‘M OUT FOR ANOTHER Friday morning run. I feel tense until I remind myself to settle into a comfortable rhythm. My favorite running book says to fall forward, let the ground drag the legs backward, and then pick up each foot at the back end of a stride. The idea is to expend as little effort as possible and let gravity—a force with which we can’t negotiate—do the work for you. Do it right, and you won’t experience any soreness from your run.
Fall forward, fall forward. I think I’m doing it right. But I often catch myself trying.
Never Waste a Tribulation
Another liturgical year is coming to an end. One of the neat things about being Catholic is that New Year’s comes early and quietly. (It’s hard not to mock the commonly held notion that life will somehow be different when we wake up on January 1—and it’s going to be unbearable to read social media posts that day from people who think that a sinister force called 2020 is now powerless against them.)
In the 1962 missal, the Last Sunday after Pentecost takes its Gospel reading from St. Matthew chapter 24. The abomination of desolation. The end of the world. This reading is clear about the trials we’ll have to accept if we’re still here for the Second Coming. There’s no mention of earning our way out of it. Even the elect will suffer:
For there shall be then great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be. And unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved: but for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened. (Mt. 24: 21-22)
We’ve endured a liturgical year full of tribulations that God allowed. Our music programs were interrupted, scaled-down, and abnormal. Of course, dwelling on these challenges would be like cursing gravity for pulling us down on our morning run. God’s permissive will is like gravity: it never rests, and we can’t change it, so we might as well figure out how to work with it in ways that benefit us.
None of this is to say we shouldn’t fight back when officials violate our rights under the guise of public safety. But in the end, God will allow us to endure certain trials for our salvation. How, then, can we master ourselves to the point that we may enjoy the fruits of these trials?
Try This Prayer by St. Jane de Chantal
In my second organ lesson with my new teacher, I’m playing through Bach’s Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland (BWV 599). It’s not a difficult piece for experienced organists, but it hits many of my weaknesses as a beginner. At one point, I hear an unplanned dissonance and pause to figure out why.
“It’s the pedal,” my teacher says. “But take a look at your right hand.” It’s locked in a death grip as I hold a chord. We both laugh.
“This piece is going to be all about body awareness for you,” he says. “Relax.”
The trouble with trying harder is that it often makes us think about the result rather than the process. It seduces us into believing we’re in total control. It obliterates Now and shifts our focus to a Next that may never come.
This is why I’ve been turning to St. Jane de Chantal and her Prayer of Abandonment for help in not only my spiritual life but also my musical life. An excerpt:
I am determined to leave all to Thee, taking no part therein save by keeping myself in peace in Thy arms, desiring nothing except as Thou incitest me to desire, to will, to wish.
There’s no Next without Now—and we can’t focus on Now unless we practice abandonment. When we let go and embrace Now with all its risks and imperfections, we can finally enjoy that crucial moment of intense silence before the first downbeat or exploit that bold new possibility that presents itself during an organ improvisation.
It has little to do with trying harder. Fall forward, fall forward.
Your Redemption Is at Hand
I wake up on Saturday morning to aching calves—but they’re not sore enough to stop me from practicing Bach.
In an empty church, I tell myself I don’t care about the right notes. There’s nobody here but God, Who will be neither impressed by a perfect rendition nor offended by mistakes.
As I focus on relaxing my right hand, I’m startled to realize that my feet are pedaling correctly without my permission. The seamless multitasking throws me off, and I stop.
Don’t think, I tell myself. Fall forward.
We’re all falling forward into a new year, and as always, liturgy is the best teacher. One week after the end of the world, we begin Advent with new hope:
Men withering away for fear, and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world. For the powers of heaven shall be moved; And then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud, with great power and majesty. But when these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand. (Lk. 21: 26-28)