June 21st is the Longest Day. In Northern Ireland it has been set aside, in recent years, as a Day Of Reflection for those who were lost or injured during our Troubles, an initiative of Healing Through Remembering.
Today there will be various events across Northern Ireland to help with that reflection. It is not a massively known thing but quietly in all kinds of places people will reflect on very tragic times.
I had a poignant experience at an event on the Day Of Reflection a few years ago. During a quiet reflective event in Fr Martin Magill’s Church I played what I believe to be the most pastoral song for times of grief, Deacon Blue’s Take Me To The Place.
It was a b-side, not one of their best known songs. The tune has a melancholic soothing to it and then Ricky Ross sings:
"Take me to the place where your heart hurts most
Lead me through the dark world gates down there
Where all the ghosts of sorrow and pain
And fear and despair stay hiding
And we'll walk right through to our own way, our own place"
After the event a woman came forward to speak to me. She shared with me how she had lost her husband near the end of the Troubles. Loyalist paramilitaries walked into the printers that he was working in and shot him dead. He was not involved in the conflict.
He had been a Deacon Blue fan and on the way to this very event she had reached for a Deacon Blue CD as a way of remembering. When I played Take Me To The Place she sensed that something beyond us was happening. She was very moved and somehow comforted by the circumstances and the song. It was a reminder for me about how important music is in our healing.
Donald and Emily Saliers wrote a fascinating book together called A Song To Sing, A Life To Live. The fascination is that both of this father and daughter duo are musicians, Don a Professor of Theology and Music and Emily one half of the popular rock duo The Indigo Girls; thus bringing Saturday night and Sunday morning together in their surmises.
Sharing their own personal loss of Emily’s younger sister they write, “Music was one of our primary ways of coming to terms with her death.” I believe that one of the conduits for God’s comfort is lament. The Bible is full of it - angry, frustrated, painful. Songs of lament do something deep in our souls. They can drill to the nerve centre of our pain, somehow empathise, soothe and mysteriously be companions as we journey through dark days. As a pastor I often give friends or parishioners a song or some music that will be a resource through their grief.
Deacon Blue’s song Take Me To The Place is the most perfect catharsis song I have ever heard. It was written in memory and dedicated to Italian Scottish photographer Oscar Mazaroli.
Growing up in Church writer Ricky Ross has a real sensitivity for such scared places and spaces and based the song on the hymn Abide With Me and the traditional melody “eventide.”
It’s stunning poignancy in Ricky’s yearning breaking voice, Lorraine Macintosh’s angelic wail, the sorrowful stark piano, the words and the tune, opens doors to the soul and let’s out the raw ripped up heart pain and let’s in some healing holy balm and the daring and courageous almost alien thought of hopefulness and grace.
Perhaps today, for just a few minutes, we could all reach for this song. In the world of the internet that is possible. Press play, close your eyes and use it to remember the loss, the hurt, the pain and then why not pray for or, if you’re not the praying kind, wish for the healing of individuals and of our entire community.