I recently was inspired to write a song about our Mother Foundress. A little more than a year ago, God rekindled a passion of mine, and songs began pouring out of me again. What are songs really, but prayers? Not every song can be properly called a prayer, I suppose. But those that are derived from communion with God, that are responses to His movements, that are graced encounters and epiphanies and revelations… those, I believe, are prayers. And they are beyond the level of feeling. Yes, sometimes we may feel elated or sad or awed or alone, and these feelings may color our songs. But prayer is communication, not a way of feeling, and communication with God is always possible, even when our affect and faculties seem to fail us.
From a young age I have had a great love for singing. I remember my earliest memory of it - sitting in the backseat of my Uncle and Aunt’s car as a toddler and singing along to my favorite song on the radio, “Kiss from a Rose” by Seal. My older sister, Jessica, constantly encouraged me to sing, and I participated in several singing, acting, and dancing groups over the years. Self-consciousness set in a little more around middle school and high school, and embarrassment during a rendition of “Amazing Grace” freshmen year led me to doubt my ability to sing. Later in high school, I felt bolstered up by the accompaniment of a cover band that I sang for, but was still too scared to sing without them.
It was in college that I began to sing consistently in choirs at the church, and I was told by a musician that I really admired, that God had given me a beautiful voice. He inspired me to continue singing in public, and even to join the Spanish choir and to be a cantor for Mass. Unfortunately, as my confidence grew, so did my pride. Singing became so much a part of my identity that I often did not pray without it. Prayer is a dialogue, and for my part, I was doing much more speaking (and singing) than listening. Song is a wonderful tool for prayer, but it is not the only one, nor should it be dominant. What we receive from Jesus in His silence is greater than anything we could ever offer Him.
He began to teach me this in a very real way about a year and a half ago. Problems with the muscles in my throat seemed to develop out of nowhere, and singing became difficult. Eventually I could no longer help with leading the singing in community, and speech also became difficult. I was diagnosed with muscle tension dysphonia. I was hopeful, but after months of speech therapy and reaching what appeared to be a plateau, I had to accept my situation as it was. I began to feel like all of the songs that God had put on my heart, that he had inspired me to write, were trapped within me - that I could not even share them with my community. But this was what I needed to accept. What if I was not healed from this? What if God had me write those songs just for Him and I alone? Was I okay with that?
The answer is and was, “Yes”. The truth is, when I’m able to step back from the situation itself and try to see what God has been calling me to through it, I have seen grace. Through this silence, God has cultivated within me a deeper appreciation for silence. Through this silence, I have grown in appreciation for my Sisters, and the gifts God has given them. Through this silence, I have learned something about my own dignity, and how it is not diminished by lack of talent. I am still the same April, even if I am unable to speak.
So then, refocusing on the present situation, I asked myself, what can I actually do to benefit my community, in addition to praying for the flourishing of my Sisters? Jesus needed to give me an assignment through my Superiors in order to show me.
September 21st, 2016 would be the 150th anniversary of our Foundress Mother María del Refugio’s birth. A lot of our Sisters from all over the world would be meeting in Mexico for a big celebration. Mother Jeanette and Mother Rosario, our immediate superiors here, gathered us in the kitchen to let us know about the anniversary, and that each community was asked to contribute something to it. Ideas were proposed, and I was thinking of a song that had started formulating in my head (or my heart, depending on how you want to look at it) that morning. Just then, Mother Jeanette looked at me and said, “I don’t want to put any pressure on you at all, but I was thinking perhaps you could write a song.” Yup.
A few days later, the song was finished. It is a bit of a haunting song, written from the perspective of María as she reflects on the love and trial she has experienced in this life. She married probably due to family or societal pressure but came to love her husband very much, lost him and her son, and was left to try to provide for her daughter. There is an interesting twist at the end of this true story, so check out the video to see its conclusion:
Although singing is still a challenge for me, I feel renewed by the beauty that this project has elicited and solicited, and by the generosity of my Sisters and friend who made it possible. Let us give thanks to the Lord always! ~ Sr. April Marie