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It was last Sunday, an afternoon of frothy flowering: nubby red-buds interfacing with cobalt skies; branches of apple trees thick-sleeved with blossoms; crab-apples, resembling cones of raspberry sherbet; weeping cherries bowed in supplication; tulips parading their colors like drum majorettes; and creeping moss carpeting rock gardens with lavenders and pinks. Such richness evidenced the synchronicity of warmth, moisture, and rich soil.

The same afternoon also held another kind of frothy flowering, one offered by the Missouri Women’s Chorus under the direction of Scott Schoonover. The rose marble sanctuary of St. Gabriel Catholic Church in St. Louis, Missouri, afforded the singers a protective womb from which to joyfully proclaim the revelations of six mystics: Mary, Mother of Jesus; Cecilia; Margaret Queen of Scotland; Hildegard of Bingen; Julian of Norwich; and Teresa of Avila.

Like the synchronicity occurring outdoors, we experienced the fruit of the Chorus’s four-part harmony; it illumined the sacred texts with ecstasy and opened them to wordless communion with the Sacred—No matter the obvious limits of the notes and words to encompass the Ineffable.

Such robust flowering in spring’s coloration and in the voices of the Missouri Women’s Chorus evidenced a power in our midst that effaces smudges from our “unclean hearts.” Humbled, we rejoiced with the fourteenth-century-mystic Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

 

 

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Her voice has been likened to discovering robin’s eggs in a raven’s nest, a sweet wildness that pierces the soul. Another describes her music as a celestial staircase, leading to the presence of the divine.

Who is this woman who jettisoned years of training to access the voice of her Inner Spirit? Who continues surrendering to this arduous process, becoming one with her song in performances all over the world? Whose listeners are transported to wordless realms of pristine beauty?

An accomplished player of the harmonium and the whistle, a collector and publisher of Celtic folk songs (sean-nos), an expert in plainchant, her world expanded with the influence of her four Johns: teacher and composer at Cork University College, Sean O Riada; composer, John Cage; poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue; and John, the Evangelist. Ever she listened, in silence, honing her ear to her heart’s voice.

An avid spirit eventually compelled her to reframe her gift of song within the discipline of theology, her lifelong passion. Guided by Dr. Eamonn Conway, director of the theology department at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, she produced her 2003 ground-breaking doctoral dissertation on the listening God: theosony, a word she coined from the Greek Theos (God) and the Latin sonas (sounding).

Urged by her friends to share this unique process to the Sacred, she composed Listen with the Ear of the Heart – An Autobiography, published in 2009. It, too, sings.

Sounds True carries two of her CDs: the 1996 River of Stars and the 2004 Mystical Ireland. YouTube also carries her music. I invite you to listen.

I hope to meet this exceptional woman during a visit to Glenstal Abbey, County Murroe, Ireland in March 2014.

Her name is Noirin Ni Riain.

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