Last Monday morning I dropped some papers down to the Archdiocesan Offices on Clyde Street. I had to be back in time for the lunchtime Mass, so I paid a quick visit to St. Paul’s Multi-Media to see if they had anything nice in for Lent, and then started my journey back along Argyle Street. I immediately became aware of a long line of people, about 6-deep, and stretching way back towards Glasgow Cross. I though at first it might be some kind of protest, but I couldn’t see any placards indicating what they might be protesting about. I further realised that most of the crowd, although not all, were young people, and many of them seemed to be wearing some bright yellow item of clothing. More than curious, I approached one of the stewards, and he informed me that there was to be an album signing in HMV by an American musical duo called 21 Pilots, and it was then that I could see a lot of the young people wearing hoodies with 21 Pilots written on the back.
I have never heard of 21 Pilots and I have no idea what kind of music they play, but before I could rush to judgement on the daftness of wasting a whole morning, or more, queuing to get an album signed, I was reminded of a few daft things I did in my own younger years in relation to my favourite American musical duo, Simon and Garfunkel, back from the mid 1960’s until 1970, which was when the Bridge Over Troubled Water album came out. One day, it must have been late 1970 or early 1971, my brother Hugh and his then fiancé Janet, now his wife of almost 50 years, came home from a trip to Helensburgh and told me they had spotted a Simon and Garfunkel album that I didn’t have in a music shop window. This was impossible, they had only made 5 albums up to that point and I had them all, I was sure of it. They wouldn’t let up, and, before the day was out, I was on a train from Drumchapel to Helensburgh to check it out; and sure enough, there it was. I purchased it immediately and brought it home with great excitement, longing to hear these songs that I never knew existed.
As it turned out, it was an album of songs they had recorded in the 1950’s under the name of Tom and Jerry, imitating their idols, the Everly Brothers, with such exciting tracks as Hey Schoolgirl in the Second Row, and be-bop-a-lops cropping up everywhere. After listening to Bookends, and Bridge Over Troubled Water, this was truly dreadful. That mad trip to the coast really was a waste of time. Not a waste of time, however, was when, the night before my final Theology exams in Dublin in June 1982, I abandoned my studies to attend an open-air Simon and Garfunkel concert in the RDS. It was wonderful. I returned to that same venue in July 2004 for their farewell tour, and the backing band that night was none other than the Everly Brothers. Now, what did I do with that Tom and Jerry album?
I hope those young people queuing up for the 21 Pilots signing had a great day and were thrilled with what they got. I’ve no doubt that they did. It’s a special feeling to be really grasped by something that brings you great joy, whether it’s a favourite band; a favourite writer; a favourite place or a favourite person. I can still have that experience now, but I suppose the older I get the more I realise that such joys, great as they are, don’t reach the deepest places, at least not for long, and that really it is being grasped by God that truly satisfies and fills the heart, but it’s wonderful to experience all the little grasps along the way.
I think what I’m talking about is what the Lutheran philosopher and theologian, Paul Tillich, meant by being grasped by ultimate concern. He says this about religion: Religion is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of a meaning of our life.
The ultimate concern he is talking about, of course, is God; and perhaps it’s just another way of saying what the oft-quoted St. Augustine once said: Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.