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“I can dance! I can jump! I can run! I can work! I can play!” so sings the ecstatic Amahl, the lame shepherd boy, in Gian Carlo Menotti’s one-act opera for children of all ages, Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951).

Set in Bethlehem, a fiery star, “as big as a window,” lures Amahl into the December hills where he pipes his heart out, one melody after another. An impossible dreamer, he frequently frustrates his widowed mother, further impoverished by the recent sale of their sheep. Piercing cold, hunger, no fire in their hearth, only sleep’s oblivion keeps death at bay. However, from out of the night emerge Melchior, Kaspar, and Balthazar, kings/astrologers and their page, seeking lodging in this widow’s hovel. Stories of their star-quest for another king quicken Amahl. Like their visitors, he will bring a gift, his crutch, all that he owns. In that decision, his withered leg throbs with new wholeness. He stands tall. He will have a life. He sings.

What was it that compelled Amahl to disregard the need for his crutch, without which he remained immobile, this reckless heart-gesture that gave its all? What did he see in that moment? What empowerment that changed everything?

Unfortunately, many of us still hold on to crutches, of whatever stripe, to inch us through challenges, to enhance functioning, to conceal our human foibles from others and ourselves. What would it be like to stride free from such hobbling compulsions and enjoy the sun’s warmth on our backs?

Perhaps in 2019, we’ll find out. May it be a very Happy New Year for you and your loved ones!

 

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Seems to me that our hearts were fashioned to sing.

Consider the harmonics of the spheres throughout the universe. Consider the strains of a spirited melody, whether in a concert hall or a sports venue that catches our breath. Consider, also, how a ditty will seize our imagination and seed our energy with fresh purpose.

My sister Martha put me up with one that still works: “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Zip-A-Dee-A” – Such are the opening lyrics in this 1947 Academy Award for the Best Original Song from Song of the South. Uncle Remus, the film’s storyteller/handyman employed on a plantation in Reconstructionist Georgia, sings this ditty while interacting with animated creatures during a summer walk. Such gyrations start the feet a-tapping—and much more.

“Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Zip-A-Dee-A” trips off the tongue and opens the psyche to the realm of play. Here, nothing is taken seriously because of unflagging trust in God, source for the “… wonderful day!” and “…the warming sunshine…heading my way!” Even Mister Bluebird on his shoulder concurs: “It’s the truth. It’s actual. Everything is satisfactual!”

And such it is, no matter what happens. It’s all about trust in God’s protection and care, disguised, this time, as a bluebird.

The challenge is to find our own bluebird and listen to its song.

 

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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