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Holding Onto God’s “Cantus Firmus”

by Jasmine, SSJD Companion

Cantus Firmus

  Dietrich Bonhoeffer once described life to his friends as a polyphonic composition, with God’s love as the cantus firmus and our life stories as the counter-melody. All together they make up harmonies and the beauty of a musical piece. The concept of cantus firmus or fixed song is a pre-existing melody that forms the basis of a polyphonic composition. As a fresh music therapist (MTA) living with the sisters as part of the companions program, my relationship with God and my first experiences in religious community are best described using this music metaphor.

I imagine my life as a polyphonic composition that is unfinished, with all kinds of musical fragment phrases. Some of them are pretty; while some of them are dark. The dark side and my own vulnerability is giving tension to my musical piece, especially when I doubt my own value and strive to please other people rather than God. Somehow in the journey, I am feeling lost with the uncertainty of what the future brings, probably because of being in a major transitioning period in my life. Where is the cantus firmus in my life? How can I be faithful in different stages of my life?

While in my yearnings and my search for the meaning of my faith, the daily life in the convent reminds me to recognize God’s love moment by moment, just as the cantus firmus is always the center of a polyphonic composition.

During the 4 months I have spent in the convent, I am learning to discover God’s love in the present in every aspect of my life, including the chores in the kitchen, the daily office, and in the fearful timpani rolls of the journey of finding myself. All of these elements intertwine, yet God’s love is always present to ground the monastic life. Benedictine spirituality and community life offer me an opportunity to become a good listener: listening to the underlying cantus firmus in the worship, in the work and in other people whom I live with and share the bread with.

Although I have no idea what my final composition will be like, with God as my root and the composer, the next lines, both consonants and dissonants will all work together and bring out the fullness of my experiences. In this season of searching, I will be found.

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” (Jeremiah 29:13)