A month ago while attending mass we sang a song I had not heard in years. It triggered a happy memory; in my mind’s eye I was back in my cantor’s place, playing that song on my guitar, singing, and leading the congregation.
It had been a long time since I played that song. It had also been over five years since I had enjoyed a happy memory of cantoring.
The next phase of healing
A while back I wrote about losing my singing voice and then having it restored when my throat was blessed on the Feast of St. Blaise (see previous posts). I described how that healing was more than physical—that there was an emotional healing as well. That healing unfolded over time; I consider it now complete with that pleasant memory of playing and singing as a cantor.
It would prove to be the prelude to the psychological portion of the healing yet to come: how to deal with the fear of performing in public again, especially when it was in public that my voice would fail me.
Five years ago I made a pledge—that I would never again be controlled by fear. I made a conscious decision to accept what I deemed as invitations from God, even when those invitations aroused dread within.
Two weeks ago I received such an invitation, one that inspired so much fear that it felt oppressive. After that sweet memory of cantoring, God was issuing me an invitation—to go public again with my singing.
Sounds simple enough. But to me, cantoring was that was the proverbial monster in the closet. It was as a cantor that I suffered mortification as my voice failed in spectacular fashion in front of a full church. Not once, but several times.
Fear was staring me in the face. Sitting on my shoulders, leaning on me, unrelenting until I decided how I would respond.
My response? “I’ll think about it.”
I kicked the can down the road. I told God I would “pray on it” when I knew full well I was supposed to accept that invitation.
God then responded with sweet mercy that I did not deserve. It came through that interview with The Priests (see previous post). In listening to them I was struck as they described how they reflect on the lives of their parishioners while they sing. They don’t think about performance techniques. They don’t worry about their voices. They aren’t swept up in their fame.
They are thinking about people like you and me.
That gave me great pause. It was time to get over myself and accept God’s invitation to cantor for my parish. I knew then I would have to run straight into my fear.
Taking the plunge
So, I offered to sing at the 9am mass on Easter morning. Fortunately I forgot that it was the children’s mass and that the church would be packed to the rafters. I forgot too how difficult it can be to get parking and how little time there is between the masses on Easter to set up the equipment and get ready.
I didn’t remember until the day before and then I was really afraid! I could feel fear rising up inside of me, paying no heed to my mind which said simply, “Practice, prepare and you will do just fine. Keep your head about you and own the moment.”
I knew in my mind I could do it. But the fear raged on nonetheless.
I broke out in a cold sweat and felt pressure on the chest. Fear pressed down to my gut.
I knew I had to run headlong into it. I called on St. Paul to come with me. He’s good at dealing with fear. And he has always come quickly to my side when I needed bolstering.
Time to face the music
I stood in front of the packed church, guitar strapped over my shoulder. It was ten minutes before mass and I wanted to sing to the people to help them get into the mood. It would also help me to work out my fear.
Some things you never forget
As I started playing and singing, the song flowed out of me as if I had never stopped cantoring. The mass began and I led the people in the opening hymn; the church filled up with voices singing “Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!”
And at that moment I understood.
This is what it means to be living in the present moment. This is how you conquer fear.
You own that moment. You claim that moment. You call it out and hand it over to God and you stay rooted in that moment.
And fear cannot harm you.
Oh, you will feel afraid! That’s a given. But feelings cannot control you if you stay rooted in the moment. This where God can best help you because he is always in the moment. Time has no meaning for him.
Be not afraid.
St. John Paul II was famous for that expression. But I don’t believe he meant that we were never to experience fear.
I understand now that “Be not afraid” means fear will not conquer. It will come and it will go, and you will still be left standing if you call out that fear and give it over to the One who knows no fear.
The monster in the closet shrinks perceptibly when you name it, claim it and push through it with the Lord at your side.
And that’s what happened on Easter morning. The longer I sang, the more fear retreated. Fear is a coward when confronted.
Fear will try to come back each time I sing. But it will never again control me.
What has caused you fear and how did you overcome it? Maybe like the woman in the picture we just do it one step at a time, knowing our Friend is at our side.