Sunday past was Pentecost. Fifty days after Easter, the Roman [Catholic] Church, among others, celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit as she descended upon the apostles and gave them a power to speak in all languages. To reach all people with the Good News.
This Spirit moves and animates in all sorts of interesting ways. After mass the Sunday before (where we celebrated the Ascension), one of the choir members approached me and said “None of us [musicians] will be here next week. So, if you want, you could lead some of the old songs.” Hmmmm. I retired from my role as parish musician several years ago after decades of service. It was a difficult call, and not always a smooth transition to be frank. And, my preference for guitar accompaniment and the songs I would choose seem to be a bit out of line with the current administration. Still, I considered the possibility of leading a song or two acapella.
I subscribe strongly to St. Augustine’s thought: To sing is to pray twice. I have struggled with the current music at church. It is lovely and harmonic and to my soul lacking energy. Most weeks I spend most of mass trying to find the things that can build me up and help me to give thanks. It’s difficult and I am all too often just sad.
Therefore, I did consider a couple of hymns that might be appropriate and singable. Like “Come Holy Ghost.” Much to my surprise Fr. Gil came up to me before mass and said “Kim said you would probably be helping with music this morning.” Now, it seemed I needed to at least lead Come Holy Ghost for opening. I don’t really know the current mass parts well enough to lead them, nor to I particularly like them. But, an opening song, OK. By the time I listened to the readings, I had a second hymn and a closing. So, all I needed was a communion song. Listen to the Spirit, listen to the Spirit, listen to the Spirit.
By the end of mass I had four songs/hymns. I could hear those behind me singing. It felt good. A young couple in the row behind us tapped me on the should and mouthed “Thank you” with a smile. The pastor thanked me for helping (in front of everyone). Again — it felt good. My soul was comforted. Isn’t the Spirit the Comforter?
After mass I was also greeted by a small group who thanked me and encouraged me. Fr. Gil suggested that if I wanted to show up at the Saturday 4:30 mass he would welcome the music. We are definitely Sunday folks, but when I first came to this parish I came on Saturday afternoon and helped with music. Is there a pattern emerging?
Not “doing music” seems to have a much deeper affect on me than I have previously been willing to recognize. Not sure what will happen going forward. At this time I shall enjoy the comfort of the Spirit, the praying twice as I sing. I will appreciate those people who responded to the movement of the Spirit and encouraged me.
It feels good. It feels peaceful. It feels like I’m healing, finally.
Today’s homily focused a lot on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the concept of “Cheap Grace” and the Cost of Discipleship. It makes sense as we approach Ash Wednesday and Lent that this might be a topic for a homily. After all, it seems that the focus of Lent is so often “Doing Stuff” like we think we can earn God’s love. As Jesus observes, the sun and the rain fall on both the just and the unjust. That light shining through the water hits the whales, the fish, the sharks and the algae — and even a human diver. Nothing earns the light, but the enjoy it you must be present.
Grace is not cheap or expensive. It’s free. It can’t be earned, it can’t be bought. To experience the benefits of this free gift takes an open heart and some “doing” or a change of heart, change of point of view — Metanoia or repentance. But the grace itself: free.
Approaching Lent is always problematic for me. I must identify the attachments before I can let go of them. My eyes were opened last night during an episode of Candice Renoir. While looking at a nun’s cell in a monastery containing nothing personal, I thought “maybe I’m too attached to things. I would be hard pressed to give up everything and walk away like that.” But, I’m of two minds on that. Twenty three years ago our house burned. The cats got out, and somehow the photo albums survived without too much damage.. But, almost everything else was a lost cause. Months later, after rebuilding we moved back in. What we had in storage could be moved back in 2 loads in a small Nissan pickup truck. That would be a table, 7 chairs, a hutch, some dishes (they survive these things pretty well), photo albums and some music CDs. Not much else. Oh — a china cabinet and barrister bookshelves survived. Most of this had to be completely refinished. Later that year, my stepbrother would ask how we survived this. He had lost a couple of friends in accidents that same year. My response was immediate: It was just stuff. Not people, not pets, just stuff. So, perhaps the total lack of anything personal such as a family photograph or some other small momento was the disturbing part of the scene.
What other attachments keep me from benefiting from this free grace? My pride? My ego? I do have to remember that “It’s not all about me.” That hit home the other morning when I said something and got jumped all over. It was jarring because the response seemed so out of range for the comment. After stepping back and pondering a bit instead of snapping back, it seems that I was the nearest object of someone’s frustration. I’m not sure what the real problem was, but I’m pretty sure it was more than the suggestion that someone move their underwear to the laundry hamper.
Maybe I forgo sugar for Lent. Yeah, trite, I know. But, if it’s done in the spirit of interrupting a dependence on the rush one can get from sugar, and focusing on being more attuned to my mental and physical state when I’m sugar free, that could work. I did it in January and I have to admit that there were emotional and physical benefits. I think I sleep better. I don’t have to waste energy fighting cravings because they pretty much disappear. That leaves more energy for other things.
Grace can’t be bought and it can’t be earned. But, it does take a bit of work to recognize and reap the benefits I think.
I sometimes reflect on those times I have known the presence of God in an almost tangible way.
I envy those who remember childhood as a time of safety, innocence and carefree fun. I seek to remember the times I felt that way. Then those feelings of uncertainty, insecurity, fear and just general discomfort arise and run amok over me. My mother once told me she thought me very shy, despite the fact I talked a lot (got teased about it) and I think I was rather outgoing. She once asked me why I always wanted to do things that I was not really good at (mostly athletic/physical pursuits) — implying, correctly, that I seemed disinterested in things where I could excel (intellectual/academic).
In high school I reached a point where I decided that I had to choose: to actually be a Christian or to admit I didn’t believe it and walk away. I had to get off of that fence. It was a pointed picket fence, painted white, in my mind. Coming from the South and good Calvinist roots, I feared blowing off the God of the churches I knew, I didn’t want to go to hell, etc. So, I chose the all-in route. I became some form of “Jesus freak” as it were. Of course, I missed the entire point of the Gospel. I took a rather judgmental approach to life and others. I am sorry for the pain I caused during this part of my journey.
This was an essential step it seems. To decide. To step out. To take a stand. Maybe right choice, wrong reasons. What is clear to me now is that it was more fear driven than anything else. Typical me. At least I was reaching out in some way.
On my religious/faith journey I came to the [Roman] Catholic Church by a crooked path. My first experiences of church were in the Southern Baptist Church (grandparents) and the Presbyterian Church. Both of Calvinist roots. From there I wandered into non-denominational groups as well as Pentecostal churches (I remember the Assembly of God and Church of God); I tried out Bible study with a local Church of Christ. Oh, and then the Methodist Student Center in college alongside the Catholic Student Center.
Ah! 1970s Catholics: people of community and faith who also enjoyed a party, some dancing, a few beers (especially green beer on St. Patrick’s Day) all while exhibiting a deep and abiding faith and dedication to the church (and mass). A new world.
Which leads me to a second moment of decision, under a fig tree. Yeah, I know — the story of Nathaniel is not lost on me.
Sitting under the fig tree that at one time graced the backyard of St. Michael’s church (founded as Sacred Heart Church), I heard the Lord say “You are going to be Catholic.” My response was similar to Moses when he tried to convince God that he wasn’t the right person to lead the Hebrews. In Moses’ words: “Not me, take Aaron!” As a lifelong protestant Christian, this was some serious stuff. (Thoughts here: I’m not becoming some damn Papist… you’re asking me to give up my identity! This is like leaving the church.) Nevermind that I was already starting to go to daily mass, did music for Sunday mass and generally hung out primarily Catholic college students.
God calls. And, in the end, I became a part of the Roman Catholic communion. It took 2 full rounds of Inquiry classes (now morphed into RCIA), and having to convince a priest (or 2) and a couple of nuns that this was the right move. I fully understand their concerns, but I also have learned that God draws straight with crooked lines (was that Vincent de Paul who said that?).
Fast forward past college graduation, grad school, marriage and becoming a mother. Fast forward through moving back to Auburn. Much frustration and probably some depression. A sense of inner deadness.
All I can say is be careful with what you ask for. In the confessional, trying to get past the dead feeling, my ask was to “widen the parameters” — I guess that was a cry to help be open up and look closely at where I was. Be brave. It was a time where I truly felt Jesus in the room. I felt I could reach out and touch Him. And, my world went upside down, inside out — a swiftly tilting planet as it were.
I wish I could say it was the beginning of a time of smiles and joy and more. Not so much. Confronting oneself is not an easy task. It was at times quite painful. I shut down many things that I couldn’t handle. But I found someone inside that I finally liked.
Not long after, I felt the wrath of an ultra-conservative group within the parish enabled by a new priest. Another call, another step. Another process.
One Saturday evening I took myself to a new and strange [to me] parish. Small space. The original Catholic church in the county. No music beyond the priest leading singing acapella. Music has always been an important part of liturgy to me. And yet, it was right. I went up to communion. When I returned to my seat, I promise you, it seemed to me that Jesus was waiting. I sat down and it felt like an arm was around my shoulder and a voice whispered in my ear: “Welcome home.”
It took another 18 months to completely move into this new home. It took a long penance where the music I led at mass was a prayer for those who I felt persecuted me. This time it seems I lost my parish and found my church. That Church is much, much larger than a parish. But this move was one done in love, not fear.
Themes I notice: sitting (sitting on a fence, sitting under a fig tree, sitting in a confessional, sitting in a pew); loss; stepping out;
Note: I don’t really expect anyone to wade through this long, rambling look at events in my life. I just need to write it so as to better see where I am.
My goal is to be in the present moment. But, sometimes life (and Facebook) pull up the past and tripper me to think how I got to the present moment. Then perhaps I can assess the present and rest there more easily.
Yesterday Facebook prompted me to share my status from New Years Eve 2015 (the day before New Years Day 2016). Here’s what I had written:
2015: No doubt I could have eaten less, walked more, run harder, prayed more and been more generous. But, I got to surprise a dear friend by turning up at a celebration of his 50th anniversary of ordination, the dogs and I have taken many walks, I’ve enjoyed biking the Gulf State Park, the house didn’t flood Christmas Eve and the tornado in Birmingham missed us by a few miles; I would have preferred to have a miracle for Molly over the miracle of Molly Praying for Molly Remmert Rossell,. It seems too many folks have left us this year. But, Henry turned 1 and there’s another grandson coming in the spring. A we still go out to dinner on Friday night with my mother. Welcome 2016! I’m sure the best is yet to come!
As I read this, I thought — “Wow! I was mighty optimistic about the coming year.” To be honest, 2016 brought a lot of changes. And 2017 even more changes and loss. 2018 has been a time to process and heal. I chose to look at the past 3 years as a period of growth. I choose to take the good.
When I wrote that reflection on the last day of 2015 much was different in my life. I had just finally taken a break from church music ministry. I still lived in the same house where we lived for 31 years, and raised 3 children, several dogs and cats, survived a house fire and rebuilt. Less than 2 weeks later, on a dream trip to Hawaii to celebrate 40 years of marriage and revisit the place where we met, I stepped off of a banyan tree root and broke 2 bones in my leg (tibia at the ankle end and a spiral fracture in the fibula); The vacation was cut short, and it was almost April before I walked free again. 9 weeks of living non-weight-bearing on my left leg led to more changes. The realization that we could not grow old in that house because of accessibility issues was one of the things that moved us to move.
Letting go of my grounding on Windsor and moving was exciting. By August all was ready for closing and moving. In a space of 2 weeks we closed on the house we sold, found out my husband had colon cancer, closed on the new place and faced the surgery which fortunately removed all of the cancer — and moved. For the second time in a year, one of us was severely restricted for several weeks. By late October, I could ride bikes again and after a week of lots of riding down on the coast, my left ankle/foot finally gave up swelling. By Thanksgiving I realized I wasn’t panicking about falling with every step I took.
Just as JP got the “all clear” in early October, my brother in law got the bad news that he didn’t have appendicitis – he had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He would begin chemo immediately, and do very well with it. JP and BIL had the same oncologist..
Not sure I would have evaluated 2016 as “the best!” Broken bones, 2 cancers, new house. We made it! We faced adversity with a semblance of grace. I understood within myself that my sabbatical from parish musician wasn’t a sabbatical. It was a retirement.
Enter 2017: Gonna be calmer and better!!! Do want to see God laugh? Tell him your plans.
In February my mother’s cousin (more like a sister, Mama was an only child) fell and broke her hip. 5 days later they were planning her funeral. Mama wouldn’t go, probably mostly because of a fear of falling herself. She had been having problems with that. At about the same time, another of my mother’s cousins lost his wife to cancer.
In March, I watched family deal with a suicide of someone too young to die, and it seems, too broken to live.
By April, my step-brother had died of a massive heart attack. Mama went to that funeral. We had so much fun “driving Miss Martha” around Florence so she could take in the changes since she had moved away. The funeral service was a musical delight and the crowd in the church massive. 4 songs, all verses for communion. That was Mama’s last trip.
May found us saying “Good-bye” to Mama; a return to Florence for a smaller, low key funeral. By now I was feeling a bit shell shocked. But, BIL had been told he had reached the stage of maintenance treatment and should expect to live a full, healthy life.
June was full. Cooper, our 12 year old diabetic schnauzer left us. When Cooper died I did shake my fist at the sky (at God) and holler. Too much! We left for vacation. My sister called: BIL had been feeling horrible. They were at UAB since his lymphoma had transformed into a double-hit lymphoma. He would spent most of his time for the next 4 months undergoing intense, debilitating chemo.
In September I retrieved him from the hospital after a round of chemo. We had to make several stops on the way home for him to relieve himself (diuretics are a bear!) and to buy him a hand dipped milkshake. He enjoyed it so much that he said I should have gotten him the big one. I had. He returned to the hospital less than 2 weeks later, where he died on October 8.
A part of writing this is to try to find my way through 2017. It is still a bit of a blur. You notice very few actual dates.
2018 must have been healing and loss. One of my son’s friends died suddenly at 32. We had known this child/boy/man since before he could walk. But his friends showed up from far and near for the day of remembrance. His mother is still reeling. A good friend’s husband passed in April. He was in his late 80’s and had been failing for a while. But, one is never truly ready to let go. We celebrated my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday in May. Visited with her as she slipped out of consciousness in July and returned to RI for her funeral in August. And, by year’s end, our dear friend from church (and Sunday breakfast buddy) had gone home to heaven. On Sunday before Christmas, we said goodbye to Grace, our 15+ year old schnauzer (Cooper’s mother);
In the flow of life, 2018 was overall good. I went back to practicing yoga. I’ve continued trying to get back to a bit of running. I’m making peace with the music at church. We’ve ridden bikes. We had a lovely Thanksgiving in Birmingham with my brother and all of the remaining family. We spent Christmas in Florida with my oldest son and his family. Life is good. I find myself a bit more in touch with the eternal “I AM” and better centered in my day to day life. I do better at looking in the mirror and accepting and loving what I see.
For 2019 I pray for peace and grounding. My only resolution is that this is the year of purging [added] sugar from my diet. I’ll start right with cornbread, collard greens (for folding money), black eyed peas (for good luck and pocket change) and ham (hey! it’s pork for good luck just like hog jowls);
I’m terrified of deep open water. The feeling of floating helplessly above the nothing, the unexplored leaves me frozen. This was the first time I had ever been in an exihibit that lets you feel like you are seeing fish deep under the water, and I was a little shook. Looking up however, I could see the tank continued and let you see the only light source coming into the water, revealing more of this deep water. I smiled. Photo and comment by Matt Alaniz on Unsplash
Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah” (see Luke 11:29; Matthew 12:39, 16:4). Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a place we can’t fix, control, explain, or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing. (from Richard Rohr’s reflection this morning 21-October-2018)
Last year was a blur. Losing so many close to me — brother, mother, brother-in-law as well as one of my dogs (who had been part of my life for more than 12 years) — sent me to a place where I felt I had no control, no reassurance that the sun would rise. I wouldn’t plan anything of consequence. It seemed I had no chance to begin processing one loss before another occurred. My sister thinks I’ve handled it better than she has. Perhaps this is true, but it came only after surrendering to the grief, walking through it and basically remembering one of the lessons of Cursillo: Let go and let God. Or maybe sinking into Julian of Norwich’s “All shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.” Or the signs on walls while walking the Camino: in the end, all will be good. If it’s not all good, then it’s not the end!
The belly of the whale is dark and uncomfortable. At times the darkness might be more comfortable than the light. When one has been taken care of by the belly of the whale, then one can walk in the light again.