Fences

Catholic or not, you may know that our tradition is notorious for interesting, odd, and inspiring devotions. One that I am fond of is a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was inspired by a revelation of Jesus to Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque. He wanted her to let the world know that what He really wanted was to grant his mercy, but that so many people simply were indifferent to Him and would not receive it. The devotion itself is really quite simple. One has to go to Mass on the first Friday of the month for nine consecutive months in a state of grace, and receive communion with the implicit intention of doing some kind of reparation for humanity’s indifference to His sacrifice.

Last Friday I went to Mass because I’ve been doing this devotion for five or six months. After church, I ran an errand and got lunch with my mom. While in the car, I turned on Spotify, because tunes, and I was in a spectacularly good mood. I found myself thinking about really random things. Because I was curious, I looked up what percentage of people are left handed, because I’m left handed. So no one reading this has to look it up, it’s about ten percent. I found myself wondering whether Jesus was left or right handed, and I wondered how many people actually take the time to consider that kind of thing. My dad later explained that it’s hard to learn to write with one’s non-dominant hand, but it’s not so hard to learn to do other things so, being a carpenter, Jesus may have been at least somewhat ambidextrous, which I thought was interesting.

As we drove from place to place, I started realizing just how many fences there were. Fences are such a staple part of suburban life that they almost escape our notice, but today, I found myself marveling at the barriers people had constructed between houses and businesses, and along roads. I actually found myself laughing at how territorial it was. It was exactly like dogs marking their territory to me. I just found myself thinking that it seemed a bit primitive in a way. Obviously fences are for our own protection and the protection of others. We have a fence around our yard so a neighbor kid won’t fall into our pool or something, but I think too often, we use them to lock ourselves in and lock others out.

Still, I found myself thinking that people spend too much time building fences, and not enough time breaking down walls. We’re supposed to break down walls. Jesus spent nearly His entire three-year ministry doing that, and He broke down the most impassible wall between humanity and God when He went to the cross. Jesus explained to saint Margaret Mary that when we participate in the First Friday devotion, we’re doing the same thing. He said we stand in the gap between God and those who are indifferent or even scornful toward Him. God chooses us no matter what, but He can’t make us choose Him.

We’re so used to fences, though, that we build walls between ourselves and our Savior. It’s easy to believe that the gap between us and God can’t be breached because He’s perfect, and we’re not, and in this life, never can be. It’s easy to forget that Jesus can do the impossible. It’s sometimes hard to believe that Jesus died for me, and it’s easy to ask the question, now what? It’s easy to ask, am I worth that? It’s easy to doubt it when, in our hearts, we know the answer is, “Yes;” when His answer is, “Yes.” Jesus doesn’t build walls. He breaks them down. He does this in his stories, and in His actions, He doesn’t stop anyone from coming to Him, and He wants us, as He did, to love the least of these.

We have to stand in the gap. We have to love our enemies. We have to have mercy. We have to heal where we can. Jesus is alive in His Church, and standing in the gap isn’t just a metaphor. We can be little bridges. Jesus works miracles in our world today. Maybe we should spend less time agonizing about property lines, and more time actually loving our neighbors.

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Fluent In Goodness

This past Friday I was up in Maine again with my parents. They were talking to my mom’s cousin (our contractor) about some issues with the house, which ended up all being okay, and about progress in general. While they did that, I went down to the river across the street, and sat on a platform and went through a bunch of my ordinary daily prayers. When I finished most of the structured stuff, I just started talking.

I realized that I talk to God about things I worry about, or things I need, or what have you, but I almost never talk to Him about “normal” stuff. In my last post, I talked about how I hear God’s glory in thunder. Friday in Naples Maine was hot, sunny, and breezy, and I absolutely love that. People were headed down to the lake in their boats while I was sitting on the platform, and they were having a grand time. Eventually an epic squirt gun battle broke out.

The first Creation story in Genesis is written in a poetic, systematic form. The world is constructed in six days, and after each thing God created, He saw that it was good. I looked at the shiny golden rocks at the bottom of the shallow river, the clear blue sky, the emerald shine of the sun in the trees, and it reminded me of the intrinsic goodness of everything. I was also anticipating hanging out with my godfather later that day, which is always a good time. We went to the same little gas station pub we usually go to and descended upon a horrifyingly large pile of chicken wings and french fries. We ate most of it. It seemed to me that there was something intrinsically good about that, too–not just the food, but simply being way too excited about it with my godfather. I saw God’s glory in all of what happened on Friday.

I’ve mentioned before a guy by the name of Bishop Robert Barron. He has a lot of short YouTube videos on a plethora of subjects, and I highly recommend them. In at least one or two of them, he has mentioned a quote by Saint Irenaeus. “The Glory of God is man fully alive.” The obvious question is: what does it mean to be fully alive?

He associates this with freedom. Bishop Barron explains that, to most, freedom is associated with self-expression. In other words, as I tend to render it, it is “freedom to,” while a more Catholic idea of freedom, as I render it, is “freedom from.’ What I mean is, it’s freedom first, from sin, but also, freedom from fear, anxiety, and a myriad of other human annoyances. Religious practice, in a sense, is also “freedom to,” however. Bishop Barron uses the example of learning a language. The more fluent a person is, and the more expansive their vocabulary, the freer they are to use that language. In Catholic terms, this means being free to act and express oneself as a child of God.

God’s nature in itself is goodness and love. He loves his creation, and he loves humans most of all. To love someone means to desire their happiness, and want what is best for them. Since God knows everything, He knows what will make all humans happy. To achieve Heaven essentially means to achieve what will make one most happy. Obviously being free is part of being happy. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, this means practicing a certain set of objective rules, standards, or whatever one likes to call them, to become “fluent” in goodness, because God created humanity according to his own nature.

Suffering, Thunder, And Glory

Yesterday we had a pretty good thunderstorm near our house. I am twenty five, but there is still a five-year-old part of me that gets excited about thunder. My dad and I just finished watching all of what has been released of the series “Vikings.” A line that sticks out to me is when one of the main characters, Rollo, who is a viking warrior who marries a French princess, is explaining to his wife, “When you hear thunder, it’s just thunder, but when I hear thunder, I still hear Thor striking his hammer.”

Something I remembered as I watched the rain come down through my bedroom/office window yesterday was when God reveals himself to the prophet Elijah. 1 Kings 19-11-12 says, in effect, that God did not reveal himself in a great wind, or an earthquake or in a fire, but in a “still small voice.” This seems counter intuitive, but then I reflect on all the times it has seemed that God has spoken to me. As a kid, I was always looking for God in the thunder and lightning that I still love to this day. I don’t usually find him there, though.

I found myself reflecting, too on the idea the vikings had that, if there was thunder, then Thor was striking his hammer. That was just a given. The idea resonates with me. To me, as both a Christian and a fantasy writer, the idea that thunder is just thunder doesn’t quite cut it. When I hear thunder, I hear the sound of God’s glory. I can listen to a thousand worship songs, and don’t get me wrong, I love worship music. In fact, I think my favorite song is, “How Great Thou Art.” Those songs don’t compare to the thrill and joy I get when I hear thunder. I think that’s why the five-year-old in me will never grow up. What I mean is, God doesn’t necessarily speak through the thunder, but he can use it to remind people how awesome he is.

God’s glory is so obvious in his Creation that it’s easy to take it for granted. It’s evident in the sound of thunder, and the downpour falling on the roof. It’s evident in the flash of lighting, and in the dark, mighty clouds. It’s evident, too in the silence after the storm. Beyond that, though it’s evident in even the simplest things–the foods we eat, the things we smell, the colors we see, the softness of a pet’s fur or feathers–all of it.

Imagine how the world would be different if God hadn’t bothered to make color, or given us the ability to see color. Similarly, imagine if the world had been made without sound, or if humans didn’t hear sound for some reason. I acknowledge that some people don’t have the gift of sight, or of hearing. I would like to reflect on that, too.

I have been gifted with language. I have had a good education, and one thing I can confidently say I’m good at is writing, and I’m a moderately good speaker. On the other hand, I suffer from epilepsy. Epilepsy is a weird disorder, and comes in many forms. People experience it in different ways. In my case, I generally lose the ability to use and comprehend language, and in the worst cases, I lose awareness of my surroundings, but don’t exactly black out. Though it has no monetary value, language is something I personally value very highly, and it genuinely terrifies me when I lose the ability to communicate, even momentarily.

As part of my devotions every day, I read something from scripture. Sometimes I’ll just pick something out at random, sometimes I’ll use the daily Mass readings, and sometimes God will give me something to reflect on. Today I felt I needed to spend some time to reflect on the reading from today’s Morning Prayer (from the Liturgy of the Hours). It was from the book of Job. He poses the question, “If we take happiness from God’s hand, must we not take sorrow, too?” To be clear, God doesn’t want people to suffer, and he doesn’t impose suffering on people. He does allow people to suffer, and that’s hard to understand.

My dad has told me that when I’m having a seizure, or what I call “brain fuzz,” even though I don’t know I’m doing it, I sometimes repeat the word, “No” over and over. Something, maybe in my subconscious, is protesting, and I love that. I often know ahead of time when I’m going to have “brain fuzz.” My prayer used to be, “God, take this away.” When it became clear that He wasn’t going to, I changed it to, “Please let this one pass, but if you don’t, just stay with me.” Sometimes I think that, “No” is His way of saying with me that “this is not okay.”

In a way, I can appreciate what my brain fuzz does to me. I can appreciate how scary it is and how alone it makes me feel because I know that Jesus was alone through His Passion. This is very obvious when He says from the cross, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” When I lose the ability even to think words, I am sometimes tempted to feel that I have been abandoned. I believe, however, that that subconscious “No!” is His way of being with me, even if I don’t understand it. This is my choice, and in this way, I choose to view even my epilepsy, and in particular, that, “No!” as a gift.

How does any of that have to do with thunder or glory? Sometimes I reflect on things Jesus said or did, either in Scripture or in revelation to Saints, and though I love Him, He is intimidating. During the storm yesterday, I thought about how I find thunder exciting and comforting at the same time. God doesn’t need to use words to reveal Himself to us. I hear His glory in the thunder because, as the five-year-old part of me might say, He is big, and I am small, He is God, and I am not, and even when my epilepsy takes my language–my treasure–from me, He gives me that rebellious, glorious, “NO!”

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Whirlwind Weekend

I haven’t given an update on our house in Naples in quite some time. Construction is well underway at this point. Ironically, that means it’s currently very inaccessible, but that doesn’t really matter because there isn’t much to see except for the beginnings of what will eventually become rooms, and the outline of what will soon be the beginnings of a two-car garage.

We spent some time there yesterday because my dad was installing a security camera so no rotten potatoes decide to do anything stupid while we’re away. There are work people there most of the time anyway, and it’s a pretty rural area, so the chances of that happening, in my mind, at least, are slim.

We took a break from that for a little while and went to church with my godparents who live up there, then to dinner at one of our favorite places, which was once a gas station. You can still fill up your car there, too, which is kind of an interesting idea. I don’t know how often people use the station and stop for food, but if it gets the owner a little extra business, then good for him. We’ve met him a couple of times, actually. He’s nice.

After all of that, my godfather helped my dad, and my godmother and I made inane talk about music and cute animals while we waited for them to finish. It took them a while. My mom and my brother had gone with my aunt and cousin, and several of my mom’s cousins down the Saco River on tubes. apparently it was cold, and there was no flow in the river because there hadn’t been enough rain, so they had to swim quite a bit.

Tonight, my parents, brother and I are going to see Beck in Boston. Because Beck does everything under the moon, I have no idea what to expect. I slept really late today because I felt like it, and spent the remainder of the afternoon in my yard, praying, and hanging out with my bird. It was lovely.

Something I realized, which I have heard priests say, is that I actually am happiest when I’m just spending time with God. I am happy when I’m working on my book (which often involves praying, anyway), or when I’m watching a movie or show with my dad, but I actually am happiest when I’m just staring into space, talking to the Lord. I think I’ve just never taken the time to actually think about it. It’s a different kind of happiness. I think I sort of realized it, but didn’t know how to express it in words when I took communion yesterday.

There’s this phrase that comes up in a lot of Christian hymns and songs: “I am yours and you are mine.” That confused me for a long time. How could He be mine? I’m a language geek, and I find myself reflecting on the fact that, when talking about God, we rightly use the possessive pronoun, and say that he’s my God; my Father; my Savior. God made Himself known to us, and He wants a relationship with us. He’s with me while I’m praying, and if I let Him be, He’ll be with me at the show tonight, because that’s what Jesus was like. He went to the Wedding at Cana. He had dinners with sinners–so, ordinary people. He had fun, and he probably enjoyed awkward, but fun conversations. Tonight we’re going to eat burgers and enjoy very weird music.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Car Trouble

Several years ago, I posted the song, “Losing” by Tenth Avenue North on here when it was released on their album, “The Struggle.” The chorus goes as follows:

“Oh Father won’t you forgive them?
They don’t know what they’ve been doing.
Oh Father give me grace to forgive them
‘Cause I feel like the one losing.”

That song comes to mind today. My family has been without an accessible car for over two months now. Our solution when I absolutely have to get somewhere is for my dad to drive my wheelchair up a makeshift ramp into the back of his pickup truck, and sit me in the passenger seat. It’s lucky that I’m small. This ordeal has been a serious test of patience for me. I can only really go anywhere on weekends because my mom isn’t as physically strong as my dad, and it would be too dangerous, and too much work for her to get me into my dad’s truck. The fact of the matter is, though, the only place I can “walk” to from my house, is church. Knowing that my mom and I could escape if we wanted or needed to was a gift that I now miss.

The fact of the matter is, I am frustrated. The way accessible cars work is that one car company (in our case, Toyota), works with another company (in our case Brawn) to modify the car so that it has a lowered floor and an automatic ramp. The real issue is that when the car has problems (in our case, the doors and ramp aren’t working properly), it is often sent to both places because it might be a problem to do with the mechanical modifications, or it might be more of a computer related problem that Toyota can fix. Our car has gone back and forth for six weeks now because neither company wants to take the blame, and ultimately, I don’t think anyone really knows what’s wrong or how to fix it.

For various reasons, I am not a patient person. I know patience is a virtue, and it’s something I need to work on. It will likely always be something I need to work on. I’m pretty sick of this, though. It has happened before, and the customer service we have dealt with has been poor at best. Jesus said not to let anger persist. The people we are dealing with don’t know who I am, so I somewhat understand why they don’t really care about me as an individual. However, I have to believe that this has happened to other people like myself, and it bothers me that they might not care about any of us. We are just a number to them.

Jesus said to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Most of the time, my thinking is, “I don’t think I have any enemies.” It’s getting harder for me not to consider these people my enemies, and the fact of the matter is, I don’t want to pray for them. I will not consider them to be just a number, though. I may be angry about how my family has been treated, but I will pray for my enemies.

The Big Things And The Little Things

I have writer’s block, so I’ll write about this. I thank God for words. I thank God for air conditioning. I thank God for water. I thank God for the internet. I thank God for my technology. I thank God for my stupid bird. I thank God for all the random, pointless little things that I enjoy. I thank God that I can learn, and I thank Him for the occasional times I beat my dad at Checkers. I thank God for art, and I thank Him for his mercy. I thank God that I have easy access to food, even if it’s not exactly what I want to eat. I thank God that I’m alive. I thank God that I can think, and I especially thank Him that I can talk to him.

Thank God for the big things. Thank Him for the little things, too.

 

Freedom

Today is a day for celebration; a day for celebrating our country’s independence. Beyond that, though, it’s a day for celebrating freedom, a day for remembering what freedom can cost, and a day to pray for those who aren’t free.

My family and I are about to watch the fireworks in Portland Maine. We’re waiting for it to get dark so they can light up the sky. Earlier, though, I prayed. I prayed for people to be free from whatever holds them captive, but especially from fear.

This song is to celebrate family and freedom

https://writered.bandcamp.com/track/summer-day

Forgive Yourself As God Forgives You

I usually go to Mass on Saturday afternoons instead of Sunday mornings at our church. This Saturday I showed up a little bit early because I had decided to go to confession. I woke up that day with this thought in my head: “Forgive yourself as God forgives you.” I can hear over and over that God forgives without limit, but hearing it like this helped me to understand it better. Jesus told his disciples when He entrusted His mission to them to love others as he loved them.

The fact of the matter is, there are times when I feel like I shouldn’t be forgiven for one reason or another. I’ve messed up one too many times, or I’ve done something that must be beyond redemption. I know I am forgiven, but it often seems downright ridiculous. I’ve said before that I’m really hard on myself. I’ve been told multiple times that I’m too hard on myself. That in itself is problematic.

Forgiveness involves two people. God offers forgiveness, and I have a choice. I can accept His forgiveness, or I can continue being overly scrupulous and feeling sorry for myself. Accepting His forgiveness inherently involves forgiving myself because I’m His. If I’m going to live like Him, I have to forgive like Him, and because I’m messy, it means forgiving myself, and seeing who I am past the mess.

An Unpleasant Bedtime Story

I’m a writer, so naturally, I love stories. I love weaving together my own for my mythology. I love reading or watching or listening to stories I’ve gone through thousands of times or never before. Lately I’ve been listening to the Myths and Legends podcast, which I recently discovered, and highly recommend. I sometimes listen to these stories as “bedtime stories,” but I have wireless headphones and the battery ran out on them last night, so I asked God for a bedtime story.

He directed me to the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector. It didn’t take much, but I realized that lately, I’ve been acting like the pharisee in that little story. I’ve been prideful about my faith, and I’ve been judging people for not having the same faith I do. I’ve also been forgetting that nothing I can do will ever get me to Heaven. Certain things can help me live more like Jesus which is obviously what he wants, but he’s doing all the actual work. I’m just cooperating, and I forget that.

I spent a while sitting outside today sulking about all this. I feel like I’ve betrayed myself. Sometimes I think it’s actually good that I don’t have any Christian friends around because it makes it more natural to go straight to Jesus and say, “I can’t do this.” I had to say that over and over, and I’ll say it over and over from now on because my thinking has been that I can do this. I can get home. I can get to Heaven. While that may be true, it’s only because Jesus wants me there. Otherwise, it has almost nothing to do with me.

I’m writing this down because earlier I was royally pissed off at myself. I still kind of am, and again, I think it’s because I’m prideful. My thinking, of course, is, “I should be better than this. This should have been obvious. I should have seen this sooner.” Well, I didn’t. It wasn’t the kind of bedtime story I was looking for, but I needed to hear it. I’m not exactly sure where to go from here, but I can at least stop being stupid about how I think about other peoples’ faith. Otherwise, I desperately need Jesus to help me figure this out.

Let Tomorrow Worry About Itself

Yesterday the priest celebrated his last Sunday Mass at our church. My family and I usually show up a few minutes early, and I pray while we wait. For the past several weeks, at least part of my prayer has been, “I pray for Father Daren, that he’s successful and can do your will in his next assignment, and I pray for our new priest. All the same, I don’t like this. A lot is changing, and I don’t like change, and I know you know that, but I’m saying it, anyway.” We’ve known that this change was coming for a long time, and a few weeks ago, I prayed this, and while I didn’t exactly feel a sense of peace, I felt some kind of reassurance. God didn’t say anything, but I was reminded that while everything in the world might change, He doesn’t.

God is often referred to in the psalms as “my rock,”, “my refuge,” or “my shelter.” This was an abstract idea for me for a long time, until He called me to live a holier life, and on top of that, a lot of things in our church started changing. On top of that, my cousin, who I see quite often, is moving from New Hampshire to Oregon. She’ll be working on her doctorate for the next seven years or so, which means I’ll probably only see her for Christmas for the foreseeable future.

God doesn’t change. When it seems like everything is being uprooted around me; when it feels like I’m being hit with a tornado, I’m held close by the One who can’t be uprooted. In many of the psalms, it is said that God will hide his loved ones under an Eagle’s wings. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his disciples not to worry because God cares for them and sees everything they–we–deal with. He gives the example of how a sparrow is well cared for by God’s creation and doesn’t worry about anything. Sure, a bird of prey could eat that sparrow, or it could be met with some other calamity, but the sparrow doesn’t worry about it.

Sometimes I marvel at my parrot’s fearlessness. He’s not much bigger than a sparrow. Still, Seamus will play-fight with his human flock, and admittedly, sometimes win. I can pick him up and toss him, and he treats it like a game. Of course, if we go in the car, and he sees the hawk, he gets scared, but that is a legitimate fear. That hawk could eat him. My fear is not warranted because for all I know, the changes our church is going through could be good for our future. I’m not happy about my cousin moving, but for all I know, she could move back when she’s finished her degree. I will miss our priest, and I will miss my cousin, but they’re not gone for good. Jesus said to let tomorrow worry about itself, so that’s what I am choosing to do today.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!