Remember And Sing

Late last night I read yesterday’s Mass readings. The first was Acts 16: 22-34. It’s about when Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi. Verses 25-26 say, “about midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose.” I remembered that this had been the Scripture that initially inspired my song Nothing Else.

While Paul and Silas were hoping, questing, and teaching people about Jesus, they were imprisoned. In the middle of the night, though, they still prayed, and they still sang songs; they worshiped Him. I don’t remember what the “bad thing” was that compelled me to write this song. Lately I’ve had writer’s block. I tried for a few minutes, then just sang a few lines from the prayer I wrote five years ago.

You let us know you’re listening;
let us know you’re listening.
This is why we sing;
we sing.

You let us know you’re listening;
let us know you’re listening,
so in the dark we sing;
we sing to you.

You let us know you’re listening,
so we sing for joy.
Because you are good, Lord,
we sing.

This is a song to sing in the dark.
This is enough, a spark to start a fire.
This is a prayer you answer with love;
cause you are God, and you are with us.

I haven’t actually listened to a whole lot of Christian music lately. I’ve been trying to write my own original music, or blog posts, and I often find music distracting. The rest of Nothing Else is about wanting to be alone with God, especially when everything is falling apart, or at least seems like it is.

Paul and Silas were in a pretty bad situation, but at midnight, they sang; they hoped, and there was an earthquake. Acts continues the story and tells of how the jailer and his family were converted to Christianity after speaking to Paul and Silas.

This past Monday, the Governor of Massachusetts announced that we will start phase 1 of re-opening the state. Cardinal Sean O’Malley also announced that churches in the Archdiocese of Boston will begin re-opening. Around a year ago, I wrote my song Victory. The chorus goes: “You are my new dawn/ so here’s my hallelujah/ I sing your victory song/ the King of Heaven Come.” The news of churches re-opening, and Masses starting again really feels like I’m seeing the pale light just before dawn.

Being able to go back to church, for a lot of people, is going to feel like the end of “war.” For a lot of people, it isn’t. A lot of people are still sick, jobless, worrying about a family member, worrying about keeping their business afloat, or worse. We still have to be “social distancing.” This isn’t over. Remember that. Remember them. Remember too, though, that there are things to celebrate. Find that song to sing in the dark, look for the light just before the dawn, and sing “Hallelujah.”

Songs And Silver Things

Yesterday I tried at writing a song, but writing what’s on my mind and in my heart as lyrics is difficult. Last night I listened to an episode of a podcast by Father Mike Schmitz that was released around Christmas time. It was about the events surrounding Mary and Jesus’ early childhood. She had agreed to be the mother of the Messiah, but had been given no details about what would ensue following his birth. Joseph initially thought she had been unfaithful; when Jesus was to be born, they had no comfortable place to deliver Him; they had to flee into Egypt because Herod wanted Him killed; when they presented Him in the temple, Mary was told that a sword would pierce her heart, and that her Son would be a sign of contradiction; when He was twelve, he was lost for three days.

Father Mike noted that these last two events are two of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary because we know what they mean in retrospect, but it wouldn’t have been joyful for Mary and Joseph at the time they were living through it. Fr Mike said that as humans, we like certainty. We like telling stories about past Christmases or birthdays or camping trips because they will not and cannot change. They are certain. Within the past few years I’ve had to really internalize the Lord’s teaching: let tomorrow worry about itself. Tomorrow is not certain, but two things are: the past, and God.

Yesterday I tried writing lyrics about giving your heart away and how that can be dangerous. Everyone gives their heart to someone or some thing. We are created in God’s likeness. God is love and love is always given. We can’t help it. Who or what we love is important, but that could be a topic for entirely different blog post. I realized yesterday that even giving your heart to God is dangerous. A few days ago, I realized that I was tempted to stop caring; to stop caring about other peoples’ suffering, and to stop caring that I can’t receive the Sacraments. If I did that, if I let my heart get hard, it wouldn’t hurt any more.

The week before Mass was suspended everywhere, I named the sky “Faithfulness” because God is faithful. Last night I saw an amazing sunset through our kitchen window. I hadn’t payed attention to the sky in quite a while since it’s been cold here and I haven’t left the house except for a handful of times. As when I prayed on Easter Sunday and Jesus really seemed to hold my hand, that sky seemed to say to me, “I’m still here.”

As silly as it is, I’ve adopted one of Columbus’s rules from Zombie Land: Enjoy the little things. These days we can’t take anything for granted. My mom has started ordering groceries for delivery. The problem is, so has everyone else, and trying to get an order through is incredibly time consuming. Within the past two weeks I’ve started eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There’s nothing extraordinary about that except that I hadn’t eaten a PBJ probably since elementary school, and I have a renewed appreciation for melting chunky peanut butter on a piece of toast.

It’s the little things–the way my bird smells, the taste of strawberries, that irrefutable sunset–that remind me that God is still here, if I pay attention. I had online formation with two members of my Carmelite community this past weekend, and we talked about Saint John of the Cross’s Dark Night. Our formation leader said that the darkness is sometimes how we experience God’s presence because what we usually consider “light” is what we understand, while the “dark,” is what we don’t. Sometimes God draws very near and since there’s so much of Him that we don’t understand, it can feel like an experience of “darkness.” Scripture attests to the fact that the Lord is close to those who suffer: “Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted.” This is one of many examples.

For the most part, my friends and family have been unaffected by the Corona virus, at least when it comes to our physical health. That was until very recently and members of my Carmelite community started requesting prayers for people they knew. That was actually a little bit scary because it started seeming a little more “personal.” I worry for those who don’t know the Lord and who are very sick, and I worry for those who have to go to the hospital for some other reason and end up getting the virus.

Honestly, I worry a lot for people who don’t know the Lord, partly for their souls, but also simply because knowing Jesus makes any kind of suffering so much easier. He truly is the Light of the World; He is the Light of Hope. Without even considering “final destinations,” He’s someone to look to when things are scary. Even if He doesn’t immediately get rid of the problem, He is faithful, patient, and compassionate, He comforts me, and He makes it worth it. Trusting Him through the chaos makes us stronger and deepens our love, for Him and for each other.

While it was going on, Mary didn’t understand why things were happening the way they were, but she trusted. She trusted all the way to Calvary, and despite the heartache of her Son’s death, she still trusted. Her trust was rewarded on the first Easter. It can be tempting to stop caring, but don’t. Trust the Lord. He knows heartache. He saw the suffering of people around Him and did something about it because it affected Him. That was precisely why He performed His miracles. He saw the death of His friend Lazarus and He knew He could and would bring him back, but the death of a friend still caused Him to weep. In Gethsemane He took on our own heartache because He didn’t want us to go through it alone.

Jesus is not bound by the Sacraments, and He can work miracles and mercy however He wants. Part of why He gave us the Sacraments is so we can experience His presence through our senses. This is a difficult time because right now we can’t do that. We still have things like music and Sacramentals, though.

When I’m desperate I can listen to a man sing “God when you choose to leave mountains unmovable/ Give me the strength to be able to sing it is well with my soul,” and know that I’m not alone. When I’m desperate I look at the things I wear around my neck that remind me of who He is and who I am. Among those things is a small silver Crucifix. That, maybe more than anything silently says to me, “I’m still here.”

Living The Pipe Dream

When I was fourteen, I got a guitar for Christmas. It was an absolute piece of crap that would go out of tune after playing one song, or even before the end of a song. Soon after I got it, my friend, who had been taking lessons for a little while, taught me to play “Brain Stew” by Green Day. At that point I only knew how to play power chords, and I wasn’t going to start lessons until January, but I was immediately hooked. I learned some basic things in my first few lessons, and I wrote my first song. It was an angry punk song about a teacher I hated at school. It was terrible.

Like every other angry fourteen-year-old with a guitar, I had the pipe dream; I was going to be a total “rock star” in a punk band, tour all over the country, and generally be able to “get my way.” After my sophomore year, I mellowed out a little, which actually meant I went from being angry to being sad. That’s probably the best way I could describe it. Slowly, I resigned myself to the fact that the “rock star” thing wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t find band mates, and quite frankly, it was just unrealistic.

Still, I kept writing songs. A lot of them sucked, as would be expected. By the time I was nineteen, I was still playing guitar, and writing an occasional song, but mostly I was learning covers because I could play them by myself, and people at open mics sometimes recognized them. I enjoyed that, but it wasn’t “the dream,” and at that point, I had no real vision in mind for what my future might look like. I was your average college freshman without much of a plan.

At the time I started school in August, I was agnostic. By the end of October, I was Christian. I’ve written this part of the story before, but it’s important, so I’ll make it short. I was lonely, and I thought I needed a boyfriend. I had started learning how to pray, so I had been asking God for help with that. I didn’t know it was a deeper loneliness that couldn’t be filled with another human relationship. He let me get desperate. I begged. He needed to make me wait because He needed to teach me that He was there to listen, and that I could trust Him, and even though I was ultimately asking for the wrong thing, He was going to help me. He needed me to be desperate because He needed to use that to build an actual relationship. At my lowest point, I said something along the lines of, “Please! I need your help! I love you!”

I hadn’t known it until I said it, but I knew it was true. As soon as I said it, a feeling like I have never really felt before or since came over me. I don’t know how to describe it, but it inspired my song, “You Answered.” The third verse goes:

You came to me soft and slow
Sweet and warm like a summer dream
And fantasy starts to fade away
As you replace my empty spaces

After that, I started writing more songs. Most of them were worship songs, and a lot of them were terrible. Eventually, I had enough songs to put together my first album, which came out in 2014. I graduated in 2015, and took a hiatus from songwriting to take a stab at writing a novel. After about three years, I realized I was much better at music.

Actually, I hadn’t stopped writing songs altogether, but most of my material was terrible. Still, I had one good one hanging around that I had never recorded, so I went back to the studio. I had thought I would just release it as a single, but one night before one of my studio sessions, I wrote a song in about two minutes. That’s barely an exaggeration. Now I had a dilemma because it was good. I decided if I could pull together one or two more good songs I’d do an EP. Now that we’re nine songs into what will be a full length album, I’ve realized something.

When I was fourteen, I had the same pipe dream as every other angry teenager with a guitar. Most don’t get to be musicians as their career. A lot of kids just give up playing after a while. A lot of people keep it up as a hobby. A lot of people have regular 9-5 jobs on top of their music careers, which don’t often amount to more than playing a few local gigs every week. I’m not a “rock star,” but songwriting is my career. Am I a success? I’d say it depends on who you’re asking. Do I make money at this? Not yet. Do I write good songs? Heck yeah! How do I know? People like them. More importantly, I know God is helping me.

My God gave me my pipe dream. When my epilepsy came back in my sophomore year of college, I had to face some hard facts. Travel isn’t easy to begin with because of my Muscular Dystrophy. Performing is often hit or miss because my meds don’t completely control my epilepsy. Being a performing artist just wasn’t possible. What I didn’t realize for some time was that it’s precisely because of my disabilities that I’m able to do this. Having a “normal” job isn’t exactly an option for me. That’s why I have time to work on a book and have a songwriting career.

As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve realized that my “issues” have brought me closer to God, and He has had a plan all along. He has always known how much I love music. He allowed me to be that angry fourteen-year-old with a pipe dream, and in the end He gave me a choice. I could give up on that dream, or I could embrace it, or rather, His version of it. I’m great at writing lyrics. I’m a decent, but not absolutely fabulous singer, and I’m an average guitarist. I can write lyrics that glorify my God and hand them off to people who can glorify Him with their performing abilities that are doubtless, better than mine.

My dad suggested this to me several years ago. I didn’t choose this option because I was being overly possessive. Now I’m ready. It doesn’t make sense for me to hold onto something that I can’t use. I’m ready to write not for my glory, but for God’s. I don’t need recognition. I don’t need to be the star of the show. If nobody ever knows who wrote these songs, that’s okay. I will be overjoyed if one of my songs becomes popular because somebody else rocked it. I just want these songs to be heard. I love writing them, and I love the process. I even love struggling through my writer’s block because a lot of times, that’s when I pray the most.

In my song “Nothing Else,” there’s a couple lines that go: “This is enough/ a spark to start a fire.” I didn’t know God when I was fourteen. That first crummy guitar was a spark, though, and God could start a fire with that spark. Writing songs was the first thing I was really passionate about, and God used that passion to lead me right to Him. Of course the path was a little convoluted, but now I have more than a spark. I have His burning love that’s closer than touch, and He has my songwriting skills to use as He sees fit. Because of His love, I am living the pipe dream.

A Song To Sing In The Dark

Recently I realized that I write my best songs when I’m pissed off. Something bad happens, and I cope by writing about it. That’s true for a lot of people, I know, but I think people cope by writing angry songs. I don’t write angry songs. I write defiant songs. I recently wrote a song about the Notre Dame fire. It happened on the same day as the Boston Marathon, so I tied the two events together. The second verse goes as follows:

Cheer for the runners
They all ran the race
Run for tomorrow
A glorious day
Tested by fire
The cross stood tall
The glory of Heaven
In old Notre Dame

The cross stood tall among ruins. God is never outdone. There are still places in the world where it’s illegal and even dangerous to be Christian. Recently, there have been shootings at places of worship in our own country. The cross standing among ruins was a powerful image for me. The Lord is greater than anything bad that could possibly happen. I reflected, too, that people can’t worship in Notre Dame any more, but buildings aren’t God’s Church. The people are His Church.

For the past two weeks, the people in Sri Lanka haven’t been able to celebrate Sunday Mass for fear of another attack. The Bishop has celebrated Mass privately, and the people have watched it televised. That would be tragic for me. I live in Suburban America, and I doubt the likelihood of anything like that happening in my home town. Still, there is a chance it could. There was a time in the early Church when Christians had to celebrate Mass in the Roman Catacombs. Still, they did it. They did it because Jesus conquered sin and death, they did it because He died for us, and they did it because He’s worth dying for. He’s worth suffering for.

The cross stood among the ruins in Notre Dame because the cross is our hope. The cross is what gave us life. The cross is a promise that as messy as things might be, and as messy as they might get, God is greater. The cross is a promise and a reminder that we are redeemed, and God can bring even greater light out of any darkness.

The title of my upcoming album is, “A Song To Sing In The Dark.” It’s from a line in my song, “Nothing Else.”

This is a song to sing in the dark
This is enough, a spark to start a fire
This is a prayer you answer with love
‘Cause you are God, and you are with us

I wrote the song a few years ago and released it as a single. All I remember is that I had been watching the news a little too much, and I was feeling depressed. The world looked like it was falling apart. The fact of the matter is, the world always looks like it’s falling apart. The cross is the symbol of our faith because Jesus overcame it. What had only appeared to be an instrument of death became a symbol of hope and life, and even more than that, a symbol of God’s undying love for us, and the promise of our salvation. We can look to the cross when we need a song to sing in the dark. Remember that the cross is a beginning, not an end.

Starting Again

The other night my guitar and I had an appointment at the studio where I recorded my first album, after a three year hiatus. My guitar had been staring me down for those three years while I’ve been writing my book, and the musician in me decided she had finally had enough. Thus, I got my guitar, and at eight o’clock last Wednesday night, I picked up my guitar, and headed to the studio.

My new project is called, “A Song To Sing In The Dark.” My first album, “Replace These Empty Spaces,” featured personal songs about a myriad of experiences and ideas. My new project, while also very personal, is ultimately a worship album. We’re going through a dark time right now, and we need songs to sing in the dark. I’ve been holding off on doing this because I wanted to finish my book, but I need to write these songs for me, and also so that the rest of the world can hear that there’s at least one kid who’s not afraid of the dark.

I also decided to start on this project for two other reasons, however. The first is that, I took lessons from, and worked on my first album with the guy who owns the studio, and I’ve missed him. I’ve been dying to stop into the studio and say, “hi,” but I never know when he’s going to be working. The other reason is that, I’ve had songwriter’s block for the majority of the three years I’ve been working on my book, but I knew that working with my friend would help me alleviate that. I’m not always good at being my own boss, and lately, I’ve been finding a lot of excuses to take the day off or hang out with company. I think having an extra project to keep me busy and keep me motivated will also keep me focused.

We’ve already got a decent head-start on three of the songs. One is written and composed for the most part, and another is at least partly composed, but I have to finished writing the lyrics. The third, I’m going to sing acapapella. I want to do thirteen songs total, and right now, I have ten ideas at least loosely figured out. I’ll be headed back over there tomorrow, and I’m hoping we can start recording some stuff.

So Will I

God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. I read this tiny little thing last night, and for some reason, I just started balling my eyes out. There’s just something infinitely beautiful about it in its simplicity.

I recently discovered this song, and now I’m completely obsessed with it. I think maybe it gets at what I mean.

 

The Third Option

On Thursday night I went to confession. At the beginning of this week I gave in to the temptation I had mentioned in my post about the Bleak, but I also had a few other things to confess. The fact that I failed sucked, the fact that I had to wait to go to confession for several days sucked, and having to confess several things sucked. The priest I usually confess to is really great, though. He’s really encouraging, and when I got through my confession (which involved tears), I felt so much better. I was in an annoyingly good mood by the time I got home to harass my dad into playing with me.

I also finished writing the Bleak yesterday, and thank God for that because that was the most depressing piece of fiction I’ve ever had to write. I’ve written not-fun things before, but they’ve either been for school, or they’ve simply been tedious. The thing about my mythology is that sometimes I can write things in whatever order I want, and sometimes it simply makes sense to write things in a specific order. I’m at a point, once again, where I can finally pick whichever story I want to write next. I’m going to write the story of one of my human characters next because I’ve spent a lot of time in the other Realms of the Abyss, and it’s getting to be a bit of a head trip. A little normalcy, or familiarity at least, will do me good.

I’m working on a new song as well. I started it a while ago, but it takes me a lot longer to write songs than it does to write stories. Songs have to say more in fewer words. It’s called “Autumn Hero.” The idea for it just sort of popped into my head a few weeks ago when my mom opened the door to our deck to check on something outside and I could hear the crickets that seem to only come out, or come out more in late summer.

The first verse goes like this:

I can hear the late summer sounds
Late at night with the lights turned low
The Ghost of Beauty sings in my bones
And I can breathe I am free

This whole week, until today at least, I’ve been kind of a lunatic because I’ve felt so badly about the stuff I had to confess. After my confession I felt so free, though, and on Friday I found that I couldn’t find the words to pray. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, and in fact, I think I was sort of praying, but this whole week I realized I’ve been doing all the talking. I finally found I could just sit because everything was okay again. I know I don’t have to earn God’s forgiveness, but at the same time, I can’t help myself. His love isn’t fair, so when I mess up, I feel really bad about it. I really want to make up for it even though I can’t.

Early this morning I had a dream that involved a pretty horrible choice. First I need to mention that I was born and raised Catholic, but I didn’t really care about being Christian, nor did I realize that I needed God until about six years ago. It wasn’t until a few months later that I embraced Catholicism for real, and it was until fairly recently that I began to understand devotion to Mary.

All that being said, the choice in the dream was a very difficult one. Jesus and his mother were about to fall to their death. I could save one, but the other would not live. I had time to think about it in the dream, but I had to choose. I finally decided to save Mary because that’s what I thought Jesus would have had me do. When I woke up, I remembered this decision, and it didn’t quite sit right with me. I’m realizing there might have been a third option that simply wasn’t obvious to me in the dream. I might have been able to take the fall myself and save them both. Whether or not I’d have the courage to do something like that in “real life,” I don’t know, but it makes me wonder.