Learning a New Song

Golden Music-(SHOLT)Since I retired from my position as parish musician (for the English language masses), no one has been called to fill the spot. Perhaps no one has answered the call. Who knows? The result is the same: a cappella  music led by the priest, or possibly at communion by me from the pew. Of late, we have been learning/singing a new Gloria at mass. This learning is done by having the Gloria played for us during mass, while we join in as we learn it.

The congregation as done really well with the refrain. But, the “verses” are a problem. As I try to learn to sing this way, I am struggling. I look at the notes on the page. I attempt to hear them sung. I try to follow. Fail. There are sections that I just can’t get. This is due, in part to the fact that I am surrounded by others struggling the same way. Some notes come easily while others, well, we are usually in the chord, but have no sense of the actually melody. And, I can’t pick out the melody from the speaker because I can’t actually hear it and I don’t trust the person next to me, with his strong baritone that follows the person next to him (me) for accuracy. I’m sure I will eventually get it, but not without a struggle.

Learning a new song might be a perfect metaphor for learning to live a life centered in God/Christ. First I must hear the melody… maybe hear it many times. Then, I begin to try to sing along. It’s not going to stick if I don’t jump in and try it out with my own voice. That might work for others, but it doesn’t work for me. When I have trouble getting it right, I have to listen once again and try once again to match what I hear. I can’t possibly lead others, and expect them to even approximate the right notes until I have made them my own. Only then, can I pass on the melody and share the song.

It seems that process has a parallel in other areas of my life. I must listen to the song of creation, the song of the Trinity, the melody of being loved without bounds by God. Once I have heard that song, then I must try it out in my own voice. I must sing of creation, and practice the melody of love. I miss notes. I go back to listen to the song. I try it out again. Whether I get it completely right or not, then I can pass it on to others. I can only share it the way I have learned it, so I behooves me to listen and attempt to sing the right notes. And, only when the melody is solid, is it safe to harmonize. (And I do love harmony, especially in music).

In my Cursillo friendship group, we review our week together by looking at the last week through 3 lenses:

Piety/Holiness: Opening up to hear the new song through prayer, sacraments, listening
Study/Formation: Learning the notes; practicing the notes; studying the music to make it a part of my life
Action/Evangelization: Singing the song so that others can learn it.

Music: the song of my life.

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Truth and Understanding

Truth is eternal. Our knowledge of it is changeable. It is disastrous when you confuse the two.

- Madeleine L’Engle

So very true. And the disaster happens all too often.

And how very freeing to begin to understand this: As I grow — up, out, deeper — and I accept that my understanding of truth is changeable, how much that frees me to change. If I truly accept this, then it is no problem to “change my mind.” Not defeat. Just a new understanding.

Wouldn’t that be nice.

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Protective Layers

In yesterday’s old testament reading ( Deuteronomy 18:25-20), Moses tells the people that God will send a prophet and they must listen to what he says. And, he further explains that this is exactly what the people asked for when they said

‘Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God, nor see this great fire any more, lest we die.’

It seems, we so often seek a layer of protection from God — a prophet, the Magisterium, the Catechism, recited rote prayers, and more. Anything to protect from direct contact with God. We are so fearful. We might die.

I’m not totally brave. There are feelings I have, choices I make that I hold dear but that I know would burst into flame and be burned away if I were to be able to be open to God’s presence without the layers of protection. I would likely find myself transformed in some way that I’m not sure I want at this point.

I continue to protect myself from face to face contact, or from hearing directly. I hesitate to say it, but to be open to hear the voice of the Lord more directly is something to strive for. (The entire time I am writing this I am shuddering because what I hear in my head is “Be careful what you ask/pray for. You just might get it.”)

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Another New Year

January makes me shiver… (apologies to Don McLean)

Another new year… 2015 added 2 more grandchildren to the fold. Avery arrived in January, Henry in November. We’ve already celebrated Avery’s first birthday! Marie and family are back in Birmingham; David and family are in Orlando and no longer own a home in Melbourne. I travelled as far as Nova Scotia, but stayed on this side of the Atlantic.

And, I have been remiss in actually journalling online. Or journalling at all.

The journey seems to have settled into a rather steady walk. Not too fast, not too slow. Learning and relearning the importance of being present in the present… presence. Reflecting on the implications of Incarnation: the present body must be important somehow, if we believe in the Incarnation.

Resolutions always seem to fail me. Or I fail to carry them out. That said, I plan to take a moment and journal my thoughts, frustrations and occasional insights. Later.

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Knowledge of Good and Evil

A part of my daily routine is to read Richard Rohr’s Reflection that arrives in my inbox each morning. Some days it seems we are on totally different roads. Other days, we are both in a place where it feels like I can sit and listen, share and reflect and grow toward God. Today, was one of the “Aha!”  days.

Today, he mentioned the admonition not to “eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” That particular section of Genesis has always bothered me a bit. Why not?  Isn’t is good to know good from bad? As I have grown [older] I find it less bothersome. I find that judging what is good and who is evil is a task best left to one with better vision, understanding and compassion than I. Life is much more of a joy if I leave as much of that judgement up to God and simple attempt to love those around me, wherever, however I find them. Maybe not simple, but certainly less oppressing.

The older I get, the more I realize that we all are both saint and sinner, good and evil. I find that the mailman who is deemed to be difficult and disliked by one set of neighbors is the same person who carefully delivered the mail to the door for another neighbor who was weak from chemo as she fought cancer. I find a priest who has caused me great personal anguish and pain through his own anger  to be the same person who so often led me to great insight and spiritual growth. I must learn not to just the parts, just try to love the person.

The “Aha!” moment — seeing this “forbidden fruit” as something that will truly cause us more pain and suffering… a sort of warning that doing this, eating of this fruit will not work out so well as we imagine. Of course, like most children, we don’t really believe it until we make the mistake for ourselves, and then it can be hard to let go of it. Trying to be judge and jury and getting trapped brings to mind a story of a friend’s son.

They were at a mall and he kept trying to poke his head through the railing to look down at the level below. His mom instructed him repeatedly “Don’t do that! Don’t put your head through there!” Of, course, as a eight year old boy is wont to do, he did it anyway. And his head got stuck. Panic ensued. Mall security and more was called in to extract him from the railing. The resulting extraction was unpleasant at best.

When he was finally freed, his Mom turned him to face her an asked “Why did you do that? Didn’t you hear me tell you not to? Didn’t you know you weren’t supposed to do that?”

His response: “Yes, you told me. But, I didn’t know it would HURT!”

Ah — how often have I had that same reaction?

 

Overcoming fear

There are two bridges -- the old, lower bridge, and the new/current one that is high, high, high above the river. Portomarin, Spain

There are two bridges — the old, lower bridge, and the new/current one that is high, high, high above the river. Portomarin, Spain

I don’t often include images here, but this one make for a powerful visual concerning walking through fear and holding off utter panic. These are the two bridges into Portomarin, Spain — a part of the Via Frances Camino de Santiago de Compostella. Notice the older, probably original bridge. That’s not the one I walked across. As I understand it, the original town was located in nice green lowland near the river. It was destroyed by a flood and/or mudslide. The town was rebuilt on the high ground — they even deconstructed and reconstructed the church in the middle of town!

But, alas, when one walks into Portomarin, it is on a walkway alongside the traffic lanes on that high bridge. The water swirls below. There are railings… railings that laughed as I doggedly focussed in front of myself, trying not to think of tripping and falling into traffic or the river while carrying my backpack.  The walkway is slightly elevated, just in case I wasn’t high enough already to cause panic to push up so forcefully that I had to practice a breathing meditation to keep it in check.

Walking over Napoleon’s Pass and trying not to lose my footing on the descent into Roncesvalles was nothing – nothing – compared to this flat walk. I knew I might be the last on to descend, but I could take it slowly and hope not to turn an ankle. All would be well. But, successfully crossing this bridge — that was triumph over fear. Susan started ahead of me. No fear of heights for that woman, and even she admitted to feeling a bit dizzy when she looked over the edge at the swirling water. For the first half, I could focus on her backside. But, she got across and headed up the stairs to town while I was still in the middle of the bridge. Breathe! Breathe. Don’t look down. Don’t think what could go wrong. One step. One more step. It’s not slick. Your feet are steady. One more step. You can panic when you get to the other side! Several more steps. Will this never end? Should I climb down to the roadway? A few more steps.

At last, it is over. I feel safe. I feel proud and triumphant. I DID IT!

There are many times in life that I need to call on this memory, especially when I’m unsure of where I am going and if I can do it. (Whatever “it” might be.) If I focus on believing, if I tell myself that I can panic later if I need to, if I remember that I only have to take one step at a time, then I can move on down the road. Maybe I can see Jesus walking in front of me and focus on his backside, his stride to get me moving and keep me going. I can go places and discover all manner of things that fear would try to keep me away from.

Courage — not being unafraid, but crossing the bridge anyway.

Emmaus

Aaahh! The cycle of the Easter season. First there is Holy Week topped off with the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday morning joy. Then we begin to roll through the season. Last week was not only Divine Mercy, but it is what I refer to as “Doubting Thomas” Sunday. And today is Emmaus — “Jesus — where are you? Oh! there you are! Where’d ya go?”

I seem to be in a valley of doubt these days. At times, I climb to a hill of “just not inspired.” It bothers me more that I don’t seem to be as bothered as I should be by all of this. I find growth in my walk on a yoga mat, not at mass. I question just how much I believe all of this Christianity stuff. And yet, I’m not drawn to give it up either. I have developed a great sense of apathy about it.

Along comes Emmaus. The people on the road, explaining to the man among them that they had such hopes, but fear they were wrong. They are disappointed and dismayed. He listens. He chastises them a bit. And, when they break bread (he breaks the bread) – they see! Joy! and then he disappears from their sight. Hmmm.

I suppose what I must learn to do is to be awake and never miss the insight, the vision that comes with breaking bread and seeing Jesus/Christ. I often think how it would be so nice if I could just show up for mass, and get my fix, get my glimpse. You know — head out to the store to pick up some faith. Pick my flavor as well. Doesn’t seem to work that way.

For now, Emmaus is a promise that if I walk the road, and stay awake and open to the breaking of bread, I will likely receive what I need to continue. In yoga class the instructors are always reminding us that it is a “practice.” I think that as a Christian, I must remember that it too is a “practice”  — it is never complete, or perfect or done. At least not in this world. Emmaus is hope that I will get enough of a glimpse that I continue to walk.

 

What difference does Easter make?

This morning, Susan, over at Creo en Dios asks “What difference does Easter make to you?”

I’ve not exactly been pondering that question, but I’ve come close. This is the first Easter season in decades that I have not participated in the full Triduum; I only showed for Good Friday and Easter Sunday morning. I have been questioning “Did I miss it in my soul? Why did I skip out this year? What is different in my life and my faith?” I can say that I know that in part, I opted out of the Vigil (which is by far my favorite liturgy of the year) because I wanted to be at home and be with my son and his family. Baby Avery is only 3 months old, and it was her first road trip.

I’ve made some changed this year. I retired from being THE English language music minister in my parish. There were many factors in that decision, and many that will not be aired in this forum. But, I finally just said, “I’m retiring. I cannot carry this alone any more. I don’t want to. I believe that while I am important, I am not so essential that parish life will fall apart without my presence.” I thought that it was a sabbatical. I figured that by Easter, I would be back. Instead, the weight lifted from my shoulders has been such a blessing. The freedom from feeling bound to the schedule has given me room to breathe and grow. If I ever go back, which at this point seems unlikely, I will only do so if I can do it with joy and a positive attitude. It will be a choice not a something I do because I would be afraid that folks might be angry if I didn’t do it. For now, I have let go and that seems to be good. Far better than doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons.

I’ve continued to bring myself to my yoga mat and take the time to breathe and be and let go of outside expectations. I have taken to heart some of the practices of a meditation grounded in breathing and just being with God.  I have learned better to laugh gently at myself when my body and my mind make different decisions about what I can do. Isn’t that so true in our Christian walk?  I mean, there is so often a disparity between what I think I should do and be and what this body can and will do. It is a learning process to pay attention to the emotions and what they are saying to me — without falling prey to being absorbed by them. In my seventh decade, I believe I am getting a glance at the fact that I am not my emotions (or my hair color, or my body shape). It’s about time.

Maybe next year I will be back at the full Triduum. Maybe not. I just know that at this point, my current focus seems to be more strongly on Jesus among us than on Holy Week.  That is not to put down the importance of Holy Week. I just need to treasure and explore the Presence of the [Risen] Lord in my every day walk. Maybe, even treasure the presence of Jesus, who put on bones and blood and muscle and was a human, like me. And rest in the love that brings to my consciousness.

Happy Easter!

 

Burden of Myself

Ran into Fr. Gary over at Holy Trinity Sunday… well, he almost chased me down when I walked past him. I thought he was busy, and didn’t want to disturb him. Guess I was wrong.

Reminded me of the prayer he laid on me last spring:

Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.

or maybe he says

Relieve me of the terrible burden of  myself, that I may better do Thy will.

Yup. Last year, it made a little bit of sense. This spring, it runs deep. I struggle with letting go of the bondage of protecting myself. I am more and more aware of the times I do so.  As I practice yoga, especially Yin, I find how difficult it is to let go physically. Move into a pose — a pose that requires you to relax and let go so that you can get a deep stretch. Sit with it. Do a self-check while you locate those muscles that are holding on tight to protect other things. Relax, let go and allow the earth beneath you to support you. Breathe. Oops! those same muscles start tensing up again. They don’t really accept that it will be ok to relax and be supported. The cycle repeats, each time with a bit more success.

How does that apply to the prayer? For me, it is the physical embodiment of my spiritual and soulful life. Can I find those things that hold me tight and protect me from God’s love and support? Can I then let go and rest in God’s love and presence? It’s not easy for me. I might let go a bit and rest, only to discover that I have picked up that baggage again, and am using it to insulate me from freedom. The physical practice has given me a way to work through these things, to experience the letting go and the picking up and letting go and picking up and letting go… I seek to move with this experience and apply it to my emotions and my prayer life.

Jesus came to earth and walked among us as one of us. That must mean that God experienced life in the physical body of Jesus. The physical body is animated by the spiritual and emotional self. I’m doubtful that they can be separated successfully. Incarnation, to me, means that God is indeed here, in muscle and bone as much as in spirit. The experience of one must integrate with the experience of the other.

Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. 

And help me to live fully and freely. Amen.

Falling

I hate falling. It scares me. I hate that loss of control, the moment of panic when my mind races worrying about what will hurt, what will be broken, where the bruises will be.

I hate falling: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. But, I find the most vivid descriptions of Why in the physical form.

I’ve barely been out of the house for 2 days now. There was ice and snow. Not a lot by many standards, but enough to make walking tricky and at times treacherous on our iced over driveway. I’ve fallen on ice a few times, and they stand out vividly in my memory: once, wearing ski boots at a ski resort in Boone NC and another on the St. John’s campus in New York. Both proved painful, and extremely unpleasant. Neither resulted in anything being broken. I’m not sure about bruises. But, I remember, in my gut the sensation of falling and the pain upon hitting the ground.

My balance is not as good as I would like. I can recount stepping through the ceiling in the attic (a fall stopped by the ceiling joists) which resulted in bruising from the back of my knee halfway up my butt. Or two falls on the Camino. Or falling and cracking a rib running to get out of the rain on campus; falling in the Chili’s parking lot in pouring rain causing a rotator cuff tear.

And there is the grandaddy of all falls in my memory — falling off of the front porch (four steps high, no railing) into a pyracantha bush. I must have been 5 or 6 at the time. To this day, I am very timid about leaning out or jumping ditches or anything where I might fall.

Get the picture? We haven’t even gotten to mental, emotional or spiritual falls… but, let’s just say I’ve had a few. Some of them, I am only now beginning to understand as falls. I’ve miss opportunities because of this fear of falling. There are times I simply cannot or will not let go (and let God) because I am so terrified of falling. Even in battling depression, it seemed impossible to let go and fall to the bottom, trusting that there was indeed a bottom to stop the fall.

Funny thing is that when I do let go, when I do allow myself to risk falling, I don’t always fall. And, so far, I’ve been able to get up again when I have fallen. But, still, it holds me back. What if I don’t bounce back? What if I lose it all? What if I lose something? What if I speak the truth and you never talk to me again? Or you laugh at me? Or write me off and pretend I don’t exist? What if I sell everything to buy the field where the precious pearl is buried, and then discover I hate pearls? Butch and Sundance had to jump and fall into the river to escape. Me? I would probably have died on the cliff out of fear of the fall into the river.

I really hate falling. And yet, it seems that to move forward, to growth, to love, I’m going to have to risk falling, even if I am scared.

 

 

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