By Anna Roberston
I have this memory: I’m in high school, and I’m listening to Ben Folds on my mp3 player, dancing around the house. I’m very into it. My mom is looking at me, shaking her head with appreciative bewilderment and saying, “You just really love music.” Then there was the time my friend and I snuck into the choir room after school to play a rendition of Eric Whitacre’s “Lux Aurumque” over the nice speakers. I remember lying on the cold classroom floor and feeling myself unspool and disintegrate into a pleasant kind of nothingness as the beautifully dissonant voices washed over me. And, later, in college, playing “Rivers and Roads” on the guitar as my friends sang along, feeling the buzz of connection and that sweet, preemptive melancholy over our imminent graduation and parting of ways. Music has been the vehicle for some of my most meaningful spiritual experiences.
But then there were those five or so years in my twenties when I barely listened to music. I would try to, but I would usually end up just feeling anxious and antsy. This was a period of a lot of turmoil in my life in which my center of gravity seemed to exist outside of myself—in the language of Ignatian Spirituality, it was a time of desolation. I felt like I was observing my life rather than living it, I hung on the approval of others, and I was wildly uncomfortable with any meaningful amount of time alone with myself.
Eventually, several major life changes jolted my center of gravity back into myself. I remember, a few days after a particularly destabilizing shockwave, marveling at how my enjoyment of music had seemed to come back all at once, even as the series of events that precipitated its return was anything but marvelous. Grief had dragged me kicking and screaming back to the door of my home in myself. I didn’t want to be there—the dishes were brutal, the laundry formidable, and there were still rooms full of boxes I had never unpacked—but, once I was there, the neighbors started to come knocking with their well wishes and their casseroles and their shoulders to cry on. Music was the first one to arrive, and she stayed the latest into the night.
Ignatian Spirituality teaches us that the world itself, and our experience of being in relationship to it, offer us clues about the movement of God in our life. We all have different signposts that pop up in our lives as reflections of how aligned we are at any given time with God’s desires for us, which is to say, with our own deep soul. As I’ve traced my relationship to music over the past years, I’ve learned that it is one of my most trustworthy signposts. When I am out of alignment with my deep soul—when I’ve chucked my center of gravity outside of myself—my ability to enjoy music is the first thing to go. For me, listening to music is always a form of prayer. Sometimes it’s utterly transcendent, capable of dropping me into a felt sense of unity with God and with all of creation; sometimes it has a pricklier quality and puts me face-to-face with my state of spiritual desolation and alienation. No matter what, it is a ping from my soul pulling me back toward myself and God, if I know how to listen.
What are the signposts in your life that help you make sense of how aligned you are with God and your own truest self? How might you rely on your signposts this Lent to help you track the movement of love in your life?
ANNA ROBERTSON is Director of Youth and Young Adult Mobilization at Catholic Climate Covenant. She is a writer, musician, yoga aficionado, and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for supporting the emergence of the widespread ecological conversion of hearts called for by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’. Prior to her current role, Anna has planned retreats in college campus ministry, supported families of women experiencing incarceration, studied collective memory in El Salvador and accompanied college students on international immersion experiences in Latin America. She has her Master of Theological Studies degree from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.
You can find her music on Spotify or wherever you stream music.