Living in different worlds…

My denomination is just beginning the process of developing a new hymnal, since our last one is over 25 years old.  We have discovered that we are trying something no other denomination has done…and trying to make it truly international. Our plan is to have a 2-book hymnal: one book will be in English and will be primarily intended for the English-speaking church; the other will contain (hopefully) approximately 100 hymns that are most sung and that best represent our message and mission from non-English-speaking parts of the church. This book will be part of the package and will also be the hymnal that we use at our legislative and other international gatherings.

So…as part of my work responsibilities, I am currently transcribing some of these hymns from different parts of the world for the selection committee to look at. For the ones I am working on now (China, India, Philippines, and some in a language whose country of origin I am not sure of).  I have a CD with members from those congregations singing–and a Romanized (i.e., English-language) version of the words. (Hopefully I will also be getting an English translation of them–even if it’s only an approximate translation to let us know what we are singing.)

Some of them have been fairly easy to notate–with a definite rhythmic structure that works in our Western notation style and with intervals that have not incorporated quarter-steps.

But others have provided much more of a challenge! It’s not just the rhythm–although I have one notated in which every phrase of the music is in a different meter!

It’s also the language.

I have words in the Roman alphabet in front of me, and as I look at them, I know how I would pronounce them…or at least I have a pretty good guess. But then I listen to the CD–and sometimes wonder if I am looking at the correct words!

It’s worse because I have no understanding of the words, although I can occasionally pick out something that looks like “Christ” or “Jesus” or “Hosanna”… But how do the words divide?

And then–because these songs come from an oral culture–sometimes there is a lack of consistency. What I have written in front of me (the order of the verses / chorus) may or may not be the way it is being sung…so I have to listen carefully to see what part needs to be repeated–and how many times.

I’m thoroughly enjoying it, although I periodically have to go for a walk to clear my mind…

But what I’m also discovering is the different worlds that we live in. I have always enjoyed what is commonly called “world music”–but even so, much of what I’ve heard blends fairly well into the Western tradition I’m accustomed to. This doesn’t.

I’m being challenged to open myself to new things…to really appreciate the diversity in this world I’m a part of. And it is a challenge…but I’m finding it well worth it!

Inauguration thoughts

As I watched the inauguration today–courtesy of my workplace, which encouraged us to take advantage of the opportunity to watch it on a large-screen TV provided there–a number of thoughts went through my mind. 

  • What an incredible experience! How many countries would love to experience the kind of peaceful government transitions we take for granted? especially when the transition is as historic as this one.
  • I remember living through the times of unrest and upheaval as we as a nation were struggling with issues of civil rights. While I hoped that the time would come when we would be color-blind–and would judge people by the content of their minds, not the color of their skin–I didn’t dream that we would be living this kind of experience today.
  • Watching Obama’s oldest daughter as she was taking pictures of the crowd was a delight. Yes, this was something special for her–and something she will probably remember more than her younger sister–but she seemed more interested in making a record for herself than in realizing that she was an important part of the record for millions of others.
  • As CNN followed past presidents and their families through the hall and out onto the inaugural platform, I was struck by the sense of aloneness when it was Obama’s turn. Yes, he was surrounded by a number of escorts, but in many significant ways, he was alone–carrying a burden of responsibility and expectations that only a few others can really understand. Watching the expression on his face, I sensed a recognition that his life will be forever changed.
  • Looking down from the White House to the Lincoln Memorial and seeing the thousands and thousands of people who wanted to be a physical part of this experience was mind-boggling. 
  • Reverend Lowery’s prayer brought together so many elements–poetry, light humor, historical perspective, acknowledgment of the difficulties before President Obama, and recognition of our need to support him and to pull together…
  • President Obama’s speech…it touched the right chord for me. He didn’t sugar-coat the difficulties ahead of us, but he spoke to the best that is in us. We are a diverse country, but that has a strength that can allow us to change our world. There will be significant changes–in moral leadership, in how we meet needs, in challenging us to make difficult decisions…

What an incredible day!

Doubt is Part of Faith

Most of the time the words “doubt” and “faith” aren’t connected in a positive way–at least that’s what it seems like. If you doubt, you don’t have faith…if you have faith, you shouldn’t doubt.

But I’m not so sure of that.

I think that doubt is an important part of faith–at least it is for me.

Doubt is what opens the door to new learnings…new understandings. Knowing that there is much that I don’t know–that what I am sure of today may be changed by new experiences with God–gives both God and me freedom in our relationship with each other.

Too often my experiences with those who claim never to doubt have been unpleasant. I have been told that if I just prayed enough…studied enough…listened to the right preachers…etc., etc., etc….then I would know “THE truth”, usually what they know is right.

Yet as difficult as they have been–and how I so badly wanted not to go through them–those times of doubt, the times that St. John of the Cross called the “dark nights of the soul” have been valuable parts of my faith journey. They have been the times that remind me where my trust needs to be–who my trust needs to be in. They are the times that strip me of the public face I put on…that bring me back to the foundation of my life.

You can’t rush through the dark nights. Trying to find a shortcut short-circuits the journey and the lessons that need to be learned.

Let the times of doubt come–as they will. Accept them as part of life, because each time you get to the light, the foundation will have become stronger, and you will be more prepared for the next steps on the faith journey.

Out of death comes life–
   as the seed must die
      before the wheat can burst forth…
   as the caterpillar dies in its cocoon
      gaining new life as a butterfly…
What seems the end
   is only the beginning

No reason to fear–
   And yet I lack patience
      wanting to crack the seed
      wanting to break open the cocoon-
         ending life’s circle.

Times of birth
   rest
      death…
All are part of your creation
   an ongoing circle.

May it be so.

Finding a (lost) dream…

A few weeks ago my husband, son, and I shared a Lord of the Rings marathon! He has all three of the extended version DVDs, so we watched one each night.

In The Return of the King, Frodo makes a statement toward the end that really resonated with me because it articulated a question I’ve been pondering for the last couple of months. Frodo has returned home to Bags End after his adventures with the Ring, and he says  something to the effect of “How can you come back home and pick up life the way it was when things have changed so much? when there are some hurts that are so deep they will never completely heal?” (Obviously that’s my paraphrase because I can’t recall the exact words.)

When I was much younger, I wanted to go several states away to college and focus on becoming an editor and/or writer. For a number of reasons, that didn’t happen, and I took a different path. Part of that path led–eventually–to an opportunity to do some print editing and writing in a position I took about 10 years ago…but then that position was eliminated, so I took (and created) a new position as a web editor in the same organization. That position has also been eliminated, so I am now functioning as a worship and music specialist. I love dealing with those two aspects of life–but recently the dream of writing has come up again…

And I wonder–how do you reclaim a lost dream?

I don’t think you can…not really. And that’s not necessarily bad. But what I think you can do is to let the dream take new directions. What I’m discovering is that the kind of writing I’m interested in doing now is not the kind of writing I would have done when I was in my 20s, and so trying to reclaim that part of the dream would be a waste of time.

There are a couple of projects I’m working on–personal projects. I don’t know where they’re going to go, but I’m excited about their possibilities.

So the dream is still alive–in a significantly changed form, perhaps. But allowing dreams to adapt to life circumstances…even allowing a portion of the dream to die…is opening new opportunities–and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.

How do you find a dream again?

What More Do You Want?

I think God has a great sense of humor!

The bathtub is my relaxation place…I enjoy soaking and doing some of my recreational reading there. Last night I was taking an early bath, getting ready for the one night that we watch TV shows (NCIS, The Mentalist, and Without a Trace)…and reading some old Guideposts magazines.

As I was reading some of the experiences people were sharing, I found myself wishing that I could have something similar–something that would leave no doubt in my mind but that I had had an experience with God.

Almost immediaely, the thought came into my mind–“What more do you want?” It wasn’t an impatient thought–more like a parent who is amusedly frustrated with a child who is never satisfied with what they are given or what has been done for them.

And it made me stop and think.

I have always said that I needed to allow God to work with others as God chooses–that because each of us is a unique person, our interactions with God will also be unique. But here I was, wanting something just like someone else’s experience–not my own.

Yet I’ve had my own experiences with God…and as I sat thinking, I realized that I need to pay attention to the ways in which I have been richly blessed.

Perhaps I haven’t had the same kind of miraculous experience that I was reading about–but I have gone into 2009 blessed in ways I would not have dreamed about at the beginning of 2008…when I was still struggling with bitterness, anger, and resentment.

  • I am waking up each morning looking forward to what the day brings.
  • I have forgiven someone who hurt me deeply–and the heavy burden that I was carrying has been lifted, leaving my steps so much lighter!
  • I have asked for–and received–forgiveness from that individual, without having to give specifics…and am now free to laugh and worship freely with them.
  • I am finding new opportunities at work–some of them are a bit scary, but they are also exciting as well. Last year I was just surviving at work.
  • Old dreams are finding new ways of being expressed.
  • Laughter is coming easily.
  • I am at peace–with myself and with others.

What more can I want than what God has already richly blessed me with? Thanks be to God!

Made it!

Thank heavens we have made it through the Christmas season of 2008 without another death! The last several years have not been easy ones for our family in December.

2002 was the first year my husband played Santa Claus at a shopping mall. He had a great experience–the program was well run and he was good friends with the other Santa. They were looking forward to working together in future years. But in early February, the other man was killed in a freak tractor accident.

My father-in-law (who had Alzheimer’s and was in a nursing home) got sick on Christmas Eve 2003…which was my in-laws 67th wedding anniversary! He died December 27.

In 2004, our oldest grandson–a Marine–died on his 21st birthday…December 1. He had been in Iraq–had made it back to the States safely, and was due to be home for Christmas. But some “buddies” woke him up about 5 minutes into his 21st birthday and took him out to “celebrate.” They brought him back several hours later, left him on his bed, and he never woke up. Jay had an occasional drink, but he was not a drinker–and it looks like he probably fell victim to a very unofficial Marine birthday celebration…putting up 21 shots of liquor and encouraging the birthday boy to drink them down because “you’re a Marine!” He would not have known the dangers.

In 2005, my father was in the process of dying–a process that had been going on for a couple of years. He was with hospice and was able to share in the Christmas celebration from the hospital bed in the living room. Then he went into a coma and died peacefully on December 27.

Thankfully 2006 passed without any losses. But in 2007, my mother-in-law decided that she had dealt with breast cancer long enough–especially without her husband. And on one October Monday morning, she decided that was it…she quit eating and two days later–on October 3–she was gone.

Needless to say, we’ve become a bit wary of this time of year! It’s not because of any dread of death. We are Christians with a strong faith in God–and a belief that death is not the end…just a doorway into new life. But it is difficult to deal with the physical loss of someone–and all the questions those situations bring up, especially for the youngsters who miss Grandma or Grandpa–during a time of celebration.

I know that we will have more losses to face. There are still eight members of the immediate senior generation living, and they each have their own health issues.

I am just grateful that this holiday season gave us a respite from facing questions of mortality.