‘The Church in Ireland has come together to do what it does best: to bless and not to curse’ – By Peter Morrow

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“This song is not a rebel song.”

I very much doubt that I need to cite the source! In a similar way, these thoughts are not political. At least not in the temporal sense, or any more than those of Jesus when he stood in front of Pilate; but politics is difficult to avoid in this neck of the woods.

The Irish Blessing was released on Pentecost Sunday, “dedicated to each and every one of our key workers and those they care for on the island of Ireland.”

“The island of Ireland”? Even that could sound more political than geographical, if we wanted to make it so. The Church in Ireland has come together—and not a minute too soon, some might say—in a way it has not done before: “300 churches and Christian organisations from every county on the island… to sing an ancient Irish blessing.”

The hymn resounds with the Irish landscape; its words evoke the monastic settlements of Early Christian Ireland and the seats of kings. It’s almost impossible to read or sing about high towers or being raised heavenward without thinking of Glendalough, ‘beehive huts’ on Dingle or Skellig Michael—cast out on the Atlantic spray, almost to heaven itself. Even more difficult to praise the “High King of heaven”, without remembering Tara, or, closer to me, Navan Fort.

The version I know was translated from the Irish by Mary Byrne, versified by Eleanor Hull and published in the Presbyterian hymnbook. It was sung to the tune ‘Slane.’ There’s more of that landscape. I learned it in the austere pews of the ‘Meeting House’, shifting from foot to foot with every verse. The creaking of pitch pine as people stood was a call to worship in itself, every bit as much as the pipe organ. Then someone added carpet: comfort; it dulled the creak – comfort has its own way of dampening things, worship especially; the monks knew that. I knew nothing then of Glendalough or Tara, but enough to hear the wind of longing rushing through the score. Every time I hear it I feel the same way, seeing a better future through the past.

All the best art does the same. It settles down, draws you in and, speaking with the tones of a soft day, confirms your preconceptions before unveiling a new perspective, or another Vision.

But life sings songs of experience as well as songs of innocence: ”the soul grows in soil, the flower has a dark root” and the Church in Ireland has a chequered past; there’s no point in pretending otherwise. God has been rumoured to be on everyone’s side, and some have acted as gods instead of his servants. Saints and Scholars, yes, but some scoundrels too. This is to our great shame, and it’s unlikely that Christ has ever been commandeered to any cause but his own. Complicated is a useful word to describe our relationship with religion, which is at least part of the reason the blessing is appropriate and worth listening to: it’s so uncomplicated.

It’s “dedicated to each and every one of our key workers and those they care for”, that, really, is all of us: the caring and the cared for—and who among us would refuse a blessing?

May the road rise to meet you. May the sun be warm, the rains soft.
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.
May He, indeed – there’s been too little ‘holding’ in these Coronavirus days.
From: Resurrection, An Easter Sequence, W.R. Rodgers.

The Church in Ireland has come together to do what it does best: to bless and not to curse, and, to return to Bono, that’s “the real battle”. Maybe it’s “just begun”?

 


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About Author

Eamonn Mallie

I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.

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