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Classic Articles from the Vault #11

Healing Through Song

By Deborah Robertson

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

I can’t remember where I was last week when I realised that feeling had gone. Perhaps we were sitting at the kitchen table. That feeling would overwhelm me, especially when I was having a wonderful time with my son. The feeling I had was one of profound sorrow.

It was at the same kitchen table about eight years earlier that I couldn’t take it anymore. It was breakfast and my son was enjoying his cereal when I looked at him. I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t help thinking, ‘You are such an amazing boy! Where is your brother? Where is your sister?’

I was at the sink when I accidentally broke a cup. The sound of it smashing on the ground was nerve-shattering. Then I knocked my knee on the kitchen chair which really hurt. Somehow, I stifled a scream and afterwards drove my son to school. When I got home, and at the same kitchen table, I broke down.

I had been used to maintaining an image. I had been working as a model/actress but for about a year I couldn’t stop eating. I also stopped caring about keeping up appearances. I told my agent to stop sending me to auditions. I wanted to get going again and I used to scold myself over and over, ‘Just get up, stop stuffing your face with biscuits and chocolate; do some sit ups and go and earn some money!’ But the scolding didn’t work.

Life wasn’t working for me. I was mourning my miscarriages.

The first miscarriage was very difficult but I thought I could handle it. But the second one! I remember after having the second one I was filled with fear. I lay on the bed with my partner and was stone cold. Dr Deborah (I’m not a doctor) deduced from the experience that I would never be able to have another baby. My partner couldn’t comfort me. Nothing could comfort me. I was inconsolable.

Not long after the miscarriage my partner and I split up. Years went by. The pain in my heart affected every part of my life. I believed that so many things had happened in my life that I hadn’t dealt with properly but I would now give myself space to properly grieve. My son and I moved to a less expensive home and that vow to give myself time to grieve triggered a meltdown of my carefully constructed mask. It was at that time I started writing the song I thought no one would ever hear.

The chorus goes: ‘I can’t say one good thing, and I pray ‘cos I can’t think, that the Lord above has you in His arms. He’s holding you close and He’s being your Mum’.

Somewhere amongst all this unhappiness I became a born again Christian. The people I went to church with seemed so happy, so ‘shiny’. But I had to be honest, otherwise I had no hope. I started writing in an exercise book. ‘Broke a china cup this morning, knocked my knee upon a chair, I looked across the table at your face that wasn’t there’. That was accurate. ‘I can’t keep on hiding all the tears I should be crying, all the loneliness inside me and the way I still care’.

I turned to food while I was working through the grief but there were also times I’d write more songs. I have an arts background so I thought I would write a musical. While I sing I didn’t have any keyboard skills so I rang the local university to arrange lessons. Yanina, who took my call, happened to be the worship leader at her church. Yanina is a beautiful, compassionate woman and I really enjoyed sharing some of my songs with her and learning some chords.

Over the next couple of years, we’d get together for lessons. Eventually I said I’d like to do an album so she gave up her lunch hours and I’d run my songs past her. The tune of ‘He’s Being Your Mum’ came back to me. I told her I had a song about a miscarriage but I didn’t know if it was any good. She insisted that I sing it to her. By the end of the song we were both crying. It was so healing to cry with this beautiful woman of God.

Yanina said she wanted me to write a positive ending to the song. ‘I can’t say one good thing. But I’ll pray and I will sing because the Lord above has you in His arms. He’s holding you close and He’s being your Mum’. Somehow that last chorus changed the whole song. Somehow that chorus has changed my whole life. There was hope in that chorus.

I had a revelation. That my babies really are with Jesus and that one day my son and I will meet the rest of our family. This was a tremendous comfort to me. Once I knew this in my heart I could finally, albeit slowly, get on with my life. People seem to appreciate the honesty of the song. That the pain of losing your baby or babies is real but Jesus is there to comfort. As it says in the scriptures, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’ (Matthew 5:4). He is true to His word.

The more I seemed to enjoy my son’s company, the more the sorrow in my heart was amplified. However, at the kitchen table recently, I enjoyed his company without that ‘mournful’ feeling. I experienced the joy of his company without the usual sorrow. It’s been 11 years since I had the second miscarriage but I feel like I’m on the way to complete healing.

I look forward to one day meeting my babies but until then, I feel blessed. Very blessed that I have my son to love on the earth. Very blessed that Jesus is being ‘mum’ to my babies in heaven. I find the words of another song God gave me around that time to be true, ‘Jesus can heal your life’.

Deborah Robertson is an Australian singer/songwriter.

While the Berlin Wall came down in the 1980s, this wall – notably between the Shankill and Falls roads in West Belfast – is a forceful reminder of the divisions that still exist between the Protestant and Catholic communities.

I visited Clonard, the Redemptorist monastery (Church of the Most Holy Redeemer) and learnt that the wall runs along the perimeter of the church on the other side of the road. Protestant families live within a stone’s throw from the monastery behind an eight-metre high wall.

It’s one thing to recall the television news reports about the hostilities from the past but gazing out of the monastery windows at the ugly reminder of sectarian animus is another thing altogether. It’s quite surreal.

The hatred between Catholics and Protestants runs deep and was not new to the late 20th century. Indiscriminate killings on both sides of the religious divide, for example, occurred in Belfast in the early 1920s.

One of those to lose their lives during the city’s troubled past was Redemptorist Brother Michael Morgan. Father Brendan McConvery, an Irish Redemptorist, gave me a guided tour of Clonard and showed me the spot inside the monastery where Br Morgan was shot and killed by a British soldier in 1920.

 

It was a part of Irish history unknown to me and while his death was almost 100 years ago, I was still saddened to hear about it. While I was in Belfast, I also learnt a lot about Father Gerry Reynolds, a Redemptorist priest, who devoted much of his latter life encouraging peace between Catholics and Protestants. 

Fr Gerry entered the Redemptorist order in 1952 and was ordained a priest in 1960. He fulfilled a variety of parish work over the next 30 years. However, it was his friendship with a Methodist Minister, the Rev Sam Burch, in the 1980s that catapulted him into a new vocation and mission in life.

Fr Gerry had suggested to Rev Burch they meet the family of Denis Taggart, a part-time sergeant with the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), who was shot and killed outside his home by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). His son, aged 13 at the time, came home soon afterwards to find his father.

Rev Burch said later that Denis’ mother and Fr Gerry cried when he presented her with a carving of a weeping Jesus. Dr Gladys Ganiel, who wrote a biography on Fr Gerry (Unity Pilgrim The Life of Fr Gerry Reynolds CSsR), said the grieving mother told Fr Gerry if the gunmen had known her son “they never would have killed him.” This comment strongly resonated with Fr Gerry.

Fr Gerry was also great friends with the Rev Ken Newell, a Presbyterian Minister. Despite criticism from politicians and religious on both sides, their friendship over time resulted in increased dialogue between the warring paramilitaries.

“Thankfully there are now dozens of Christian groups beavering away together to defrost the lingering suspicion-laden religious attitudes and in their place generate the warmth of spiritual openness, hope and peace,” wrote the Rev Newell in the Irish Redemptorist newsletter, Reds.

“It is an indubitable fact that no Catholic priest in the history of Ireland has attended and befriended more Protestant churches than Fr Gerry Reynolds. Our friendship focussed on ending violence, eroding the spiritual apartheid between the churches, and nurturing a process of dialogue which would lead towards exclusively democratic and inclusive(ness) which would stimulate greater communal reconciliation.”

Fr Brendan, also writing in Reds, said Fr Gerry was committed to Christian unity.  

“For Gerry Reynolds, the journey towards unity of all the Christian churches was nothing less than the moment when they would share the Body of the Lord at the common table,” says Fr Brendan. “During the last years of his life, each Sunday morning, he led a group of ‘Unity Pilgrims’ to a service in a Protestant Church somewhere in Belfast.

“For him, it was important to observe the discipline of his own church and of the host church.”

Fr Gerry also had a strong connection to Charles de Foucauld’s spiritual teachings (see story on page …). “Gerry Reynolds was a natural contemplative. It is probably one of the reasons he was so drawn to the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld, through both the priestly fraternity and his friendship with the Little Sisters of Jesus,” says Fr Brendan.

“Contact with de Foucauld’s spirituality paradoxically led him back to aspects of his own Redemptorist tradition, with its emphasis on the mystery of Christ as ‘Crib, Cross and Sacrament, in which daily adoration was normal and its preference to preach the Gospel to the poor.”

One of the great things about travelling is the educational aspect, taking in new sights and learning about the local people. Even though I work for a Redemptorist publishing house, Majellan, the Gerry Reynolds story was on the whole a mystery to me. Visiting Belfast and Clonard gave me insights into the man who, in his own way, contributed so much to a more ‘peaceful’ Northern Ireland.

With the muddle that is Brexit still working its way toward a resolution of sorts, one can only hope and pray the work of Fr Gerry, and the many others, doesn’t unravel in the years ahead. Fr Gerry Reynolds, the Redemptorist priest and peacemaker, died aged 80 on November 30, 2015. What a remarkable and true man of Christ he was.

You can listen to the first three episodes our new family counseling podcast series of Figuring out Families!

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