FaithArts
Home
News
Blog
Films
Poetry
Drama
Music
Articles
Books
Video Clips
Links
Newsletter
Contact
Blog Entries Jan-March 2011

24/3/11
Last night I got to experience the opening night of Emmanuel 2011 in the Helix. It was brilliant - around 700 students singing their hearts out as they performed a wide range of liturgical music from plain chant to modern gospel. Our own school had a group included so I was glad to be able to support them. Students had been praticing the music for a few months in school and yesterday was the first time they came together. Christ Among Us by David Haas set the tone, Lord I Want to Be a Christian was an African spiritual and featured some good solos and tasty guitar work. Irish composers were well represented, including Ronan McDonagh, Liam Lawton, Bernard Sexton and Ian Callanan who directed the choirs and got to blow out a birthday cake at the end. Apart from his own compositions, including the touching Warm Embrace, he had arranged some of the material, e.g. A Mhuire Mháthair. The audience got a chance to join in especially on Come Bring Your Burdens to God where we had to learn three-part harmony on the spot. Things livened up big-time in the second half, starting with I Will Follow Him from Sister Act. We got a taste of the theme song for the upcoming Eucharistic Congress - Though We Are Many by Bernard Sexton. Trading My Sorrows by Darrell Evans had everybody joining in the hand gestures, while Thanks and Praise by John Angotti and Ed Boldne had all the students standing swaying and clapping. Go Out and Tell by Bobby Fisher and Greg Lee was the perfect song to finish, sending us all out on a high! Fr Pat O'Donohue, Dublin Diocese Director of Music called on anyone involved in parishes to let this music and these students uplift our liturgies. Amen to that!

22/3/11
Web TV served me well last weekend as I was able to watch the Religious Education Congress from Annaheim in the Diocese of Los Angeles from the comfort of home. I was particularly impressed by the music, in performances and liturgies. Our own Liam Lawton, along with Tony Alonso conducted one presentation, "Castle of the Soul", on the Saturday - it was beautiful. Earlier we got to hear the Jacob and Matthew Band, who provided the lively theme song from the Congress, "People Rise Up". There was also a reference to a Jazz Mass, but unfortunately that wasn't featured in the webcast. The music at the closing liturgy with new Archbishop Josť Gomez was particularly striking, as was the whole event. There was much liturgical dancing, which I found distracting, but it certainly was graceful and respectful. Clip on left shows Opening Ceremony.

12/3/11
Last night I got to see The Rite, the latest film with a exorcism theme. In terms of that genre it is well made, literate, and is boosted by an intense performance by Anthony Hopkins as an old exorcist. Much of the film is about the struggle between doubt and faith, especially in a young seminarian, but the film is strongly supportive of faith. I can't see much use for it in RE class though as the material is quite disturbing, and the tone is unrelentingly serious. The exorcism scenes aren't all that graphic by modern standards, but thery are unsettling, especially as the main character who is possessed is a young girl pregnant from incest. It is thought provoking for a very mature audience, but you have to remind yourself that it's entertainment as well and there are some clichéd and OTT elements (room full of frogs for example!).

On last Monday's interview on Spirit Radio I discussed a recent film Paul. It tells the story of a foul-mouthed alien who meets two sci-fi nerds played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (from Hot Fuzz and Shawn of the Dead). I wanted to like it, and there were some funny moments, but the crudenesss and bad language was way over the top. Worse still there was at times a sneering and dismissive attitude to religious faith. The particular target was a creationist family - the father is a rough bible-and-shotgun-totin' redneck, while the daughter, who thinks the very existence of the alien contradicts the Bible and so resolves to make up for her years of piety with some intense sinning and swearing. Definitely leaves a sour taste

17/2/11
Got to speak on Spirit Radio last Monday - I was interviewed about faith and the arts on Ronan Johnston's morning show. Discussed some films, Of God's and Men and The King's Speech, Ashley Cleveland's performance in the Transatlantic Sessions and various issues relating to teaching RE and English. Looks like it will become a weekly slot - around 10.30 am on Mondays. (I hide away in my classroom during a free class!) Spirit Radio is on FM in the main cities (On FM in Dublin 89.9 - Limerick 89.8 - Galway 91.7 - Cork 90.9 - Waterford 90.1) and online. There's also an iPhone app, and it's on the Nokia Internet Radio app (available free from the OVI store).

9/2/11
Have been doing the miracles of Jesus for the last few days with second year students. The students seem quite clued in and are familiar with many miracles. I've been showing various clips of these from films on the life of Jesus - for example there's a good portrayal of the raising of Lazarus in the Gospel of John film, featuring Henry Ian Cusick as Jesus (he played Desmond in Lost). From Jesus of Nazareth I used clips of the miraculous catch of fish (very striking visually), the healing of the paralysed man (which follows soon after), the raising of the daughter of Jairus, the miracle of the loaves and fishes and the healing of the blind man. As well as that I've been getting the students to illustrate their choice of the miracles of Jesus.

6/2/11
I finally got to see the film Of Gods and Men (Des Hommes et Des Dieux) , still drawing crowds at the Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield, Dublin. This tells the true story of a group of Cistercian monks under threat from Islamist terrorists in Algeria. It's a slow moving drama but well worth the effort to stay with it. Rarely have I seen a film with such depth of faith and respect for its subject. It's not in the least bit preachy or sentimental, but treats the deepest of religious themes in an accessible but challenging way. Unless you know the historical background very well it's entirely unpredictable - I couldn't help thinking at various stages that Hollywood would treat it so differently, but thankfully it avoids clichés and stereotypes.
The characters of the monks is what appeals most as they try to serve the local Muslim population with respect and compassion. The increasing terrorist violence in the areas puts them on edge as they grapple with internal and external conflicts, agonising over whether they should stay and risk all or leave to save themselves.
I couldn't see myself showing the whole film in class, because it's so slow moving and so much requiring maturity in the viewer (there's also a rather graphic killing), but there are several scenes that might work well. For example, the scene where they get their first visit from the terrorists is particular striking and tense, and features an unusual bit of impromptu inter-faith dialogue! Later the monks sing together (as they do regularly in the film) in an act of solidarity as a military helicopter hovers menacingly overhead. A scene where they finally decide what to do is also of interest, while near the end there's a touching letter from one of the monks about the relationships between Christians and Muslims. Several scenes show the monks in intense moments of prayer.
What remained with me most was the individuals and their relationships - the character of each monk is portrayed beautifully, and the film stands as a tribute to their human dignity, cameraderie, courage and faith.
The film has been held over at the Lighthouse much longer than expected due to public demand - significant that a challenging film with religion so central should develop such a following.

This weekend's Irish Times features an excellent article "Can Modern Art Keep the Faith", by Gemma Tipton. This piece looks at the the relationship between art and religion in history and in modern times. You can read it here.


5/2/11
Catholic Schools Week was a great chance to try some new initiatives - a greater variety of prayers at assembly, greater use of sacred space. One of the prayer services provided in the official resource booklet called for the Taizé chant O Lord Hear My Prayer to be played/sung. By coincidence or otherwise someone had just sent me a 3-CD collection "The Best Taizé Album in the World...Ever". I wasn't expecting to use it so soon! The album features 50 Taizé chants and I'm sure I'll get great use out of it in school. I'll review it soon. I wasn't so sure how it would fare out with the students, but some of the first and second year students I tried it with left the prayer room singing Jesus Remember Me!
The resource booklet also featured many other musical suggestions, and also in one of the "Thoughts For the Day" featured a quote from an Emily Dickinson poem I Never Saw a Moor - "I never spoke with God,/ Nor visited in heaven;/ Yet certain am I of the spot/ As if the chart were given".

Well, it was about time. Finally, a national Christian radio station for Ireland! With the country's religious demographic it's a wonder it didn't happen long ago, but that's a long story. Spirit Radio launched last week and here's hoping it will be a roaring success. I dipped in and out of it plenty of times in the last week, but my comments are tentative, as I didn't hear absolutely every programme. First impressions were favourable - not only plenty of Christian music, but positive and uplifting secular music as well (U2, Tom Baxter and David Gray for example). The "positive" message is very strong, with frequent slogans and reminders - "passion for life", "Ireland's positive sound", "positive encouraging music". Yes we do need strong doses of positivity, but maybe this could be toned down just a tad when the station becomes more established. More effective are the short spiritual reflections that play every now and then. My favourite show so far was Acoustic Sundays - an evening show with Ronan Johnston (RoJo) which features contemporary acoustic music for discerning listeners (like me!). Johnston's weekday morning show sounds promising too. Last Monday when I tuned in there was a discussion, with Brother Kevin Crowley among others, about the Capuchin day care centre which has been receiving lots of well-deserved publicity of late for its work with the homeless. At the weekend Jacki Ascough presented a Saturday afternoon show where, along with the music there were useful updates about community and faith-based events like the last Saturday's Gospel Voices concert and Transatlantic Sessions event (see below).
Overall the station is too pop orientated for my liking, but no doubt it will appeal to young Christians who normally listen to Today FM or RTE's 2FM, introducing them to a whole new range of music woefully neglected by the mainstream stations. It would help to have the presenters being present more often after each song to tell us who the performer is and give some background - too often it went from song to song and it was hard to know who you were listening to. Also, I look forward as well to hearing more talk shows on the station - I think the mix needs to be rebalanced more in that direction, with more varied theme-based shows rather than relying on individuals to carry long programmes on their own. But it's early days yet, and so far so good. For the moment the station is only broadcasting through the traditional airwaves in the main cities, but it can also be heard live on the station's website (www.spiritradio.ie) , on internet radios, via an iPhone app and the Nokia phone Internet Radio app. So far Spirit is treading the interdenominational line quite astutely - followers of the Christian religions in Ireland should find nothing to offend and much to inspire, and long may that last.

15/1/11
Hamlet Act III Sc i: In the famous "To be or not to be " soloiloque Hamlet reflects on our attitudes to the sufferings of life - we can put up with them ("suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune") or fight them ("take arms against a sea of troubles"). Suffering people opt away from self-destruction because of the "dread of something after death", perhaps judgement and punishment for that sin. (Clip on left features Mel Gibson as Hamlet)

Shortly after he vents his anger on Ophelia. "Get thee to a nunnery" he tells her, lest she be "a breeder of sinners". Those running nunneries might not be too pleased at his characterisation of their establishments. Hamlet's jaundiced view of women is expressed viciously to Ophelia and stems from what he feels as his betrayal by her (she has spurned him on the insistence of her father Polonius) and by his mother Gertrude (who had an affair with his Uncle Claudius, whom she married after the murder of her husband by the same Claudius). His harsh words to her seem to be directed at women in general - "God hath given you one face and you make yourselves another ... you jig, you amble and you lisp, and nickname God's creatures".


12/1/11
Hamlet Act II Sc ii: In his discussion with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Hamlet shows a high opinion of human nature, seeing it perhaps as God's work, and suggesting the idea of people being made in God's image: "What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god!" And yet, in the next breath man is the "quintessence of dust" - a hint of what we learn about ourselves on Ash Wednesday. Towards the end of the scene (clip on left, featuring David Tennant as Hamlet) the troubling issue of revenge comes up again. Hamlet thinks he is "Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell". Earlier Hamlet had followed Christian teaching in relation to suicide, but now seems to regard revenge as his duty. Again he wonders if this ghost has been sent to fool him, though this may be another ploy of his, perhaps subconsciously, to avoid doing what he feels is his duty - "The spirit that I have seen may be the devil". He also realises that sometimes evil can present itself as something pleasant and attractive - "the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape".

11/1/11
Back to Hamlet now in English class, on the revision trail, so I thought I'd better get back to my study of the religious themes in Hamlet. Didn't make much progress at last attempt.
Act I Sc iv sees Hamlet meeting the ghost of his dead father. Hamlet is aware of the need for spiritual protection ("Angels and ministers of grace defend us"), in case this apparition is a "goblin damn'd". He follows it against the advice of his friends - he knows it can't harm his immortal soul: "for my soul, what can it do to that, Being a thing immortal as itself?".

Act I Sc v: The ghost, Hamlet Senior, seems to be in Purgatory (described with traditional imagery, making up for his sins) - "confin'd to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purg'd away". He's not allowed to tell what it's like there, but hints that it's most unpleasant: "I could a tale unfold whose lightest word Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, ". It seems close to the Catholic teaching on Purgatory, yet he is allowed to walk the earth at night, and urge his son to get revenge for him ("Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder "), hardly a very Catholic or Christian idea. He is understandably aggrieved that being murdered he didn't get a chance to repent of his sins and be prepared for judgement: "Unhous'led, disappointed, unanel'd, No reckoning made, but sent to my account With all my imperfections on my head". Towards the end Hamlet seems to warn Horatio to allow for the spiritual aspects of life: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy".
To be continued...


Cute date or what! Just had to write something today. Have been using my Three Wise Men resources (see below) this week with varying degrees of success. Belatedly I added one more resource that has proved popular with students - Will Vinton's claymation of the song We Three Kings, featuring the coolest camels ever. See clip on left. The first year students in particular were clued into the themes as some had played the wise men in their school nativity plays.

 

6/1/11
On the feast of the Epiphany .... I've been putting together some resources, old and new, on the Three Wise Men. I usually get some classes out of this theme in the first week back after Christmas, though first day back is usualy closer to the 6th than it is this year. I've organised a short playlist, featuring two versions of the song We Three Kings. The Roches version is rather tongue-in-cheek but I like it. John Michael Talbot's version is beautiful and more conventional. Then there's T.S. Eliot reading the Journey of the Magi. I've added these and more, including video clips to a special new Wise Men Page so you can play them from there. I've also added links to relevant poems stories and images.