Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Drama Queen in Me

So I got sick, and somehow getting sick reveals new and beautiful depths of my personality. For example, I begin to think the entire world revolves around me, and that entire world is somehow fascinated by/affected by me getting sick. In fact, I, the great mocker of drama have transformed into a full blown Drama Queen. Here are some examples of how my life has been going:

Me (this evening on finding that my fever has returned, aloud): Lord Jesus, I just want to be WELL again! I want to run, and dance, and play again!

Because I do a lot of running and playing when I’m well... not. This is after a grand total of having the flu for the past FIVE DAYS and I saw myself as Beth March pining away in her bed, her young life cut short too soon. 

Me (with great glee, to anyone who’ll listen): I have lost ANOTHER kilo! I now weigh a grand total of 46.5 kilos!

Then I run away to calculate how much that is in pounds so that the other half of the world can sympathize with me too. Then I picture myself as a frail, gaunt shadow of a woman, too weak to lift one bony hand to gesture frailly to my faithful nurse that I need another slice of banana cake. 

Me (text to my sister J): Hey, can you buy some banana cake or carrot cake on your way home from work?

Because being underweight is the same thing as having pregnancy cravings, where every family member is eager to feed you up with any random type of food your greedy heart desires. (My sister J actually came home and BAKED me a banana cake!) 

Me on Facebook: I sick and underweight. Please pray for me.

And my pathetic heart got a lot of prayers and sympathetic responses back. 

Me at the dinner table last time (high fever included): I hate life.
My family stares at me.
Me: Everything sucks.
My family: Hmm.
Me: I don’t care about anything anymore. And there are things I SHOULD care about, like praying for _____ and ______ who are struggling so much, and I don’t even remember. (The tears start falling.) By the way, the tears are totally because I’m sick.
My mum: Oh okay (reassured)

Me (checking my temperature every 15 minutes): Oh look, I now have 100.8. I love to quantify how sick I’m feeling. (I actually say that.) 

I do occasionally think about offering up my sickness, and sometimes do it, but mostly I don’t care enough. :-( Maybe sickness ISN’T my path to holiness?

Since I'm an INTJ, I did try to think why I get this way, and here's one possibility- I was one of five growing up, and whenever any of us got sick, that was when we got special attention from my mum, chicken soup, TLC, no school, homework, just storybooks and lots of laad-pyaar (pampering). So maybe that's my trained response. It's nice that I actually have my mum to keep doing this even though I've almost reached the ripe old age of 28.

Also, maybe I just like the attention.

Anyway, apparently getting sick apparently brings out the saint or the sinner in you:

St. Thérèse de Lisieux : “It's true, I suffer a great deal--but do I suffer well? That is the question.”

Sue: I suck at suffering!

The End.

P.S. Perhaps God will choose a different path for me to become holy soon?

(For some reason this post seems to call for a Hyperbole and a Half* picture. (Because my five days of flu are exactly like suffering from depression.* Not.) So here you go.)

* Warning: Some bad language in her comics.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Music Matters Part 2: An Enthusiastic Endorsement

So in my last lengthy post I wrote about why most church music drives me nuts, and how I long for something more. Thousands of readers emailed begging me to post the follow up post*, so I graciously put it together. Who am I to disappoint my adoring fans?

A few years ago I attended the most beautiful wedding I had ever witnessed. The bride and groom were both Catholic missionaries who loved the Lord. The final hymn was a song called 'Come Let Us Magnify the Lord'. As we all sang together, as I watched their radiant faces, my heart swelled within me, and I think there may have been tears and desperate attempts to save mascara.

Here was Beauty. The song was based on Psalm 34. Here's the background to the song, and the lyrics. What made it beautiful? It was not classical music. But it spoke Truth, and that truth was reflected in both the lyrics and the faces of those who sang it. The bride and groom were not gazing into each other's eyes. They were holding hands and joyfully facing God together singing both in thankfulness of how they had 'tasted and seen' as well in promise and hope that their lives would 'magnify the Lord' together. (They did and they do.)

You can listen to that song as well as three others at this link.

My family belongs to an international ecumenical Christian community called Sword of the Spirit, which has helped form my faith since I was 14. Within the community we have a brotherhood of single men called the Servants of the Word, who have composed a lot of music. They are also some of the coolest people I know.

Their music has been some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. The recorded audio quality of the mp3s I have is not always very good. Nor are the singers all professional singers.


Their music meets every criteria I put forth in my previous post. I have never felt closer to heaven as the times when I have sung and listened to their music. Quite the endorsement from critical Sue, huh?

What makes their music so special?

It is almost all based on Scripture, usually the psalms, as well as some prayers of the saints. The lyrics are rich and deep and true. They have been written by men who have a deep experience of God's love, as well as other members of the community. Their love for Him shines through the songs. I have spent time with different SOS communities who all sing their songs, and there is just SOMETHING about singing truth with love in the midst of the assembly. My heart says "YES! This!" I go deeper, higher, closer. The psalms come alive. I truly get a glimpse of heaven.

I don't know what to say that can truly describe it, except buy their music! This is the only link I could find to buy their music: Tabor House. (Rise up O Men of God, Sing a New Song to the Lord, Love Profound: Songs of Worship, In Spirit and Truth)

So many of their songs have touched me exactly when and how I needed it. These are some of my favourites-

Glory Cry the Angel Choirs

'What no man could hope for now conceived. 
Earth is raised to heaven on this eve. 
 God on earth and man in heaven, 
 Who can such a wonder fathom?'

I wish everyone could listen to this at Christmas eve to say 'THIS is what it's about!'

I Will Awake the Dawn

Awake, O harp and lyre, awake the morning!
 First light of day descends to lift my soul.
Your presence greets me, stirs me to seek Thee;
I come to do Your will.

and the way we start the Liturgy of the Hours every morning:

Open my lips oh Lord, my mouth shall sing Your praise. 

I am NOT a morning person, but this makes early mornings worth it. My family was on a holiday in Kerala last year, and we had to rise and leave one early early morn... at dawn. My dad started playing this song, and up, up, up went my heart.

Lead Me Home (audio clip)

For though my wandering heart should choose to roam, 
Your love will lead me home. 

It was for freedom that Christ has set me free. 

 How can this world stake a claim on me?

This is a beautiful a cappella song with female vocalists. This is one of the songs I keep on repeat.

I guess I should stop. There are so many that I love.

Music matters. (It's late. I can't think of any snappy or meaningful conclusion to this post.)

What Christian music do you know that lifts your heart to God? Do you any beautiful Mass hymns that you recommend? Not like I am involved in any church choir, but who knows, maybe my readers are. 

*This is a lie. I'm so excited you actually bothered to read these two posts! 

Music Matters Part 1: A Rant

So I have a problem.

((Everyone (sighing wearily) "What else is new with you, Sue?"))

Whatever. I have many (hugely important) problems, and it's my blog, so I get to talk about them here, and nobody can stop me! Except maybe bad Internet. Also that annoying Christian anti-complaining thing.

I've wanted to write this blog post for a year or so, but controlled myself because I knew it was just be all negative, without a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel. (Oh, the suspense. What IS she talking about?)

Let's just dive into it.

I can't stand most music that I hear at church or even at most prayer meetings. Fine, non-Christians, you can leave now, because you're like, "Ha hah! Justified! I don't have to deal with that!" But everybody else, you know what I'm talking about. Or maybe you don't. Hear me out.

I go to Mass, excited to meet Jesus. And then I spent most of the one hour cringing through the music. Or I go to any kind of prayer meeting or gathering, and I almost hate music by the end. I tense up, and want to scream "MAKE IT STOP!" (But I don't.)

(Inside my head, this is me. Don't judge me, fellow parishioners.)


Well, these are some ways I might describe both the music and the lyrics of most Mass hymns and even old charismatic songs.

Jazzy. Shallow. Flowery. Theologically unsound. (Yeah, that's a phrase I use a lot.) Chirpy. Overly simplistic. Illogical. Or just plain annoying. Aesthetically painful. Overly sentimental. Wishy washy.

But that doesn't really get to the heart of it. Maybe I'm just being picky, and hard to please, which with my overly critical mind sounds like MY problem, not anyone else's.

So I began to examine what exactly I WAS looking for. I had heard about beautiful liturgies, beauty winning people over to God, God being Truth, Beauty and Goodness. But that had not been my experience of religious practice. After a lot of reading, I was won over by Truth. After reading about the saints, seeing the fruit of Mother Teresa's work in Kolkata and meeting many living saints witnessing to a GOOD God through their lives, I believed in the Goodness of God. But where was the Beauty? If God was Beauty, why didn't our music reflect that?

Goodness in action (obligatory Pope Francis picture)

I have heard hymns that were old and boring, hymns that were new and trying very hard to be 'relevant', hymns* that talked about being better people, hymns that could almost be 'let's join our hands and change the world', hymns that forced beautiful prayers into awkward arrangements, hymns in which the lyrics almost seemed to get it, but then the music was so trite and ugly that you totally missed it, hymns that just didn't. get. it. I had met or glimpsed a beautiful, breath taking, majestic God, and I wanted to touch Him, feel Him through my senses.

Here's the thing. No matter how horrible the music is, at every Mass I DO get to touch that God, whether I feel it or not. That's because I believe Jesus' words about the Eucharist in John 6. I DO meet Him. I taste Him. I eat Him. (Yes, Catholics are weird.) So why do I need special music? What does it really matter?

It matters.

I need beautiful music to help truth sink from my mind to my heart. Beautiful music can lift the veil and reveal Beauty Himself.

So this is the kind of church music I want:

  • Music that will lift my heart to God. (Not music that makes my foot tap (It could be both, but not very likely))
  • Music that will help me see and feel the real AWESOME God (not just a shallow hippy 'peace out' nice guy Jesus)
  • Music that reminds my heart what AWE feels like (not music that reminds me of the not even subtly used secular song that they stole tune from)
  • Music that fills me up even while giving me a greater hunger for intimacy for God (not makes me want to try out my jive steps)
  • Music that inspires me to give myself more fully to God and people (not music that makes me say a little too convincingly 'THANKS BE TO GOD' when the priest says 'Go, the Mass is ended'.)
  • Music that fills me with JOY (Not frustration or even just a vague good feeling)
  • Music that helps me remember how precious the salvation that Jesus won for me is (not yeah Jesus was a good guy now let's be good people like him blah blah blah)
  • Music that helps me taste a little bit of heaven, of choirs of angels singing with beauty, joy and power (not makes me feel like I'm at a lounge bar listening to a soloist croon into the mic)
  • Music that helps me see Jesus (not makes me want to crane my neck with rest of the congregation to look at the choir)
Basically, I want music that puts me in touch with God.

Am I asking for too much?

No, I believe this is the point of music... especially religious music. And it is not happening in the Church in India today.

Since the rant part of this blog post got way too long, you get to hear my non-negative conclusion in Part II. (Yeah, bated breath, I hear it.)

*I use the word 'hymn' very loosely here.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Life Begins when You Meet the Man of Your Dreams

Just kidding! Of course it doesn't! (Sorry, this is not a relationship or engagement announcement.)

REAL life begins when you die.

Not really kidding, but that's not what I'm writing about today. What AM I writing about today? I have a lot of thoughts jostling about in my head, and some pressure to write SOMETHING because Monday is my day off, and the only real free time and space to write recently*.

So I was just thinking about how my early life plans were to marry early and have a bunch of kids (just to be counter-cultural, plus it sounded romantic). If I had to think about my life at almost 28 when I was 14, I would have been horrified to think that I was still single with no prospects of marriage in sight. Pretty much all my dreams of a future involved a Special Someone. Wanna hear something embarrassing? Of COURSE you do! That's why you read this blog. I used to refer to 'HIM' as 'The One'. Good grief.

But now... here I am. Now I KNOW what it feels like to be almost 28. And guess what?

It's AWESOME! I love it. Sorry about the caps. But life is great! I still think marriage is a wonderful thing, and babies are the icing on the cake, so no, I'm not into the whole 'A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle' feminist ideology.

But I've discovered that a fulfilled life is made up of more than marriage and romance. Here's a glimpse into this single girl's fulfilled life (because bullet points are awesome):
  • Finding a Love that satisfies: You KNEW I was gonna talk about God, didn't you? Well, what love could be sweeter, tenderer, gentler, or more passionate than Love Himself? Okay, this is a hard one to explain because it needs to be tasted to be believed. I do recommend the book 'He and I' if you're Christian but haven't tasted the sweet intimacy of a God who is a Lover.
Sue's Life-Changing Tip for Dissatisfied Singles #1: Meet Jesus. He's everything and more your heart is hungry for. And read Jennifer Fulwiler's 'Something Other than God'.
  • Companionship: I remember reading an article that said one of the struggles of single life was doing everything alone- shopping alone, cooking for yourself, coming home to an empty house. Why does that have to be the fate of the unmarried? I live with three other girls, and work with them as well as two guys. We do everything together, (except when I go hide in my Introvert Bubble every now and again) and I've never struggled with loneliness. There is a simple joy in cooking for your community, in staying up late talking, in daily prayer together, in shared jokes and even shared struggles. 
Sue's Life-Changing Tip for Dissatisfied Singles #2: Get a room mate! Or a bunch of 'em. Or find some form of Christian community, people you can share your life with. And then cook them chole bhature.
  • Little dreams come true: You thought the only dreams that mattered were marriage and babies? Not true. You know how I was dreaming about owning a bookshelf? Well, first someone gave me a secondhand showcase/bookcase which was nice, and somewhere to put our books instead of the suitcase they had been lying in for a couple of months. And then... my sister J emailed me to tell me she was giving me and my housemates a gift voucher that she had won for an online furniture company, and guess what's arriving on Valentine's day to warm the cockles of this bibiliophile's heart? 
This baby:

Sue's Life-Changing Tip for Dissatisfied Singles #3: Try to remember a dream/non-essential hope/wish for your life... and make it happen... or pray for it... or make someone else's dream come true... just as satisfying.
  • Hanging out with kids: One thing funner than going to a church fete is going to a church fete with a 5 year old and a 4 year old. I'm usually the one that embarrasses my family in public places, but this time I was about to hide behind the creepy giant Mickey Mouse as my 5 yo niece hugged him, pushing her face into his fat, fake belly, danced unrhythmically with him (her?), stared and shrieked and pointed at the man on stilts like he was the coolest-creepiest thing she had ever seen. I used to long for babies... and then my sister had two, and I love them to bits. They teach me to be gentle, and tender, and crazy, and and to have impromptu dance parties, and put on fake accents that have them in splits, and to do hugs and kisses even though being physically affectionate with others is still unusual for me.

Sue's Life-Changing Tip for Dissatisfied Singles #4: Find a child, any child, and make friends!
  • Self-forgetful Radiance: Stop obsessing over YOUR plans and hopes and dreams and feelings and thoughts and needs and desires and crushes and hurt feelings and LOOK OUTWARDS. Yeah, I'm a fine one to talk about that on my introspective blog. But seriously, if I spent all my time introspecting on a blog, I'm pretty sure I would have discovered a foolproof recipe for a dissatisfied life. There is beauty and joy in the world, and there are people who are hungry for love in this world... and here's God's trick... He made us happiest when we are least concerned with our own happiness. Take that from one of the most naturally selfish people out there, who has been learning this lesson reluctantly over the past couple of decades.
Sue's Life-Changing Tip for Dissatisfied Singles #5: Bake somebody cookies. Or just ask someone how they're doing, and here's the catch... really listen to the answer.

Okay, way past bedtime. Go be happy, peeps.

Want to add some tips? 

*Yes, I started writing this on Monday, my day off... and then I got distracted by many other Important Things.