DAVID Bowie said that religion is for those who are frightened of Hell and Spirituality is for those who have been there. I can honestly say with hand on heart that my good friend, the Reverend Dr Bill Shaw OBE, is a spiritual giant, and in my eyes here’s why.

We all are aware of the present horrors of Gaza. It was through the Reverend Bill some years back that I became aware of that living Hell through a story that Bill told me as he gazed at Gaza from a hill and bore witness to the terror of the terrain that imprisoned people in an open prison. 

Bill at that time was an invited guest on a visit to the Holy Land and as a Protestant minister this would be soil to the Christian soul as he visited the land on which the soles of Christ tread. This walk would be a walk that would be  transformative for the Sandy Row man.

WITNESS: Rev Bill Shaw as captured by artist Ciarán Gallagher

WITNESS: Rev Bill Shaw as captured by artist Ciarán Gallagher

I was shocked at the memories that Bill shared with me. Memories that equally opened my heart to the suffering of the souls of Gaza.

He had seen on a wall similar to our wall in the lower Falls a sign that said "What you have seen you must tell others." This brought tears to Bill's eyes as he stood and absorbed and processed all that he had seen. 

I’ll not go too deep into the vision of the horror of Gaza. What I can tell you is that the transformative memories that Bill shared with me, I in turn shared with North Belfast artist Ciaran Gallagher, who recently won the prestigious Royal Ulster Arts prize. Ciaran to me is our very own Banksy, whose work you can see on the murals of the Cathedral Quarter, where he captures our imagination on the walls close to the Harp Bar and surrounding area. 

I had the good fortune of sharing Bill's story with Ciaran recently as Ciaran and myself were experiencing the helplessness and hopelessness that I’m sure we all feel as we are bombarded by the media images of the genocide which is Gaza. 

Ciaran was as moved as I was in hearing Bill's story, so much so that he wanted to capture Bill on canvas for the world to see an image of the man who gazed on Gaza and the message that Bill carries as he continues to raise awareness in so many, many ways.

I contacted Bill and asked if he would meet with Ciaran and told him of Ciaran’s wish to paint his picture. 

Bill agree and Ciaran and I met up with Bill in the Duncairn Arts Centre on the Antrim Road, which is another place of transformation where Bill and others transformed the old Presbyterian church into a creative arts centre for all.

Bill brought us to his office, which reminded me of childhood visits to the warren that was Smithfield Market and Gresham Street. His office was bedecked with mementos of all that inspired and informed Bill. In his office I could breathe in the past, present and the future.