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The Dance Of Sorrow

The Dance of Sorrow

I find you
in that place we like to go,
where there’s no one else;
just us and nothing else.

I see your silhouette
there in the dark;
in the silence and the dark,
and you move
in the silence of the dark.

You say my name;
Your voice is music.
In the silence
and the dark
your beauty sings.

You are the light
in the silence and the dark,
and somehow I’m empty.

You ask me to stay
in the silence and the dark,
and I whisper;
I scream out your name.

I see you move;
you dance
in the dance of sorrow,
and you whisper.

“Will you look?”
You say
“Will you look and see
my heart that hurts;
that loves so much
and is so little loved?”

I see your beauty;
your dance:
the dance of sorrow.

It’s Not Really That Complicated

This morning I did what’s called an “examination of conscience.” It’s basically a self-assessment based on the ten commandments, and it’s ideally done relatively often. My family and I came back from vacation this past Sunday. I hadn’t done much of anything other than sleep, eat, and read Lord of the Rings over the course of two weeks. It was honestly a little boring, and that is my kind of vacation. Because I did nearly nothing, I began to question where I was at, spiritually.

As best I can remember, I have done an examination of conscience twice before. I’m afraid of doing it, not because I’m afraid of God’s justice, but because I don’t like looking at my sins. Before I did it this morning, I took a pen and a piece of paper, and I prayed. At the top of the paper, I wrote “I am good. I am beautiful. I belong to Jesus.” I wrote that because I thought I’d be writing a laundry list of ugly things. Then I asked Saint Faustina, who was the catalyst for the Divine Mercy devotion, to pray for me, I asked my guardian angel to be with me, and I asked the Blessed Mother to walk me through it. I also asked the Lord to be gentle with me, because He is gentle.

If you’re not Catholic, those first prayers might seem a bit weird. As Catholics we believe that we are connected to the entire Church, even after death. That means we can talk to, and even be friends with the saints in Heaven, and the righteous souls still working toward perfection in Purgatory. I won’t get into Purgatory here, partly because there’s plenty about it on the internet, and partly because it’s not the point of the post. The point is, I can ask Saint Faustina, who knows so much about God’s Mercy to pray for me, as a friend on earth might pray for me. I can ask my guardian angel to do whatever he needs to in this situation, because I don’t know exactly what that is. I can ask Mary, Jesus’ mom, and by extension, my spiritual mom (again, there’s a ton about this online) to just walk with me through it, before I even start.

A self-assessment is difficult, especially when it comes to the spiritual life. It means I have to look at what I don’t really want to see. I remember realizing for the first time that what I wanted most was to become a saint. To be a saint means attaining perfection. Part of that means looking at what I don’t want to, asking for God’s forgiveness, and letting Him help me. It means figuring out what I can do to change where I can, and mostly it means letting Him work on me, whatever that might look like. It’s hard for me to deal with the fact that He does most of the work. It’s hard to let go of control.

Recently, I realized that God’s Mercy doesn’t always look like what one might expect. I realized that often, His Mercy looks like making sure there’s a time and place for me to go to confession when I need to. I didn’t find a four-page laundry list of sins. I found four things. It’s one thing to be able to make the self-assessment and be honest with myself; it’s another to actually go to confession and state how I’ve gone wrong out loud. I know that I’m really going to Jesus, and I know that I will receive His Mercy. I just don’t like having to verbally admit that I’m not perfect.

The Lord knows that I’m as jumpy as a rabbit, but He also knows that I will go because if I’ve sinned, it means I’ve hurt my most intimate friend.  He’s been kind enough to make sure the priest I go to is gentle. Nonetheless, going to confession makes me anxious. I’m not alone in this. The last thing the priest says is “Go in peace.” The feeling after confession is amazing because sin is heavy, and it quite literally feels like that load has been taken away.

This is why not forgiving someone is such a huge problem. When we pray the “Our Father,” we ask the Lord to “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Our forgiveness and mercy is meant to be exactly like His–infinite. It doesn’t mean it has to be immediate because forgiveness is sometimes hard (when you’re not God), but it has to come around eventually. God wants to forgive, but we do have to ask for it because that’s part of a genuine relationship.

I should acknowledge that there are two different kinds of sins. Small (venial) sins can be forgiven simply if we pray for forgiveness, and if we really are sorry. More serious (mortal/deadly) sins are what we have to go to confession for, but sometimes it’s helpful to go to confession even for smaller stuff. An inevitable question is, “Why do Catholics have to go to confession at all?” The Church is the Body of Christ and we’re all spiritually connected. That means that stuff I do, even if it doesn’t obviously affect anyone, does have a spiritual effect on the whole Church, myself included, and because we are connected, it hurts the Lord, too.

As a member himself, the priest is, in this context, a representative of the Church, as well as a representative of Christ, through whom Jesus administers the sacraments. That means when I go to confession, I can acknowledge that I’ve hurt the Church, I’ve hurt myself spiritually, and I’ve hurt Jesus, and because God is Mercy, He can take the load from me. I still have to do some sort of penance, though, because I did make a mess in the first place. An analogy might be a brother and sister playing together get into an argument, so the sister breaks the brother’s toy. The sister then feels bad and says she’s sorry. The brother forgives her, but the toy is still broken, so the parents decide that the money to pay for a new one has to come from her allowance.

None of that is to say that I’m still guilty after confession. Penance should be natural if I really am sorry because out of love, I should make amends for causing hurt. Because we are God’s adopted children, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re a massive, crazy, dysfunctional family, which is seriously awesome. I have written a post before about “agape” love. It’s love that simply wills the good of the other. It’s the kind of love that, by nature, looks outward. We should be attentive to our inner spiritual lives in order to most effectively maintain this agape love.

The Problem Of “Them”

My dad and I have been re-watching the Marvel movies leading up to “End Game” and the new Spider Man movie. We found a list that goes through them in an actual timeline that starts in the 1940’s with the first Captain America movie, and ends in the present day. I love super hero movies. In fact, I pretty much like any story that involves an obvious battle between good and evil. I like to see the “good guys” win.

It’s a really simple, but enjoyable story premise. We’re presented with it over and over, starting when we’re as young as five years old. At face value, that’s fine, and even good to an extent. Good and evil do exist; they are real things. The problem is when the lines between good and evil get blurred. The problem is when this story premise gets translated into “us” and “them” in our daily lives.

As I’ve mentioned before, Last fall I joined the Carmelite community in Danvers MA as an aspirant. It means I’m a newbie. For months, when talking about things we do, I would say “they” do X, Y, or Z. I’ve consciously had to train myself to say “us” and “we.” Our other members have been fabulous in making me feel welcome, and that I am part of the community, even though, as an aspirant, I’m not yet officially a member.

Last week my family got a letter from Social Security. It was vague at best, and said  they had detected something that might affect my disability stipend. It said if we had any questions to call the number they provided. We gave them a call, and no one answered. We gave them another call today because the letter said if they didn’t hear from us, they would call us today at 10:30, but they didn’t. Finally someone answered, and said that they would call us back before 3:30, but they didn’t. I mentioned in my last post that I am prideful, and don’t like to be helped. I particularly don’t like getting a disability payment. My mom took care of the phone calls today. It’s a good thing she did because if it had been me, things would have got ugly. I don’t normally have a foul mouth, but I told my mom to “tell them to cut the shit… Gimme the phone.” She didn’t.

So I went to the next option. I posted on Facebook, “Our government is run by idiots.” A minute later, I deleted it. I realized that I fell into the problem of “us” and “them.” I used to think I wasn’t allowed to be angry when I pray. That mentality, luckily, is long gone. After deleting my post I said, “Sorry, Lord, I’m just pissed off and looking for someone to blame.” I was looking for “the bad guy.” The real problem is in the system itself. It’s a system that fosters apathy, and it’s no one’s fault in particular. On the same token, though, it’s a system that fosters the “us” vs “them” mentality. I, and I imagine many others on disability have a tendency to see those working for the social security system as “the enemy,” while those same workers see us as, in a sense, “enemies” because we’re at best, inconvenient.

No individual within this messed up system is my “enemy.” What is it that I really want? I want to be left alone. What do the people in the office likely want? Me out of their hair. I recently went to confession because I was having trouble forgiving. I know that, in confession, I’m meant to talk with the priest as if I’m talking directly to Jesus, so I said, “I’m not sure I totally get forgiveness. I feel like I can forgive, but it’s more than a feeling, right?” He said, through the priest, “Yeah, it’s about letting it go. If you feel like you can do that, you can leave it in this room.” It seemed simple, and in that moment, I was able to leave it behind. The trouble is that it’s just as easy to pick it back up. It’s easy to pick it up because blame can evolve and mutate, and it’s easy to pick someone out as “the bad guy.”

The “us” vs “them” mentality; the idea of good vs evil is built into human nature. It’s a survival instinct. We weren’t always at the top of the food chain. That’s fine. God created us to be like Him, though. He built us with a consciousness that can understand right and wrong. He knew that we would eventually get to the top of the food chain, and on a human-to-human level, we’re not supposed to have enemies. The spiritual always trumps the natural, but our survival instinct is still there, and it causes us to be jealous of colleagues or friends; it causes us to categorize people where we shouldn’t; it causes us to see people who support certain political positions, religious beliefs, or whatever else, as “the bad guy.” It can cause us to see ourselves as “outsiders,” even when this is completely irrational, only because we’re new to a community, club, group, school, job, or even family.

Normally I don’t try to write my posts really as “advice” because mostly I just think too much. I think I do have actual advice this time, though. 1) Try to use “us” and “we” more than “They” when referring to a group of people you’re involved in, whether it’s your church, your workplace, your school, or another community. 2) Figure out who you haven’t forgiven, or who you see as an “enemy,” and figure out how to “let it go.” It can help to find a place to leave it, but it’s not necessary. It can be super helpful, though not always necessary, to leave it in confession (if you’re Catholic). 3) Pray for those perceived “enemies.” It can be a bit difficult to get started, but it can eventually feel really relieving.

As Simple And As Difficult

One of my most recent songs was entitled “Just An Honest Prayer.” I struggle a lot with the story Jesus tells of when the King will separate the sheep and the goats–those who helped “the little guy,” and those who did not. I struggle with this because I want to do more to help people than I physically or financially am able to. It sometimes leads me to thinking that what I do, or even what I am, is not enough.

On Saturday I went to the monthly meeting of our Carmelite community. My epilepsy happened to be acting up that morning. I don’t have violent seizures, but I “space out,” and I can’t process language, or communicate easily. A few of our members noticed, and were able to calmly help me out until it was under control. At some point during the meeting, I noticed a picture I hadn’t ever noticed before. It was a black and white image, like a photograph, of the wounded face of Christ. Through that image I felt like He was saying to me, “I’m here. I’m with you.” The members of my community who were able to help me through my “brain fuzz” were great, but more than anything, what Jesus silently said to me was extremely moving and calming.

I’ve been listening to the podcast “Catholic Stuff You Should Know” for a long time now. Their most recent episode was, in a sense, about hospitality. An idea they presented was that hospitality is about receiving well, as much as it is about being a good host. I realized that I am not good at receiving. I don’t like being helped, especially if I need help. I realize that this is a symptom of pride. I’ve asked the Lord more than once to take my “brain fuzz” away. His answer has been, “No,” and I think I know why. To make me into who I’m meant to be, He needs me to need help. Also, if I didn’t have unpredictable fuzz, I’d be able to do more than I’m able to do now, and because of that, I likely wouldn’t be making the music I am, and I wouldn’t be able to offer my suffering to God with Jesus’ suffering.

Saturday ended up being a fabulous day. Dad got me a “Romantic” sandwich (broccoli, cheddar cheese, avocado, garlic, and spices) from Life Alive in Salem, and we headed to Maine. I went to Mass with my dad and Godfather that afternoon, got my favorite chicken sandwich at my favorite restaurant in Bridgton Maine for dinner, and that night, I saw the most beautiful sky I’ve ever seen. Our house up there faces south, looking down a hill at some trees, and the river beyond. The sky was bright because the moon was nearly full. The clouds were long and streaked, running north to south, and the sky looked striped. There were also smaller, thicker clouds that were dark, but bright on the edges. My dad was the first to notice it because I had been looking at the fire we had started in our yard. He pointed it out to me, and I was absolutely captivated. I didn’t want to look away. I realized that this sky was a gift to my family. Not everybody would look up.

Finally, when I went to bed that night, I started praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. This is something I try to do every day. As I started praying, though, God spoke in my heart and asked me, “Do you really believe in the power of My mercy?” I said, “Yeah, I do. Help me to believe it more.” I have a habit of praying for everybody but myself. That’s not a good thing. I need His mercy and His help as much as anyone else. As I said, I’m not good at receiving help, and I’m especially bad at asking for it. That night, I prayed for myself, though, and He showed me something.

Often when I pray, I say something that ultimately translates to: “What do you want/need me to do?” I ask partly out of gratitude for everything He’s done for me, but part of it is that I frequently fall into the false belief that I have to “earn” all of it. Saturday night, He didn’t let me ask the question. In a sense, He let me see myself through His eyes, and I was surprised at what I saw. I didn’t see the mess I thought I would. I just saw me. I was even more surprised to see Him. I shouldn’t have been surprised at that. I had taken communion just a few hours earlier. I saw very clearly that, yeah, I’m a sinner, but I also saw very clearly, that He took the blame for my sins, and accused me of nothing. He looked at me as my Savior, and saw the one He saves.

Last night I went to Adoration. I don’t go as often as I would like, but I’m going to try and go more regularly, because I often find myself going with tears in my eyes, and leaving with a smile on my face. At the front of the church I went to–I didn’t go to my home parish–the Eucharist was on the altar, as it always is at Adoration, the Crucifix was on the wall behind it, as it always is, but the Divine Mercy Image was very prominently in view on the wall just to the left. I know that when I look at the Eucharist, or an image of Jesus, or what have you, I’m looking at Love. Last night, I realized more deeply that I was staring at Mercy.

In my song “Just An Honest Prayer,” the third verse and chorus go as follows:

I know I need a Savior
‘Cause I can’t do this, my Lord
And I know I am broken
‘Cause trusting You isn’t easy
But I’m ready to be honest
I so want to believe
I want to be with You in Heaven
So Help my unbelief

(Chorus)
You know the world is broken
When saying “I love you” is hard
Even when you want to
And even when it’s true

Trusting the Lord should be the easiest thing. He is Love itself. We don’t find it easy because our world is broken, and we are broken. I once read something along the lines of: Mercy is where love meets need. I am spiritually weak, and I’m not very nice to myself sometimes. Saint Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians that he is content in his weakness because the Lord revealed to him that His power is made perfect in human weakness. In other words, He can, and often does use our weaknesses for our own good and His glory.

As I said earlier in my post, I often want to help “the little guy” where I can’t. Jesus says that “blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” I remember once I was at an open mic. I don’t remember what song I had been intending to play, but the guy who played before me got on stage and said, “This song is about how basically life is terrible.” I was up next and I said, “I wasn’t actually planning on playing this song, but the song I’m about to play is called, ‘Good In Things,’ and it’s about how everything is inherently good because God is good, and He made it.” My dad said he saw a woman at a table nearby with a look on her face like I had just “saved” her with that song. I don’t really know what he meant by that, but it made me happy to know I had made someone else happy.

It feels good to help people. Praying for people and making music that people can relate to and find joy and comfort in is about the extent of what I can do. At least that was what I thought until I heard the episode of “Catholic Stuff” on hospitality. I think part of being merciful actually means allowing people to help, and being grateful and humble about it. Everybody needs help in some way, at some point. Not everyone can do everything all the time. Maybe part of being merciful is allowing yourself to be “the little guy.”

A few days ago, I actually got some great advice. Someone who knew I was a musician told me that Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “do something beautiful for God.” They said if I wanted to glorify God, I should sing only for Him. God isn’t expecting of me what I can’t do. I can make songs that give people hope; I can be grateful when I need help, and in that, I can give someone else the joy of being helpful; I can take the time to pray that many others can’t because I don’t have a “conventional” job; I can offer God my suffering with Jesus’ suffering because I have a cross to carry that many others don’t. I can do all that.

Yesterday I realized that there’s something else I can do, and so can everyone else. It felt like God dropped a love bomb on me on Saturday, so I wrote a short post about it on Facebook. Then I realized I could do more than that. I wrote in my song, “You know the world is broken when saying ‘I love you’ is hard.” In another song I wrote, “We are fighting a war You’ve already won.” Both of these are true. Jesus saved the world, yes, but He’s still in the process of saving it, too. We’re meant to be a part of that. Saying “I love you,” or giving an honest compliment, or what have you, can be weird or awkward, so we don’t, even when we want to, and even when it’s true.

It’s easy to say to ourselves, “They already know, so I don’t need to say it.” I realized that, actually, yeah, we still need to say it. Even if we already know it, we need to be reminded. We’re really good at finding the flaws in ourselves, and when we find those flaws, it’s relatively easy to start thinking “I’m not lovable.” So yesterday, I started dropping love bombs. I looked through my contacts and decided on the three people I thought most needed a reminder. I did the same thing today, and I ended up having pretty nice conversations with a couple of people I haven’t talked to in a while. I just started with “Hey! Happy Thursday! I love you!” It was a little awkward, but it turned into something beautiful. The world is broken, but we can be a part of fixing it, and it’s as simple and as difficult as saying “I love you.”

What A Dumb Bird Has Taught Me

If you asked me what my most prized possession is, I would probably tell you it’s my bird. Seamus proved to me that love-at-first-sight actually can happen. We got him from a bird breeder in New Hampshire. on the way there, my mom reminded me that we might not be getting a bird that day. We didn’t know if their birds were healthy, or friendly. When we arrived, one of the breeders said they had three birds available for adoption. They had a green-cheeked conure, and two sun conures. They brought out the green-cheeked conure first, and handed him to me. He immediately scurried up my chest and nestled under my ear. He was exceedingly small, and his feathers were, for the most part, an unremarkable dark green.

The breeders said that conures didn’t usually take to strangers very quickly, and that this was not normal behavior. I loved this bird immediately, but I agreed to see the other two. The two sun conures wanted nothing to do with me. They were bigger than the green-cheek, and were bright yellow and orange, but I asked to see the little guy again. A second time, he climbed up and hid under my ear. I didn’t care that he was small and not very colorful. He liked me, and he was cuddly, and that was what mattered.

We bought him a cage, and food, and a few toys, and brought him home. The breeders had said that we should leave him in his cage for a little while and let him get used to our house, but he wanted nothing to do with that. He wanted to be with and on us. The next day, or maybe the day after, we took him to the vet to make sure he was healthy, and to get a blood test. The only way to know a conure’s gender is by their DNA, and apparently female’s can sometimes lay eggs, and we didn’t really want to deal with that. Luckily, it turned out our little guy was, indeed, a guy, so we named him Seamus, after the poet Seamus Heaney.

I love Seamus for the same reasons anyone would love their pet: he’s funny, he’s soft and, he’s cuddly. I love him, too, though simply because he’s mine, and because he loves me; actually, I really do think Seamus loved me first, and I really do think he’s taught me some things about God. He’s a bird, ergo, Seamus is stupid; he’s also badly behaved, and annoying at times. He does things that normal birds definitely don’t do. He’ll come into my room in the morning, and if I lift up the blanket, he’ll crawl under, and snuggle in the “happy hole.” He likes to go spelunking in silverware drawers, and “dumpster dive” in our trash. He tries to steal food like french fries, or even chicken, and he’s probably more stubborn than any human I’ve encountered. He will attack any human outside my immediate family because they’re not part of his flock, but he will fall asleep in my dad’s hand. He does many other weird, ridiculous things that you simply would not expect a normal bird to do.

I call him my co-pilot because he likes to sit on my head or under my ear when I’m praying or working, or playing video games with my dad. I find that I’m often reminding him, “Seamus, you’re a disaster, and I adore you.” I imagine that’s how God must feel about us sometimes. Of course we don’t start so messy. Bad things happen around or to us, or we hurt our own hearts when we sin. Sometimes Seamus gets bored and tries to steal the keys from my keyboard while I’m writing. He’s annoying, but I’ll grab him while he’s doing it, pick him up, and kiss him. Sometimes while we’re playing video games, he’ll get bored, and fly upstairs. It just makes me want him back. I imagine this is how God feels about us. I can’t get angry at a dumb bird, especially my dumb bird, and I don’t think our omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God can really get angry at us limited humans, especially since we’re His limited humans.

Seamus can annoy the heck out of me, or even hurt me if he bites, but I’d never give him up. I call him “Precious” for a reason, and not just because I’m a Lord of the Rings fan. Likewise, we really can hurt God, but He’ll never give us up, He’ll never abandon us, and He’ll never give up on us.

The Eternal Question

About a week ago, I was in the car. I do a lot of praying in the car because the car is boring, and I don’t drive, so I don’t have to pay attention to the road. At the time I had been thinking about the difficulty of balancing work and prayer. The Lord reminded me of the time he spent with Martha and Mary. Martha had been working to make everything perfect for the Lord, while Mary just sat with Him. Martha got annoyed with her sister, and Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

At the time, I had been thinking about spending too much time producing art or music, even if it is for God’s glory, and not actually spending enough time with Him. Earlier today, I was worried about a deeper, spiritual problem I’ve been facing, so I went to my room and prayed, but I did something that was definitely out of the ordinary. I said, “Can you just tell me a story?” I don’t really know how I did it, but I sort of let Him take control of my creativity, and this is the story He told me.

There was once a little girl who lived in a house with her mom and dad. They were loved by their friends and neighbors and they lived a very normal life. On an ordinary day, the little girl came home from school and sat on the floor to play. All of a sudden everything disappeared except for the square of floor she was sitting on. Above her there was nothing. Below her there was nothing. Behind her there was nothing, and in front of her there was nothing. To her left and her right, and in every direction besides, there was nothing. Everything she had ever known was gone. She was there, and the square she sat on was there and that was it. She was sad because everything she knew was gone, and as the square started to disappear, she became scared. She was worried because if the square was gone, she might fall into nothing forever. As the square disappeared, she reached out for Me, and I caught her, and brought her to myself and kept her there.

Then he asked me a question.

Is that okay?

I thought it was a weird story, but the strangest thing was that when everything disappeared, I felt this sense of peace. His question really seamed to be: “If literally everything else was gone except Me, would you be happy with that?” I’m realizing as I write this how weighty a question that is. That is literally a life or death question. When we die, we literally lose everything this world has to offer: everything we own; the place where we live; all the money we may have; even the identity this world gave us. When we die, we’ll face that question. Our answer determines where we spend eternity. I didn’t fully realize that when He initially asked the question, but I didn’t have to think about it. My answer was, and still is absolutely “Yes.”

I mentioned in my previous post that I deal with scrupulosity. It kind of means I have spiritual OCD. I get caught up in the “rules” while trying to be perfect, and I lose sight of the actual point of my faith, which is to have a loving relationship with the Lord. For a while now, I think it’s been like when Peter walked on water. He had faith enough to try something that absurd. For a moment, he was able to do it, but he saw that the water was getting rough and the wind was picking up. He lost sight of Jesus for just a moment, and he started sinking, but all he had to do was ask for help, and Jesus caught him. I’ve been so busy trying to be perfect, that I lost sight of the Person I’m trying to be perfect for. With His weird little story Jesus reminded me that He will catch me when I fall.

Love That Chooses Hurt

Last weekend while I was praying, I was thinking about the story of the prodigal son. The kid wronged his father, and left. The father was more than ready to forgive his son when he came back, acknowledged his fault and apologized. I’m realizing now just how painful the waiting and the hoping must have been for the father. The story is a metaphor for God’s mercy, but the primary focus is on the actions and decisions of the son. Not much time is spent on the interior feelings or actions of the father.

Last week I had to write a letter to someone I love because she has been being abusive to other family members. I told her that I still love her, and I really do, but unless she changes her behavior, I can’t have a relationship with her. It kills me because if she was willing to change and asked for my forgiveness, I would grant it. I hate tough love, meaning I hate having to do it. The father in the story of the prodigal son wanted to forgive his kid. He wanted to love him.

Recently, I talked to my parish priest about being overly scrupulous. Scrupulosity has been described as “Catholic guilt on steroids.” I tend to be afraid of my own human weakness, I often think things are sinful when they’re not, and sometimes if I commit a venial sin, I think it’s much worse than it is. I’ve been told on multiple occasions to let God love me. He wants to love, and he wants to forgive. Often, we just don’t let him. I think I better understand, at least to some extent, what that feels like.

I watched a talk about when Jesus was teaching about the Eucharist in John 6. Literally thousands of people left Him because of that teaching. He knows what it feels like to lose friends. He also knows what it’s like to offer love that people won’t accept. This is what sin does. I imagine love is like a ball that gets passed back and forth between two people playing catch. Each person “offers” it, and each person “receives” it. Sin is like a barrier that gets set between them. Love can still be offered, but it can’t, or in many cases, simply won’t be received. Letting God love us is often about admitting our faults and letting Him forgive us.

I’m realizing as I work through this that admitting our fault has to be preceded by accepting our fault. I already intuitively knew this, but I haven’t been able to articulate it until now. I know this person whom I love, and I don’t think she’ll accept that she’s at fault. I can’t claim that I don’t feel angry with her, but I wish her no ill will. That’s what hurts. She’s put up the barrier that’s broken up our game, and I’m left holding the ball. It’s not a perfect analogy because you can’t throw the same ball to more than one person. Every relationship has a different ball.

There was a definitive breaking point, and since then I’ve been praying for her. Often, prayer can feel like a desperate monologue. On occasion though, either by reading Scripture or sincerely listening with my heart as best I can, I get a clear answer. I know that Jesus suffers. He chose to be with us, and He chooses to continue to suffer with us even though He doesn’t have to. Jesus suffered a lot in His own lifetime here on earth. Last weekend I asked Him, “Lord, why do you choose to suffer this with me? You shouldn’t have to suffer.” He said, “I don’t want you to suffer alone.”

That’s what real love is. The person whom I love has hurt a lot of people. I could have told those people to keep it to themselves, or between them and a priest or a therapist, or God. That wouldn’t be real love, though. Real love doesn’t abandon ship when the seas get rough. Real love is love that sticks around to help clean up after the earthquake. Real love is love that chooses to suffer for the good of the other. Real love is willing to share the hurt.

“Where Do All The Roads Go?”

My Godmother once told a story about when my dad was teaching CCD. We were six or seven, and at the time, we had class at my house. I don’t actually remember the lesson, but when my dad was finished teaching, he said, “Does anyone have any questions?” One of the kids in my class asked, “Where do all the roads go?” It had nothing to do with the lesson, but actually, it’s a really good question.

I’ve recently come to love the song “When It Don’t Come Easy” by Patty Griffin. It’s a sad song, but I think a hopeful one, too. A few lines that invariably get stuck in my head are:

You’re out there walking down a highway
And all of the signs got blown away
Sometimes you wonder if you’re walking in the wrong direction

Followed by the Chours:

But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy

Today at Mass we got some bad news. One of the priests who serves at our parish is being re-assigned. He’s a fabulous priest. He exudes true Christian joy, and you can tell he’s truly in love with the Lord. I’m really going to miss him.

This afternoon I’ve been thinking about that little kid’s question. “Where do all the roads go?” Two decades later, all I know is that they all go somewhere. I do know that my Guide knows where they all go, and if I trust Him, He’ll lead me down the right ones. Sometimes I don’t exactly follow His directions, and I get a little lost. I find myself wandering down that highway where the signs got blown away, but I know He’ll come and find me.

Earlier I was angry about our priest’s re-assignment. Now I’m just sad. I prayed about it, and I told the Lord that I don’t like this, but I know He can bring even more light out of any darkness. Hopefully our priest can be a help to whatever parish he’s going to. They’ll be getting an absolutely inspiring priest, and apparently we’ve been assigned someone who has just recently been ordained. I may not like the situation, but I am hopeful. Our parish has been going through a lot of change in the past year, and I really just want a sense of permanence.

What’s The Real Goal?

I just read a post about how (supposedly) Christians are killing Christianity. The post largely claimed that it is due to the hypocrisy of many people who claim the Christian title, but do not live Christian lives. The ultimate problem with the article is that it suggested that Christianity has been, at various times, a respected belief system and moral philosophy, and is no longer. It went on to suggest things Christians can do in order to make Christianity a respected belief system again. I do not disagree with the claim that many Christians do not live according to Christian teachings, and this is part of the problem. The problem I have with the article is actually that its writer is missing an important point. Jesus never said that, as His followers, we would be respected. In fact, He said we should expect to be discredited, mocked, and persecuted for our belief.

I do, however, agree with much of what the writer of the article suggested. His suggestions were as follows:

1: “Stop focusing on your position in life, and concern yourself with Christ’s position in your life.”

I would absolutely agree with this point, and I have had to relearn it many times. However, I have never thought of it in terms of making Christianity, or the Church more respected. The point is to make sure Jesus Christ is respected, and respect for His Church will follow.

2: “Realize that Christ is distinct from any other cultural influence or person.”

He goes on to explain that Christ, and therefore Christian philosophy, is outside of any cultural influence, whether that be popular media, politics, local, or the life of one’s particular church/parish. I’m not entirely sure I agree. Jesus inserted Himself into a particular culture in a particular place and time. He promised before His ascension that He would always be with us. That means that He is always involved in our culture in our place and time. He is not attached to it, and He is not influenced by it, but He is aware of it, and He does use it because He is directly involved in each of our lives. Furthermore, it’s a simple fact that there are distinct aspects of our culture that are in line with Christian philosophy, and distinct aspects that are opposed to it. I would agree that Christ is distinct from all of it in that He, and by extension, we can use all of these aspects to complete His work.

3: “Do not try to fit Christ into your culture. Make Christ your culture.”

Christians have literally never done this. It is impossible. This implies that it is possible to live entirely outside of one’s culture. What is most important is to make Christ the center of one’s life, and to structure everything else around that center. For example, Christian poets have used pagan imagery (like the phoenix) to express Christ’s beauty and greatness. Furthermore, Jesus Himself did not live outside of His culture. It was His mission to be a part of the lives of sinners in order to redeem them. That meant doing the things that “normal” people do. As Christ’s witnesses, it is our job to bring Jesus into our culture to transform it; it is not our job to take ourselves out of it.

4: “Stop looking at how “church” can better other people’s lives and look at how your life does not line up in obedience to Christ and repent.  Scripture is not a window you use to look out at other people and judge them, Scripture is a mirror showing us how God wants to transform us into the image of his Son.”

I’m not sure how much I need to expand on this because I think it really says all it needs to. I think I would just add that, particularly from a Catholic standpoint, we simply don’t spend enough time studying Scripture or actually listening rather than talking when we pray. I would also say that it’s important to keep in mind that your pastor or priest really isn’t the ultimate authority, and it’s important to know the Scriptures, but it’s also important to know Church history and tradition.

5: “We need to model our lives after Christ, not the cultural expectations of other influences.”

I would also agree with this, but it’s easier said than done. It inherently means we will be seen as strange because Jesus was seen as strange in His own place and time. It does often mean going against popular opinion. It means forgiving the unforgivable. It means giving and expecting nothing in return. It means praying for those who have offended you. It means making and staying friends with people you vehemently disagree with. It means being patient with frustrating people. It means praying for people who don’t deserve even that. People see that and are often perplexed because they have never experienced God’s mercy. This is how we live it. It doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect at it, but we have to try.

6: I am paraphrasing here, but his final point was that we need to make sure that we are following the true Christ, and not a skewed version of Him.

Jesus makes plain who He is in the Gospels, but also through the witness of the prophets, the various writers of the Old Testament, the Apostles, the Saints throughout history, and His faithful followers today. By “faithful” I here mean those who are committed to an authentic relationship with Him as their Friend, Savior, Lord, and God. To sustain this relationship we must read Scripture, we must pray, and again, as I am writing as a Catholic, we must take part in the sacraments that He has given to us.

As I said, I mostly agree with what the original writer said. The flaw, however, is that he is putting forth these points in order to make Christianity a respected mode of living. It doesn’t matter if our faith is respected. It likely never will be. As I have mentioned many times before, there are parts in the world where it puts one’s life in jeopardy to be Christian. In many cases in our own country we face, at best, rolling eyes, and at worst, scorn and ridicule, and occasionally, violence. Our purpose is not to make our way of living appear respectable. The Church is God’s Church no matter what, and though its members are flawed, the Church itself is holy because Christ the Head is holy. Our only goal is to help people come to know God’s love for them personally, and to work on ourselves to become the holy people God wants us to be so we can, with His help, make it home to Heaven.

Living The Pipe Dream

When I was fourteen, I got a guitar for Christmas. It was an absolute piece of crap that would go out of tune after playing one song, or even before the end of a song. Soon after I got it, my friend, who had been taking lessons for a little while, taught me to play “Brain Stew” by Green Day. At that point I only knew how to play power chords, and I wasn’t going to start lessons until January, but I was immediately hooked. I learned some basic things in my first few lessons, and I wrote my first song. It was an angry punk song about a teacher I hated at school. It was terrible.

Like every other angry fourteen-year-old with a guitar, I had the pipe dream; I was going to be a total “rock star” in a punk band, tour all over the country, and generally be able to “get my way.” After my sophomore year, I mellowed out a little, which actually meant I went from being angry to being sad. That’s probably the best way I could describe it. Slowly, I resigned myself to the fact that the “rock star” thing wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t find band mates, and quite frankly, it was just unrealistic.

Still, I kept writing songs. A lot of them sucked, as would be expected. By the time I was nineteen, I was still playing guitar, and writing an occasional song, but mostly I was learning covers because I could play them by myself, and people at open mics sometimes recognized them. I enjoyed that, but it wasn’t “the dream,” and at that point, I had no real vision in mind for what my future might look like. I was your average college freshman without much of a plan.

At the time I started school in August, I was agnostic. By the end of October, I was Christian. I’ve written this part of the story before, but it’s important, so I’ll make it short. I was lonely, and I thought I needed a boyfriend. I had started learning how to pray, so I had been asking God for help with that. I didn’t know it was a deeper loneliness that couldn’t be filled with another human relationship. He let me get desperate. I begged. He needed to make me wait because He needed to teach me that He was there to listen, and that I could trust Him, and even though I was ultimately asking for the wrong thing, He was going to help me. He needed me to be desperate because He needed to use that to build an actual relationship. At my lowest point, I said something along the lines of, “Please! I need your help! I love you!”

I hadn’t known it until I said it, but I knew it was true. As soon as I said it, a feeling like I have never really felt before or since came over me. I don’t know how to describe it, but it inspired my song, “You Answered.” The third verse goes:

You came to me soft and slow
Sweet and warm like a summer dream
And fantasy starts to fade away
As you replace my empty spaces

After that, I started writing more songs. Most of them were worship songs, and a lot of them were terrible. Eventually, I had enough songs to put together my first album, which came out in 2014. I graduated in 2015, and took a hiatus from songwriting to take a stab at writing a novel. After about three years, I realized I was much better at music.

Actually, I hadn’t stopped writing songs altogether, but most of my material was terrible. Still, I had one good one hanging around that I had never recorded, so I went back to the studio. I had thought I would just release it as a single, but one night before one of my studio sessions, I wrote a song in about two minutes. That’s barely an exaggeration. Now I had a dilemma because it was good. I decided if I could pull together one or two more good songs I’d do an EP. Now that we’re nine songs into what will be a full length album, I’ve realized something.

When I was fourteen, I had the same pipe dream as every other angry teenager with a guitar. Most don’t get to be musicians as their career. A lot of kids just give up playing after a while. A lot of people keep it up as a hobby. A lot of people have regular 9-5 jobs on top of their music careers, which don’t often amount to more than playing a few local gigs every week. I’m not a “rock star,” but songwriting is my career. Am I a success? I’d say it depends on who you’re asking. Do I make money at this? Not yet. Do I write good songs? Heck yeah! How do I know? People like them. More importantly, I know God is helping me.

My God gave me my pipe dream. When my epilepsy came back in my sophomore year of college, I had to face some hard facts. Travel isn’t easy to begin with because of my Muscular Dystrophy. Performing is often hit or miss because my meds don’t completely control my epilepsy. Being a performing artist just wasn’t possible. What I didn’t realize for some time was that it’s precisely because of my disabilities that I’m able to do this. Having a “normal” job isn’t exactly an option for me. That’s why I have time to work on a book and have a songwriting career.

As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve realized that my “issues” have brought me closer to God, and He has had a plan all along. He has always known how much I love music. He allowed me to be that angry fourteen-year-old with a pipe dream, and in the end He gave me a choice. I could give up on that dream, or I could embrace it, or rather, His version of it. I’m great at writing lyrics. I’m a decent, but not absolutely fabulous singer, and I’m an average guitarist. I can write lyrics that glorify my God and hand them off to people who can glorify Him with their performing abilities that are doubtless, better than mine.

My dad suggested this to me several years ago. I didn’t choose this option because I was being overly possessive. Now I’m ready. It doesn’t make sense for me to hold onto something that I can’t use. I’m ready to write not for my glory, but for God’s. I don’t need recognition. I don’t need to be the star of the show. If nobody ever knows who wrote these songs, that’s okay. I will be overjoyed if one of my songs becomes popular because somebody else rocked it. I just want these songs to be heard. I love writing them, and I love the process. I even love struggling through my writer’s block because a lot of times, that’s when I pray the most.

In my song “Nothing Else,” there’s a couple lines that go: “This is enough/ a spark to start a fire.” I didn’t know God when I was fourteen. That first crummy guitar was a spark, though, and God could start a fire with that spark. Writing songs was the first thing I was really passionate about, and God used that passion to lead me right to Him. Of course the path was a little convoluted, but now I have more than a spark. I have His burning love that’s closer than touch, and He has my songwriting skills to use as He sees fit. Because of His love, I am living the pipe dream.