Maeve Louise Heaney

Merging Music and Theology

The Incarnation: God’s “I trust you”

December 25, 2014
Maeve Heaney

Painting called Mary and Child, by friend and artist, Trung Pham SJ

Painting called Mary and Child, by friend and artist, Trung Pham SJ

I don’t like Christmas carols. Sorry! I never have. Or at least they do not move me as other music does. However, this morning I found myself in tears as I sang Gloria in Excelsis Deo with the members of a packed church in Singapore. Why? Probably many reasons, not least of which being the sense of a universal Church all believing the same: the man-God who split history in two whose life IS the ground we walk on. Forever. But I also find myself thinking these days about the way as much as the fact of how God entered history. This morning’s readings held me at this point:

Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.

Something had taken place. They go to find out. And what they see is a child. And a poor one, at that. So what does poverty, weakness, vulnerability, defencelessness say to us, about humanity? Or even about God? I think it says “I trust you”. When parents give you their children to mind, that’s what it means – the ultimate trust, I feel. So God not only wants to save us, but also trusts us. Those I have taught will remember my favourite interpretation of original sin (thank you, Sequeri!) is that of distrust. The first ‘sin’ of our race was not pride – pride’s a mechanism of defence – it was distrust: “What was God hiding? What did God not want us to know? What do we need to steal that we have not been given?” Any pride or deceit that follows is merely a consequence... And so the way God saves us is not only taking the risk of sending his Son, but trusting us with that life. I think that’s why I hate it when we forget that Jesus came, not only to die for us, but also to show us how to live! He trusted that we would get it. And if God trusts us, then we are trustworthy. Despite everything. Or rather through everything (Rm 8:28-29). The last word over our lives is that we can hear and discern the voice of God. The ultimate rule of discernment and accompaniment, for those of us to whom God entrusts that path, is that people are trustworthy. And if they can get to hear their own voice, which is, at depth, not that different from God’s own, they will know what is right, and true, and holy. They will recognise. “My sheep know my voice”, because “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” So on this day, I am grateful to all those who have trusted in me, and therefore been a presence of God’s voice for me – those who have accompanied me, and those who have wanted me to walk alongside their own quests. My deepest prayer today is that we would learn to walk with care, that God’s silence in a child would “quieten the noise in our mind…” and allow us listen for the only truth that truly “discovers” and saves us. That's what my one and only "Christmas Carol" tries to say - and I will do an Australian version anon - from North Star to Southern Cross, but for the mo': Worship Unplugged, played and recorded with my 'little' brother in Dublin.  

The Power of Gentleness

December 19, 2014
Maeve Heaney

blank pages the morgueLately I feel drawn to blank pages and dark empty spaces…places where I can breathe, and hear, and sense, without much noise. And I know God indwells all things, and I have often sensed Jesus presence in the midst of ministry and service with little sleep, but right now it is the whisper that echoes with more strength within me (1 Kings 19:12), and I thirst for it. What is it about gentleness? What is it about a quiet word, or presence that does not impose and yet opens doors, simple everyday ones, or others which have been under lock and key for years? Because that’s often how I experience God in prayer – truthful, but in a way that seems to reveal what I never realized I knew… or could have known as it simply makes sense. I have spent a week meandering in and around these thoughts… and two things have emerged with quite a lot of strength:
  • Firstly, that there is an ocean of powerful attentiveness in God’s love for us, with all the depth, width, height and power of that immensity. God is more attentive than any human person could be to every small desire of our hearts. I prayed with strength last week for a situation that worried me. And yesterday I sensed Him say: “You asked. I heard you”, as if surprised that I was relieved it had been resolved. Did I doubt it? Did I think it was too small, or insignificant for God to notice? But there is no ‘too small’, when you love. Every detail, everything that someone you care for wants becomes nearly like a demand, if at all possible to make happen. Is God going to love any less attentively? No movement of our hearts goes unnoticed.
  • The second's an intuition: could we  be ‘gatekeepers’ of God’s voice for others? When I see a person who can pray, who can taste God's presence, I find it thrilling. Is this why? Is that what the prophet part of our Baptismal identity means? People have a need for that inner door to God’s presence to be opened, unlocked. And perhaps part of the gift of prayer is to be called to mediate, to echo, to be a human ‘voice that cries’ or speaks, or at least evokes the whisper of God’s passionate love for us waits, patiently, to say. Scary but wonderful, if true...  blessed are the gentle.

Pray Theologically

December 5, 2014
Maeve Heaney

Photo arranged and edited by Carmine di Stefano

Photo arranged and edited by Carmine di Stefano

This is  a short one, and I don't usually simply re-post, but this is simply worth it. It is the message of the Pope to the International Theological Commission on December 5th. I guess it is good to simply note that what is said in such a short message is important by its very mention. Key words/ themes I would identify?  Listen; signs of the times; a greater presence of women theologians; unity- healthy pluralism, sensus fidei, and maybe the best one at the end, (and take note, theology students!): pray theologically. One way of doing it: Woman of God.

Theology through Music: an Experiment

November 15, 2014
Maeve Heaney

Singing Nuns So this is a quick post, and a functional one. Just came back from a quick but really fruitful Conference in Toronto. Will get back to gathering thoughts around that... but wanted to put up on the website an experiment. By way of invitation: The conference was on Music, Theology and Justice, and in my paper, with the help of a group of colleagues a I sang a song I had written, and then proceeded to analyse and unpack the theology underlying, hidden in, or revealed therein. It is a work in project, as meaning always is. The song, called Jerusalem, is available here - the recording is basic, so apologies, but it seemed more important to evoke the performance than to give the perfect recording of the same. My gratitude goes out to Michael O'Connor, Michael J. Iafrate and Christina Labriola for their collaboration. The lyrics are in the post if you scroll down, but I would invite you to listen to the music first, and then go the the lyrics. For many reasons, but let's just say meaning in music is not always and never only in the words.  The questions I would ask you to reflect on as you listen, are the following ones: Part 1: What do you hear?   Is there anything you would point out about the music? And about the lyrics? And in the performance? Part 2: what do you think the song could mean? Part 2: Theology Are there any phrases (lyrical or musical) or thoughts that remain with you? Do you know why? What, if anything, does the song provoke in you Is there a change or shift your understanding of the theology of salvation? Can you describe it? As a researcher, is there a question you would think important to ask in relation to the musical meaning of this piece? if you would like to stick your oar in, that would be great! Thank you!

Jerusalem: Salvation in the Poor [lyrics]

You set your face towards Jerusalem, finally the beginning of the end/ The path you've taken is the ground beneath our feet, so tell me why so often we lose sight of this… Forgive us Lord! For hearts of stone!/ Our eyes don't cry! Our minds don't know/ Forgive us Lord! And don't give up!/We still don't know what we're doing…/ Have mercy on Jerusalem! Blessed are those who draw your gaze on them,/The 'anawim' you choose to call your friends /Between you and I are those of whom the Kingdom is /My heart needs to stretch and break to let them in… Forgive us Lord for hearts of stone! /Our eyes don't cry - our minds don't know/ Forgive us Lord! We haven' learnt/ We still don't know what we're doing…/ We're so in need of [You] Wrong is right, and weak is strong, and stupid is wise…/ Poor is rich, and up is down, and You are Real… So thank You Lord! For losing all/ For unashamedly being on the side of your people/ Thank You Lord! For giving all- for unreservedly being broken and given…Thank you, Lord! Jerusalem… A peace that fights! A word that bites and heals within…/A freedom that enchains us to reality

Sunday Afternoon Meanderings…

October 20, 2014
Maeve Heaney

When I write... Sometimes when I write, or when I have time to delve into a theologian’s life work and allow it explain myself (and my God) to me, I find myself, even in my office at the the end of a  beautiful day shining through my window, (yes, I know – Day of the Lord), ‘surprised by joy’. What is it about the power of words? And at times this happens for me when I read someone explaining faith beautifully: for example, how the cross of Jesus means that nothing in history has set limits to God’s nearness to human beings; at others it's when my brain reaches for words to describe what I feel, or live and finds them – and suddenly I ‘get God’ or even ‘get me’ more :). No small feat. And mostly I am grateful for that sense of being where I am meant to be, and feeling embraced in that space: surrounded, loved, known, sustained, accompanied, invited, carried, held. God surprises me and it’s free. Grace. I will admit to feeling stretched at times, and I have a brain that tends to question things… or rather queeeeeeestion things. Constantly. Which can be tiring… although never boring – I’ll admit :).  (Could it be nice to feel bored? It’s been years!) But every now and again, in a deeper way, I find myself found by God, in where I am and what I’m at. And it feels like his way of saying “I appreciate it… this is what I ask of you, my love, right now.” And so I breathe and take stock…and get back to writing. I think it may have something to do with that part of the first commandment, which has always fascinated me: love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind, in these terms:      

A fully lived life

October 13, 2014
Maeve Heaney

Last week one of my nieces, who is turning 25, wrote me a message (facebook being the way I keep in contact with that generation of my family) asking for a contribution to a book she wants to write, called When I was 25. She is gathering paragraphs on what was happening, where one was living, what one was feeling when 25 years old. Doing it made me realize just how rich my life has been – not always easy (in fact, at times downright painful) but rich, and full of meaning, which as the Italians would say (and you have to let Italian say it for itself) “non è poco!” (is not unimportant). A few weeks ago I spoke at a conference for young people in Brisbane called Ignite, on the theme of “From missionary to theologian: why mission needs theology”. It led me to explore the personal journey of past years, the underlying experiences and convictions that have led me to where I am. Once again, it led me to touch and taste the underlying convictions, the core experiences that have made me (for better and worse☺), who I am. And both exercises, or experiences have me thinking how easy it is to underestimate our lives, to miss the important moments in the quest for the bigger ones. I have a wise coaster in my house that attracts my cup in pre-dawn moments as my brain reaches for coffee: coaster on life And I ask God to teach me to notice… to stop, to stay, to hold and taste the present moment, to let Him come into past ones and redeem them (the retroactive power of eternal life’s grace!).         I don’t always know how to navigate and negotiate the richness of life –my mind races after future visions as easily as it weeps for past hurts and wakes up in the brilliance of unexpected shared laughter... Fun in visual -)

So today I’m praying for awareness. And recognition, the capacity and habit of pausing to realize and hold what otherwise can get lost through overload… which will always lead to gratitude.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Phil 4: 8

The preciousness of Time passing comes to mind…

More on themes around Theodicy…

September 24, 2014
Maeve Heaney

Theodicy After last week's blog on how at times it is music that makes sense of us,rather than us understanding music, in one of my classes, I had the one of most involved sessions of the semester. It was based on the song I wrote about last week and on the forgotten (they say) and marginalized (or popular?) theme of sin and evil. And I know (and teach) that sin is a revealed reality, and not to be thrown about easily as only in the context of knowing oneself as deeply loved are we ever going to grasp what saying ‘no’ to that love could mean. But the class got very involved in explaining why life is sad, broken relationships hurt, death is tragic, and non-communication as a form of understanding the consequences of sin was something that made sense to them. It seems contemporary culture is quite aware of their poverty and limitation. And although in a (desperate?) attempt to be loving and accepting and non-judgmental they sometimes take the easy ‘relativistic’ route: (“in the end it all depends on the individual”), when challenged on it to look at the consequences of our wrong-doing and the need to actually have opinions on things, I was edified by depth of thought and willingness to reflect. So now I’m the one who is thoughtful…. because it seems to me that we really understand relationships… and the sadness when they don’t work, or end (for all the many reasons they can. Is it because we find joy harder to allow than pain? Is that one of the consequences of what theology calls ‘the original’ falling? Or does it simply help us to feel, and empathize, in this world of paralyzed feeling and over-stretched procedures (cry with those who cry”)? God seems closer and it does not feel like cheap grace. Another song – my brother’s this time – but that I believe touches that same chord, beauty and sadness, love and loss, that is at the heart of our faith: Beautiful Life.

Music make sense of us

September 7, 2014
Maeve Heaney

DSC00106 Every now and again a song stops me in my tracks. The most recent was this one: Say something. I had to stop the car and listen. Even without knowing why: it simply held me, touching something I did not even know needed to emerge and be named. And in all truth I am still comprehending why, and just what it is this song touches in me. It’s a great song. I have used it in prayer and class. It has provoked some of the best dialogues even (or especially) among students with little faith background but much sensitivity to pain (take note, theodicy.) I’ll write about it one of these days, but today that is not the point of this blog – the point is another one: There is a whole world underneath the surface of music, that shifts and charges and changes the meaning of any words it carries; and it seems to me its more what sense music makes of us than the meaning we make of it. And it does ‘make sense’. Am I wrong? I ‘find’ myself inside this tune (or others) from time to time… without deciding to go there, or being aware of any conscious trigger. It is as real to me as anything I could think or write. And maybe that’s just it: music moves us. On my June retreat I understood that I needed to put things in place to keep music centre-stage in my life and research… the verbal world of theological discourse (and that it is what it is, very often) can very easily eat away the time that music needs in order to happen. Even when the research area is music:)! I know. So I decided I was going back to classes to keep the craft of music alive and growing (thanks Jimmi☺). And in the coming weeks I am going to try an offer you a least one piece of music per week – a piece I find myself in, or held by, or even understood (made sense of?). And let’s see where it leads us. I intuit, or even hope, that it may mark the real path of my research – the underlying and important map of what’s moving and where… about which my pen can then follow and explain, or ‘say something’ :), of worth, when the moment is right... We shall see.

How does one feel when releasing a new album?

August 3, 2014
Maeve Heaney

5 There are conversations that mark us for years, and I had one such chat a few years ago with Cristóbal Fones, SJ, on the happy event of a concert/ prayer time celebrating the Ordination of another friend Goncalo Castro Fonseca SJ to the priesthood. The chat was about how one feels after a performance of your own music: and we found ourselves describing a similar experience with words like… vulnerable, exposed, ‘empty’ in the sense of having poured out so much of who you are through music – your own music, because if you don’t, the you haven’t performed, you haven’t played your music. So it is with a sort of ‘vulnerable joy’ that I share the news that my new CD, Break the Crystal Frame, which I have been working on for a while now, is available in Australia and New Zealand (August 21st for the world not down under (‘up-over’? yeuch.) at As One Voice. I presume it will filter through to stores in the coming weeks. I hope it does what it is meant to do: DSC00106 crack and break through the crystal frame that makes God’s voice an echo… cut through the fog that impedes us seeing, feeling and tasting life at depth.... Particular thanks have to go to: Kathleen Duffy Heaney, Conor Heaney - whose song on the CD is the best! Dn. Fabio Pieroni, Dn. Giuseppe Tonello, Francine and Dudley Plunkett, Francesca y Giovanni Autelitano; Margery and Paul Dean; Redemptoris Missio of the Familia Verbum Dei Munich, Verbum Dei Sydney, Verbum Dei, England and the Verbum Dei Central Administration (gracias Miguel Angel!)and Luis Javier Perez Palomo. Happy listening.

We give thanks for a beautiful, beautiful life…

July 30, 2014
Maeve Heaney

Today and yesterday (depending on where you live in this world of God’s) was my Dad’s birthday…to whom I owe so much of who I am what I love about life, and what is important. I know in many ways I’m like him: work hard, play hard 🙂 … and especially love those who are yours. From him and our mother, we learned (or breathed in and understood) what true, unconditional love is. He lived for his family. He genuinely loved his friends. He was open to help whoever he could … when he could… For their children there is nothing he and mum would not do, or give, if they could. Enough love to hold us, enough love to leave us free. And so, even leaving we stayed. Copy of Dad So today I thank God, once again, for beautiful lives, for his beautiful life. When he passed away, my brother and I each wrote him a song, independently and without consultation. The common word in those songs was “beautiful”. Because it takes a fully lived out life for us to understand that life can be full. It takes a beautiful person for us to intuit that life and the One who gave it to us and sustains it, is also beautiful. So today I give thanks… I have a CD coming out in August, which have both, and I wanted the first song available to be one celebrating his life. My brother is an exceptionally talented song-writer, and this one has something special. “We give thanks for a beautiful, beautiful life…”