Category Archives: meaningful music

Reviews and reflections on music that inspires us.

Taking Wing

God gave me my voice.

I think about that every time I open my mouth to sing.

I’m a good singer, I could have been great, but I was not a very disciplined teenage. To be great at anything you have to be disciplined, but to be great at music you have to be practically single minded.

But I loved to sing. I was uncomfortable in my own skin as a teenager, and singing was an escape from that. I could get lost in a song, be someone else for three or four minutes.

I wasn’t Reenie, the chubby teenager from New Jersey when I sang. I was Anna Leanowens, teaching the princes and princesses of Siam, I was Diana Morales fighting for her spot in a Broadway chorus, I was Fantine calling Valjean to heaven with her.

God gave me my voice.

As I got better, I stretched more. I sang “art songs.” There were no characters for these. So I imagined the girls who sang these songs. “Come Again, Sweet Love Doth Now Invite,” was sung by a girl at her pianoforte, in a parlor in the English countryside somewhere. “Caro Mio Ben,” by a maidservant in a renaissance villa while she went about her chores. “Ave Maria,” well, “Ave Maria” was different.

I didn’t hide in “Ave Maria,” there is no where to hide. There’s nowhere to hide in the notes, which move so slowly and deliberately that anyone can catch a mistake. And there’s nowhere to hide in the song. It’s a prayer. It’s the Hail Mary.

Even when I was young and insecure, I was devoted to the Blessed Mother. I cried over the “Ave Maria,” cried with frustration, with disappointment. I knew I couldn’t hide, I couldn’t find another girl to sing this one. That would be a lie, and she would know.

God gave me my voice.

Mary taught me how to use it.

The first time I ever sang “Ave Maria”, in front of people, was at the Mass that celebrated my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary. I was seventeen. I was terrified. My grandpa looked at me, squeezed my hand and whispered in my ear.

“We’re all so proud of you. The Blessed Mother doesn’t care if you make a mistake.”

I was free then. I sang. I hit every note. I cried, but not in frustration, not in fear. I cried in relief.

To this day “Ave Maria” is still the only song I’ve never pretended to be someone else while singing. It’s also the only song that I’ve ever been great on. I know that.

Because God gave me my voice.

Mary taught me how to use it.

And I gave it back to praise her.

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#23 The Truth About Me

Just now I was about to start this post and I made a sudden movement and got a cramp in my foot that was way too painful but just as I opened my mouth to scream, all that came out was laughter…I’ve never had that experience before and it was strange, but I just kept laughing until the pain went away and I feel like it may have even helped…just throwing this out there, I absolutely hate pain and so the only way I could possibly laugh during it would be with God’s help…sometimes, He confuses me…but He definitely takes away the pain!

As some of you are well aware, I have had a recent obsession with the singer Mandisa (okay, still ongoing).  Well I bought her CD a few weeks back when I was in Ohio and at first didn’t put it on my phone right away because I was busy listening to all my Boyce Avenue to get pumped for their concert and then I just had other stuff to do…sort of silly busy schedule stuff really, but I finally put her CD on my phone and (since I have an office to myself almost every day) began to listen to the CD at work.  The CD title is What if we were real (another amazing song) and I recommend it to anyone and everyone because the messages in the songs are amazing!!  You may see a few more of her songs on here while I’m still on this kick (probably Monday…?) but for now, I really fell in love with this song and needed to share it!!

In The Truth About Me, Mandisa has a sort of conversation with God, struggling to see herself in His eyes, knowing that if she could appreciate herself, she would better appreciate the God who created her.  I know at least I struggle with this, but putting it to words is just awesome and this is very well done…okay I’ll let you read and then I will discuss further 🙂

If only I could see me as You see me

And understand the way that I am loved

Would it give a whole new meaning to my purpose?

Change the way I see the world?

Would I sparkle like a star in the night sky?

Would I give a little more instead of take?

If I understood I’m precious like a diamond

Of a worth no one could estimate

I’m a worth no one could estimate

You say lovely, I say broken

I say guilty, you say forgiven

I feel lonely

You say You’re with me

We both know

It would change everything

If only I believed

The truth about me

I wish I could hold on to the moments

When my life is spinning, but I’m peaceful still

Like a wind, You whisper into the silence

And tell me things this world never will

You tell me things this world never will

You say lovely, I say broken

I say guilty, you say forgiven

I feel lonely

You say You’re with me

We both know

It would change everything

If only I believed

The truth about me

I would sleep better at night

Wake up with hope for another day

I would love even if it cost me

Take a chance, and know I’m gonna be ok

I would dare to give my life away

OOOOOOO

I feel lonely

You say You’re with me

We both know

It would change everything

If only I believed

If only I believed

The truth about me

The whole song focuses around what life would be like if we could see ourselves as God sees us.  Everything we would do differently, what it might be like…but it also reveals something about God’s nature to come to us in the silence.  Just when we think we are farthest from an answer, He comes to us and “whispers into the silence”, telling us things “this world never will”.  Gosh that just really made me realize how much we depend on each other for what we should depend on God for!  But it also says to me, no matter what anyone else says or thinks, following God’s will is so much more important!  We could sit around forever waiting for someone to tell us what to do, but God already knows what we will do, what we should do!  He prompts us to continue His will, and sometimes we don’t hear, others we ignore it, but as a fellow blogger pointed out a few days ago (http://faithfullyflawed.com/2012/03/27/but-i-dont-wanna/), we can’t continue to avoid His will, eventually, for whatever reason, we will bend to it.  He has His reasons, we need to trust Him.

Plenty of people have trouble with trusting, but trusting God should be easy.  Should.

Now for my absolute FAVORITE part:

You say lovely, I say broken

I say guilty, you say forgiven

There!  There it is!  A simple conversation with God and all is revealed, He truly loves us by forgiving us and making us whole!  In fact, we are already whole in His eyes!  Man, I just can’t get over this line, I just kept singing it over and over again today because sometimes we feel so broken, but God only sees us as “lovely” because how can we be anything but when we are created by Him?  Also, the simple line of confessing our guilt and being forgiven is classic Reconciliation.  So maybe this line stands out so much because it’s Lent and that sacrament is so present, but it is just so amazing and refreshing to know that we can be totally forgiven of our sins because God loves us so much.  The rest of the chorus is great too:

I feel lonely

You say You’re with me

We both know

It would change everything

If only I believed

The truth about me

It is so comforting to know that God is with us especially at times when we feel so alone.  The last line is particularly frustrating to me because how can I know the truth about me?  How can I know who I am in God’s eyes and what is my truth?  I can’t fathom it, but maybe, one day, I will be able to see…maybe.

God Bless,

*Zoey*

#22 – Discovery During a Self-Imposed Exile

Cherie recently posted an insightful reflection on “Roll Away Your Stone” intertwining addiction, discovery, and redemption. I strongly suggest reading her piece (or revisiting it). Her words allowed my mind to wander inward enough so to spark my first entry in a long while. I’m sure this pleases my fellow writers.

Some close friends know that I take great pleasure in listening to the radio. I find that my daily commute is ideal for reflection while exploring new music on my local independent radio station. For the past few weeks a particular song has haunted me. Bon Iver, a folk group, released “Holocene”, a song that has received praise and noticeable airplay. Without Cherie’s post I would not have considered writing about this song. Deliberately I avoided interviews with the group and the interpretations of fans.

After neglecting to follow through on a commitment, or forgetting a task, there is no worse feeling than being reminded of that particular broken promise.

The little shortcomings and great failures both nag one’s confidence. For a moment we question ourselves. If left unchecked theses cracks in confidence could potentially send fissures deep into one’s sense of self worth. And then we feel as if we have drifted away into uncomfortable territory, far away from familiar waters. We feel alone.

In the lovely refrain, Bon Iver describes these realizations of inadequacy as instantaneous:

“…at once I knew I was not magnificent
strayed above the highway aisle
(jagged vacance, thick with ice)
I could see for miles, miles, miles”

How do we regain our confidence after it has been shaken? Some people dive into favorite activities (like escaping to radio land). But only by facing the reasons why broke our word, and then taking steps to address them, can return on the path toward regaining one’s self-confidence and sense of worth.

Lent provides us with opportunities to voluntarily subject ourselves to various instances of loneliness. Knowing that many Catholics spend this season exploring their own lives and hopefully making needed improvements, we can take comfort in knowing that we really are not alone in encountering our foibles.

The video:

 

What Love Really Means – JJ Heller

What Love Really Means – JJ Heller

As I was driving home, this came on the radio.  It occurred to me that I couldn’t possibly be the only one touched by this song and that really, we should all take a listen and feel His Love embracing us as He calls us to Himself during this Lenten experience:

I wish for you all to take from this what you need to tonight.

God Bless,

*z*

 

Lyrics:

He cries in the corner where nobody sees
He’s the kid with the story
No one would believe
He prays every night
“Dear God won’t you please
Could you send someone here
Who will love me?”

Who will love me for me
Not for what I have done
Or what I will become
Who will love me for me
‘Cause nobody has shown me what love
What love really means

Her office is shrinking a little each day
She’s the woman whose husband has run away
She’ll go to the gym after working today
Maybe if she was thinner
Then he would’ve stayed
And she says…

Who will love me for me
Not for what I have done
Or what I will become
Who will love me for me
‘Cause nobody has shown me what love
What love really means
What love really means

He’s waiting to die as he sits all alone
He’s a man in a cell who regrets what he’s done
He utters a cry from the depths of his soul
“Oh Lord, forgive me, I want to go home”

Then he heard a voice somewhere deep inside
And it said,
“I know you’ve murdered and I know you’ve lied
And I have watched you suffer all of your life
And now that you’ll listen I’ll, I’ll tell you that I…

“I will love you for you
Not for what you have done
Or what you will become
I will love you for you
I will give you the love
The love that you never knew
Love you for you
Not for what you have done
Or what you will become
I will love you for you
I will give you the love
The love that you never knew”

#16 Keeping Time

I have a truly terrible internal clock. This morning, I rolled over at 7:30 and went back to sleep for “a few minutes” until my boyfriend called to see if I wanted to meet for lunch at noon. I’m chronically late despite being almost-ready half an hour in advance. As someone so flummoxed by the basic concept of the sixty-minute hour, I am perhaps an unlikely enthusiast of the Liturgy of the Hours, but I am warming up to this classic Catholic devotion.

I had prayed the Liturgy of the Hours (aka the Divine Office) on retreats and attended the occasional vespers service at the Byzantine chapel on campus in the past; I even have a book of the Office that a friend passed along when he received a more detailed version. Yet the practice never stuck for me. Morning lauds and evening vespers are the most famous of the Hours, occurring at 6:00 am and pm, but I’m usually asleep for one and making dinner during the other. Rather than try to catch myself at a particular hour each day, or have to “catch up” if I accidentally missed one, I decided this week to give the Liturgy of the Hours another shot by stopping at least once a day to recite the Hour that most closely matched the current time. I just started a part-time teaching job at an Orthodox Jewish girls’ school, and I can pray none (3pm) while I walk there almost daily. I’ve adapted the melody of some other hymn (I can’t recall the original) for the words of the none hymn so that I can sing it to myself, and I find its imagery especially effective while walking outside. Here’s the hymn, followed by my very best free-association interpretation 🙂

Hymn for None
O strength and stay upholding all creation,
Who ever dost, thyself unmoved, abide
And day by day the light in due gradation
From hour to hour through all its changes guide:

Grant to life’s day a calm unclouded ending,
An eve untouched by shadows of decay,
The brightness of a holy death-day blending
With dawning glories of the eternal day.

Hear us, O Father, gracious and forgiving,
Hear us, O Christ, the co-eternal Word,
Who, with the Holy Spirit, by all things living
Now and to endless ages are adored.

The first verse calls to my mind those time-lapse videos that show the progression of hours and days over a span of minutes; I’ve always wondered how God prefers to view time and scale, and somehow I feel that the beauty of those time-lapse views gives us an inkling of how God sees time from eternity. The beautiful, orderly picture of nature and nature’s God illuminated by the hymn is very reassuring to me in the midst of uncertainty.

The second verse moves from describing the natural day to the day of one’s life. Rarely do I consider praying for a holy death-day in my personal intentions, but it is common in traditional prayers, including the Hail Mary and the Byzantine liturgy. I wonder, was this was a more frequent concern of the earliest Christians because of the threat of martyrdom or the markedly lower life expectancy in that era? Perhaps it is a natural human thought, but our own sense of security in modern middle America or our culture’s tendency to paper over the reality of death make us blind to it? Either way, I suppose that on that day I’ll need all the prayers I can get, so it makes sense. I also love the symmetry between the lengthening shadows and frequent threat of storms in the afternoon and the prayers for a calm, clear twilight to our lives.

The final verse, in traditional style, grounds the praise and petition of the hymn thus far in adoration of the Trinity, the highest form of prayer. Altogether, the hymn, psalms, and readings of none grant me a spate of peace and reflection in my day before dealing with the hysterics of teenage girls forced to participate in the intrinsic evils of algebra.

Participating in the worldwide Christian devotion of the Liturgy of the Hours has helped me get in touch with the rhythm of the day. Right now, keeping time with God is a fresh experience for me that feels anything but routine.

Interested in the Liturgy of the Hours? I’d recommend a smartphone app (I use Laudate) or a website to keep on track.

#11 Meaningful Music: Roll Away Your Stone by Mumford & Sons

I know some Catholics who love Christian rock and others who loathe it. I do enjoy it when I’m in the right mood, especially as a pick-me-up after a stressful day. Other times, though, it can strike me as monotonous and even whitewashed, and I long for music that reflects the broad emotional range of Christian life. Whether you’re a detractor or a devotee of mainstream Christian rock, I think all can agree that music that suits one’s tastes and conveys a message of faith is a treasure worth sharing. Combining my long love of music with the quirky Jesuit tendency of finding God in unlikely places, I’d like to introduce a theme for this and future posts: meaningful music. I hope that over time, several of us will review new and familiar songs and albums that illustrate aspects of our faith and our efforts to bring about the Kingdom here on Earth. In this first of what I hope to be many installments, I’ll discuss the song “Roll Away Your Stone” from “Sigh No More”by Mumford & Sons. (video)

I heard a few Mumford & Sons songs on the radio that first piqued my interest in the group. First of all, the banjo was such a surprise that I was instantly intrigued by their emotional, bluegrass-meets-Irish-folk style. Beyond the instrumentation, I started to pick out some Christian allusions among the lyrics and I found out that they’re known for literary references. Eventually, I decided to download the full album. I’ve had it for a few weeks and have listened to various songs from it, but it was only when I sat still and listened attentively to the full album that I felt the full emotional/spiritual impact of each song in context.

Before writing my own reflection, I decided to see what the Internet thinks about Mumford & Sons’ lyrics and overall message. Themes that fans report picking up on throughout the album included romantic relationships, faith & religion, and one I hadn’t thought of – addiction. I don’t know much about the band members’ personal lives and I don’t really want to find out, but I am not surprised to find that people who have struggled with alcoholism and other addictions hear an echo of their own journey in the seemingly Christian story the album weaves. What is a budding Christian, after all, but an addict looking to quit his life-long habit of destructive sin? Sinners, like addicts, work to separate ourselves from the vices that have defined us. We seek freedom from our wrong-headed cravings, so that we can desire and pursue greater things. Several of the album’s songs, as I interpreted them, related to this motif. Seriously, I cannot stress enough how awesome the album is to listen to straight through! But for now, I’ll introduce the lyrics to Roll Away Your Stone bit by bit and describe my understanding and reaction to them.

Roll Away Your Stone from Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons
(Song opens with a gentle folk melody)

Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine.
Together we can see what we will find.
Don’t leave me alone at this time,
For I’m afraid of what I will discover inside.

Three years ago, I made a five-day silent retreat in the Ignatian style. As we arrived at the retreat house and took up our sacred silence, I was nervous about what I would find lurking in my mind and heart beneath the bubbly chatter that I naturally produce. Thankfully, I met daily with my spiritual adviser to discuss my thoughts and experiences and introduce the next day’s theme and readings. Although spiritual experiences are intensely personal, throughout my life I’ve found that a truly close mentor or friend makes the sometimes scary experience of self-examination more fruitful. As someone who has struggled with depressive tendencies since adolescence, I can honestly say I’ve been afraid of what I could discover inside. A few friends throughout my life have been willing to roll away their stone with me; my deepest thanks to each of you.

‘Cause you told me that I would find a hole
Within the fragile substance of my soul.
And I have filled this void with things unreal
And all the while my character it steals.

A lot has been said about the God-shaped hole in every person’s deepest soul. When you’re avoiding the Author of the Universe, I think anything or anyone else is “unreal” by comparison. St. Augustine said it best – “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

Darkness is a harsh term, don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see.

It feels like all my bridges have been burnt,
But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works.
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive with the restart.

Here, our narrator is fully experiencing the darkness of his old ways and fear at losing what’s familiar, yet hope is emerging. The long walk home may be so great that safe arrival can hardly be imagined, but he is already welcomed every time he restarts the trek toward holiness. “The restart” feels to me very much like the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It can be truly daunting to consider Christs’ words, “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” yet we know that every feeble attempt to repent our sins and seek holiness is met with sacramental grace and a Father’s love. That fact can give us the boldness to take a stand against sin and evil, a stand against the self, as the song continues…

Stars hide your fires,
These here are my desires
And I will give them up to you this time around,
And so I’ll be found
With my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly empassioned soul.

This is so beautiful to me. I’m stubborn as anything; it’s my nature. So when the narrator takes his native stubbornness and turns it against his sinful self instead of against God, it strikes a chord with me. Also, apparently the first of these lines is a reference to Macbeth, but I don’t know the play well enough to say anything beyond “Google it.”

You, you’ve gone too far this time.
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul which is so rightfully mine.

My translation: “Suck it, Satan”

So if you didn’t know this song, hope you liked it! If you already did, maybe this reflection on the lyrics made it a bit more meaningful to you. What do you think of the song/album/band? Disagree with my interpretation or have something to add? Want to weigh in on the Christian rock debate? What music inspires you? I’d love to get a discussion going in the comments!

Pax,
Cherie

“Cantare amantis est” -St. Augustine
(Singing is for lovers)

Chapel at Retreat House

View from the chapel where I took a silent retreat.

#07 Oh What A Circus: Celebrity Worship, and The Cost to True Devotion

I was listening to Evita today (note: I may be starting quite a few conversations this way in the coming months, over excited as I am for the new Broadway revival of the show which opens in a week and a half.) and got to thinking about a few things. In case you don’t know and shame on you, if that’s the case. I mean, it was made into a movie starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas if you’re that ignorant. Watch it. Or better yet don’t, just download the original Broadway version, starring Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin,(Yeah, Inigo Montoya! He can sing? Did you know?) Evita is a pop opera about the doomed Eva Peron, who was the wife of Aregentina’s President Juan Peron, who may or may not have been a fascist…it’s a little murky when you look into the real historical facts, but as far as the musical is concerned, he was basically a dictator.

What isn’t murky, even when you look into the historical facts, and was the reason why Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber decided to write a musical about her, was that Eva herself was a full blown (and slightly terrifying) phenomenon in Argentina. Even after her death, the military regime that ousted Peron banned her image from being displayed, for fear that the Peronists (Juan’s political party…having a political party named after you doesn’t bode well for the “not a dictator” label, btw) would use her as a rallying point for the people. She was immensely influential.

Evita opens and closes with Eva’s funeral, the opening then truncated by the narrator Che (no, not that Che) declaring that “Aregentina has gone to town over the death of an actress,” and “when they’re bringing your curtain down, demand to be buried like Eva Peron!”

I’ve admitted to being a pop culture junky. I prefer the frivolous, the mass produced and the just plain silly. But even I felt a little sick a few weeks ago when my home state of New Jersey and the whole world seemed to be wildly obsessed with the death of Whitney Houston. Now, I’m not trying to deny deny Ms. Houston’s talent or impact on popular music. She had an immense voice and her hits are unmistakably some of the best in the genre. However, the fact that for seven days the whole world seemed to focus on absolutely nothing else, was a little bit absurd.

When I was listening to Evita, I realized how prevalent this phenomenon is in our culture, maybe not to the extent that it was presented with Eva Peron, but it’s still there. I think about this, think about this disconnect. This ability for our culture to connect with these distant “stars” and yet be so distanced from God and faith.

It’s idolatry in the oldest possible sense, simple as the Golden Calf in Exodus. And it’s a sin I struggle with on a certain level, so I think when I see it on a major level it disturbs me very deeply.

But then on the other hand, it gives us a song like “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” So I can’t entirely disdain the practice…