Praying for —

those affected by the wildfires in southern California. Randy lives quite close to that area, and he’s posted some photos and video on his website that I find alarming.

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i love my cat

Dateline: The Farm. 3:45 a.m., September 27, 2005

I am sleeping deeply, enjoying a very pleasant dream (can’t remember now what it was about), when it happens. First the heavy weight going across my back. From the way my body feels as I wake up, I know I am in need of a chiropractic adjustment I don’t have the money for right now. Never mind — try to go back to sleep.

Sleep, however, is impossible. A soft paw pats my face. “Meow,” says the one cat on the planet bold enough to wake me up in the middle of the night. Bubba-Thor wants something. He can wait; I roll over. He follows me, walking back across my back and patting my face on the other exposed cheek. I raise my arm to cover my face. He persists.

Now, what he wants is food. The cat food bag is standing on the floor, wide open — all he has to do is stick his nose in the bag and he can eat all he could ever want in one sitting. There is even a saucer on the floor with bits of fat from the ribeye steak I ate for supper last night. This is also a cat that easily will top the scales at more than 20 lbs. Bubba could very well wait… two and a half hours for breakfast. But, oh, no, what this cat wants is for me to get up and fill his bowl. Now. No excuses, no delays.

If I ever want to be allowed to sleep again in this lifetime… I get up, go fill the stupid bowl, stop by the lgr (little girls’ room) and go back to bed… where I lie in bed, tossing and turning, wide awake. Boogers!

And that is why I am posting to my blog at 4:30 a.m. Maybe, with a little luck, I can get about another hours’ sleep before I have to be at work?

His Yoke is Easy

Another of the choruses in Messiah is “His Yoke is Easy,” taken from Mt. 11:30. It follows immediately on the heels of the wonderful Alto and Soprano Airs, “He Shall Feed His Flock” (which I sang for my audition, anyone’s interested) and “Come Unto Him.” The airs are a gentle, serene legato (smooth and connected); the chorus completes the passage with a light, airy series of melismas — a single syllable sung over multiple notes (think how the word “Gloria” is expanded over many notes in “Angels We Have Heard on High”) — “His yoke is easy, and his burthen is light.”

The joke is, the piece isn’t easy! In fact, my section leader sent us the notes on this chorus in an email entitled “His Yoke Is Easy — but this piece isn’t!” It’s hard work perfecting those 16th-note melismas so they sound light-hearted and airy and even playful, rather than heavy, thumping and downright pedestrian.

It occurs to me, practicing at the piano last week and this, that this chorus is a great metaphor for being a Christian. His yoke is easy, His burden is light… but to train ourselves to take it up and joyfully to fling ourselves into His life of grace is a hard lesson to achieve. But look! I spend minutes each day at the piano, working out these runs in very slow and plodding steps so that, when December 11 rolls around and we’re performing this cantata before an audience, I’ll be able to trip those 16th notes as lightly as a feather floating through the air, or a child skipping a rope in unself-conscious joy. I practice similar exercises in prayer, spiritual discipline and attempted obedience so that in the really crucial hours of need I can lightly, gracefully perform that service for which God is preparing me.

It’s all about preparation, practice.

Reflections on a Mission

I began this blog in April with the intention of sharing pithy reflections and insights on the Christian life but it quickly deteriorated to the general sort of “oh look isn’t this cute” sort of outlet. Well, I needed the practice and the warm-up, I suppose; I certainly wasn’t experiencing the pithy sorts of thoughts and insights I had wanted!

I think the direction of this blog is about to change — I hope for the better. My parish, St. Anthony of Padua, had a Mission this week. For my non-Catholic friends, Mission is kind of the Catholic equivalent of Revival services, with a very important twist: it seems that in the evangelical circles where I hung out for more than 20 years, revival was a strong emotional stirring-up. It took my introduction to Keith Green’s Last Days Ministries to introduce me to the revival literature of the 19th century, particularly that of Charles G. Finney to point me to a direction of the deepest meanings of revival. The Catholic Mission goes even deeper than that.

The first Mission I attended was at this same parish, back in ’97, given by the Redemptorist Fathers. One of the Fathers with us that week — when I was very much drawn to the Church but not ready to dive headlong into converting — gave a homily (sermon) on the Crucifixion that was the most powerful I had ever heard. I’d been told the Catholics don’t get preaching like that. They most certainly do! And some of us are blessed to be able to get high-quality preaching every day.

Well, this Mission was also an answer to prayer for me. Fr. David Wilton of the Fathers of Mercy was our Mission speaker. Over the course of five days and six talks, he led those of us in attendance into a deeper union with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ — beginning with the promise that “God has a plan” to the effects of sin and the importance of Confession, the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of Faith, morality and love, and finally “The Importance of Prayer.”

I didn’t feel my emotions stirred up and manipulated. There was no hollering or dancing about on the altar or raising of hands or any of the outward and superficial signs of religious fervor — but everywhere around me, I felt people bending their heads forward and saying “yes” to a deeper life of faith and fidelity to Christ.

I certainly said “Yes” several times over this week. I went to Confession on Wednesday night and laid before my spiritual director and friend, God’s representative to me, my most grievous and recurring sins, found forgiveness and the strenght to begin anew… again (for the umpteenth time).

I hope that from this point on my blog will be both a celebration of Faith and an encouragement in Faith. I’ll probably be posting more about things that resonate with my own needs as I strive to be “remade in the image of Christ” — about being “born again,” Confession, the Eucharist, vocation, exploring a possible call to religious life… The most intimate details of our lives are also the most universal, so I can only hope that my thoughts and reflections will have some effect of helping me and my new friends grow closer to the One Who calls us to take up our cross and follow Him.

Pray for me.

Messiah rehearsals begin

Okay, for those of you who haven’t been able to view the entire page of Randy’s website (and I can’t on this laptop) — what I was trying to send you to was his charming and touchingly loyal announcement that I have been accepted to sing in the North Carolina Master Chorale during this new season.

Rehearsals began a week ago, and we’ve begun the season by taking a flying (and I do mean flying! dizzying! overpowering!) overview of Handel’s Messiah, which will be our Christmas concert on December 11.

Messiah is an amazing work. If you’re not familiar with it you’re missing a right treat. Georg Frideric Handel was a German-born composer who settled in London. In 1741, he undertook to write an oratorio on the life of Christ; tradition holds that he completed the entire oratorio — some 53 chorases, arias and recitatives — in exactly one month. Of course, he was using the text of Scripture as his libretto (words), and I suppose music just doesn’t have a better starting place!

Even our rehearsals are proving to be a religious experience — and I’m saying that based on two very fast-paced fly-throughs. I’m sure it will become far more intense as we address the choruses in intricate detail in coming weeks.

Last night we looked at the dramatic chorus, No. 28, “He Trusted in God.” Since the very nature of an oratorio is to present a dramatic work through music alone, without the aid of actors or scenery (which would make the production an opera, which was prohibited during Lent in those days), the choruses have to carry the audience forward in imagining the drama represented by the music. “He Trusted in God” is the mob scene at Jesus’ trial, and it starts out with one angry voice, the baritone section: “He trusted in God that he would deliver him; let him deliver him, if he delight in him.” The tenor picks up the theme, then the altos, finally the sopranos — one voice, one section, a riot ensues. Over and over, round and round, the mob scene intensifies; only the one sentence is repeated over and over without interruption by other ideas: He trusted in God that he would deliver him; let him deliver him if he delight in him!

We, the chorus, momentarily become the angry mob demanding the crucifixion of the Lord who was utterly and completely without Guilt. By our voices, we rage in utter contempt of Him who was blameless, demanding His Blood.

It’s a passionate chorus, and for a moment I feel a little too much identification with the rabble; it will be better in a few minutes when we become the Voice of the Psalmist, lightly invoking “Lift up your heads, o ye gates… that the King of Glory may come in!”