“Calm down,” I told myself yesterday. “How many times have we been over this? You know it’s going to be there when you need it. You blogged about it, for Pete’s sake. Just keep singing!”
I was cantoring at St. Vincent’s, and the “it” was the Gospel acclamation (i.e. solo verse) to an alleluia that I’ve sung at least a hundred times. But here was the problem: earlier in the week I’d cantored three Masses on retreat with the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, doing an alleluia that I’ve sung at least a thousand times, with a very similar acclamation. As I sang the opening refrain (once myself, twice with the choir), I realized that I couldn’t anticipate the verse. I had no idea what I was supposed to sing next.
I tried to hang onto the wisdom I shared last September in a blog post called Holding it Lightly:
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 then came the moment of truth. The refrain ended. Valerie, our choir director / piano player, nodded at me. And the verse was nowhere to be found. Blank slate. Crickets. (Or–worse–crickets chirping the Celtic Alleluia instead of the Mass of Hope.)
So much for my wisdom, right?
But then a wonderful thing happened. I gave Val the “I don’t know the verse” face (and yes, that’s a face: panic-stricken eyes open wide; slight shake of the head) and she started to sing. At which point, of course, the whole verse came flooding back into my brain and I was fine.
And so my wisdom from last September gets an addendum. Sometimes God gives us what we need by having someone else hand it to us.
I experienced that reality in my book-life yesterday as well. As my publication date is just shy of three months away, there is so much work I should be doing: contacting bookstores, book bloggers, libraries and parishes; developing marketing materials, and strategizing creative ways to get the word out. The unappealing task of self-promotion could be a full-time job. Since I have a full-time job, however, I’m just doing what I can in the bits of time around the edges of my days.
But yesterday, out of the blue, I received a surprising email. One of the lovely women I met on the IVC retreat (where I was also the speaker) went home to Northern Virginia and told a friend about me. That woman pre-ordered Finding God in Ordinary Time on the strength of her friend’s recommendation, then invited me to exhibit at the Arlington Diocese’s “Future with Hope” Women’s Conference in October. Suddenly, I have a chance to bring my book to a part of the country I hadn’t even dreamed of reaching.
Indeed, sometimes God gives us what we need by having someone else hand it to us.
And so I will continue to practice holding things lightly, stay open to the messengers of grace God sends my way, and pray that I can share that message with someone who needs it today.
How about you? What do you need right now? And who might need something you could easily give?
May this ordinary day be extraordinarily blessed!