Archive for the ‘using music and singing to reflect on the scriptures’ Category

From Provincial to Radical: Getting Below the Surface

Friday, May 18th, 2012

I am currently re-reading Henri Nouwen’s last book, Sabbatical Journey The Diary of His Final Year. I read it years ago and found his honesty and vulnerability very moving. There is a journal entry for each day of his sabbatical, and each one sparks reflection.

from http://tennoshima.com/Events.html

In the entry from Tuesday, September 9, Nouwen mentions the occasional retreats he gave with friend Jonas and how Jonas could play the Japanese bamboo flute. He writes, “The amelodic music he plays on the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, allows people to experience God’s spirit in ways that words cannot express.”

Learning to stretch

In my reading of the gospels over the past year, I have been struck by a recurring theme: Jesus’ insistence that we get beyond our preconceived notions. As the great Spiritual Doctor, He diagnoses humanity with the affliction of narrow-mindedness: we practice our faith by clinging stubbornly to ritual, all the while being oblivious to the actual meaning. It’s easier (and safer) to blindly follow the rules rather than digging deep to understand their intent.

Jesus challenges us to be radical lovers and thinkers; He means to stretch us.

Leaders bound to ritual

This is evidenced by His repeated confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees, the most learned of the people. Despite their knowledge, these leaders adopt a provincial view of life through their observance of the Law. They flawlessly fulfill the rituals yet have no clue as to how the Law applies to their inner lives. It’s all about outward performance and it fuels their pride and arrogance, blinding them to the Son of God who stands before them.

Talking to myself

Rituals affect prayer too. I can use a parochial approach to prayer, doing my fifteen minutes a day mindlessly reciting my rote prayers and feeling a sense of accomplishment at performing my duty. I might as well be saying the prayers to myself. Jesus is waiting for me to sit at His feet and be with Him and I don’t recognize Him standing there before me.

Following the Spirit’s lead

In the book of Romans Paul writes, “the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26). In essence, prayer without the Spirit’s help accomplishes nothing.

Be, not do

The prayers we’ve been taught are good, reinforcing what we’ve learned. They prepare the heart. It’s the next step that requires a more radical approach and that involves acquiescing to the Spirit. My only task at that point is to allow Him to lead me.

It takes effort and fortitude to quiet myself and allow the encounter to begin. Then all effort ceases. And that’s when I sometimes wonder if, in fact, I am praying.

Is it prayer?

Sometimes a wave of peace and gratitude will flow over me.  The result is a sense of love and well-being that wells up inside. It surpasses words and instead, produces tears.

Other times I experience intense pain and swirling confusion, leaving me floundering and helpless.

If during those moments, I turn and face Jesus, they become prayer.

Music as a means to prayer

Nouwen’s description of Jonas’ music reminds me of how easily music leads me to these encounters. I feel almost guilty letting my collection of spiritual and classical music shuffle through my iPod as I drive into work. It’s too easy, there’s no effort.

And that’s when the encounter begins. It’s not my effort that produces prayer but the intercession of the Holy Spirit.

The preparation

Music prepares my heart and soul with a rhythmic kneading, softening what was once hard. I am then prepared to stretch out my hand and allow the Spirit to grasp it, leading me into the inner sanctum.

The experience

In there I could experience a myriad of things: the sense of being loved, deep sorrow for my sins, insight, consolation, maybe even nothing at all. No matter what I may or may  not feel, Jesus is as close to me as my own breath.

Openness to the gift

What a wonderful gift our Lord gives us through His Spirit when we open our minds and hearts and step outside of ourselves. This was the gift He longed to give to the Pharisees but they could not let go.

But like the cripple who, after being healed by Jesus, throws away the crutches and walks freely, I too can employ that same trust, knowing that God will extend His hand and lead me deeper into His heart, and closer to paradise.

In honor of the Virgin Mary and her Assumption into Heaven

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Today on this feast of the Assumption, a simple post: letting pictures and songs tell the story of Mary. We can gaze upon the beautiful faces of Jesus and Mary and thank  God for all the blessings we have received in our lives. We can lay down our burdens at the feet of Mary and ask her to take them to her Son for He will refuse her nothing.

Gaze upon the tender love shared between the two, knowing that we too are included in this intimate circle.

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Readings for the Day:
Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab, Ps 45:10, 11, 12, 16, 1 Cor 15:20-27, Luke 1:39-56

 

 

 

Some “murmuring” songs

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

As a follow-up to my last post on the value of murmuring. I thought I would share a couple of songs that I used today for that purpose. Both songs are performed by Steve Angrisano, a Catholic worship leader and youth minister. Each song is done in a repetitive manner so that they are a quick study; they are very easy to sing along with. I find the very act of singing such songs to myself as a way of facilitating prayer and meditation. Most times I do it while driving in to work. Great way to fill up an hour long commute!

The gratifying thing about a song is that it can stick in your head, and you can find yourself murmuring it throughout the day. That way, we can “pray always” as St. Paul reminds us.

Visit this page and you can listen to the MP3 files and purchase them if you like. The songs are “Sweet Redeemer” and “Sacred Silence.”

As I come across more such songs, I will share them with you.

The tortoise really can win!

Monday, June 20th, 2011

I have often lamented the fact that I am a painfully slow reader. I will reread sections, and read every word. Otherwise, I feel like I’ve missed something.

I follow a delightful blog called A Room of One’s Own by a college lit student. She ‘s plunged into reading the classics after having only read current commercial fiction, and she’s keeping a literary journal as she reads. She has read an amazing number of books (and given me a tremendous reference to turn to as I slowly plod through different classics). She wrote a wonderfully thoughtful post wondering whether it was better to read quickly as she does, or read more slowly, like I do.

I have no choice, I have to read slowly, but I envied my friend’s speed reading skills. Until now.

Yesterday at Divine Liturgy, I heard the priest preach about a section in John 14, verse 15 where Jesus states, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Fr. Paul proceeded to explain that following the commandments is not just following a set of rules and then feeling good that you’ve done it. It’s so much more. He used Psalm 1, verse 2 as the example: But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.” He focused on the word “meditates,” explaining that the word “murmurs” is a closer translation of the original text.

Murmuring, of course, involves speaking; in many cases, reading out loud. Students often use this method when studying; people who wish to memorize will also use this tact. Murmuring most definitely slows down the reading process. It also helps one to absorb the material.

While I haven’t actually employed murmuring before in meditating upon the scriptures, I have used note taking as a means of unlocking hidden treasures in books. Often it has involved reading a chapter or section twice to get down all the thoughts I had. Using this method, I spent 3-1/2 months reading a 187 page book! Seems absurd, but I unlocked countless treasures by outlining the chapters and the guts of the book (The Prayer of Mary: Leading a Surrendered Life) really sunk in.

Yet, I ‘d like to try murmuring. I have tried murmuring repeatedly the Jesus Prayer, and even have 3 different versions of it set to music so I can “murmur” by singing. Singing is a wonderful way to murmur.

The art of Lectio Divina invites such murmuring as it requires one to read and then pray on a particular scripture, repeating a line or lines over and over. This moves you into meditation and then divine contemplation (John Michael Talbot’s newest album, Worship and Bow Down, has a song by that title that beautifully lays out how to use Lectio Divina to pray the scriptures. Listen to a clip of the song here – track 17).

I felt a real affirmation yesterday at liturgy from the Lord as Fr. Paul described the art of murmuring. It’s okay to be slow. In fact, it’s good to be slow. As the lyrics to Talbot’s song say, “Prayerfully read the Word of God, prayerfully read, take your time . . .”

I am a tortoise who loves to read, and would like to read like the hare. However, as a tortoise, while I probably won’t be able to read everything I have on my list, I will read what I can very well. A slower approach will facilitate the unlocking of many a treasure in scripture and beyond. Sounds like a win-win to me!