You’ve Gotta Sing Your Song

barbershop quartet, Concord Coachmen

My father sings barbershop.  Yup.  Even worse, he’s a baritone.  What does that mean?  Well, in this four-part harmony, the lead sings the melody, the tenor takes the high notes, the bass takes the low notes, and the baritone gets the leftover bits and scraps.  To make the specific “barbershop sound”, sometimes those odd bari notes sound downright terrible.  Hearing him practice singing his part alone can be an exquisite irritation.

But, sing it he must.

As one of the members of his barbershop quartet reminded him, “You’ve got to sing your song.  Your part is your song.  It’s not anybody else’s, so you’ve got to learn it and make it yours.  Don’t worry about what other people are singing – sing your song.”  This is very good advice.  And not just for singing harmony – but also for living life.

We are all part of this world, this life, and God has given each of us a specific song to sing.  Just randomly making up our lives as we go along will not allow us to become part of something greater than ourselves.  The song given to us is suited to our distinctive talents and abilities.  I am unique and my song isn’t like anybody else’s.  Of course, there are many similarities to others’, for we humans share many things in common.  There are only a finite number of notes, after all – but with myriad combinations to make unique sounds.  We need to cooperate with God, thoughtfully, to find those combinations, discovering our true songs and striving to excel at singing them.

Sometimes, someone’s true song can be beautiful on its own – but, when others join in with their complementary songs, the sound of that first individual becomes deeper and richer than it was by itself.  And, then, there are those songs that just shouldn’t be sung all by themselves.  (I, a bit odd with my crippling disability, am certainly no good alone.)  However, what sounds awkward and aberrant when alone gains belonging and importance when joined by community.

The fact is that there is no barbershop harmony, there are no magical barbershop chords, without the odd and sometimes jarring song of the baritone.  In conversation with my father last week, we both recognized how this truth can be a lesson for everyone: we sound better together when we are true to our own songs.  A tenor can’t sing the bass’ part and a lead isn’t going to sing a baritone’s part for him.  If you are true to the song that is given you and sing it with heart, then you have done your part and done it well.  And if your true song seems pointless, weird, or lacking, then you must seek out others who need your song – who need it to make the music complete.

Maybe this little life lesson that my dad and I stumbled onto will make me better appreciate, and even come to love, the baritone part of barbershop being practiced all by itself.  Maaaybe

© 2017 Christina Chase

“Who Are You?” Mentor and Memoir

window, portable

Who are you?

This is a question that my mentor, Mr. John D Meehan, asked me in one of a handful of face-to-face conversations that we had.  And when he posed it to me, different answers went through my mind.  All that I could really think of responding with, however, was, “me” – and that with a question mark at the end of it.  I chose not to give an answer out loud, just sat there thinking and waiting for him to continue.  I knew that he would.  He mentioned each of the ways that had flipped through my thoughts, the ways by which most people answered the question: professional identity, national identity, religious affiliation, familial or social association, maybe even a hobby.

But, Mr. Meehan said, none of these go to the heart of your true identity, to who you are.

He said that the truth of who we are is in relationship with Christ, then gave the example of Mary Magdalene.  She didn’t recognize Christ Resurrected, but as soon as he spoke her name, she knew him.  In this, Mr. Meehan was inviting me to find the answer of who I am.  Having been a teacher, I think that he could have spelled it out a bit more plainly to me.  If he had, maybe he would’ve said something like “you are a child of God”… but, then again, perhaps he knew that that answer would not have penetrated into my mind and heart because I had heard it too many times before.  Or, perhaps, he didn’t like that answer either, for the same connotative reasons that would have made me smirk.  I’ll never know now, because, last week, Mr. Meehan died. Continue reading

Human In Utero – No Matter What

Between the 8th and 12th week after your life began, you had your own unique set of fingerprints! Yet another way to identify you as YOU. Of course, God doesn’t need any physical markings to know who you are. As He says through his prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”

three-month-old human fetus

Your mother was only near the end of her first trimester of pregnancy when you looked like this picture. And you were less than five inches from the crown of your head to your heel. Small as you were, you bent your knees and elbows and wrists, moving your little muscles with increasing strength – yawning, stretching, squinting, turning your head, and moving your tongue. Your tiny face, hands, and feet were sensitive to touch. Any pressure on your feet would make your knees bend up, pulling your feet away from the stimulus. Your teensy, tiny hands were already capable of grasping.

Yet, despite your sensitivity and action, your mother couldn’t feel your movements. From her, through the umbilical cord, you received the oxygen that you needed while you breathed amniotic fluid in and out to exercise your lungs. As you sucked your thumb, the amniotic fluid that you swallowed was processed through your digestive system. Your incredibly itty-bitty fingers and toes were growing nails, and you touched your hand repeatedly to your face, where your little nose and lips were completely formed. Your facial appearance continued to change, as it continues to change through every stage of your entire lifecycle. At this tender and tiny age, in the fetus stage, you made complex facial expressions – and even smiled.

Given all of this, many might still have dismissed you as nothing but tissue, using the scientific term of fetus as a way of denying your humanity. But, you were you from the beginning. YOU – who are made to grow, developing and changing in both large and subtle ways, every day of your life for as long as you live.

And even if, through deformity or disease, your knees, elbows, or wrists could not bend, or your nose, lips, fingers, or toes could not neatly form, you were still you – and you are human. Physical appearance and abilities do not limit your humanity. From the moment God created you with a spiritual soul, animating your unique life form, you were a living human being. No matter what size or shape, no matter how limited or weak, the Creator of All delights in your existence. You are created in the image and likeness of the Divine, which has no physical criteria, and that is why you are sacred from the beginning – independent of length of time or breadth of space – and for all eternity.

You are God’s beloved human creature, no matter what.

© 2016 Christina Chase

originally posted on my parish’s website: CatholicSuncook.org


Jeremiah 1:5

Sources:

The Endowment for Human Development 

Web M.D. (uses LMP for age)

The Archdiocese of Baltimore (image source)

All God’s Creatures: 2 Month Fetus

What makes a human being a human being?  Is it a case of knowing one when we see one?  The Bible, however, teaches us not to judge by appearances.  And, so, there must be more to it…

human embryo in first month, looks like a tadpoleLooking at this picture of you, in your first month of life, you looked more like a tadpole than a human being.  In fact, scientists say that there is very little difference in appearance between a frog, a mouse, and a human being at the embryonic stage.  It’s right and natural that we have commonality with all living things – we are all creatures, after all, created to live on this earth.  Didn’t St. Francis sing of our brotherhood and sisterhood with the fish and the birds and the beasts of the fields and woods?  The variety of creatures in our planetary home is rich, amazing, and beautiful.  Some are green and slimy, able to hop and swim; some are small and furry, able to scurry and gnaw; and some are tall and long-haired, able to write poetry and map stars. Continue reading

Your First Heartbeat: Human In Utero

You were once smaller than a grain of rice.

And, yes, you looked a little weird at this stage of your development.  But, make no mistake about it – you were you, human in every way, growing and thriving, intimately connected to your mother, your own heart beating with the drive for life.

Finding Shelter

After conception, your cells multiplied and divided quickly, changing you from a zygote to a blastocyst.  As you drifted freely in your mother’s womb, you grew more complex and caught onto the lining of your mother’s uterus, attaching yourself and burrowing in to this place of refuge.  The very touch of your presence caused a space to open for you so that you could nestle in for safety and continued life.  Your mother’s blood vessels, little capillaries, reached out toward you to begin giving you nourishment.  The placenta and umbilical cord began to form, creating that vital connection between you and your mother, without which you could not have grown, without which you could not have survived.

Although she probably didn’t even know of your existence yet, your mother was already mothering you, naturally, with the great biological gifts given to her as a woman.  It was her blood supply that gave you nutrients and through which your wastes were taken away.  She instinctively made room for you and for the continuation of your life.

Heart-To-Heart

In this same first month of your life, when you formed your first connection with a human being, your very own heart began to beat.  Think about it… This was truly the beginning of your life as a human being in relationship with others: another person began to give to you what you needed and take from you what you couldn’t handle on your own.  It is divinely poetic that it was at this moment in your life that you had your first heartbeat.  We say that we relate to one another through the heart.  Think of your mother’s blood vessels, which gave you your first nourishment, as her heart strings.  Your pull upon her heart strings made room for your life – for your own heart to begin to beat, too. Continue reading

Cancer and Perspective

For my aunt’s cancer, angiosarcoma, to be removed from her body, her nose had to be removed.  After a year and a half of surgeries, nearly torturous radiation sessions, and more surgeries, her “new” nose is left permanently disfigured and dysfunctional.  At least, however, she had the knowledge that the cancer was gone and her life was safe.

But, the cancer has returned.

What looked like a bruise near her jaw is actually cancer.  And it, too, must be removed.  I imagine that more radiations… and uncertainty… will follow.

My poor aunt!  I feel awful for her and can’t even imagine what she must be feeling and thinking.  How will she get through this?  Where will she find the strength, the wisdom, the grace?  I find myself asking the same questions that I had when she first told me of her cancer on Christmas Day, 2014.  And my prayer for her now is the same as it was then.  Here is what I originally wrote – about my aunt the artist and about having divine perspective, even in the face of cancer:

Perspective   (click to read)

© 2016 Christina Chase

What the Assumption Teaches about the Human Person

Do you see this person as beautiful?

popes man riva

Vinicio Riva, disfigured by neurofibromatosis

I have previously written about the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – but, in this reflection, I focus upon what the dogma teaches us about the human body.  And about the beauty of everybody…

The Dogma of the Assumption declares that Mary, the very human mother of Jesus, now lives bodily in Heaven for eternity, by the power and special grace of God.  Yes, she is in Heaven not only spiritually, but also bodily.  For, in order for a human person to be completely fulfilled, the soul needs the body as much as the body needs the soul.

The Holocaust

The Assumption was declared Dogma in 1950, giving an official mandate and explanation to what Christians have believed since the beginning and publicly celebrated in the earliest centuries. We may wonder why it took so long for the universal declaration to be made – but, we know that all things happen in God’s time.

The proclamation came forth just after World War II, a terrible period of history when millions of human beings were systematically murdered, having been stripped and gassed, their dead bodies heaped in piles like cordwood. The graphic images of this massacre and desecration horrified the world – and the Catholic Church took action. With the proclamation of the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Universal Church, founded by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, gave us a powerful reminder of the dignity and destiny of the human person – body and soul.

Sacred Matter

Our bodies are sacred, not like some kind of prison from which the soul has to escape, and not like some meaningless shell that we can do with as we wish. We are creatures of both flesh and spirit – body and soul as one person – and we believe that our souls will be reunited with our glorified bodies at the end of time, through the salvific power of Christ.

Therefore, it is right and just to respect human bodies. God loves what He has created. The human body is created by God and is not to be profaned, mutilated, abused, murdered, or desecrated in any way – for every human being is intimately and infinitely loved by God and destined for perfection, body and soul, in heavenly glory.

To fulfill this destiny, we need only to seek it through Christ, in the mercy and love of His Sacred Heart.

Loving As Christ Loves, Seeing As God Sees

Perhaps, you have seen someone as deformed as Mr. Riva, or perhaps you know someone who is much less deformed – as I am with my severe scoliosis.  Maybe one of your loved ones is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, severe autism, or brain injury.  You may have a friend, coworker, neighbor, or family member who is a grave sinner, someone who seems to you to be far from the ideal of a human person, who may even seem to you to be inferior or cursed in some way.  But, did Christ not love the lepers?  Did he not sit and dine with the sinners?  And did Christ not do these things because he loves human beings, so much so that he was willing to give his life for humankind so that each person could be redeemed to the beautiful eternal destiny that he saw waiting for them?

We know that human beings come in all physical shapes and sizes and in all levels of physical and mental abilities.  Some of us have twisted or missing limbs and some have faces so scarred or disfigured that they are hardly recognizable as human.  Far too often, in our society, we don’t even recognize human beings in the first stages of life as human beings.  But, make no mistake about it, whether small and weak, whether impaired in cognition, babbling and drooling, whether aged and decrepit or delayed or deformed – we are all human.  And if we are truly going to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, then we must remember that everybody, every body, is beautiful in the eyes of God, who sees each of our particular heavenly glories….

What would happen if we saw each other that way? What if we truly remember that each human creature we encounter, whether mentally disabled, physically deformed, or mired in sin, is exquisitely beautiful in the eternal eyes of God? If we could see the heavenly glory that God intends for each one of them – for each one of us – we would be blown away by the intense radiance of that beauty, the eternal destiny of every human being redeemed and resurrected by the power of God’s love.

And then, maybe, we would love one another as God loves us and we would experience something of Heaven on Earth.

Pope Francis kisses disfigured man

© 2016 Christina Chase

 

A Prayer before Eating

This is the famous 1918 photograph by Eric Enstrom called “Grace”.

 grace by Enstrom framed

It has hung in the dining room of my parents’ house since before I was born. Interestingly, although my mother was raised by a devout family in a very religious village, her family never said “grace” – a prayer said before eating. It’s hard to say whether or not my father’s family did… probably they didn’t, except, I would guess, on holidays and, then, probably only at his aunt or older sister’s promptings. This helps to explain why my parents never said a prayer at mealtime when they were married. Not until my older sister changed things. Continue reading

Thoughts on Latest Terrorist Attacks

Two different terrorist groups “claimed responsibility” this week for two different attacks that killed nearly 100 people and wounded 400 more. IS “claimed responsibility” for the bombings at an airport and metro station in Belgium and the Taliban “claimed responsibility” for the attack at a park and playground in Pakistan. But, neither should claim responsibility at all.

If these terrorists were truly responsible, then they would care for the wounded, bury the dead, and repair the damages brought about by their attacks. But, of course, they won’t do that. Because they are irresponsible. They are brutal, destructive, irresponsible thugs who want murder and mayhem and as much pain as they can inflict on others. They reveal the darkest, most vicious, careless, and broken parts of humanity, reminding us of what we are capable and of how closely evil thoughts and actions live to our hearts. Terrorists show us what we should never be, what we should fight with all of our might from ever becoming.

family in ambulance

 

I want to always remember that I am, first and foremost, a physical and spiritual creature who has been loved into being by God. This is what every human being is and should be treated as such. The other things like my race, ethnic background, culture, and nationality are always less important. I believe that all human beings are my neighbors whom God wants me to love as my own self, no matter whether they are like me or not.

Being deformed and wheelchair-bound, I know what it’s like to be singled out as different in a negative way. Perhaps, that’s why prejudice and hate for “others” has always bothered me so deeply. Each of us is unique and different from each other in some regard. But, we are all the same in the singular most important regard, which we must never forget and always hold as profoundly precious: we are all equally loved by God and precious to God. And, so, not only am I saddened by the brutal deaths and sympathetically grieve for the people who were killed by terrorists – but I am also saddened and grieving for my fellow human beings who gave in to darkness and allowed themselves to commit such evil.

Yes, I know, it’s difficult to feel anything but disgust for the terrorists. These people chose to become irresponsible thugs who viciously killed men, women, and children – the families in Lahore were celebrating Easter Sunday in harmony and joy. It’s hard to think of anything more despicable. Yes, these terrorists have made themselves our enemies –

But, I believe, as Christ taught, that we are to pray for our enemies – and even to love them.

Yup. It’s clearly in the Bible.[1]

And, yet, many people who profess to be Christians are becoming filled with hateful suspicion for all Muslims. We cannot let hate consume us. We cannot forget Christian mercy and Christian love. With people of faith, all Faiths, we are more alike than unlike, and the vast majority of Muslims are grieving for their hijacked religion and deeply saddened, as we are, by so many deaths. Let’s join our prayers with these good people for peace. Let’s not give into our brokenness – which would divide us from our fellow human beings and, thereby, cause the darkness to win.

As Christians, we will defend the innocent and diligently strive to protect our fellow human beings from the evil acts and intentions of those who would harm them. That is right and just. And, as true Christians, we will also pray for those who seek to harm them – pray for our fellow human beings who have turned to violence and destruction, who have chosen to inflict pain and death, praying that God will forgive them, heal them, and restore them to their true selves.

So, united with people of faith everywhere, let us prayerfully lift up the suffering and pain of our brothers and sisters in Belgium and Pakistan and ask God to heal them, comfort them, and renew them in the fullness of life. And as Christians in particular, in order to live true Easter joy, let us not forget to pray for the irresponsible and the despicable, too:

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us…”

*

As an aside… I’ve noticed that, here in the United States, there has been much more news coverage of the attacks in Brussels than of the attacks in Lahore. Why, when more people were wounded and killed in Pakistan? I don’t know whether or not I should be ashamed of myself for the answer that came immediately to my mind: it’s because the people killed in Brussels were European and the people killed in the other attack were Pakistani. This does speak to me of a racial bias, which saddens, angers, and frustrates me. Perhaps I am wrong. I hope I am. But… let us really take a good look at ourselves and be aware of our own bias and prejudice. There is brokenness in our hearts, too, that needs to be healed if we are ever to have peace.

© 2016 Christina Chase


[1] Matthew 5:43-48

Luke 6:27-36

Luke 23:34

Who God Loves More

Because of my physical disability and suffering, some have strongly suggested to me that God loves me more than other people.

Yeah, I don’t think so.

I’m a sinner just like you.

And even though there was a time when I rolled my eyes at anyone who said “God loves you”, this post is precisely about God’s love – for me, for you, for everybody. It is a re-presentation of the gift that was given to me (through inspiration) a couple of years ago during Lent. I had wondered for years how God could love everyone and, yet, not everyone would be saved. Did Christianity actually teach that there were some people that God loved more than others? Short answer: no. Long answer… well, read on…

Why God Loves Anyone At All

We may think that God loves us because we have professed belief in His Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ and/or because we do good things that are kind to others. But, that’s not why God loves us. God doesn’t love me because I smile despite being physically disabled and in a wheelchair. God doesn’t love you because you praise His Holy Name from a pulpit or in a blog. God doesn’t love them because they are poor and simple or them because they are successful and generous. Nope.

God loves each and every human being because God loves each and every human being. God loves because that’s what God does, because that is exactly who God is.

We have done nothing, and can do nothing, to deserve or merit God’s love – because God has already done it for us. We are lovable precisely because God independently chooses to bring us into being through His Own Creative Love. God loved us enough to take on our humanity and die for us through Christ our Lord. It is for this reason that no human being is worthless. For this sacred reason – and for this sacred reason alone – every human being is valuable, is precious.

We should never think of ourselves as any greater than this. And we should never think of ourselves as any less than this, not even when we sin.

Loved by God Is Who We Are

You know that person who really hurt you and doesn’t even seem to realize how badly, even though you tried to explain it to her? God loves that person intimately and infinitely. You know that person who is always so arrogant and says such cruel things about other people? God loves that person intimately and infinitely. God takes no joy in their sins – God takes no joy in our sins – but He eternally loves sinners. That means that God eternally loves us, each and every human being no matter what we do – no matter how badly we screw up His Commandments or how well we keep them.

Why, then, do we believe that some people go straight to heaven and others do not? What makes the difference of whether or not we will be holy lies in how we answer one question. It is a question we must each ask of ourselves:

Will I allow God to love me?

Maybe you thought that I was going to write that the question is whether or not we will choose to love God. I thought about it. But, then I wordlessly remembered in my heart (or the wordless memory was pushed forward for me) that we love because God first loved us[1]. The only reason that we can love anyone or anything at all is because God loves us. So, even if I want to love God, I must first let God love me.

Letting God Love

What does that mean?

It means that I have to acknowledge and accept who I am – who I truly, honestly, and eternally am: made with and for Love, loved intimately and infinitely by God. Then I can let God forgive me, heal me of my wounds, comfort me in my sufferings, and guide me in my decisions – knowing that God will always lead me to the best place.

Letting God love means that I must acknowledge and accept that every human being is also intimately and infinitely loved by God. And I must ask myself if I love others as God loves them. Do I treat my fellow human beings as sacred and beloved? Do I open up my heart and allow God to love my fellow human beings through me, through my words and actions?

Love cannot be bottled up and kept to myself or it will becomes stagnant. Love must flow.

Countless times I have allowed my annoyances, fears, anger, habits, and self-centered desires to lead me to say “No” to God’s Love. In so doing, I turned away from my own identity. I put up a barrier. I refused to give myself to the flow of love… to forgive, to heal, to strengthen, to comfort, to honor. I miss the mark, I sin.

That is why life can be ultimately dissatisfying. That is why, during the 40 days of the Lenten season, we, who acknowledge our unlove, are mournfully repentant, longing for forgiveness and newness of life. Forgiveness and Newness of Life are precisely what God wants to give to us through His Love – precisely what Christ brings to us through his Passion and Resurrection.

God wants us to be restored to our true selves. The Holy Days of Lent and Easter are a gift from God to help us remember, anew, that we are all divinely loved.

So, let us each ask ourselves:

Will I let God love?

I am only human, and, as such, I can only do so much. But, God can do everything. Will I let Him? Because the thing is… God loves me enough never to force me.

© 2016 Christina Chase


[1] 1 John 4:19