La Loche, Adam and the Eventide of Joy

Bruce Cockburn’s post-Chernobyl blues tune, “Radium Rain”
concludes with a four minute guitar solo that will break your heart.
If you allow yourself to be taken by the music,
you just might experience something like a good cry.

The solo builds towards a crescendo
and then slowly makes its way down to almost a whisper.

Kind of like how sorrowful weeping gains in intensity
to a point of almost total loss of control,
and then devolves into sobs and whimpering.

You know what I’m talking about?

And anyone who has ever studied with me
will know that I often will play “Radium Rain”
and then read Isaiah 24 over top of the guitar solo.

While it seems a tad disrespectful to read while such powerful music is playing,
there is something about this mash-up of music and ancient prophecy,
that begins to capture the depth of the prophet’s devastating message.

Often, just as the crescendo has been reached,
and the artist is beginning his descent into a quiet sadness,
I get to the verses:

The mirth of the timbrel is stilled,
the noise of the jubilant has ceased,

the mirth of the lyre is stilled.

Kind of what happens after a nuclear meltdown.
Kind of what happens after a disaster.
Kind of what happens when your world has come crashing down around you.

No wonder the only sound to cut through this devastating quiet
is “an outcry in the streets for lack of wine.”

Something, anything, to numb the pain.
Something, anything, to help you forget.

And then, while Cockburn’s guitar gently weeps,
the prophet says, through his tears,

“all joy has reached its eventide;
the gladness of the earth is banished.”

Surely, one of the most devastating lines in the whole Bible.

A year ago today,
there was no joy in La Loche, Saskatchewan.

There was no mirth in the La Loche High School.

No, a year ago today,
joy reached its eventide in La Loche.

And I’ve got to tell you,
joy reached its eventide that day in the Keesmaat-Walsh family.

Many reading this will know that when a young man,
for whom joy had long departed from his life,
unleashed his despair, anger and rage,
taking the lives of young Dayne and Draydon Fontaine,
together with promising young teaching assistant, Marie Janvier,
he also killed our friend, Adam Wood.

And while our grief does not compare to that of his beloved Adar,
or of his mom and dad, Ted and Nancy,
or of his sister Caitlin and brother Eric,
joy reached its eventide on January 22, 2016 in our lives as well.

Adam knew with Isaiah that there was something
deeply wrong in our world.

Adam knew that,
“the earth is utterly broken,
the earth is torn asunder,”
and he dedicated his life to the healing of that broken world.

Adam knew that,
“the earth dries up and withers,
the earth lies polluted
under its inhabitants,”
so he set out to learn about organic farming,
and he camped on our land for twelve months,
to learn about the land, and its healing power.

Adam knew that in the deep brokenness of our world,
“every house is shut up so that no one can enter in,”
so he practiced a life of hospitality,
committed to opening those doors locked in fear.

Adam knew that,
“desolation is left in the city,” and
“the earth is violently shaken,”
so he went to the desolation,
and entered a place where the violence was palpable.

There is a very fine line between the self-inflicted violence of despair,
and a violence that blindly lashes out against others.

I’m not sure that Isaiah had anything much to teach Adam.
But maybe my friend Adam,
and maybe those of us who were so deeply impacted by his life,
have something to teach Isaiah in the midst of his own despairing oracle.

Isaiah, at the moment of the whimpering sobs,
loses all hope and whispers that,
“the earth staggers like a drunkard,
it sways like a hut,

its transgression lies heavy upon it,
and it falls, and it will not rise again.”

Adam would understand Isaiah’s despair.

Adam would know what it means for the world to stagger,
for a society to collapse,
and certainly for a young Dene man to fall.

But I believe that Adam would disagree with Isaiah’s final words.

Yes, the world falls, but it will indeed rise again!
Yes, this young man has fallen into the depths of murderous violence,
but he too, Adam would believe,
can rise again.

And, with angry, audacious and tear filled hope,
let me confess that Adam too will rise again!

My first words at Adam’s funeral,
after the band had performed Dylan’s “I Shall be Released,” were,
Adam sees his light come shining.
From the West down to the East.
Any day now, any day now,
he shall be released!

Joy reached its eventide on January 22, 2016.

But it was not extinguished forever.
It too, shall rise again.

But I don’t know when.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is entitled Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination.

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