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Archive for February, 2010

Woodshedding

Back in my college days I took an African-American Literature class. It was taught not by a Wayne State professor, or by a teaching assistant, but by a visiting professor, Poet Laureate of East St. Louis, Eugene B. Redmond. I hated this class. Not because of the literature itself, nor necessarily because of his teaching style, but because of the work load. I never could finish a reading assignment in the class. I remember completely missing the point of a poem I was supposed to interpret for one of our essay assignments (Sympathy by Paul Laurence Dunbar). I still don’t think I learned much in that class. For many years I thought that that class was a waste. Then I started to think that it wasn’t a waste. Occasionally during that class Mr. Redmond would talk about the processes he would go through to write his poetry. One of those he called woodshedding. He would always say that in order to write, one has to go out to the woodshed. Get away from everyone and everything and then, and only then, can you listen to your inner voice.

I used to write poetry. See the Poetry tab above to read some of my work. I started writing in high school and continued writing into adulthood, but I haven’t written anything for the past nine years. I’ve always been telling myself that nothing inspires me. To which my husband probably thinks to himself, while rolling his eyes, “Gee, thanks dear!” But, recently, I’m thinking that it’s not so much a matter of lack of inspiration as it is a matter of not making it a priority to woodshed. Not making it a priority to sit in silence and listen to my inner voice.

Lent started last Wednesday, and so far it has not felt like Lent for me. “There’s something missing” I kept saying to myself, but I couldn’t come up with what that was. Then at church on Sunday, after the homily, Fr. Scheuerman turned to our deacon and asked him if he had any suggestions for Lent. He said that we must take time to sit in silence with the Lord. We must sit still and let Him talk to us. We must pray, but it can’t be a one way street with us talking. We must listen too.

I said to myself: “Yes! That’s what was missing from my Lent. Silence. Silent prayer.” I’ve always included that, but this year it seemed like I always had something else that “must” get done. Then I started thinking about my writing. And, it dawned on me that the reason that I’m not feeling inspired to write may be that I’m not sitting in silence listening to my inner voice, not listening to God, my center.

In past blog posts I talked about decluttering my closets. This Lent, this year, I must declutter my mind, remove all the “noise”, and get back to center. Get back to finding my inspiration.

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Ashes

Today is Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. A penitential time intended to get us ready to experience an Easter rebirth. This is a time for inner reflection. A time to review the past year and contemplate the times when we have strayed from our relationship with God.

Today is a day of fasting. During Lent we are encouraged to sacrifice. Not just for the sake of depriving ourselves in penance for our sins, but so that we can move closer to God.

Sacrifice. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, sacrifice means to surrender something for the sake of something else. In Latin, this word is a combination of sacer (sacred) and facere (to make).

It is time to ask: What should I sacrifice? What should I give up for the sake of something more fulfilling, something life-giving? What’s keeping me from a closer relationship with God? And, as a result, what’s keeping me from a closer relationship with my fellow human beings?

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Love means to reveal to a person his or her own beauty.
Jean Vanier

I know I’m a bit early in wishing my readers a Happy Valentine’s Day, but we plan early in my household. A couple of years ago we gave up celebrating holidays such as Valentine’s day in what has become the traditional (i.e. commercial) way. Instead, for all holidays except Christmas my husband and I pick a special entree and special dessert and then we cook a nice meal together. Just so things are fair, we switch off. One holiday I pick the entree (and he cooks) and he picks the dessert (and I cook) and the next holiday, we do the process in reverse. This takes the pressure off finding the “perfect” gift (who needs more stuff anyway) and it gives us some time together enjoying each other’s company. And, we do enjoy this time together. Invariably, no matter what kind of day we had, we always end up laughing and in a good mood.

Of course, I was not always married. And, perhaps like some of you reading this, I would sometimes get depressed when days like this rolled around. Everyone seemed to be part of a couple, except me, I’d think. But, who says Valentine’s Day has to be about romantic love? Even if you are single you can celebrate Valentine’s Day. Just do it in a non-traditional way. Love comes in many forms and everyone is loved by someone (even if the only someone is God). So, use this day to express your appreciation to all those that love you. And, I’m guessing that most everyone has someone that they love (brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, children, friends,… and perhaps God?). Valentine’s Day can be one extra special day in which you express your love to these people (in word and in deed). My guess is, once you show your appreciation for the love you are given and then give love to another, the depression you felt will lift and you’ll be able to say to yourself: “How Blessed I Am!”

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When warriors come and bang the drum
And march their troops before us
Then friends of peace link hand in hand
And join as one in chorus

— Third verse of the song “How Can I Keep From Singing?” composed by Joel Mabus, 2003. Original hymn composed in 1860 by Robert Lowry.

Yesterday I, my husband, and my mother-in-law went to a Community Sing at my husband’s old middle school, now a community center, in East Lansing. This particular community sing was part of the annual Mid-Winter Singing Festival held this time of year. This is the first time that we’ve gone, but I’m guessing it won’t be our last. All of us had a wonderful time. If you like singing (even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket like me), like folk music, or like comedy you’d love this “concert”. Leading the sing this night were Joel Mabus (my favorite), Susan Werner (a new favorite), Frank Youngman (funny!!!), and Rachel Alexander (what she can do with 70 amateur singers in a 90-minute workshop is amazing!).

The mix of songs is older (i.e. “My Blue Heaven”) and newer (i.e. “My Girl” by Smokey Robinson). The singers on stage put their own spin on things too. And, every year after intermission at the Saturday Community Sing, the “choir” from Rachel Alexander’s 90-minute workshop comes out on stage to sing 2 songs. This year one of the songs sung was by Susan Werner herself. She sang with the choir. The song: “Help Somebody”. Loved, loved, loved it. Loved the song, and the 90-minute choir was spectacular. Here’s a performance of the song, though not the one I saw, obviously:

This night, WKAR, the East Lansing public TV station was filming a documentary about the Mid-Winter Singing Festival. I don’t know how the documentary will turn out and I don’t know when it’ll air, but if you can get WKAR on your TV, then I suggest you watch to get a feel for what it’s all about.

If you’ve never been to the Mid-Winter Singing Festival and the Community Sing, I’d highly recommend it. Plan ahead. The next Singing Festival is Friday-Saturday, February 4-5, 2011.

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