Melody and words have been a powerful influence in my life. As a little girl, I started recording my rambling ideas on a color-coded tape player before I could even read. Since then, writing and music have become a part of my daily life as a music therapist, songwriter and girl who can't keep from singing. A well asked question, a haunting melody--these can transform life from the mundane to the beautiful.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Walking Into The Storm

In this musical blog, I found myself being drawn to Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 (p. 319 in 1,000 Recordings Hear Before You Die) that was given to me by a family member years ago.   This is music for a journey, not an easily accessible pop song that can be devoured in a couple of minutes.   Instead, this music is slow moving, emotional, sorrowful and slightly foreboding.   Perfect Christmas music, right? The first 13 minutes of the album are nothing but slow moving strings, painting the background for what is to come. Then enters a soprano, the voice of a grieving mother at the loss of her son. The second movement of the album contains a prayer found written on the wall of a Gestapo Prison cell in Poland.  The singer increases her lament, asking for guidance from the Blessed Virgin, desperate for some answers. The last movement ends with another prayer to God, as the mother expresses, what I have to believe is her greatest fear in not knowing what has happened to her son:

He lies in his grave
And I know not where
Though I keep asking people

Oh, sing for him
God’s little song-birds
Since his mother cannot find him

Throughout the whole work, it’s as if you are sitting in a movie and you know that the character is walking into something, but you can’t quite tell if it will be good or bad. This album to me is not only about sorrow but also at walking into your greatest fear. I have to believe (although I don’t know from experience) that a fear of every parent is not being able to protect your children and that this album is the journey of a mother facing that very fear.

What are you afraid of? Snakes, heights, the dark, death, the unknown future? It seems that there is always something that can paralyze us and the last thing that we want to do is to walk into that fear. It’s much easier to run away, avoid the fear or just pretend that it isn’t there and hope that it will magically go away.

I recently went on a walk with a friend of mine and she was sharing with me some of the fears that she was facing as a soon-to-be mother. She asked the question of, what if, instead of asking God to take away our fears, we name our fears and ask God to walk with us in the midst of them? How could that transform us?  The unknown, the questions and all the things that we can’t control?

As we enter into the winter season this month, I was reflecting back on a winter that I spent on a trip driving through Minnesota several years ago. It was a crazy snowstorm and I was driving on a two lane road in my little stick shift red Ford Escort. Definitely not the sturdiest car for this kind of weather, let’s just say that. The conditions were so bad, all you could see was white in front of you. I remember looking ahead and seeing a freeway overpass in front of me with two large posts and simply aiming for in between those two posts, hoping that there wasn’t a car coming the other way on the other side of the road that I would crash into.

How many times have my own fears felt like that snowstorm?   How terrifying it can feel to walk (or drive!) into that fear? How somedays all I can do is aim for the middle and ask God to somehow help me navigate so that I don’t crash somewhere in there. As crazy as it feels, how can I ask God to walk with me in that fear, not knowing how it will come out on the other side?  

In this Christmas season, I’ve been thinking about the fears that Mary must have been feeling when she was told that she was to be the mother of Jesus. She certainly didn’t know what she was walking into.  What did the angel first say to her? “Run away, because it’s going to be really hard!” Or maybe “Hopefully God will pick someone else because you seem unsettled by this idea.”   Nope. The angel reminded her not to be afraid and that God would be with her in the midst of her fear.

“The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.’   Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.   But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”  (Luke 1:28-33)

As you are entering your fears, your own storms, I encourage you to listen to the Symphony No. 3 (click for a link) and allow yourself to sit with your fears.  Let God meet you there. Then sit with the words of Mumford and Sons' "After the Storm" (click for the link) and find hope in the fact that God is there with you in the midst of it all.   

And there will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.

Lord, this Christmas season, I am asking you to meet us in the midst of our fears, not knowing how everything will turn out. Give us the faith to believe that you have great good intended for our hearts and lives and enable us to trust that you won’t leave us, even if it doesn’t look like we thought it would.  Remind us of the hope that you have promised us in an unlikely Savior, born to a mother who was learning how to trust you more deeply as well.  Amen. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Improvising My Story

Hello, hello.   Yes I have finally found my way back to writing an entry into this blog after a little break.    My next stop through 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before you Die, finds my finger scanning page 493, which just so happens to describe the very talented pianist Brad Mehldau, and his album Largo.   

What I find fascinating about Mehldau is not only his genius but also his chaos.   Trained at Berklee School of Music, he is one of the most talented pianists of our time.   He is an improviser and embraces the wonder that can occur from a spontaneous musical idea that is expressed directly, in real time. But he also has a deep respect for the formal structure of music.  The two sides of his personality—the improviser and the formalist—play off each other, and the effect is often something like controlled chaos.   

Mehladu possesses an amazing ability to tell a good story through his music, whether creating his own songs or re-working someone else’s.   I had the privilege of seeing him live in concert several years ago at the Del Rey Theater in LA and the experience was nothing less than amazing.   One of the most amazing songs to hear live was his rendition of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.” The way he draws out the melancholy melody and re-sets it in a new light is incredible.   He draws you in with the sweet melody, stirs up chaos in the middle with the inventive rhythm section and provides the calm after the storm with his ending.    Mehladu’s tunes have a strongly felt narrative arch, whether it expresses itself in a beginning, an end, or something left intentionally open-ended.   Donald Miller describes the importance of this narrative arc in his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years when he says, “We were designed to live through something rather than to attain something, and the thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us.   The point of a story is the character arc, the change.”  In Meldau’s case that character arc is not only felt it his music.    In real-life, this arc could have been his personal struggle with heroin for years and his ability to overcome, to change and become something different in the midst of his chaos. 

Largo is a music term that means “slow movement,” two words that have not been characteristic of my life recently.   I keep waiting for life to slow down and finally have realized that it will only happen if I make it!   It feels good to finally be creating that space, slowing down long enough to discern all that is happening around and in me.  

I’ve been reflecting on how this idea of telling a good story, on how MY life can tell a good story.  I think at times I’ve tried to make my life a better story, tried to give more inspirational moments to make it have meaning.   What I have been learning is that my story is not about me, but what God is doing through me in my story.   How he is using the messy parts, the broken parts, the exciting parts and the parts I still don’t understand—to bring his gospel to the world.   Somehow, though I don’t always understand how, he is weaving it together.   And great character development involves conflict and the ability to want to overcome that conflict in a good story. 

Mehldau’s inventive music is defined by his ability to tell a good story, to improvise old melodies in a new light.  My prayer is that I would have the ability to trust God with my life to be able to re-work the story of my life into stories of love, redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation, and surprise.  I believe the gospel is shared when we dare to tell the world around us how God is moving in our lives.

I recently finished a fantastic book called Bittersweet and have found great encouragement in the pages of the book to tell my own story.   One of my favorite quotes from the author Shauna Niequist says, “This is what I want you to do: tell your story.  Don’t allow the story of God, the sacred, transforming story of what God does in a human heart to become flat and lifeless.  If we choose silence, if we allow the gospel to be told only on Sundays, only in sanctuaries, only by approved and educated professionals, that life-changing story will lose its ability to change lives.”

So go improvise your song, write your poem, and create your manifesto.  Your story must be told.

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our heart by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”  (Romans 5:3-5)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Bittersweet Symphony

The turning of the year always brings with it a certain amount of reflective moments. Remembering the bittersweet moments of the last year and the ones to come. So as 2011 fades and 2012 takes shape, I find myself turning contemplative and find my music dial resting these days on Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” as this music blog continues to unfold.

This music many consider to be one of the greatest works of modern classical music, in it’s churning melodic lines and long sustained, at times unresolved, chords that seem to hang in the air. Many say that is full of pathos and cathartic passion, leaving not a dry eye to those who listen to it. The “Adagio” was broadcast over the radio at the announcement of Franklin D Roosevelt's death. It was also played at the funeral of Albert Einstein and John F. Kennedy. And in 2001 it was played to comemerate the victims of the September 11 attacks. It seems to hold this tension of grief and hope together in the same phrase. Bittersweet.

When I hear the word bittersweet, I immediately think of chocolate. Yes, I have always loved chocolate, no matter what form it comes in, even from an early age. Once when I was four, I locked myself in the bathroom and when I finally came out, my mom discovered that I had eaten an entire EX-LAX bar…wait a minute, a chocolate flavored EX-LAX bar. I had no idea that it wasn’t a candy bar but learned very quickly that there is a difference. A big bittersweet difference.

Over the last year, I have learned more about a practice called “lectio divina” which means “spiritual reading.” The essence of this practice seems simple: to read God’s Word without trying to analyze it. Simply read it. Once. Twice. Three. Four times. Let the words soak in and notice what words you seem drawn to. This is actually so much harder to do than I thought at first. First of all, it is hard for me to sit still. My multi-tasking brain wants to skim the passage or verse and then move on to the next thing on my to do list. After I have finally figured out how to keep my mind from jumping to the next thing, the last thing I want to do is to keep re-reading a passage. I mean, I am a person who usually doesn’t like to re-read a book (I already know what’s going to happen at the end so why bother?) so why continue to re-read a passage again and again? But what I am finding is that in the slowing down, I am actually able to see more deeply, more clearly, what I think God is slowly trying to show me.

So I thought I would try this tonight while listening

to this beautiful, contemplative music. I turned to the nearest passage I have which happens to be a painting that my mom and I did recently that now hangs in my bedroom. The painting reads, “Those who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) And as I turn these words over again and again, certain words begin to stand out to me. Hope. Renew. Run. Not Weary. Walk. Not Faint. I begin to notice this balance of opposites that this passage seems to hold together. Running but not getting tired. Walking but not fainting. I find myself reflecting on how this last year has been filled with the holding of opposite tensions of grief and joy, pain and hope. Bittersweet.

As I grow and live more, I am realizing that life is not about learning how to move away from pain or trying to pursue only happy moments, but it’s learning how to hold the pain and the joy at the same time. To realize that you can grieve the past while still hoping for tomorrow. So, I wanted to share with you a little window into this process for me, a song that I wrote over the last year called “Healer.” My prayer is that you will allow yourself to grieve and hope as you reflect back on all that 2011 contained and move forward into a bright, new 2012. A beautiful bittersweet symphony.


Words and music by Angela

We are spinning, spinning and can’t find reprieve

Fear and doubt make it hard to breathe

There is pain that I don’t understand

Sorrow floods in, makes it hard to stand

But I see the clouds breaking as hope ascends

To strengthen our wounded hearts

To heal and mend


You are our Savior

You are our Healer

You hold us close to your chest

You are our Comfort

You make us lie down and rest

In you

We are waiting, waiting for this season to turn

Joy and peace we pray, we long, we yearn

The winter has been here for far too long

Where is our freedom? Our hopeful song?

Jesus, we rest

Jesus, we rest

In you