When You Have Less Than a Day at an Abbey

And I will never, never, never
Grow so old again.
~ Van Morrison

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Of Down Syndrome, Anne of Green Gables, and Van the Man

You can’t stop us on the road to freedom
You can’t stop us ’cause our eyes can see.
Men with insight, men in granite,
Knights in armor bent on chivalry.
~ Van Morrison

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Holy Saturday Healings: On Looking Back and Peering Ahead


Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise.
I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven.
~ Bp. Melito of Sardis

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What We Signed Up For: The Marital Indispensable Minimum


I want you to be my ball and chain.
 ~ Van Morrison

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Of Rip Currents, Our Lady, and a Crippled Troubadour


Some try to run away from all temptations, and still they go on falling into sin. Flight alone will not conquer all temptations.
~ Fr. Anthony Paone, S.J.

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Put Down the Missalette Already!


Come and gaze upon this marvelous feat:
the woman conceives through the hearing of her ears!
~ Athanasius of Alexandria

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Nursing’s Soundtrack

puremichigan_1341283813_71Have you heard the Pure Michigan radio spots? They’re very evocative, and so very effective. When I hear the familiar toggling piano notes, I anticipate the string section taking up the melody in short order, fleshing out the warm, welcoming images conjured up by the narrator, and then…they’ve got me: Suddenly, I’m in Michigan, on the beach or in the woods, laughing, cavorting with my kids, soaking it all up.

685px-Epogdoon-RaphaelAnd, you know what? I know they’re just commercials, but somehow I always feel better after hearing them. The narrator’s calming voice, the peaceful mental pictures, and the soothing music – especially the soothing music. Those Pure Michigan ads are like balm, like little oases in my busy day.

Such is the curative potency of music – an idea that’s been around a long time. “Many ancient cultures used sound and music for healing,” Byron Janis noted in the Wall Street Journal. “Pythagoras called it ‘music medicine.’ In the Middle Ages, the study of music became a mandatory part of a physician’s education.”

That sure makes sense. We’ve known about music as medicine from childhood when our mothers would softly sing us familiar songs to console us after injuries, either real or imagined. And later, in our teens, didn’t we get into our cars, put on our favorite tapes (or CDs or MP3 files) after emotionally jarring events?

Of course, Mr. Janis (and Pythagoras for that matter) referred to music as medicine primarily in terms of physical healing, but we’ve all had some experience of that as well. Think back to the last time you had a serious injury, or you were laid low by a lingering illness. You can only watch so much TV, right? Only so many vidCatStevenseos. Silence is nice, of course, but sometimes it’s our favorite music that brings relief – like auditory comfort food, not just to distract from pain and fatigue, but also as a somatic remedy.

Musician and songwriter Cat Stevens once said that music allows us to satisfy “the longing that human beings have for unification with something higher and more harmonious than their existence and their mundane lives.” It’s clear that’s especially true for those touched by illness and disease, and many have documented this reality – like Michael Rossato-Bennett. His award winning film, Alive Inside, explores how music can restore cognitive function to the elderly suffering from even the severest forms of dementia. “I’ve found that music is one of our greatest wisdoms and one of our greatest tools for going through life’s challenges,” Rossato-Bennett says. “Every religion and spiritual practice understands that music has the capacity to bring us to our best.”

vanmorrisonAnd what’s true for the sick and suffering is also true for those called to care for them – like members of my profession: Nurses. I used to work on an oncology unit, and I often wished I could’ve had my own soundtrack following me around – you know, like in the movies. Peppy songs to spur me on when I felt fatigued, and meditative numbers as a salve when I felt discouraged.

OK, personal soundtracks in the hospital aren’t possible, but if they were, I know who I’d feature on mine: Van Morrison. Why? Here’s a sample playlist – see if you can pick up the theme:

  1. ‘The Mystery’: When we’re really sick, it seems like the end of the world. This song speaks to the possibility of turning the dirt of our lives – our disease and brokenness – into gold. We need but to surrender, and let the healing begin. Nursing is a profession that promotes and fosters this.
  2. ‘Comfort You’: This is the role of the nurse in fostering the healing described above. We don’t fix, despite the adrenalin-rush TV shows about healthcare we love to watch. Clearly, nurses have a role to play in carrying out doctor’s healing directives, but our primary function is to be an advocate and intercessor – a priestly role. The tasks of nursing aren’t the point in the end. Rather, it’s the caring that ought to occur while the tasks are being accomplished that is at nursing’s core.
  3. ‘Full Force Gale’: Nursing is an exhausting profession, and it’s impossible to accomplish on our own steam. Consequently, we have to turn to our higher power – our Jesus, as Christians know him – for the grace to accomplish the impossible. We must get rejuvenated, or else we’re no good for anybody.

Catch the theme? Heaven, and the longing for heaven – Van’s songs constantly direct our attention to paradise: ‘Tir Na Nog’. ‘In the Garden’. ‘So Quiet in Here’. ‘These Are the Days’.

In other words, the links we can find between here and the hereafter.

Nurses know better than most that life is fragile and that, despite our best efforts, everybody dies of something sooner or later. Nonetheless, there’s still a reason to keep healing and caring and sacrificing for others despite our mortal end game. Healthcare might be a losing battle in the short run, but we have a vision for something beyond, and Van’s music is the perfect soundtrack – a pure, beautiful vision.


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