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.

 

 

When the Domestic Church practices Church at home…

 

The first weekend when the churches were closed because of the pandemic, my family decided to sing a few hymns prior to watching Mass online. My daughter later put up a short video on Twitter with the hashtag #ChurchAtHome.

That was the beginning of my domestic church practicing Church at home.

We often hear about the domestic church, that family whose members live their faith at home, makes the community of faith, the parishes, and the Church. Indeed, everything that happens at Church is strengthened by the support of the faithful families. Church events are often the result of the assistance offered by volunteers and their families. Preparation of sacraments, especially those involving children, rely on the support of the families. Really, the families are the future of the Church. The Church grows as the families grow. The families are where the history and traditions of the Church are passed on to the younger members of the church. So, if the domestic church makes the Church, what happens when the Church gets domestic? That is, when the family tries to practice Church at home?

blog image

These past weeks, as the churches are closed, we encounter this new scenario where we first attempted to keep the idea of the church within our own homes. We are fortunate to have so many Masses online, pre-recorded or live-streamed, with the readings and homilies, trying to fill our spiritual needs. Seeing our familiar church settings on our TV or computer screens at home help remind us of our last church experience. Those warm, spiritual moments are kept alive until we can meet again at church and participate in the sacraments. How far would those memories serve us? To truly live the life of church, should we not create new church experiences at home? If the early Christians could worship God and built communities within their own homes, so can we. Right? The Pandemic should not interfere with our relationship with God and the growth of our faith at home.

When the social distancing protocol commenced, #ChurchAtHome officially began for my family. Since all of us in the family were serving in some church Music Ministry, the singing of hymns has always been a favourite activity in this household. Now, it is so much more important to establish that sacred space within our domestic space by filling it with the sounds that echo well with the saints and angels, prior to our viewing of the online Mass. Next, comes the tradition of communion… What can be better than sharing a treat? Baking mini bite-size muffins or cookies for the sake of joining in the “communion” on screen seems to be a natural development. Sure, we are not having the Sacrament, but Christ is in each of us and we are having a family moment!

collage for blog

On Palm Sunday, in anticipation of the long Gospel reading that we would be passively watching on screen, my family took the script and split the roles among ourselves earlier in the day, and made up a short Liturgy of the Word with it. That was fun! We were quite surprised when the quiet one in the family performed her role with great animation. Having participated at the Easter Vigils for over a decade, I thought we should probably have one that evening on Holy Saturday. There were no reasons why we could not bring the Light of Christ into the darkness at home. After all, we were all feeling the darkness of the pandemic and we needed that Light! So, we searched for those baptismal candles that were tucked neatly in boxes somewhere in a closet. I found the biggest candle in the house and used that as the “Paschal candle.”

candles

That evening, we sat in darkness and lit our candles. My husband and I sang the Exsultet. We said a prayer, blew out the candles, and switched on the lights. Next, we sang the Litany of Saints. We used a setting that we had not sung for years. The organist in the house volunteered to accompany us on the piano. As we sang, the names of the saints got caught in our mouths, rhythms were off at times, but we treaded on. It was the most chaotic Litany ever sung, but we had the feeling that we generated a lot of laughter among the angels and saints. Following that hilarious episode, we read the Gospel reading together, said prayer of Intentions, and ended the service with the recitation of the Our Father and an exchange of the Sign of Peace. Sure, this Easter Vigil did not have the same kind of sacred reverence as the Easter Vigil at church, but it brought the Light of Christ into our home and we experienced Easter joy! Now, came the interesting part after the Vigil when my family really needed a snack, just like the reception that we always had at church after the Holy Saturday Vigil. That part alone…was pure Church doing!

I do not think there is one set formula on how #ChurchAtHome can be done. By definition, practising #ChurchAtHome needs some understanding of what we normally do at church and ideas on how the elements might work within the individual family. After our Easter Vigil experience, one of us asked about why we would only light our candles once, instead of two times at church. It took a little bit of thinking to remember that we lit the candles the second time with the newly baptized members and renewed our baptismal promises at church. We had neither newly baptized among us, nor did we have Holy Water in the house! That was a good occasion to reflect on why we do what we do at church. A lot of goodness would probably happen from #ChurchAtHome by trial and error, with the best roaring laughter. That is, perhaps, the domestic way of promoting growth of faith within the family? I believe that my family’s #ChurchAtHome experience during this time of pandemic would make our domestic church grow. It will be interesting to see if this contributes to new church experience when we are able to meet others again at the physical church building.