As our calendar squares march closer to Christmas, my mind moves to church — and to a thousand other places.
You see, when I’m in church, my mind can tend to wander.
I’m not alone. If 10 years of spiritual conversations taught me anything, it’s that…wow, that’s a nice statue. What was I saying?
Distractions are a real thing. If attendance is just putting together the grocery list, refereeing a couple fights, and saying hello to a loose acquaintance, church can all feel a bit like learning to drive a standard. Lots of starts and stops.
It’s true that best church strategy does not include actively looking for other things to do — Mass multitasking sounds a bit polytheistic. It’s wrong, though, to think every flight of thought sends you down the chute, doomed to start from sacramental scratch.
Do the thoughts enhance my prayer in some way? Maybe there is someone or some event that is being called to mind for a reason, to add to all the readings and prayers.
Do the thoughts broaden my focus? Maybe there is something stretching my general awareness beyond strictly personal concerns.
Do the thoughts have a playlist? Maybe this is just a personal problem.
More times than not, I find myself turning the dial onto some internal station, especially during the quiet moments of weekday Mass.
The sun streams through Holy Name’s avenue-sized stained glass, the priest moves to the altar to prepare the gifts, and I start hearing “Lipstick Traces.” Every memory lingers with me yet.
With no fellow communicant within five pews and father still placing the bread and wine, the playlist jumps from my head to my humming. I've got it bad, like I told you before.
Now kneeling, we listen as the priest extends hands over the gifts, transforming bread to body, matching action with lyrics. I'm so in love with you. Don't leave me no more.
Benny Spellman and the epiclesis at the church on the avenue. Benny, your won’t you come on home worked, I think as I see the communion line form.
Other days shuffle other songs. The Eucharistic Prayer bells chime, and Dr. Dre just might decide it’s time for “Keep Their Heads Ringin’.” The Communion procession scatters back into pews, and it’s hard not to hear “If I Ever Cease to Love.” Floating in and out throughout, an impassioned Ms. Irma may offer “Ruler of My Heart.”
These musical meanderings don’t feel like distractions. They don’t seem to pull me away from the church service as much as more deeply plunge me in. They’re the score under the action, shaking me out of the routine and sending me back with new ears.
They help me feel again.
Music does this for me like nothing else. I’m musically inept, for one, which makes any rhythm magical. I’m also in my head a lot. How does that opening prayer really make sense? Why did they leave out the uncomfortable part of that passage? Why must we hear another homily joke that has nothing to do with subpoints A-G to follow (in no specific order)?
Music shuts me up and connects my thoughts to my emotions. And music accomplishes the task even better when it’s not just the stuff I’m supplying.
The last Sunday in November was the first Sunday in Advent, a four-ish week preparation period before Christmas. As the Communion ministers began to line up, the choir at Our Lady Guadalupe readied the Communion hymn: “Come, Lord Jesus!” Shine Your mercy, shine on me. In the stillness of the midnight, please come Lord Jesus, and shine on me!
Even before the beauty of the words, the saxophone piped up. Unfortunately, the streamed 9:30 a.m. Mass did not capture the introductory riff at the 11:30, but it was passionate, pleading, ethereal.
It was prayer.
As I watched the Communicants stand up to receive that coming Lord Jesus and returned having found him, the music shocked me back into the importance of it all. Communion, Advent, Christmas. Come, Lord Jesus.
Sometimes heard through a saxophone.
When wanderings deepen the path, follow the music.
YouTube all the songs you want; I’ll take Irma and carry her into my prayer.
Annoyingly, I’m an LSU fan who never desired to attend our state’s flagship school. I’ll wear the shirt but never the purple-and-gold-colored glasses. So my reaction to Wednesday’s Baton Rouge booster club presser may not be suitable for drive-time radio or this happy-go-lucky blog. The highest paid public official in the Union is now the CEO of the LSU football team — think on that, without invoking “college football trickle-down economics.” I wish all good things for Coach Brian Kelly — and for his obedient players and his capable coaches and his direct media questions and his handy grad assistants and his joke books.