Friday, December 23, 2011

Advent 2011, Morning Prayer, and Feasting

I love Advent. A handful of years ago I really had no better clue than a church-going 8-year-old might why celebrating Advent was significant, but in recent years, the Lord has expanded my heart to hold more and more. This year I feel like I have taken a quantum leap, not so much in "understanding" Advent as being inside it, experiencing it, if that makes any sense to you. And this leap has been facilitated to a great extent by regularly joining some of my neighbors to pray morning prayer.

Here's how I can explain it. I've shared in another place about my conversion to Catholicism which had its apex at a Christmas Eve midnight Mass. I liken it to being invited to a huge banquet. The first year, all I could do was walk in the room and look at the banquet with my mouth hanging open in shock. The next few years, I came in and stood quietly in the back of the room. Year by year, in celebrating the banquet that is the feast of the Nativity, I was seated, pulled up a plate, ate some of the food, looked around at the other guests, began chatting, enjoying, and really celebrating. Even exploding with joy.

This year the image that fills my heart, largely growing out of my experience of praying the Liturgy of the Hours in community, is that I am witnessing, am in on, all of the feast's preparations. I see the prayers, the longing, the penances, the sacrifices, the seeds sown by God in and through His Church, that made that banquet something that I could "see," something that I could walk in on in shock 20 years ago. I realize that prayer that has been ascending through His Church for the salvation of my soul. I realize the gift that other Christians have given to me, someone nameless and unknown to them. The love, the longing, the sacrifices of others called down God's graces onto me.

Suddenly I feel myself as if in a kitchen buzzing with cooks and surrounded by mounds of potatoes and flour, raw meat, and ingredients of every sort. Advent is about the preparation of a feast of grace for the world, the poor, starving world. And picking up those potatoes to peel makes me want to weep with gratitude for being not only among those God feeds, but among those called to feed others with His life. None of this belongs to me. It is lavished on us by our Father who generously provides even for those who can only gape at Him in disbelief in return.

I've prayed the Liturgy of the Hours on and off for those 20 years. A breviary was the first thing I purchased after deciding to become a Catholic on December 26, 1991. But I've not regularly prayed it in community. For me, this is an incredible grace that surpasses anything about aesthetics. Our particular group was often made up largely of children. That probably sounds romantic to those of you who are not currently parenting children. Children teach adults so much about ourselves: one day one might say something spiritually profound, and the next might slap the one sitting next to him or be obnoxious in some other way. If we cannot see that until we learn to accept the Lord's discipline, we are all like this (only usually in more restrained, socially-polished ways that hide our obnoxiousness and suppress our profundity) then I think we never grow beyond a sterile sort of community experience where everyone is more concerned about being nice than being holy. Community life teaches us that we need each other and challenges pride which would have us believe we are better off standing alone, or with a group of me-clones. I cannot say why this community experience has been such a huge grace for me, other than to say that praying this way is simply God's will.

Here we are during one of our first gatherings.
My heartfelt gratitude to Keith and Iwona Major for opening their home and their family prayer time to all who gathered.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Love, joy, suffering, miscarriage

I am struggling. Embedded deep within me, it seems I have a calendar which does not allow me to forget that during this week three years ago we learned I was pregnant, and then learned I had lost the baby before I had even gotten used to the idea of being pregnant.

Today had the same Mass reading that hit me so hard last year when I wrote about this anniversary. That was striking.

Raise a glad cry, you barren one who did not bear, break forth in jubilant song, you who were not in labor, For more numerous are the children of the deserted wife than the children of her who has a husband, says the LORD. Enlarge the space for your tent, spread out your tent cloths unsparingly; lengthen your ropes and make firm your stakes. For you shall spread abroad to the right and to the left; Your descendants shall dispossess the nations and shall people the desolate cities. Fear not, you shall not be put to shame; you need not blush, for you shall not be disgraced. The shame of your youth you shall forget, the reproach of your widowhood no longer remember. For he who has become your husband is your Maker; his name is the LORD of hosts; Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, called God of all the earth. The LORD calls you back, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, A wife married in youth and then cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you; But with enduring love I take pity on you, says the LORD, your redeemer. This is for me like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah should never again deluge the earth; So I have sworn not to be angry with you, or to rebuke you. Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, My love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the LORD, who has mercy on you.
How it hits me this year is that during this season of Advent that always stirs me so deeply with hope and then Christmas which has been an annual reminder to me of the flood, the torrent of love God has for me that has totally reshaped my life... during this powerful time, I have a poignant reminder that I cannot fulfill my own desires for myself. Infertility and the loss of two pregnancies has taught me that. I can't give myself God's gifts. Every good thing that comes to me comes from the hand of God, and what He doesn't drop right into my soul He gives directly into the hands of other people, with the directive to be faithful to Him, thereby giving to me what I so desperately need. In the same way, He puts into my heart and hands things that belong to others, with the same charge to live faithfully to Him, thereby spreading His gifts adequately. We all fail each other. But God is so generous; He doesn't seem to mind working with our failures and still accomplishing His will. In the midst of all the beauty with which God floods me, I have also this reminder: I am not the Author of this. Neither great joy nor suffering are evidence of some kind of merit on my part, some kind of trick that I've performed to win God's favor. Rather, His love IS. That's the fact. I am a creature. That is also the fact. A creature drawn to union with the Creator will experience both joy and suffering, but neither joy nor suffering amount to anything apart from that union. I can try and struggle to get myself happy, but it is futile unless what I seek is whatever union with God in Christ calls for.

"To reach satisfaction in all, desire satisfaction in nothing." -- St. John of the Cross.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Meaning Series: Psalm 51

Recording Unleashed is coming to a close, so I guess I'd better get this self-imposed project of writing about the meaning of each song wrapped up, too.

Psalm 51 is the only song I wrote while in the process of rehearsing to record, in May of this year, so it is the johnny-come-lately to the project. One night I was rehearsing "Led By the Spirit of the Lord" with Joey and Aaron (drummer and bassist, respectively) and we were joking about how the song reminded me of Linda Ronstadt's version of Mike Nesmith's tune "Different Drum". I tend to get songs stuck in my head, so that night I came home and listened to both Linda's and Mike's version of that song several times. The next morning, with Mike's tune still reverberating in my head, I was impressed with the words again and again "a clean heart create for me, Oh God." I tried going various directions with lyrics, but Psalm 51 asserted itself in my heart. The result is a general paraphrase of Psalm 51 with a country sound. There is something about this type of music that speaks to me of the humility, of earthiness, and of our rightful position before God as accountable, yet empty handed and with nothing at all that can impress Him, but our readiness to turn to Him completely trusting in and anticipating His mercy, His love and forgiveness.

A bit of trivia: (as if it isn't all trivia!) I wrote this song very early in the morning and so it has some very low notes in it. It took me a similar morning recording session to be able to pull off these notes.
Marie Hosdil: Unleashed

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Proverbs 31 and "Did You Just Look at my Chest?"

Recently on Facebook I saw both of these videos. I am posting them both here, because I think they work great in context with each other. You might think I mean they contrast each other, but I don't. Women and men both need to understand and appreciate both the biology of attraction and the spirituality of relationship. Leave one or the other out, and you end up with something less than human.

Monday, December 05, 2011

and the Glory of the Lord Shall be Revealed

Today's Mass readings blew me away. I had the feeling I was hearing the story of my own life read back to me from the pulpit.

Here's the feeling I got: Imagine someone plans a surprise party for you. The plans are extensive, and you don't have a clue what is afoot, but you do get terribly suspicious of the activities of the one doing the planning. You notice things you can't explain, and you devise in your head the worst possible scenario(s) to explain what you see. You get your whole psyche wrapped up around these terrible thoughts. Then the party is sprung on you. And long, long afterwards (how about years) you are still unpacking those terrible thoughts and realizing that what you thought was suspicious activity was really deep evidence of love. You go through layer after layer of the realization that when you thought the world was against you, you were actually deeply loved, despite the fact that the only one being awful was yourself.

That's how those readings hit me today. God has sprung the best surprise on me of all -- my whole life has meaning! Isaiah has always moved me, especially all the passages about restoration and the deserts blooming. These promises echoed through my heart since my childhood. What struck me today was what seems like a progression. The desert will bloom, God will restore, God will come to save you... then... the blind shall see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk. It's one thing if we see this just as a Messianic prophecy (as if that weren't enough!). But what about our lives? God restores us so that we can be His Messianic people -- and bring His healing to others. As they say in the Hokey Pokey, that's what it's all about.

Then that gospel. I have never before seen myself so clearly as the paralyzed man being let down through the roof as today. It's Advent, and I was just meditating on those Isaiah promises, so my mind went to Christmas Eve and my being called to the Catholic Church -- a major moment of conversion. I was paralyzed when God called me, spiritually speaking, because I had hated and judged Catholics for so long. (Read the whole story here.) I was "let down" into the Mass by a friend and his friends who brought me there. And just like Jesus did in this gospel, the first thing He addressed me with was the offer of forgiveness of my sins (which, of course, from my perspective, was my being faced with my sins by Him.) And this was not just a spiritual healing, but a complete reorientation of his life. But just like in the first reading, I realized that this man's healing (and my conversion) aren't just about that man, or just about me. It is all about God's glory as accusations, astonishment and awe strike other people when they see what Jesus has done. This is why our lives are to show forth His glory. This is simply the way Jesus works!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Jesus' Hope

December 1, 2011 Monthly Message

On the first of every month, our Lord gives Anne a new message about His call to service.

December 1, 2011

Dear apostles, it is with hope that I come to you today, speaking these words to your heart. I am hoping that the plans I have for your life will come to fruition. Do I require that you be powerful? Important? Do I need you to be people of great wealth or great influence in the eyes of the world? Will My plan be threatened by your imperfection or your difficulty maintaining holiness in every moment? Do I need only angels? Or do I need apostles of good will serving exactly where I have placed them? You were created to persevere and even flourish with limited understanding of all that is happening around you and through you. Yes, dear apostles, I am filled with hope. I am hoping that you accept My love. I am hoping that you allow Me to bring you healing, daily. I am hoping that through you I can love and heal others whom you will encounter in your daily experience. I bring you so many gifts of knowing Me, both directly and indirectly. Sometimes, I bring these gifts directly into your soul. Sometimes I send these gifts to you through the soul of another. I am saying that sometimes you will be the recipient of My gifts and sometimes you will be the one delivering My gifts. We are so united, you and I. We are together now and when you are finished on earth you will understand how closely I worked with you. You will be so happy when you understand the extent to which I blessed others through you. Dear friends, I come at Christmas as an infant in a manger and you rejoice. Truly, understand, that each time you cooperate with Me in your day, you are bringing Me into the world. When you see how others were blessed through your fidelity, you will understand the fullness of rejoicing. Yes, today, your Infant King comes to you with heavenly hope. Beloved apostles, I instruct you to bring this hope to others, regardless of the circumstances around you.

(See for more information about these messages.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

For the Brothers of St. Cecilia

This is the song I wrote for week five of my Autumn Songwriting Challenge.This represents my having learned to use a Grace Tape2USB machine, multi-track recording with Audacity, composing songs on keyboard (when I hadn't significantly played it at all since I was about 13 -- that was only hunting and pecking to play hymns -- and never when writing music) and using drum tracks from 
None of these undertakings considered alone was all that difficult, although combining them together in a short amount of time along with the commitment of writing an entirely new song every week has left me feel like I've been running hurdles. Hard work can be exhilarating, though!

The recording is very rough; timing with Audacity on my oldish computer is imprecise, and everything is done "live" with tape-recorder quality to the sound.. But writing the song made me very happy indeed.

This song is called "For the Brothers of St. Cecilia," with St. Cecilia referring to the Catholic patron saint of musicians. The lyrics are these:

When God in His holy will
Desired my life to fill
With love, mercy, peace and grace
He required a human face
Hands He'd taught to play His song
And a voice enough to sing along
So His melody could reach my heart
And I could sing my part

And I sing: ba nah nah nah nah nah nah....

Ten virgins waiting for their lord
They fell asleep 'cuz they were bored
When the moment came to be on task
Half had no oil in their flask

Gold refined in the fire takes time
Precious oil it buys is fine
God's the author of this whole plan
Saying, "Turn to me while you can."

That fire we walk into is love
But what fool would be fool enough
To live inside a burning flame
But this is where we find our life again

Holy Spirit come inflame our hearts
enkindle the fire of love
Recreate us all like you
This whole earth you renew

And so

When God in His holy will
Desired my life to fill
With love, mercy, peace and grace
He required a human face
Your hands He'd taught to play His song
And your voice enough to sing along
So His melody could reach my heart
And I could sing my part

And I sing: ba nah nah nah nah nah nah....
A special "thank you" to Neven Pesa for providing me with the right amount of pushiness to clear the cobwebs from my dormant songwriting creativity. Check out his music at

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why Don't the Wise Virgins Share?

I love it when a homily gives me a good answer to something I've been wondering about. This particular wondering in question was actually raised again in Sunday's homily, and answered by another priest (who was wondering about the same thing) a few days later.

Remember that parable of the ten virgins in Mt. 25, where five are wise and have their lamps stocked with oil and five are foolish and want to mooch off the others? And the wise ones tell the others to buzz off and get their own? So, what is that, anyway? Is Jesus' point something about non-equal distribution of goods and how if you don't work for something, you're screwed, and don't expect me to come along and bail you out? Would it be so hard for the wise virgins to simply say, "Fine, here's a little bit of my oil. Because I'm wise, I'm filled with generosity. We can share." But that's not what Jesus has them say. What is Jesus really advocating here?

That was the issue raised, briefly, in the first homily I heard on this gospel. The second priest, a few days later, preaching on another text, said he had been pondering on this in light of the other Scripture at hand and shared what I thought was a brilliant insight.

Don't forget, of course, that it's a parable. Stuff of this earth is important, but all of it has a sign value: it points to something greater, something eternal, something ultimate. This priest pointed out that the oil the wise virgins have does not represent something tangible that one person can literally be given by another. When the foolish virgins say "Give us some oil!" they aren't being denied because the wise women are stingy. They don't get what they want because getting what they want the way they are wanting it is impossible. It is like a couple in a troubled marriage looking at a happily married couple and saying, "We want your kind of love." Or a lazy man looking at a hard working man and saying "I want your self-discipline and initiative." Or a pilgrim in the journey of faith looking at a humble saint and saying "I want your relationship with God."

It is all well and good to want these things. In fact, these desires lurk in our hearts all along, and it is seeing the glory of God manifested in its various forms in other people that really brings these desires out and makes us feel them. But it is too late to start acknowledging them when the Bridegroom is at the gate and the jig is almost up. The whole point of the parable is that we have to start being honest with ourselves about our desires and our needs and our shortcomings right now. Confess these desires and needs to God right now, and enter into His process for getting from Him, the giver of all good things, what you need. He is the only source! When the moment of judgment comes (and God in His great mercy gives us many moments of judgment, of exposure of our junk, throughout our lives) it is too late to turn to someone and say, "You know, you seem to have it together with God. Why didn't you force me into what you have before this?" Is it not so easy to always blame someone else for my failing? Is it not easy to delude myself into thinking that all I have to do is loosely associate with some group I think is good to be counted as good? I don't actually have to invest my own self, do I? I can lose weight by watching Biggest Loser, right? I don't actually have to admit I am powerless and turn to God, do I?

In Revelation, Jesus says to the church Laodicea that they are to buy from him "gold refined in the fire" so that they can become rich. It is the same thing. 'Tis the season to review our lives as if we were to die next week. If you knew your jig was almost up, what would you wish you had done differently? Tell God. Talk with Him about a reasonable plan, and start doing it today.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Feeling Abandoned

On the first of every month, our Lord gives Anne a new message about His call to service.

November 1, 2011


My dear apostles, I am with you. I am with you when you are working, and I am with you when you are resting. I am with you when you are at peace, and I am with you when you are unsettled. You are unsettled less and less, though. As I watch you, struggling for holiness and struggling for My will, I can see that you are advancing. You are becoming stronger and more sure of Me. Even allowing for your human doubts, I can see that you are accepting My comfort daily, which makes it easier for you to come through your trials with less suffering. The greatest suffering is, after all, abandonment. The greatest cross is that of being left alone while craving the comfort and love of someone who is dear to you. My friends, often there is confusion in human relationships which causes terrible suffering. This part of the cross is heavy, indeed, and I, Myself, suffered this. It is during these times that I comfort you with the greatest and most tender graces because I understand the confusion which accompanies abandonment. For Me, it was important to remind myself that My Father would not abandon Me. For you, this is also important. I will never leave you. If you feel that you have been abandoned by someone you love, either through death or rejection, then you must come to Me for comfort. I will remind you that in heaven there will be no tears, no grieving, no heartbreak. In heaven you will be reunited in love with those who also love Me. Never worry about those who have gone before you. Pray for them and trust Me. The family of God is vast and includes people you know and people you do not know. You will rejoice in heaven and, even now, heaven rejoices in you. Dear apostles, heaven rejoices in you at this moment, as you read these words and acknowledge Me as your King. In the world, the cross was My throne and you, too, are celebrated by heaven in your suffering. You will not be forsaken and you will not be forgotten. I will be with you and we will move forward with heaven’s goals for your life. Have courage, apostles. All of heaven assists you and protects you.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Meaning Series: Daughter

"Daughter" is the one song on this upcoming CD that I did not write. As soon as I had fully committed myself to creating this project, though, I knew this was the one song I absolutely had to record. It has been deeply meaningful to me for many years. It tells the story of the woman with the hemorrhage and her healing encounter with Jesus, and is performed as a duet between Jesus and the woman.

It was written in February, 1986 by Julie Reuel and Michael Turriff. I always refer to Pastor Turriff as the man who saved my life when I was a teenager, and I've told that story before on this blog more than once. You can read it here. The song was written (or completed, at least) in the chapel of my college, where I just happened to have been lurking about when they were working on it.

When I first heard "Daughter" it blew me away. It was the gospel in full and living color, as if I were in the scene with Jesus Himself addressing me as the woman being healed. Deciding to record it scared me at first, frankly, because of the intensity with which it always gripped me. But when I approached it this year I quickly realized that it is now my turn to pass on this gospel at it was delivered to me. I can only pray that God will use it for others as He did for me.

Marie Hosdil: Unleashed

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Death and Power

I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. -- St. Ignatius of Antioch
This quote from Monday's Office of Readings for that day's feast struck me like a ton of bricks. It was like a light coming on, like suddenly finding a valuable tool in my hand. Death and power. The clarity was astounding.
St. Ignatius was a Bishop who died a martyr's death less than a century after the time of Christ. When you read the entirety of his letter, it is clear that his flock was intent on rescuing him from the death he knew awaited him. St. Ignatius was intent on blocking their rescue. It was his strong desire, which he knew to be in union with the desire of the Holy Spirit for him, to give his life in the Coliseum. He spoke of his death in Eucharistic terms, famously stating "I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread." St. Ignatius was not depressed; he was not suicidal. He was living his priesthood and knew himself as a sacrificial offering, in union with Christ's own self-offering. He preferred death not because of despair, but because of his hope in Christ and of his deep love for those he served. The sacrifice the Father called him to was to sanctify his Bride, the Church. 
And this offering is contrasted with power on earth. His congregation loved him, apparently, and grieved at the thought of losing his presence with them. They wanted to employ whatever they could to keep him with them. St. Ignatius also speaks of the temptation he faced in having his attention turned aside from God. Power over earthly kingdoms was one of the devil's temptations Jesus faced as well (Lk. 4:5-7).
How clearly these things contrasted in my mind when I read St. Ignatius' words. I prefer death to power, because this is the way of Christ. What are the tantalizations of power that draw me, or give me the opportunity to choose the way of sacrificial self-offering instead? Perhaps I am itching to blast some music and drift off into its beautiful comfort, but my daughter wishes instead to tell me her plans for a princess party. Perhaps I have dishes to clean, even though I want to use that ten minute window of time to check my email. Maybe my friend's opinion just begs for the bit of information I have that she seems to be missing. I think what registers as a self-serving power play can only be detected by one's own heart. But the key is that music, email and information are not bad things. They are goods. So are attention given to one's children, domestic service, and humility or restraint. This is not a matter of rejecting sin and choosing good. This is a matter of preferring death to power. With my whole being, I want that music. But I can choose to lay aside what I have the power to give myself to give life and attention to one who asks it of me. I want to communicate with my friends -- this gives me life. But laying aside what I have the power to give myself to offer quickly-forgotten loving service is worship of God. My knowledge can bless, but my invisible gift of respect and forbearance is a sacrifice of love done in secret. 
The truth is the way of death, the preference for death in Christ, is true Eucharistic power. What I want to call worldly power is a good, and has to do with conditions and outcomes that are reasonably within my control. Eucharistic power relies entirely on God because it involves giving unto death, with a focus not on what I desire to produce, but in it I am entirely entrusted to the will of Another. I cannot have an agenda in the realm of Eucharistic power, I can only entrust myself because of love. Struggle and strife is the result of anything less.
"I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth." St. Ignatius was fully conformed to the image of Christ. May I too live that way.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sacrifice and Happiness (From "The City of God" by St. Augustine)

 This quote from St. Augustine strikes me today because it defines so clearly that sacrifice, or true religious worship, is not simply about doing good to others because doing good to others is so good. I mean, God is not up in heaven issuing his primary directive into our lives thus: "Now kids, get along together; play nice and share." That's not what He's about in the first place. That's what He about in the second place. The first place is our ultimate end, and the absolute only thing that brings happiness to us: union with God. No amount of do-gooding, or riding the "Good Ship Fellowship" will ever make us happy. Only our hearts covenanted to the Blessed Trinity will make us happy. Therefore, let every movement of our lives "effect" that in us.

Every work that effects our union with God in a holy fellowship is a true sacrifice; every work, that is, which is referred to that final end, that ultimate good, by which we are able to be in the true sense happy. As a consequence even that mercy by which aid is given to man is not a sacrifice unless it is done for the sake of God. Sacrifice, though performed or offered by man, is something divine; that is why the ancient Latins gave it this name of "sacrifice," of something sacred. Man himself, consecrated in the name of God and vowed to God, is therefore a sacrifice insofar as he dies to the world in order to live for God. This too is part of mercy, the mercy that each one has for himself. Scripture tells us: Have mercy on your soul by pleasing God.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Meaning Series: Come Into My Heart

I wrote the song "Come Into My Heart" over the course of three days, from March 30 to April 1, 1992. This was between the time I had committed to enter the Catholic Church, but about a year before I actually did so. The song was inspired, oddly enough, by a vivid and intense dream I'd had. It involved soldiers wreaking destruction on everything around me, except for when I stood in front of them and said (in German) "I am Christian. Jesus Christ." As soon as I said that, the soldiers dropped their weapons and walked away, powerless. What struck me in the dream was the incredible peace I had, despite the danger and despite the complete ravaging that my familiar surroundings had endured.

The song is written in the voice of Jesus, calling to an individual. So often evangelistic outreaches emphasize our asking Jesus to enter our hearts and be Lord there, but in this song Jesus asks for something different: He asks us to enter His heart and hide there.

Musically it is a very simple song, and quite plain. As with most of my music, my focus is not so much on crafting beautiful melodies or instrumentals, but on the lyrics. I hope the simplicity of the accompaniment draws attention to the sense of yearning Our Lord has for each of our hearts to belong to Him.
Marie Hosdil: Unleashed

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Bringing that 'Flying Crap' into the Light

Lately I have been just flat out making myself want to gag. When I go to say something, write something, my underlying feeling is: "Truly, who gives a flying crap, anyway?!" That's not to say that I'm going through a bout of poor self-esteem where all I need is a pat on the back of assurance of my worth. I think at the base of my feeling is an awareness of the profundity of Truth, of Reality, and my paltriness in comparison. Well, that and one other thing that seems to have come to light just this morning.

The vehicle of that realization was the song "In the Light" by Charlie Peacock. I like his album version so much better than what is on this video, but here's the best I can find on YouTube:

There was one line in this song as it played in my head this morning that caught my attention: "If I'm to lay down... then I'll lay down my life for my brothers and sisters. I will need your help" This line triggered a paradigm shift; it nudged me over from a natural to a supernatural perspective.

Let's see if I can explain.

When I was a child, God made me a promise. Or, to make that mystical statement seem less ethereal, I'll specify that a verse I was reading in the Bible seemed to leap off the page, grab my soul, and promise never ever to fail me. The whole of Psalm 10 gives the context, and is what I read, but it was verse 18 that grabbed me: "defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more." The psalm speaks, of course, of God's action on behalf of the downtrodden. But the specific way that this promise grabbed me, and what I wrote in the margin of my Bible, was that God would "break the cycle of pain." What that meant to me was not just that God would keep other people's evil actions from bothering me but, specifically, He would take me out of the inevitable pattern of being an oppressed person that went on to oppress others.

This morning as Charlie Peacock's lyrics about laying down one's life sang in my heart, a contrasting iconic image from my childhood was conjured up as well, which speaks to me of having security stripped away. Like so many of my generation, my parents were divorced when I was in the single digits, and the image symbolized that: we were hiding in the dark in our neighbor's house, watching my father making phone calls in our house. That memory has come to hold all the terrifying anxiety, all the unexplained confusion, all of the loss of security, safety, peace, protection and hope that my loss of family coherence was for me. That experience and that memory have cast a pall over many, many episodes of loss, real or perceived, in my life.

And this is where the paradigm shift comes in. I did have something taken away from me as a child. It hurt, and I didn't know how to deal with it. But the redemption of Christ has taken firm root in my life. Yes, He restores that which I lost, but He is not simply about making me fat where once I was starving. He never comes to rip my security out from under me, but He does ask me to give... to abandon all to Him. And He does not ask me to terrorize myself, destroying my own security. He draws me by love, empowers me supernaturally by "the light," to give my life for others, for what they need. As Jesus did.

So, I go to say something and I feel like "who gives a flying crap?" Well, perhaps no one. But I know and have experienced when just a scrap of someone else's life shared with mine has meant all the world to me, has filled me with the courage and determination to live and persevere through something hard. I know that there are people in the world, maybe even on my block, maybe even in my house, who are famished for love. And if each day with my morning offering I present my life to God, and He loves these folks with a dire urgency and has designed us to make real His love to other people, then surely even if it seems that no one gives a flying crap, surely I can persevere with His plan of being His love in this world, whether I ever see results of it or not. I know God wastes nothing. I trust Him with my life completely. I don't get to pick which good things He does on account of my cooperation, but I know that by definition of Who God is, He does the absolute best for us all.

So Lord, help me to persevere in sharing this life you've given me, even when I feel my insignificance. And help me to realize the profound significance and dignity of being your tabernacle in my daily life. Amen.


P.S. I realize now that the version of Charlie's song I posted here doesn't even have the lyrics in it that drew my attention this morning! Hah! I do wish someone would post his recorded, full-band version. So cool.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Meaning Series: Led By the Spirit of the Lord

"Led By the Spirit of the Lord" is a song I wrote in October of 1990, during an interesting time in my spiritual journey. I had been out of college for a year and a half and had just started my second "real" job post-graduation. I was happily and heavily involved at Risen Savior Fellowship, a charismatic non-denominational, independent, tiny church in Milwaukee which I had joined about three years prior to that.

A question had formed in my soul, a niggling, a prayer, a desire. (Deliciously dangerous, these kind are.) I truly adored the worship music and more so worship experience at Risen Savior. It was truly healing, and it was the deepest thing I'd known at the time. Certainly it was deeper than my experience with liturgy in my Lutheran church before that, which had come to feel like chains holding me down. But the niggling in my soul that would not be silent said to me that we were following a formula with our worship music, too. There was a predictable progression, and what was more, it was just as possible to go through the motions in this type of worship without any deep encounter with God.

That really bothered me.

Just a short time after I wrote this song, a matter of a few months at most, I was met with the impossible situation of three friends of mine converting to the Catholic faith, which made me begin to question all sorts of things. But for the moment, this song came to me as a series of questions about what it really means to follow the Holy Spirit. What would be left when self-effort was left behind? It speaks of a hopeful sense that a real answer to these questions existed, and that I would discover it.

Musically, what I've tried to capture is that while the Holy Spirit challenges us essentially to die to our own selves and our own ideas, He leads us to the fullness of life and joy. So this is a fun song. For me this means it is in the pop style of the 1960s. As I write, it is in mid-production, but I already love the sound. One thing I am learning in this process of recording is that the gifts of so many people contribute to a real transformation of the little song I offer.
Marie Hosdil: Unleashed

Relying on your own energies will wear you out

On the first of every month, our Lord gives Anne a new message about His call to service.

October 1, 2011


All is well, dear apostles. Does this statement console you, even as you look at the changes occurring in the world? Why do I tell you that all is well when you can see clearly that difficulties have arisen in many areas? I hear the prayers of My children asking that I send relief from the sufferings that afflict them and cause them to question their security and even their faith. How often I have to teach mankind that I am the only true security and that reliance on Me will bring peace and all possible benefit to each man and to the intentions of each man. In heaven's eyes, all is well, even as many suffer. Are God's children suffering with the benefit of the truth? Do they understand that I am with them and that I have overcome even death? My friends, if there are those remaining who do not understand the extent of My love, then your work is not finished. If there are those remaining who do not understand that joy is possible, even in suffering, and indeed especially in suffering, then your work is not finished. If there are times when you are afraid, then you must come to Me. I will protect you from anything that is outside of My will for you and for your work. Will you be overcome? Consider My authority, dear apostles, and do not consider the extent of your weakness. Never be distracted by the strength of your enemy because the enemy's strength is an illusion and even the illusion is fleeting. Be assured that I will compensate for your weaknesses as I compensate for your beautiful humanity which so endears you to Me. Where you are weak, I am strong. Where you are frail in your humanity, I add my divinity and what goes out from you is blessed and protected, but only if you are relying on Me. You will know when you are relying on yourself because you will be afraid. Consider how I conducted Myself on earth. I trusted the Father and I was gentle, going about My tasks in the day with conviction. If the Father willed it for Me, then I accepted it and saw to it as best I could. When I was rejected, I quietly moved on. When I was accepted, I offered the Father's love and gave to the fullest extent of the Father's will. Do the same, beloved ones. Do the same. I am with you and all is well.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Having Compassion for Oneself

On the first of every month, our Lord gives Anne a new message about His call to service.
September 1, 2011 
Dear apostles, it is with joy that I speak with you today. When I contemplate your fidelity to My plan for mercy, I feel joy. When I contemplate your fidelity to holiness, I feel joy. Do not pause in your commitment to becoming holier. This calm movement into the Spirit of gentleness and kindness should help you to view others with compassion, yes, but also yourself. Do you view yourself with compassion? Do you offer kindness and mercy toward yourself when you contemplate your condition? My friends, My dearest friends, be careful to view yourself as I view you. Be careful not to view yourself in harsh light that seeks to condemn. If you are tempted against mercy for yourself, then truly, you are tempted against truth. Because it is only with mercy and love that I greet your present condition and your attempts to advance in holiness. I am love. I could hardly ask you to love others and then withhold love from you. That would be a flawed plan, destined to fail. My plan is perfect. I give you a receptive heart, you receive My love in abundance, and then stand for Heaven to be a well on earth which both stores and distributes love. Beloved apostle, search your heart today. If you do not find mercy and compassion for yourself in your heart, come to Me at once and ask Me to give these things to you. My plan for you and for the world will not advance as quickly as necessary if you do not accept your present condition and understand My perfect love for you. Your potential for holiness has not yet been fully achieved, of course, and I want you to advance. And I ask that you do so in confidence, joy and hope. Rejoice. I am with you.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Motherhood is a Calling (But What About Those Who Don't Get the Call?)

It's early in the morning, I woke even earlier, and I feel like shooting from the hip.

I just read this very good, very true article which has been floating around among several of my Facebook friends. Read it here so you know what I'm talking about: Motherhood is a Calling (And Where Your Children Rank)

Every time I read something that starts into the refrain of derisive comments heard by mothers of many (that means more than three) I can't help but think about the other women -- the ones who long to have children but struggle, either because they are single against their choice or because they have low or impaired fertility in their marriage. I've felt both pains, but it is especially the second that always rises in my heart when I read about the crosses of motherhood.

Maybe what got to me was this line from the article: Do we believe that we want children because there is some biological urge, or the phantom “baby itch”? "Itch" is too casual a term, but those who have never agonized for years with the unfulfilled desire for children may not be able to understand the painful yearning in the soul of a married Christian woman who knows her union is to mirror that of Christ and the Church -- it is meant to bear fruit and to give life. Rarely does such a woman need a theology lecture to realize this. It is written in her nature, and that of her husband.

The article goes on to say "Motherhood is... what God gave you time for." Well, ok. The article is being addressed to mothers, and so, yeah, for those women, it is what God called them to. But the truer part comes later in the article, where the author talks about death and resurrection: the paschal mystery. THAT is what God gave us time for. Many married women are called to motherhood, even to be mothers of many. But let's look at another cross some women bear.

See that couple who come to church Sunday after Sunday, and you with your busy family aren't even sure if they are married or engaged or just dating? Or cohabiting? They have no kids, so you have no common ground to actually talk with them. They look like they have some money. They both work. Hmm... I suppose they're just one of those couples who think they need to travel and own a house and three cars before they have a family. I wonder if she knows how bad contraception is for her body. I guess I'll just pray for them that they can get over their selfishness and that God will turn their hearts...

Isolation. Judgment. Friendlessness. Misunderstanding. Misdirected "jealousy" by those who truly aren't open to life. These are real crosses, too, but many women have no words to express them without opening up the privacy of their hearts and then sounding like whiners. They might not get comments in the grocery store, but might it be even more painful to be stopped on the church steps and be given a lecture about why for the good of their souls they need to be open to life? Or "Relax. It will happen in time." (Yes, the infertile also have their list of painfully annoying comments far too oft repeated.) Instead of relaxing, they spend their time doing medical research, traipsing from visit to disappointing doctor visit, usually being ridiculed by doctors for not "being serious" and trying artificial reproductive technologies and being offered little other hope or understanding for what is impairing their fertility.

This paragraph is striking:

But a Christian should have a different paradigm. We should run to to the cross. To death. So lay down your hopes. Lay down your future. Lay down your petty annoyances. Lay down your desire to be recognized. Lay down your fussiness at your children. Lay down your perfectly clean house. Lay down your grievances about the life you are living. Lay down the imaginary life you could have had by yourself. Let it go.

Now, I know from experience how painful this can be when the "hope" you are laying down grinds down to the very core of your meaning as a woman. Oh, I wanted so badly at one point to be recognized as a "real Catholic woman" because I had six or more kids in tow. But, that was an imaginary life. I couldn't for the life of me understand why God wasn't giving it to me, and I yelled and screamed at Him to let Him know it, too.

There ain't nothing we can hide behind in this Christian journey. What St. Paul said is true, women are saved through childbearing (1 Tim. 2:15). That's like saying women are saved while being women. A woman is saved by being who she is designed to be. But let's not wrench that out of the context of all else we know to be true in Christ. We are saved by the cross of Christ, by His death and resurrection, by being incorporated into Him in His death and raised to life in the Trinity, a communion of persons. For some women, united with the will of God for their lives, this experience of childbearing is very fruitful, and this then is how they meet the cross. For other women, also united with the will of God for their lives, the experience of childbearing is not fruitful, or takes on forms that are not physical. This is how they meet the cross. Pumping out a half dozen babies does not per se produce sanctity. We can't hide behind our many children or our sorrows and griefs at why we have none (or few), propping these up and trying to get these to be our union with Christ. No, nothing can replace my heart following Christ, not even my own (martyr-complex?) notion of my vocation.

There is joy to find, and it is in Christ. He is available to each and every person, regardless of the circumstances of your life.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

My Visit to Rich Mullins' Gravesite

Last week, on our way home from Wisconsin, we stopped into the cemetery in the tiny town of Hollansburg, Ohio so that I could pay my respects at the grave of musician Rich Mullins. Hollansburg is just a couple of miles over the western border with Indiana, which is the area where he grew up.

Take a look at this picture:

I took this perspective of his family grave plot to try to give the feeling of how we were in the middle of flat corn country. Just to the other side of the cemetery road there were kids playing in their back yard swimming pool. I walked the whole four or five block length of town to capture another picture that, while not typical of what the town looked like, felt typical of the sort of beauty... yes, beauty... of the area.

I couldn't help but think of one of Rich's songs when I was here that he wrote about his parents. It goes "Never picture perfect/just a plain man and his wife/who somehow knew the value of hard work, good love and real life." I could feel here what he expresses in this song, that through his very human and imperfect family, his faith and love grew wings.

While listening to his music, in my head while I was there and on recordings since returning home, I have been struck by how deeply Rich experienced a sort of natural sense of the sacramental, of the incarnational. He looked at nature and knew it was evidence of God's powerful love for his life. He observed human interaction and saw how it both witnessed to the majesty of God and the travesty of sin. He got it, intuitively, it seems. It is no wonder that he was attracted to the sacramental life of the Church, even while it was hard for him to embrace the institutionalism.

Sometimes words just fail me. His music just makes my heart ache and throb with the beauty of God manifested in what He has created. To capture that in beautiful melodies and poetic lyrics and that beautiful hammered dulcimer is such a gift to us all.

Requiescat in Pace, Rich.

The Meaning Series: Deep Inside

When I heard the readings at Mass this morning, I knew I had to write about the song "Deep Inside" today. The first line of the first reading, in another translation, posted by a Facebook friend one morning, was this song's initial inspiration. Here's that reading from Jeremiah as we heard it:
You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage is my message;
the word of the LORD has brought me
derision and reproach all the day.

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.
The alternate translation which my friend posted gives an entirely different feel to the reading: "You seduced me, Lord, and I allowed myself to be led astray."

The second major influence for this song is a homily by St. Peter Chrysologus which is found in the Office of Readings during Advent. (You can read it here, Sermon 147.)

This was the one song that I wrote in the early part of this year, knowing that I would record it. Most songs I finish in a matter of hours, but this one evolved over a few months and with much wrestling, both with the music and the words. That is fitting, because it really reflects the spiritual evolution in my heart over the last few years. I don't relate to the portions of the Jeremiah reading that speak of his persecution, and seems to reflect anger. Rather, I see it as more a triumph of passion, both of God's and of Jeremiah's: God's to make His Word known and Jeremiah to stay with God in that mission, despite what felt like destruction and confusion and basic bad stuff in his life. Passion gives staying power through bad stuff, and an experience of God's passion in one's soul is at times the only thing that will preserve one on a path that seems filled with contradiction.

St. Peter spells out clearly how God draws, or seduces the soul. God doesn't just give commands for us to "do," He works side by side with us, calling us into a sharing of His own work. In this way God intoxicates us with the fire of His love, and we are consumed with the desire to see God everywhere. Latin scholars tell me this love that St. Peter speaks of reshaping our lives is the Eros of God:

Love refuses to be consoled when its goal proves impossible, despises all hindrances to the attainment of its object. Love destroys the lover if he cannot obtain what he loves; love follows its own promptings, and does not think of right and wrong. Love inflames desire which impels it toward things that are forbidden. But why continue?

It is intolerable for love not to see the object of its longing. That is why whatever reward they merited was nothing to the saints if they could not see the Lord. A love that desires to see God may not have reasonableness on its side, but it is the evidence of filial love. 
The refrain of this song is my testimony to what God has done in my life as a result of the strange fires He lights, and in a way it summarizes the whole message of the CD: "Deep inside my heart you broke away the chains."

As I write, the recording of this song is not finished yet, but I do hope when someday it is you will give it a listen.
Marie Hosdil: Unleashed

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Incarnation, Sacraments, and the Power for a Changed Life

At the moment my heart is overflowing with the one theme the Lord has been immersing me into for at least the last 20 years of my life -- the Incarnation.

Directly tied to the reality of the Incarnation (which, for clarity's sake, means the fact that the Eternal, the Almighty God, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us in the conception of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary) is the reality of sacramentality. Sacramentality means that God uses created things for supernatural ends.

This is as clear as day to me right now, but there was a time in my Christian journey when I thought I was defending truth, right and good by rejecting the very concept of a sacrament. Of course I didn't understand what a sacrament was, and I was correct in rejecting what I thought it was: a "magic ticket" that excused people from needing to personally encounter Jesus. For there are many people who have received sacraments who do not live them out in faith. What am I saying, I am one of those who do not fully live out the sacraments I have received. But the sacraments are not a blockage; they are a door into the divine. I still need the understanding, the formation, and the virtue to move through the door. Jesus leads, nurtures and feeds but He won't force me through.

I am speaking here of the seven sacraments of the Church. But all of what God has fashioned is now imbued with this sacramental reality. That, I think, is the meaning of Christ's redemption not just of souls for heaven (thanks be to God for that alone!) but of all of creation. Scripture speaks of this repeatedly. The psalms are filled with exhortations to creation to praise God. The earth has no voice, but those who are in Christ and who see with sacramental vision begin to see the purpose of God in creation when we experience it calling us to contemplate Christ, to contemplate Truth, Beauty and Goodness.

For so long I was afraid that "the world" was going to pollute me, destroy my spiritual good, and pull me away from God. That term in the Bible can be confusing. It cannot mean that which God created. Yes, sin has entered the world and creation itself is affected by human sin. But when Jesus came into the world, He touched the lepers, the unclean, the hemorrhaging woman, the dead. Instead of becoming ritually unclean as the Law stipulated, He brought healing and restoration. We who are in Christ are as Christ in this world. We do not become unclean by living in this world -- we are part of restoring all things in Christ. Music, art, sports, environment, even (gasp) politics... we make our way through the things of this world and we are called to restore, not retreat from. I sin, you sin, they sin: it's true. Defilement comes not from things into us, but out of our hearts (Mt. 15:10-20). It is our hearts that need to be purified, and not only in the initial moment when we are united with Christ by faith in baptism, but again and again by constant conversion and awareness of Christ with us. Daily. Hourly. Every Moment.

And so we are back at the sacramental reality, because we need for everything to remind us to turn again to Our Lord. Humility tells us that though we possess everything, we have nothing. Our nature is neediness: complete dependence upon God and interdependence with one another. Yet we are united with Him who is Almighty and Providence itself, so we have no need for fear or insecurity in the face of anything. We are rich in Him in every way.

Our model for this kind of Christian life is none other than the Blessed Virgin Mary. I was struck this last Monday while celebrating the feast of the Queenship of Mary to be reminded that the Scripture reading at Mass is exactly the same as the Midnight Mass of Christmas. The Incarnation made Mary who she is. She is completely insignificant except for the monumental fact of her unique vocation as the mother of God Himself. We each are completely insignificant, except for our vocation to respond to the fact of the Incarnation by uniting ourselves in faith to Love who calls us to belong to Him forever, and to live our lives announcing that call to our fellow sojourners and to all of creation by everything we are, everything we do, by our very existence and our every breath.

Our Lady of the Incarnation, pray for us. It's all about Jesus coming into this world.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Meaning Series: Holy Mary

I'm really in the habit of laying my heart on the line in this blog, and why stop now?! Doing so helps me try to be honest with myself -- to at least swing the bat in that direction.

So the other day at adoration I had an idea form that felt pretty meet, right and salutary (what, you don't speak Lutheran?), which was to write about the meaning of/testimony behind each of the songs I am in the process of recording for the CD to be entitled "Unleashed."

I'm going to start with the song I worked on most recently, called "Holy Mary."

I wrote this song on April 12, 1995 while I lived in Minoo, Japan. On the surface, I wrote it because each Friday evening I had dinner with one of the communities of Sisters who ran the school I taught in. I prayed evening prayer with them, which they did partially in English for my benefit. As evening prayer traditionally ends with a Marian hymn, they asked me to come up with a Marian song in English that had the word "Alleluia" in it, for the Easter season. It's quite rare for me to have written a song based on someone else's request, but this is one of them.

Of course, there is a much deeper story than that. My time in Japan had a huge impact in my life, as is reflected in the title of this blog, for example. But it is not an impact I write or talk about directly very often because frankly the experience was painful with a type of pain that is hard to work into a conversation. When I arrived in Japan, I had been a Catholic for about 18 months. I went with an idealistic notion of what it meant to be a missionary that was disconnected from the reality of the person I actually was at the time. I had very little sense of community, of belonging, in any tangible way to the Church, the Body of Christ, and more importantly I didn't think it mattered. I thought I'd be just fine not being able to communicate, having no friends or even acquaintances, and being rather alone -- and that I'd still be able to reach out effectively with Christ's love to the people around me. I was supposed to be a teacher. I was told I'd be teaching in a Junior College, and this appealed to my vain notions of discussing literature and having interested students excited about bookish ideas. The books would bond us, I presumed.

Reality: I was assigned to the elementary school. We used Sesame Street curriculum; no one understood me at all, and I was essentially there as a Caucasian sound-bite-offerer, managed by the native-speaking teacher, so that wealthy parents felt their daughters' English would sound impressive, if ever they decided to speak a word of it.

My spiritual reality was far worse. I was like an old table with layer after ugly layer of paint, and God was out to refinish me. It felt more like He was trying to finish me off. Slop on stripper. Scrape off gunk. Repeat liberally. The stuff that was getting purged and stripped from me was so much of the religious trappings and ideas I had clung to for my identity. It was confusing. I remember sitting in my tiny apartment and looking at the religious art on my walls and screaming in anger. Everything religious in my life felt empty, like so many meaningless shells. Reading my Bible left me tormented. My prayers while alone bounced off the ceiling back to me. Mass and prayer in common left me aching, because it was all in Japanese and it was so hard to engage my heart. I felt deeply unholy, because I had nothing that I had relied on to feel holy, either as a Protestant or a Catholic. And it didn't help that in my desperate loneliness I had gotten into a relationship with a man who, surprise, spoke English. He was a very interesting character, but given my state, the relationship was not healthy for me at all. I was not physically healthy, either. Stripped bare. This process lasted two and a half years.

But, God was not out to leave me like that. During all this time spiritually I kept bumping up against the Blessed Mother. Recall that I had not been a Catholic very long at this time. Even though I had intellectually accepted the truths of who Mary is, I can't say I had any experience of her at all. She was a doctrinal category, not a Mother for me.

This bumping up against Mary eventually required me to learn from Jesus how to contemplate who she is. It was in the midst of this that I wrote "Holy Mary." A statue of Our Lady of Sorrows compelled me so that I had a photo of it blown up. I thought of her as Our Lady of Utter Boredom, because when I looked at her
face, I felt divine empathy with the painful emptiness inside me. Several other experiences drew my heart to understand Jesus' words to John "behold your mother." One of these was a dream I had just before I left Japan. I'm not saying it was a dream of divine revelation, but it certainly summarized my "take home message" from the experience. In it, I saw Mary, and I fainted from the sheer radiance and power of her beauty and purity. She pointed out my window, showing me my place next to an unidentified person (whom I think of as simply "humanity" or human community) with whom I was to walk forward from there.

And that was exactly God's point in refinishing me. I had barnacled myself over with a do-it-yourself, me-and-Jesus spirituality where others were not necessary to my salvation, nor I to theirs. God employed His Mother to teach me that this is not His will. God saves us in community with everyone whom the Holy Spirit has called, and sends us to all whom He will call. This is the great communion of saints. This is our family as Church. This is our call as disciples and our mission as evangelists.

Mary is with the Redeemer at the cross, pointing out our Salvation. We do well to learn from her how to behold her Son.
Marie Hosdil: Unleashed

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pretty Much the Whole Enchilada

So, back several days ago now I wrote a "part one" post on leadership which sorta begs for a "part two." But after I wrote the part one part I realized I didn't really feel I was capturing my gut with what I wrote. There was this elusive thing I wasn't able to turn into words. Then, I was (of all things) talking with my husband, and managed to pull out of my gut what it was I really needed to articulate. I say "of all things" like that, because for years and years I've relied on writing to be able to come to certain understandings. The ability to converse about said understandings came later.

So, that's a new and very good thing, both the understanding and how it came about. It makes me happy.

Now, though, I want to go back and wrestle it out into written words so that I can meditate on it some more, not lose anything, and integrate it into everything else which has been going on in my thoughts and my heart.

All of the complex ruminations I wrote about in my last blog lead me to one very simple truth: God is challenging me to be, fully, who I am. See, that's the problem with really profound things. They are too darn simple sounding when you put them into words. It reminds me of those effects one sees in commercials or movies or whatever where you have 20 billion tiny images, like a huge overview of a giant city in all its intricate detail, and then with a crescendo, followed by silence, it gets all sucked into one tiny focal point -- like a fiber optic cable or something.

Here it is. You know why it bugs the heck out of me to see timid worship leaders? Worship leaders who don't realize they are supposed to be heard, they are supposed to give clear, reasonably skilled direction to their congregations? Because that has been exactly my weakness, too. Except not in the area of worship leading, but in living out of my heart. Acknowledging to myself, and acting out of, what is in my own heart. The most important thing I am leading is my own life, bringing into the social setting around me the soul, the being, the person I am, the person God created me to be. And so often I have been like that *+$&%! irritating person who whispers or mumbles hymn numbers or plays her instrument so quietly that singers drown her out and everyone goes off key. And I am so encouraged by people who show they know what they are doing in leading worship because they shout to me: "Damn the lies, Marie -- LIVE!"

The message that has tormented me from a very early age is this hissing, insidious demand: shut up and go away. It infected me so deeply on so many levels, enchanting me with death in its many forms. This is simply not God's message to me.

There are many practical ways in which I am called to give clear, reasonably skilled direction in my life. Much of this is even non-verbal. Since I had this conversation with my husband I've seen almost every day the difference this revelation makes. It's hard to put into words, but I've had an interior habit of sort of shrinking out of existence when in the presence of others, to one degree or another. I used to think of it as holding my breath. When I was with other people, I would "hold my breath" until such a time as I could be alone and breathe again. It was like I felt living was a zero-sum game. That if I lived, I was causing another's death, and therefore it was selfish of me to live, and killing myself was an act of generosity. (Are you getting a feel for this diabolical message yet?) So, instead of shrinking away from life, I see that simply living, simply interacting without "holding my breath" is how I am called to "lead."

I'll give you an example. Last week a guy came to our house to diagnose our broken dishwasher. There was a time when I would have instinctively been very quiet while he was there, staying out of his way in the kitchen, and speaking to him cursorily when he was done. Not because of shyness, but because I felt it was somehow more right to be this way, more respectful, more moral. And because of habit. But this time I kept right on with the activity I was in, and talked with the man as appropriate while he worked, asking questions, sharing information, etc. In other words, I stayed alive while he was there. And the thing was, I didn't preach to the man, but I knew I was bearing witness with my life to the Truth. Even if he didn't.

I found this sort of different thing happening every day. And just like I get a deeper sense of peace from being around a competent leader, I could feel that others around me, especially the various children in my life (mine, and their friends) experienced the same peace as they got clear answers to their concerns. I saw people simply succeed more and be happier when I was clear and forthcoming about my needs, my wants, my thoughts, my intentions, and with my attention.

Contrary to the lie that my life means death to others, and therefore I can't bear to inflict it on them, the truth is that my life (which is in Christ) means life for others, and I can bless people. For decades now, the Lord has been patiently tutoring me to be myself. He has been specifically contradicting the lie that says being myself will destroy others. This has just been like a big flood-light recently.

One other related thought. I wrote this in my last post:

I once thought of, and lived out "following" as a sort of self-subjugation. That is, I had the sense that to follow meant to place myself under another's control. Usually, that control was of the nicest sort, you know, a "letting them make the rules for the game" sort of thing. But still there was this element, born probably of poor religious formation, that understood "surrender" to Christ as a kind of slavery, a sacrifice of my dignity, my very self. Lord have mercy, I attributed to God the desires of the devil himself -- my annihilation.
It occurred to me to no longer use the phrase "to surrender to God's will" but rather "to be in union with God's will." I don't propose this for anyone but myself, but to me it clarifies the problem I've had with confusing surrender with subjugation. (This, by the way, is one of the main difficulties with the spirituality of Islam -- and to a degree certain forms of Protestantism -- it proposes a relationship with God that is definitely not familial or filial, let alone spousal. To be in union with the will of God speaks to me of a surrender that is proper to lovers, in which any sense of harshness or cruelty is unspeakable.

Which leads me to yet another thought in closing, which is really a completely new starting place: It seems to me that what God has been leading me through in the last few years has been a personal, in-depth lesson in what John Paul II called the Theology of the Body.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Leadership, Part One

Another theme I am compelled to ruminate on further these days involves leadership. I think of a post I wrote some months ago entitled Thoughts on a Vocation of Music Ministry. I talked about a few different people whose musical leadership I've experienced, but finished the post with this sense of not being able to put my finger on the quality I was trying to describe. And now I think simply that quality is called leadership ability. This is something that I find my spirit extremely sensitive to, and something that, for lack of a better word, does stuff in me that is so deep that it has been very hard for me even access it to bring it into my conscious thought.

What provokes my thinking about this so frequently is attending Mass at Franciscan University where there is a steady stream of different music ministers. (I was nit-pickingly critical of them until I led a group myself some 13 years ago. Then, one day when I came to the gospel acclamation and went completely blank and could not remember the word "Alleluia," I learned that it is harder than it looked to be able to adequately lead a congregation in the music of worship.) But the simple truth is that most music ministry leaders have only a few years' experience playing their instrument, let alone leading a congregation. Unless something has changed that I don't know about, there is not really much formation the teams go through. So while they generally all get an A for effort and the desire to worship God, many simply are not skilled as leaders.

I can feel the pain of every single one of them, too. Some seem to feel that they are being humble and unobtrusive by speaking quietly, playing quietly, and singing quietly. These folks completely miss the fact that their job is to be loud and clear enough for everyone to hear and follow them. If I can't understand what you are mumbling, I have no idea which hymn to turn to. Quiet music is fine when you are in your own meditative time. But when the congregation is straining to hear you, no one is free to join in worship because the attempt to hear you is too distracting.

There are other folks who also give the sense that they are leading a personal worship time, but they want others to join them. Sorry guys, this is Mass. That psalm rendition you created with five part harmony is nice, but no one can follow you. You and fifty of your friends know that new praise song you did, but it's not in the hymnals and no one else can join in or understand what you are singing. And when you do sing from the hymnals, please do the music as written instead of with unusual musical flourishes or just random changing of notes, rests and tempos. This isn't your personal concert where we get to hear how you like to do things. This is Mass, and the congregation has work to do. To lead well in this work, we need to be able to reasonably predict where you are taking us.

Ok, this much I have hashed over before. I've gone over how much ineffective leadership frustrates me. But there are two other aspects of this matter that I've been less eager to go full-face into. They seem related, and of course the cost involved is the cross, in one way or another. Let me see if I can wade into this and come back out alive.

On the flip side of my frustration is my need. My need leaves me deeply vulnerable, as need does for all of us. My new realization is how much I need to experience good leadership. When I encounter good leadership, it feels like finding water in the desert, a banquet when I'm starving, a blanket when I'm frozen or a shelter in a storm. I can feel my spirit filling up. It's like a taste of heaven.

Like I said, though, this is a very vulnerable thing. In the course of my life I have gone from dreadful experiences of insecurity from having no sure guide ahead of me to following those who were simply full of themselves and using me. As a result of this mixed bag of bad experiences, I developed a very strong tendency to depend on myself to be able to do everything. I needed this, too, because at one stage of my life I was afflicted with a crippling passivity. God writes straight with our crooked lines; it has all served His purposes with appropriate pruning times. But what I see right now is a new grace in my life. It has been in formation for a few years, really, but it has taken me this long to be comfortable acknowledging it. There is a certain strength, a certain grace, a certain beauty that I can only tap into when I am following. And I can only follow when those given the gift of leadership are being faithful to what God has given them.

I once thought of, and lived out "following" as a sort of self-subjugation. That is, I had the sense that to follow meant to place myself under another's control. Usually, that control was of the nicest sort, you know, a "letting them make the rules for the game" sort of thing. But still there was this element, born probably of poor religious formation, that understood "surrender" to Christ as a kind of slavery, a sacrifice of my dignity, my very self. Lord have mercy, I attributed to God the desires of the devil himself -- my annihilation.

Following is about the beauty of becoming fully who I am. It is about rejoicing fully in who someone else is. It is about being fully alive in Christ. There is something very feminine in this, both personally and spiritually. In all of my efforts to do everything myself as a younger person I admit I was never all that comfortable with my femininity. Being a woman struck me as like wearing clothes that weren't fitting me just right. In some odd way, my inner vision of myself was always male. I wrote stories with main characters patterned after myself; they were always male. I think while I was gravitating toward desiring the leadership qualities natural to a man, my inability to either find or appreciate them in others caused me to think I had to develop them within myself, where perhaps they were not entirely natural.

Now, I don't want to go talking about "women" and "men" in general -- that would take me away from the point of my own need. But I did grow up in the generation of "Free To Be You and Me" where sex stereotypes were deliberately dismantled, leaving us all rather confused why God bothered with creating two genders in the first place. Maybe this is a topic for another post. Suffice it to say, for now, that responding to God's gift of leadership frees me in a way that feels very feminine. Among other things, this involves knowing that I am not responsible for the management of everything. I sense strength, I sense purpose, I sense direction, and I am free to move because I know the path is blazed ahead of me. Sensing hesitation and timidity fill me with frustration and a feeling of burden.

But I did say there were two aspects I was less than eager to examine. This need for strong leadership is one. The call to lead in my own way is the other. But I think for now this post is long enough, and it is late enough. I will continue this thought in a future post.

Don't Know Much About.... Music

It has been quite humbling to me to realize how little I really know about music. What I mean by that is I have been fixated, without quite realizing it, on the certain aspects of music that have come to resonate with me (and I'll get to exactly what those are) while not even realizing that other more technical aspects exist, practically.

The way I look at it, if I were in a room filled with the "general population," I would probably know a bit more about music than other folks. But if I were in a room filled with musicians, I would know far less than most everyone else. And I'm fine with that. It does make me just a little sad that I didn't pursue more formal study when I was a child. But then again I get a little sad when I think of all the other major career paths I would have liked to perfect in this life but haven't started in on. There is something in common to all of them, and I am on the right path to distilling that in the life I do actually have.

So, this realization of what I am not, and of what I know not, is really a means to help me realize who I am and what I have, and what the value of music is for me. Or what it is about it that drives me, that makes me love it -- not necessarily understand it or analyze it or perfect it -- but love it. I realize I am only going to love something if it draws me to my Beloved, to God, to the mystical reality behind all that is. To me, the experience of music is about the experience of healing, which is none other than the experience, the reality of being loved by the Most Holy Trinity.

Mystical theologians talk about how God created the world with music, and how music is made to speak a language of the redemption we find in Christ, with its harmony, its patterns, even its dissonances and non-resolutions. So I suppose I'd say that while I don't excel in the technical aspects of music, I delight in the mystical aspects of it. The fact that I cannot produce gorgeous music on an instrument myself only serves to amplify the comparison to the kingdom of God. (I can produce adequate music on guitar; as a pastor-friend of mine used to say "It's close enough for jazz.") What I mean is that the best music is created in community, with many parts, many gifts joining together. In the Church, although we can pray for our own healing and enlightenment, the biblical paradigm is to seek others to pray and minister healing to us (see James 5:14, for example). God has created us to be totally dependent on Him and interdependent on one another.

God has used music again and again to bring healing into my life. Finally, I'm seeing the trend, and it blows my mind. It seems God loves to sing to me. How can I keep from doing anything less in response? Music can make my spirit soar, my soul ache with a beauty beheld, my will firm in its choice to follow Christ, my heart happy to be a living, breathing woman. To me, these are all aspects of healing. Hearing music reminds me I am not alone; I have companions traveling the road to Zion with me. That is healing. Music gives me the courage to love. That is a grace. These are all immeasurable gifts that I can never give myself. God gives me these, through His children. And I am very happy to be one of His children through whom He can give gifts to others. When I cantor at my parish and people stop and thank me, I am very much aware that God has given them something through my instrumentation. This seems to be God's way: first He fills us in a certain way, then He gives through us to others in that way. All I can say is thank you, Lord, for using me to bless others like you have used others to bless me. Lord, you don't need any of us, but the fact that you make us your co-workers is yet another sign of your incredible love.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Memorial to my Sister

I'm trying to blog again about what has been in my heart since starting the recording of my CD Unleashed, but first I see I need to write about my sister.

My sister passed away a week ago today. She was 53 years old. She had cancer and had been battling it on and off for about 15 years. She also had schizophrenia from her early adulthood, which is nearly the first that I remember her.

I can't say that we were that close, what with her being nine-and-a-half years older than myself, and what with her having moved away as an older teen, and what with her mental illness causing it to be somewhat difficult to form what I tend to think of as a sisterly relationship. There's one big caveat to that, and that's the fact that my husband and I adopted the baby she bore ten years ago.

That was her idea, at first at least. The way we heard of our son's existence was in an email from my mother which read "Bonnie says she's pregnant and she wants you to raise the baby." Now, this wasn't the first time in her life she had claimed she was pregnant, but it was the first time that the claim came with the verification that her social worker also said it was so. My husband and I had been praying for a baby and had just begun investigating our own apparent infertility at the time. We were excited, but cautious. I had a feeling it would not be an easy ride.

And I was right. By the time my son was born, my sister had decided she would parent. Children's Services hovered over her like a hawk, and by six weeks our son was in foster care. After much kafluffle, he came to live with us when he was eight months old, first as a "visitor," eventually as a foster child, and when he was a few months short of four years, we legally adopted him. That added a special dimension to our relationship, one that was in no way magical or easy, nor was it a burden. It was a grace for me; a hard grace though.

Bonnie was the most naturally outgoing person in our family. Just like my son will do, she was always striking up conversations with people, and strangers were simply friends she hadn't yet met. She was generous to a fault (if there can be such a thing), always giving away practically anything anyone gave her. Although when we cleaned out her apartment we did find lots of stuff, her mind was constantly filled with what she could give to other people.

My favorite memories of Bonnie were of her as one of my earliest musical inspirations. The first experience I can recall of "rocking out" on a song with someone else was with her, to this song, when I was about 7 years old, I'm guessing. I can still see the scene of me cranking up the radio and us both dancing.

It was her guitar that I first snuck off with and learned to play when she moved back home with us when I was 11. Songs she wrote and songs she played were the first ones I learned.

She and I also got serious about Christianity at about the same time. I was 10, she was 20. She was living in Hawaii at the time, and began sending lots of Christian comic books and whatnot that I read voraciously. She also sent me my first New International Version Bible, which made me a progressive among Lutheran kids. It sure helped me understand what I was memorizing in catechism class.

What I didn't understand was when her mental illness kicked in. I was so young, and didn't understand at all what has happening. It has been a multi-dimensional learning process to this very day to really grasp what it means to live with schizophrenia.

Her life was very difficult in many ways, and I thought more than once that death would be a blessed relief for her. That still doesn't make her absence any easier. All I know is that every human being has intrinsic dignity, and none should ever be treated without respect, without honor, or with disdain, regardless of how much they challenge our comfort.

Through the eyes of the least of them, Jesus searches us. What answer will you give when He asks 'Where is your love?'