Virtual Choir: “Sing Gently”

The lockdowns during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, like with many other activities, have prevented the ability for choirs to sing together. Fortunately, there have been several virtual choir events that have sprouted during this time that still allows us to sing together, even if not in person.

The first of these that I participated in during the pandemic is Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6: “Sing Gently”. This is an original piece he composed to represent both our angst over the isolation of this time, but also the hopefulness of eventually coming back to sing together.

With ever virtual choir that his team organizes, the increase of participation is staggering. “Sing Gently” included 17,572 singers from 129 countries!

The choir was profiled on the CBS Sunday Morning program, in which Eric describes more about his motivations and the process for the production.

I very much enjoyed being able to participate in this project. The message of the lyrics, combined with the transitions between soft and louder volume helped me to really feel connected to the piece.

And now, please enjoy Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6: “Sing Gently”!

Lyrics

May we sing together, always.
May our voice be soft.
May our singing be music for others
and may it keep others aloft.

Sing gently, always.
Sing gently as one.

May we stand together, always.
May our voice be strong.
May we hear the singing and
May we always sing along.

Sing gently, always.
Sing gently as one.

The song may be streamed or purchased from various services.

Thinking of God’s Plan for us like a GPS

One of the more central thoughts in Christian teaching we learned growing up is that “God has a plan for us.” As easy as that phrase is for a child’s understanding, it can be a quite nuanced and difficult phrase to accept and integrate into one’s life as an adult. The challenges of adult life can make it hard to understand why bad things happen to us. Does God intend for bad things to happen, and for us to suffer? In recent years, I have found thinking of God’s plan in terms of a GPS has helped me to put things into a better perspective.  

Our GPS has become a critical and popular tool for being able to navigate our vehicles to unfamiliar places. We input the destination we want to reach. We see a path drawn on the map, a listing of all the intersections and the direction changes we need to make. If we deviate from the planned route, our GPS recalculates to show us a new path. We see the time it will take for us to reach our destination, a time that changes as delays or deviations happen.

Many of these same concepts can apply to our spiritual GPS as well.

The first step in navigating any journey successfully is accurately knowing your destination. As much as we choose other destinations for ourselves along the journey, the path God plots for us has a longer-term destination in mind: heaven! It can certainly be difficult to see or appreciate such far off destination. Especially when I was younger — having completed my college studies, moved out on my own and being focused on my first full-time job in the computer field — I struggled at times with seeing how my day to day life had any connection to heaven as the ultimate Christian goal.

Armed with a sense of the destination, the next step is to know the path to get there. This is where many people can experience frustration from the lack of the same kind of turn-by-turn directions as a real GPS. I recall having this sense in my career 9 years ago. I was the manager of a small technology team, and while I was moderately successful at it, I missed being able to directly contribute to writing software. I felt very little opportunity to move forward without leaving the company, which I didn’t want to do given my long service. Fortunately, with a little more time, there were changes and growth in the team that led to having the opportunity I wanted.

We have to do our best to interpret God’s path from the signs around us and our internal feelings. Blessed with the free will to choose, we create our own path, integrating our belief of God’s Will with the destinations we choose for ourselves — college, job, spouse, family, to name a few. Our natural sensibilities would want the journey to be a straight line along the shortest path. However, it is entirely possible that our route deliberately meanders, giving us opportunities along the way — to learn, to grow, to help others.

Sometimes, though, unexpected things can happen that cause our life’s GPS to start “recalculating” the route. It could come from a change in life’s circumstances, like getting a new job, moving to a new home or having a child. It could come from the actions of others, such as a difficult relationship with a spouse or family member. Or, in the case of the current COVID-19 pandemic, it could be from the loss of work or access to normal activities. While this is happening, there could understandably be added fear, anxiety or panic while the path forward is unknown or unclear, and even paralyze us in knowing what choices to make for ourselves.

You could reasonably say that the followers of Jesus were dealing with their own “recalculating” GPSes after his death. The apostles were locked in the upper room, not knowing what to do next. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus, expressing their bewilderment over all the events that had taken place. They struggled with faith, as we can as well when the path goes dark. Our fear makes it difficult to be sure about our path. At such times, both in life as in driving, the best choice is to be patient, go a little slower, be observant of our surroundings and do the next right thing. In time, our GPS becomes clear, and we have a renewed appreciation for our path and our mission, just as the apostles had new confidence and clarity after Jesus appeared to them and sent them the Holy Spirit.

One of my most memorable experiences of “recalculating” came during my college studies. At the time, I was planning to be a high school math teacher, but at the start of my second year, I was finding the education classes tedious and unsatisfying. After a brief period of uncertainty on whether to switch and what to do instead, I realized that my computer hobby could legitimately be more than just a hobby and was able to shift and focus on that.

An even better example, though, was when my wife lost her job just after Thanksgiving in 2011. It was a job that she enjoyed, and she couldn’t understand the reason for why it happened and why she was not getting responses to other job applications. During that time, her grandfather was dying of heart failure. She and her grandfather were very close and being out of work gave her greater opportunity to spent time with him and be a part of his end of life care. Shortly after he passed in January, she received a call back for a new job opportunity and was ultimately hired. As much as her future and her path were unclear during this time, she was able to stay focused on the moment, to live intentionally, and to find meaning in her days until things became clear.

Will following the “ideal path” make us happy? I do believe it gives us a strong foundation and our best chance for happiness, although there are so many more things that go into happiness and mental health. Can bad things still happen to us even along the ideal path? Of course. But that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us, doesn’t still desire the destination for us, and doesn’t want us to grow through the challenge. And the more we can help each other along the journey, through carrying each other’s crosses, bolstering each other’s faith, and sharing God’s love, the easier the trip will be.

Holy Week Service List

With churches still closed as the pandemic continues, many churches have taken to recording or live streaming services so congregants at home can still participate. If you are looking for additional options for the coming Holy Week, please feel free to partake in the options below.

All times below are Eastern Time.

Self-Paced

Palm Sunday

  • 4:30 p.m. Saturday Mass, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, NY 🎬
  • 11:00 a.m. Mass, St. Bonaventure University 🎬

Monday

  • 9:00 a.m. Mass, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, NY 🎬

Tuesday

Wednesday

Holy Thursday

Good Friday

Holy Saturday

Easter Sunday

Christian Resources During Quarantine

In many places, response to the COVID-19 outbreak is escalating from the practicing of social distancing to essential-travel only and shelter-in-place policies. Such a change of routine can be particularly jarring to spiritual practices, which often time certain on services, ministries or activities on our church campuses. As such, I wanted to gather here different online resources that readers have found meaningful to maintain their spirituality during these difficult times.

Please feel free to suggest other options in the comments. I will continue to update the page and new suggestions come in.

Holy Week resources

Video

Audio Reflections and Podcasts

  • Clouds and Sun” by Fr. Dan Riley 🔉 – Audio Reflections via Podcast

Apps

Interaction

Reading

Thanks to Hailee and Emily for their suggestions!

A Deeper Thankfulness: Second Chances

As so many do on Thanksgiving Day, I too am reflecting on the last year, on the things for which I am thankful, and those things where my thankfulness has been absent or lacking.

Don’t get me wrong — I am always polite and quick to say “please” and “thank you” to others. It is part of my kind and caring nature, to help build up those around me and to enrich their lives, so they might also do the same to others. For example, when collaborating at work with colleagues, whether receiving or giving assistance, I very frequently end the session with an expression of thanks for their effort and contributions.

However, I don’t regularly feel grateful for the gifts blessed upon me each day, and in doing so believe I take those for granted. These gifts include family, a stable and prosperous job, a stable shelter that is warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Is it that these things have generally been simply too “normal” for me? Too constant and stable? Too unchanging and unchallenged? Or is it also that my baseline thankfulness is so “normal” that I don’t feel it or don’t recognize it? It is more common for me to feel thankful for the things when they change or are different, rather than when they remain the same.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to go to a concert by David Haas, a composer of liturgical music for Catholic and Christian churches. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear some of his newer music that I had not yet found or sought out. His opening song of the night was titled, “The God of Second Chances.” Perhaps it has stuck with me so much since then because of knowing the story behind the song, which he shared afterward that night and has written about on his blog as well.

The Gold of Second Chances, by David Haas. Copyright 2005 by GIA Publications, Inc.

I can certainly point to some of the more significant events or periods in my life, recognizing both the “first chance” and then when the opportunities for the “second chance” came later. But what are some of the smaller, everyday second chances that I face but don’t recognize as such?

One that comes to mind today is my relationship with my 18-year-old son. As much as he and I are alike in many ways (namely our ways of thinking and expressing ourselves), we had been growing more and more isolated from each other in recent years. I, particular, felt it difficult to connect with him and share with him during those times when he was at my house. His graduation from high school, beginning college, and different desires and changes he’s asserted over the year with his change in status have certainly been a source of pain for me (the growing up transition for parents always is). But we’ve also had the opportunity to manifest our relationship in a different and more adult way, and I am grateful for him and for the time we are spending together.

With effort, I hope to be able to stop, recognize and write about more of the moments in my own life where thanks-giving is needed, in hopes that you might also be able to recognize them more in their lives too.

The Serenity Prayer, unabridged

I was looking back through some old materials I had collected during college for my website at that time. I came across this full text of The Serenity Prayer, of which many are familiar with the first stanza.

God, give us grace to accept with serenity 
the things that cannot be changed, 
Courage to change the things 
which should be changed, 
and the Wisdom to distinguish 
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time, 
Enjoying one moment at a time, 
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, 
Taking, as Jesus did, 
This sinful world as it is, 
Not as I would have it, 
Trusting that You will make all things right, 
If I surrender to Your will, 
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, 
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

—Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

The mandate here in the original version of the first stanza is stronger than the contemporary version. Rather than “Courage to change the things I can”, we instead should look to change anything that should be changed.

I also really like how the second stanza continues the thought but also sets the expectations for us even higher. We are called to live in the moment, accept hardship and surrender to God’s will as the means to find our happiness in life. These can certainly be challenging things at times, but we should all continue to strive the best we can!

The exciting Chicago Bears 2018 season

NFL football is one of the things that I look forward to each year. It is the only sport I actually follow anymore. I was a little more interested in the New York Mets and the Chicago Bulls when I was younger, but it didn’t maintain after the star players on those teams weren’t playing anymore. Since childhood, baseball, basketball and hockey have never held my interest enough for me to want to follow teams or learn players.

And, to be honest, football lost my interest too for a while. I lived in Chicago during the 1985 Bears Superbowl season. While I never went to any games, I remember watching them on TV. I remember seeing Walter Payton run. I remember the dominance of that defense. I still remember many of the names of players from that team.

After moving to New York, I followed the Bears for a little bit and then the New York Giants for a bit. But then lost interest until the Bears’ 2006 season. The team was finally good again, on track to go to the playoffs, and I started watching late in the year. Since then, my connection to the team having been rekindled, I have been a more avid follower of the team. The games are not on TV as frequently here in New York, but I have watched as much as I’ve been able.

As an adult, I believe it’s easier to grind and survive through bad teams compared to as a child. The Bears have had many bad years again since 2006, but this year has been a rewarding one. 

The team’s defense was very strong, regularly stopping opposing offenses and producing turnovers. The offense has been generally solid most of the year, producing enough points to overcome their opponents but without blowing teams out by large margins either. As a team that finished in last place in their division last year and improved to first place this year, under a first-year head coach and a second-year quarterback, there is a lot to look forward given the team’s success this year.

Photo credit: chicagobears.com

Most importantly, though, the team was fun to watch. And they were having fun too. The coach even insisted upon it. Their play on the field was strong and explosive. The coach was using all the players in creative ways, pulling out some trick plays. The team had creative touchdown celebration dances and would celebrate after wins in the locker room in “Club Dub”. 

Their loss tonight in the playoffs to the Philadelphia Eagles was a heart-breaking one. The game was a tough, low-scoring defensive battle, as I thought it would be. The Eagles scored a touchdown with about a minute left in the game, but the Bears were able to push down the field and have one last chance. Unfortunately, the kicker missed the kick that would have won the game. 

Am I disappointed that the Bears lost when they were certainly good enough and played well enough to be able to win? Yes, of course. But I am very happy with how the season turned out and am excited with what next year will bring. 

If I can find or make a good highlight reel of the team’s season, I will post it here.

Living the Good Life

My company gave the day off last week for the National Day of Mourning for President George H. W. Bush. While my primary intention was to continue cleaning my basement, I did take a break to watch part of the funeral and listening to some of the speakers.

I thought President George W. Bush’s eulogy of his father was a wonderful and heartfelt tribute to his father. The office of the presidency, and sometimes those men themselves, can seem larger than life. But he described his father as a simple, kind and gentle man with a purpose of living Christian values in all his walks of life. And regardless of any one person’s religion, I hope that those values of providing compassionate care and concern for our fellow human beings are something that can resonate above other priorities, other themes, other distractions.

After the sermon, Christian artist Michael W. Smith played his song “Friends”. It was very familiar to me, as a sort of theme song during college, particular at the end of each year as my peers and I went home for the summer and senior friends graduated. The friendship of my classmates and living in community with them on campus is the one thing that I miss most about my time in college. There were always people available to find if someone didn’t want to be alone, but also the ability to be alone when that was preferred. We were able to take time to be present to each other when needed. Conversations were deep. Friendship was easy.

Life after college certainly presented a significantly different dynamic, which I have found particularly difficult over the years. Friends are harder to find. Friendships are harder to make and harder to maintain. Loneliness has been more frequent.

When I occasionally reflect on my own life and history, I can find myself doubting whether I have been successful in living such a value-filled life, even though I certainly aspire to do so. It’s easy to want to measure life based on accomplishments, and I think my feeling of doubt comes, in part, as a result of trying to live a relatively simple life. I don’t necessarily push myself as hard as other people do. I don’t try to accomplish a lot of things, or to accomplish things as fast as I can. Quite to the contrary, my life has always been about performing carefully, deliberately, and with the maximum quality. There have certainly been times where I’ve declined or resisted tasks because I was concerned about not being able to do the best job. And while accomplishments aren’t necessarily a bad part of living a good life, it is probably more worthwhile to consider the kind of accomplishments we have.

During the sermon, the priest recalled an old Christian adage: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” It emphasizes the importance of living out one’s values and philosophy in his or her actions, and not simply by words alone. Rather than “do as I say, not as I do”, this is “do as I do, even if I don’t also say it”. And I believe this is an important factor towards living the good life: beyond holding those values of care and concern for others, putting those into action. By working hard to maintaining closer friendships with those people that have slipped away over the passage of time. By contributing any small portion of kindness on
a particular day to help make the life of another person better in some way: more happy, more peace-filled, less lonely, or less troubled.

And may we all encourage each other to find the good life.

For those who did not watch the funeral, below are clips of the eulogy, sermon and “Friends” musical reflection.

The First Two Collaborations from “The Greatest Showman”

A while back, I started following an independent singer/songwriter on YouTube named Peter Hollens. He produces music that is largely, and often entirely vocally-based. Even the percussion is beatboxing. I strongly encourage you to check out his YouTube channel.

Recently, he announced he was going to producing music videos of several songs from the movie musical, “The Greatest Showman,” where following fans could participate and submit tracks to be included in the overall piece. He provided all the music and instructional videos needed for people to be appropriately prepared.

The first piece, “From Now On”, was released at the end of September. The second piece, “The Greatest Show” was released last week. Please feel free to watch, enjoy, and see if you can find me!

Welcome to my blog!

Hello and welcome to my new blog, The Inner Voice. After having the same 3 pages on my website for many years, it was definitely due for an update! Plus, as I discuss more in my Why I Blog page, this will give me more of an opportunity to write that I have had.

I have no particular plans regarding how often I will post. At this point, I’m planning to let my mood, spirit and schedule guide me. While I presently suspect that Computers, Music and Spirituality will be three of the main topics I will write about, I do not plan to limit only to those areas. I will use other tags and categories to help organize my content here.

I would like to be able to connect with as many readers as possible, so please feel free to comment on my posts, suggest additional topics for me or simply send me a message

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