Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Gift of Community

My favorite part of giving tours at the monastery is going to Marian Parlor and pointing out 3 paintings by Sr. Gregory Ems. Her paintings are extraordinary. The story is that the community realized she had a great talent for art, so they sent her to an art school. She had been there only a little while when the school sent her back because there was nothing they could teach her. She had natural talent, so she was told to go back to the monastery and paint.

I find her story absolutely amazing - the first part more so than the last part. The part that says, "The community realized she had a great talent for art." I love that part, for you see, I can really relate. When I entered the monastery, I truly was unaware that I had any musical talent. I had wanted to take lessons as a kid, but since that wasn't a possibility, I taught myself. I didn't think much of my ability to do this. Since I could teach myself, I just figured anyone could do it.

I used to buy classical piano books, ragtime pieces, and popular hits. These were well beyond my ability, but I bought them any way in order to maintain my motivation and also in hopes of one day learning them. I worked hard. I even performed in some competitions and participated in talent shows. I never really did well, but tried anyway. I was unaware that I had any musical talent. After all, I had just taught myself. That must mean anyone can do it if they just put time into it like I did.

When I was a junior in high school, my brother and I decided to invest together in a $70 violin and a book called Teach Yourself Violin. I could follow the directions and figure out the fingerings enough to play some simple songs like "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." However, I didn't know how to tune the violin, so it was more like an abstract rendition of the pieces. I remember the parish priest visiting our house once. My mom suggested we play. Not knowing we weren't in tune, we were proud to play our songs. Looking back, I'm thankful that he was so kind as we played. I think he must have also been tone deaf.

In college, I went to Mexico for an Alternative Spring Break trip. While there, I bought a really nice guitar for only $20. I had trouble teaching myself, so I put an announcement in the Newman Center bulletin about a guitar group starting up. Other beginners and some intermediate students came once a week, and we all helped each other learn and had a fun time.

When I entered the monastery, I could partly play a few instruments, but like I said, had only taught myself and didn't consider myself any good. Thank goodness the community saw differently. They helped me realize I had musical talent and helped me develop it.

I still remember a few years ago when someone outside community asked me if I was a musician. I paused because I had never used that word to describe myself. By this time, I had been in community for 3 years. I was taking piano and organ lessons and playing regularly for prayer and Mass. Since I hesitated to answer the question, the person asked it again, "Are you a musician?" Three years earlier, I would have answered, "No. Not really." After thinking about it and since the community helped me realize it, I answered, "Yes." By saying it out loud, it was really news to me as well as to the person who asked the question.

I still wonder how I got to where I am today. I had dreamed of teaching music, but never thought it'd be a reality.

When I show tourists Sr. Gregory Ems's paintings and say, "The community realized she had a great talent for art," I think also of how much the community has gifted me, helping me to realize talents and abilities I didn't know I had.

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