Sister Agnes Toku, a member of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus, and JoAnn Perou sing with the Sister Thea Bowman Gospel Choir during a Mass for Catholics of African ancestry at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, N.Y., Feb. 16.
BELLEVILLE, ill. — St. Augustine of Hippo receives credit for the quote, "Singing is praying twice." A good vocalist enhances the prayer of any and every liturgy, and the rest of the congregation, which, of course, includes a few good vocalists, can carry a poor vocalist along.
Bottom line: Sing your heart out because it is praying in and with the community in a special kind of relationship.
The lyrics of "This Is My Song" are among my most favorite: "This is my song, O God of all the nations, a song of peace for lands afar and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart is; here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine. But other hearts in other lands are beating, with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine."
It speaks of patriotism, of justice, of hopes and dreams of so many, and in the end, it is simply prayer for tolerance for all people.
I pray in quiet, sometimes as I walk, just in conversation with God; I pray the Our Father with others at every liturgy. I pray a novena for many reasons, sometimes to St. Jude, the great saint of desperate or lost causes. When I can't find something, I take my frustrations out on St. Anthony.
In today's culture, it can be difficult to find quiet time to pray. Technology also demands so much time and effort, and it's not easy to shut it down, turn it off and keep my hands quietly in my lap instead of texting a message.
When we breathe in and out and listen to the silence, it can surround us like a warm blanket on a crisp day. It's actually refreshing to hear absolutely nothing but my own breathing.
Even in yoga, some kind of music plays. Last week it was great until the whales started screeching at each other. That's not so good at 6 a.m. I usually pray during the exercises, not wanting to waste my time just exercising.
Recently, when I was worried about my sister's health, I began to "storm heaven," pleading with God to make sure she stayed here. I worried that God had other plans for her, but I was not ready for her to make a permanent change of address.
No matter how old we are, I always see her as "the adult." It seems she's all right for the moment, and like anyone in good health she's beginning to tire of me asking: "How do you feel today?" It won't stop me, and now that she's on my prayer list, she'll probably never get off. She said I was on her "list" twice. I wasn't sure how to feel about that. I'm still not.
Do you have a prayer list? How many people are on it? Are they all living?
My sister said she counted recently because it seemed like an enormous number of people. She counted 52 people. I don't think I know 52 people whose names I could remember to pray for individually. She didn't say she cheated on the numbers, but sometimes she prayed for a certain family, counting all the individuals in the family. Sounds like that's getting close to cheating to me.
Prayer is as natural as conversation and as comfortable as what we learned as children and passed along to those who have been entrusted to us.
It is where we turn when we reach the depths of despair or when we lose someone we so love much we can hardly bear the loss; it is how we express our thanks when something good happens in our lives; it is why we fold our hands as we approach the table of the Lord.
And it is how the song ends: "This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth's kingdoms: Thy kingdom come; on earth thy will be done. Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him, and hearts united learn to live as one. O hear my prayer, thou God of all the nations; myself I give thee, let thy will be done." Amen.
The writer is editor of The Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill.