog will be a more appropriate and accurate reflection of the incredible music as found in Unfathomable Phantasmagoria.

I am still learning…