The Gift of Music and the Witness of Religious Life
For those who haven’t yet seen yesterday’s New York Times article, “Nun Uses Music to Convey Spirited Message Against the Vatican’s Rebuke,” be sure to check it out. As others have already pointed out in reposting this story via social network sites, the headline of the piece can be a bit misleading and the lede suggests that this sister is on a mission explicitly “against the Vatican,” which is certainly not the case. Instead, the starting point of the story is the song she wrote over the summer that became something of an unofficial anthem of the sisters in the face of the criticism from Rome. Sr. Sherman’s work has been prolific and has had an impact on the church in a number of ways. She explains a little about her ministry of music and the types of songs she’s composed:
“I don’t just pray and go to work,” Sister Sherman said. “My work is my prayer. They’re not separate. It’s a wholeness. The contemplative life nurtures my ministry, and my ministry nurtures my contemplative life.”
Her studio is a refuge, a long room dominated by a black Young Chang piano (a Steinway was out of reach). There is a prayer plant, a picture of her mother, who taught piano, and a plaque that says “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Her long fingers on the keys, she played pieces she wrote at pivotal moments: the start of the Iraq war; the murder of a nun, by an ex-convict, in a Buffalo halfway house she ran; the height of the political vitriol in the last presidential election, in a song she titled “This Is the America I Believe In.”
“A lot of the music I write is not religious, per se,” she said. “It’s got religious values, it’s got spiritual values. The songs may not name God, but they may name the hope, the peace, the love. For me, they are all names for God.”
Like the song, “Love Cannot Be Silenced,” about the experience of the Vatican critique of American Religious Women, these other songs have been focused on difficult situations and traumatic experiences in recent history.
In addition to the focus on her work as a musician and composer, the Times story also provides a glimpse into her own vocation story — it’s well worth the short read.