Sunday, September 24 (Mercy Day), 2017
Four weeks from today I will be back on The Vermonter, headed home from Pitch Week X. I will know the outcome of a competition for which I’ve been preparing since February. Perhaps I will have won, and Finding God in Ordinary Time will have a publisher and a publicist and be hastening out into the world. Or perhaps one of my warm, wonderful, whimsical competitors will have been the one to enjoy her Cinderella moment, and I’ll be using the Amtrak wifi to research Catholic publishers and prepare my next pitch.
“Are you SO nervous?” a friend asked me recently.
Actually, I’m not.
Why? Let me quote my own manuscript, which in turn cites Ignatius of Loyola:
In his Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius wrote that we should not prefer health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. It sounds crazy, I know; how could regular people in the world be that detached from their own fate? But Ignatius insisted that everything “has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.”
In other words, I don’t know what the best outcome of this Pitch Week would be. What will call forth a deeper response to my life in God? Winning sounds great, sure; who doesn’t want to win? And being associated with Green Writers Press in Vermont would be lovely, and getting to work with Dede Cummings, who designed my favorite Mary Oliver book, would be amazing and fairly karmic. But winning would also change my life in ways I can’t begin to imagine. And NOT winning would propel me down an alternate path, connecting me with different people and another publisher and a whole new world of experiences, which could also be wonderful.
Therefore in this final month I am trying not to get ahead of myself, nor run ahead of God. I’m preparing for Pitch Week in what seems like my every free moment. But I’m also steadfastly holding the “what if’s” at bay. My spiritual director says that most sentences that begin with “What if” are from the evil spirit. And with the exception of sentences like this morning’s, What if we made blue corn pancakes for breakfast? (yum) I’m inclined to agree with her. The results will come when they come, and I’ll respond when they do.
It reminds me of lesson I’ve learned from cantoring at St. Vincent’s over the last nine years. I can’t tell you how often I used to get a wash of anxiety during a ridiculously familiar song—seriously, like the Our Father or the Gloria or the Holy Holy—when I realized that I couldn’t think how the next section began. But of course the reason I couldn’t hear that bit in my head is because I was busy singing the current bit. By the time I got to the worrisome part, the piano would be playing it and my brain would have caught up to the music. Sometimes it was touch-and-go; I’d take a deep breath and open my mouth still not certain what was supposed to come out next, but sure enough, out it came, right on time.
Eventually I accepted that if I could stay focused on what I was singing in the moment, the next one would be given to me. As in Luke 12:12: “For the holy Spirit will teach you in that moment what you should say.” Or, come to think of it, as in the Our Father itself, with its request for daily bread (not Costco-sized multi-loaf packages).
And so in the next month I will work on my marketing plan, and practice my live reading, and hone my “author soliloquy,” and make a lot of trips to see my good friends at FedEx Office. I will also enjoy writing on the deck, and going for walks, and juggling the many events of this new semester at school. What I will really try not to do is worry. It’s just not a good use of my time.
Instead I will keep focusing on the prayer of St. Ignatius, as in Dan Schutte’s beautiful arrangement: Give me nothing more than your love and grace; these alone, O God, are enough for me.