healing and growing

even after having been settled into the married life for close to five years, I still have so many questions about what my vocation means, and what my womanhood means, and what humanity means. I think a lot about what it means to be a woman, what it really means, wanting to get past the arbitrary exterior stereotypes (e.g. women have long hair, women are soft-spoken, women cook well, women wear pastels), but I always end up musing on what it means to be simply human.

and maybe that's suitable, because in the first place (philosophy time) any ultimate interior distinctions between male and female can't be so great as to separate us into separate species; but also because it's hard to understand fully what woman is and even what I, the individual substance, without understanding what it is to be human, and what humanity was meant to be.

I was thinking about masculinity and Aragorn the other day, and how powerful and challenging it is that his kingship is not recognized in his prowess as a warrior, but in his ability to heal. "the hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known." and of course this is so manifestly Christlike as well, because Christ, in defiance of all expectations of what the Messiah would be, didn't come to earth to conquer oppressors by the sword, but to the heal the wounds of humanity through His death and resurrection.

it's interesting to read it in conjunction with Eowyn's awakening to her vocation, so to speak, because so often the power of her movement from yearning for battle to yearning to grow and heal is reduced to an agenda that suggests that she moved from trying to operate in what is properly a male sphere to accepting her role as female. to me it seems like she moved towards embracing what humanity as a whole is meant to be: "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks."

her journey from warrior to gardener and healer is one that Faramir accompanies her on, and one that is paralleled by Aragorn, whose kingship is revealed through his healing hands, and is further confirmed when he plants a sapling in high places and "the Tree that was withered [is] renewed," as the Eagles sang.

Christ is the king-healer, but His Mother Mary, through her great fiat, has also tilled the earth and brought the healing of redemption upon it, as Hildegard von Bingen expressed so beautifully in her song O clarissima

O radiant bright, 
O mother of a holy medicine, 
Your ointments through your holy Son 
you’ve poured upon the plangent wounds of death, 
by Eve constructed as torture chambers of the soul. 
This death you have destroyed by building life.

when humanity becomes what it was intended to be, male and female, it is not a warrior, but a gardener. it was in the garden that man was put, to till and to keep it, with woman by his side, and it was in that setting that they walked and spoke with God.

the decision to abandon battle for the life of the gardener and a healer mirrors both a return to humanity as God created us in the beginning and a decision to participate with Christ in His redemptive healing of humanity.

and this is the part where I put in a reminder that I'm not really writing ordered and cohesive essays here, but sort of musing aloud. I don't know where this ends or what precisely it means when it comes to how I need to live out my humanity and vocation. but here in our recently snow-graced woods, it's what I'm thinking on.

the ancient things

lying under sweet-scented cedar trees on one of the last warm days of january. the smell of earth as the baby digs her hands into it and buries her legs, and the sound of giggling as the girl plays hide-and-seek with her dad and a stick. my heart caught between the two of them and my mind wandering now among the dead fern and now up to a blue cloudless sky. thoughts caught between the earthy and the divine, summed up in whole by the psalms:

before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.

our small bodies held upon these ancient mountains, reminding us of something more ancient still.

when he passes by to hide the stick again, I touch his hand and we smile. that too - the love that sustains us - is ancient.

rain and work and silence

lately we've been lulled to sleep every night by the sound of rain on our roof, sometimes gently pattering and sometimes a loud and steady thrum. in the mornings we go down into the forest and the smell of damp earth and fir and cedar seem to fill not just my lungs but my heart and mind as well. it's exhilarating and calming all at once. 

I don't really have any big plans with this blog, which is good, because lately I seem to be unable to synthesize my thoughts into an ordered focused post. having two small children keeps me from having any guarantee that I can sit long enough for that. here it's more like the smatterings of ideas that later are expanded on in long real life conversations that can be had while circling a room with a baby in my arms, or making lunch for my three-year-old, or folding laundry. it's hard to sit down and type it all out, though.

I've been thinking about the word acedia and all that it implies, and all of the history behind it. I've been thinking of how our culture of productivity could in many ways just be an offshoot of acedia, even though earnest work is also a remedy to it. where's the line between rising above the procrastination and the sloth and the discontentment in our everyday drudgery to serve faithfully and consistently, and exploiting work to distract us from ourselves and the voice of God? if we fill our days with enough noise and activity, we can convince ourselves that everything is all right, because we're doing something, when really what's at the heart of it is that we're running from the most important things.

and where, I wonder, does our deep need and our deep fear of silence come into this? Sami wrote about silence, summing up what all of us must feel at some time or another: that it's frightening, and soul-shaking. I think it's probably supposed to be. I often wonder if the fear is two-fold. on the one hand, there's the fear of encountering ourselves, as we truly are, in the silence, and hence feeling compelled to change. but on the other hand, maybe we're also afraid of encountering God as He truly is. it's easier to meet Him in the safe sentimental veneer of some very bland smiling portrait of Him or some poppy musical piece that makes us feel big but safe emotions.

it's not just that I might encounter the "unpleasant parts" of Him, like His justice or His might. it's the power of His love and mercy as it really is that makes me hesitate. true raw exposed intimacy in a relationship is beautiful but also terrifying. and true intimacy with Love Himself, on His terms, lifted out of our gentle safe feelings about Him into a vision that our minds just can't comprehend, triggers all of my flight instincts.

but, in the scattered way I mentioned before, I have to leave it there. not only do I have the girls to attend to, but I also have a lot of reading do still for our family weekend book discussion. we're reading mulieris dignitatem and I don't know how we'll ever manage to unpack it all. but if I'm going to try, I should probably read it all first.

christmas odds and ends

i. every year of celebrating Christmas with my children is more wonderful than the last. this has been the most magical to date since I was a child myself. 

ii. whether you go to the vigil Mass or the midnight Mass or Mass during the day, it's never a bad idea to play For unto us a Child is born really loud when you get home. 

iii. I gush about this all the time, but the divine office is such an incredible prayer. it keeps you so grounded in the ebb and flow of the year. when you go from one morning chanting Your light will come Jerusalem; the Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty, almost feeling the glow of that sun soon to rise, and then the following morning chanting things like A little child is born for us today; little and yet called the mighty God, alleluia, alleluia and Let the earth ring out with joy for you have come, there's no escaping the glorious reality that after a season of waiting, He is here and light and joy have broken over the mountains.

iv. Christmas can be a rather arduous time as a church musician but it's also incredibly rewarding. and speaking of that, I've realized these past weeks while learning multiple alto parts for hymns and mass parts that they don't get the credit they deserve. singing alto requires such a unique skill compared to the skill of just singing the melody line, but they really ground the choir. respect, altos. I feel pretty darn honored to be singing alongside you lately.

v. apparently getting all your Christmas wrapping won't ensure that you get to bed earlier as you hoped... because you'll still have to sit up with a wide-eyed three-year-old girl who just can't sleep because she wants to know again and again, after closing her eyes for a few seconds at a time, "did Santa Claus and Baby Jesus come yet?"

vi. Christmas carols are so wonderful. they never seem to get old. there are also a lot of other incredible far more ancient pieces for Christmastide. just a few of my favorites:

vii. in family life, Advent is the time you spend in peace and quiet and contemplation. Christmas in the time when everything comes crashing in with lots of noise and laughter and love. and my introvertive monastically-inclined heart is finally learning that that's ok. this isn't filler noise that dominates our life because we're trying to shrink from what silence tells us. it's fundamental noise that brings us into the middle of our community and keeps us from shrinking from them.

a new snowfall

after a grey cold windy morning, spent sitting by the fire reading books and wrapping presents and trying to put the last finishing touches on our Christmas prep so we can turn our full attention to preparing music for the masses this weekend...

...it finally came. 

the peace and stillness of a new snowfall fills the forest, and suddenly the indoors, with its soft warm firelight, is ten times cozier. 

you'll find me tonight curled up by the fire, after a large dinner, chanting the last prayers of vespers with my husband and reflecting on the words of tonight's antiphon. another day falls into the quiet darkness, and our forest paths wind ever closer to Christmas and the rejoicing of the angels for God made Man.

O Key of David, O royal power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heaven; come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom. O CLAVIS DAVID

Christ in the snow

I honestly can't even believe how much my heart is aching for snow this year.

winter are long and cold in our mountains. in April, when so much of the rest of the world is reveling in blooming lilac bushes and the bright colors of wildflowers spreading across the hills, we're still sitting by the window looking out at feet of snow and waiting for our own spring, which won't be until June. and spring is the month of my heart. it's full of whimsical magic and every morning is a new invitation for small adventures on woodland trails winding under budding dogwood trees.

and I'm sure that April will be restless this year as well, waiting and watching for the winter to finally end and the spring to come.

but there's a new little voice in me, something very quiet but insistent, whispering, "let the snow come."

it came for the first time a few weeks ago, and we spent the morning outside building snowmen and throwing snowballs, and by the end of the day it was already almost gone. it hasn't been back since, and I miss it so. 

of course something has to do with the inevitable stillness that falls across the forest when winter comes in full force. those of us that live in snowy climates know the gentle hush that it brings across the terrain, and the way that it disposes everything inside of us to still as well. and it's easier to find God in that stillness (oh I could write so much on that). 

but the snowfall seems to me to make the rest of the world more vividly alive, as well. against such a bright and sterile background, each little living detail of the forest is brought to the foreground. our morning walks bring us into closer encounters with the little brown junco birds and the quiet grey squirrels that usually blend into the woods behind them.

and I too feel bare when I walk in the snowy forest, exposed and vulnerable, with no way to disappear into the backdrop of rocks and trees. I am vulnerable not only to the world around me, but to myself, and, it feels like, to grace.

I suppose it probably is rooted in the stillness of the snow that I mentioned earlier. in the silence we are exposed to ourselves and to God. the world is distilled around us and everything is poised for an encounter with the Divine. the soul seems like the snowy forest, hushed and waiting, the place where we will meet, He and I, our figures stark against a bare but beautiful background. it will be still and pure, and just us, meeting in the silence.

and that must be my answer right there, to fill the hours of sitting by the window, this time waiting for the snow's coming instead of its leaving, with letting it fall inside, washing my soul clean and filling it with the rich poignant silence where He comes to find us. so then, when the snow comes, it will only remind me to return again and again to that quiet place within where we meet.

december days

READING || the game of thrones series, for a second time, to keep my husband company while he reads it for the first. the anne of green gables series, a reread so often repeated that I've lost track of how many times it's been. on the incarnation by St. Athanasius, because what better time than Advent to meditate on the Word made Flesh.

WATCHING || ever so slowly carving out bits and pieces in my weeks to watch the crown.

LISTENING || Palestrina's alma redemptoris mater and Bach's wachet auf, ruft uns die stimme

THINKING || about silence and how imperative it is in the spiritual life, and why it makes us uncomfortable. it's fascinating that so much of our traditional art and music (think icons and chant) are like expressions of silence. I wonder if that's a reason that they also make us uncomfortable. like silence, they open the way for an intimate encounter with the Divine, and we feel like it's safer to keep the relationship on surface-level emotional terms.

SINGING || la ci darem la mano with my husband, on quiet evenings when we don't have much else to do. singing anything and everything from Mozart by myself. trying to learn how to sing alto for our choir (I'm a spoiled soprano and it's hard).

PLANNING || the music for the last two masses of the season. blog post ideas. celebrations for Gaudete Sunday.