15Jan And the walls came tumbling down…

And the walls came tumbling down…

Chris McDonnell CT January 11th2019

One of Mahalia Jackson’s most well-known songs tells the story of Joshua and the Walls of Jericho – “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumblin’ down”.There is considerable doubt regarding the accuracy of the event. It is however a story that goes beyond the necessity of historical accuracy; it is a story of faith in the power of God to achieve what was beyond the power of men.

The Great Wall of China is certainly factual with its fabrication begun over two and a half thousand years ago. A significant Wall remains, snaking its way across the landscape, a formidable and imposing structure. Its construction was an amazing achievement in a hostile countryside.

Walls were built primarily for security, to maintain the safety of a city by keeping would-be invaders at bay. Walled cities were common place in Medieval times and remnants of their construction remain to this day, both here in our own country and in various European cities.  With their closely-guarded gates and Watch Towers, they ringed the populace and offered security. The final verse of one of Dylan’s songs ‘All along the watch tower’ highlights the story of outer threat and inner security.

All along the Watchtower
Princes kept the view
while all the women came and went
barefoot servants, too
outside in the cold distance
a wildcat did growl
two riders were approaching
and the wind began to howl

In the last century the construction of the Maginot Line was intended to give France a secure defence against German invasion. It proved to be of little value, for when the Second World War broke out, Belgium provided a gateway round the northern end that was indefensible.

A more significant wall divided the city of Berlin in post-war Europe. Begun in August of 1961, it was to stand for nearly thirty years, its purpose being to restrict the movement of East Berliners seeking access to the West. Many lives were lost during those Cold War years as desperate attempts were made to scale the Wall, often after crossing open land protected by barbed wire.

When President Regan visited Berlin in June 1987 he gave this challenge to the Soviet leader General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
It was not until the November of 1989 that it finally fell, its graffiti-covered concrete blocks taken apart by Berliners themselves, reuniting the city, the first stage towards German unification.

Pink Floyd sung the songs of their album ‘The Wall’ at an open air concert on vacant terrain between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg gate a few months later, in July 1990, before an audience estimated at 350,00 people. A symbol of division and repression was broken after years of pain and anguish.

And why all this talk about walls? Well, because we don’t seem to have learnt the lesson of history. In the Middle East, the Israeli West Bank wall was built during the Second Intifada in 2000, a barrier to prevent Palestinian incursion into the State of Israel. It remains in place to this day. In 2003, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that stated ‘The wall contradicts international law and should be removed’. The vote was 144–4 with 12 abstentions. That was 15 years ago.

Now in our own time, the US President seeks to build a wall along the Southern U.S. border with Mexico, an issue that deadlocked Congress in recent days. The uncontrolled movement of peoples, whether driven by political threat, lack of work or hunger, will not be easily solved in our troubled world. The forceful exclusion of migrants might be a short term response; in the long term a more reasonable solution has to be found to meet their need.

Speaking in Bari in July last year, Pope Francis made reference to walls when he said “Truces maintained by walls and displays of power will not lead to peace, but only the concrete desire to listen and to engage in dialogue.” Seeking an imposed solution that lacks the substance of honest and sincere intention ultimately fails.

Wherever walls are built, they can only be a temporary measure, after conversation has failed and exasperation wins the day. We shouldn’t just consider the physical walls between nations as a problem, for within friendships and families we erect barriers that divide and frustrate. Grudges are held, often over a long time,  after perceived wrong-doing and the anguished story continues with no apparent solution. The simple yet profound injunction of Jesus that we should ‘love God and our neighbor as ourselves’, is too easily forgotten. Pause awhile and tear down those walls.

11 Responses

  1. Eddie Finnegan1

    Chris, you seem to have missed out West Belfast’s Peace Wall. Some folks say it works!

  2. Chris McDonnell

    Sorry Eddie, I realised too late that I had missed one so close.
    Walls might work for a while but each one has an end date and a lot of pain in the middle…

  3. Joe O'Leary

    I saw a video showing that there are no less than 70 peace walls in Belfast, erected since the Troubles.

  4. Chris McDonnell

    The fine American poet, Mary Oliver, died a few days ago at the age of 83.
    She wrote in one of her poems that-

    “… the house of denial has thick walls
    and very small windows
    and whoever lives there, little by little,
    will turn to stone.

    Maybe quite apart from the physical walls that we have all experienced over the years, the wall of denial is the hardest to overcome.

  5. Seamus Ahearne

    The Walls came tumbling down. Three great Poets of Faith – smashed walls into smithereens. They opened up roads. They pointed out the scenery. They eliminated the blockades in our minds. They made us gasp with amazement.

    Yes. Sr Wendy Beckett opened up the hearts of our imaginations. The walls within collapsed, even the ones we didn’t know, we had. She helped us see that there was much more than the obvious. We could be surprised. She was a curiosity and an eccentric. She was delightful.

    Yes. Mary Oliver – she showed us how ‘the Gods’ awake us from sleep (Gratitude). She unveiled a world of nature and wonder for us. The walls of limitations fell. She was oozing with revelations. The walls which prose imposes, fell away. We saw much more. She was delightful.

    Daniel J O Leary. He wrote with the beauty of the Irish language enriching the English. The warmth and richness of his incarnate God was sprinkled everywhere. His God was smiling. His God danced and sang. His God was alive and teasing. His God was alerting us to views we hadn’t even thought of. He was wonderful.

    The three theologians of beauty have departed and left us bereft. How can a dreary, weary Church/Faith cope without them? Who can even try to take up the baton (in the relay race of life) and run with it? We miss them too much already. They made us better people. I feel very lonely and even lost but also very grateful for knowing them.
    Seamus Ahearne osa

  6. Chris McDonnell

    It was through the posting of Seamus Ahearne on ACP that I heard of the passing to the Lord of Daniel O’Leary. During my early years of teaching in Leeds, Daniel was Chaplain to our school. At that time we knew him as Donal.

    Our ways parted and for many years contact was lost until more recently when we picked up the threads again.

    Through our regular exchange of emails Daniel encouraged my own writing and our friendship grew. His writing, both in books and articles-Daniel was a frequent contributor the TABLET-has been an inspiration to many. He had the courage to be adventurous and in fact one of his seminal articles in recent years took as its title ‘Courageous Conversations’

    I will miss his words, his good-hearted banter and his example of vibrant faith. He was a fine man

    May he now rest in the peace of the Lord he served for so many years.

  7. Seamus Ahearne

    Today, the Feast of the Great Bard of Ayrshire is celebrated. (Never mind Paul and his conversion for the moment). Rabbie Burns. He brought colour and beauty and mischief to life and language. He teased and taunted us with his linguistic skills. I even dare to call him, a hero of humanity.

    There is sadness in the air today because another Ayrshire Great has just died. Hugh McIIvanney. (Wrote with The Sunday Times and Observer). His sports journalism was magnificent. The topic never mattered (to me) but the music of his language was an inspiration. The heart danced. The spirit warmed. Was it jazz? Was it Mozart? Was it Beethoven? It was Hugh and he was a genius. The great drama unfolded in his words. He always surprised us as he coaxed us along unusual meanderings.

    How could Wendy Beckett die? How could Mary Oliver die? How could Daniel J die? How could Hugh die? How dare they leave us. I feel like a child who wants to sulk. I have been abandoned. And I don’t like it. Who now are the new music makers and poets?

    My Church and the ministers in that Church – have to be like Rabbie, Hugh, Wendy, Mary and Daniel. I don’t want ministers who are lost in themselves and full of sadness or problems. The incarnate God is alive and well and dancing. Anyone who dares to minister – has to have such mischief and music. There must be poetry in this faith. I am looking for replacements for those characters. These (Wendy, Mary, Daniel, Rabbie, Hugh) are models for my bishops or priests. Otherwise it gets too cold and lonely. How do we rid ourselves of the dour and the dull? And ‘ordain’/’canonise’ the artists of real fainth and humanity?

    Seamus Ahearne osa

  8. Paddy Ferry

    Very well said, Seamus, especially your reference to the latter day Bard of Ayrshire, the Great Hugh. Isn’t it ironic that we were told of his passing on the very day we annually remember the first Bard of Ayrshire.

    Hugh’s description of Muhammad Ali’s sensational dethronement of George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle was priceless.
    He said you just knew that the great man would not have settled for any ordinary resurrection,I am paraphrasing now.
    Rather he rolled away the rock and then lifted it and clobbered George.
    I was a student in Dublin at the time, and like Hugh, I idolised Muhammad Ali. I will never forget the words of the late and equally great Harry Carpenter the moment Foreman finally fell ” Oh my God, I don’t believe it, he’s done it.”

    I was still a young lad at home in Keadue when he beat Liston for the first time to win the title. However, the second fight is one I remember most vividly. We were the only house in our neighbourhood that had a television at the time so all the neighbours came at 2.00am –in the early hours –to see the fight. And, of course, it lasted less that 2 minutes. Anyway, I digress.

    Hugh also famously coined the title “the beautiful game” in describing association football. I agree with that and I also agree with his description of Jock Stein as “the greatest manager”.

    Hugh McIlvanney was the only sports writer ever to be named journalist of the year. God rest his soul.

  9. Eddie Finnegan1

    Paddy, Seamus: Brian Glanville (who always had a high opinion of Hugh McIlvanney’s sports journalism) is still going strong at 87. My favourite Glanvillism from the early 1960s (which I last used here when Benedict, more or less, hung up his boots in Feb 2013) has always been: “Goals should be scored, not adumbrated” – aimed at some less than striking striker’s faffing around with the ball. Always, I feel, a very fitting motto for a bishop or even a pope. ‘Metae consequendae, non adumbrandae sunt’, if they insist.

  10. Paddy Ferry

    Eddie,Seamus: lots of great stuff in the papers today about the man the Observer leader refers to as “a poet in print who brought sport to life”. Hugh was an Observer correspondent for more that 30 years. However, the piece that we, as Irish, would especially love –and I had never read this until today –was his description of Pat Taaffe guiding Arkle to victory over Mill House in the 1964 Gold Cup at Cheltenham. I think we had just got our television. “As Taaffe, who had planned it all that way, began to close on the turn at the top of the hill, the incredible Irish support, the farmers and the stableboys and priests roared in unison: “Here he comes”. It was like a beleaguered army greeting the hero who brings relief. He came all right, to run the heart out of Mill House, and that great horse was never the same again”

  11. Eileen Clear

    A stimulating and interesting article. Also the comments. I often feel I want to give a ‘like’ to some comments. Just as well that facility isn’t there as it forces one to actually communicate! By the way, Eddie, (#9), I think it was his red shoes Benedict hung up in 2013.


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