I was privileged to appear this morning on “Jon and Jeanne in the Morning” on Iowa Catholic Radio to talk about River of Grace:
We talked about the creative ways that God’s grace works through our grief when we lose someone we love. Turns out I’m far from alone in thinking my grief journey after my mom died was strange! Jon shares a similar story during the interview about losing his beloved grandmother.
All of you who have “been-there-done-that” will nod your heads in agreement when I say there are no rules when it comes to grief except that it is yours. It is a unique experience, one that if embraced, will bring us to new and wonderful things after the sorrow begins to pull back.
We know how grief can reappear in unexpected ways during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Coining a phrase often used by author Joyce Rupp, “leaning” into our grief releases us into God’s hands where his river of grace can carry us to eventual healing.
Here is this morning’s interview. Maybe this little snippet can help nudge you in the right direction.
November can be a difficult month for many. The clocks roll back and the sun sets at 4:30. The temperatures cool and the last of the leaves fall to the ground. There are many cloudy, gray days.
November reminds us that we cannot escape our fate–we all die at some point. Our physical deaths can happen suddenly. Or our health may deteriorate over time, bit by agonizing bit. Dying may be the daily giving up of some part of ourselves that we cherish. Memories fade. Legs weaken and fail. We can barely check our email or turn on the TV because the technology overwhelms us.
November is the month we remember all those who have died and as a community, we lift them in prayer. It reminds us of the grief that never ends, perhaps bringing it forward just when we thought we had sent it to the back of our minds and hearts.
Grief is mysterious and capricious. It creeps up on us, explodes inside of us, in the most inopportune times and places. I can’t tell you how many times tears have suddenly sprung to my eyes in the middle of a crowded room. There is never a day that we forget our loved ones. Happy occasions make us long for them so that we can share our joy. Hard times see us reaching out in vain for those loving arms that would assure us that “everything will okay.”
Grief is a journey that demands our compliance. Resist, and we will pay the price of remaining stuck in that place of sorrow, bitterness and anger; we will die in our grief. Comply, and grief will recreate us; we will live again.
At the age of fifty-nine I have become the published author of not one, but two books, both of which are the products of my grief. When the journey began in 2010 after I lost my mother, I was too numb and worn out to resist– God’s grace beckoned me to go on grief’s journey. In the process, I discovered the life-giving creativity inherent in that journey, taking that which already existed and shaping it into something new and wonderful.
Any artist, writer, musician or dancer will tell you that excellence in the creative life requires a letting go of control–you must give yourself over to something bigger than yourself, and collaborate with that force which compels you to create. That force will demand that you dig deep for answers and that you be open to any possibility. Your heart must remain soft, supple, and vulnerable.
Grief is that kind of creative force, demanding much the same.
I have no idea why I allowed myself to go with the flow of my grief journey. For some reason I was able to trust in God’s care and float down his river of grace. It was often a very confusing journey as I was given just enough knowledge to motivate me to continue, but no more; I was clueless as to where it would all lead. Sometimes the waters were rough. What I do know is that in the midst of my deep sorrow I found a wellspring of joy: “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”. (Luke 6:38, NIV). As a result, each day became part of an exhilarating adventure.
Death and mourning need not signal the end; our faith teaches us that it is in fact a beginning. During this month of All Souls, may we pray for those who have penetrated the veil, and ask for God’s river of grace to carry us through our grief and recreate us. In the words of Saint Paul from Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
The CD is coming along nicely and I expect to have some finished product later this week! I will share as I receive them. There are several short videos on my Indiegogo campaign page that you can view for a sneak preview.
Here is one showing the progress so far on a classic hymn, “How Can I Keep from Singing:”
We recorded the lead vocals at Ron Zabrocki’s studio and then later I added on harmonies from my own studio which I then sent to Ron. He then will polish it with additional instruments and vocals. I can’t wait to hear what he does and share it with you!
In River of Grace, I wrote about how it felt to lose my singing voice …
“Eventually we face the prospect of letting go of something we cherish about ourselves. As my voice began to lose consistency, I knew now how others felt: the loss of my voice truly was a death. I missed that sensual feeling of singing, how it used to vibrate in my throat and buzz in my head. I’d never again hear that nice clear sound echo throughout the church and come back to me. I had sung with such ease that I could forget all about the technique of singing and just get into the prayer of it. There were times when those memories would flood my mind, and I would break out in spontaneous tears.” (Chapter 3, River of Grace)
And then regain it again:
“Instead of being raw and fragmented, I began to feel whole. A sense of wonder and deep gratitude welled up
inside. The following Sunday as I entered the church to go to Mass I was immediately struck with the knowledge
that I had received a significant healing with that throat blessing. I couldn’t wait to tell the priest.
Thereafter during Mass I noticed that it became easier to sing the hymns. Buoyed, I pushed my voice a bit further each week. One day while driving home after Mass I sang some of the most challenging songs in my repertoire … and discovered to my delight that I could sing them just as I had before … I had received a physical healing along with the emotional and spiritual.” (Chapter 3, River of Grace)
Thus you can see how I had to record “How Can I Keep from Singing”!
Coping with loss
Perhaps you have lost something precious about yourself; something that was once so natural, so easy to do is now hard or impossible to do. As we age, this kind of loss can occur. We can lose something we cherish about ourselves and feel sad and adrift. It is a great challenge that requires patience and faith; we have to learn to let it go.
In River of Grace I write about the struggle of letting something I loved go; I never expected to get it back again, It was in the course of writing the chapter that I experienced the healing. I did not seek it nor ask for it; I just wanted to learn to live with the loss. It was pure gift, abundant grace, and that is the mystery of God’s merciful love.
My gift from God
All I know is that now I feel deep gratitude every time I open my mouth to sing. I savor the moments I can sing in church, awestruck that God would give me a second chance to sing for Him.
This is why I had to record this album. I wanted a musical testimony to accompany what I had written. I wanted to share my gratitude and offer a witness to God’s merciful love. His love is available to all of us!
Launch day is coming soon!
By the end of the month, River of Grace will be officially launched. The CD will be available as well. In the meantime, I would really appreciate your help in financing the CD. There are ten days left to contribute to my Indiegogo campaign; click here to contribute.
Over the course of the next ten days I will share other songs from the soundtrack and passages from the book to show you how these songs correspond with the text.
In this Sunday’s Gospel we hear about Jesus opening the ears of a man who is unable to hear. Jesus also removes a speech impediment which had prevented the man from speaking clearly (Mark 7:31-37). Not surprisingly this man’s life is completely changed.
“Teach Me to Love,” recorded in 2000, is one of my favorite songs for several reasons.
It’s about Blessed Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa died right around the same time that Princess Diana died. With Diana dominating the headlines, there was very little attention focused upon what had been a living saint. It was then that I sat down and wrote “Teach Me to Love” so that I could honor this woman small in stature who loomed large in her service to the poor.
Who is that singing with me?
I love “Teach Me to Love” for another reason– because my daughter Meredith, then eleven, sang on this song with me. Here she is in the recording studio:
This is the result:
Eight years later, Meredith and I had a chance to sing “Teach Me to Love” at our parish coffeehouse and someone captured it on video:
Part of the healing process
“Teach Me to Love” was an important song when it came to learning to sing again after losing my voice. In River of Grace I write,
“That first small step back to music was taken with my high school confirmation class. After hearing a speaker who had worked with Mother Teresa, we returned to our classrooms to discuss it. As music has a unique way of conveying a message, I wanted to present the right song to the class that would affirm what we had learned about Mother Teresa’s mission while creating an atmosphere conducive to prayer and reflection. Searching through my iPod, I came upon one of my own songs called “Teach Me to Love.” The words were perfect but the song was recorded in a way that would not produce the ambiance I desired. I paused, wondering if I still had the voice to sing it live in front of my students. Singing to them in person would create a sense of intimacy that a recording could never achieve. I decided to go for it. I loved these kids and wanted to give them the best opportunity for meaningful prayer and reflection. The result was that sweet stillness in the air followed by spontaneous applause. By overcoming fear I was able to lead my students into a sacred moment. I gave; the gift was returned, and it became a prayer.”
“Teach Me to Love” is part of the Teach Me to Love CD.
Did you know that blessings multiply? If you are familiar with the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes then you know that when Jesus blessed the five loaves and two fishes, they multiplied enough to feed five thousand people.
I entered the line out of habit. The wait was long because the priest chose to do the blessings himself. Fr. Stephen LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester takes his liturgical responsibilities seriously, loving every ritual with fidelity and reverence. Each throat blessed received his utmost attention.
Desire for healing?
As I waited, I wondered why I was there. Did I believe in healing? Did I even want a healing? You may ask why someone might not desire a healing but when you get accustomed to being a certain way, change is hard to imagine. I was used to my voice being gone. I had accepted it.
Still, I remained in line, deciding it couldn’t hurt. I left the door open for possibilities, for anything God wished to give me.
Unfolding of a blessing
After receiving the blessing, I left the church in tears. What could possibly come of this? A few days later, the blessing began to unfold.
It began with an emotional healing.
Loss not private
When I initially lost my voice, I thought I could mourn in private. I could resign from music ministry at my parish and that would be the end of it. I was wrong. My singing was not a private, individual affair. I had shared it with a community and my loss impacted people. There were the other musicians who had to pick up the slack when I resigned. And there were the people who had enjoyed my singing. I should have been grateful for the many kind inquiries and offers of concern but instead I found it to be an intrusion. I didn’t want to accept my loss and thus I pushed music away from me. The inquiries and offers of concern pushed it right back at me. I couldn’t get away from my pain.
Thomas and his loss
It made me think of Thomas. Poor doubting Thomas. He was the one disciple who was not there when Jesus appeared to the apostles after the resurrection. Filled with joy to overflowing, they told Thomas they had seen the Lord and he would not believe. Hidden in a locked room out of fear, Thomas hid from his pain as well. It hurt too much to face it; thus he pushed away any semblance of hope that Jesus had risen. Just as I had pushed away any connection, any reminder of my music: it hurt too much. Healing through the wounds Thomas demanded to touch Jesus’ wounds. It was the only way he would believe.
A beautiful homily given by a newly ordained priest celebrating his first mass described what Jesus did for Thomas in response to his demands:
“‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Bring your hand and put it into my side. Hide yourself in me. Hide yourself from all that troubles you, from all you doubt, from all you fear. Hide yourself in a love more penetrating than a brush fire, more overwhelming than a deluge. Hide yourself in a love that will remake you entirely. Do not be afraid.’ Jesus invites Thomas to literally enter into his wounds of love, to pass so deeply into the reality of love incarnate as to move within it. To physically put himself into our Lord’s resurrected body, unconquered by everything that would seek to destroy love, to put to death all that smothered God’s life within him. To touch resurrection, to touch eternity. To hide himself in Christ’s love forever. But not to hide Christ’s love from the world. Not to remain behind locked doors. Not to continue in sadness and fear. Jesus fills Thomas with a love so transforming that he can proclaim without fear, without doubt, ‘My Lord and My God.’” Rev. Patrick E. Reidy, C.S.C., Basilica of the Sacred Heart, University of Notre Dame, April 27, 2014
Transformation through healing
Jesus transformed Thomas; he changed him from a man filled with fear, sadness and bitterness to a man who proclaimed his love for Jesus boldly throughout the world. He healed Thomas and Thomas embraced him. He healed me in the same way. Once at war with myself over the loss of my voice, I learned again to love music, to re-embrace my gift and to learn to use it in a new way.
Openness to God’s way
In the next post I will tell you how Jesus healed me. Like the loaves and fishes, it was a blessing that multiplied over and over. Remember when Jesus told the disciples to lower the net for another catch even though they had worked hard all night and caught nothing? The net was filled to overflowing.
That’s what happens when you leave the door open, just a bit, and let God have his way.