It was a glorious and humbling moment this summer when I first encountered “Lift Every Heart And Sing,” known as the Black National Anthem. Glorious, because as a pastoral musician, it moved me for its universality and the challenge contained within. Humbling, because how did I make it to the age of forty-six as a pastoral musician and never hear it?
So I want to share this video today in honor of today’s commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. This is a very simple version and they give you the background of the hymn before they sing it. I’ll paste the text below.
Lift ev’ry voice and sing, ‘Til earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; Let our rejoicing rise High as the list’ning skies, Let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on ’til victory is won.
Stony the road we trod, Bitter the chastening rod, Felt in the days when hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady beat, Have not our weary feet Come to the place for which our fathers sighed? We have come over a way that with tears has been watered, We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, Out from the gloomy past, ‘Til now we stand at last Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way; Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light, Keep us forever in the path, we pray. Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee, Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee; Shadowed beneath Thy hand, May we forever stand, True to our God, True to our native land.
For years, my prayer routine has been consistent: audio daily readings from the USCCB, followed by the USCCB daily reflection video and usually a Robert Barron reflection email.
Throughout the pandemic shutdown and semi-shutdown, I’ve been coping with the extra togetherness by going for hikes and long bike rides, which give me greater time for prayer in solitude and (sort of) stillness. (Sort of, because my brain is a beehive constantly)
But as the weather got too cold for outdoor rest/restoration/prayer time, I realized I have to shake up my prayer routine to offset the lack of access to stillness and solitude. In December, I reached out to one of my choir members who has been involved in contemplative prayer outreach, and he generously put together a stack of books to get me started.
So this year I am devoting Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to contemplative prayer, and mixing up the other four days of the week with daily Scriptures, etc.
The first thing I realized is that I’ve already been doing this for years. But now I’m approaching it in a new way.
Contemplative prayer is hard work, but I can feel the difference. Yesterday the weather was unseasonably warm, and I carved out two hours for a hike/walk along a creek in a local nature area. I found an eroded bank to lean back against for about forty minutes of off-and-on bonus contemplative prayer. For the rest of the day and evening I basked in a glow of contentment. Despite it being the craziest day of the week; despite having thousands of things to do and all kinds of anxieties surrounding circumstances I can’t change. Despite it all: contentment.
It was an eye-opener. William A. Meninger says that contemplative prayer is the most effective one there is–not that rosaries and Lectio Divina and so on are not good, because they are, and will always be necessary–but this is where we most truly love God, because we are simply being with him, without agenda–and for that reason it is the most effective praying we can do. It has been a part of Christian prayer for millennia.
The way I felt last night certainly gave some weight to that assertion.
This is profound on multiple levels. My first reaction upon reading this quote was to nod vehemently at the words “unverified data.” I have been appalled at the things people are unshakably convinced are true, when a quick internet search easily disproves them.
On the other hand… I do a lot of fact-checking as I scroll social media, and I’m in a terrible rush when I do it. Quick searches are good for making sure something is legit. But not for the pursuit of wisdom. Wisdom takes time and prayer and processing.
I saw this quote this morning in America magazine (linked below, if you’re reading on social media). I can’t find the source, which makes me think it might be not 100% word for word, but the message is one we really need.
Since day one at Intentional Catholic, I have been begging my fellow Catholics to share and read with integrity. We have a Christian responsibility to make sure we fact check the things we share, the things we take in, the opinions and philosophies we embrace.
We have a Christian responsibility to think critically and compare what we take in and say and share to the teachings of our faith. To embrace the niggling discomfort when our consciences are tweaked. To acknowledge that that discomfort is meant to point out the ways in which our worldly view is out of whack with our faith.
We have a Christian responsibility to use that discomfort to reshape our world view more authentically with our faith, even if it means setting aside long-standing idols in the form of political ideologies. (I say this as someone who’s had to do that myself. I know it’s hard. To this day, I routinely have to keep questing in order to keep myself from swinging too far the opposite direction.)
To choose instead to chase down, embrace, and share conspiracy theories, distortions, and outright lies is a violation of the ninth commandment. It is a violation of every exhortation in the Bible about living with integrity.
When large numbers of Christians fail to fact check and instead enthusiastically embrace things devoid of integrity, the events of this week become inevitable. For months, God-fearing people have been expressing terror about socialism, about dictatorships, about the shredding of the Constitution. And then, on Wednesday, people with those same beliefs shredded the Constitution themselves, far worse than anything they fear from their political opponent. I even saw one Facebook commenter say that Trump should declare martial law so he doesn’t have to leave office. Apparently, dictatorship is fine as long as it’s “my” dictator.
What we saw this week was the inevitable end of the path we embark on each time we choose to share distortions and outright lies because we haven’t undertaken the time—or embraced the humility—to examine them and recognize them as such.
We had two altercations with people over masks last weekend.
First of all, let me say that I try very hard not to go out at high traffic times. But when one’s husband works full time and you have things you need to do together, sometimes there are only high traffic times.
I’ll just describe one of our interactions. I asked one man who had his gaiter hanging around his neck to please put on his mask. He responded by rolling his eyes. Let me tell you, it’s quite something, seeing a 60-something white man roll his eyes like a teenager. He muttered something about not living in a communist country, or something equally (pardon my bluntness) idiotic and totally at odds with both Christianity and reality.
It’s mind boggling, how wearing a mask to protect the health of others got twisted into a political wedge. A few months ago a fellow Catholic on Facebook posted that it really bothered her that the Church had “bought into” the narrative that brotherly love required us to mask and distance.
I was dumbfounded.
So I’m here today to put a face on “brotherly love.”
This is my daughter. She is charming. She loves to sing. She loves to dance. She loves babies and ice cream and pasta. Since she was a toddler, she has had an uncanny ability to enter a room and instantly zero in on the one person who most needs the love of God. She goes to them and loves them.
Wherever she goes, she brings joy and love. She brings God, in other words, without ever speaking a word about it.
She also has Down syndrome.
When she was six weeks old, she contracted RSV. She had floppy airways and a heart defect that caused her blood to spin instead of properly oxygenating. She spent more than a week on a ventilator. For children that age, 93% oxygen saturation is the threshold for hospitalization. Hers dipped to the 40s every time she had a coughing fit. The doctors told my husband to “prepare himself.”
At 6.5 months, she had heart surgery to repair her heart. They stopped her heart. Put her on a heart-lung bypass. And she was on a ventilator again.
We thought that would be the end of respiratory issues, but it wasn’t. At 2.25 years, she developed pneumonia and was in the ICU, on a ventilator, yet again.
Since then, she’s been very healthy. My rational mind tells me she’d probably be fine if she got COVID, but the fact is that her airways are naturally floppy, and now they’re scarred from multiple trips down ventilator lane.
My daughter puts a face on the reason for masking. We make this sacrifice in order to protect the most vulnerable among us.
Nobody likes masking. Nobody likes being forced to hold loved ones at a physical distance. Nobody likes any of this. But if that’s what it takes to protect the life and health of others, then that is the Christian call.
As I continue praying “Advent With Oscar Romero,” I find that so much of what he says resonates. In recent months, I’ve encountered a perspective that baffles me–one that argues we shouldn’t work for justice in the here and now, because the only thing that matters is Heaven. St. Oscar Romero’s words speak to this beautifully. He says, “In preaching the gospel I do not speak about a non-incarnated gospel, but one that is incarnated and that enlightens the realities of our time.”
And then, farther down, he summarizes the “virtues that the Word of God highlights: first, poverty and hunger for God; second, vigilance and faith; third, Christian presence and action in the world.”
What I read in this is a reminder that God came among us in bodily form for a reason–to demonstrate that what happens in the physical world matters to God. (Poverty, racism, injustices of all kinds.) And therefore, it should matter to us, too.
I am praying Advent this year with Cameron Bellm’s “Advent with St. Oscar Romero,” and the reality of my life is that my first day, I was looking at last year’s edition instead of this year’s. The takeaway of the day was:: if God was present in all the upheaval and injustice taking place in El Salvador in 1977, when Romero wrote the homily I was praying with, then that applies today, too. God is present. Even in this. The good, yes, but also the bad.
Given the reality of pandemic, persistent injustice, fake news, and the constant apocalyptic thinking that characterizes both sides of the political spectrum these days, this seems like a particularly beautiful thought for this Advent.
Every time I sit down to break open another section of Fratelli Tutti, I’m blown away all over again. I know the amount of Stuff we have to wade through in modern life is punishing, even within the writings and teachings available to Catholics by Catholics. There is value in reading the words of past popes.
But we also need to listen to THIS Pope. Reading Fratelli Tutti makes it crystal clear why the Holy Spirit chose him to lead the Church at this point in human history. He doesn’t get fancy, he doesn’t spend time being brainy. He’s right in the thick of it, speaking words we understand, pointing out all the things we already know, and drawing the connection between “the way we do things” and “how we got where we are.”
The section from #42-50 deals with the way we use social media. Being friends online has its uses, but he’s pointing out truths. You can make true friends on social media, and I have. But most of our contacts there are shallow and social, not full of depth. Social media is all about the next big thing, so building the “consensus that matures over time” is not its strength. Of course online disagreements fall to toxicity. Our goal in social media is to get likes, to spark a reaction, so really, Pope Francis points out, the fundamental purpose is to feed individuality, not community.
As someone who is trying to build a following for Intentional Catholic and for my secular fiction, this strikes very true. I got on social media specifically to network with Catholic musicians and fiction authors, and it serves its purpose well. I greatly value the relationships I’ve built here. Social media is great for helping us forge connections. And I can say honestly that there are people I consider friends now whom I’ve never met in person.
But in this year when conventions, conferences, and retreats are canceled, we’re all deeply mourning the loss of the in-person gatherings, because those are where we most often make the lasting connections.
Anyway, I’m getting pretty far afield in my stream-of consciousness reflection. Pope Francis’ point is that social media is structured to encourage us to try to stand out (an individualistic endeavor), and the algorithms are built to show us more of what we already like (or hate), as measured by what we like or comment on. So we end up getting shoved into those echo chambers, or into toxic environments—and very often both at the same time.
And because we’re a step removed from a lot of the people we’re interacting with, it’s easy to get ramped up into “remarkable hostility, insults, abuse, defamation and verbal violence destructive of others, and this with a lack of restraint that could not exist in physical contact without tearing us all apart.”
That last phrase is important. We all say things on social media we would NEVER say to another person’s face. And unfortunately we’ve started calling it “telling the truth in love,” and justifying it by saying that sometimes love hurts.
Which is true, but we’re ramping ourselves up and then deciding that our own “wisdom” is sufficient to discern what is the “truth.”
So when he says, “This has now given free rein to ideologies,” I think, YES. That’s exactly right!
And when he says, “Halfway through, we interrupt him and want to contradict what he has not even finished saying,” I think of all the careful, thoughtful attempts I’ve made to engage with people, and how they react to one phrase they think they can attack, and ignore all the rest.
And then I try to check my own conscience, because the ability to recognize it in others does not mean I am immune myself.
I know I say this every time, but please read this document. God gave us Pope Francis right now for a reason.