A friend of mine and fellow Folkhead, John Michael, recently gave me a beautiful image to ponder. He handed me a book by Joseph Ratzinger (a.k.a Pope Benedict XIV) opened to a page where heaven was described as a choir, singing eternal praise to God. As choir members ourselves, we agreed that this was a beautiful and fitting image of heaven! There is a joy that is felt in praising God with your whole being, and I find that it is easy to do this while singing God’s praises as a part of the congregation at mass. I have had my most joyful experiences in the choir loft praising God with the Folk Choir, but I took that blessing for granted my first semester at Notre Dame.
At the beginning of my second semester at Notre Dame, I caught a bad cold. I thought it would be over in a week or two, just like every other cold I’ve ever had. So, I pushed through the cold, singing soon after I started feeling a little bit better, but something was still bothering me. My voice was sluggish, and I felt the sensation of a lump in my throat. Despite these concerning signs, I kept pushing through until my voice was extremely tired and the sensation in my throat became stronger. I despaired over these symptoms, and could not sing more than one song without starting to feel pain in my throat. I searched desperately for a cure to these symptoms, but nothing was fixing the problems. They only persisted and became stronger. It was impossible to diagnose these symptoms because they were extremely hard to describe to nurses and doctors, so I was always worried that something more sinister was stirring in my vocal chords. Was I going to lose my voice completely? Did I permanently damage my voice? Would I ever be able to sing again? Multiple people attempted to calm my worries, but I had already convinced myself that the problem was incurable.
After I tried multiple strategies to alleviate the pain and discomfort in my vocal chords, my dad, an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor (E.N.T.), recommended that I go on vocal rest for an entire week. I was not allowed to talk at all or sing for an ENTIRE WEEK. I was only allowed to talk in class and in other special, rare circumstances. After not singing for a month at this point, I was now supposed to stop talking for a week! I absolutely love talking to my friends, and now I was going to be even more separated from them because I wouldn’t be able to communicate with them or sing with them. My spirit was crushed, and I was angry and tired. I felt that I was going through this alone. But in this silence, I found the one abiding thing in my life that I had been ignoring the entire semester: God. In this time of silence, He was the only one I could truly express myself to. I turned to God in my fear and worry asking Him to help me through this ordeal.
The silence was scary at first. I am so used to filling silence with conversation, music, yelling, etc. I was now living in complete silence, and I began to notice how loud the outside world is. Every Thursday after Folk Choir rehearsal, we sing the song “Day is Done” and offer up prayer intentions. One of the most common prayer intentions is for “silence when the world is loud”. I now understand what this prayer means. In the deafening cries of the outside world, we lose the quiet and loving whisper of God. I wished to turn to God and hear His loving voice, but I did not know how exactly to listen to him in the silence (and I still don’t fully know!). In my time of need our choir director, J.J. Wright, gave me some great advice for meditating in silence with God. He told me to go to a quiet place on campus and sit there for 15 minutes. Let all the worries and fears run around until they are quiet, and then ask God for help and listen. This was surprisingly helpful, and throughout my time of silence I listened. I would sit down in prayer and say nothing to God, only basking in his presence. And guess what? I didn’t hear anything. But looking back, I realized what had happened. In my time of silence, God was slowly inviting me to form my life around Him, and he is still inviting me to do this. It is a life-long process to form one’s life around God, so I have a long way to go. In my prayers to God, I have been reminded that my voice is a blessing from God that I must take care of on this earth in order to praise His name. And I have only just found it too! (I had never sung in a choir before my freshman year here at Notre Dame) My purpose in the Folk Choir has begun to shift back to praising God instead of just being a good singer and fitting into the community.
On Easter Day, I was finally reintegrating my voice back into the choir and building it back up after almost two months of silence in the choir. I had only planned to sing 2-3 songs during the Easter Service because I was still a little sluggish, but then the Gloria began and I couldn’t help myself. I joined in the worship of God, and it was one of the most joyful moments in my time with the Folk Choir. I realize now where the source of seemingly endless joy in the Folk Choir comes from: the act of worshipping God. To praise God in his goodness and love is such an amazing and joyful act that one cannot help but sing for the rest of one’s life in praise of Him. In praising God on earth, we join the angels and saints who praise Him in Heaven, sharing in a small fraction of the joy that they receive in praising God for eternity. How much closer can one get to Heaven? How can I keep from singing?