hymns to swear by

by Pádraig Ó Tuama

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Review from Sound and Silence:

These are the facts:

“Pádraig Ó Tuama’s debut album “Hymns To Swear By” blends poetry, spoken word and song in an achingly beautiful way. Many of the poems and songs have been spoken and sung in the context of Ikon in Belfast. They mix prayer and longing and raging in mystical fashion. The album is stripped back with just voice or voice and guitar which somehow makes it all the more potent.”

And here is the truth:

I ache. I yearn. I am comforted. And spellbound.

This is quite unlike any one single thing I have heard before. Perhaps a 21st Century Celtic take on Damien Rice meets Bob Geldof meets John Michael Talbot, half the time sans guitar; but Pádraig Ó Tuama’s deeply incarnational “Irish hide” produces yet another “fruit of emergence”. In English and Gaelic, Hymns is at once a lament, a call to the deep, a protest and a critique.

In its raw, straight from the heart approach, he explores the sense of exile many of us carry around, as only a true poet can. For example, in a spoken piece called “Narrative Theology”, he proclaims

“The answer is in a story and the story is unfolding.”

And in “Readings from the book of exile”,

“There are some days he only moves an inch or two, this is the pace of glory, here in exile.”

This holding and comfort is one expression of the poet’s empathy. But so is protest, as “Intercession For Lesbian And Gay Ugandans” shows. The inverse power demonstrated by the powerless is never more evident. In “Creed”, he sings

“I wanted to be straight but the thing is I’m queer,
I thought I belonged there but I belong here.”

If you are a seeker, if you have been involved and no longer feel a sense of belonging, if you are disillusioned, if you are sick of the ubiquitous “Light”, let Ó Tuama’s shadowy, lilting cadences serenade you. And if you have failed, this collection is your balm. The sacred and profane brew that is “Maranatha” is no doubt a key to the album’s title.

Perhaps these kinds of syntheses between dualities is the very alchemy which produces the authenticity. I have heard few more integrated expressions of Incarnational spirituality than “Hymns To Swear By”.

Perhaps Ó Tuama’s Celtic heritage has allowed him to bypass our hackneyed Greco-Roman myths.

Perhaps his involvement in postmodern community, specifically Ikon (“Deep thanks to Pete the Heretic Rollins for years of encouragement and kindness”) has given him a fresh perspective.

Perhaps his embrace of the apophatic theological tradition has given him an appreciation for a fuller spectrum of consciousness.

Whatever the case, I predict aching, yearning, and comfort. “Hymns” is a gem for the times, mined from the deep.


released March 17, 2010


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Pádraig Ó Tuama Belfast

poetry, songs, theopoetics, bits of heresy and lots of story.

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Track Name: Opening Collect
God of watching,
whose gaze I doubt and rally against both,
but in which I nonetheless take refuge, despite my limited vision.
Shelter me today,
against the flitting nature of my own focus
and bring me to the calm place
in which to stand.
And when I falter, which is likely,
give me both the courage and the kindness to begin again with hope and coping.
For you are the one whose watchfulness

Track Name: I'll tell you when you're older
You’re a red rag waving to my sharp horns
Horns that turn inward as I charge toward your warmth
And your gift turns to a knife and it pierces through my skin
I pour my blood out, feeling guilty,
Small comfort for the place I’m in.

I remember when I lifted my hands and sang songs of mercy
I asked for blood when I was thirsty
I asked for stones, and meals of boulders
and you hid your face until I was older.

Now the Irish side to my Irish hide
has been screaming Sweet Jesus in my dreams
Whipping where he pleases.

I'll come and I wipe your tears away
I hear you say
I'll come and wipe your tears away
I'll come and wipe your tears away
Ah come and wipe my tears away
now that I'm older.
Track Name: Narrative Theology
And I said to him
Are there answers to all of this?
And he said
The answer is in a story
and the story is being told.

And I said
But there is so much pain
And he answered
Pain will happen.

Then I said
Will I ever find meaning?
And he said
You will find meaning
Where you give meaning.

The answer is in story
And the story isn’t finished.

The question is not where but now
there question’s never finished
or exhausted
and the answers in the asking
not the answer
the answer’s in the breathing of the question
in the love of holding onto
what was never whispered never seen
but what we dreamed of in the morning
then forgot while venus hid

the answer’s in the living not the knowing
the answer’s in the telling of the story
in half forgotten memory
and all unfinished stories

the answer’s in the showing time of senses
the answer’s in the question
in the learning
in the fading page of writing
in the letter sent to lovers
in the paying for the other
the answer is the generous

is the truthing

the absolutely truthful anger

and forgiving is the giving of what you don’t deserve
it’s what I’ll serve because you’re hungry
even though you may not know it

the answer’s in the living and the dying
in the trying for redemption on an empty hill of crosses
it’s the shoring up of hope and the gathering of losses
it’s the looking for companions in the hills and in the glens
it’s the waking up and walking up and starting up again
the answer’s in the living
and the trying.

And I said to the wise man,
what is the answer to all this
And he said the answer’s in the story
and the story’s just unfolding.
Track Name: Maranatha
You are my strength and I am weak.


I've given up sometimes when I've been tired.

Does it move you?

I've fucked it up so many times.


I've found my home in Babylon.

In exile.
Track Name: A reading from the book of Exile.
a reading from the book of exile
chapter one

there are no chapters

a reading from the book of exile
chapter two

he has been moved beyond belief

a reading from the book of exile
chapter three

and he is inching toward glory
with only his own story on his back
he has patched up holes that opened
where his coverings have cracked
and some shoes were never meant for hiking so
he left them far behind
there are simple things he needs
on journeys such as these
and a bag that’s small enough
to carry all the failures and the idols
that he’s picked up on the way

there are some days
he only moves
an inch or two

this is the pace of glory here in exile

a reading from the book of exile
chapter four

there are some things too meaningful for talking
and even feeling leaves us full of grief
at all we touch and need and
can never speak of.

we are living lives that we can‘t state the name of
we are loving things that
we can never bear
we attempt belief in things that we can not explain
and we rest uneasy in this

and we rest with tension so
its heartaching.

a reading from the book of exile
chapter five

he has grown older here.

the body speaks its own
he has started listening

a reading from the book of exile
the unwritable chapter

and the place of
is the place of
(and sometimes barely that)

a reading from the book of exile
The last chapter

there is no ending.
everything is here.

(so pitch a tent that you can live in
and find a friend to whom you’ll give in
times of telling
times of testing
times of listening
times of resting)

there is no ending.
everything is here.
Track Name: Yearn

I’ve sung songs of spring in the morning
and in the evening time
with flowers blooming
and bushes burning
offerings of love and bitter learning
and I’ve sworn by heaven and darker places
to find my way through these nighttime cages
and I’ve come out, fighting angels,
kissing demons
chasing strangers

I yearn for home.

I sat for a golden afternoon up on
Thomas Ryan’s balcony
I watched the autumn sunlight and I smelt the breeze
Sitting down so comfortably
on an old and broken rocking chair
I closed my eyes, I felt the earth
and breathed.

I yearn for home.

I’ve heard that elves have ships
on which to sail away
across the morning’s waters
to their grey havens, fair
and far away from here.
I wonder if all my longings, they
could shape me out a ship of hopes
to carry me
on these seas of homeward yearning.
Track Name: Creed
I once was blind but now I can see
I once was him, but now I’m me
I once was cold, but now I’m not
I used to fear hell, where the fire is hot
I wanted to be straight, but the thing is I’m queer
I-thought-I belonged there, but I belong here

I once was wrong, because I thought I was right
I thought that the darkess was the same as the night
and thought that the light was consoling and beautiful
all it asked was ‘be pure, and be right and be dutiful’
but light can be insipid and daytime can be vacuous
and no cult is so crude as the cult of the miraculous
I thought that walking on the water would be the end of it all
and addiction to articulation was the start of my fall

I fell into meaninglessness, I fell into sin
I fell into darkness, and I felt caged in
and I fell into the arms of something that was lurking
in the corner, in the shadows, and it’s been slowly converting
my methods and madness, into myth and new meaning
my sagas and sadness given girth and given grieving.

and now I believe in the god of the human
the good and the glorious, the generous and moving.

I once was blind, now I’m blinder still
and inside my own nighttime, I am silent and still.
Track Name: Invocation: A Íosa teacht chugham
A íosa teacht chugham,
tá m’anam in uaigh
Óg an ufás i mo chinn ach
aosta i mo chroí.
Cá bhfuil a solas dom spriod
cá bhfuil neart is an troid
idir ufás
agus dolás?
A íosa teacht chugham

am not I the foolish one?
I the loosing one?
I the searching one for the lover of
my soul.
He’s gone
but here always
he is the Lord of my byways
and has walked my paths my twisting,
twisted roads,
taking me with him.

Oh Jesus come to me
my soul is in a grave
young the terror in my mind
but old in my heart
Where is the light of my spirit
where is the strength
and the fight
between what’s good and what is awful
oh Jesus come to me.
Track Name: Tortuous Atonement
Do you like the smell of tortured Jesus
burning the snow?
Do you like how his veins were pulsing
underneath his ripped skin’s glow?
Do you salivate and lick your lips
swallowing your spit
imagining the sweet meat taste
from the barbeqing pit?
Do you drink the drink and talk the talk
inviting all your friends?
To bask in resurrection scents
and eat the flesh of all amends.
Track Name: Intercession for Lesbian and Gay Ugandans
This is not a liberal agenda
Think about the people in the prisons in Uganda.

These are bodies like yours,
Close your eyes, please
close them
Do not open them until you’ve breathed a little deepr
Put the fingers of your one hand to the wrist of the other
and keep your pulse a moment?
Are you calm?
Are you content in holding your own skin
with your own safe and holy skin?

Think about the people sleeping in the prison in Uganda.
This is not a liberal agenda.

These are people.
not quite corpses… yet

And it’s not about forgetting
all your morals with some rationalist adjustment
or some sad subjective judgment
The Samaritan did not sin
yet still was hated
judged and deemed a lesser kind of human.

Think about the people in Uganda.
This is not some liberal agenda.
Track Name: Emmanuel

He sat at the table and bled
I saw the colour of his blood it was red
and green and purple
for holiness
purple for greed
purple for preparation and purple for grief
he is an advent coloured man this one
He likes the sun behind the clouds he is in love with these grey days
and grey ways and grey shades

Bethlehem is turning out to be
Not where I thought that it should be
Bethlehem is burning we’re all hurling ourselves
towards Jerusalem

And we said “tell me about your last lover”
and then we threw off private covers he said
‘I am coping still’
she said ‘I am broken still’
I said, ah sure, I was open right up until I was closed

But I lied then when I spoke about my lover
I lied that night, I should have spoken about another
I was purple with solitude
and purple with shame
purple and full of regret
I was purple with blame

Ah, come oh come Emmanuel.

And sat at the table and bled
She had laid down in the bed that they’d made and she waited
and when they made love they both knew it was cold
so they stared into their darkness there and then,
told their confession
it was red and green and purple
for sorrow it was
purple for feeling
it was purple because they’re beautiful
and purple because they’re bleeding

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