My relationship with Jesus has always been a constant even from my early years. I was always mothering someone or something. I remember as a little girl dressing up as a nun. I’d pack my missal given to me at my first Communion into my purse or backpack and read it in my free time. A few years later at the sweet age of eight, I traded that in for the hymnal. I still have that same hymnal on my nightstand, such was its impact on my life.
Saint Augustine is often quoted as saying “Singing to the Lord is praying twice.” For me, it is the very focus of my prayer life. Often the melody of a psalm or the words from a hymn are my first response in times of joy and need. Of my time spent in church as a youth, this is one of the greatest gifts bestowed upon me.
As a youth, I grew up in a home where family life was tumultuous and broken. I spent a great deal of time at our church, which was built in the center of our neighborhood. I would walk there from my house. Meetings happened all around me, from parish council meetings to PSR to Pre Cana. I sat and studied in the kitchen or sat in the church and did my homework with Jesus. A little grown-up girl at the age of 8, I pretended that everything was normal at home and asked if it would be OK if I did my schoolwork here. Our wise priest, who knew his flock well, paved the way I am sure, and a plate of donuts and a bowl with apples was usually left on the table in the kitchen. He will never know how huge this act of kindness was.
The choir director noticed my constant humming and singing and asked if I wanted to join the choir. Wrapped in the arms of love by this group of prayerful people, who one day would all sing at my wedding, I attended weekly practices and became a cantor. One of the members built me a stepstool so that I could reach the microphone! I attended every Mass, every prayer service, many funerals — always singing. I would walk home after practice, sometimes in the dark of night, and sing at the top of my lungs with my heart wide open to the Lord.
As I started home, I would begin with a “Glory and Praise to Our God,” and when I passed the house with the cavernous ditch in the back of their yard, out came the “Be With Me Lord When I am in Trouble,” as my little feet walked faster. “Bless the Lord My Soul” followed my supplication with praise. As weird as it sounds, I had songs for all the pivotal moments in my youth.
When things were scary and unknown: “Shepherd me O God, beyond my wants, Beyond my fears, from death into life. God is my shepherd so nothing shall I want. I rest in the shadows of faithfulness and trust. I walk by the quiet waters of peace.”
Watching my friends discern college and figure out what they were going to study? “Abba, Father” was a core favorite. “Abba, Father, You are the Potter. We are the clay. Mold us, Mold us and fashion us into the image of Jesus your Son.”
Loud, dangerous or scary times at home: Psalm 91. “Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble, be with me, Lord, I pray.” I knew every word, and the melody calmed my fears.
The death of a loved one: “I know that my Redeemer lives, the one who calls me home. I long to see God face to face, to see with my own eyes”: such comfort these songs brought me.
I smile with nostalgia at youthful moments as well, where these songs poured from my heart with all the drama a 13- to 17-year-old girl’s heart could hold …
The high school betrayal of those whom I thought were friends: Psalm 22: “My God, my God, oh why have you abandoned me?” I would sing that psalm and cry out the words. I would throw a stuffed animal, flop on my bed and bang it out on my keyboard.
The ache of a first heartbreak: I was the nerd who sobbed into her stuffed animal. “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have called you and you are mine.” Now granted, I totally had the theology of this misplaced, but I think it actually was healthy and good because it showed me how much the Lord loved me and how constant He is.
Flash forward thirty years. I am a joyfully married mother of eight children who have grown up with these songs as the backbone of their childhood. Many nights have I sat at the top of the stairs praying with them. My repertoire has changed these days.
Seeing the need for humility and servant hearts in my children: “The Servant Song.” “Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace … to let you be my servant too.”
God’s steadfast love: “The King of Love, my shepherd is whose goodness fails me never. I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine forever.”
Bedtime: “Hail Mary, Gentle Woman” is a family favorite and is known in my book to have special graces to even calm down after daddy piggyback rides with younger kids and dad jokes shared in the older boys’ rooms. An eyebrow raised, a knowing smile, and the songs begin.
Some might grumble as they get a little older, but I hear them hum the “Lourdes Ave” as they nestle into bed. Even my older son whose bedroom is now in the basement will sometimes sit on the staircase with me when he comes home and finds us in the middle of bedtime, and hum along.
These are the cadences of our family’s heart, the melody that drives our days. I am so grateful for the gift of music to aid me in my prayer life as a youth and my vocation as a mother.
St Cecilia, pray for us. St Augustine, thank you. Jesus, I trust in you.