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Finding Her Way Back

Lost in the furor was the fact that O'Connor was protesting Irish authorities' reluctance to investigate claims of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy. "It was 10 years before anyone in the States knew there had been abuse in the Church," O'Connor says.

As O'Connor's career was knocked off track, her family was expanding: She has four children, ranging from Jake, 20, to Yeshua (Hebrew for "salvation"), approaching his first birthday. All have different fathers, though O'Connor is close to all of them. Raising her children has kept the singer grounded.

"I was very happy to spend my time being normal," she says. "I got very fat. I lived in a bungalow and stayed home, drove the kids to school and made very bad cakes."

Just days after her diagnosis, O'Connor bought a piano and began reconnecting to music "in a different way -- i nside me. I don't think I ever particularly fit into the pop or rock arena. . . . I realize I'm not the kind of girl the Christians want either, so now I'm trying to create a little space where I can lean somewhere in between the crush. Whether it is a new arena or not, at least I can lie to myself and say I want it to be."

"Theology," O'Connor's first album in seven years to feature new songs, is two discs of the same material, one recorded in Dublin with simple acoustic backing, the second in London with a band. Many of the songs are inspired by favorite passages from the Old Testament ("Whomsoever Dwells," "If You Had a Vineyard"), and the album's healing intentions are captured in its haunting opening track, "Something Beautiful." There are also several choice covers: Curtis Mayfield's "We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue," the reggae spiritual "Rivers of Babylon," even an irony-free reading of "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar."

What it all suggests is that spirituality has always been a central concern in the singer's life.

"I'm more interested in God than in organized religions, and the risk is sometimes that has come out as being disrespectful to God," says O'Connor, who studied various religions on her own and at one point enrolled in a Dublin college to study theology.

On her current tour, O'Connor is doing only a few songs from "Theology," having recently returned to material she forsook when she retired in 2003, including "Nothing Compares 2 U," "I Am Stretched on Your Grave" and "Three Babies."

Still, O'Connor says, her touring will always be limited -- she won't venture out more than two weeks at a time, and seldom even then -- "because I want to be at home with my kids. To be honest, I love performing, but everything around it is difficult while I'm also trying to manage bipolar disorder. It's something I would actually do less rather than more of -- unless I can figure out a way to have the audiences come to me. Then I'd play every night!"

Sinead O'Connor Appearing Wednesday at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. Show starts at 8. Tickets:$49.50; available at Ticketmaster (202-397-7328 or http://www.ticketmaster.com), the box office (301-581-5100) or http://www.strathmore.org.


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