'If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, And we shall come to him and make our home with him.”


Close up of a guitar being played - image from unsplash.com

One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is play guitar in church, in South America, in the dark.

I always used to enjoy playing with the Cathedral choir. But what would often happen is that just as we were playing nicely along a little hymn then suddenly, with no warning, all the lights would go out and we would be plunged into the most absolute darkness. The Blackout came without warning, or prediction, apparently at the time of its own malevolent choosing. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but like other of life’s demons, it always seemed to come at the least convenient moments. And it would last, sometimes minutes, sometimes hours, sometimes days. There was no way of knowing when it would come or go. And the really embarrassing times were always when I was playing my guitar with other people in church. Because I, of course, being unable to see the music, would immediately stop playing. And everyone else would just keep calm and carry on. The whole mass would just keep calm and carry on. And at the end, everyone would laugh at me because I was a guitarist who could only play when he could see the music. They, of course, had lived in that country all their lives and were used to sudden blackout and had learned not to depend on being able to see the music all the time. I asked them how they did it and they said, “oh we just remember how it goes and carry on”. And, a funny thing, it always seemed to be the women who were the best at it.

At the time, it seemed just a matter of technical skill – automatically to memorise the main theme of any music ever put in front of you so as to be able to carry on playing if and when the blackout came. After a while, I even got to be quite good at it myself. And for a time I thought that was all there was to it.

Only after some years did I come to realise that this was not just a well practised musical skill; it was a comprehensive attitude to life – and faith. That country at the time was a land of many waters - many waters of baptism - many little deaths. It was a land of violence, a land of political repression, a land of violent drug riddled crime. According to the IMF, at the time approximately 40% of that country’s entire economy came from the trans-shipment of cocaine. There were many things that were unreliable there besides the electricity - law, justice, medical care, peace, food and safety. There are many deep dark spiritual blackouts to which the population were subjected, blackouts in which the light of Christ seemed very dim if not altogether absent. And as someone not raised in that environment, the temptation was to despair. But I came to realise that those people had a unique capacity to remember the faith, remember the music and play on. And, funny thing, once again it always seemed to be the women who were the best at it.

And ever after that has been my image of fortitude and faith; the Faith that continues in the time of blackout, the time of Good Friday; in the dark cold silence of holy Saturday – the Faith that the blackout will end; that Easter Sunday will come; that the light of Christ shall be relit.

Let us pray that when our times of Blackout come, our times of darkness and despair, when we ourselves cannot see the light of Christ that now seems so clear like a tall candle on the holy sanctuary; then let us pray that we may be given the grace to remember how the music goes and play on.

Paul O'Reilly SJ