Monday, October 31, 2011

Samhain Reflections

Every year on Halloween, I can't help but flood my body with as much sugar as possible. It's not only All Hallows Eve, you see, but also the eve of my birthday. A time for celebrating, to be sure.

Yet quiet moments always sober me today, too. Today is Samhain, and there are moments where I can almost feel the Veil paper-thin again. Almost. For a brief moment, standing outside with the wind chilling my bones and the crescent moon overhead, I longed for magick. For that freedom again.

It lasted just long enough for me to get into the car and head to church, kneeling at His feet in thanksgiving for the true liberation I've been given.

It's been a long time now, and those days are well behind me. I said to one of my ex-Pagan friends today that it's amazing how much can change with time, and how healing that distance can be.

Back then, I thought I was taking control of my life by making the Divine my servant, instead of me serving Him. But I, along with so many others, learned the hard way.

Even after years as a Christian, I am still learning every day that this life is not my own. Like it or not, I am not in control. Unless I continue to surrender myself and lay down my life daily, I'll never find peace.

Most days, the pace of my growth is maddeningly slow. "Why can't I just accept it," I ask myself so often. "I wish I could be better than this."

Well, looking back on the person I was in 2005, it's clear today that I am better. I am accepting faith. And I'm growing more with every passing Samhain.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lessons in Silent Moments

It's hard to fight these feelings when it feels so hard to breathe...

I've had this post sitting in my drafts for three days now, cooking. And I hate that.

For me, writing is not only a career choice but an outlet. I've never been especially eloquent in my speech -- I'm about as casual as it gets -- and thinking too much only tends to exacerbate things. In writing, I can take my feelings, focus them, and then be done with it.

But for the first time in ages, I find myself totally at a loss for words.

But we don't need to rush this...let's just take it slow...

In the past six weeks, I've been thrown on my back by a relationship that is moving much faster emotionally than I could have ever anticipated. It's pretty terrifying, if only because I'm acutely aware that this is not in my hands and never was.

I don't think I've ever been so completely disarmed by anything before...

On day one, not sure what else to do, I surrendered all of this without reserve to God, telling Him to do whatever He needed to do to make this work. Man, I really need to start thinking before I pray that prayer again. ;)

Just a touch of the fire burning so bright, I don't want to mess this thing up, I don't want to push too hard...

This weekend, He needed to teach me a lesson in humility.

Sitting on my boyfriend's bed and playing with a thread unraveling from the bottom of my sock, I was trying not to let the heavy, noisy silence between us drive me crazy.

I kept waiting for him to break it, but no, he wouldn't. He was at the moment a bit too shy. And I was too broody.

Then, God arrested me. I had just thought to myself that I felt entitled to more than what, on that day, he was willing to give.

Everything you have is a gift from Me. You are entitled only to what I've given you, nothing else. And you can either wallow in your selfishness, or be thankful for what's in front of you. What do you choose?

And just like that, my heart changed. In the span of three minutes I learned the true value of holding another person's dignity up over your own expectations ... how precious that is, and how insanely, stupidly lucky I am.

I chose to rest in that: the mind-boggling realization that it is possible to be intimate only on emotional terms. I'm not sure if I quite know how that works yet. But I do know it starts with laying down my pride and caring for someone not because of what they do, per se, but for who they are.

As my friend Peyton put it so eloquently in a text to me on the way back home: "There's something so incredibly beautiful about falling in love with the personhood of another ..."

You know what? I think she's onto something.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Gungor: A Musical Diamond in the Rough

In my last post, I wrote that in many ways, Christian music has worn out its welcome for me. Even Matt Maher’s latest record, Turn Around, came off as a collection of typical worship anthems, with a few exceptions.

The only artist these days who still captivates me is Audrey Assad. This should surprise no one. ;) Her new album is coming out in just a few months, and the few tracks I’ve heard so far have me on the edge of my seat with anticipation. By the way, if you think about it, please pray for her husband, Billy. He was recently diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma.

Anyway. A few weeks ago while listening to Pandora at work, I heard the song “Beautiful Things” by Gungor for the first time. I was struck at first by the rumbling cello in the beginning – I have a real soft spot for strings – and then by the sensitivity in the lead singer’s vocals.

I looked up the band on Spotify, and was blown away by the depth of their lyrics and the real musicianship throughout the entire thing. It makes a lot of sense, though. Michael Gungor grew up leading worship in church as the son of a pastor, and later, he pursued jazz studies in college.

Together with his wife, Lisa, they have managed to put together something so genuine and raw and uninhibited with their music.

On his blog, Michael writes, “This is risky in a culture that promotes singles and 99-cent song downloads.  It’s risky in a culture in which people don’t often sit down and actually critically listen to music very much.  Music has too often become background noise in our culture. It sets a mood, but don’t make me pay much attention to it!

Gungor requires a deep listen, one with the headphones on and without distraction. First, there’s the variety of instruments you’ll hear: guitar and drums – both are staples of rock and folk music -- but then other things, too. Flute. Cello. Banjo. Even a glockenspiel gets lots of attention in the album, which I think is just awesome. I haven’t heard one of those used in anything but marching band sets.

And after the music washes over you, you’re hit with a lyrical honesty that is very rare these days. The first track, “Dry Bones,” is a haunting, rock-driven cry for renewal in a dead soul. The title track follows, which is a perfect downshift, both in style and tone; it’s about God being able to start with nothing and make something incredible.

One of my favorite tracks is “Late Have I Loved You,” which should immediately ring a bell if you’re up on early Catholicism. St. Augustine wrote a famous passage that begins this way in his Confessions, and the song is a verbatim musical rendition of the passage. Classy!

While it’s true Gungor just released a new album, Ghosts Upon the Earth, on Sept. 20, I really do recommend you check out its predecessor first. Beautiful Things is a journey that will take a while to move on from.

Here are two videos I’d like to share: “Please Be My Strength” is so simple but, again, just honest. And the second, while not on this album, is an incredible testament to Michael’s ability to shred a guitar like no one’s business. ;)

Seriously. Just go buy the album!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A little rant on Christian music

A lot of things move me, all the time. Let's face it: I guess you could say it's just really easy to evoke emotion from me. I'm one of Those People.

And, like many of Those People, music is something I have a very strong affinity for. It was Victor Hugo that said music expresses what we can't find words to, when it's impossible to be silent. I'm a singer and a musician, and having experienced the power music has in binding and impacting people, it's become an adventure seeking out some of the best I can find.

Of course, when it comes to the contemporary Christian music scene, at times the pickings can be depressingly slim. In a lot of ways, if you don't listen closely it can be tempting to say it's all the same. Much like contemporary pop, the same four chords are played over and over by the same guitar. Add in a zealous singer belting out how our God is big, wonderful, holy, and worthy of praise, and you've basically summed up the genre in three minutes.

Bonus points if you add the voices of a few small children singing or speaking relevant Bible verses. Ditto for crowds of joy-filled worshipers raising their voices at the choruses, Kumbaya style. Yawn.

Maybe it has something to do with my past, but worship music like that doesn't do it for me. It's not like I'm seeking after warm fuzzy feelings in my music -- even if I were, the last place I would find it would be in those fluffy little singles.

The Christian music I do listen to speaks of a faith that has been through the wringer, torn to shreds and even extinguished for a time, like mine has been. But in the end, there's a recurring theme that despite those times, we're stronger, and God has used those seasons to give us a deeper appreciation of what He can use for our good.

When I have some spare time, I'm going to share a review of an album that I believe is a diamond in a whole lot of rough. Stay tuned.