NOLENSVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) — For Sarah Hart, writing a new hymn is always about pleasing God.
“I do think, ‘God, I hope this is pleasing to you. I hope that this thing I’m doing is my prayer to you,'” she told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.
“Writing a song for me is simply a conversation that God and I are having. If other people benefit from that conversation, that’s awesome,” she said. “I’m happy to let other people be part of those conversations. It’s a real joy; it’s a pure joy.”
Hart’s latest “conversation” with God is now available to Catholic churches around the world. It’s her first Marian hymn: “Mother Mary, Pray for Us.”
“I had it in my brain that I really wanted to write (a Marian hymn) for a long time and actually wrote it when my youngest daughter went to college,” Hart explained. “All of a sudden, I was in an empty house and that’s a really strange feeling.”
“I found myself praying to Mary a lot for the kids, and I just kept using those words, ‘Mother Mary, pray for us,’ … so I thought, ‘Why don’t I make a song out of this?'” she said.
Describing herself as “a geek for theological research,” she said she was at the computer one day “looking up all the names of Mary and there were so many, so I picked the ones that stood out to me.”
“It was a very quick write. I sat down at the piano, and I think I wrote it in about 20 minutes,” she said. “It just fell into my heart as a prayer.”
“Mother Mary, Pray for Us” is the newest of hundreds of liturgical hymns and antiphons Hart has released with Oregon Catholic Press, a publisher of Catholic liturgical music based in Portland, which has published her songs for more than 20 years.
Her new song is available at ocp.org and can be streamed at https://orcd.co/hartmothermary.
Hart, a Grammy-nominated, award-winning artist, lives in Nolensville with her husband and daughters, and they are parishioners of Mother Teresa Church in Nolensville.
Interviewed as she was preparing for the July 29 release of this new hymn, she said the faith journey to it wasn’t always smooth.
Hart grew up as a Catholic, attending a small school in Lancaster, Ohio, where a devotion to Mary was instilled early on.
“At my elementary school, we prayed the rosary every day. Every morning, we gathered around the statue of Mary and prayed a decade of the rosary as an entire school,” Hart said.
She also lived across the street from a Catholic church that had a statue of Mary inside and she would sneak inside and sing in front of it.
But as she got older, her devotion to Mary and her faith in general began to waver.
In college she thought she didn’t need God so much and was “tired of being the good girl all the time.” Before her senior year, she rediscovered her faith and entered a nondenominational fellowship. Then a year after she got married she felt strongly called back to the Catholic Church.
Even though she returned, she didn’t reclaim that devotion to Mary right away. She kept thinking about a discussion she had in college when someone asked why Catholics “honor Mary so much” and described her as “such a doormat.”
“I come from a very long line of feminists and very strong women with very strong opinions, and I’m one, too,” Hart said. “For me, it was like, ‘Wow, if Mary is a doormat, then is she the best feminist representation for my life personally?'”
It wasn’t until years later, when her maternal grandmother was dying that she received her answer.
Her grandmother had a strong devotion to Mary and when she was dying, Hart was at her side, along with her mom and her aunts, praying the rosary “a million times because that’s what my grandma wanted.”
“It was in that moment that I realized, I’m sitting here with the strongest women I’ve ever known … and they are not doormats. It struck me in that moment that Mary wasn’t a doormat either,” she said.
“The strength that my mom and her sisters and my grandma were exhibiting to me was the very kind of strength that Mary had. It was a fierce strength. It took a lot to say, ‘Yes’ to God, and it took a lot of strength to endure raising the Son of God.”
“Then even to the point of watching him die,” she continued, “the strength it must have taken as a mother to stand there and not just watch her son die, but the way he died and the things that were said about him and the hate that was thrust upon him, that’s a woman of strength, not a doormat.”
The next year, Hart gave birth to her first daughter. As she dealt with the struggles of being a first-time mother, she found herself turning to Mary more and more, and it has grown into the devotion she has today.
Hart said she is thankful for her faith journey because she thinks it helps her connect with the younger generation today.
“I’m a person of deep faith, but I never want anybody to feel ashamed for where they are or the journey they’re on, and I don’t ever want anybody to feel ashamed to doubt or question or to have times of complete distrust because that’s part of the faith journey,” Hart said.
“Without those times, when we are not high and mighty, but when we are broken, those are the times that I think God has the most power to get through to us. And coming out on the other side of it, you feel stronger.”
Hart said that now as a mom, she has “this unique perspective.”
“I have this real heart for the younger generation who is spiritual, but not religious,” she said. “I feel like those years that I spent catering more to my intellectual side rather than my spiritual side have given me a unique perspective on what young people today are going through, and I feel like that’s a real grace.”
Hart said it has taken her “a long time to get comfortable” in her faith and “feel unapologetic about it.”
“My feeling about faith is this: I’m going to wear it on my sleeve always,” she said. “That’s just who I am. It’s part of my life.”
And because of her faith, she said she’s going to do her best simply to love just as Jesus asked and Mary did.
“I hope that people will just be able to pray with this song,” Hart said. “I’m always hoping that people’s hearts will respond, and that they’ll find a place to pray with it and find an emotional connection.”
Peterson is on the staff of the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.
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