Somewhere Amazing

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Hymns and Mental Illness

Soothing Sounds

My mum (mom) if you’re reading in the States :-) suffers from mental illness.

There are times when she finds it helpful to listen to hymns, the ‘old fashioned’ or ‘traditional’ kind. Her favourites include “I Need Thee Every Hour”, “Onward Christian Soldiers”, “The King Of Love My Shepherd Is”, “I Know Whom I Have Believed”, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” and “Love Divine All Loves Excelling”, though there are many more. She’s ‘old school’, brought up in a generation steeped in hymns with theological imagery flowing through every verse. That was an era when hymns were written by people who were theologians first, rather than musicians first (forgive the huge generalisation).

Listening to these helps soothe her, provides succour and a measure of peace to flow through an often troubled mind. I confess that, although I’m happy to listen to more modern expressions of musical worship, I prefer the ‘older’ ones as well, I find their substance more compelling although there are indepth modern ones. I was brought up listening to and singing the older ones and they remain fixed in my memory to this day. Its not a bad thing to have fixed in your memory.

Frequently being in the same room as my mum, if she listens to these hymns  then I listen to them as well. In fact I have learned to know when mum is struggling because she will specifically say to me “Could you put the hymns on please?” I confess that although I love hymns, listening to the same ones over and over again ad infinitum gets a little wearing at times. Its like being in church and the minister chooses the same hymn or song choice every week, it sometimes loses its appeal. The same as listening to a new song on the radio, we like it at first but after its been played for the hundredth time it loses appeal. Mum doesn’t seem to have that problem. Listening to them genuinely seems to be like an oasis in a desert to her, or maybe not a desert, maybe more of an oasis in a ‘troubled zone’ in her mind.

I remember I had, I think I still have it, a cd of the Scottish Philharmonic Singers singing the Psalms of Scotland. I have it on my iPod now. Modern it can’t be described as but it is one of the most edifying and cleansing pieces of music I have ever heard. There is an organ I think but that’s it as far as instruments are concerned and sometimes that’s so far in the background that all you can hear are the voices of the choir. All of it is spirit enhancing and some of it is breathtakingly beautiful. You could close your eyes and imagine you were watching a heavenly sunrise with the Psalms as the background music.  ’Just’ simple human voices lifting their praises to the heavens and the One who dwells there through the medium of singing words penned by God’s servant from the Psalms so many many years ago. I think I just wrote that it can’t be described as modern, I was wrong, you can’t get much more modern than eternal truth. Its not to everyone’s taste, and different people will have widely different types of music they listen to if they need help at any given time. My mum (mom) finds the hymns work for her, they are something akin to medicine that no doctor can prescribe. The Psalms work for me, as well as the hymns. Medicine prescribed by a master Shepherd.

It can calm my mind like few other things can.

Such hymns and Psalms have a cleansing effect on my mum’s mind like nothing else I know of. Other than prayer of course. Then again, many of these pieces of spiritual worship are prayers in their own right.

Thanks for reading.

Somewhere Amazing


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The Person In You

I was reading, just this afternoon, John Connolly’s book The Wrath of Angels. Its the latest book in his Charlie Parker detective series. The books have more and more come to centre on the question of the nature of Parker himself. He is a troubled man who may, it seems, actually be ‘some kind of’ rebel angel seeking ‘some kind of redemption’ through acting as a kind of (there are alot of ‘kind of’s’ here) avenging angel, visiting justice on the guilty on behalf of the, frequently deceased, victims. Parker is a complex character who deals with some very dark topics (and characters) and seeks to repair something of the imbalance which evil has wrought in the world, though generally employs violence as a means of re-establishing balance. All sounds very dark but it is also very well written and Connolly himself is a very jovial and funny guy.

In this latest book, Parker is talking with Epstein, a Rabbi who concerns himself with hunting down rebel angels who walk the earth. Epstein is troubled by his own worries regarding Parker’s nature and one exchange of thoughts in particular had me thinking. The following struck me:

“My fear, as I explained to you last night, is that there may be a presence within you that has not yet revealed itself,” said Epstein.

“And I told you that, if I was like them, whatever was sleeping inside me would have awakened by now. There were so many times when, if I was a host for something foul lying dormant in me, it could have shrugged off its torpor and intervened to save those like it, but it didn’t. It didn’t because it isn’t there.” (Parker speaking)

The Wrath of Angels, Hardback p231 (UK edition).

Epstein is worried there may be a kind of (those pesky ‘kind of’s’ again!) evil presence lurking within Parker, unknown, or perhaps suspected by Parker himself. Parker is convinced this isn’t so and while he tries to persuade Epstein of this one gets the feeling he may also be trying to convince himself.

But when I read those words “…there may be a presence within you that has not yet revealed itself…” my thoughts went in a different direction. I thought not of any possible evil presence asleep within a person which waits to awaken, but rather of the way our personalities change over the years, normal, well balanced personalities.

I thought of myself as I am now and the various mindsets, beliefs and thought patterns I currently have. When I was a young boy I didn’t have those same thoughts, when I was a teenager I had different views to when I was a young boy. When I am an old man, although my core beliefs will, I think, remain the same, I will still have different, more evolved views and character traits.

The person within each of us changes as our circumstances changes, as our education grows and as our experiences, good and bad, shape us. Perhaps you, like me, have said “I am a different person now to the one I was then.” or “I don’t recognise myself any more.” 

We change, we grow, our thought patterns go through reformation and revision and that ‘inner core’ of who we are, our very souls, grow also. Those words “…there may be a presence within you that has not yet revealed itself…” spoke to me of how I may be in years to come, when life’s twists and turns, and my responses to them, mould and shape the ‘inner me’. This is a healthy thing, as long as that core remains healthy. 

I have always had a sense of God in my life, from the earliest times I can remember. While my core beliefs remain the same, there are many peripheral elements of my faith that have changed over the years. I see and understand things as an adult that I did not as a child, and there are elements of adventure and unbounded imagination that I loved as a child that are more repressed in my adult state. I would love to reverse that. Maybe in ten years time I will look back and once more not recognise the person that I am now as I type this. That can work in good and bad and neutral ways.

We change, we grow, we evolve in our beliefs, views and personalities. Sometimes we can even sense the beginnings of a transformation within us when it is only starting to emerge and that can be both exciting and fearful. In Christian language, you might call this a lifelong process of sanctification with many turning points along the way. It can be described simply as the evolution of the soul. 

I hope and pray for a happy and fulfilling transformation into a person who grows gradually older and wiser (the latter has always been a slow process for me) and whose core values are those that remain solid and sure even as the branches that grow from that core change and alter with the passing seasons, storms and sunshine alike. 

May the person you are and the person you will be, always be one whose core remains true to the Creator of your soul, even as the person you are changes and grows. 

Thanks for reading

Somewhere Amazing