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Gospel truths

On the First Friday of Lent (and Flashback Friday), as I listened to one of my favorite gospel music artists on my morning commute, I thought back to my discovery of gospel music.  I first heard Cliff Petty during the opening service at LA Congress in 2010. He was leading the psalm. My head snapped in that direction so quickly I almost fell over. I turned to my church sisters and repeatedly asked, “Who is that?” as I searched the program for his name.   I was so impressed by his voice that I listened for it during the remainder of the service. Immediately after wards, I went to the exhibit hall to look for his music company. I purchased his first CD and even spoke with him briefly. I’ve been following his career ever since. I went to his concert at LA Congress in 2013. I have taken music workshops he has presented including one in which the attendees were divided into choir sections. I was a “joyful noisemaker” as I don’t have a very good singing voice.  Cliff’s music really opened my heart to hearing the Word in a different way.

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My autographed CD; Cliff’s 2nd release

Part of being Catholic is the traditional aspect. The music is traditional and sacred-sounding such as masses in Latin, Gregorian chant and old hymns. The music is beautiful, formal, and ceremonial. Para ser franca, at times, it can be lacking in energy and joy. Gospel music has been a way to bring joy into my worship, faith life, and prayer life. The songs are based on scripture, psalms and on people’s reflections on their relationship with God. People sometimes associate gospel music with different denominations. That is silliness. Music is universal. I talk to many people who say Mass is boring and that they get nothing out of it. They are going out of obligation, not passion. Music enriches that experience. Even in the most boring of settings, I will sing. When I sing in church, I continue to reflect on the Word and my love of God. Singing allows me to do so in a way that is more creative and expressive. Because of my love for gospel music, I appreciate the liturgy and the songs chosen more.  I am familiar with different hymns. Gospel music has been a blessing which expands and enriches my faith life.

In the past when I have struggled with myself, even in those dark moments, my faith has sustained me. My faith has not been repressive, oppressive, or depressive. However,there are times when faith wavers; the busyness of life can shake me. A song can bring me back to myself. Gospel music has been both soothing and uplifting. It has been with me through times of poor health. When I’ve been so angry and I need to clear my head, gospel music has been the soundtrack. When work has been hectic, choosing the gospel station on Pandora has helped me to refocus. I’m grateful I have made listening to more gospel part of my prayer challenge.  I know it will give me more time to reflect and honor this sacred time.

Find W.Clifford Petty on Facebook at Cliff Petty’s music

Revealing relapse

“There is trouble in the air, destruction is everywhere
And men are being trampled beneath the soil
And nations, great and small, have now begun to fall
Oh come let us go back to God, go back to God”  written by Thomas Dorsey, as sung by Donnie McClurkin

When I talk about backsliding, I often mean it negatively.  When I backslide, I’m going to back old, often negative, habits and ways of thinking. Like every normal person, I have times when I’m disciplined, motivated, and therefore feeling and being successful.  If I “relapse” into past behavior, it is usually because I’m exhausted, demoralized, and struggling physically, mentally, and/or emotionally.  Life goes in cycles.  It’s never a journey of point A to point B.  So why do I hold myself to that unrealistic black and white thinking?  What if “going back” has its benefits?

Para los que me conocen, y’all know I’m often goal-driven. I take on reading challenges, savings challenges, and prayer challenges. I train for half-marathons and for street performances of various choreographies.  I do weeklong class hops, novenas of daily masses, 40 day fasts, and multi-week fitness programs. But I don’t always complete these goals to the best of my ability.  Sometimes I don’t complete them at all.  Then I spend some time beating myself up about those failures.  Fortunately, time and life experience has taught me to seek humility.  Life has taught me that failure is a good time to turn back to God.

I said it.  As important as my faith life is to me, God doesn’t always come first. “Well, I guess we won’t go to Mass Carnaval weekend because I’m not about to sit in church in my costume.”  God doesn’t always fit on a busy schedule.  While I thank God when I’m succeeding, I spend less time with Him while I’m busy working towards that success.  I’m going, going, going.  Literally and figuratively running.  A quick grace over a rushed meal. Half a rosary done on the commute from one family activity to another.  I don’t build in time for devotion.

It is in times of struggle and failure that I truly give myself over to God.  When I’ve been diagnosed with illnesses, I have stood with God.  When I’ve struggled with work situations, I have had long, emotional conversations with God.  When I have lost loved ones, I have found comfort from God.  Where human motivation and individual goals waver, God is constant.

I know I have lots of work to do in the next few months. I will make my faith life part of that work.  Going back to God is wonderful.  Staying with Him must be a goal. 2eec7f06e6a3add42dfda620cb60b94d

My running club

Presente! 
I have been running for nine years and in that time, I have had plenty of reasons to run, think time while I run, training calendars to follow, and miles to cover.  A few years ago, my friend and fellow runner Alejandro posted an online challenge.  He challenged us to offer the names of our departed family and friends who lost the battle with cancer. He would wear their names on ribbons on a flag he would wear during the race. He would also think of these people during his training.  While I did share a few names, this challenge changed the way I ran. My running club was born.
Inspired by my friend, I began to devote my training runs to those I have lost.  I honor those I lost to cancer. I honor those I lost to AIDS and suicide.  I honor those I lost to accidents and old age.  Every single mile is spent with one person.  I remember them and revisit the memories we shared.  Sometimes I do talk to them. I ask what they might do in a situation I am currently living. If I feel tired or unmotivated, their memory pushes me forward.  So many of my antepasados fought to their last day. Their courage inspires me.

Since my running club began, a few traditions have been established.  I always run with my grandfathers and my uncles who have died. I always run with my baptismal godfather. The first mile, so often the most challenging, is usually offered to someone who passed recently. In recent months, I have lost my Tio Mario, our host when we visited Peru last summer, and one of my mom’s best friends, Rosario Otarola. The last two miles are offered to two special people. The second to last mile is offered to Luz Nieves, my best friend’s mother. Mama Luz was a vibrant, beautiful woman and devoted mother. She cheered for my best friend and me during a few of our races; it was my best friend who first inspired me to run.  The last mile and therefore every crossing of the half-marathon finish line is devoted to Brett Haagenson, one of my dearest friends. Brett was a coach and teacher and he still plays those roles in my life.  Currently, I am dealing with workplace challenges so they are on my mind while I run. Thinking of Brett helps me smile and shake that negative energy away. 
I am truly grateful for the amazing people in my life. My running club has allowed me to stay close to those who have passed. 
I remember and honor these people and ask that you lift them and their families up in prayer.
Tio Mario
Rosario Otarola
Rafael Medrano
Abuelito Marcelo Calderon
Abuelito Rodrigo Urbizagastegui
Tio Delio Calderon
Tio Armando Villa
My nino Malaquias Mercado
Godfather Alex Loza
Charlene Brown
Keith Rodgers
Marco Ortiz
Father Bob Mathews
Remy Watson
David Villalpando
Danny Pastor
Donnell “Don” Grant
Luz Nieves
Brett Haagenson

Twelve days of Christmas(in June and July)

“Our lives change when our habits change.” Matthew Kelly
During the summer of 2004, I was fortunate to be awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a high school teacher, I would study the Renaissance in an intensive institute at Columbia University and create curriculum to be used with my students as my final project. I also moved into Carman Hall, one of the dorms.  After checking out the campus gym, I explored my new neighborhood and found the local Catholic church, Notre Dame. At that point in time, they had Liturgy of the Hours in the morning and I thought it would be a nice start to the day after my morning workout. Before I knew it, I was a daily Mass attendee.

Prior to my summer in Morningside Heights, I had only ever attended Mass on Sundays. Daily Mass is different. It has a different pace and overall vibe. It is a much more intimate experience than Sundays or holidays because it is often more quiet and the people who attend may be “regulars” who attend consistently. I like to attend daily Mass during Lent and other times I’m not bound by my work schedule. I am not surprised that many spiritual advisers recommend daily Mass as a means to reconnect and revive your faith life. It certainly has that effect for me.

About six days after surgery in June(and once I was cleared to drive) I spent 12 consecutive days in church. I attended daily Mass at the three local parishes I visit. Initially I had intended to do a novena, nine consecutive days of prayer and devotion, in gratitude for my health.  But once daily Mass became part of my daily routine, I made an effort to get my day started in this way.  It allowed me to focus on hearing the Gospel and being in community with others, rather than analyzing the aches and pains of my body’s recovery.
Now that I’ve had a week of not attending daily Mass, I can tell the difference. I am more connected to technology (phone, computer, TV) and less focused in the mornings and therefore back to my last-minute, oh-man-I-forgot-my-charger-my-medication-the-entrance-passes ways.  I am reading for leisure less. I’m skipping my prescribed daily walks. I have not followed through on my plan to write more often.  Yet I’m encouraged by one positive change daily Mass helped bring about in a mere 12 days.  I have committed to serving as a lector in my parish. After 7 years, I will be returning to a ministry I loved.

Health isn’t simply about the body but the soul. No hay mal que por bien no venga. My physical health challenges have pushed me to seek healing in many ways. The key will be to commit to healing habits.  

Quote for a hectic day

Life this past year has been trying. It’s gotten better.
Work these past few months have been overwhelmingly hectic. It has not improved.
So it is important to keep my faith.

“In many ways, God asks us to believe without seeing, to trust even in the face of great hardship. Remember a time when you were sure you could not make it through another day, and thank God for carrying you.”

Mother Theresa

Another poem!

A song of hope
A Villanelle

For Andrea the singer and Andrea, my niece

I can survive the aching soul’s dark night.
The velvet covered voice assures me with hope.
The universe radiates clear blue light.

I face down demons, draw back from the bite
And sting of the moments when I cannot cope.
I can survive the aching soul’s dark night.

I drop weapons, evil thoughts, long-held fright.
I shed the sackcloth, smile rather than mope.
The universe radiates clear blue light.

I breathe, run, love, pray, laugh, talk, and write.
I resist self-loathing’s addictive dope.
I can survive the aching soul’s dark night.

I will wash myself clean, make dark moods bright.
The power of truth is more potent than soap.
The universe radiates clear blue light.

I reject hopelessness and reset my sight.
I look to the sky and let go of grief’s rope.
I can survive the aching soul’s dark night.
The universe radiates clear blue light.