1912 will see the world turn its eyes to East Belfast. There, just a few miles from where I live, Belfast shipyard workers built the most famous ship that ever sailed... and sank; The Titanic. Half a century after Titanic, in the shadow of this shipyard, in the myriad of narrow, drab and claustrophobic streets a piece of art was created in the most inauspicious of all small two up, two down houses that has had rock critics using words like holiness to describe it.
Van Morrison’s iconic record Astral Weeks is like the rarest of meteorites appearing in a night sky without warning. It is an acoustic, ambient blues and jazz fusion with pain, death, love, romance and transcendental yelping that draws from a legacy of Woody Guthrie, evangelical Christianity and a transvestite called Madame George among many other things. Within its genius it is easy to trace the themes that would keep Van Morrison in muse for the rest of his career; childlike visions, his Belfast upbringing, religion and these continual moments of spiritual epiphany even in the middle of dark nights of the soul. As you listen to Astral Weeks you can feel one young man’s pain and as you are pulled into the slipstream and viaducts of his dreams you journey with him towards redemption. In the midst of the common and most ordinary Van Morrison captures a vivid vibrant vision of the sacred and holy. That same Hyndford Street where Astral Weeks was written became a song in its own right in 1991. Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary Morrison calls it dreaming in God. As yet another songs says, it is an ability to transcend the ritual and find the spiritual.
Holiness is all around us. As William Blake put it,
“See the Lord in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour”
Or cleric, poet and author Mike Starkey put it:
“The place you are is full of wonders
Even if that place is a wilderness
Open your eyes wide
Look for long enough and you will see.”