Living with thorns in my side

This is my latest column in the Catholic Free Press, also running on Catholicmom.com.

Why is it that some wounds remain even when one has been healed? Several years ago I lost my singing voice due to acid reflux. I gave up singing thinking I would never do it again but after three years of rest, my singing voice returned (and I am sure St. Blaise had something to do with it). I happily joined the adult choir at my parish and took on cantering duties. I feel deep gratitude that God restored his gift back to me.

Accepting fear

Yet I had a new and most unwelcome guest with me whenever I sang—fear. I had never experienced stage fright before I lost my voice and now it is my constant companion. It causes me to break out in a cold sweat and I become tremendously self-conscious. Sometimes when my head and heart feel confident, my body still responds with that fear welling up deep inside of me.

One day while leading a song for the congregation I felt a sense from God that I was to walk side by side with this new companion for the rest of my singing days.

Does this mean my healing which I believe I received through the intercession of St. Blaise was somehow incomplete? No. There’s a reason why the fear is present. And it relates back to St. Paul.

Running side by side with a marathoner

Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. St Paul the Apostle, Flickr Creative Commons

I love St. Paul; he is a part of the entourage of saints to whom I pray for intercession each day. On my holy card he stands tall, a long sword by his side. Paul was fearless because of the armor provided to him by the Lord. His wisdom and clarity guide me on my spiritual journey. At times he has run beside me, urging me on through this marathon. He will be with me at the finish line.

Paul however had a thorn in his side. While he never revealed the nature of this thorn, still he tells us in 2 Corinthians 12 that the thorn remained despite his pleas to the Lord to remove it. God’s reply to his prayer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Thus St. Paul declared, “I am weak, then I am strong.”

Reflecting on these verses, I accept my companion of fear and use it as a reminder that God is in control of all things and that through our difficulties he works out his plan for the good.

More than one thorn

Andreina Schoeberlein Thorn in my side, Flickr Creative Commons

How nice it would be if there were only one thorn but there are others. One thorn in particular has me running to the Cross every morning asking for forgiveness for a particular sin. If only I could live with this thorn and not sin, but thankfully, forgiveness is just a prayer away. With God’s grace, someday that thorn will not lead to sin.

A friend’s thorn

I think of the thorn my friend Jackie must endure. It is deep and heavy, a true cross to bear. Her thorn requires her to lean on Jesus every step of the way. Someday I may have to endure such a thorn. It frightens me until I am reminded to stay rooted to the present moment and cling to Jesus.

I must remember to invoke St. Paul the next time one of my thorns trouble me. I can’t think of a more capable and understanding companion.

Sing about grace

If you want to be reminded of God’s promise that his grace is sufficient, listen to Matt Maher’s wonderful song, “Your Grace is Enough,” found on YouTube. The melody will stick in your mind in an instance. And in singing that line “Your grace is enough, your grace is enough, your grace is enough for me,” perhaps your thorns will become easier to live with too.

 

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Rocky Mountain High

One of my favorite songs, it beautifully describes the essence of the spiritual life — connection with Someone far greater than ourselves, a connection that helps us to see the vistas beyond our own limited vision. In harmony with creation, the beautiful evidence of the One who is unseen. Being part of the community of humankind and yet taking the time to enjoy the solitude that is the gift of grace.

Rocky Mountains image: “Bo Insogna, TheLightningMan.com Rocky Mountain Cloud Layers” courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Good Friday multi-media meditations to fit your schedule

I wish to offer to you a couple of Good Friday meditations.

Short meditation

If you only  have a few minutes today, here is a short meditation on the Stations of the Cross:

Longer meditation

If you have 45 minutes to meditate, try this meditation on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary with scripture and sung prayers:

May you have a meaningful, blessed day today and a Happy Easter. Remember that with God, we can overcome anything and come out transformed.

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Book review: A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim

When asked by Eerdmans Publishing Company to review A Gathering of Larks by Abigail Carroll I hesitated at first. I am dense when it comes to poetry. Unless the language is plain, the meaning escapes me. I don’t know how to read it nor can I write it, despite the fact that I have written a plethora of song lyrics.

The cover and the title won me over. I am a bird lover yearning for Spring when scores of birds will fill my yard again with song. It seemed like a good way to prepare for that eventuality.

I cannot judge Abigail Carroll as a poet as I have no point of reference. What I can say is that her lines moved me. More than half the book has turned-down page corners to mark poems that struck a nerve. Her writing is accessible to anyone whether or not you are a poetry connoisseur. She addresses her poems as letters to someone who is on the minds of many because of his namesake, Pope Francis.

Carroll offers a brief biography of the life of St. Francis of Assisi which is helpful when reading the letters that follow. He was born around 1181, the son of a wealthy Italian cloth merchant. He was expected to follow his father into the family business but instead became a French troubadour. Eventually he chose to become a knight and joined the Fourth Crusade. That plan was thwarted the very first night by a disturbing dream which drove him back to Assisi in shame. Over the course of time he abandoned his wealth and adopted a life of poverty, caring for lepers and rebuilding the church (sometimes literally). An order of friars grew around him along with a sister community led by St. Clare of Assisi.

St. Francis is affectionately remembered for his love of nature and animals along with canticles and poems he wrote in his later years while afflicted by poor eyesight and chronic illness. He never lost his ability to lift up the spirits of those around him with his creative skills.

Carroll’s letters to St. Francis are deeply personal without falling into sentimentality or lament. Her intimate knowledge of Francis aids her in building a bridge between his world and hers. That bridge extends to the reader who is brought along on the journey through her use of everyday cares and concerns.

Randy St. Francis of Assisi, Flickr Creation Commons

During her course of writing the book, Carroll suffered a foot injury which left her totally dependent on others to take care of her needs. She weaves this experience into her letters discovering through her correspondence with Francis that ability to let go of control over her life and revel in the unexpected freedom her injury brings.

Illustrated with drawings by John James Audubon, A Gathering of Larks is an easy read filled with wonderful messages. Read to get the overview, and then prayerfully study with pencil in hand to ponder the many messages within.

A Gathering of Larks by Abigail Carroll
Published by William B. Eerdsmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

 

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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“Peaceable Kingdom” — a view of heaven from the book of Isaiah

louisa coverNOTE: I just found out my publisher, ACTA, is giving away 15 free copies of Louisa May Alcott Illuminated by The Message in honor of our favorite author’s birthday. Go here http://actapublications.com/louisa-may-alcott-illuminated-by-the-message/ and type in code HAPPYBIRTHDAY at checkout.

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I could not resist posting this video of my song, “A Shoot from Jesse” from my album, Wait with Me: Advent of the Promised Son. It is today’s first reading from the lectionary, Isaiah 11.

I invite you to listen to the song and read the lyrics for a look at a truly Peaceable Kingdom, the one we all long for.

lyrics to “A Shoot from Jesse”

I also invite you to visit pray-as-you-go.org for a wonderful 12 minute reflection on this reading.

We surely need a Peaceable Kingdom in our world. Christmas heralds its coming in the birth of Jesus, in history and in our hearts.

Here’s a sampler video from Wait with Me to put you into the mood. Enjoy!

Happy Advent. Come Lord Jesus, come!

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Dedicated singers ease the journey home

NOTE: This story ran in the Catholic Free Press on October 21, 2016 in their Bereavement supplement.

Each Wednesday afternoon, eighteen men and women gather at the Congregational Church in Westborough to rehearse songs for performance. They have come from various churches, Catholic and Protestant, in Westborough, Northborough and Marlborough. Some come from the Westborough Community Chorus and the Assabet Valley Master Singers. The performances for which they rehearse are however, not meant for entertainment.

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(L to R) Jim Nolan, Mary Beland and John McCann are members of the Journey Home Singers and all are members of the St. Luke the Evangelist choir in Westborough, MA. Beland invited both men to join the Journey Home Singers.

The Journey Home Singers sing in homes, hospitals and nursing homes to hospice patients. “Our intention is to bring comfort, beauty, caring and compassion with our singing to anyone who wants us to visit,” said Kathy Todd, director of the Journey Home Singers.

Todd started the group in June of 2009 after attending a singing workshop in the Berkshires. During that gathering, flyers were distributed for a workshop involving hospice singing. Todd was immediately intrigued, inspired by her own personal experience with caring for a dying sister.

“We started [the Journey Home Singers] in June of 2009, which was about six months after my oldest sister died,” recalls Todd. “My sister Martha had been ill with COPD for several years, and had just entered hospice care at her home in August 2008. On August 19 she fell and broke her hip and was taken to ICU at St. Vincent’s in Worcester. About a month later, doctors determined there was nothing more they could do for her, other than having her live attached to a ventilator. My youngest sister and I kept a vigil with her that night after she decided not to go with a ventilator. Time spent by her bedside was the first catalyst that led me to realize a vision that became the hospice choir.”

The workshop was run by Hallowell from Brattleboro, VT. Their mission is to offer support to the dying by bringing comfort, calm and beauty. After attending, Todd felt compelled to start a group. “I thought about it for a long time, I had no experience as a director,” she said. She decided to call her choir the Journey Home Singers, inspired by a song she heard at the workshop, “Angels Hovering Round”: “We’re on our journey home…”

Todd began her search for members, beginning with her choir at the Congregational Church in Westborough. She expanded that search to other church choirs and community choruses. Mary Beland, member of the St. Luke the Evangelist Choir in Westborough, was one of the first to join.

“I received notice from Betsy Sowers (a friend of Todd) that the Journey Home Singers was just being conceived and Kathy was searching around for singers to join,” said Beland who is also a member of the Assabet Valley Master Singers. Recently she invited fellow church choir members Jim Nolan and John McCann to join.

Once assembled, Todde sought to publicize the group. “I work for the Community Advocate (out of Northborough) and they were very supportive,” she said. The newspaper did a story on the Journey Home Singers in 2010 and granted Todd time off as needed to do the performances.

Because they seek to personalize their song selections for each patient, The Journey Home Singers offer a wide repertoire of songs taken from both Christian and Jewish traditions. Soon after the article ran, Todd connected with Mary Poole, once the hospice chaplain at Beaumont Nursing Home in Westborough who assisted Todd in in this effort by supplying the patient’s first name and last initial, faith tradition and condition (responsive/unresponsive).

Beland’s motivation for joining the group was similar to Todd’s. “I was already comfortable with the idea because I sat with my sister while she was dying. She and I shared the same love for music.” She knows that as a ministry, one may not always get feedback from a patient. “If you want applause, you might not get it,” she said.

Nolan feels it is a way to continue to have music in his life while helping others. He too understands that responses will vary although he has noted a “flutter of an eye, a tear, a raised hand” from those to whom he has sung.

McCann was motivated to join because of a rather involved experience he had years ago traveling to Guatemala with his then teenaged son only to return and discover that his brother had unexpectedly passed away. He recalled a moment when he was alone during the trip, surrounded by the wind, noting the quiet and sensing that something was happening.

“In Lo De Bran in the early afternoon, I was sitting alone by a well, on a wall. No one was near me. I was surrounded by a gentle soft warm wind which engulfed me. I felt a little different, but did not think much of it, other than it was very hot … I … felt a very quiet peace.”

When he learned when his brother had been stricken, he realized it had happened while he was sitting by that well. “The Good Lord kept Jim in our presence for three more days, allowing my son Aidan and me to return safely from Guatemala and to be with him. I could never explain how even in the horrors of Jim’s death that God can be so good so as to allow Aidan and me such special moments with Jim just before he died.” It was this experience that prompted McCann to minister to other such people through the Journey Home Singers.

Stories abound of experiences with patients. Todd recalls a man who kept a hymnal near his bedside but was unable to hold the book open due to his condition. “He was a singer – after one song, he joined in even though he really couldn’t hold the book. It made him so happy,” she said.

One experience involved a little girl. “We went into Boston Children’s Hospital to sing for a seven-year-old girl — one of our toughest. She was not conscious and had seizures three to four times a day. The whole family was there, so upbeat. They put their arms around her and sang to her – they would sing along with us,” recalls Beland.

The Journey Home Singers thus fulfills a much needed mission. “If can we talk about dying and be aware of our own death, we can become more comfortable with it and use the time have now in a much more effective, more beautiful way. We’ll live well,” says Todd.

If you are interested in joining The Journey Home Singers, you can contact Kathy Todd at lightsong60@gmail.com or call 508-335-1043.

 

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Come Holy Spirit! In anticipation of Pentecost

This is my column for this month’s Catholic Free Press. May the Holy Spirit give you strength and consolation as he fills you with God’s love and leads you to new life.

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Towards sanctity: the Spirit’s call from fear to love

Sometimes I think I should have been born a house cat. Indoor cats crave comfort and security above all else and this is my priority too.  Have you ever noticed the lengths cats will go to find that perfect spot to sleep? It’s always on the softest pillow, the coziest quilt, the laundry basket full of clothes just drawn from a hot dryer.

jenny and rameses

That pursuit of comfort drives my actions. I will choose to look frumpy rather than wear clothes that bind me in any way. I opted out of going to a favorite spot to watch the spring bird migration because it was cold and rainy. Making comfort my top priority has turned me into a notorious homebody. I’ve become complacent and rigid.

This makes it all the more difficult for the Holy Spirit to affect change in me. How can I grow in sanctity if I am unwilling to give up comfort and security in favor of challenge and growth? Continue reading “Come Holy Spirit! In anticipation of Pentecost”

Back in the choir loft–a humbling and pleasurable challenge

FEBRUARY 26, 2016–Glad to be back in the choir loft

Last night was choir practice. Another night driving in the rain. I’m not good at this going-out-at-night thing; it makes getting up the next morning harder somehow.

I knew that was going to be a stumbling block to joining choir. But I am so glad I joined the choir.

I love how the music lingers in my memory after practice. The radio in my head plays the songs in a constant loop. It creates this peaceful little buzz.

I’ve been listening almost exclusively to choral and classical music for the past several years. Having been in choirs before, I know what it takes to learn these pieces. There’s a lot of tedium involved (and a LOT of waiting  if you’re a soprano like me). I didn’t think I had the patience to learn the music. Besides, despite five years of piano as a kid and a lifetime making music, I don’t read music well.

I also haven’t been in a choir since the 1990s. I did solo singing all that time and now I have learn all over again how to work in a group. It has been a challenge.

A good challenge. A humbling challenge. And a very interesting challenge. And a pleasurable challenge.

Matúš Benian Choir Psallite Deo, Flickr Creative Commons
Matúš Benian Choir Psallite Deo, Flickr Creative Commons

One of the first things I had to learn was how to breathe in a group. Believe it or not, it’s quite different breathing in a group versus solo singing. One night I nearly passed out during rehearsal because I didn’t do it properly (luckily nobody noticed!).

Next, I had to learn to balance the volume of my singing between blending with everyone around me and contributing something to the group. My first inclination was to totally lose myself in the voices around me–that was pulling back too much. Now I am starting to push forward again, still looking for that balance, but contributing more to the group.

Blending with others when you have a heavy vibrato is a challenge! It’s impossible to smooth out my voice completely (and I probably shouldn’t) and I have yet to strike the proper balance. But it will come.

As we learn the pieces, I love meditating on the words. When the music comes together and we sing the song from beginning to end, the prayer becomes sublime.

And then it lingers in my head for days to come.

Yeah, so worth going out at night. So worth getting to church early. So nice being with others at mass, making a joyful noise for the Lord. So great being part of a community.

Yeah, I’m glad I rejoined the choir.

The She-Shed–your dream sacred space? Definitely mine!

How many of you are love in tiny houses? Do you want Tiny House Hunters on HG-TV, secretly wishing you could buy one too?

What makes you want a tiny house?

I know what it is for me–I love how cute they are. And the innovation employed by designers to incorporate storage and privacy along with functionality just knocks my socks off.

And now it’s gone to another level.

Men have their man caves. And now women have their she-sheds!

I saw these two the other day on Facebook and honestly, I couldn’t choose …

Do I pick this one …

she-sheds-garden-man-caves-rustic contemporary
from http://www.boredpanda.com/she-sheds-garden-man-caves/

or this one?

she-sheds-garden-man-caves-gingerbread
from http://www.boredpanda.com/she-sheds-garden-man-caves/

Once I saw the inside though, I made my choice.

she-sheds-garden-man-caves-gingerbread
from http://www.boredpanda.com/she-sheds-garden-man-caves/

It reminded me of the Gingerbread houses in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. I got to do a gig at The Tabernacle there once and stay in one of those adorable houses. I gave a quick tour in this video on my performance:

But I have to say, the rustic house appealed to me too, giving the illusion of living outdoors.

How about you?

What’s your preference? Check out this sampling of she-sheds and pick your favorite. Let me know what you pick and why.

Such fun to dream … maybe someday .. I have a big enough backyard …

Click to Tweet & ShareThe She-Shed–your dream sacred space? Definitely mine! http://wp.me/p2D9hg-1Is

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Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

 

Talking about faith, grief, writing, music, healing and forgiveness

Just a quickie – I had an extensive interview with Patrick Alog on his Music Showcase program on Archangel Radio and we covered a ton of stuff! He did a great job and I am grateful to be able to share about my books, the role of faith in my life, Louisa May Alcott and reading and writing, losing and gaining back my music, and the power of forgiveness.

You can listen here: http://www.archangelradio.com/catholic-music-showcase-featuring-the-music-of-susan-bailey/

And you can listen to the music from the album profiled (River of Grace The Soundtrack) here: http://www.susanbailey.org/books-and-music/river-of-grace-the-soundtrack/

Click to Tweet & Share: Talking about faith, grief, writing, music, healing and forgiveness on Archangel Radio http://tinyurl.com/hhrokz2

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Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog andreceive your free coloring book (and more).

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion