By Maureen Briare, Guest Commentary -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Okay, I admit that I love "bling" – things that sparkle, razzle dazzle, and add pizzazz. Bring on the scarves, lipstick and costume jewelry!
Beyond the physical, I also seem to gravitate to "bling" when I compose liturgical music. When I add "bling" to music it is often in the form of chimes, cymbals, handbells or instrument parts that "dress up" a melody. Otherwise, a simple melody on its own sounds so "naked" or "exposed." Shall I say "boring?" Aren't enhancements and embellishments the ideal? My inner ear might say "yes" but here's a challenging question for me: Does the musical "bling" actually distract people from having a prayerful musical experience?
Music within the season of Lent, ideally, should simply and understatedly draw people into sung prayer using the God-given musical instrument that you carry around with you 24-7: your own voice! In many ways, hearing a group of people sing without instrumental accompaniment is one of the most deeply moving, powerful and beautiful ways to experience music. And when this song is coupled with divine prayer and text, it is a profound sacred experience of beauty.
I wish I knew why it is so hard for me to cling to the simple. It's like I'm a magnet to the complex. Why am I so drawn to what is "fancy" in life, like the frosting on the cake, which alone is sweet and unfulfilling? And not only in regard to music, but in my things: knick knacks and decorations that "dress up" a room, clothing and accessories. The list can go on and on. You know what I mean!
But seen with a spiritual lens, this gravitation toward bling can be perceived as "clutter" or distractions that keep God away. The immense gift of the Lenten Season is that it truly challenges us to see beyond our outward "things" and our "plenty" and focus on the inner recesses of our heart, where quiet, simplicity and God's ocean of love abides. I've heard the Season of Lent likened to a span of time when one figuratively enters a desert. Make your heart empty, barren, sparse, so there will be room for God to make an "oasis" there.
How can you cultivate the oasis in your heart? Can prayer be as simple as conscious breathing in, breathing out, or the inner dialogue to God as you journey through your day? I would say yes as a wonderful start. For once the channel of communication with God is open. As with any friendship, one will want to go deeper, spending more time talking and listening as the relationship grows.
The potential for spiritual discovery is limitless with prayer. What immeasurable grace, just for the asking! I'm reminded of the scripture passage from Matthew when Jesus instructs his disciples to "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7)." God hears and answers our prayer. Simply open the door to your heart. No technology or bling is needed.
So back to the Lenten music question: It is my hope that the less-adorned music of the Lenten season draws us more deeply, and quickly into the "space" of spiritual communication with God. It is my own personal challenge to focus on music not like "ear-candy" with lots of sweet layers, filling and outer coating but as true sustenance in our relationship with God. Music truly is such a gift, as well as a tool that can connect us with God.
TODAY marks the halfway point of Lent! March 31 is day 20 out of 40. To echo the words of St. Paul, God calls us to a holy life – adorned with faith, service and justice, and willing to embrace the cross. May the glare of "bling" in our lives not blot out the Divine Light that is Christ, our way, our truth, our hope.
Now I can't end this commentary on "bling" without a reality check. As of today, there are 20 more days of simple Lenten music. Let me tell you that by the time Easter rolls around, I will be more than ready to infuse "bling" back into the liturgical music! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Maureen Briare is the associate director of music for Campus Ministry. She can be contacted at email@example.com
Easter Triduum Masses at the Chapel of Christ the Teacher
Holy Thursday: April 21 at 4:30 p.m.
Good Friday: April 22 at 3:00 p.m.
Paschal Vigil: April 23 at 9:00 p.m.
Easter Sunday: April 24 at 10:30 a.m.