Sunday, May 24, 2009

It's All In The Details

"I'd like to use the Kyrie for the Sunday Mass," Father Ed said during our Cursillo Liturgy planning session yesterday. I flipped my index open as if on command, scanning the list for some contemporary arrangements and only half-listening to his question. "What do you think, Gina, should we go with the Greek Kyrie or the Latin?"

I replied with my nose buried in my list, "Oh, there are so many arrangements, I think we should make it easy on everyone and just go with the Latin."

This is what I get for paying attention to the wrong details. That's right, the word Kyrie is Greek. There is no "Latin Kyrie". I totally fell for it. What makes this sadder is that I am the 1998 Evangelos Meshel Award winner for Ancient Greek Language Studies. How pathetic is it that I didn't catch Fr. Ed's joke? Father let me yammer on about musical arrangements, composers and other unnecessary details for a few minutes until he finally let me off the hook. Gotta love a priest with a twinkle in his eye and joy in his heart. "Of course you knew it," he explained. "You merely forgot." You can bet I'll never forget that detail again.

Father's little joke was still on my mind later that afternoon at the wedding I cantored. Most of the time when cantoring a wedding, I'm not paying much attention to much other than my music, but this time I watched the bride & groom, attendants and guests. They were nice, but were pretty lukewarm. The matron of honor was carrying on conversations with the bridal party during mass. As they exchanged vows, the bride & groom fidgeted mindlessly. Few responded. Few participated. Suddenly my little light bulb perched above my head went on.

I think Father's little joke snapped me out of something. I began to think about Mass, and how when I'm not cantoring, I find myself fidgeting in my seat, flipping through the missalette or hymnal, mentally critiquing the musicians, reading ahead any upcoming Masses I'm going to be planning, anything but being present. I realized that most often, I really need to work hard at paying attention. Apparently I've fallen victim to my own self-image as a liturgist. That morning with Fr. Ed, I was so worried about looking like I knew what I was doing. No wonder I forgot something as fundamental as "Kyrie" being Greek.

It's like I tell my guitar students: bad habits creep back when you're not practicing. Yet every one of my students will forgo practicing their scales to spend an hour picking out our cool new strap. We buy metronomes, tuners, 75 picks, fancy guitar stands, all because that's what guitarists have. But our playing suffers. We forget our form. We shave more practice time off our weekly routine. Little by little we lower our standards until suddenly we're forgetting what should be elementary. Most of the time we find ourselves back in those bad habits long before we realize it. Practicing with vigilance is a must.

It's the same with our Christian walk. Christianity is counter-cultural in its idealism. Living in a world offering self-image as its ideal, however, many of us find ourselves fixating on what others see when they look at us, ranging from our physical appearance to our status in our communities or environments. We do things to placate our fixations, even if it means spending money we don't have, using our friends and loved ones, telling a little white lie here and there to protect ourselves and to get the reaction we want, or a whole host of other bad habits, all to achieve an opposing ideal. We tell ourselves that we're on the right track, because we outwardly look Christian; but our total lack of progress in our Christian walk indicates otherwise. We know in our hearts that to achieve our self-serving goals, we've completely ignored the wrong details.

Looking like a good Christian really means nothing if we're not walking the talk. Eliminating those bad habits promoting self-image requires vigilance. We have to actively change our mindset away from the impressions others may have of us toward what is truly right. For me it means more than just planning suitable music and performing it well. It means being present in my heart, whether I'm cantoring or not, and being mindful of every detail as if my relationship with the Lord depended on it. (Not to mention my reputation as the 1998 Evangelos Meshel award winner.)

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