Life-giving Music

I recently was honoured with the responsibility of leading the music at Mass for the first time in my life. 

Although music has always brought me the deepest joy, it never seemed to stand out as one of my superior talents–it was my acting skills and my ability to teach well that I received the highest praise for–and in music, I did well and was praised as very musical, but I did not stand out as a top achiever. In short, God did not put me on this earth to become a concert pianist, but I confused this recognition of my limitations with the thought that I was simply not cut out for a career in music beyond teaching. Ha!

This past week, kneeling before the Lord in the Tabernacle as I visited the church to practise, I marvelled at how He had brought me here full circle: my high school dreams of leading music for the Church were being fulfilled even though I had long ago assumed my musical talents were not sufficient for anything but teaching. My voice, I knew, was fine, but I had often been told it was best suited for a choir, and my piano performance skills were decent once I’d practised sufficiently but I showed no extraordinary natural aptitude. I thus assumed the lowest place at the table, so to speak, and left it at that.

But it was always in my heart to make music for the Lord. In planning our wedding, my favourite aspect was choosing the music; likewise when we planned our son’s funeral–choosing the hymns brought me the greatest joy and consolation. At Mass, I have often thought about how I might do things differently from how the musicians there were doing it. When, as a teenager, I was struggling with life generally speaking, I would turn to the Lord with my Bible open to the Psalms and sing them, totally improvised. It was always music that I turned to to express the deepest parts of my soul, and it was through music that my husband gradually insinuated his way into my heart. Music, if you will, is the language of my soul. It only seems right, then, that I would find it the most natural means to communicate with my God and to offer Him praise.

Before playing for my first Mass, I knelt and prayed, “Lord, I love you. Please, if it is your will, take away the nervousness I feel, for I wish to play for your glory and honour only. Only if it is your will. Let me play not for my vanity, but only for your glory. And, Lord, please use me to bring others closer to you. May the beauty of the music I offer this evening draw others to recognize you more fully. If there is someone who comes this evening whose spirit is weary, may my music help to refresh his soul, as so often I have turned to music for refreshment.”

It was at this moment, when I said this prayer, that I fully recognized what had been dawning on me this entire week: that there is no question that, through music, I could serve the Lord. And, it seemed, since I was there, it did not matter that I was neither a concert pianist nor a professional, trained singer. Through loving the Lord through my music, I could (and probably would) bring His love to others.

I played. I was a little nervous, certainly, but I kept reminding myself that I was playing for love. As I was warming up before Mass, I fell upon a certain hymn that means very much to me: I played “O God, Beyond All Praising.” This hymn I had chosen as the closing hymn for my son’s funeral Mass. That evening, as I “performed” it for the first time in church, I remembered this, and it strengthened me, reminding me that my son was present there in the Communion of Saints, that he was praying for me. It was a moment of great joy, singing this hymn of praise in union with my departed son: “and whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill, we’ll triumph through our sorrows and rise to bless You still; to marvel at your beauty and glory in Your ways, and make a joyful duty our sacrifice of praise!” 

I made many, many mistakes in the music. Most were probably not too obvious, but a few undoubtedly were. I realized that I had chosen some rather sombre, slow, traditional hymns and hoped it wouldn’t have the effect of lowering spirits. I was satisfied with my performance, primarily for having faced my huge fears of playing in front of others when I am all too aware of my limitations, but I did not impress myself. However, I had come to play for the service of God and others, and my own vainglory was not really a factor in any of this, so I did not take this much to heart.

Still, God knew that my heart’s quiet prayer was that I might receive some affirmation that I had done well for Him, and He inspired a few people to thank me for sharing my talents.

My talents! I feel like the poor widow putting her two pennies into the collection box! Somehow God has taken those two pennies and made much of them! I am in awe of His goodness. 

For a long time, I have been struggling with my relationship with God since Matthew’s diagnosis and death. It just went cold. I still loved Him, but more out of obedience and the discipline of a love long established. What love I felt was tinged with nostalgia and sentimentality, or at the very least a great sense of distance. It was as though an old flame had moved far away, and to be entirely honest, I didn’t much miss Him. I didn’t really want to have much to do with Him. My interest in prayer was non-existent; I would observe the Six Precepts of the Church and attempt to pass on the Faith to my children, but there was no flame. My heart had been shattered, and it’s hard to feel warmly towards someone who allowed such intense pain, even if you do trust Him completely.  It was a dark night of the soul that lasted two years.

The past few weeks, however, as I have begun to rekindle my own engagement in playing the piano regularly, I’ve noticed a softening in my heart—especially as I have been practising hymns, and most powerfully when playing in church. A little spark of joy has been relit and is being fanned into a great flame. Where for so long I had lost much sense of closeness, His loving presence is no longer seemingly hidden from me . He has spoken to me in the language of my soul, and He has healed my wounded heart.

It is through music that God has once again drawn me out of darkness and given me new life.

Joy!

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