POEMS/LYRICS

THOUGHTS ON GRIEF

Grief 10

My Uncle Bert passed away last night (December 18, 2020). He was my dad's brother and I never remember a time when he wasn't in my life. My earliest memories have him in them. He was maybe my favourite human being. He was warm and funny, laid back and loyal. He loved me so much. I've heard the cliche but I can honestly say that our world is worse for him not being in it. 

I wrote this poem some time after my mum passed away. It was a combination of thoughts people shared and things I learned about grief. Here it is and then I explain it.

It is for so many others that I know who are grieving at the moment. 

 

I’m the reed by the lough shore

That suddenly swishes and sways

The deep fibres ripped from root

And all that I know gives way.

 

Culture shock silently creeping

I’m trying to track where’s next

It’s not that I don’t understand

But I cannot cue the context.

 

I know your mouth is moving

And I am here, I’m listening

It’s not that I cannot hear you

It’s the relevance that I’m missing

 

Being still to know that God is God

Working out, who now I am

Surmising where this wouldn't sting 

Crazy dreams of lions and lambs

 

Melancholy melodies salve a soul

Piano strings of redemption ring

That beautiful piece of heartache

As Karin like an angel sings

 

Be gentle on yourself, my soul

Walk the valley right on through

Stretch your hand in the loving direction

To the hand reaching out for you.

Let me take the poem one verse at a time..

 

I’m the reed by the lough shore

That suddenly swishes and sways

The deep fibres ripped from root

And all that I know gives way.

My friend Heather Carey shared this one. The fibres of the reed ripped out. It is the best description of the loss of a parent or I imagine a spouse. It is like your world shakes. Head, heart, soul and body sway. You keel over. You are blown over. 

 

Culture shock silently creeping

I’m trying to track where’s next

It’s not that I don’t understand

But I cannot cue the context.

I have experience culture shock in different places. I have lived for months in Africa and North America. It is always one of disorientation. It is like the compass you take for granted is broken. Your next move is blurred.

 

I know your mouth is moving

And I am here, I’m listening

It’s not that I cannot hear you

It’s the relevance that I’m missing

There is a lot of chatter around funerals. There are so many kind words. So many stories, some remembered and many never heard before. It is a helpful part of grieving. BUT there are times that people are chattering, filling the uncomfortable silences and it all seems so irrelevant. 

 

Being still to know that God is God

Working out, who now I am

Surmising where this wouldn't sting 

Crazy dreams of lions and lambs

God… and hope… Psalm 46 encourages us to know God in the midst. Emmanuel (along with grace) is my favourite word - God with us. In Psalm 46 God is the solid ground as everything else shifts and quakes. 

But also… who I am? When mum died I was a motherless child. With dad’s passing an orphan. With Uncle Bert I feel like a balloon no longer moored to my past. It stings but the audacious hope of eternity soothes.

 

Melancholy melodies salve a soul

Piano strings of redemption ring

That beautiful piece of heartache

As Karin like an angel sings

As everyone know knows me knows. Music is a conduit of the Spirit… of healing… of making sense. With my mum it was my friend Karin Bergquist (and Linford!) from Over The Rhine who whispered into my soul. With dad it has been Doug Gay’s suite of songs about his dad’s passing, Life After Death. Catharsis in songs - powerful.

 

Be gentle on yourself, my soul

Walk the valley right on through

Stretch your hand in the loving direction

To the hand reaching out for you.

So many people shared those “Be gentle with yourself” words when mum died. I think that I have spent the years trying to work out what they mean… and then how to do it. They are such wise words. Essential words. Grief is heavy and exhausting. Hiding away and resting is so helpful as we come to terms with loss.

And Janice’s hand is still the place where I find sense and some kind of healing… a tangible conduit to the Holy Spirit's comfort. 


I SEE IT STILL SAYS NO! (I DROVE BACK INTO BELFAST)

Stormont Chains

 

I drove back into Belfast

I see it still says no

Anyone sowing the seeds of love

Should be told they never grow

The times, are they-a changing

Because it seems too much the same

Past their sell by date ideologies

Holding all of us in chains

The homeless dying on the streets

While the charities rattle their tins

Preacher shouting for others to repent

Ignoring his very own sins.

 

I drove back into Belfast

Forgetting that it never forgets

Steals, kills, destroys itself

Where's the blessing of regret

The comedians can be prophetic

And the politicians risible

Long waiting lists and Foodbanks

For protocols and principles

A new face to the skyline

It shines in all its splendour

But souls inside seem old and cold

The futility of 'No Surrender'

 

'Love thy neighbour as thyself'

Authorised verse that never applies

I surmise is it not a compromise

Not to compromise.

 

I wrote this in the early 90s when I used to drive back into Belfast from Dublin where I lived from 1991 to 1994. 

Belfast was stuck. It was pretty hopeless.

Brian Gormley wrote a great tune and made it a song. 

I found it this week and was sad how it still might be a relevant blog. I believe we have moved a long way since 1994 BUT we have still such a long long way to go. I rewrote a few lines...

 


DRESS MY DREAMS IN DENIM

Stocki and Jani 5

Down by the edge of the ocean

I’m splashing with a laughing child

Dancing in the joy she brings me

She has her mother’s eyes

Then in the moonlight evening

I hold her mother tight

Discerning minds and burning hearts

Through the shadows and the light.

 

I’m going to dress my dreams in denim

And I’m going to work for what is true

With one eye on forever

I’m going to see this vision through.

 

Intolerance and arrogance

Give way to divergent unity

Those who have give those who need

In a loving community

Vision becoming crystal clear

Dressed in purist white

The groom delights at the altar

In the beauty of his bride.

 

I’m going to dress my dreams in denim

And I’m going to work for what is true

With one eye on forever

I’m going to see this vision through.

 

Bars of steel and stigma

Fall away before the just

The needy not only want no more

They’ve also learned to trust

And every colour’s neutral

The streets give up their names

My people learn to love my people

Where we are all the same.

 

I’m going to dress my dreams in denim

And I’m going to work for what is true

With one eye on forever

I’m going to see this vision through.

 

I was scanning old blogs and came across this poem from the very early 1990s. 

It started with a Charles Swindoll quotation from a book I had bought in Toronto as far back as 1979. The idea of dressing your dreams in denim really caught my imagination. Denim. Denim was my identity. I wore it all the time much to my poor mother's chagrin. I was a child of the 60s - hippy scruff. I would even end up getting married in denim!

Denim, as Swindoll pointed out, was the cloth of work. Indeed, the first person I ever remember wearing denims was my uncle Bert. He was a carpenter and his dungarees always told me that he was working.

I used this phrase a lot in my work with young people that was the concentration of my vocation in my 20s and early 30s. 

This poem however is very much subjective. I am living in Dublin. My years in Dublin from 1991 to 1994 were so formative. I got out of the often too restrictive Northern evangelical pressures. I was able to take space to think through my faith for myself. I was discovering something wider, higher and deeper than what I had known. This was very much a mission statement, a vision for my life as a follower of Jesus and a commitment to it.

What amazes me as I read it tonight is how detailed it is on the thirty years that would follow it. It is even hard to believe that my wife and daughters are some years away. If I wrote it now I would understand but I cannot believe that my 30 year old self was well enough rounded to be so clear about where my following of Jesus was going to take me. 

Even more interesting is that it both describes my last thirty years and is also statement of faith that I need to waken up and recommit to every day of my early 60s. Oh vocationally I will be ever committed to this pragmatic outworking of my faith. I guess job wise there will come a time when I need to ask do I want to put those work clothes on anymore. 


BIG MOMENTS (For Rich Mullins October 21, 1955 – September 19, 1997)

Rich 8

I had had the wonderful privilege of hanging out with Rich Mullins in our home in Dublin, 78 Eaton Wood Green an address that became the title of an instrumental on his album A Liturgy, A Legacy and A Ragamuffin Band. Later there would be times in Windowrock, Arizona and Wichita, Kansas. Finally back here in Ireland at Summer Madness.

He was already a CCM star when I first heard him sing in our front room in Eaton Wood Green. His voice grabbed my attention and then the words of a brand new song:

 

And the coal trucks come a-runnin'
With their bellies full of coal
And their big wheels a-hummin'
Down this road that lies open like the soul of a woman
Who hid the spies who were lookin'
For the land of the milk and the honey

 

Wow. I was utterly captivated. A poet in the world of Contemporary Christian Music was rare and Rich rose above them all. Next up he sang Here In America:

 

And if you listen to my songs I hope you hear the water falling
I hope you feel the oceans crashing on the coast of north New England
I wish I could be there just to see them, two summers past I was
And the Holy King of Israel loves me here in America

 

Goodness me! I spent the next few years discovering Rich's music and loving those little moments in his company. 

When he was killed on a car crash 25 years ago today I was devastated. We had talked about me booking him for Greenbelt and had agreed that we'd leave it for a year. It would never happen. 

To make sense of it I wrote Big Moments and still stand by it as a poem.

 

BIG MOMENTS (For Rich Mullins October 21, 1955 – September 19, 1997) 

There are big moments of grace
And times when saints come to touch us
Chance meetings that seem so meant to be
Coincidences far too obvious
And I can hear the water falling
The ocean crash on New England’s shore
The brown brick spine of some dirty brown alley
The shaving that fell on the carpenter’s floor
I can feel the hammer dulcimer move me
That voice proclaim truth and love
Giving me glimpses and clues of this life on earth
And inklings of the promise above
Just a speck upon my time line
That the son caught to make shine bright
Such big, big moments in tiny seconds
Leaving me to follow in your traces of light
How I longed to spend more time with you
Maybe someday that time will come
You left a legacy to think on til then
Thoughts to fill my life and then some
Someone said that you know a saint
By how alive they make you feel
Not by how much they show to you
But by how little they conceal
You left us with broken hearts and souls
Our hope is feebly trying to temper it
We lost so much more than skin and bone
You are the world as best as I remember it.


THE ANGEL'S SHARE (For Season Of Creation)

Margie 1

Today (September 1, 2022) sees the beginning of the Season Of Creation when, once a year, the Christian family unites for a worldwide celebration of prayer and action to protect our common home.

This summer we have watched the climate crisis encroach with temperatures rising beyond prediction. 

This is the art of the God that we call abba Father in the Lord's Prayer.

If anyone should care about the wondrous creation it is those who believe such. 

I wrote this poem as a kind of Psalm of praise to the God of Creation for Ballycastle, where we spend so much of our leisure time.  

The first verse is standing where the river meets the sea in Ballycastle.

The second verse was written as I showed a few American friends around Dunluce castle. I was looking out the gap of an old window and some of the stones of the castle ruins was the same shape as the Giant’s Causeway, sitting round the coast in the direction that I was looking.

The Angel’s Share is the aroma that wafts off the vats at the Bushmills’ whiskey distillery. I saw this evening time by the north Antrim coast as the leftover beauty of the day for those same angels.

Rich Mullins’ song Colour Green inspired the idea for the last verse and then we get to that moment where Jesus dies in the face of all of the world's injustice... including the justice for the earth ravaged for selfish gain. 

 

The moon is walking on the water

From her home above Fair Head

Like a light bulb lit up in heaven

Much more beautiful without a lamp shade

Like a ballerina she shimmers across

Just gently skimming off the dance floor

Gliding on the waves in her yellow dress

Before waltzing up along the seashore

And two gulls shooting the evening breeze

How they spent there day and where

And alone I stand in epiphany

Breathing in the angel’s share.

 

I’m gazing out the eastern window

To these ancient walls rich seam

Born in a clash of volcano and sea

Erupting from the sculptor of heaven’s dreams

And west, I see a painting hangs

Of eternal colour and deepest mystery

Six short days to set up the canvas

Then sketching on by the numbers of history

And friends are taking photographs

Faded imitations of what is there

And alone I stand in epiphany

Breathing in the angel’s share.

 

From where in your imagination came waves caressing

Where in eternity did you think blue sea

From where the depth and breadth of ocean

And where did you come up with me

From where in your imagination came the sun descending

Where in eternity did you think red sky

From where did you conjure the dream of love

And the idea that you’d have to die

The idea that you’d have to die

The idea that God would have to die.


BRACE! BRACE! - A PSALM

Brace Brace

Brace! Brace!

When we are blown out of the blue

By what is beyond us

Or falling with tears cascading

In the loss of those we love so much

When souls are shuddered

By our name uttered in that sentence of bad news

Or us all plunging together

Towards the wages of our self absorption

 

Adopt the brace position

And believe

That like the baby

Wrapped

In the protective arms of a parent

Like, on the safety card

So we the children of God

Are enveloped in loving arms.

 

Stallengrad

 

I got comfortable in my aeroplane seat and opened a new book, Justin Welby’s The Power of Reconciliation. It begins with an image of Mary and the baby Jesus, drown by a German pastor when the Germans were surrounded in Stalingrad in winter 1942.

He drew it as a place for his besieged soldiers in the cold and dark physically and spiritually to pray and meditate.

Welby writes, “the child is the Christ-child, the baby of Bethlehem. Whose existence was menaced from his birth until his death and who yet rose from the dead and decisively changes the world.”

Minutes later I was listening to the Safety Drill and right there on the safety card was the brace position. It was not a huge leap in my head to see the similarity to the icon.

That nudged me to the Psalms and with particularly the beginning of Psalm 91 in my mind I jotted down my own.


GLAD I FELL ASLEEP

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 Willie 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. 


SURMISES ON GRIEF - UNPACKED

Grief 10

I’m the reed by the lough shore

That suddenly swishes and sways

The deep fibres ripped from root

And all that I know gives way.

 

Culture shock silently creeping

I’m trying to track where’s next

It’s not that I don’t understand

But I cannot cue the context.

 

I know your mouth is moving

And I am here, I’m listening

It’s not that I cannot hear you

It’s the relevance that I’m missing

 

Being still to know that God is God

Working out, who now I am

Surmising where this wouldn't sting 

Crazy dreams of lions and lambs

 

Melancholy melodies salve a soul

Piano strings of redemption ring

That beautiful piece of heartache

As Karin like an angel sings

 

Be gentle on yourself, my soul

Walk the valley right on through

Stretch your hand in the loving direction

To the hand reaching out for you.

Let me take the poem one verse at a time..

 

I’m the reed by the lough shore

That suddenly swishes and sways

The deep fibres ripped from root

And all that I know gives way.

 

My friend Heather Carey shared this one. The fibres of the reed ripped out. It is the best description of the loss of a parent or I imagine a spouse. It is like your world shakes. Head, heart, soul and body sway. You keel over. You are blown over. 

 

Culture shock silently creeping

I’m trying to track where’s next

It’s not that I don’t understand

But I cannot cue the context.

 

I have experience culture shock in different places. I have lived for months in Africa and North America. It is always one of disorientation. It is like the compass you take for granted is broken. Your next move is blurred.

 

I know your mouth is moving

And I am here, I’m listening

It’s not that I cannot hear you

It’s the relevance that I’m missing

 

There is a lot of chatter around funerals. There are so many kind words. So many stories, some remembered and many never heard before. It is a helpful part of grieving. BUT there are times that people are chattering, filling the uncomfortable silences and it all seems so irrelevant. 

 

Being still to know that God is God

Working out, who now I am

Surmising where this wouldn't sting 

Crazy dreams of lions and lambs

 

God… and hope… psalm 46 encourages us to know God in the midst. Emmanuel (along with grace) is my favourite word - God with us. In Psalm 46 God is the solid ground as everything else shifts and quakes. 

But also… who I am? When mum died I was a motherless child. With dad’s passing an orphan. It stings but the audacious hope of eternity soothes.

 

Melancholy melodies salve a soul

Piano strings of redemption ring

That beautiful piece of heartache

As Karin like an angel sings

 

As everyone know knows me knows. Music is a conduit of the Spirit… of healing… of making sense. With my mum it was my friend Karin Bergquist (and Linford!) from Over The Rhine who whispered into my soul. With dad it has been Doug Gay’s suite of songs about his dad’s passing, Life After Death. Catharsis in songs - powerful.

 

Be gentle on yourself, my soul

Walk the valley right on through

Stretch your hand in the loving direction

To the hand reaching out for you.

 

So many people shared those “Be gentle with yourself” words when mum died. I think that I have spent five years trying to work out what they mean… and then how to do it. They are such wise words. Essential words. Grief is heavy and exhausting. Hiding away and resting is so helpful as we come to terms with loss.

And Janice’s hand is still the place where I find sense and some kind of healing… 


GRIEF IS... A LABOURER

Coffin

Grief is disguised as a trickster

Conjuring weariness from the invisible

 

But look again

Grief has you digging

Deep into sacred spaces

For precious memories long buried

Grief has you pushing and pulling

The love lost in the void

Bereft of a heart to embrace

Grief has you carrying

The hod filled with sorrow not seen

Pressing heavily on your soul’s shoulders

 

Grief is actually a labourer

Tilling the rugged ground of hardest parting 

 

Grief is exhausting

Be gentle with yourself.


BE GENTLE MY HEART

Tender heart

Be gentle my heart

Be tender

It’s mental my heart

Remember

There has never been days

Like these

So, please

Be gentle my heart, be tender.

 

Be defiant my soul

Be open

Be reliant my soul

Ever hopin’

That everybody is heading

To a place

Of grace

So be defiant my soul, be open.

 

Don’t lie

Or deny

It’s tough

Fix your eye

And rely

On love.