We often do things in our daily lives as part of our routines which can become so automatic, that we do not even think about how or why we are doing them at all. In other words, we can go on auto-pilot and get to a stage where we go through the motions without realizing how time is passing us by. We are great at doing but need to observe how and why we are doing it. This is true for our religious activities as much as it is for our secular ones. Is it time to look at things from a different angle?
I have found that there are so many similarities between my musical vocation and the faith journey for example. As part of my daily practice – be it singing or learning to play the piano – I first begin with some warm ups. This is the part of the routine when you make weird vocal noises and run through scales gently to get yourself limber and ready for more challenging exercises, then work on your repertoire. It is a slow process so you need patience, motivation, and commitment.
You rely on repetition to ingrain the technique, scale, or whatever it is you are working on so that it eventually becomes part of your muscle memory. You want to get to a place where you are so comfortable with the method and music that it becomes a part of you. Most crucially, if you are not in the right headspace or do not have the right intentions and are not calmly in tune with that (that is, getting God-focussed when serving in the church), then all of the technique and warm ups in the world will not work. You need to let go to find your focus. It is very paradoxical.
The contradictions become even more evident over time. You want to sing louder but realise that using softer dynamics with laser focus can give you more power – not force. You want people to connect with God’s love through the music, but sometimes it is actually the silences (rests) between the notes which seem to achieve that. You want to belt out a long piano piece but you have to start small with scales and build up to it. You want to be a painter but may have to learn to sketch and colour by number first. You want to be an athlete or marathon runner but need to do stretches and run shorter laps to build stamina. You need to plant the tiny seed before you get the giant tree.
It is the same with prayer and our relationship with God. Often the tiny work needs to be done on ourselves first before we can experience greater things. We want miracles and answers now but may have to wait a long time, so we cultivate patience and resilience. We want to build a relationship with Jesus but need to repent of any sin first and work on trusting in His mercy. We need to develop faith and spiritual muscle memory within ourselves. We achieve this by becoming loose but focused on God through frequent prayer and connection with Him.
Get loose – as in relaxed, calm, hopeful, peaceful, and totally trusting – not in the sense of being rash.
Get focused – as in keeping a laser-beam direction towards the heavens, anchoring ourselves in Christ and His ways, keeping our gaze on Him, allowing our morals, values, thoughts, and decisions to be firmly fixed on God – no matter what society may think of you or throw at you.
Be loose, but focused by having informal prayer times with God. Have you ever chatted with God as you would with a friend, in addition to any formal prayer time and Mass attendance? Some may call these short ‘aspirations’ or ‘invocations’ such as ‘Lord Jesus, have mercy on me’ or ‘Jesus, Mary, I love you, save souls’, ‘Jesus, I trust in You’, or ‘Come, Holy Spirit’. Or maybe just ‘God, I’m here.’ Short, informal, but focused.
Be loose, but focused by letting yourself be vulnerable. Cry if you are suffering, be honest with God when you have had enough or are tired with life, even if you get frustrated. Let it go. Hand it over to the One who bore it on the cross. Trust in the process.
Be loose, but focused by daring to be different in a world that may make you feel odd if you hold on to your faith in God and are a practising Catholic. Focus on God in your heart, away from the darkness and the noise of any naysayers.
You want to live life with poise, calm, and quiet confidence while paddling like mad beneath the surface to get to your heavenly destination (like the well-known image of the swan, serenely floating above water).
Why is this is the only way to live? Well, think of the alternative. Has being tense, uptight, controlling, frustrated, scattered, or forcing life to happen your way and on your own terms ever worked so far?
We all know through experience – be it our own or others’ – that this is simply not the way. How many of us have turned to empty time-fillers, addictions, or other distractions to get away from ourselves, the world, and our worries? Hands up who truly believes that these things really satisfy our souls?
It is time to take the other road – the one that Christ has laid out for you.
Can you see the way ahead?
There it is, paved with love and trust in Him alone. Give yourself a chance to try it and tread it. Loosen up, let go, and focus on His way. It is something that I am trying to do more every day – let’s walk together, shall we?