My husband is a deacon in the Eastern Catholic Church (specifically Melkite). His schedule is rigorous during the season of Lent with three services during the weekdays, Vespers on Saturday nights and Divine Liturgy on Sundays. During Holy Week there are lengthy services each night of the week. By the time Easter comes, he is exhausted. He is fond of saying, “I am ‘churched out.’”
I felt that way too this year. I am a member of the choir at my parish and because of the complex nature of the music we were doing for the Triduum and the Easter Vigil, there were many extra rehearsals. By the time the Easter Vigil came, I was “churched out” too.
What do I mean by “churched out?” Spiritual dryness: the ground of my soul, hardened, cracked like soil baked in the sunlight, deprived of rain. Instead of feeling drowned by Lenten activity, I feel spent.
Thankfully over the years I have learned not to allow my emotions to direct my path; feelings are fleeting and capricious. While the heart is so important to the spiritual life, sometimes the head needs to lead if the heart is afflicted. And the head is telling me, “Keep showing up.”
Go to Mass and participate. Continue with the daily prayer routine. Maintain your service commitments. Keep coming back to God again and again and again. Both a shovel and a pick need to be applied to that dry ground, chopping into it and turning over the soil so that life-giving rain can soften it and bring forth life again.
I find that music makes a great pick and shovel. And afterwards, a gentle rain. Each day I listen. I fall asleep to spiritual wisdom pouring forth from talented musicians. I do it again and again until the message penetrates. Sometimes I feel my heart becoming open again to God and a truth will pierce it. But then the heart will pull back and shut down. So I return to the music, immersing myself in it until my heart opens up until it stays open.
Where to find Catholic music that will pry open the heart? I have three recommendations.
Listening to monastic music truly softens the heart. I discovered the Benedictine Sisters of Mary Queen of Apostles through a program on CatholicTV. The program described the life of these nuns from Missouri, a semi-cloistered, contemplative order; I found myself intrigued by these gentle sisters and their smiles. Halfway through the program they described the process of recording a series of CDs featuring familiar monastic music. As they sang I got hooked and acquired several of their CDs. Their beautiful singing, sounding as one voice, became a staple of my morning prayer.
John Michael Talbot is another great choice. The music is quiet for the most part, and prayerful. His clear enunciation of the words provides plenty of delectable spiritual food for thought and contemplation. With over fifty albums to choose from it can be daunting to decide! I recommend “Table of Plenty” which contains perennial favorites such as “Be Not Afraid” and “On Eagle’s Wings.” Other recommendation include “Our Blessing Cup” and the “Master Collection,” both of which including his most popular songs. All of Talbot’s music can be found at http://www.troubadourforthelord.net/.
Finally I recommend Kitty Cleveland’s “Hail, Holy Queen,” a beautiful collection of favorite Marian hymns released just this year. Cleveland’s gorgeous soprano graces such songs as Shubert’s “Ave Maria,” “Sing of Mary,” “O Sanctissima” and “On This Day O Beautiful Mother.” I also recommend her “Be Not Afraid” album which includes many Catholic favorites along with a beautiful song about Pope John Paul II.
I am still struggling with spiritual dryness a month out from Easter but listening to music each day keeps me running back to the Lord, knowing that eventually, He will succeed in prying open my heart again. Even if I feel nothing at times I know inherently that I am being filled with the rich food that will bring me back to spiritual health.
I may still be “churched out” but I will never opt out of church.
Copyright 2017 Susan Bailey