All Or Nothing

I’m taking a little break from work (working on my mythology). I need to let it sit for a few minutes. Last week I finished one of the longer stories in the collection, and I was a bit stuck on where to go from there. Right now I’m trying to finish up a story I put on hold a while ago instead of starting completely new material.

I procrastinated for quite a while today because it was so nice out. That’s the beautiful thing about being a writer. I also just wanted to talk things over with God, though. We had a really good conversation, actually. As we were talking I realized something. When I was a kid, all I wanted to be was “different.” I didn’t want to be like all the other kids. It wasn’t as simple as that, though. I wanted to be a rebel. I was, in thought if not in action, anti-establishment, and firmly against anything that was popular, whether it was policy or pop music.

While we were talking, though, I realized something. Anti-establishment and against-what-is-popular is normal now. I still want to be different, and I realized that being outwardly Christian and proud of it makes me different. I was never good at the different I thought I wanted to be, but the different that I know I really am; the different that I strive to be is a different that I love. The different I thought I wanted was about making noise and breaking rules. The different I really want and the different that I am is about love. It’s as simple as that.

I watched a talk by a priest named Father Mike (I forget how to spell his last name) about when Jesus says to take on his yoke and learn from him. Basically what that means is that we have to walk beside him and learn to imitate him. We have to learn to see people like he sees them, and we have to learn how to act so that people see him when they see us.

Being like him–being different–has always seemed like a huge responsibility to me, and at times, it seems impossible. In particular, telling people about him and about his Kingdom has always seemed to be a very difficult and intimidating task because to a lot of people it sounds at least crazy, if not offensive. I’ve read a lot of advice about how to pray effectively, and everything says to listen. I’m usually not good at this, but today was different.

I asked a question. “Were you ever afraid to say what you had to say while you were here on Earth?”

I waited for a moment, but the answer came pretty quickly. He said, “Of course I was afraid. I had to defend something that sounded crazy and blasphemous to a lot of people, and I knew I was going to get killed for it. I am God, but I’m also a regular person. You’ve read about how scared I was the night before I died. What you feel is normal and okay.”

Of course his fear was different than my fear. A large part of my fear is simply not wanting to be thought of as a weirdo. The truth is, though, that I’ve gone too far to turn back now. This is the different that I want, and I can’t just stay where I am. With Jesus, it’s all or  nothing.

Welcome Home

My parents and I have been arguing about where to buy our second home (their retirement home–I can work from wherever I want). We know we want to live in Maine where most of our extended family lives. My mom has fallen in love with a falling-down farm house in Naples, and though Naples is quite close to my godparents and Mom’s cousins, I think Portland would be better in terms of accessibility. My dad seems to like Portland better, but we’re all just going back and forth really.

A lot of people my parents age seem to be talking about buying a second home–another place to hang out and live. However, for years now I’ve felt like I have three homes. The first is obviously the house I live in and, by extension, my little neighborhood that goes around a loop, so there’s barely any traffic. The second is the music studio where I learned to play guitar and recorded eleven songs. In a way, I also learned to pray there because my teacher and later, producer happened to be Christian. The third is the church that I couldn’t stand as a kid, but am now seemingly magnetically drawn to. To be fair, I still think it’s the ugliest church in America, but the priests are awesome, the other volunteers and parishioners are really nice, and it’s just about a mile from my house so it’s easy to get to.

About two years ago another one of the teachers mentioned Eucharistic Adoration to some of the older kids around Lent. He didn’t elaborate much about what it was, but for some reason I thought it sounded interesting, so after a little while, I decided to go. The truth was I had never heard of it before. I went that week, and I honestly don’t remember what happened in particular, but I decided to make it a habit to keep going. I’ve been going almost every week now for the past two years.

Our parish also offers confession during that time, and at some point, for an inexplicable reason, I felt I should go. It was the first time I’d been since I made my confirmation, which meant it was the first time I’d gone in several years. I don’t remember what I confessed that night, but I do remember it felt like a humongous weight had been lifted off my shoulders. After that I got a little crazy and probably a little paranoid and started going about every two weeks, and sometimes more than that. Now I go about once a month, sort of like a check-up.

Going to Adoration is never quite the same from week to week. Sometimes it feels a bit futile, like there’s a tiny voice in the very back of my mind wondering why I’m there. During those times I pray anyway, but it kind of feels like I’m talking to myself. Other weeks, amazing things that I can’t explain happen. Last night I went as usual, not really knowing what to expect. I almost didn’t go because I was in the middle of working on one of the stories for my mythology, but I got a little distracted, and somehow came across the bit of Scripture where Jesus says, “Can’t you wait with me an hour?” So I decided, yeah, I’ll do that.

When I got there, I grabbed the little pamphlet with the prayers on it for the end, found my spot, put my phone away and waited. I’ll try and explain exactly what happens at Adoration the best I can since I know many of my readers are not Catholic. Catholics believe that the Eucharist (consecrated bread and wine) are literally transformed into the body and blood of Christ. Some people take issue with this because it sounds like Christ is being sacrificed again. However, what it does, is it allows people to be present in his once-and-for-all sacrifice. That’s what happens at communion. Adoration outside of Mass is when the consecrated hosts are exposed so that people can look and sit and be in his presence.

I was a few minutes early last night, so I was totally ready to go by the time our priest came out and set everything up. For some reason I felt slightly awkward at first and I wasn’t sure why. It was like both of us (me and the Lord) were waiting. The thing is, when I’m nervous or scared, I ask Jesus to stay with me; just to be with me. Unfortunately, I forget to promise to do the same for him. There was nothing on my mind at all really for the first thirty seconds to a minute while I was there, and then I remembered why I had come in the first place, so I said, “Well, I’m here. I’m with you, Jesus,” and then one of those amazing things that I can’t explain happened. I couldn’t really think for several minutes after that. It was kind of like really seeing someone you love for the first time and fully understanding how much you love them and how much they love you and how awesome they are. Then of course I couldn’t shut up.

I sometimes have trouble praying at Adoration. Part of the reason I go is because it forces me to leave my normal life and sit still for an hour, and sometimes my mind just wanders. Last night I didn’t have trouble, though. In fact, I almost wished we had had a few extra minutes before the closing prayers that we all do together. I don’t know how much time it really was before the Katie in me kicked back in. It felt sort of outside of time. It could have been fifteen minutes, it could have been three. All I know is that whatever I felt brought me to tears.

Actually, at the beginning of this post I talked about the places I think of like home to me, but the truth is, they’re really just buildings. I think it’s really the memories and people associated with places that make them home. Really I could probably list off a whole bunch of places that could be home to me, including the camp ground we’ve gone to since before I can remember, Portland Maine itself, and the movie theater a couple towns over. Again, though, these places are home to me because of the memories and people I associate with them. I know that what I felt last night felt really good, and maybe it was God’s way of saying, “Welcome home.”

 

 

You Are Time

Imagine you know you’re part of an army but you don’t know who your allies are. You know you’ve got enemies, but you don’t exactly know who they are. For all you know, they’re invisible. They’re often smarter than you, and they’re masters of trickery. It’s dark, you’re tired, and you know your side is losing. You start to wonder if resistance is futile. Eventually it really starts to seem that way. Then something drastically changes. Defeat seems inevitable until a new ally suddenly appears. He fights valiantly and he teaches you his ways. He heals your allies and defeats innumerable enemies.

Then, once again, something changes. He warns that it is only a matter of time before his death, but your victory. He is captured, tortured, and killed, and you are forced to fall back, but miraculously, just days later, he is alive and your enemies vanquished. He was right, and he celebrates your victory with you because now that enemy you faced is conquered for good. He eventually says that he has to go, but he will send his spirit so he can always love you and guide you and help you, and he keeps his promise.

Centuries go by until it seems that the whole world knows him, or appears to know of him. He is glorified in acts of heroism that mirror his own. He is honored in acts of love and goodness. Fantastic works of af art are created by those who love him still. You find, nonetheless, that things inevitably change. Slowly but surely, in many places he is forgotten; in many places is made into a laughing stock; even his very name is dishonored, thrown into the mire of language with unutterable words.

And you ask, “what does it matter? What is a name?” A name is how you are known. You are known by your name as a writer or a thinker or a worker or a finder, or something else that makes you who you are. He is a hero, still here, still living, and his very identity is used as a curse. His name has weight; it is precious.

Who Are You?

One day this past weekend I hung out with a twelve-year-old kid who lives on our street. He was playing in his driveway with his six-year-old brother and their five-year-old friend. I was going for a walk and I heard U2 playing. The two little kids left after a little while, and one thing led to another. The kid in question plays, as far as I know, four different instruments, and is a much better guitarist than I am. He also knows how to use protools, which is an audio engineering software that professionals use. I can’t decide if it’s laughable or annoying or scary or what. Anyway, we had fun. He’s a really polite, pretty mature kid, for his age. After the little kids left I actually scurried back to my house and got my guitar so we could mess around for a while. I have no rules about who I’ll hang out with, as long as they’re cool.

I didn’t used to be like that. When I was in high school especially, I hated kids. I don’t think that’s an understatement. Kids were annoying and stupid, and that was it. Of course, at that time, a “kid” was anyone under the age of eight. Now I refer to the high school freshmen I teach as “kids.” It’s kind of disturbing. I think I used to have a much higher view of myself. I used to think I was the queen of the universe. It was entirely undignified to associate with such plebeians as children.

I think I understand kids better now as a writer, too. Kids are much more willing to believe things, so long as their capacity to listen holds up. I think you have to be able to believe something in order to enjoy it. You have to be able to pretend, and be willing to enter into a different universe.

A friend of mine who is older with kids once asked me what I thought about allowing his kids to read the Harry Potter books. He’s Christian, and he wasn’t totally inclined to let them because magic is seen as the highest power, and the battle between good and evil is entirely up to human ability. There is no mention of any kind of God (though the Christian holidays are mentioned offhandedly), and though there is a general sense of morality, like in any fantasy story, it isn’t directly spelled out. For example, I’m re-reading the series now, and I’m actually surprised at just how much the characters lie. Ultimately I advised my friend to let his kids read the books because it’s simply another universe that isn’t governed by the same rules as this one.

As I reread the Harry Potter books, I find myself laughing a lot. I’ve seen the movies a thousand times, but they’re not nearly as good as the books, and I’m finding they cut out a lot of humor. Maybe my sense of humor has changed too, but I think the movies tried to make the story too dark in places where it didn’t need to be, and not dark enough where it’s really creepy. I’m excited because I’m almost halfway through the fourth one now, and it’s after this one that things get serious, and in my opinion, the series gets more cohesive from book to book.

I don’t want this to turn into an analysis of the Harry Potter series, so I’ll make my point. I like these books. They’re meant for a younger audience, but I don’t care. My dad taught me a rule when I was in high school, and I have faithfully lived by it: growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional. I used to get thoroughly annoyed with myself when I did something embarrassing. I used to think I was so dignified. I have no idea why. I’ve gotten used to the fact that I’m clumsy and silly. I spell things wrong and say ridiculous things. I make dumb mistakes. My friends laugh at me about this stuff, and that’s okay.

Mistakes are part of life. Messing up is part of life. Silliness is part of life, and being wrong is part of life. I’m writing this down because kids used to annoy me for the same reasons that my friends laugh at me (not in a mean way). In the past several months my mom and I have been listening to audio books in the car. We started doing mostly contemporary realistic fiction and moved, really by accident, into science fiction. We went for a few weeks without a story because I know she’s not a huge fan of sci-fi, and we couldn’t think of what to listen to. Finally I suggested The Brothers Karamazov. We just started it yesterday.

My point is that it’s okay to love Dostoevski and Rowling. It’s okay that my favorite foods are fancy pasta dishes and fried buffalo chicken wraps (for the record, yes, I also eat healthy food). I’m getting comfortable joining in events at my church where most other people are at least in their fifties, and hanging out with kids on my street who are under ten. The teenagers I teach think I’m kind of weird, which is probably at least a little true, but that’s okay. Lately I’m becoming more comfortable in my own skin. Weird is more fun, anyway.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Happy Easter

 

 

This is a day late, but we had partying to do this weekend.

The Easter Vigil starts in darkness. Everyone takes an unlit candle and finds their place. The priest lights one candle and then, from that person, we all light each others’ candles. There are several readings from the Old and New Testament, and then, after weeks of waiting, the lights come on, and we sing “Glory to God in the highest,” and we celebrate and worship because Jesus beat death.

Happy Easter everybody!

 

 

Holy Week (Friday)

 

I have to go away for a while, and you won’t see me. You’ll worry. You’ll doubt. You’ll wonder if I’ve really been telling you the truth, and if I really am coming back. Before I go, I need to tell you that I love you, and I need you to let that sink in and believe it. I know you haven’t understood everything, but you will. I am coming back for you.

And he did. And he will.

 

Holy Week (Thursday)

I’m only just getting to writing this after midnight, so when I say “tonight,” I mean Thursday. Anyway, there was a service at my church tonight for the beginning of the Easter Triduum. Our priest explained that it was on this night that Jesus passed his ministry on to his disciples and instituted the sacraments. The service was long, and the church stayed open afterwards for Adoration. I go to Adoration almost every week, but it felt special tonight, even though it was significantly less formal, and I didn’t stay for the whole hour. I was able to really pray.

A lot of times when I’m scared or nervous I’ll pray for Jesus to stay with me. Tonight my prayer was simply, “I’m with you.” Like I said in a previous post this week, relationships go both ways. I know he’s not suffering again, but the memory is a pretty dark reality. What I do know is that loving Jesus means loving his people, and I definitely know how to do that. I can certainly get better at it. That was my prayer tonight: that he would help me to get better at it.

Earlier today I spent quite a lot of time trying to write a lengthy philosophical post about why life is fundamentally good. I will write that post some other time, but what it really all adds up to is that life is good because God is good. God is so good that he is willing to do the insane and impossible and unthinkable for every single human life so we can be with him despite how small and imperfect we are. I think it has always been a very weird, paradoxical mystery, and we’ll never really figure it out. A word of advice: the next couple of days are a really good time to say “Thank you.”

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Holy Week (Wednesday)

I saw something on Facebook that said today is the day Judas decided to sneak off and agreed to give away Jesus’ location; a decision that sent history and spirituality in a drastically new direction. Tomorrow is the night of the Last Supper, and the beginning of the Passion where Jesus stays up all night and prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. He’s not afraid of dying. God can’t die. He is afraid of the horrible pain that the human part of his nature is going to have to endure, though.

Death is a very weird part of life. My dad and I listened to a story on NPR a few weeks ago about a woman who trains forest rangers on what to do when they find a dead body in the woods. She talked about how people generally want to see the body and say goodbye. For some reason, this wasn’t the case for me when my dad’s father died several years ago. I never saw his body. I chose not to. I’m not sure why that was.

I’m really comfortable with the idea of an afterlife. I never knew my mom’s dad. He died when I was only about a year old. I just figure I’ll have a lot of annoying questions for them both when I get to heaven. The thing is, it’s fun to think about heaven or eternity or paradise, or whatever one wants to call it, but nonetheless, death is weird. It’s weird for the people who are left behind.

My dad’s father was seriously sick and stuck in a nursing home for two years. By the end, though it felt wrong, or strange, or both, I found myself praying that God would take him. Then I found that I didn’t feel as sad about his death as I thought I should. It was, what I would call, an unfortunate relief.

The other night my epilepsy was acting up, and I found myself praying nearly the same thing that Jesus did on the first Holy Thursday: God, if there’s a way that you can get rid of this, please make it go away, but if it’s meant to be for whatever reason, I pray that your will is done. Shortly after that I fell asleep. There is nothing better than sleep when dealing with epilepsy. I am hardly exaggerating when I say it feels like dying and coming back to life. It’s strange and scary, but it induces the deepest sleep.

I try to envision myself as one of Jesus’ friends, and I wonder what they must have been thinking this week, and particularly over the next few days. Beyond the question of whether or not he was or wasn’t the Messiah they had been waiting for, their friend was in a terrible emotional state to begin with, but then he had to be tortured and executed. Just reading or hearing the story makes me angry and sad, and I can’t imagine what they must have been feeling.

I imagine that Saturday was the worst, though. The initial shock was over. Everyone was hiding and waiting. Probably some of the Apostles had forgotten about what was supposed to happen on Sunday. They were probably thinking more about what on earth they were going to do next. Their leader was gone, and with that, they probably felt like their purpose truly was, or may have been lost. On top of all of that, all but one of them had abandoned Jesus, and they now had to deal with the self-incriminating emotions connected with that.

What I do know is that they had hope. Jesus told them that they were going to mess up, but that they were also going to turn back. They didn’t initially know what they were doing, but once they did, they had something to hold onto. And still, death is a weird thing. I may have hope that I’m going to see my grandfathers in heaven, but for years now they’ve been in a place I can’t get to. When I was in middle school, I remember being vaguely familiar with a girl who had cancer, though I didn’t know it for a long time. I was not particularly religious at the time, and all I can remember thinking when she passed was, “Now what?”

Whether we’re talking about the wait for heaven, or the Easter Triduum, there is always this feeling of “Now what?” It’s this strange, irreconcilable jolt of separation that even the most hopeful have to deal with.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

 

 

 

Holy Week (Tuesday)

What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of life? People generally ask these questions, or some variation of them, explicitly or implicitly. Some will assert that life has no purpose or meaning, and will therefore live and act according to whatever seems most pleasing and/or convenient. However, others will assert that the actual purpose of life is to live in the very same way to attain the maximum amount of pleasure, or what have you. The purpose of using this kind of philosophy is to illustrate that though people often have different ideas about what the meaning or purpose of life is, they often can reach the same conclusions.

I found an article today that grouped various ideas about the purpose of life into several different categories. In short, they all tended to be relational. Some find meaning in life by focusing on themselves various ways: to live as long as possible, to get as much as possible, to experience as much as possible, to reach one’s full potential (in general or at something specific), or to survive, seeing the world and life as a challenge that must be constantly overcome. Others find meaning in symbiotic relationships, meaning that these relationships cannot be entirely altruistic. There must be give and take. Still others find meaning in altruism, which may or may not be connected to spirituality. Finally, some find find meaning in worship.

Still, this may only generally help some in discovering their own life’s purpose. It begs the question, does everyone have a specific purpose in their life? Is there one particular thing that everyone is meant to do or meant to be? I think I would have to say yes and no to that question. As intelligent, thinking beings created by God, we are meant to grow in holiness; i.e. to become more like him and get to know him better. The Catholic Church also asserts that everyone has a primary Vocation and a secondary vocation. One’s primary Vocation has to do with how one relates to God and the Church, while one’s secondary vocation has to do with how one relates to other people and society in general. Ultimately, though, both relate to how one is meant to live before God’s kingdom comes.

God created us each differently, though. Some of us are good at writing or public speaking. Some of us are good at teaching. Some of us are great artists. Some of us are highly successful at whatever we do for work, and are therefore very altruistic. It seems that part of our life’s purpose is to discover what it is we love and what we’re good at, and figure out how God might want us to use these skills and knowledge. It seems, then that the purpose of life is, in part, to find God’s purpose.

Of course I am answering this question from a Catholic standpoint because I am Catholic, and I believe in an absolute Truth that I am striving to reach and understand. However, the same question could be answered from the perspective of anyone who strongly believes in any faith or philosophy. Interestingly, it would seem that, according to different faiths or philosophies, it would be easier or harder to answer this question. I would imagine that to someone who believes life has no purpose, it is easy, provided this is satisfying to them. At the same time, it is easy for me to say that my life’s purpose is at least in part, to worship God and enjoy his presence.

I would ultimately have to say that finding life’s purpose is a process. Do I definitively know what my ultimate purpose is? No. For all I know it changes over time and I’ve fulfilled one and am working to discover the next. It wasn’t until I graduated college and wrote half of a novel that I could comfortably say that I am not just a writer, but a good writer. My suspicion is that I am meant to write. Right now I write about personal stuff, spiritual stuff, and (not on this blog), a mythology. By the time I’m forty that could change drastically. What I write about is less important than who I write for, though. I do what I’m good at, and I do it for God.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

 

Holy Week (Monday)

This week is Holy Week. Friday is Good Friday. Even though I know what comes after, I’m dreading it because of what happened on that day 2,000 years ago. This post is not about that, though. What I intend to do, Monday through Friday of this week, is to write precisely about what Good Friday tried to destroy. Life. What I mean is that Good Friday stood for Death. It stood for hopelessness.

Probably some, and possibly many will take my posts this week as political. I urge you not to. Some of the things I will post about are tied to political issues, but they are not political issues in themselves. All that being said, I’ll get started on my first topic.

What does it mean to be pro-life? What does it mean to live life to the fullest? These two questions are closely related. As many readers already know, I am pro-life. Yes, I do strongly oppose abortion and the death penalty, but that is not the extent of what it means to be pro-life. It means supporting discussion and if that fails, civil disobedience when it is necessary. It also means helping disadvantaged people in constructive ways that build relationships and boost confidence. It involves being creative. It requires time, effort and sacrifice. My dad used to use a cliche every so often: “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. If you teach him how to fish, he will eat for a lifetime.” Do I always know how to “teach a man to fish?” Nope. Am I always capable of it? Nope. I do, however, think that there are people who are willing and able, and that this is the best solution to dealing with a multitude of social and economic problems. Again, this is getting borderline political, so I’ll leave it at that.

However, none of this addresses what it means to be pro-life on a spiritual level. One of the most commonly known things that Jesus said to his disciples was, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” Jesus is our connection with God the Father. Another Christian cliche is that we’re meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Relationships are a two-way street. He can chase us forever, but if we’re not interested, he won’t force us to pay any attention to him. To be spiritually alive means to enjoy the relationship that Jesus is offering us. To be pro-life from a spiritual standpoint, then, is, I think, to simply encourage people to acknowledge the invitation, and if they choose to pursue things further, to help them along. People never have only one relationship. Everyone has to ask for advice or direction in many relationships. A relationship with God is no different. What strengthens a relationship with God is worship (both individual and communal), prayer, and reading. Even fiction can help. Let God enjoy life with you, whether it’s playing with your pet, or taking a walk, or eating too much ice cream.

This addresses my second question. What does it mean to live life to the fullest? To an extent, this is a matter of opinion and preference. However, it also depends on one’s personality in general, and one’s overall situation. Some are happy living with the bare necessities, while others strive for extravagance. However, when one cannot attain what they want or need, living life to the fullest means accepting what one has and what one can attain. It also means being able to adapt and go outside one’s comfort zone. This will mean something different for every person. Sometimes it will mean watching a movie in a genre you might not usually pick. Sometimes it will mean skydiving. Lastly, living life to the fullest means allowing one’s self to let loose, and let go of one’s ego. It means learning to laugh at yourself with genuine joy.

Of course living life to the fullest also has a spiritual dimension. To address this aspect of it, I think I need to ask another question. What constitutes a full or fulfilled life? Every person will have a different answer for this, but I think it is possible to find a partially objective answer. Every human requires and seeks a handful of things in life. These are reflected in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, with physiological/biological needs being the most basic, and self-transcendence being the highest. Self-transcendence refers to the need to give oneself to something outside of oneself. As an example, he specifically refers to spirituality. Maslow also describes his idea of self-transcendence as “ends rather than means” to oneself, significant others, and even the cosmos. In other words, oneself is something sought after by things outside oneself. God seeks us out. God is infinite and perfect. We are not. God has no actual need for us, but he has a desire for us. It seems that to respond to that desire positively is exactly what Maslow means by self-transcendence.

However, there is one aspect of this that I have not addressed. In both sections on our relation to God, I have primarily focused on what God gets out of it. What do we get out of it? I think the best way to close this off is to address that question personally. Strengthening my relationship with God has made me more creative, more outgoing, more honest, more altruistic, and more patient. It has raised my self-esteem, and given me immense comfort when things aren’t going quite right. It has made me more positive and less egotistical. That all has happened in the span of seven or eight years. I certainly won’t claim that my life is perfect, but it’s good.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!