A Reflection for moments of pain in our lives...
It's difficult to know how to introduce this multi-media reflection. At heart it is a story, and song, about overcoming the pains in our lives and rekindling hope. It has been put together as a collaborative endeavour by Amanda McKenna, Cliff Baxter and Brian Coyne. All three of us have experienced deep pain in our lives of totally different varieties. This reflection hasn't been written to advertise or grovel in our pain though. It has been put together, and is our humble offering as a resource which we trust might help others who may encounter pain of any description in their lives and are seeking a message, or place of hope. Amanda wrote the original song but it was Cliff's idea that the three of us jointly collaborate on putting this reflection together. Cliff has written the commentary, Amanda wrote and performs the song, and Brian has contributed the context and the visuals to bring it altogether.
Let me first explain the context. You can read some of Amanda McKenna's story in an interview that was published in Sydney's Catholic Weekly on 21st September 2003. It is available online and can be viewed HERE. If you are not already familiar with Amanda's story perhaps it is best if you read the Catholic Weekly article first and then return here to follow the particular context of this song and to undertake the reflection. This is not an exercise you can undertake in a few minutes. We strongly suggest you set aside at least fifteen minutes of quality reflection and meditation time to get the most out of the experience we have prepared.
Amanda was raped at the age of 14. For more than 15 years she largely suppressed the pain of that experience not even telling her immediate family and largely blotted the memories out of her day-to-day life through immersion in her work on television and in the music industry. She even married and became a mother to her own children.
Fifteen years later at the approximate age of 29 a sequence of unrelated events to that rape suddenly unleashed a living hell in her physical and mental being. The trigger for these events was the death in quick succession of her father, her own daughter, and the sister closest in age to her. Not only did she suffer a complete mental breakdown but her physical body suddenly erupted in trauma that necessitated extensive surgery over a ten year period. Her mental recovery took at least the same time.
Two of the symptoms of her condition was that she could not cry and she had lost almost all feeling of things like hot and cold or the sensations of taste, smell and touch. She wrote this song during her time in St John of God Hospital in collaboration with another young patient who was dealing with a diagnosis of being HIV positive. It was the outworking involved in writing this song that eventually led to Amanda being able to cry again — and experience many of those other sensations of taste, smell and touch we all tend to take so much for granted.
During her rehabilitation at St John of God Hospital the doctors used to get Amanda to sing this song for other patients as they found it helped them reclaim their feelings and emotions as it had done for Amanda.
Today, approximately 17 years later, Amanda has fully recovered mentally but continues to be challenged by some physical impediments in her life as a result of the trauma left by so many operations. She is presently employed by the Catholic Education Office and Diocese of Parramatta on a two-year project to compose liturgical music settings that intersect with the musical experiences of teenagers and young adults. It is considered there is much liturgical music for younger children, and for adults but research has indicated there is a dearth of music that appeals in that middle range. A couple of years ago Amanda McKenna and Brian Coyne met through the CathNews discussion board when they collaborated on the production of a multi-media reflection for Easter based on Amanda's song, Take This Cup Away. That song also was composed during her time at St John of God Hospital and is based on Christ's agony in the Garden of Gesthemane. Amanda and Brian were divorced long before their meeting. Brian has recently received news that his annulment has been approved and Amanda is still awaiting the outcome of the Tribunal decision in her case. Subject to the outcome of Amanda's annulment they plan to marry.
If the music is still playing at this point we suggest you now stop it with the controller below and then proceed to read Cliff's reflection. At the end of that you may wish to hear it again without the distraction of our words or any pictures.
Amanda McKenna moves the listener to the core.
Her words strike deep, into the Heart of the Matter:
It just seems impossible to let it all go
Like the drought-ravaged Earth cannot release its waters to express its sorrow over the mortal wounds we have inflicted.
There are times when our eyes are quite incapable of releasing the tears to wash away our suffering. There can be no baptism of the secret agony.
Cause it's too-too damned hard to cry
The grief is locked within the heart, like a poisonous gift. It is freezing cold and dry, and wrapped with the tinsel of guilt and shame. We are like Prince Andre Bolkonsky in War and Peace, riding through the dark forest, noticing a barren oak tree that had ignored the call of Springtime, and feeling it was right to refuse to bud and bloom again. The prince escapes into a retreat of cold diffidence, yet within the dungeon within there is the solemn bell tolling of his personal tragedy, his blindness, the catastrophe he cannot ever change.
And if I start to cry - I may never stop
Pain, we are told, is a sign that we are alive. Lepers are one of the few who do not feel any sensation, which is the reason they are so easily injured. That is very small comfort, however.
The Church teaches that suffering is a Mystery, an opportunity to offer up our pain and join in the Divine Agony on the Cross. We still search in our own way for the tendrils of hope, for a reason for the unspeakable inner torment, the sensations of being alone in a dark and cold place. Why did it happen, Lord? Where were you? Where are you now? How can I live and have a future, ever again? How can I learn to hope again?
I've got to find hope — and learn to start trusting
Yet we hesitate. We shrink from going down into the lightless cellar of our soul and confronting the death and destruction, the absolute failure, the dashed Ambition lying there like a shattered cane chair or a broken doll, a half-burned child's crayon drawing ?.
I have woven a web of deception
What would happen if we opened that door, for the world to see that monstrous Shame, that hidden self-perceived Crime, or that Incident that sucked away like a black hole in space all of the dreams, hopes for the future? We look away so quickly when people say, What's up?
I've been hurting inside for forever now
What would happen if I released the floodgates of tears in one mighty catastrophic rush, a gigantic outpouring, engulfing all, this tsunami of the soul generated by a final explosion from the smouldering volcano within? Would I emerge unscathed from this mighty Ocean of Sorrow? Can only drowning people see Jesus walking upon the water? Can I truly trust Him to walk across the waves of tears?
Or shall I sink into a De Profundis, gone without trace?
De profundis clamavi ad te Domine (From the depths, I cried to you, Lord!)
Dare I let that controlling freak, that Genie, out of his box and send him to the depths while I reach out my arms to the Lord?
It just seems impossible to let it all go
The vanished child, the breakdown, the Crack Up, the broken promise, the dream smashed into pieces on the tip like a discarded, rejected wedding present.
The betrayal, the random chance or unhappy sequence that led to the doom
of it all. How can we go on? How can I go on? I am offered trite, neat
and well-meant verbal ointment, but it is no balm for the cold fire that
I've got to find hope- and learn to start trusting again
How can we heal the open wound within ourselves? Jean Vanier once told me that the open wounds in others make us shy away, because we are reminded of our own bleeding void within. To help others we have to deal with our own wound, but how?
The late Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing said that schizophrenia was wrongly described as 'split personality'. Instead, he said it was the disease of a broken heart.
Laing was troubled by his own personal problems, suffering both from episodic alcoholism and clinical depression (as was his self-diagnosis in his 1983 BBC Radio interview with Dr. Anthony Clare although he reportedly was free of both in the years before his death. He died at age 61 of a heart attack while playing tennis.)
Laing argued that the strange behaviour and seemingly confused speech of people undergoing a psychotic episode were ultimately understandable as an attempt to communicate worries and concerns, often in situations where this was not possible or not permitted. Laing stressed the role of society, and particularly the family, in the development of madness. He argued that individuals can often be put in impossible situations, where they are unable to conform to the conflicting expectations of their peers, leading to a 'lose-lose situation' and immense mental distress for the individuals concerned. (In 1956, Gregory Bateson articulated a related theory of schizophrenia as stemming from Double Bind situations.) Madness was therefore an expression of this distress, and should be valued as a cathartic and transformative experience.
This was in stark contrast to the psychiatric orthodoxy of the time (and
is still contrary to the majority opinion of mainstream psychiatry).
Lord, how can I heal my broken heart? How can I say again, Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in Thee?
I've got to find hope - and
learn to start trusting again