God’s Clothesline – a caregiver’s prayer

Yesterday was a pretty rough day for me. As I was dressing to head out for a meeting with my personal confessor, I got a text from a dear friend that started out

No candy coating…

…and went on to explain some tough news that was not candy coated, that was gloves-off, here’s the facts as we know right now.

Some days and with some friends and caregivers we need that: don’t hemm and haww around the thing, just say it: get it out in the air so that we can start working on whatever it is we need to do to move to the next step in our adventure of life.

My friend is a medical person and I know all the $5 Doctor words from my own experience, so we were able to spend a half hour or so in Grown Up Mode (urgh!) doing a brain dump of facts and ideas.

And me asking questions.

I prefaced my hard medical questions by saying, I’m just throwing out some factual stuff here, I’m not trying some sort of Make A Deal With God plea. I also apologized for being so religious in my first reaction. It’s my job. And I know it so well even through the adventures of Chemo Brain that it’s my go-to.

Being a grown up takes a lot of energy, so I’m glad that my friend and I don’t have to do that for very long, and we can segue from there to a lighter, less dictionary-like conversation. From there, I begged off and rushed over to Chapel Hill to the church and my previously-scheduled meeting. We spent two lovely and inspiring hours together just talking – a lot of catching up, and a lot of talk about meditation, prayer, and grace. And it was a conversation that I needed to have in the middle of that day.

While I was (barely) driving home in the pm rush around the two cities, a single line of a prayer started noddling around in my head. I kept repeating the thought so I’d not forget it by the time I got home, and there, I parked the car, pulled up a notepad, and finished composing the prayer.

It was such a beautiful sunny day, and we have a family of bunnies in our yard this year (who knew! in the middle of our urban sort of city we are a haven for cottontail rabbits!) So the end of the prayer came out much more pleasant than the beginning.

It reads a bit like some of the low-key psalms, about what it feels like to be a care giver at the end of a long day. It asks The Maker to “make us right again” for the next day, in the way that only the creator of our universe can. This prayer is for those days you are just tired, spiritually exhausted, and feel totally wrung out, yet you know that tomorrow, you’ll get up and do it all again.

Keep the faith!

 

 

—– God’s Clothesline – A Prayer —–

Lord,

Today I’m just a wrung-out rag.
Dunked in the dirty water, squeezed out
and left in a lump
to get dry and hard,
molded in the shape in which I was dropped.

Lord,

You control
the clouds and the air,
the seas and the land,
the darkness and the light.

Pick me up from my dirty, soggy lump,
lay me out flat across your great clothesline,
send the sunshine and the breeze
so that I’m cleaned white as snow
in your gentle, sunny day.

Clean me and make me fresh so that I may be used again,
always for Your Name’s sake.

 – Amen

 

 

Hey God – Where Are You?

This is an unpublished journal entry I wrote in December, 2012, shortly after our nation was shocked by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left twenty children and six adults dead.

With the help of a little political spin-doctoring in the weeks following, we as a nation decided via our representatives in congress that this was not a politically-expedient issue, we must protect our Second Amendment rights (sic) even if we must protect them with the blood of twenty elementary school children, and countless more Americans before them. And even more still, after them.

The story of Sandy Hook landed on the trash bin (or the bit bucket) of the great slosh pile of stories gone cold. Our attention moved on.

But not for the families of twenty-six people for whom the story may never move on.

I wrote this entry and then put it away because I wasn’t seeing through to the happy conclusion I wanted so desperately to write. I didn’t have an answer on how we as a country just get pissed off. We get angry at the situation and we get angry that there is no easy Forever and ever, Amen fix for the situation.

Perhaps that was the point in writing the entry, and it ends as it naturally should.

Spirituality… Religion… it’s all a great mystery not easily grounded in science and fact. Some of it may be, and the rest we call… faith. Mysteries like this one do not always end well, but the journey we take through that experience – the sensation of our human loneliness, and our anger that bad things happen on our watch… as horrible as the situation may be, when we get so angry, in that anger we learn. I have no answers for you today; you have to learn them yourself.

I leave the entry below as it was originally written, unfinished.

As difficult as it seems to do some days,
Keep the faith.


 

 

Hey God. Where are you?

Today, you made the President of the United States cry. Not for sadness and certainly not for joy. You made him cry with anger and frustration that we feel from the sheer powerlessness of being a people who can only sit by and watch things happen to us. Not with us. Not for us.

I am at least glad today, God, that we have the kind of President who can stand before us and show emotions as he says I am sorry for what has happened and is still happening. I am angry that we have not – and we cannot – take action to avoid this. He cries on our behalf from the frustration at the great randomness of life and its events. He shares with us this horrible restlessness within us all as we open a window to lean out or we run out into the darkness and we look up to the sky shaking a clenched fist and in a great voice of rage shout out to you:

Hey God! We are here. Where are you?

In return: silence.

We turn to the psalmist’s words not looking for comfort but a way that we can continue to shout up to you and continue to be angry:

But now you have rejected and humbled us;
you no longer go out with our armies.
10 You made us retreat before the enemy,
and our adversaries have plundered us.
11 You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
and have scattered us among the nations.
12 You sold your people for a pittance,
gaining nothing from their sale.

(…)

23 Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?

25 We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love. 1

Today is not a day we can think quietly on lying down beside healing waters in green pastures. Today, we hang our instruments in the low boughs of the trees and sing our sad songs. Oh, Babylon! we cry out. May you, God, bless the memory of our loved ones now gone. Bless the remnants of lives now dashed on the ground. Heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds. 2

What are we waiting for?

It’s the middle of Advent, the great season of sitting in anticipation of the coming of the Christ child. It is the middle of Hannukah, the celebration of lights. Why is there darkness, God? What is it – exactly – besides this newborn baby story that we are waiting for?

In return: silence.

1 Psalm 44:9-12, 23-36
2 Psalm 147:3

 

 

Singing the Psalms – Anglican Chant

 A few years ago (ok… five years ago) I wrote an article on how to pray with the Psalms that is located here:

The second consideration for the Psalms is to sing them by way of plainsong or chant. I’m not going to delve into Gregorian chant because the work is much more complex and for those who are just beginning a spiritual practice, keeping up with the melodies and the words becomes distracting. (And then there’s that whole singing in Latin thing.)
If you are not of a particular religious practice keep in mind that many non-religious people do chant and hymn singing not as much for the message in the words, but for the healing rhythm that runs through the body while participating, both in melody and the physical sensation of the lyrics as they are sung.. (I will later share later an interesting article I read on atheists who have a regular prayer practice.)
So there are two types of chanting that are very similar: those in the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church which is the easiest of all to learn and has the most use of Latin lyrics, and the Anglican chant which has slightly more texture of the voices and is a little more complex to sing. Since I grew up with Anglican chant and it’s in my blood and my soul, we will look at that.
In the earlier page above I used a clip from Psalm 23, the most recognizable of the songs, The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want….
Singing works exactly the same with the breath points you see in the lines, except instead of stopping for a pause/breath, that is the point at which the melody phrase changes.
Anglican chanting in general is a 1-2 * 1-2 * etc pattern of two musical phrases.
This runs from the beginning of the psalm to the end. An exception here is if the song has an odd number of lines or verses. We end up the odd line with note #2
Confused yet? Excellent!! 
The musical example I have for you shows two musical phrases (plus the breath points,) and how they are split between the verses. Below that, I’ve marked up a copy of the Psalm showing where to sing each phrase.
This melody is chanted as:
  • first half of the phrase (breath)
  • second half of the phrase (pause)
  • first half of second phrase (breath)
  • second half of second phrase (pause)
  • (repeat to the end.)
  • (Optional) depending on your practice, the Glory to the father… is added to the end of all Psalms that are sung in this manner. If you do not use that in your practice, this may be omitted.
More after the song:

Psalm 23
(1a) The lord is my shepherd, *
(1b)   therefore I lack nothing
 
(2a) He shall feed me in a green pasture *
(2b) and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort. 
 
(1a) He shall convert my soul, *
(1b) And bring me forth in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
 
(2a) Yea tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death *
(2b) I will fear no evil,
 
(1a) For thou art with me *
(1b) they rod and they staff comfort me.
 
(2a) Thou shalt  prepare a table for me *
(2b) against them that trouble me
 
(1a) Thou has anointed my head with oil, *
(1b) and my cup shall be full
 
(2a) But thy loving kindness and mercy shall follow me
      all the days of my life, *
(2b) and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
 
 
(1a)Glory be the Father and to the Son *
(1b) and to the Holy Ghost.
 
(2a) As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, *
(2b) world without end, Amen.

 

If I’ve counted correctly you hear that there are only 5 notes per phrase, regardless of how long the lyric is. The stretch is on the first note, and you repeat that single note over as many words in the verse as necessary until you get to the final four notes. (These numbers will vary by the tune being used, so 5+5 is not a hard and fast rule.)

The great benefit here to that the very long repetition in the lines like “…And bring me forth in the path of righteousness….” is that of the great harmonics that build up in your lungs, radiating through your body as you hold on that one note, repeating it, and turning your attention to the words you are singing rather than having to follow a hymn melody. This brings singing and praying to its simplest form.
These tunes always appear in a tight harmony across a very small musical range so that it’s comfortable for any singer with no wild vocal stretches. Again, through the simplicity of the singing, our thoughts turn to the Psalm itself, and our communal singing is the Amen that wraps it all together.
 
With practice, these tunes become as well-known to your body as humming, and at that point they become invisible to your reading: they are there in your singing voice, and they do not interrupt your reading and understanding mind.There are a number of different tunes and variations used, and if you look for recordings of singing the Psalms, you will find great examples and can pick tunes that work best for you. The recording that I use in my office is The World of Psalms, a recording of 18 Psalms done in various Anglican chant tunes. It also makes wonderful background music for times you need to knuckle down and get serious.
 
What is the point of this simple two-phrase singing?
 
In congregational singing, this is one way to make sure that everybody stays in tempo with reading the psalm aloud together. It also takes your reading of these songs to a deeper and more advanced level. As the music becomes more like humming to you, the minor key used in the music draws your whole being to attention that something special is going on here. Right now, among us all. Holy, if you will. 
 
And as these tunes become so memorized by your whole body, your attention focuses on the words of the Psalm, rather than trying to keep up with a congregational hymn. And the breath points further break it down so that as you’re singing, your attention can stay on … and my cup shall be full, and what that is saying to you as a lyric. The melody only carries the words to your heart. 

 Think of this as an ancient form of multitasking.

 Notice that the melody is very slow. At this point in your meditations, it’s not the time to speed up, to keep on schedule, to hurry on to the next thing that you like to do better. It is a time of very close, focused attention – if this is a prayer, it is a time alone with you and God to sit together, for you to be receptive and calm, and to spend five minutes or so getting your spiritual ducks in order for the day, or put away today’s mistakes at the end of the day.

 

If you do not have a religious spiritual practice, consider the melody and the simple words. Again, this is a time of centering, of bringing peace to yourself and hopefully to those around you. In order to meditate well, you must first focus well.

 Give this a try if you haven’t already, and see how it effects your prayer and meditation time.

 Keep the faith!
– Amen

 
 
(Please feel free to leave a comment on any technical errors in the musicology of the above text and I’ll be glad to make corrections.)