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 said. “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. I’m happy to let other people be part of those conversations. It’s a real joy; it’s a pure joy.”
On July 29, Hart’s latest “conversation” with God will be available to Catholic Churches around the world as she releases 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. “One day I was on the computer and, being a geek for theological research, I was 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 concluded. “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 OCP, for whom she has been writing for more than 20 years. Hart is a Grammy-nominated, award-winning artist. Along with OCP, she frequently writes for film and television and other media.
She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Theory and Composition from The Ohio State University.
She lives in Nolensville with her husband and daughters, and they are parishioners of Mother Teresa Church in Nolensville.
As she prepares to release this new hymn dedicated to Mother Mary, she reveals that the journey toward writing it wasn’t always smooth.
The journey of faith
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. “I also lived across the street from (St. Bernadette Church in Lancaster), and there was a lovely little Mary statue. I used to sneak into the church all the time when nobody was there because I knew which door father left open, and I would sit in front of that Mary statue and sing as a little kid.”
But as she got older, her devotion not only to Mary but also to God began to waver, noting the intellectual struggle she began to have with the Church.
“I had spent my whole life in church, and I had always been the good kid, the honor society kid, the kid who played at every Mass, the kid who always did what I was told,” Hart explained. “I went to a small school with 200 kids. But when I went to college … there were 9,000 kids in my freshman class and a whole new world was opened up to me of things I’ve never known, things I’ve never experienced, people from other cultures and other faiths and worldviews.
“It wasn’t a conscious thing when it happened. It was more intellectual, thinking, ‘Maybe I don’t need God, at least not right now,’” she said. “It was not a conscious hatred. It was a slow feeling of ‘I’m tired of being the good girl all the time.’ I just needed a break.”
And that break, she said is what brought her to where she is today.
It was just before her senior year in college when Hart said she rediscovered her faith and entered a non-denominational fellowship.
“That was really good for me because I was getting my grounding in scripture, … which I never had growing up as much, so that was a really important time,” she said. “Then, about a year into my marriage, I felt very strongly called back to the Catholic Church.”
But even though she returned, she didn’t reclaim that devotion to Mary right away thanks to a comment that had stayed with her since college.
Rediscovering Mother Mary
During her college years, before she began returning to the faith, Hart recalled a conversation she had with friends one night at dinner.
“We were talking about the faith we grew up in … and I mentioned that I grew up Catholic,” Hart said. “One of my friends commented saying, ‘How do you guys honor Mary so much? She was such a doormat.’
“That just stuck in my brain, and I could not stop thinking about it. I thought, ‘He’s right. She was a doormat,’” she explained. “So even when I came back to the Church, I didn’t have a lot of devotion to Mary because that was still in my brain.
“I come from a very long line of feminists and very strong women with very strong opinions, and I’m one, too,” Hart continued. “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, in 1999, when her maternal grandmother was dying that she received her answer.
“My grandmother always had a big devotion to Mary and dragged me to rosaries as a child,” Hart said. “When she was dying, I was in Florida with her and my mom and my aunts, and my grandma was lying in the middle of the bed. We were all sitting around her and grabbed a rosary and prayed it 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, 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,” she continued, “that’s a woman of strength, not a doormat.”
Then, 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.
Thankful for the struggle
Hart reflects that she is thankful for that period in her faith journey, feeling as though 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.
“Now, as a mom, I have this unique perspective and 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.
“It’s taken me a long time to get comfortable in my faith and feel unapologetic about it,” Hart continued. “My feeling about faith is this. I’m going to wear it on my sleeve always. 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 pray every day, and I’m always praying to Mother Mary that the unconditional love that she had for our world and the unconditional love that Christ had for our world will leak into every corner of our Church and every breath that we breathe, and that we will not be a place of walls and judgment but that we would be a place of welcome and care and kindness and compassion,” Hart said. “That is the church that Christ asked us to build.”
“Mother Mary, Pray for Us” is available at ocp.org, and can be streamed at https://orcd.co/hartmothermary.
“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.”