I remember vividly the launch of the Challenger space shuttle on January 28, 1986. All eyes were on the spacecraft that carried seven astronauts, including the first teacher to travel into space, Christa McAuliffe. All of a sudden there was an orange fireball and giant plumes of smoke emanating from it. Images of that explosion are forever etched in the memories of those of us who watched that day. I admired the spirit of Christa, who dared to venture into the unknown and cared so deeply about inspiring her students, planning to share “The Ultimate Field Trip” with them. I had to write “A Song for Christa.”
“A Christmas Gloria” is the third Christmas song I’ve written. It was inspired by the traditional Nativity narratives, with a new verse added this year, and by “Gloria in Excelsis” hymns heard both at Christmas and throughout most of the liturgical year. After all, when your name is used in so many songs, you can’t help but be partial to them!
I have many wonderful memories of childhood Christmases. Some of them, like family gathering at my Aunt Terry’s house to enjoy traditional foods and open gifts, continue to this day. One family memory happened long before I was born when my aunts were children and my dad their older brother. It has been passed down to our generation. I wrote “Sally’s Sled”* to commemorate it, hoping it would continue to be passed on to the family’s younger generations.
*A little footnote to those who may raise questions about my having Sally praying to Santa. “Santa Claus” is another name for Saint Nicholas. I know it seems strange, if not blasphemous, to some that Catholics pray to the saints. I see it this way. The saints are declared saints because they lived lives that were so pleasing to God that they went directly to heaven, to the place God had prepared for them. They are beloved by God. When we pray to saints, we are really asking them to intercede for us with God. Like networking. Say you know someone who is a friend of the owner of a business where you applied for a job. You let that person know. “I just applied for a job with ____________. I know he thinks highly of you. I’d really appreciate it if you would put in a good word for me.”
I was hanging my Christmas flag outside my front door. It wasn’t an explicitly religious image, but I began thinking about the symbolism represented: the evergreen tree, symbol of everlasting life; the gifts, symbol of God’s gift of his only Son; and the star, image of the star that led the shepherds and the wise men to the Child. All of a sudden I started singing, “Follow that star to Bethlehem. Follow that star to Bethlehem to the babe in Mary’s arms.” After that, the song practically wrote itself!
I’m not sure what specifically inspired me to start writing “Blessed Is the Lord,” but I know I didn’t finish it in one sitting. I previewed the half-written song at an annual parish talent show, soliciting input for finishing it, and promised to sing the result the following year. I kept that promise.
Our “persona” is the public face we wear and is sometimes at odds with the “person” we are deep down inside. This song arose from my attempt to reconcile the two.
Back in the day, singing cowboys were all the rage. My Aunt Yvonne loved them in western movies. I loved them when they moved from movies to TV and years later they inspired this lighthearted song.
A departure from the four previous songs I’ve shared and not one I originally intended to write. A friend’s musical approach to one of my songs inspired another that went in a very different direction.
The Gospel passage on “Consider the Lilies of the Field” has always inspired and comforted me when life’s varied worries have me down and cause sleepless nights. It bolsters my faith and trust in God’s loving providence.
I was taking a 2-year program in spiritual direction when I wrote this song to express what I had learned about accompanying others on their spiritual journey.