Night Night BC

(This is the script of my Pause For Thought on Vanessa, BBC Radio 2, on June 29th 2022... The theme was Mental Wellbeing)


I coined a phrase last year that says “we sometimes don’t learn what we have learned”. We learned so much over these last two strange years. Are we going to travel on into whatever the new normal is and leave the learning behind.

I mean surely most of us rediscovered how good a walk is for our mental wellbeing.

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 last summer. I have mentioned before how much my wife Janice and I love Ballycastle beach on Antrim’s north coast.

For some reason this particular evening I was walking back home along the beach on my own. My soul had 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 someone saying that I needed to get rid of the ear phones. So, I hastily turned off the recent Wallflowers record and breathed in.

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

Turning off the music I got to 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 sounds of water lapping on the shoreline. 

The sand Martin 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 felt so refreshed.

More of it over this summer time. 


Stockman Novena

I found myself in New York City

I was looking all around

I wanted to get to Central Park

So I took the Underground

I heard a woman screaming

I saw a mugger with a knife

I ran across and kicked it from him

Saw him running for his life

I picker up and wiped the blood

A life to treasure and keep

I bet that woman was glad last night

That I fell asleep.


I found myself at Croke Park

There was just a minute to go

I looked across at the referee

And he was just about to blow

I go the ball on the centre spot

And took off at some pace

I beat one Dub and then another

Then I shot and I picked my place

A 1 point win in injury time

It was our Sam Maguire to keep

I bet the whole of Antrim was glad last night

That I fell asleep.


I found myself at Clonard Monastery

For a Presbyterian that’s kinda scary

But Father Joseph and the little donkey

They want me to talk about Mary

Everybody’s calling me Father

Reaching rosaries for a blessing

Some are looking for holy water

Others that I would hear their confession

But it’s really been a privilege

One I’ll hold long and deep

It’s good to know for some of our dreams

We don’t need to be asleep.


This was a poem I “performed” at the post Novena concert where all the priests do their party pieces of songs etc. The first verse is over 30 years old and was actually dream I had. I shifted verse 2 from its original venue - Wembley. Verse 3 was brand new

What made it perfect was Fr Eddie coming out to host the evening in a Dublin GAA top. That gave my new second verse lift off. I had Clonard on its feet! 

It all fitted with the Novenas Theme of Let Us Dream. 


Bono Desert Island Discs

Bono on Desert Island Discs (June 26, 2022) was a beautiful radio show. 

He has that lazy north Dublin brogue. His deliberate diction has almost a poetic and sage-like authority, probably more poetic and sage-like than he actually is.

Bono’s honesty would probably have him agree with me. He doesn’t hide away from confessing his weaknesses laughing at his annoying gene. He is then honest about U2 and his part in it, even their tax decisions. 

He is even better when he opens up vulnerably about family, faith, his dad and the long secret of of a step son! Then there is his love and dependence on his wife Ali. His openness is always so refreshing. 

His choice of songs was very interesting. An Opera for his dad, Ali’s night time song of joy from Angelique Kidjo and his son’s very own song with his own band Inhaler suggests that Bono is without doubt a family man as well as rock ’n roll front man and activist.

Spiritually I was intrigued by the old hymn Abide With Me. I was even more fascinated at how he had sung Peter Frampton’s Show Me The Way at U2’s earliest gig. The nerd that I am knew he had but I hadn’t know why. I hadn’t seen it as the prayer that Bono made it for his teenage self:


Who can I believe in?

I'm kneeling on the floor

There has to be a force

Who do I phone?

The stars are out and shining

But all I really wanna know


Oh, won't you show me the way, yeah

I want you to show me the way


Of course! How I’ve been using music prayerfully since my own teens.

Best of all for me was his choice of Bob Dylan’s Every Grain Of Sand. I’ve also loved this song since the very first time I heard it. For me it is Dylan’s finest moment poetically and easily the best song he wrote in his Christian trilogy of albums between 1979 and 1981.

Bono speaks about stopping in to St Paul’s Cathedral on his way to the interview and seeing William Blake’s most famous lines on the wall:


To see a World in a grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour 


Bono suggests that Dylan must have had this in his mind as he wrote Every Grain Of Sand. 


I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other time it's only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.”


I had narrowly locked this inspiration into “the every sparrow falling” line of Jesus from Luke 10 but Bono’s observation widens the lens. 

In the end this is the song that Bono wants on his Desert Island. I can understand. It is an encompassing song of the inner life and spiritual pilgrimage. We all need to confess our mistakes and admit our hanging in the balance of faith and life. From there all we can is trust. Every Grain Of Sand is hymn-like in its use of language and image:


“Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer
The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay.

I gaze into the doorway of temptation's angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.


Great choice. Great show.


Rory Travellers

Rory! Rory! Rory!

I say those words most weekends that Rory is playing. After a long iron to 2 feet from the pin... and after another collapse, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!

I am a huge Rory McIlroy fan and maybe as a result his biggest critic.

Last night in the second round of the 2020 Travellers Championship, Rory played a caricature of his game. Starting the day at 8 under par he played quite beautifully to be 13 under on the 12th tee. Xander Schauffele was the only player able to stay with him.

And then… Rory went into Rory mode. Rory played the next 4 holes in 6 over par that included a quadruple and double bogey. 

I have been watching golf for 50 years and I have never known anyone like Rory. To be playing like he the best natural golfer in the world, that he without question is, and then play worse than I would expect to play myself. Nicklaus didn’t do it. Tiger didn’t do it. Only Rory.

I use the names of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods intentionally. After Rory won his first second Major in 2012 he made it clear that he was no longer playing for money but for records. He had his sights on Nicklaus’s 18 Major wins and when he picked up two more in 2014 it looked like that was very much on. 

No Majors since. Oh many will remind me he has been world number 1, Player of The Year a few times and he has just won his 21st USPGA tournament. BUT… that is not what Rory was playing for.

As the commentators floundered in disbelief - “bewildering” “unfathomable” - at his collapse on those holes yesterday my mind went back to that 2011 Masters when he blew a 4 shot third round lead with a mental collapse on the back 9. That evening my alarm bells rang loud. Rory was the most naturally talented golfer on the planet BUT did he have the head.

The head is so important. In sport confidence pulses from it. Resilience too. When a tee shot goes astray can you refocus? Too often Rory highlights his biggest weakness. He has head melts. It actually costs him almost every week. Some weeks I watch and feel deeply sorry for him travelling home knowing that he blew yet another win. Sometimes before he even begins. Remember the opening hole at Portrush?!

So… why? Well I have two surmises.

Firstly, I wonder about his leaving school too early. Rory didn’t need to stay at school. He was so unbelievably talented that he knew he’d never need A levels. He would manage financially.

It was a short sighted and flawed error. The mental side of sport is so much a part of it. Watch the footballers Guardiola and Klopp sign and you will see that as well as talented they are very strong mentally.

Golfers spend time in the gym to be as strong and fit as they can be. The mental muscle needs developed too. Most of Rory’s competitors did not leave school early. They went to Universities across America and developed their minds as well as their physiques. I surmise that Rory has suffered for not going own that route. 

Then secondly, there is his only child syndrome and his choice of caddie. Only children don’t like being told. I am one. I know. We had no brothers or sisters to call us out and put us right. We have a tendency to avoid those who will.

Harry Diamond is a good lad, a good golfer and I have no doubt a very good friend. Yet, as we watched Matthew Fitzpatrick winning the US Open with Billy Foster on his bag I couldn’t help wonder how many Majors would Rory have won if he’d had the courage to employ an experienced caddie. Someone who'd been there, talking sense to him, giving him a strong talking to when needed?

Now, Rory is only 33. He still has an opportunity to make a dent in that target of 18 Majors. I so really really hope he does. Whatever he does do this mental frailty in his make up has cost Rory many many Majors and other tournaments. It's a shame. 

I still think he can win the Travellers this weekend BUT I’m buckling in for the ride!


Stocki Novena 5

As a 17 year old I had a Damascus Road conversion. An atheist for about 10 years I realised that not only did God exist but that he loved me. Knowing God existed, creator and sustainer of the Universe, I wanted some of that. Yet, when I said to God, “take my life and do with it what you want,” I never thought I would be speaking at a Clonard Novena… on Mary!!!

Fr Gerry Reynolds has to take much of the blame.

I was brought up to be suspicious of Catholicism and Catholic priests. I saw Fr Gerry one day in Fitzroy, ten years before I became their minister, I walked across the room wondering if I should shake his hand or keep my spiritual distance. When I shook his hand his Christlikeness simply eroded that gap that I had set up.

I am deeply honoured that I and my family got to spend so much time with him.

Many times we debated our differences. He was deeply hurt that he couldn’t offer me communion But Janice and I are Presbyterians who don’t take communion as seriously. We were just so happy to receive his blessing.

About Novenas I used to tell him that I struggled with Mary as the mother of perpetual help. That isn’t how us Presbyterians see her described in the Bible. I told him that  in all these prayers to Mary I change the name to Jesus!

So I wonder if Fr Gerry was walking around heaven and noticed a Suggestions Box and suggested that Stockman would speak about Mary at a Novena! 

Now let me balance this out. I used to stand at Windsor Park, watching Northern Ireland, and hear sectarian songs that said horrible things about Mary.

Whatever way we look at Mary we need to see that she was the mother of Jesus. It was Luke not the Catholic Church that called her “Blessed among women…”

Let’s take a look. For 400 years God had been silent.. Then God interrupted time and space. 

Luke chapter 1 tells us that an angel appears, first to a man named Zechariah, and then to a teenage girl called Mary. 

The angel uses a phrase that repeats itself throughout the Gospels - “Do not be afraid!” Really! Easier said that done! Imagine that you are heading home on the Glider and a big white angel wings and all sits down beside you. “Do not be afraid?!?!?!”

For Mary the appearing of an angel is not the most frightening bit. The angel tells her that she is going to become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the son of God; the Messiah! 

I’d be frightened. Mary takes it with a deep spiritual maturity for one so young and heads off to her cousin Elizabeth also miraculously with child. 

I have to say that when I ponder the words of an angel, a pregnant teenager and a supportive cousin, I find myself unsettled on the fault line between earth’s expectations and the strange and mysterious ways of heaven. 

Mary lived the rest of her life being misunderstood. The neighbourhood’s most loved girl became the biggest scandal and disappointment. Pregnancy outside marriage was not the respectable way but, in adding to a million mysteries, that is the way God chose for his son to be born - the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Saviour of the world.. 

Mary responded to God with a huge life changing “yes”. Maybe we should have that up over City hall at Christmas. “Mary says Yes!”

Mary gave herself back to God. She took the rumour and gossip and carried the defamation of her character; in the name of God and for our salvation. Elizabeth’s words jump out, transcending the human cost to Mary with her heavenly accolade; “Blessed are you among women.”

Our Gospel reading today touches on this but gives us the main thing we should learn from Mary whatever our theology of her. 

Jesus is dealing with demons and he is being accused of being demonic.

Out of the blue someone shouts:

27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Mary is blessed because she heard God speak to her and obeyed. She believed. She trusted. She committed. She sacrificed. She gave back to God all that God had given her.

Mary’s obedience calls to us all. We can all be blessed as those who hear the word of God and obey it. Maybe after nine days of Novena. Of hearing God’s word and remembering Jesus death. Maybe on the way home on that Glider, without angels, we should ask how the Novenas have changed us.

Like he did Mary, is God asking us to do something transformational for him? It might cost. It might destroy our reputation. It might help in God’s work of salvation. Will we respond like this most remarkable teenage girl? 


Cursed for the life that’s befallen you

Mary, Blessed among women

Cursed for what neighbours are calling you

Mary, Blessed among women

Cursed that no one believes in you

Mary, Blessed among women

Cursed that the holy men grieve for you

Mary, Blessed among women.


Blessed for giving back to God

All that God had given you

Blessed that you no matter what

Did all that he asked you to

Blessed by ending up in doing

What you were born to do

Blessed for giving back to God

All that God had given you


Cursed by what your future serves

Mary, Blessed among women

Cursed for always living on nerves

Mary, Blessed among women

Cursed that you would suffer loss

Mary, Blessed among women

Cursed by the shadow of that cross

Mary, Blessed among women.


Blessed for giving back to God

All that God had given you

Blessed that you no matter what

Did all that he asked you to

Blessed by ending up doing

What you were born to do

Blessed for giving back to God

All that God had given you.