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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Body of Christ and the Gifts we are Given

The second reading for this upcoming Sunday is from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. You may find all of the readings on the USCCB website.

3 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
5 there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
6 there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit;
9 to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit
10 to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes. 12 As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.
13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
14 Now the body is not a single part, but many.

The reading is much longer, but this is the part which summarizes my post for tonight. The reading is about the Church as the Body of Christ; we all have a role to fulfill and gifts to be used in order to fulfill that divine call.

Tonight, I spoke to the RCIA class about these readings, and encouraged them to discern which gifts they are called to share. I also pointed out that God rewards small efforts, and has a way of drawing us in to offering something more. He even has a way of doing this such that we don't necessarily recognize how far we are following His call.

As an example, I briefly shared my experience in High School, for at that time, I was called to Music Ministry. This started out very simply; it was just playing my flute at a couple of Christmas programs. A few years later, as I got better, I was asked to play with the Adult Choir on occasion. Then a youth choir formed, and I both sang and played my flute there. As there were not many young people involved in my parish, the youth choir fizzled out, so I ended up joining the Adult Choir.

At first, I was there mainly as musical support, but I sang, too, learned the music, and eventually, I became a full-fledged member of the choir. But also, because I was a musician and had become fairly accomplished, I was asked to assist the cantors, both with my flute and my voice.

For myself, I enjoyed the involvement, the feeling of being needed in some way, and the fact that the ministry I was engaged in really made this parish my family.

And still, God drew me ever deeper. One Christmas morning, I was scheduled to play my flute at the 8:30 am Mass, and to sing with the Cantor. At one point, the Cantor, who was also the Music Director, thrust the songbook into my hands, ordered me to "Sing this!" and she left to go assist another ministry that needed some immediate assistance.

I was left standing in front of the mike, in front of the huge Christmas crowd, having never sung solo by myself. But I did my best and since it was a song everyone knew, (What Child is This) I don't think they heard my bad note!

After that, they began putting me on the Cantor schedule, first as a sub, then as a regular Cantor. I began singing almost every weekend, and if a soloist was needed with the choir on special occasions, I was often the person asked to solo.

My life was music, and I had aspirations of becoming a professional flautist, maybe even a singer.

Tonight, when I spoke to the class, I spoke of the blessings of becoming involved, of God's gracious benevolence, how He draws us in and rewards our efforts. I spoke of how the parish really became my family, and at that time in my life, while I didn't realize it then, I really needed that parish family. So through our community, the Body of Christ, the Lord gives us what we need. Had I not taken those small initial steps, God would not have been able to give me the wonderful graces He provided during those years.

But I did not share with them the "dark side" of this experience. Father happened to be at RCIA tonight because he was the catechist, and when he began, he told the class that I had just revealed something to him that he did not previously know...that I can sing! And our parish needs Cantors! I told him (and the class) that I don't sing anymore.

Father replied, "We'll talk later."

He did approach me later, and I told him that I don't sing anymore.

He asked, "Don't...or can't?"

I didn't look him in the eye when I replied, only said, "...Maybe a little of both." I told him I'd answer his question later.

Thank God "later" didn't come tonight, although at some point he may ask again.

This issue tears at me, because there IS a reason I don't sing anymore. Maybe I need spiritual direction to sort through it, or maybe God is going to ask me to do this again.

Certainly I do not have the voice I once had, but I think, with training, it would come back. I used to have an amazing range, and I know I can "project". I still remember how to use the diaphragm...that's something I learned from playing the flute, piccolo, and trumpet. So maybe what I consider lacking in my voice can be resurrected for God's glory.

And that's where the spiritual issue comes in; Pride.

Yup. The Bane of my existance, the weight of my spiritual life, the obstacle that (in part) holds me back from holiness.

When I first began to play my flute, I was encouraged to play in front of others, and this was necessary; after all, it's a performance art! I've always been able to sing, but I was a shy child and only sang in front of my parents, otherwise, in classes, I would barely open my mouth. I don't know why, but singing was always hard for me. But the flute was different, because all I was doing was providing the air...the instrument provided the sound. And because I was reading music, I could focus on that and not the audience.

In short, for a shy child, playing a musical instrument is GREAT therapy.

But there is such a thing as going too far.

My entrance into church music ministry came on Christmas, when I played a solo of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen". This was a song that was allowed prior to the advent of complete secularization and "PC" anti-Christian lawsuits, so it was music I learned in my public elementary school. My first experience was actually very humbling...I wasn't nervous until I saw how full the church was that evening, and then as I raised my flute to play, I was it with the most acute stage fright that sucked the wind right out of my lungs! I began shaking and sweating, somehow made it through the song...but my church didn't give up on me.

They asked me back the following year. I learned that what I had to do was focus on this as a "performance" and be a "professional". But in their encouragement of me, inadvertently, people were feeding my pride. Initially, that was a good thing; I really needed a legitimate boost to my self-esteem, and I did practice very hard. I wanted to be good, and as my Mom didn't have money for private lessons, I had to work hard on my own and absorb what I was taught by my teachers.

Over time, my attitude of "performance" also leaked into singing, and as I learned that I actually had a voice, and that people liked it, again my pride was being fed. I overcame my shyness by thinking of "professionalism in performance", and so even though I was singing, in theory, to serve God, I saw each Mass as a "performance".

It was all about me and what I could it playing my flute, or singing with the choir, or soloing, or cantoring.

Sometimes I realized I was serving the Church, and considered that Jesus was present, but really I didn't understand the "Real Presence", that Jesus really WAS present.

I am actually very ashamed now when I think back to those very prideful years.

My pride does not take away from the fact that I did provide a service to the parish, and there is some humility there also when I realize maybe WHY I was there, for certainly, I was called.

So another small point; we are all called to share our gifts...but that does not mean we need to be morally bankrupt to do so. Our gifts should be offered in a spirit of service; not a spirit of "look what I can do!"

Some of this can be attributed to my youth, to maybe overcompensating for my very real shyness. Maybe some solid, gentle teachings of the virtues during that time would have taken the edge off of Pride.

But I have to face it now; I was a monster.

No, I wasn't a "Diva", but I KNEW I was good, and that made me feel somewhat powerful. And since I was the youngest member of the choir, this just fed into the entire thing. My Pride was all internal; I don't know that anyone else realized how I truly felt. I'm quite certain that if they did, someone would have guided my head out of the clouds in a hurry.

But there's more to the story, for God works in mysterious ways.

Throughout those years, Jr. High through High School, my family life was extremely chaotic. We were on welfare, Mom was suffering from her Bipolar illness in extreme ways, and I went to bed in tears nearly every night. Not only did my involvement with the choir and music get me out of that terrible house, but it provided me a safe haven, other wonderful people, a few of whom had an inkling and learned more of our situation over the years.

No one ever treated me like a "charity case", although they did provide a gift of payment for flute lessons. They knew Mom couldn't afford it and they wanted to help. They were welcoming, they were sincere, and...well...they were family.

Thank God for them.

At the end of Jr. High, I nearly committed suicide. In October 2006 I wrote about this. I realize now that, keeping in mind that Jesus was present in the Tabernacle, He called me not only because he wanted me to share the gift I was given, but also to keep me close to Him. I was always at the Church. Whether I recognized him or not, Jesus was RIGHT THERE!

And each night, ironically, I would go home and beg for Jesus to answer my prayers, all the while He was dousing me with the grace of His very presence!

So in the darkest years of my life, Jesus was there, and I did not seek Him was He who called me to Him, my Pride and all.

So why won't I sing now?

Because I have come to recognize Jesus, and have not really "felt" called to Music Ministry at this time. I have told the Lord that if He calls, I will answer, but I will not seek this ministry out...I need a solid invitation. I need to be almost ORDERED to sing again. Because of my Pride.

Right now, when I go to Mass, I love just absorbing it, not worrying about my next song, not worrying about doing the right thing at the right time...because if I stand a little early or late, the motion is absorbed. No one cares. And thus I can focus on what is happening, and focus on "praying" the Mass. I'm still not perfect at this, suffer from amazing distractions, but since I don't have to lead singing, I can try to overcome these temptations. And believe me...people need people around them who can sing.

Yet, tonight, I revealed a talent I used to have, and I know our parish has a need. So I feel guilty at remaining silent on this issue for so long, but what of my Pride? That monster is still around, and I fear that if I become a singer again, that I will too easily slip into that old role and turn what should be worship into a "performance".

I have not told Father all of this, if it comes up, he'll get the abridged version. But for now, I, like Mary, am "pondering this in my heart", and waiting for God to let me know what I should do.

I'm not sure this is something I can discern alone, because it involves the community. What one member of the Body of Christ does or does not do affects us all, so I have to ask: Was Father's comment and inquiry tonight a true call or is God asking me to consider taking that step again? This time as an adult with more understanding, with more knowledge...and with a lesser ability than before. For now, there is some humility to ground me as I will never be "the best" again.

And there is Pride again...because a part of me still wants to be "the best".


Warren said...

I understand what you said, and it's a tricky thing. I think it's also possible that the reticence to sing (because of the pride issue) can also be a kind of iceberg pride. The opposite of pride is the cultivation of the virtue of humility. The positive thing in all of this, is you have a desire for that virtue.

Sometimes the best you can do is just jump back in.
(I took that advice from a lyric in a Steve Earle song.)


Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro: I don't know what to say other then talk to Father and pray and meditate on it.

You raise lots of valid issues. Certainly, you don't want to "miss" Mass by singing. On the other hand, music is a form of participation and prayer too.

No easy answers. Just pray about it for awhile. Could you try it once and then assess what happened?

Deacon Bill Burns said...

We share a common problem. I started playing nightclubs when I was 17. I played professionally until my mid-20s (and again for a time in my 30s). My problem is not so much with music ministries (as I do sing with the Renaissance chancel choir from time to time), but with music as a vocation. I simoply wouldn't oplay the instruments I play for a ministry because they aren't suited to liturgical music (despite what my parish allows).

I play bass and guitar, and I sing. If I were to choose which I do best, I'd have to say that I sing best (although I wish I could say that I play bass like Vic Wooten or Oteil Burbridge). I've written some and recorded some.

My problem is that performing, in the past, was about demonstrating my technical skill, or wowing someone in the audience, or something that was all about me. Even if I were to embark on a career in Christian music, I fear that my perfectionistic tendencies would make it all about me again. I guess I should just put that into God's hands and let him take care of my ego—and in a way, he has. I had attempted to start a band with a friend and former bandmate, but that comepletely fizzled. (We had all of two rehearsals and went through two guitarists and a drummer before the first practice.)

I'm still trying to discern if the Lord wants me to use this gift for a music ministry outside of the liturgy. I still worry about being prideful and having the wrong motivation. However, I've told God that if He wants it, he can have it. I just need a sign from Him.

Good luck with this. I think the fact that the need is present and you fit the space is a pretty good sign.

Adoro said...

UltraCrepidarian ~ I understand what you're saying, but I have to admit...I'm not sure I have the voice anymore. Just because I had it once doesn't mean I have it still. So there is some fear, there, too. But I also remember, in the past, a strong desire to sing, to play my flute, and I would equate this with my current strong desire to teach...which I am fulfilling, and LOVE IT! The cool thing about teaching...yeah, I get the soapbox, but when I mess up, everyone sees it because they aren't also doing something, and they get the opportunity to question whatever it is that I just said. So there's more of a balance. That...and lots of times I don't know the answer!

I think that if we had a choir loft as opposed to an area just to the side of the altar, I would perhaps consider music again because no one but the other musicians and the priests would know it was me.

Cathy ~ This is a large parish. I don't think "trying it once" would work very well. It's an "all or nothing" kind of thing. I'm really not sure about another foray into this. Besides...I LIKE singing as part of the congregation!

Theocoid ~ I didn't know that about you. I pray that God leads you to His will for you with your music.

The flute is definitely ordered to the liturgy, and when played well, really enhances the music. One of the reasons I chose the flute was the quality of the sound, the flow of the notes, which always reminds me of water. It can be joyful, mournful, somber, playful, bright, all those things, and in all "personalities", it is completely dignified.

At times, I had to play my flute because there was no one to play the organ or piano, and people could hear and follow the music I played because it was pure sound; some Cantors apparently think they are opera singers, and people can't sing with them, but the flute can play a simple melody then fall into the background as more and more voices join in. There is simplicity there, and while I can't play anymore (just doesn't have the same sound!) I miss it and maybe one day I'll pick it up again. But I'd need lessons to take the rust away.

But as far as singing...yeah, I can still carry a tune, but I know I don't have the range that I used to have, and even when I WAS a Cantor, I'd worked up to it through the choir, through school choir, and even through constantly singing with the radio.

This is a hard decision, and there's no formal request, just some joshing by Father, but I think I shot myself in the foot...I told him I wanted to teach, and then I began teaching. Since he has witnessed my teaching, he has had no criticisms for me, so apparently, he has drawn the conclusion that if I say I can do something (or could), then I have credibilty of sorts in that thing.

So now I fear I've given him the impression I can do something that I'm not sure I can do anymore. Or should.

It's more the "should" thing, because there have been some terrible singers in my parish.

I just don't want to be one of them. I can be a terrible singer in the pew just fine.


Let me know what happens with your music!

Anonymous said...

i started choir when i was nine, and cantoring when i was 11, and didn't stop choir stuff until i was nearly 21. it felt a bit odd when i stopped, but i knew that i wanted to spend time in the pews reflecting on the Mass from a different perspective. and it's been wonderful, sneaking into the back pew these last few years;-) sometimes i sing in the choir, sometimes i choose not to. fortunately, there is the flexibility to choose every week. and because of the spontaneity of it, i am able to experience much more joy in music ministry. and i probably won't go back into it "full time". maybe because singing in the choir takes me back to childhood/teen years, and singing was my prayer then...and i'm trying to figure out new ways to offer myself up in prayer these days. oh well, sorry for the rambling! good luck with the decision, and, as with so many things, if you find yourself in deeper anxiety imagining yourself singing again, i'd be inclined to suggest it's probably not the best move, at the moment. but i can keep you in my prayers! peace

Anonymous said...

Adoro, have you considered that NOT using the gift of your musical abaility in the parish might be based in pride? If the parish truly has a need, and you have the gift (albeit not perfect / professional any longer), it seems that you need to be offering that gift! You say you don't have the voice you once had. Who said it had to be perfect? You have grown MUCH since your high school years. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt and make the INTENTION Of service, adoration, prayer and praise, and it WON'T become a performance! Pray about it! You remain in my prayers.

PS: If this comment appears twice, please remove the second one!