River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times was my first book, written in 2015. In the book I reflect upon suffering in my life which included the deaths of my parents and the loss of my singing voice. By trusting in God even when I had no idea where He was leading me, I experienced transformation as a result of the creative power of grief.
River of Grace provides powerful personal stories of loss and grief along with creative ways to cope through trust and faith. It’s a book of hope during this difficult pandemic.
To give you a better idea of the nature of River of Grace, I invite you to watch/listen to a 40 minute presentation on the book which also includes some songs that amplify the meaning.
Where to order River of Grace
My publisher, Ave Maria Press, is holding a Labor Day Weekend sale — go to their website for 10% off the purchase price.
I love St. Paul. And I am a woman. Yes, I am fully aware of the famous passages in which he instructs wives to be “submissive to their husbands” and how they are not to speak in public. I believe these passages need to studied carefully for their true meaning for nothing is ever as it seems, but that’s for another day.
I wrote a book about loss and grief. In a second book, I included passages from an author who guided me through my loss and grief.
And yet, I am afraid to share that story with others.
Sounds absurd–after all, both books have been published and are available for the public to see. But I am glad I don’t have to be there when the book is read. Well aware that grief is uniquely tailored to the individual, I feel utterly unqualified to say anything about it, face to face.
Mysterious … unpredictable …
Grief is mysterious, unpredictable, you might even say, capricious. I can’t tell you how many times grief has decided to drop in when I am in front of other people. It has often visited in the form of tears and I have to hide away until it passes. It has also visited on too many occasions when I’ve sung in public, crippling my voice or simply rising up in the form of irrational fear.
Important to share
When I read this story by Claire Fallon, Virginia Woolf’s Guide To Grieving, and how she connected her grieving over the loss of her mother to that of Woolf (both lost their mothers near puberty), I realized it is, in fact, important to share our grief stories.
Comfort through companionship
Fallon derived a lot of comfort from Woolf, not because Woolf offered consolation or answers, but because she was a companion on the journey. Fallon found a like mind in Woolf which helped her work through grief that had been bottled up inside for many years.
Reading Louisa May Alcott did that for me. Alcott offered no quick answers, no “5-step plan,” and certainly no skirting of the truth of suffering and death. Instead, Alcott shared her beliefs about death through her stories and they just happened to match mine. I was numb with grief at the time I took up reading and found that turning the pages of my mother’s antique volumes of Little Women, Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag and An Old-Fashioned Girl (all marked with her personal nameplate) and reading Alcott’s words helped me remember my mother when she was healthy and vital.
The best way to help
My process did not take as long as Fallon’s but it reminds me yet again that the best thing I can do to help someone who is grieving is to just be there to listen. And when it’s appropriate, share a few stories.
The value of writing
Alcott and Woolf had the courage to write it down and share it with the public. Writing has a way of uncovering what is really going on inside of you. Writing doesn’t have to be public to be helpful–keeping a a journal and writing letters to others (handwritten, as opposed to email) can help a great deal. But if you choose to share stories through the written word or through conversation, you have to own it.
A dear friend from my Louisa May Alcott is My Passion blog wrote a wonderful review of River of Grace! This is a really comprehensive review; if you’re wondering what this book is about, Tarissa (the reviewer) summed it up beautifully! Here’s a portion of it:
Susan Bailey shares about the trials and triumphs in her life in her new book River of Grace. She tells how God’s mercy has shown her a greater kind of essence, once she let herself glide along with His unending grace.
A running theme that you learn all throughout this book is how creativity and spirituality go together, hand in hand. Susan illustrates this time and again. Susan pauses to personalize the reading and ask you how you can create new life in your surroundings as you allow the river of grace to run through you. In each chapter, she takes time (and allows you to take time) to reflect and focus on your emotions, thoughts, and defining events in your own life. If you take a few moments to perform the suggested activities, and allow creativity to lead the way, you will be blessed with fresh insight and positivity.
For people struggling with grief, this book shows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Freely, the author doles out the pain she encountered on the deaths of her parents, and how greatly her life changed under those circumstances. She then dispenses the successful tools and mental thought process behind obtaining victory over death. Triumph is available to anyone! This is not a story of how to get over grief fast — but how to deal with it and give your afflictions to the Almighty. You will get through your time of sorrow, and when the grief cycle has ran its course, you will become a more complete person.
This past Wednesday was a BIG day. This arrived in the mail …
But that was not all. I also got the final mix of my soundtrack CD for River of Grace from the producer. And I have to say he really outdid himself. I sent him a text back with 7 hearts – one for each song!
It was one of those rare, extraordinary days that sends you into orbit and you just want to cling to that feeling forever. I will write about it in my journal so I can go back and bathe in that grace, that pure gift from God whenever discouragement knocks on my door.
Now, I would like to share what God gave to me with you.
River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times is a spiritual memoir that reveals how several major losses helped me rediscover creativity and faith. Published by Ave Maria Press, it is described as “Filled with powerful insights on the presence and action of grace–in the Mass and the sacraments, nature and grief, and even through the life and works of Louisa May Alcott–River of Grace guides readers in strengthening their faith, discovering their own hidden gifts and restoring a joy in living during and after tough times.” It contains lots of practical spiritual exercises called Flow Lessons that lead you there. (Some of the Flow Lessons are on this site–check them out here.)
Losing a part of yourself
One of the losses I experienced was that of my singing voice. Yet throughout the writing of River of Grace, I kept thinking of songs that would fit with each chapter. While writing the third chapter on the loss of my voice, I experienced a miraculous healing after receiving a throat blessing on the Feast of St. Blaise.
This song was playing in my head; here’s a passage from chapter 3 on why:
How Can I Keep from Singing • Traditional Quaker hymn
“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 including “I Know That My
Redeemer Liveth” from Handel’s Messiah and discovered to my delight that I could sing them just as I had before. My voice had been restored. I had received a physical healing along with the emotional and spiritual.” (from chapter 3, River of Grace)
New life after loss
River of Grace is also about new life. In the writing I learned that creativity is far more than being able to sing, dance, paint or write. Creativity is all about intention. As the Lord led me on my journey towards a new creativity in my life, I thought of Psalm 103, traditionally read during the Easter season, and this song:
So that’s the big reveal! This project has been my life for the last two years and a lot of the transformation I write about happened as I was writing the book. Gotta love the immediacy of the Holy Spirit at work.
Ave Maria Press is everything everyone said it would be. Totally professional, really helpful, and daring, taking chances on newbies like myself. I am so honored to have a book published by them.
You can order River of Grace (the book) through Ave Maria Press and Amazon. Don’t forget to write a review after you’ve read it!
The CD will be available by the end of October; I’ll let you know when it’s ready.
Fundraiser almost over; still need your help
I hope you are enjoying these clips from the new CD. With the deadline of October 15 looming just around the corner, I still need much help in meeting the goal of raising $1600 to pay for the making of the CD. You can donate at http://igg.me/at/susanbailey. Every dollar counts. If you can only give $5 or $10, I will be so grateful. And for those who can give more, I am offering some rewards which I think you’ll appreciate.
Have you ever wondered just how a song is recorded? It’s rather like building a building from the ground up, or making a layer cake. Here’s a simple demonstration from the recording of “Spirit of Life” (written by Carolyn McDade, Surtsey Publishing Company) for my River of Grace Soundtrack CD:
Recording is a long and tedious process of such layering but it’s fun and rewarding too when you hear the final product. Besides the layering of vocals, instruments are added in (more than you can imagine!). Then the engineer (in this case Ron) makes sure every little piece can be heard – this is done by something called panning. When you listen to a stereo recording through headphones you can pick out how there’s a little guitar here, a little percussion there … it’s all quite fascinating to figure out just what is in a recording of your favorite song.
Special effects are added in as well (such as putting a little echo into the voice, known as reverb. Without reverb, it sounds like you’re singing in a small room. With reverb, it can sound like you’re singing in a cathedral with slate floors (or something a little smaller).
This is just the beginning of the process for “Spirit of Life;” very soon I can show you the final result.
By the way, here’s a peak at the cover for the CD. Longtime readers of Be as One will recognize it:
8 days left … need your help!
With just 8 days left in the campaign I really need your help! Please visit my Indiegogo site at http://igg.me/at/susanbailey and contribute what you can. And thank you!
Thank you to all who have pre-ordered River of Grace! You can find it on Amazon.com.
We all have experienced “triggers” – things or events that causes us to remember something. These memories can be pleasant or unpleasant, and often we are not even aware of what is triggering a memory.
Sometimes we intentionally create these triggers so that we will remember to do something. Before we had Google Calendar and smart phones to remind us, we’d write notes on our hands, tie a string around a finger or create a little ritual that will trigger the reminder to do what we want to do.
This same idea can be applied to the spiritual life. Imagine having something that would instantly place you in the “zone,” that place where you can give yourself over to God. That place where peace reigns within and you meet your Beloved.
Here’s a flow lesson that helps you discover your spiritual catalysts – those triggers that bring you close to God. Try it out and then share in the comments about your spiritual catalysts and how they help you come closer to God.
Materials needed: pen or pencil and paper, and your memories
Pick a quiet place in your home to do this exercise and make sure you can sit still comfortably for several minutes.
Take a moment to be still with God, taking several long and deep breaths and listening as you breathe. In and out, in and out. Be conscious of the rhythm of the breathing. As you breathe in, whisper the name of Jesus; as you breathe out whisper, “Be with me.” Do this for several moments until you feel quiet and still.
Recalling a happy memory
Take a piece of paper and fold it vertically in half so that you have two columns. Next recall one memory, object or smell that makes you feel especially good. In thinking of it, what words pop into your mind? Write them down in the left hand column. What feelings come to mind? Why do you feel that way? Write those down too in the same column.
Brainstorm with these ideas:
Look at your list. Are there any words on that list that you could equate with your relationship with God? Can you match up any of those impressions with how you feel when you spend time with God, either in a formal setting, such as attending Mass or a worship service, or on your own, praying for yourself or others, or simply meditating? In the right hand column, write down any words that pop into your head when you think of your experience with God.
Once your list is done, see if there are any similarities between the list in the left hand column and the list in the right. If you see similarities, draw a line from the word or words in the left hand column to the one in the right. Is there a possibility that in the future, your favorite memory, object, or aroma could prompt a pleasant memory about attending church or simply being in the presence of God?
Pray and Ponder …
Do not be disturbed if you can’t see an immediate connection; it can take some practice. Ask God to reveal it to you over the course of several days and then look at your notes again to see if a connection becomes more evident.
This is from my recent Tech Talk column on Catholicmom.com. Portions of this article were taken from my upcoming book, River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times, from Ave Maria Press. It is available on Amazon.
“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.