I’m in the Catholic choir. I love to sing and my praises to God. I find singing to be the form of praise I best relate to. I joined the choir about a month after arriving here. We’re not professionals by any means but we do a pretty good job.
But I struggle with motivation when it comes to practice. I go but I don’t want to. It’s not that I’m so good that I don’t need the time to polish up the hymns either.
I feel almost petty when I talk about my reasons for wanting to skip practice. Yet I feel there’s some validity in what I’m thinking and feeling. It’s not just one thing either, it’s a list of issues that, when added up, push me to my limits of patience. Practice becomes something I endure rather than something immersive I float within.
So what are a few of the issues?
We waste a lot of time. In addition to the singing done every mass (Amen, Alleluia, Our Father, Agnus Dei, etc) there are only four songs to practice yet it takes three and a half hours to get through them. Anyone who attends Catholic mass will tell you that there’s a limited number of songs to choose from so songs are constantly ‘recycled’. This means we’re practicing songs we’ve sung dozens of times before. The director will have us practice songs we’re not going to use – ever. If I wanted to participate in a sing-a-long I’d join one of the prison bands.
There is a power struggle between the actual choir director and an individual who thinks he’s the choir director. This leaves the singers caught between the two men when trying to follow directions given during practice. We then wait while the two guys iron out what we are going to do.
The thing that bothers me most though is the inappropriate language and humor. Just once I’d like to get through practice without sexual jokes or innuendos. Just once I’d like to get through practice without the ‘F-bomb’ being dropped a dozen times. After all, aren’t we a Christian choir? Shouldn’t we respect God in His house? Can’t we rise above these things for the time we’re together?
I could go on for another ten issues but I think you get the point.
“So, why don’t you quit?” may be what you’re thinking.
I feel like I’d be throwing away one of God’s gifts to me – an ability to sing. I’ve thrown away so many of the other gifts He’s given me that I realize I can’t keep doing that – He gives us only so many, right?
I feel I’d also be turning away from the way in which my praise affects me the most – in song. It’s said that when you sing praise it’s like you’ve prayed twice. I like that.
Finally, practically speaking, there are only so many things to do in prison. Finding ways to fill your time is not easy. One can only read or write so much.
I wonder if I’m the only choir member to feel as I do. I’ve not approached other members because I don’t want to cause issues. On the surface, based upon others’ behaviors, I’d guess I am alone.
So I prayed and meditated and I was lead to two bits of scripture.
The first is the parable of “The Widow’s Offering” in Luke 21:1-4. In this parable we learn of a poor old woman who gives her last two copper coins to the temple treasure as her gift. She does this without regard for how she will live except in faith that God will provide. I figure that if she can give everything she had then I can give my time and my voice and put up with the frustrations. After all, I’m still better off than that poor widow.
The second is Romans 5:3-4 which tells us that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. I look at this as a lesson I have to learn. Perseverance, character, and hope are all worth cultivating, right?
Beyond scripture, Lent is upon us. During Lent we are to fast. Fasting is sacrifice. Most people associate fasting with giving up food or some other enjoyable thing or bad habit. This year Pope Francis gave us other ideas – a list of eleven actually. Two of these suggestions fit my situation perfectly.
The first is to fast from complaints and instead to contemplate simplicity. How much simpler would my participation in choir be if I could put aside my complaints? How much less emotional energy would I expend without concentrating on the negatives?
The second idea from Pope Francis is to fast from bitterness and instead to fill our hearts with joy. This reminded me of my mantra – to find Joy In The Tribulation.
So I look for joy and I find it in the tears that well up in my eyes when I sing an especially moving hymn. I also find joy in the choir’s combined voices while in mass.
So for me the message is clear:
Use Your Gifts
Give All You Can
Persevere and Have Hope
Fill Your Heart With Joy.
Won’t you join me?