That blank white screen is staring at me, screaming at me. I recoil in unholy terror. And yet it beckons, waiting to be filled with whatever vagaries filter through my easily distracted mind. I once studied meditation with a Bay Area Zen master. His advice was simplicity itself:
“Hello, thought. Goodbye, thought.”
In Zen, the plain blank page should be enough. Meditate on nothingness and be filled. It’s all very cool, but my Western mind craves more than nothingness. I guess that’s why I’m a writer. I have a compulsive need to fill a blank page.
According to my last entry, I’m supposed to use my blog as a way to get warmed up before I do the actual writing of my book. At least that’s how John Steinbeck did it, but he started first thing in the morning and kept on writing well past Noon. I try to wake up every day at 6:00am but at that time I am already embroiled in getting ready for my commute to the office: feed the cat, feed the fish, shave and shower, then navigate the start-and-stop Portland labyrinth known as Highway 26. I listen to NPR radio to catch up with the news of the day, and when I get bored with that I switch to the Beatles Channel on Sirius-XM. “Good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, yeah!”
Obviously, I don’t have time to write in the morning, like I used to in my good old freelance days. It’s 8:30pm as I type this blog. My evening commute home saw 90-degree temps but it has now cooled down to a reasonable 79 on this fine July evening. The Beatles Channel is All-Fabs, All-the-Time but for my last several weeks it’s been All-Saint-Louis-Jesuits, All-the-Time.
I have been concurrently working on TWO St. Louis Jesuit projects. First, OCP’s amazing re-release of the SLJ’s 1977 Advent-Christmas album, Gentle Night. 2017 is the 40th anniversary of this beloved album and, with the group’s support, we have remixed the original fifteen tracks, under Dan Schutte’s supervision, to meet the audio standards of the 21st century. I was tasked with writing copy for the new CD booklet, and I had the distinct honor of interviewing John Foley, Bob Dufford, Dan Schutte, Roc O’Connor, and Tim Manion, plus a couple of friends of theirs from back in the day. I believe this Gentle Night 40th Anniversary Edition is going to be a true gift to those who love the music of these pioneering contemporary Catholic composers.
My second St. Louis Jesuit project is, of course, my book, From Mountains High, the sequel to my first book, Keep the Fire Burning that told the story of the Folk Mass of the 1960s. My new book continues the narrative into the 1970s, and that means the St. Louis Jesuits, along with other contemporary Catholic composers like Carey Landry, the Monks of Weston Priory, Tom Kendzia, John Michael Talbot, and the whole roster of composers published by North American Liturgy Resources (NALR). It’s a labor of love, and I have spent the better part of the past six years interviewing composers and researching the music and the times of that fertile era in the American Catholic Church.
I have tried to draw a connecting line between what was going on in the world and the music that was sung in the churches. I do not see a dichotomy between the sacred and the profane, an age-old argument that lies at the heart of today’s so-called liturgy wars. I write more details about those “wars” in my book, and I may also discuss it here in a future blog. I will say now that the wars are unnecessary and run contrary to Christ’s prayer for his disciples (John 17:21), “that they may all be one.”
Let me say from the start that I respect the Latin Mass and I love Gregorian chant. That is the liturgy that I grew up with as a child, and its beauty is unsurpassed. But I also grew up with the Folk Mass and was privileged to participate in the movement as a musician, as a composer, and in my work with various publishers of the music. I am only trying to tell that story. I harbor absolutely no grudge against those who love the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (the liturgy of the 1962 Roman Missal) and I refuse to be baited into a heated discussion on what is “right” and what is “wrong” in Roman Catholic liturgy. I only pray that my esteemed conservative brethren would offer the same Christian courtesy to those of us who have found spiritual nourishment in contemporary liturgical music.
Well, my blank screen is suddenly not blank anymore. Time to start writing my book’s next chapter!