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
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.