How Can I Keep From Singing?

Submitted to the DAR Women’s Issues Essay Competition. It received state honors (Louisiana). OK, Charlotte, here it is. 

I suppose I’ve come to that “wise woman” part of my life, even though I don’t feel wise. I am a wife, mother, office manager for my family business, songwriter, and vocalist. I am occasionally asked for advice by young singers.

I tell them that a vocalist can never replace their instrument. If it gets damaged or broken, we can no longer sing – or we must find a way to deal with the damage.

sing 1

This is the story of my own damaged instrument. Not my voice, but my ear. My advice to young vocalists has expanded to include: If you ever experience sudden hearing loss, it is a medical emergency.  I tell them about the symptoms of Meniere’s Disease.

I juggled singing with job and family life. I sang with my blues band, at my church, at our local Jewish temple, and with my music partner in our Gospel duo. God makes each of us an instrument, and I did my best to learn to use and care for my musical instrument. Call me “Queen of the Earplugs;” I treasure my ears.

sing 2

Earplugs don’t help with allergies, though. For years, I’d have occasional bouts of clogged ears and dizziness during high allergy seasons. One December day a few years ago, my ears clogged.

I thought it was allergies, or possibly I’d caught my husband and daughter’s virus. I had things to do at the office and two sick ones to care for. I knew what this was, took ibuprofen and antihistamines, but it got worse.

I couldn’t hear anything clearly in my left ear. While it had been several years since my last “spell,” I’d had a severe dizzy day recently, so I saw my ENT, who was familiar with my history. I expected the usual cortisone pack, but this time he looked at me with concern when I told him this had lingered for three weeks.

I knew from his expression that something was different this time. This should have run its course by now, he said. He prescribed cortisone and an antifungal.

“When will my hearing return?” I asked.

“Let’s wait and see what the medication does,” he replied.

I took what felt like a never-ending course of cortisone and Valtrex.

After a month of medication, Dr. Robert ordered an MRI. Fortunately, there was no tumor, but no answers either. I went to the audiologist for a baseline audiogram. There was nothing but noise and pain in my left ear. Results? My right ear was good, but my left ear showed a profound hearing loss. I took a copy of the report home, filed it away, and cried. I cried me a river, as the song says. How ironic.

sing 3

I told only family and closest friends. I quit scheduling band gigs; even with earplugs jammed into my ears, I was afraid to take any chances. Meanwhile, a bizarre group of sounds had moved in where my hearing used to be: Tinnitus. In different keys. All at once.

Dr. Robert had told me that we needed to wait a year, as there was a chance that my hearing would return with time. Meanwhile, I had this invisible, sudden, crippling loss that I couldn’t even talk about or escape. After asking my husband to repeat something for the third time one evening, he voiced his frustration. “Are you DEAF?” he cried.

I fell apart.

“YES, I AM.” I replied. “In one ear. Half of everything I hear is GONE.” He felt terrible. So did I.

I began telling a few people about my loss. I was shocked at some of the responses.

“Well, I guess so, all that loud music you play!” A laugh. “I could have told you THAT was going to happen!”

Really? I’m the one wearing earplugs, remember? I have the small band that is known to be considerate of noise levels.

My response was anger. Then, there was the well-meaning advice about earwax, about this doctor, that diet, this treatment, etc. No, a cochlear implant would only destroy the way I hear music.

That year was one of adjustment, resignation, and hope. In many ways, I had to relearn to sing because I had to learn how to hear again. Our brains are wired for stereo, and that was lost to me. I quit going places where a large group of people gathered because I could no longer discern voices in a conversation. I quit going to movies and concerts and any live presentation because they were hard to follow. Everything was a wash of noise, coated with a blanket of anxiety and occasional panic.

I considered hearing aids, although I had no idea how to pay for them. We had two children in college. This was hope, though: One day, I can get hearing aids. 

I longed to hear in stereo. I wanted the safety of knowing where a sound originated. If someone called my name, I had no idea of where to turn. I don’t know where a siren or horn is coming from in traffic.

I wanted to hear music in stereo.

When the year was up, I went back to Dr. Robert and the audiologist. I was hopeful, as Erica, the audiologist, had successfully fit my father with hearing aids. I was determined to put up with whatever adjustment was needed. Surely no hearing aid noise could be more obnoxious than tinnitus!

The testing was similar to a routine audiogram. Erica explained that the noise and sounds and speech I would hear in the headphones would be adjusted just as it would be with a hearing aid, so we would find out whether or not a hearing aid would help me.

Whether or not? I hadn’t realized there was a chance that this wouldn’t work.

Today’s hearing aid technology is phenomenal. From what I knew about audio engineering, the ability to adjust amplification of specific frequencies in a device so tiny was nothing short of a miracle.

Unfortunately, this miracle was not to be mine. No amount of amplification or adjustment made a difference – only physical pain. I sat in Erica’s office and sobbed as she held my hands and offered tissue, understanding, and honesty. The cilia, the microscopic hairs of the inner ear that enable us to hear, were dead. No diet, supplement, medication, procedure or technical device would restore them. I faced a life in monaural, but at least I had one functioning ear.

She also offered a tentative diagnosis: Meniere’s Disease. My decades-long history of periodic dizziness was a clue. I’d had several particularly violent dizzy periods in months preceding the hearing loss. During the worst dizzy periods, I always spun to the left. I had become so used to a dizzy period during high-allergy months that they just became a part of life, diagnosed previously as “Benign Peripheral Vertigo.”

I learned about Meniere’s Disease, and saw my history written in what I found. Dr. Robert’s suggestions to address the vertigo were basically the same as for Meniere’s, but I felt defeated as I learned that no one knows the cause of the illness, and there is no cure. My years of periodic spells, interspersed by periods of feeling normal, had a name. Interestingly, it affects more women than men, and the possible causes include infection, allergies, head injury, stress, fatigue, migraines, respiratory infection, and an autoimmune response. I wasn’t too surprised that women experience Meniere’s more than men. It usually affects one ear, but sometimes attacks both over time. I cannot dwell on that. It is critical for me to maintain my balance, and I mean that metaphorically as well as literally.

balance

Balance.

It’s not always obvious that I have a hearing deficit, but an astute observer will notice. I’m getting better at lip-reading. In music, I seek the right position to hear what I need to hear in order to sing. In any group seating situations, I tell the person on my left “I’m deaf in this ear. If you say something and I don’t respond, it’s because I didn’t hear you.” I’ve learned to deflect the still-painful topic of hearing aids by saying “it’s a sensorineural hearing loss, which cannot be fixed by a hearing aid.” I’ve learned that such queries are usually out of concern.

I also tell others that sudden hearing loss is a medical emergency, even if you’ve had it before and you think “oh, allergies.” I also tell them about Meniere’s Disease.

On the positive side, the dizzy spells have mostly stopped; this, too, is typical of Meniere’s. As for singing, I’ve had to hyper-focus my sense of pitch, which has strengthened my vocals. I’ve heard of other vocalists who have experienced a similar hearing loss who have quit singing.

I can’t not sing. I have found a new way of listening, and a new way to focus on the experience of singing. It is a whole-body expression, as you must feel the vibrations and melody in your body. Your mind, throat, ear, mouth, lungs must know how the notes feel as well as how they sound. Perhaps it’s similar to the heightened sense of hearing that some vision impaired people have; I am partially deaf, so I have an enhanced sense of certain facets of singing that some take for granted.

Cedartown680

How can I keep from singing? At a Women at the Well concert. Photo by Rev. Kemper Anderson, at St. James Church in Cedartown, Ga.

About three years into this journey, my music partner and I were preparing to go on a short tour of several churches in the mid-Atlantic states, performing our original Gospel program about Jesus’ women disciples. We had recorded several of the songs from the program, and I longed to re-record some vocals and add harmonies.

Singing overdub harmonies is a challenge when you have only one functional ear. I managed by notating the harmonies, placing the headphone behind my one good ear, and forging ahead in spite of fear deep in my soul. What if I couldn’t do it?

But I could, and I did. A few days later, after the vocals were mixed, we shared the tracks with a friend. Danny is a gifted pianist who tours worldwide and has done a lot of recording and harmony vocals. He knows of my hearing loss, and was floored when he heard the harmonies.

“That’s a miracle,” he said, “that you could do that.”

It is a miracle, and one for which I am profoundly grateful. I still ache over the loss, but on the other hand, I now sing more sacred music and chant. Sometimes frustration still rises to the surface. That’s when the words and music of the hymn How Can I Keep From Singing sustain me:

Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing

            It finds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?                      

And thou shalt love

Today’s scripture in my Bible Gateway app is Deuteronomy 6:6-7. I recognize the Sh’ma and V’havta :

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.

 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.  And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart;  and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down and when thou risest up.  And thou shalt bind them as a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.  And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house and on thy gates.

(Deuteronomy 6:4 – 9, KJ21)

A perfect followup to yesterday, when I was accepted as an associate of the Community of St. Mary, Southern Province. The Community is a women’s Benedictine order within the Episcopal church, and I wrote about beginning this journey here and about my first visit to “The Mountain” here.

Love the Lord thy God… When I was accepted as an associate yesterday in the presence of my faith community at Epiphany Church, Sr. Elizabeth spoke about the Rule of Love/Rule of Life. Yesterday, the readings were about the commandments. Jesus, as we know, summed it all up when He pointed out the greatest commandment. Paul echoed it when he spoke of faith, hope and love: The greatest of these is love.

Sr. Elizabeth, one of the nuns from the Community, was in for a visit and to give a presentation at Epiphany’s “Programs and Potuck” on the Benedictine way and the Community of St. Mary. She stayed with friends Diane and Vickie, and I had fun showing her a few highlights of the area on Friday.  Our tour was filled with places born of love.

First, we spent time at Solomon House, which is Epiphany’s outreach ministry. This ministry grew out of the Brown Bag program, and serves clients with not just food for the body, but food for the spirit.  Minister Ellen Nora is the director, and we had a great visit. I love and support the mission of Solomon House, but life is often busy and I don’t always get to visit there as often as I’d like. We saw the brand new client-centered food distribution, and I also identified a way for our DAR chapter to help with the ministry beyond our individual volunteer efforts.

Ellen Sr Eliz Bren at Solomon H copy

Ellen Nora, Sr. Elizabeth and me at Solomon House. Deacon Diane and Solomon House were instrumental at bringing the Women at the Well program into the world.

Next, we went to the Rosary House in New Iberia. Here, handmade rosaries are offered for sale alongside statues of saints, holy medals, prayer cards and books. It is Roman Catholic in focus, but it’s all God.

Our next stop was Jungle Gardens on Avery Island, a favorite stop of mine when entertaining out of town guests. This wildlife sanctuary and botanical garden was born of Edward McIlhenny’s love of nature and concern for conservation. The Tabasco factory is also on Avery Island, and McIlhenny began making Tabasco sauce here after the civil war. Sr. Elizabeth was delighted to see snowy egrets as we wandered through the gardens. “Just wait,” I kept telling her. When we made it to “Bird City,” an aviary on the island, she saw what I meant. This sanctuary literally saved the snowy egret from extinction and today is home to thousands of nesting egrets.

egret avery island

Egrets at “Bird City,” a wildlife sanctuary at Avery Island, Louisiana. 

Finally, we went by “Homeplace” – my own little corner of the world. Our time was short, so I borrowed Pop’s golf cart and Sr. Elizabeth, SweetGirl (my furry 4-legged child) and I took a quick tour. My husband was working in the yard, and my brother and Bubba were working in the garden – all labors of love.

Today is Monday, and if it is a typical workday I will face challenges. I will hold the medal I received yesterday as an associate of the Community of St. Mary, breathe deeply, and remind myself to love my neighbor (even if one is driving me nuts).

At least, I’m going to do my darndest. I usually fall short, but following a rule of life and love gives me some extra help.

Just for today….
I accept myself as I am, allowing Divine Love to work through me
I am my own compassionate witness
I allow myself to make beautiful mistakes.
I ask for and receive Divine Help and Grace.

Matthias: Lucky Dog?

The feast of St. Matthias was about a week ago (Feb. 24). Now, before you get this idea that I constantly know whose feast days are when…I don’t; but for some reason (probably because it’s near some important birthdays), I remember this one.

But who was Matthias? Well, some might say he was a “lucky dog.”

lucky-dog-2

Speaking of Lucky Dogs…

Here’s the setting: Jesus had just ascended into heaven. The Apostles who-once-were-twelve were now just eleven due to the suicide of Judas Iscariot. They chose to possible replacements, prayed about the situation, and then cast lots.

Matthias was the winner, and became one of the Twelve. He, like the other possible replacement (Joseph, called Barsabus or Justus), had been a follower of Jesus from the beginning of the ministry, but he lost the coin toss. Matthias won the Apostolic Lottery.

saint_matthias

St. Matthias

I wonder how Joseph/Barsabus/Justus felt about that. Did he take it in stride? Did he shrug it off? When disciples were sent out to the ends of the earth, did he remain sullen, thinking “OK, God, so I’m not good enough,” or did he say “put me in, coach?” Was he disappointed, even a little? Or did he breathe a silent sigh of relief, having a sense of the danger they were in? Did he fade into the dust of history?

Tradition says that Joseph Barsabus was one of the 70 disciples sent out to spread the news. Tradition also says that he became bishop of Eleutheropolis, an area in Palestine, and eventually was martyred. Matthias was also reportedly stoned to death (perhaps being chosen wasn’t so lucky after all). Both men were martyred for their faith, although neither knew what fate held on that day when the luck of the draw dictated who got an apostolic promotion (and probably a few more churches named after him).

How often do we face situations like that in our lives? Two equally deserving candidates are considered for a position. One receives a promotion, the other does not. Is it harder to bear when such things are based on pure luck? Do we see such luck as a statistical coin flip, or as Divine Intervention?

The way we answer that question has a lot to do with what we do with (and how we see) the lots drawn in life.

Joseph Barsabus could have slunk away in disappointment, saying ‘wow…God sure made that clear, I’m not wanted.” I have no way of knowing if he was a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full kind of guy. Either way, the community of believers could have been supportive in this situation.

The Guys At The Camp come to mind. How might they handle such a thing?

“Hey, man, it’s ok. You know we love you.”

“Look, you’re still coming with us on the road. Pack your stuff.”

“That Twelve stuff is symbolism for people who need that kind of thing. But there’s a lot of s**t to be done, and we’re counting on you. We NEED you. Um, and bring your tools.”

guys-at-the-camp-again

A Couple of The Guys At The Camp.  You never quite know how God is going to get someone to make a path for others…

“Yeah, man, there’s plenty of room in the boat. And if not, we’ll take Franz’s boat. Don’t worry about that, it’ll all work out.”

It’s great to have a strong inner core, that knowledge, that passion for doing and following a path no matter what obstacles fall into the way. We admire people who do that; they inspire us even as we might envy their focus. We want to be more like that – have more conviction, as my husband would say. But even the most dedicated and passionate among us can have their hesitations – and could use a boost.

Maybe it’s the “lucky dog” that needs encouragement – and maybe it’s just “one of the guys/girls” that could use a little encouragement to realize and utilize more of their gifts. I’m reminded of the ending of The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy’s companions all learn they had everything they really needed and wanted all along – they just needed a little shove, acknowledgement, encouragement. What if Matthias was the guy who needed the encouragement, the designation?

couragelion

Be someone’s encouragement.

In the long run, both Matthias and Joseph used the gifts God gave them. They served Jesus and the early church by preaching the Gospel, telling the story of the resurrection and planting seeds of faith. They did what they were called to do, the best they could, and God took care of the rest.

No matter what our own individual gifts, experiences, wins and losses – we can do likewise. Each of us has a ministry of some sort; a calling to show the love of Christ in some way. Sometimes our call is to be the cheerleader or the wizard for someone else, at other times, another will do that for us. We do what we can, do it with love and passion, and let God take care of the rest.

Singing Bowl 2

I recently wrote about how a singing bowl came into my life.  I’d wanted one for a while, but didn’t really know where to find one, and wanted to choose one “hands on.”  I found the bowl (or rather, it found me) at the Summer NAMM show in Nashville in June.

20160623_164641_resized_1

This lovely purple Ovation guitar also found me at NAMM, but unlike the bowl, didn’t follow me home.  whew.

The day I found the bowl was a Friday, and the next afternoon we were scheduled to play a concert featuring selections from Women at the Well at Grace Episcopal Church in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. We left the NAMM show  at 6, ate supper and decided to do a quick practice.  We use backing tracks for some songs and had recently decided to switch to using an iPad for tracks, and wanted to make sure everything went smoothly as technology has a tendency to invite gremlins and other “ghosts in the machine.”

One song (without tracks) is titled Our Father, Our Mother. It has sparse instrumentation, is a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer, and is…well, a chant. When I wrote it years ago, it came to me easily and suddenly. I love the song, and love singing it.

We moved quickly through the set, reviewing all songs with tracks first to ensure that the iPad would behave.  So far, so good.

Then, I had an idea.

“Hold on a minute,” I told Bubba, and walked to where the bowl was sitting.  I had just bought it that afternoon, and had been enjoying its tone in a more quiet environment.  I picked up the bowl, struck it, and began singing.

Father, Mother, God, Creator, hallowed be thy name. Upon earth; thy will in heaven, be all things the same….

Bubba joined in on the keyboard.  The bowl was the right pitch for the song.  No wonder this bowl and I got along so well; I was tuned to it. I asked Bubba to keep the keys sparse, and we continued the song.  To my delight, it worked…wow, did it work. What synchronicity!

Grace Episcopal Church, Hopkinsville, KY

Grace Episcopal Church in Hopkinsville, KY

The next day, we packed up the bowl along with our instruments and headed to Kentucky. It was an easy drive, a beautiful day, and a lovely church. Rev. Alice Nichols met us, and made us feel most welcome.  I love older churches.  Not only are they beautiful, one can feel the echos of generations of worship deep in the structure itself.  We set up, and the sound of this handmade, prayer-filled bowl filled the church.

setup2

Setting up.

Even the iPad was still behaving!  We relaxed and took in the sights of this lovely church, which included panels honoring church members who had fought in the First and Second World Wars.  The needlepoint cushions at the communion rail were filled with rich symbolism, and the baptismal font told stories of generations of new lives.

20160625_201705_resized

Some of the needlepoint at Grace Church

The evening began with a Eucharist, and then it was time for the concert.

That was the moment that the iPad officially became an iPest.  Or perhaps an iPain.  The volume control, which had behaved perfectly during all run-throughs and tests, vanished. Well, not vanished, exactly, but the dreaded greyed out.  It was visible, but infuriatingly nonfunctional.

It’s times like this that try the mettle of any musician.  Happily, the congregation could all relate to techno-glitches, and when it comes to technology, we have triple-redundant backup readily available…so we switched to the CD player. (I figured that the iPad would find its wayward volume control by the end of the concert.)

In the meantime, it was the bowl’s debut.  One strike, one tone,  and I began to sing. I could feel the vibrations of bowl and voice.  Later comments indicated that others felt the richness of the bowl in that song as well.

At the end of the concert, sure enough – the iPain worked.  We all shared a good laugh, and then a lovely reception with fellowship and good food.

Grace has a beautiful labyrinth across from the church.  Alice and I had originally discussed the idea of performing at the labyrinth, but it had been too hot (and humid) that day. After packing up instruments and gear, we took some time to walk over and enjoy it.  I took a quick walk, breathing in the aftereffects of the concert’s energy.

20160625_203655_resized

Joshua at the labyrinth

The following day, we packed up and headed south, with a stop at Moony’s Market in Monteagle, Tennessee.  We’d found this delightful health food store / gift and antique and herb / yarn shop on our April visit and performance in nearby Sewanee. Oh, the yarn! Oh, the food! I purchased a small African handbasket – which I later realized was the perfect size for transporting the bowl.  More synchronicity, or at least my subconscious mind at work.

traveling bowl

Ready to travel! And why not? Bowl and basket both have come halfway around the world already!

In addition to bringing me daily beauty and mindfulness, I think this bowl and I are meant to go places and make music together.

God provides.

Someone asked me at a recent church performance, “how did you find us?”

Ah, the wonders of the internet.  I’ve been contacting people for years about Women at the Well. I have used clergy directories, word of mouth, mailed postcards and letters, called, emailed, and have visited many websites to search for and connect with congregations that might be interested in the music and the message of Women at the Well.  Music partner Joshua (aka Bubba) and I have met some wonderful people and visited churches and congregations of various sizes over the years.  I can’t exactly compare us to the early Christians, but hitting the road and visiting other churches, groups and denominations is an awesome experience, and is teaching me whole new lessons about God providing what we need.

Last spring we visited several Unity churches as well as Episcopal churches.  Rev. Sandy Boyer of Unity of Hagerstown, MD helped us to make connections with other Unity congregations – all of this done by distance and online.  I was so happy to meet her and visit in person!  At that time, their congregation was meeting in a temporary space; since then, they have begun meeting in space provided by St. Mark’s Episcopal church in Hagerstown.  While intention, prayer and love can bring holiness to most places, their intention, prayer and love put ripples into the cosmos saying “we’re ready for a new home!” I’m delighted that they have found a space that is more, well, worshipful! God provided.

On that same trip, we also performed at Unity of Palmyra, Pennsylvania.  They were gifted with a church building.  Yes, gifted.  Given.  Someone gave them a building – a church building. This particular church building had been built by a different Christian denomination about a hundred years ago.  That congregation grew until they needed a larger space.  Rev. Julie Vance told us that the church had been purchased by local contractors with the intention of giving it to a congregation.  Other groups had applied for the building, but the Unity congregation received the gift. God provided.

Unity Palmyra

Interior of Unity of Palmyra, PA. They were given this church building. Wow!

I wish I had some better photos, but this should give you an idea of the gift. This was taken as we were setting up and early birds were trickling in for the concert.  (Alas, taking pictures isn’t high on my list when we are setting up and running sound checks – I guess that’s why I don’t have an Instagram account…)

I love the stories of buildings, especially places of worship. They carry the spirit and intention of generations of prayer and community.

St. James Episcopal Church in Cedartown, Georgia is such a place.  It’s not a big church, and it’s over 125 years old.  In the 1880s, an Episcopalian couple from New York began having Episcopal services in their home.  The congregation grew, raised funds for a church, and the funds were matched by the couple, Mr. & Mrs. A. G. West.  As their home church in New York was St. James, the name St. James was chosen for this church in Cedartown.

st james cedartown exterior

St. James Episcopal Church in Cedartown, Georgia

The current rector of St. James, Fr. Kemper Anderson, came to the priesthood after 3 decades of work as an emergency medical technician, police officer, and Coast Guard Reservist.  We found common ground as he also plays guitar and sings – and while in the Coast Guard, he came to Louisiana to assist with hurricane cleanup and recovery.  His wife Phillipa is a member of a vocal group that I want to hear live one day: Vintage Vocals.  (Heck, I want to sing with them live, too! The CDs will have to do for now, though.)  The congregation didn’t need a building – but the rector seems to be just the right fit.  The blessing works both ways: What a wonderful, welcoming congregation! God provided.

st james cedartown 2

B & B on the Rock at St. James Episcopal Church.  Photo by Fr. Kemper Anderson.

God always provides, but we have to be ready to receive! Sometimes what we’ve prayed for doesn’t look quite like what we anticipated or hoped for, and we might miss it when it shows up. (Then again, there are times that an answer to prayer or a wish fulfilled arrives so quickly and so exactly that you are blown away. Like my singing bowl.)  It’s important to trust, and to keep your eyes and mind open. I think that an attitude of “OK, God, however and whenever you want to deliver it is fine with me, because I know you have it all figured out” is important.  But boy, sometimes that’s a challenge!

I’m reminded of a true story that friend/author/teacher Lynn Woodland shares in her Miracles Course.  A man in one of her classes was praying for “a wonderful relationship with Mary.”  Mary was his wife, and they had been having problems.  They finally wound up divorcing.  He let go of the prayer, because – well, they were divorced, right?  He went on with his life, and over time began dating again.  He met and formed a wonderful relationship with someone new, and his life was richer than ever, in large part because of this relationship.

Her name was Mary.

Yes, God has a sense of humor.  And God provides.

The Power of Prayer

If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. ~ Lao Tzu

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. ~ Jill Jackson

Once again we are inundated with news of a terrorist bombing; this time in Brussels.  The world responds with sadness, anger, and prayers for peace; all of this happening during the Christian Holy Week.  Then, there is the backlash: “Prayers and flowers don’t work, do something real!”

Pardon me, but there are many of us throughout the world who believe in the power of prayer. We are not bible-hugging brainwashed imbeciles, contrary to what much of the media would have one believe. I myself am a great skeptic and a born-again cynic, but I believe in the power of prayer.

I believe because I’ve seen the results.  Prayer changes us, and thus prayer can change the world.  Perhaps those who cry for something more concrete are doing so because they feel powerless.  They’ve heard of miracle cures, but perhaps never saw the cure they thought they should see in a loved one.  Prayers are answered, but not always as we expect or even ask.

Epiphany bare altar

Holy Saturday at Epiphany

Prayers for healing may result in a miraculous bodily cure, which may or may not be assisted by medical intervention.  Or they may result in not the healing of the body, but the healing of the spirit – or the healing of an entire family, once broken, but drawn together in love once again.

Some of the more eye-opening answered prayers I’ve witnessed have been things such as Hurricane Lili in 2002 which suddenly slowed from a category 5 to a category 2 right before making landfall in south Louisiana.  Or my mom’s healing from an aneurysm that burst in her brain – which spontaneously healed up and quit bleeding.

“Oh yeah, do you think God’s gonna send a band of angels to fix this?” (Well, they do show up with the Armed Forces…) “What do you think prayer is going to do?”

What will prayer do?  If nothing else, prayer changes the one who practices it.  Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher and songwriter Jill Jackson were separated by 25 or so centuries, and both pointed out this basic truth: Peace begins with the individual.

“It’s not ME, it’s THEM.”  Yeah, I know. But I can’t change “them.”  I can, however, change myself, and prayer helps me.  Heck, even atheists say “be good for goodness’ sake.”  If you can’t, don’t, or won’t believe in a power greater than yourself, you can at least look at human nature and see the power of the group. Your own inner peace, your goodness for whatever reason, has a positive effect on the group(s) to which you belong.

How can our simple prayers, half a world away, change what is happening beyond our own community?  I could simply say “that’s where faith comes in.”  I know people who respond this way. I wish I could.

Cynic that I am, however, I have to let my brain chew things over.  So I pray, I think of the anger and hatred in the world, and open my heart, mind and spirit to the question of “what can I, one person, do?’

I look at the world around me and am moved to act.  My eyes are open.  These terror acts are tied up in the world of international relations, foreign policy, national defense…ah, and there’s an election this year. Some areas of our country have several races on their ballots.  I can become as informed as I possibly can be about the situations and the candidates, and make the best decision that I can.

I can rattle the phones and in-boxes of my elected representatives. I can get involved in local efforts to make a difference in my own community.  I can donate time and funds to causes I believe in. I can send cleaning supplies with a friend traveling to a flooded section of Louisiana, knowing through personal experience that even a small helping hand from a stranger can give one the strength to get through a disaster. I can join my voice to those of others in song, in prayer, in protest.

praying hands

Never doubt the power of prayer, and never doubt the power of shared intention.  You want a more concrete example?  How about fundraisers that ask a lot of people for just a dollar or two? My few bucks are just a drop in the bucket, but add that to a million people and that’s a huge, powerful bucket. I believe it’s the same with prayer.

This past Holy Week at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany has seen a dramatic increase in mid-week attendance. Last Sunday, and again at last night’s Good Friday service, Fr. Matt spoke about what one individual can do.  From the hyperactive media as a whole to individual citizens, we are asking the question “What can I do?” We are coming together in search for answers, sharing and growing the intention and desire for peace.

Lynn McTaggert, author and architect of The Intention Experiment, is one who has been experimenting with the effects of group intention.  Larry Dossey is a physician and author who has done extensive work with the efficacy of prayer as a healing modality.  These, and many others, are looking at nonphysical interventions such as prayer and meditation in a structured way – and finding what many of us know anecdotally to be true actually is demonstrable.  No one suggests that an ailing person abandon all medical intervention and rely on prayer alone, but prayer is a part of a multifaceted approach to healing.

It is the same when it comes to healing the world.  Whether we are hoping to heal the spirit, the body, or the world, prayer has an important place, if for no other reason than it helps peace to begin with me.

When you think about it, that’s really the only place that peace can begin.

Filling in the Gaps

Our church has a small but dedicated choir, but we often  compliments such as “it sounds like the loft is FULL! It sounds like there’s a lot more people singing up there than there is!” It’s a lovely comment, especially as we’re often more of a quartet than a choir.

My friend (and fellow chorister) Margaret recently observed: “I think that God comes in and fills in the empty spaces for us.”

hymnals

We do sing with intention. We want to give our best to God, to our church family, and to Leon (our choir director who brings out the best in us).  I think Margaret got it just right: God does fill in the spaces and magnifies our efforts. God can enlarge what we do if we allow it. Here’s an example from my own musical life:

On December 27, 2011, I lost my hearing in my left ear.  Unable to find any other explanation for this sudden change (I’m meticulous about hearing protection when performing), my doctors figured it was the result of “a virus.”  Over the next year I went through multiple tests, consultations, and listening to well-meaning folks telling me that it might just be wax in my ears, and why didn’t I just have surgery? I clung to hope of a spontaneous return of hearing (it might happen, my doctor said, we have to give it a year).  I resisted the idea of a hearing aid for a while, and then began to look forward to the one year mark when I could begin the process of being fitted for a hearing aid.

That was not to be.  The sensorineural hearing loss I have does not respond to a hearing aid.  Welcome to life in monaural. I cried a river.

I’ve had to adapt.  In the case of Epiphany’s choir, small is a blessing for me.  I’m able to hear and enjoy the other parts without being distracted or confused.  You can’t sing harmony without listening to what else is going on. While that’s not a problem with two working ears, it’s very tricky with only one. Unison singing can be challenging if we’re not all completely unison.  My fellow choir members have become used to my moving around to find just the right spot to stand in the loft so that I can hear. At least solos are easy.

Recording vocal parts requires adjustment, too.  My music partner Joshua and I recently remixed and re-recorded some demos from our Women at the Well program and released a short CD.  A main objective was to re-record vocals and add vocal harmonies on several of the tracks, and there’s where God filled in the blanks.

Adding the harmonies required overdubbing – me singing different lines over myself.  You can’t do that without hearing everything, and hearing everything with only one ear means the brain is  processing some signals differently.  I can’t exactly describe it, but I do know I had to completely re-learn how to manage this.

Since the only budget for this project was earmarked for CD replication, we were recording at Joshua’s house.  The bathroom was the vocal booth.  Contrary to what you may think, that’s not because of “bathroom acoustics” but rather because it was the quietest room in the house. Since a vocal booth needs to be “dead,” we had a lot of blankets and towels draped everywhere!

It’s a pretty funny picture.  I was standing in a tiny bathroom, blankets draped over the shower curtain rod and piled in the bathtub, a big stuffed teddy bear crammed into the closet-without-a-door, scribbled notation taped to the wall in front of me so I’d remember exactly what to sing (what line am I singing now?) and I’m holding one headphone a couple of inches away from my ear so I can hear where to come in – but not so much as to be confusing….In the middle of all of this, a daddy longlegs spider appeared in the corner to watch.

Our budget also doesn’t allow for autotune, so it had to be perfect.

When I heard the final product, I cried with joy and relief.  I’d feared I’d never be able to do this again, yet there it was, beautiful harmonies and all.

One of the first people to hear the final product was our friend Danny, who plays keyboards and sings backup in a world-touring zydeco band.  Danny knows of my hearing loss, and also understands what’s necessary in overdubbing harmony lines.  How did you do that with just one ear?  he asked.  That’s a miracle.

God stepped in to fill in the blanks inside of my head and ears.  A next-to-nothing budget, Joshua’s considerable production skills and a whole lot of Divine assistance gave us a CD we could be proud of, that we could offer to those who heard our Women at the Well program and wanted to revisit the music again and again.

God fills in the empty spaces wherever we allow God to do so.  My hearing loss makes me realize that if I’m going to keep doing what I love, I need God to fill in those empty spaces.

This morning I was fixing my tea and thinking about Margaret’s comment, our “heavenly choir” and how God fills things out for us.  My eyes fell on a mail order catalog that my husband had left open on the kitchen table.  There was a teeshirt that simply said:

God greater than

God is greater than. Can I get an AMEN? God is greater than anything and will fill in the blank spaces when we allow it.

To learn more about the Women at the Well program, visit www.women-at-the-well.com. For information about the Living Water CD, visit www.cdbaby.com/cd/bbontherock The CD page has the latest recordings.