Singing for Hope and Joy

Something is amiss this Christmas Season…

True. We are all trying to survive a pandemic and we are all affected by it in different ways.  However, Christians previously struggled and never failed to be joyful during the Advent and Christmas season.  So, why do I find it so difficult to ignite that spark in my heart to feel hopeful and joyful this year?

I wonder…I wonder if it could be the lack of singing as a community that puts a damper in my spirit!

Something happens when we sing.  When we feel the vibration from singing within the cells in our bodies, we are invigorated! When we sing with a community, we are encouraging one another with the meaningful lyrics that are readily understood by the other, responding to others by singing the exact same words that they offered! It’s true that we sing to praise God in our communal worship, but we also sing as one Body of Christ and get that mystery through the embodiment of our beliefs. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand and agree with the need to not sing together during this pandemic.  I read many good scientific reports on the possible spread of the coronavirus through respiratory droplets and aerosols. We really should not aid the transmission of this terrible virus with our vocal projections.  That said…I think there is a really a huge loss for our worship and spiritual experience when we cannot sing together at church, especially during this Advent and Christmas season.

Advent hymns are all often filled with hopeful messages, such as “Come, O long expected Jesus born to set your people free…from captivity”, “In sorrow that the ancient curse…You came, O Savior, to set free Your own in glorious liberty”, or “When hope shall sing its triumph and sadness flee away.”  These hymns were sung through generations. The words remind us of our Hope was here, is here and will be here, no matter what circumstances in which we find ourselves. Sure, we may hear a single cantor singing those words for us, but we will simply be bystanders to those words and messages. In fact, most hymns are not even sung with all the stanzas by the cantor at church these days. Without the congregation joining in singing, music is treated more like decorations to our liturgies. In the last few months, I often hear one single verse of the first hymn sung by the cantor, just long enough for the priest to reach the altar from the church entrance. The first hymn is no longer a gathering hymn. To me, there is simply nothing like feeling the vibrations of every syllable in our bones for the messages to be hammered into my soul.   

Earlier, I checked out Christmas hymns from hymnals of several Christian congregations. I realised our Catholic Book of Worship has only three stanzas for Joy to the World, compared to the printed versions of the same hymn in hymnals of other denominations.  I wonder why the third stanza of the original Joy to the World is left out from our hymnals. Perhaps, whoever compiled the hymns thought we should only focus on the joyful glories of the Lord?  The original third stanza reminds us that God’s blessings flow, regardless of sins and sorrows in our lives. For our sakes during this pandemic time, I think it is good to remember He rules the world with truth. That would include our first parents’ original sin, our pains and sorrows, and all the frustrations that come with our current pandemic.  There should be no fear of singing about that as we sing that at the end, the wonders of His love will bring us Joy to this world.

I prescribe myself one possible antidote for the lack of Hope and Joy this season: To sing my heart out, preferably with someone in my household.  We still have a few more days of Advent.  Let’s sing all the Advent hymns we know. And if no one else in your household would sing with you, there are lots of good recordings with lyrics on screen on YouTube. It’s not too late!

Wishing you a Hopeful and Joyful Christmas!

When did you last see the face of God?

Seek His Face Always

Last weekend, my family took the time to watch the Tom Hanks’ movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  The movie is about the encounters between the popular children’s show host Fred Rogers and the magazine journalist Lloyd Vogel, who was assigned to interview Mr. Rogers. Those encounters ended up being opportunities for Fred Rogers to help Lloyd heal an old wound.   Prior to watching the movie, I did not have much expectation on the movie, and simply looked forward to a relaxing evening. However, I was pleasantly surprised at one scene in the movie. During the scene, Lloyd, troubled by his father’s hospitalization, looked for Fred Rogers. Fred took Lloyd to a diner and asked him to join him for a minute of silence, to think about the people in their lives who helped shape them to become who they are now. Mr. Rogers assured him that the faces of those people would come to mind.

Sure enough, I took the opportunity to try the exercise…and many unexpected faces floated into my mind.  For sure, I saw the faces of many family members, teachers, and close friends.  However, there were also faces of the odd acquaintances, whom I realized only at that moment, who had starring roles in my life.  Some of them went through events of their own and I found their reactions to those events admirable.  Others had randomly made a comment to me or asked me a question at some point that greatly impacted me. All those people in my mind cannot be more different from one another.  They have different personalities, belong to a wide range of age groups, and they have different cultural backgrounds and beliefs.  However, it was clear to me towards the end of the exercise that all of them played a role in shaping me.

We often read about seeing “the face of God” in the Bible as knowing God. We are often reminded to see the face of God in others when we serve them. However, it seems that God also seek us and shape us through others! There are no random happenings in life and Jeremiah reminded us of that. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…” (Jer 29:11)  The people in our lives who shaped us, including acquaintances, are divine instruments, and their words and actions were sent our way as we need them.

Well, when do you think you last saw the face of God?

Just be silent for one minute and think about the people who came into your life and helped shape you. The many faces of God will float in your mind.

 

 

Jolted by Supergirl

With the social distancing protocol that we are practicing during the COVID-19 pandemic, most people find that they are suddenly spending more time with family members. Let’s be honest! While this is a wonderful opportunity for the family members to bond and stay strong together, the togetherness within the family home can also bring frictions to the family. When there are different generations reading the news or watching TV shows together, we tend to forget that we are showing ideas to people perceiving the information with very different lens. Each generation learns its cognitive framework from their own social culture. Members of the family will, inevitably, have starkly different views on social issues. Without warning, arguments and fights are pursued and defended anytime of the day.

I usually spend the downtime before bedtime by watching a bit of mindless TV shows. By that, I mean watching shows that do not give me thought-provoking questions and keep me wide awake at night. So, it was surprising the other day when I watched an episode of Supergirl on the PVR. I admit that I do not pay that much attention to the details of the show during my down time. I must have completely missed the character Nia Nal revealing herself as a transgender at her debut episode in Season 4. Anyway, I had not registered that fact until the show suddenly presented, in Season 5, the storyline of her transgender roommate being targeted and how Nia Nal had to defend her own community. As far as storylines go, a good old story on justice, on heroes defending the weak, and on heroes ultimately bringing down the offenders, always makes for a good night’s sleep. However, as I was not aware of Nia Nal as a transgender character earlier, that sudden realization seemed a bit odd. It felt like the show was trying too hard to showcase characters outside of the traditional male-female binary model. Supergirl already has a super strong sister Alex Danvers, who was presented in a same sex relationship in Season 2. While I enjoy watching the storylines of Alex and her sisterly relationship with Supergirl, and find Nia Nal intriguing with her dreams and power, I feel that two LGBT characters within one tight group seemed too unrealistic to me. When I protest this to one of my adult daughters, I was quite surprised with the comment of “That’s normal!”

confused

I wonder what is normal? What is really true and real?

Personally, I admire the gifts that every one of my friends bring into the friendships, LGBT or not. In terms of statistics, the number of my LGBT friends relative to my entire circle of friends do not seem to match up to that proportion that is portrayed in many sitcoms. I once took a university course on gender issues. The professor mentioned how it is important to address others in the way they attribute themselves. However, when she put out a questionnaire in the beginning of the term to get to know her students, giving the students a choice on gender for Female, Male and Non-binary, she got an overwhelming number of responses from the 20-plus age group choosing the Non-binary category. That seemed to her that it was simply youthful students trying to be “different.” So, what is real and true? Do we get to choose gender according to some utopia that we, as humans, dream up? Are we to believe that choosing our own gender is one of our rights?

And…how might we, as Catholics, perceive the normalcy on Gender and Sexuality presented to us in social media?

The separation of gender and biological sex did not get much attention until the 1970’s. Was the idea of gender a social construction? The cognitive frames we develop are dependent on what we perceive around us. If we do not have a strong understanding on the issue of gender ourselves, how may we be aware of the social blindness that we are thrown into. It seems to me that, as Catholics, we ought to know and understand our Church teachings on gender and sexuality first and use that as our guide. Unfortunately, a lot of the Church teachings presented to us or interpreted to us are misguided and misrepresented in social media. We owe it to ourselves to learn those teachings from someone we can trust. I am, therefore, looking forward to the WHY@Breakfast webinar to be presented by Teresa Hartnett towards the end of the month. https://whyatbreakfast.com/ If the diocese can trust her in leading workshops on the subject to priests and seminarians, we are in very good hands. When we are better equipped to be aware of the differences between myths and truths out there, we may start to live in the present world, which is full of new gender ideas, with confidence. We may then have meaningful conversations with our family and friends on the subject, even when we are jolted accidentally by a viewing of Supergirl!

 

WHY@Breakfast Webinar:

May 23rd, 2020

Gender, Sexuality and the Catholic Church

Speaker: Teresa Hartnett,

                  Director of Family Ministry, Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton

Webinar begins at 9:30 AM EST

Register by email: whyatbreakfast@gmail.com