LEARNING TO LISTEN

Stocki on beach

(This is the script from my Pause For Thought this morning on BBC Radio 2... The them was Learning To Listen...)

 

They say that when we walk we move at the same pace as the soul. If that is true, I need to slow down. The diary flies - planes, trains and automobiles and all that. 

Personally I find that my mental health is closely connected to my emotional health and even closer to my spiritual health.

I had an interesting experience a couple of summers past. 

I have mentioned before how much my wife Janice and I love Ballycastle beach on Antrim’s north coast. Every night on summer holidays we try to time walking Jed our dog with the sunset.

For some reason one particular evening I was walking back home along the beach on my own. Ten days or so of holiday and my soul had at last slowed down to the right pace but I still had my head racing. 

I can only describe it as God shouting at me when I sensed a voice saying I needed to get rid of the ear phones. So, I hastily turned off my seaside Playlist and breathed in.

Suddenly I was able to take in all that was going on around me. From the distractions cluttering my thinking I started focusing in on every refraction of sea and sand and sky.

Turning off the music, I got to actually listen, to really listen to the quiet of the ocean’s big blue wonder. Of course it wasn’t silent. But the quiet rhythms of the sea. Gentle waves landing and then that sweet soothing sound of water lapping on the shoreline, the percussive noise of sea raking stones in the waves retreat. 

The sand martins were swooping down around and back. The sun was doing that wonderful thing it does before it says goodnight, throwing a beam of light across the sea. I felt I could nearly walk across it.

It was like I’d tuned in to the earth’s allure, the night sky’s encryption. It was like God had prayed a benediction of blessing over my mind and heart and soul.

When I got home I realised that I had had a lesson in listening BUT more than that I had also learned to be grateful, learned to aware of everything around me and learned even to listen to the conversations inside my soul.

So please God, more walks, more quiet and more listening over in these next few weeks.


PRAYERS FOR TWELFTH PARADES

Twelfth

Lord we come before the God of peace

Of love and of grace

We worship you as holy

Utterly different than what we know

Or have intuition toward

A God who became one of us

Gave up all

To take on flesh

In a manger

To wash feet

To die, "the Lamb Of God who takes away the sin of the world"

Lord we seek your presence

In this our Twelfth week in Northern Ireland

We pray for safety

Safety for those building bonfires

Those around bonfires

Those who control bonfires

And the neighbourhoods around bonfires

We pray for safety for the security forces and fire service

We also pray for safety for the parades

We pray for grace and tolerance from those marching

And from those in the neighbourhoods they walk through

May there be peace on our streets

And no headlines on our TVs.

 

Lord, we yearn for your presence this week

Lord interrupt and remove the hate and sectariansim

As well as the flags and effigies from the bonfires

Instead Lord, pile up our false caricatures

Our myths and lies and exaggerations of one another

May we stop the cycle

To repent from generations of animosity

To become peacemakers

Lovers of the enemy

Followers of Jesus in the Kingdom of God

Lord interrupt with your love and peace

And that holy justice that lays down its own life for the crimes committed against it

Lord may your will be done

On the streets of Northern Ireland this week

In the name of the King of Kings.

Amen


RICHIE FURAY - IN THE COUNTRY

Furay ITC

I have been a long time Richie Furay fan. He was in Buffalo Springfield with Neil Young and Stephen Stills a founding member of Poco and also in super group Souther Hillman Furay Band. Along the way Furay found Jesus and became a church pastor. That’s a combination that grabbed this blogger’s attention.

So I have been a follower of his work since his 1976 album I’ve Got a Reason which was re-released on a Christian label some four years later. 

I was never a big fan of his later worship styled albums but was interested again with The Heartbeat Of Love and Hand In Hand as well as two energetic live records.

It is hard to believe that it is nine years since Hand In Hand and I guess I would normally be disappointed to wait almost a decade for a new album without any new songs on it.

However, In The Country is a cracking album of covers that reveals, in a world where our octogenarian rock heroes are struggling vocally, that Furay’s chops are still strong and flexible. With some amazing players around him, all at the peak of their craft, this is as musically strong record.

Three stand outs are Keith Urban’s Someone Like You that rocks it out of the blocks, we are reminded what a classic song Marc Cohn’s Walking In Memphis is and Gareth Brooks’ The River is country gem. 

I am left unconvinced by syrupy, I’m Already There but a different way to look at creation really works in John Denver’s Country Roads. Furay respects and highlights Denver’s finest moment.

Furay, a centre traditional evangelical Christian, sneaks his faith in too. In Cohn’s Walking In Memphis he slows it down to emphasise  “Rev Green would be glad to see you if you haven’t got a prayer” and tweaks another line to confess faith - “She said are you a Christian child/ I said Mam you got that right.”

Brooks’ The River turns to a Psalm in the pastor’s hands, particularly:

 

There's bound to be rough waters

And I know I'll take some falls

But with the good Lord as my captain

I can make it through them all

 

To close. An altar call from the pen of a wonderful writer on faith Julie Miller:

 

We don't know all the trouble we're in

We don't know how to get home again

Jesus come and save us from our sin

 

He looks nothing like it but Furay is 80. There are not many records left. Oh that returning to these might inspire one more great album.


COLM TÓIBIN - LONG ISLAND

Long Island

 

“In the courtroom of romance

And the politics of devotion

Verdicts are more unanimous

In the absence of emotion.”

 

I wrote those words in St. Ives in May 1994. We were on holiday in St Ives with my songwriting buddy Sam Hill Jr and his lovely wife Isobel. I think I was trying to write Sam a hit lyric. I didn’t but there is something about these couplets that came back to me as I read Long Island immediately after Brooklyn. I sensed that Irish writer Colm Tóibin was opening up that idea.

Like Brooklyn, this sequel Long Island is a romantic drama based on love triangles. Eilis Lacey has returned home after 20 years. She left Enniscorthy in the 1950s and returns for her mother’s 80th birthday not having seen her in between.

In between however she has settled down as wife of Tony Fiorello with two children and living in a cul-de-sac with other houses for Tony’s brothers and mother. It becomes claustrophobically Italian and then…

Then the first few sentences of Long Island throws out far more drama than the entirety of Brooklyn. That drama throws Eilis, cracks her solid marriage and sends her home to Ireland for some respite.

Home brings all kinds of reminiscence and regret. Eilis is still wondering about that decision she made in the Brooklyn novel. We find a more stoic and strong woman in the sequel but emotion can play tricks and twists and boy they do here. Jim Farrell, who might have been, is still in town. He is still single but in a secret relationship with Nancy, Eilis’s old best friend Nancy who George has left widowed with a few kids.

This simple love triangle plot is wonderfully developed. You grow to love and be supportive of all the characters while groaning at their weaknesses. They populate the stunning backdrop of the south east of Ireland, beaches, towns and Dublin City. 

The writing is beautiful, conversations exquisite. There is more drama as I have said and much more deception and intrigue. It’s another belter of the gentlest kind. There’s no absence of emotion.


COLDPLAY BRINGING PRAYER TO GLASTONBURY

MJ FOX Glasto

Coldplay has been the chatter of the week. Their Glastonbury performance was a machine gun fire of stadium anthem hits peppered with guests and big symbolic moments. Michael J Fox on guitar on Fix You. Oh my! It was quite a show. Even the naysayers had to pay some attention. I wondered myself why I had never seen them live!

Then there is the middle. A new song. We Pray. What is is about Glastonbury that invokes prayer. In 2019 I was writing on this very blog about Stormzy taking Glastonbury to Church. 

Here Coldplay are looking upward too. We Pray. It’s personal and very Biblical:

I pray we wake in, pray my friend will pull through

Pray as I take in onto others, I do

I pray in all your love, pray with every breath

Though I'm in the valley of the shadow of death

 

It goes cultural:

 

Pray that we speak in a tongue that is honest

And that we understand hearts be modest

Pray that she don't lose herself in the mirror

She's a queen, she's a goddess

 

And ends up with the hope of heaven:

 

And so we pray

I know somewhere that heaven is waiting

And so we pray

I know somewhere there's something amazing

And so we pray

I know somewhere we'll feel no pain

Until we make it to the end of the day

 

As I said in my review of the band’s album Everyday Life I am not going to declare Chris Martin as your latest Christian superstar. Martin grew up in a Christian home and has constantly returned to that well for lyrical inspiration. He has distanced himself from that evangelical branch of Christianity and now calls himself an all-theist. 

Perhaps We Pray is about all faith’s praying. No one can be against that. It seems to suggest that wishing might not be enough. The prayer word suggests something more robust. I know for sure that it’ll probably appear in some guise in Fitzroy this winter.

As a song for Glastonbury, it seems to me to be perfect. It never ceases to amaze me where a God, dismissed by a modern British culture, turns up so many times in the midst!