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?'

"Concentrate Seriously on Becoming Holier"

On the first of every month, our Lord gives Anne a new message about His call to service.
August 1, 2011

Dear apostles,

You are friends of My heart. As such, please be patient with Me as I bring you along in holiness. Would you like to be holier? Perhaps you identify My teachings as good but you feel frustrated because you see that you fall short on some days. This is when you must be truly patient and trust that I am bringing you along as quickly as is needed. Remember that you may see very little progress on some days, but your decision to remain with Me in the process of becoming holier creates a disposition for heaven that keeps the light where it should be, that is, on the need to examine yourself for failure instead of examining others. How easy it is to see the flaws of another. How much more difficult it is to identify which pain in you creates the disposition for repeating a mistake, perhaps again and again. Yes, patience is necessary, both with oneself and with others. I, Jesus, am patient with you. And so you must be patient with yourself. And then you must be patient with others. Do not be distracted by events around you. Do not be drawn into thinking that many events or big events mean that you can take your eyes off of the process of becoming holier. No, dear apostles. I speak gravely when I say to you that you must concentrate seriously on becoming holier because your holiness and your commitment to holiness is a crucial part of My plan to bring comfort to others. Allow Me to see to the world. If you see daily to the condition of your soul and if you love others then you will have fulfilled My plan for you. Rejoice. You are committed to Me and I am eternally committed to you.