On Wednesday 15th April John Dunlop was the Thought for the Day contributor on BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme. John has kindly given us permission to publish his reflection from that day as a PS blog.
This ‘Thought for the Day ” has been recorded from my study at home, a week before you hear it. The predictions are that by the time it is broadcast, the rapidly evolving crisis will have deepened. It’s shocking.
Towards the end of the “Troubles” a young woman was asked, “What was the worst atrocity” and she replied, “The day my father was murdered”.
The mounting statistics of deaths are about individuals and their friends and families, who are now being plunged into broken-hearted grief.
As Robert Burns wrote
Had we ne’er lov’d sae kindly,
Had we ne’er lov’d sae blindly!
Never met – or never parted,
We had ne’er been broken hearted.
The people of Old Testament times went through periodic disasters and catastrophic loss, so lament was woven into the fabric of what they read and sang; they built lament into the Bible.
“Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people” said Jeremiah (9.1)
The Psalmist prayed: “My sighing is not hidden from you,
My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
And the light of my eyes – it has also gone from me
This is not stiff upper lip stuff, this is heart-broken distress.
Following the Dunblane massacre of 16 children in March 1996, a Church of Scotland minister phoned his colleague, the hymn writer Rev. John Bell, and observed that the Church had forgotten how to lament. In response to this, John Bell and his now deceased colleague Graham Maule wrote and published the book “When Grief is Raw – Songs for times of sorrow and bereavement” .
Here is part of one of them,
“When trouble strikes and fear takes root,
And dreams are dry and sense unsound;
When hope becomes a barren waste,
The doubts like mountains soar around.
Our wandering minds believe the worst
And ask, as faith and fervour fade,
“Has God now turned his back on us
forsaking those he loved and made?”
GOD says “See how a woman cares.
Can she forget the child she bore?
Even if she did, I shan’t forget:
Though feeling lost, I love you more”
“My dearest daughter, fondest son,
My weary folk in every land,
Your souls are cradled in my heart,
Your names are written on my hand.”
“Then praise the Lord through faith and fear,
In holy and in hopeless place;
For height and depth and heaven and hell
Can’t keep us far from God’s embrace.”*
The eternal light of the once dead but now risen Christ shines into the darkness of our death and grief … and the dark, however dark, is not dense enough to put out the light.
John Dunlop is a Presbyterian Minister. He retired in 1974 after 26 years as the minister of Rosemary Presbyterian Church in North Belfast having previously worked in Jamaica. In his ministry he has attempted to work out what Jesus and the gospel means in individual, relational, ecclesiological, social and community terms. He has tried to live within the wide horizons of Colossians 1.15-20 and has resisted claustrophobic individual, ecclesiological and social separatism. It has been quite a challenge.
* From the song ‘A Woman’s Care’, published in Heaven Shall Not Wait and When Grief is Raw, copyright © 1987 WGRG, c/o Iona Community, Glasgow, Scotland.
www.wildgoose.scot. Reproduced by permission.
Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.