Tag Archives: Belief

I’ll Stick Around To Remind You

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. I’ve been busy loving a teenage boy from where, I don’t know, praying, working on my book, and working on music in the studio. I just finished up the second song, “Heart Of Love.” I don’t know where it’ll be on the album, but I’m just overjoyed at how good it sounds. A lot of love went into this song, on my end, for sure, but I’m convinced, from heaven as well. Ken and I pray before every session, and both of us have been convinced that we’ve had very little to do with this song. Even when the work was barely started, we couldn’t stop ourselves from laughing at how good it sounded.

Last week we finished “Heart Of Love” and started work on a song called “Sunset Sparrow,” which is partly dedicated to my new friend, but also to anyone who is suffering from loneliness or any kind of mental health issue. The first verse ends with a question: “Sunset Sparrow, can you see the city lights, and in the sky beyond, can you see the stars?” The Chorus goes like this: “If your answer’s ‘no,’ I’ll stick around to remind you, the night can’t last forever, and the morning’ll break through.”

A couple of weeks ago, my friend and I decided to watch “The Hunger Games.” There’s an interesting conversation in the first movie between President Snow and the guy who designed the game/arena. President Snow questions, “You like an underdog?” The guy responds by saying, “Everyone likes an underdog,” to which the president responds, “I don’t.” My friend reflected, “People don’t actually like underdogs. People like underdog stories.” Truthfully I haven’t thought about it a whole lot, but at the time, she seemed to be right, and I think she probably is.

I have also heard over and over that we live in a cut-throat, survival-of-the-fittest society. Though I have seen beautiful exceptions, I think, for the most part, this is overwhelmingly true, too. This leaves people afraid to reach out to one another in kindness because it leaves them vulnerable. Any show of weakness could mean defeat. I am reminded of the “Good Samaritan” story. Two of the three people who pass the wounded man–the underdog–pass him by. They are more interested in their own survival; the task at hand.

Jesus uses that story in a particular context as a teaching device, but I wonder what the wounded man–the underdog–would have been thinking. I had a very strange conversation with my new friend just a couple of days after we made contact. I asked him how his weekend had gone. His response was not a positive one. I spent two hours trying to convince him that he was lovable, that he was loved, that I don’t abandon my friends, and that I wasn’t going to abandon him. He countered by saying that he was very good at pushing people away, and that we couldn’t possibly really be friends because we had only known each other for two days, and then, it was only over the internet.

I spent the whole two hours inwardly hoping he wouldn’t ask me why I loved him because if he asked me, I don’t think I could have explained. The fact of the matter is, though, that, though I only really know his name and his age and the bare minimum of his personality, I love this kid, even if I can’t articulate a reason. Pope Benedict XVI said, “Only when God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively, it is good that I exist.” Saint Paul said that we can know God loves us because, and I am not quoting directly, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” I’ve recently come up with a prayer that I find exceedingly helpful when, in a sense, I have to remind myself of what I believe. “Lord, I’m a mess, but I’m your mess.”

For too long I tried to figure out why God loves me. Of course I know that God is Love, so I can infer that, in some sense, he has to love me. He kind of can’t help it. At the same time, I personally don’t have to exist. He wanted me with all my quirks and talents, and preferences, and what not, to exist. He created me knowing I’d be a mess, but he loves me too much not to have made me. Accepting my own messiness has not been easy. It probably never will be. By messiness, I don’t only mean sinfulness. I’m talking about other things, too, like the leftover insecurity that still occasionally tries to rear its head from when I was a teenager, or even my medical weirdness.

Acknowledging the mess is important, but if anyone only looks at their mess, they’re left with not much more than a bad mood. That’s why the second part of the prayer is important. By saying that I’m His mess, I am reminding myself that I belong to Him. It’s my pledge of loyalty, but also a way to say, “I know you love me, and I love you, too.” In a world where we’re convinced we have to do everything on our own, it’s easy to make the mistake of either not asking for help when we need it, or ignoring those who do need our help.

From talking with my new friend, I’ve discovered a new sense of the idea of tough love: “I’m going to love you whether you like it or not because you need it.” Sometimes unconditional love is uncomfortable. It can sometimes seem entirely idealistic and unrealistic, when, in fact, the opposite is true. The God of the universe who can literally do anything, and never changes, loves each person literally no matter what, even if our actions or words are sometimes not to His liking.

Last night I reflected on the fact that, while praying, I usually call God, “Lord.” That should be no surprise, except that, when Jesus instructed his disciples (i.e. us) to pray, he told us to address God as “Father.” That’s the whole point. God is the most perfect Father we could ever have. Even when we’re being “the actual worst,” He loves us. Sometimes when our loved ones are going through something particularly hard, or they do something particularly detrimental to themselves, another person, or our relationship, it’s tempting to decide, “I can’t deal with you right now,” and then “right now” lasts a long time. God, on the other hand, doesn’t think like that. Unlike humans, God can handle any mess, no matter how big, and nothing we do, and no matter how we feel, we are unconditionally loved.

I wrote “Sunset Sparrow” initially as a promise to my friend from my personal perspective. However, on further reflection, I’ve realized two things. The first is that I have never encountered the kind of deep darkness I’m finding in his soul. Maybe he’s being an overly dramatic teenager, but I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt. Secondly, though, I think the chorus of the song can be addressed to anyone. “I’ll stick around to remind you. The night can’t last forever, and the morning’ll break through.”

My upcoming album is a worship album, but I wanted the songs on it to be a bit less conventional than the usual fare of worship songs. The fact of the matter is, after a while, truth can only be said the same way so many times before it starts sounding like white noise. I hadn’t intended to write a song to reflect God’s faithfulness directly. On the other hand, I have asked Him to give me some words from His perspective that He wanted me to address to someone in particular, or the world in general. I had hoped He would give me something new to say, but no spectacular divine revelation came. Instead, He gave me new words to convey an ancient message: “I am faithful;” in other words, “I’ll stick around to remind you. The night can’t last forever, and the morning’ll break through.”

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God’s Timing

Yesterday we drove out of the mountains of Vermont and headed back to Massachusetts. On Friday we had arrived in the mountains for Vermont’s funeral. Of course death is sad, but something about this death made me angry. On Friday night I couldn’t eat much. I just felt drained. I’m really bad at dealing with sad things. I just don’t like other people to see me cry or that I’m upset. Because of that, I couldn’t cry until ten PM on Friday when I was in my room in the hotel alone. I can cry to Jesus because he knows I’m upset anyway. What I really wanted, though was not for him to hear me. I didn’t want him to see and to take my tears. What I wanted more than anything was for him to hold me and let me cry into him until I was done.

Yesterday, when we were about half an hour from home, my best friend called asking if she could borrow my dad’s soldering iron to modify her snake’s tank. Incidentally, she also didn’t have to work today, so I invited her to hang out when we got home. When she got to my house my dad was in the middle of replacing one of my wheelchair parts, but when he finished my friend and I went downstairs, my mom went out to get food, and my dad stayed upstairs. I had been debating it, but I finally couldn’t help myself, or maybe I couldn’t stop myself. I spilled the beans.

I told her everything. I told her how angry and sad this was making me, though I didn’t know why. I told her that I didn’t like to cry around people as I started crying hard. I told her how unfair it was because it was completely unexpected and out of the blue. She asked me if I wanted a hug. I hesitated for a second, but then I said, “Yes.” She held me and I cried for a long time. Then we played a dumb video game that I’m way too good at. After that we watched videos of assorted big cats being adorable. Then we watched a kids’ movie. I realized last night that Jesus knew that what I needed and wanted most was a hug from him. Since he couldn’t hug me in person, he sent my friend, knowing I would trust her with this. I told her that in that moment, she was Jesus for me. She just happened to call, needing a favor at just the right time. She didn’t exactly know what to do with that, but I wanted her to know. I went to bed a little after midnight and decided to go to church at a parish one town over instead of our home church this morning because the other church has an afternoon Sunday Mass, and I wanted to sleep in.

I thought sleep would help me recover from my emotional roller coaster. My dad caught me crying in church this afternoon. It was right before communion. He asked me if I was okay. I said I was. He asked me why I was crying, then. I said I wasn’t done being sad. Both are true. I am okay. I’m just sad. I don’t think these are mutually exclusive. The Gospel reading today was about when Jesus is recruiting his disciples. The priest said that his mission statement was, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The Gospel is the Good News that God loves us and made a way for us to be with him forever.

After church I asked myself, “do you believe the Gospel? Do you believe in what Jesus said and did? Do you believe in the afterlife? Do you believe in Heaven? Do you believe in God’s love? Do you believe in his mercy? Do you trust him?” At that moment I truthfully could say “Yes” to all of these, but it was hardest to say “Yes” to the last two. At this church we sometimes go to, they use more contemporary music instead of the more traditional hymns you might expect at a Catholic church. A line from the closing song sticks with me right now. “Your grace is enough for me.” I know that’s true. I don’t remember the context, but I know that we are commanded to praise God even when it feels like the world is crap. Therefore, I’ll end this post with a few lines from one of my own songs.

I will sing. Hallelujahs. ‘Cause there is good in things. And I believe it. I can see that it’s true. And it’s beautiful.

Complementary

I had an interesting conversation with a new acquaintance a few weeks ago. I haven’t really thought too much about it, but I thought it would be worth sharing. Our conversation, of course, started with small talk, but for some reason, we both felt very comfortable with each other, and I found out in a fairly short amount of time, that this person was also Christian.

The interesting part of this is that she and I had very different views of things like science, philosophy, mythology and logic going into the conversation. It also turned out that she and I came to faith through very different means, had different upbringings, and were part of different denominations within Christianity. All this being said, I want to explain, in particular, my view of science and logic, as well as some broader sociological issues from my personal Catholic point of view.

As I mentioned in a recent post, there was a time (mostly through middle and high school) when I was Catholic in practice, but Agnostic in belief. I went through the motions without actually knowing what any of it meant. A lot of this has a lot to do with where I grew up, who I hung out with, and what my education was like.

I grew up in a suburban town in Massachusetts where the political standpoint on many issues tends to be relatively liberal, and the line between church and state is drawn boldly. When I was a kid, the most important things in my family’s life were our extended family in Maine, and my education, including the cultivation of my imagination. Often, these things superseded God entirely, so our church attendance was infrequent, and we didn’t really talk about God at home.

My education as a kid was delivered from an atheistic standpoint. I went to public school, and no one, kids or teachers, talked about God. Therefore, my initial understanding of Truth was from a scientific and mathematical standpoint. 1 + 1 = 2. The Big Bang created the Universe. God was there somewhere, sure, but at the time it didn’t really matter to me. Then when I got what you might call the equidistant of an internship in high school developing a disability advocacy program, I ended up working with a devout Jewish guy, my brother’s age, and a Muslim woman,  who I’d guess was in her twenties, and it was interesting to work with people of other faiths who were also far more invested than I was.

Then I went to a Christian college, as I have previously mentioned. Although we were saturated with the culture and Christian worship, I ended up taking a few philosophy classes where the whole point was to think logically and atheistically. All of this comes back to my conversation a few weeks ago. My acquaintance was surprised that I put so much faith in physics, for example. However, this also relates to another question she asked me. She asked, “So how do understand Greek mythology, since it was once an actual belief system?” I told her that this was a belief system based on what was inferable and observable at the time. I put faith in science because it can prove what is inferable and observable to be true. I also explained that I have never thought God and science were at odds, and that God often works through, natural, scientifically verifiable means.

One last thing I would like to add is that I have come to understand that a belief system has stages, and is personalized invariably by everyone. What I mean is that the primary stage of one’s belief system informs their secondary, their secondary informs their third, etc. Specifically this refers, in my case to my understanding of science through Christianity, my understanding of politics and culture through both, and my understanding of economics through all three. In other words, certain beliefs hold priority over others, but they all inform each other to some degree. If science can help me understand what God is doing, then great.

The Moment Of “I Love You”

I’ve tried to write this several times over and haven’t been able to. Partly, I haven’t known where exactly to begin, partly I haven’t known what to include, partly, I find this kind of thing a bit cliche, and partly, it’s a bit of a novel. All that being said, I’ve decided to start with a preface. As I said, More often than not, I find a lot of “coming to faith” stories at least somewhat annoying. A lot of them have the same, or at least a similar notion that the writer was so terrible before, and drastically better, morally speaking, immediately after their conversion. I also find it problematic when a person shares their story and neglects basic rules of writing style, spelling, and grammar. While it may be more important on some level to simply get the story out, the neglect lessens its credibility. More could be said, but I think those are issues for another post. Now I will share my story.

I grew up Catholic, largely because of a promise my mom made. When I was a year old I was diagnosed with a kind of Muscular Dystrophy (MD) that would kill me by the age of five if I was lucky. I don’t really know the time frame for all this, but when my parents got the news, my mom started praying like a maniac. I had tests done, and the news continued to be bad. I need to pause for a moment to explain a Catholic peculiarity here. A common misconception is that Catholics worship the Virgin Mary. The truth is that she has a very high place of honor, being that she is Jesus’ mother, and we recognize that her prayers are helpful and influential. Now to get back to my story, the news was bad, and eventually my mom gave up. Rather, she stopped praying to God, and asked Mary to pray for her because if anyone in the world knew what it was like to lose a child, it would be her.

Circumstances continued like this for about six months, if I remember correctly until one day my dad called my mom. He had taken me to an appointment and inexplicably, things had drastically changed. What had seemed like a ritual reiteration of a death sentence for six months had suddenly turned to a promise of life. Somehow the test results had drastically changed. I had a kind of MD, the effects of which were not entirely certain, but I would grow up, go to school, and do “normal kid stuff.” I did mention that my mom made a promise. When she asked Mary to pray for me, she promised that she would raise me as a “good Catholic girl,” so CCD was included in the “normal kid stuff” I ended up doing.

The truth is I have always been a believer in the sense that I want things to be true; I’m a bit gullible; my natural impulse is to trust people. As a child I believed in God, but when I was very young I knew him only vaguely as the Creator of the universe, and even then, not necessarily one who had a conscious mind or paid any attention to us. Eventually that changed. I came to believe that he paid attention to us, but mostly like someone watching an ant farm. As an older child, particularly in my middle school years, I just lost interest in God. I got busy doing more “normal kid stuff,” as does everyone.

In particular, my friends and I became very busy defending Mythic Island, an invented universe that was under siege from the wolf demon Agorauth. One of my friends and I created a comic for the school newspaper. I wrote the story and she drew the pictures. Every Friday night we would all congregate at my house, eat terrible pizza and play Star Wars Battlefront. Of course, since it was middle school, it wasn’t all fun. We can only assume that our group was comprised of the most unpopular kids in school. We all got picked on in one way or another.

High school changed things drastically and quickly. The summer before our Freshman year, we ended our Mythic Island adventure. That same year, one of my closest friends got incredibly busy with sports, so much so that we could hardly hang out. He also got a girlfriend, and I realized that boys could be more than just friends. Towards the end of that year I got a guitar who I named Francisco. You can probably imagine why.

At that time, I was still in CCD, and for a reason that was inexplicable at the time, I was hating it less and less. Most of my friends’ parents had allowed them to drop out years earlier, but my mom was not going to break her promise. CCD classes in ninth and tenth grade were structured towards getting students ready to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, should they choose to receive it. A “Yes” signifies that a person is an adult and active member in the Church. The odd thing was, though I was becoming more receptive to what we were learning, there was little emotion in it. It was just another class.

Another friend of mine was enrolled in the program after his parents divorced in the middle of our Freshman year because his dad thought it would be helpful for him. He hated every second of it. He had changed after the divorce. It had made him a completely different person. He was dispondent and reclusive. He stopped doing homework; wouldn’t hand in projects; intentionally failed tests. He was also rather disrespectful to our teacher in CCD, which I did not appreciate. I only mention these details about my friend because in part, I think it made me want to make up for it, so I participated more in class and I really listened. I wasn’t passive during that time.

We completed the Confirmation class at the end of our Sophomore year. It concludes with an all-day retreat at which we had discussions, weird spiritual activities which I didn’t exactly understand, and a mass, if I remember correctly. There was also a lot of free time, and my friend and I spent that time silently playing cards. At the end of the day we were given a letter written by our parents. I don’t remember much of what mine said. I do remember them saying they were proud of me, and that from this point on, my spirituality was my business. Finally, we were asked, “Will you be confirmed?” I said I would.

At the beginning of my Junior year I went through the actual ceremony, and I did keep going to church, but had I been asked at the time, I would not have been able to tell why. For the next two years I can, I think, accurately say that I was a Catholic in practice, but an agnostic in belief. I still didn’t really know who God was. I knew what he did, but that was it. During that time, I had begun to feel an increasing sense of loneliness. One of my friends had already had a girlfriend and a break-up. My other friend had been in a relationship for three years. I had never dated. However, this loneliness was more complex than the desire for a partner. I constantly needed to be around people. If I couldn’t find someone to be with on Friday nights, I would sit alone and cry. I felt unneeded, and I hated it.

Inevitably, we all graduated, and my friends went away to college. Because I need help with a few basic things, I commuted to school and lived at home. It so happened that I applied to two schools, and was only accepted to one, so that’s where I went. I had hated the school search. The whole thing felt wrong to me, but something about Gordon was different. Their campus was really nice. The people there were really nice. They had a creative writing program, which sounded really nice. I somehow felt at home there. Gordon is a Christian school, and I think normally I would have had reservations about that, but unlike every school I looked at, it just felt “right.”

Starting classes at Gordon was like stepping into a whole new universe. We started classes by praying. We were required to attend chapel three times a week, and I enjoyed it. People freely talked about having a relationship with Jesus. This was all great, except that it made me more lonely. The one thing I hung on to was that my classmates and teachers and chapel speakers had taught me to pray in a way my church hadn’t. Don’t get me wrong, now that I’ve been Christian for five years, I appreciate and use the more formal Catholic prayers quite a lot, but first I had to learn how to talk. It was shortly after we had begun classes in mid August that I had begun praying that God would help me find someone to love me. I prayed this almost every night before going to sleep with increasing desperation.

I don’t remember the exact date, but I can conclusively say I truly became Christian one night in October, 2011. I was lying in bed, and I was crying. I was praying from the darkest, lowest, smallest, loneliest part of my being. I don’t know what would have happened had it passed like any other night, but for some reason I said, “I love you,” and I felt an overwhelming sensation of comfort and peace and warmth, and I felt like I wasn’t alone in the best possible way. It was spontaneous, and my only explanation is that he was saying, “I’m not going to find someone for you. I love you.” A lot has happened since then. I almost left the Catholic Church, but have since fully embraced it for a number of reasons, which I won’t explain here. I’ve never dated and have become perfectly content being single. What was sparked at the moment of that “I love you” has turned into a real relationship. I have a writing career, and am studying theology independently. I don’t necessarily know where it will go, but I trust God.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly

How Far

When I graduated college I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m not sure anyone ever entirely figures that out. Even when one has a normal, well-paying, steady job, has a fabulous relationship, or is happily single, has a nice place to live, has good friends, etc, it’s hard to know if one is ever really satisfied or has figured it out. I think we spend our whole lives “figuring it out,” and I’m not sure that goal is often accomplished in this life. This is all probably pretty cliche by now, but it matters. I think it’s important to be okay with admitting that you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going or why. I’ve been getting more comfortable about answering hard questions with “I don’t know.” There are a million questions that I don’t know the answer to, and that’s okay.

I do think it’s important to keep asking questions and to keep learning. On Thursday I went to confession and admitted to something I’ve been avoiding for a long time, and once I did, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me. Of course, later I accidentally did it again. However, I think I figured out how to solve the problem. Something I’ve been thinking about for months now is how an infinite, perfect God, who loves everyone, and made everything not only pays attention to, but loves me no matter what. It’s actually the “no matter what” part that baffles me most. The ironic thing is that the more I get to know Jesus, the more I see my own imperfections. I keep trying to answer questions about why he created me and why he loves me, when he just does. I keep asking these questions that I can’t answer because I’m broken and he’s not.

Yesterday I came up with a new question. Why am I broken? Obviously I can jump to original sin, and all that noise, but really my question is, why did humans turn against God in the first place? The cliche answer, of course, is “because we have free will, and maybe we wanted to see what would happen,” or something along those lines. I don’t think people ever entirely grow out of the curious, rebellious child phase. I still have it in me, anyway. I don’t think there is a good explanation. While I don’t like it, I guess it’s a good thing that I’m seeing my mess more, and I do want to clean it up. Before receiving communion in the Catholic Church (and it’s probably the same in other churches), we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” I think it’s helpful to think of my soul as a messy house. He sees the mess and likes me anyway. He doesn’t approve of the mess, and that’s why I’m going to clean it up.

Jesus taught me what love is. I don’t mean that I understand it because of his actions or his teachings, at least not entirely. What I really mean is that he loved me until I loved him back. He loves me completely so I can love him more. Trust me, if it sounds weird to you, it sounds weird to me, too. It understandably sounds insane. For awhile I was using the word “unbelievable,” but that’s not entirely accurate. I’ve switched to “amazing,” which doesn’t really do the feeling justice. It’s amazing and awe-inspiring and baffling and crazy and exciting and a lot of other things that I don’t really have words for. The God of the universe, who was also a regular human being two thousand years ago, and is actually more human than I am, loves me, and I love him.

A lot of things about God “just are.” He wants us to love him because he loves us and he loves us because that’s just what he does. That’s who he is. He has infinite power and can do literally impossible things, but the very core of his being is love, and what’s crazy is that it makes him relatable and in some sense, vulnerable because we can say “no” to that love. He made us knowing that, not only was it a possibility, but that it was going to happen.

Last night I woke up crazy late (or early) and couldn’t sleep for a while, so I decided to read. The Bible site I use was open on my phone, so I went to the chapter I hadn’t read yet this time around, which included the story of the Prodigal Son. Last week, really by accident, I watched a video about this story. Apparently the people Jesus was teaching were familiar with another story that is similar to this one, only at the end of it, the kid’s father gives him exactly what he asks for and no longer considers him his son. I decided to try and find that story, so I googled “prodigal son,” and I didn’t find the story I was looking for, but I did find an analysis of Jesus’ story, which emphasized the role of the older brother.

Apparently, according to Jewish law, the older brother would have got two thirds of his father’s estate when he split it up–not half. Also, while the brothers owned the money and the stuff, they didn’t have control over it, exactly. The younger brother could sell his third, but for one thing, he would have sold it at a loss, and for another, it would have to stay with his father until his father’s death. Furthermore, by asking his dad to split up his belongings in the first place, the younger brother is basically saying that he wants him to hurry up and die. The older brother says nothing. He just takes his two thirds instead of trying to make peace between his dad and his brother. At the end of the story, he’s ticked that his brother is back and safe, but when his dad says “Everything I own is yours,” he means it quite literally.

I think it’s possible to see ourselves in both brothers. Even last night I felt stupid for doing the exact same thing I had confessed to only hours before on Thursday. Sometimes when that kind of thing happens I get a little crazy, so last night after reading that analysis I was praying and I just kept thinking, “Please forgive me.” And then I remembered. It’s no matter what. In the story, God is represented by the forgiving father. He willingly does what his son asks, and immediately forgives him. There’s no mention of anger. I realized last night that sometimes life would be easier if I knew for sure that God was mad at me, but really this is because it’s easy to get mad at someone if they’re mad at you first, so I dropped that thought. Confession is kind of a tool. When I go, it’s not always because I want to. It’s because “sorry” doesn’t really cut it. It’s because explaining what I’ve done wrong isn’t easy, but it’s liberating.

Before returning to heaven, Jesus tells his disciples, “what sins you forgive are forgiven.” He allows people to forgive sins for him. God already knows what we’re going to do, let alone what we’ve done. I think that’s a large part of the reason it’s important to confess to a priest. It’s for us. It seriously cuts through a person’s ego sometimes. It took me quite a while to admit what I needed to, but the first time is the hardest. I think God allowed me to make the same mistake again (key word being “allowed”) so that I’d have to admit it again today. He knows that really irritates me. God doesn’t make anyone do anything. He only asks us to do things, and if we say “yes,” then he’ll work with us to see how far that “yes” will go.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

The Language Of Love

Words are very powerful. They can change our entire outlook on life. They can inspire us. They can make us feel good. They can change the world. Words spoken with authority make things happen. Words spoken with love can make you fall apart. Words can move us even if we don’t understand them initially. Still, sometimes words cannot express the beauty or tragedy of certain situations or artistic expressions.

I spent four years of my life essentially studying words. I learned how to write poetry and stories. I learned about the difference between heard and read language, and its emotional impacts, as well as its artistic value. I learned that words really can make someone immortal. I discovered my love for Seamus Heaney the year he died. His poetry is perfectly put together, even when its subject matter is ugly. It isn’t always fluid, but even when it seems stylistically cold or even rude, there’s some kind of life in it. I still find it beautiful.

I’ve been trying to make sure I work on my novel every day now, and I’m getting a lot done. I like what I’ve been coming up with, both in terms of where the plot is going, and in terms of style. There are parts of my novel that are intentionally very technical. Admittedly, I like sounding smart, but these very technical explanations are also simply necessary for the potential audience to understand what’s going on in the world and how things like psychic abilities work. I’m very grateful for what I learned at school, through practice, and for all the great writer’s I’ve been introduced to. Not all of them are well known. These include fantasy writers, movie script writers, and songwriters, as well as some of the “greats” I was exposed to at school. As a science-fiction writer, some of my greatest influences have been amazing, underrated movies.

As a songwriter, poet and composer, I’ve also come to realize that sometimes words have the most meaning in their absence. In my latest musical composition, there’s a lot of silence, but it’s certainly not dead space. The meaning is in the silences. Truthfully I haven’t thought a whole lot about it, but I think it’s evocative of the idea that we don’t realize how much value something has until it’s gone. The leading part of it is the violin. There is a part of this piece that is meant to be uncomfortable. All other instruments cut out and the violin part seems almost faulty, like a flickering light that could go out at any moment. The point is that the light doesn’t go out. The piece is called “Love For You.” True love doesn’t die. True love is immortal.

Over the past year I read the Bible cover to cover. From an artistic standpoint, it’s not pretty. From an artistic standpoint, it seems downright chaotic. If one were to put it into musical terms, it might turn out to be something like free form Jazz with lots of augmented and diminished chords. It would probably sound rather jarring. This is according to a strictly aesthetic reading. Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God. This is particularly important for someone who calls herself an artist and a writer. Quite frankly, I can’t stand Jazz, particularly free form. I don’t read the Bible from a strictly aesthetic standpoint. If I do, it sounds like free form Jazz. However, the Word of God isn’t simply what’s written in a book.

A lot of things about God, and quite frankly, about life in general are paradoxical. For one thing, spirituality is both objective and subjective. It is an individual striving for objective Truth and Beauty. In a Christian context, we believe that Jesus is alive and that he is the Word of God, and we believe that the Bible is the Word of God. We also believe in the Holy Spirit who works in us individually and collectively. God is one nature in three people: Father, Son, and Spirit. The Church is the body of Christ, so ideally, it’s one nature in a heck of a lot of people.

What does all this mean for an artist, particularly one whose main medium of artistic expression is written word? What does it mean in a broader context? Language matters. There’s no way around it. We can’t relate to the world outside of language. We can’t really even think outside of language. I’ve noticed that Saint Paul emphasizes the impact our use of language has when relating to other people. We’re meant to speak wisely and not offensively. At the same time, we’re meant to relate to other people in order to teach by example who Jesus is. This presents an odd dilemma when it comes to writing my novel. Most of my language when I speak is pretty mild, depending on who I’m with. I hardly ever swear, and when I do, it’s because I’m making a joke and I know the person I’m with will find it funny. On the other hand, some of my characters have very dirty mouths.

In some ways I find myself in my characters. It’s probably impossible not to. In fact, I initially intended to model Kithryd, my first character, very much after myself. However, I think she had absolutely no intention of being me. At some point, probably even earlier than I could identify, she took on her own identity. She’s very assertive and vocally bitter about things, but she is like me in that she’s introverted. I find myself more in another character I had not even entirely intended to create. Iris has a great love for her friends and her little brother, and she greatly desires to work for the greater good. However, she deals with a lot of mental illness, which simply isn’t a problem for me. I find myself least in Tabby. Tabby has no real love for the world as it is, but does keep the greater good in mind. However, she’s a generally angry, pessimistic person. She’s also very impulsive and does not care who she offends. For some reason I find her to be one of the easiest characters to write.

I created Tabby. I created an angry, offensive woman. She came from me somehow. She is somehow part of my soul. All of my characters, in one way or another, represent some part of my soul. They’ve all lost someone or something very important to them. They’ve all been shunned for one reason or another. Some of them are angry. Some of them are scared. Some of them, like Aven, are peaceful and unafraid. My novel as a whole presents the world as a dark, scary, Godless place. I don’t view the world in this way, but I know a lot of people do. I’m writing this for a few different reasons. I’m writing because I can and because my parents told me to. I’m also writing because I think God wants me to, though why he wants me to write this particular novel I don’t know. “Why” isn’t a question he often answers. In some ways it’s a thought experiment.

I don’t know if we become our words or our words become us. Maybe it’s both. The same could be said for any art form. Jesus is the Word of God in the most literal sense. This means a lot. For the record, I’m stealing several of my next points from Bishop Robert Barron because he’s smarter than me. Jesus is alive. In other words, he is active in the world. What does it mean for the Word to be active? It means he is causal. He is authoritative. He’s making stuff happen. Two points that Bishop Barron brings up are that God’s Word is active by nature. God creates simply by speaking things into being. He also emphasizes the opening lines of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This means that whatever Jesus does and says is necessarily true in an active sense.

Words, like music are significant and often causal in their absence. The absence evokes ideas and emotions. In fact, we can’t have language without the absence of words. The Word of God is living language. It is the Language of love. What is significant about this is that a language can only be “alive” if it is shared, i.e. spoken among living people. Jesus said that after he went up into heaven he would send his Spirit. Bishop Barron suggests that the best way to understand the Holy Spirit is that it is the love of God, both between the Father and the Son, and between God and humans. This love can never die because it is shared in the Trinity. We don’t have to participate for this language to live. Jesus allows us to participate when he introduces the Eucharist. John 6:56 says, “If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you are one with me and I am one with you.”

Just before this, he talks about how one has to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. God is eternal and infinite. Jesus is God. If we share in the Eucharist we are one with him. We become one with him in the way that a family can be seen as a single unit, for example. If we are one with him, we have eternal life. If Jesus is the Word of God, i.e. the Language of Love, then by extension, the Eucharist is the Language of Love. I said that words can make a person immortal. The words of Shakespeare endure to this day. The difference is that Shakespeare’s words are not truly “alive” in the sense that they do anything other than entertain and perhaps inspire good writing. However, Jesus invites us to speak his language.

Language is not simply expressed in what we say or what we write. Ideas are conveyed through body language and actions. A principal I learned at school is that in good writing, less is often more. In order to convey an idea, we should show, not tell what a character is feeling or what’s going on in a particular situation. We know that certain facial expressions, for example, can be understood and translated into actual words, but they are not needed. Love is like this. A feeling or a spiritual prompting turns into an art piece or an act of charity. Love has no reason. It just is. Because of its nature it cannot simply be expressed in words. Love in words alone is empty. It isn’t love at all. True love entails action, and on some level, it always entails sacrifice. To truly love someone one must give one’s self to the other. This always means different things to different people at different times. John 15:13 says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Jesus is referring to his very literal sacrifice of love for all of us. However, because God’s Word is eternal, he is also telling us what we must do as his friends for the rest of humanity. Love entails some kind of sacrifice. Maybe it means sacrificing some comfort. Maybe it means sacrificing some excess money. Maybe it means sacrificing time we could be spending having fun. Maybe it means sacrificing our pride. As I said, it means something different for every person.

Love and life are synonymous. Without love, life is not worth living. The fact of the matter is that everyone is loved, and this is why it’s so important that people know Jesus. It’s not about where we end up when we die. It’s not about judgment. It’s not about religion or where we’re supposed to be on Sunday morning. That stuff is secondary. It’s about knowing that we are loved. When Pope Francis was visiting the U.S. a little kid asked him, “What did God do before he created the world?” He answered, “Before God created anything, he loved.” God created the world because he loved the world. He created each of us because he loved us first. That’s the message Jesus wants us to tell the whole world. That is the most important thing in the Christian faith. Without love, nothing else matters.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Confessions Of A Gospel Snob

I’m kind of tired of the New Testament. Earlier this summer I decided I would read the Bible cover to cover, so for the past several weeks I’ve been making my way through Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and now, I’m in Numbers. It’s been both strange and refreshing. Honestly, I’m just kind of tired of the same old Christian posts on here and Facebook, and quite frankly, everywhere else. A lot of us (I’m sure I’m guilty, too) tend to just cycle through the same old ideas, and while they’re still true, and always will be, they just start to sound empty.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the message of the Gospel. I love Jesus. It’s all good over here. I just think that we need to find some new way of talking about it. Put it this way: it’s not cool. I know that’s not the point, and maybe you can’t express it in a way that’s “cool,” I also think that we need to get creative, especially if we’re going to teach the Gospel to younger people, and especially the next generation. I don’t know whether or not my brother is planning on ever having kids, but if he is, I want to make sure they know who Jesus is. I don’t know if I can trust my brother enough to do that (at least right now). I honestly have no idea what he believes. He’s an enigma to me. I can’t get a straight answer out of him, either. Alas.

What Iv’e read so far of the Old Testament has been interesting. Some things have been surprising. Some of the things God requires of Israel, and some of the things he does are confusing. It’s certainly different than the teaching of the Catholic Church in a lot of ways. I’m very interested to read the New Testament in perspective. I’m enjoying reading the Bible like this. I’m just focusing on it like it’s a story or a text book, which is different from my usual take on it (for obvious reasons). I think it’s actually helpful to view it in this way, which I haven’t done before, outside of school. The last time I did this kind of thing was four years ago, and that was for school.

I want to know God better. I don’t read the Bible enough. Some people read it every day. I think I’m just stubborn. I convince myself that I’m to busy, but I’m really not. I’m finding lately that I’m not very good at prayer. I find it difficult. I think I’ve always kind of had this problem, but I just haven’t noticed it. I probably just think too much about it. I don’t pray about what I’m reading. I probably should.

I trust God, and I love him. I can honestly say that because I’ve made it through some rocky places and come out better for the trouble. I think too much. It’s a giant pain in the neck sometimes. I’m a superstitious person. Before I was Christian I was willing to believe just about anything, and now that I am Christian, I’m willing to believe a lot (i.e. all my eggs are in one basket). I’m stubborn about it, too. That’s why I think we need to change the way the Gospel is presented. We need to make it “cool” while still being truthful. I’m not sure how to do that, but I’m sure we can figure it out. I definitely think music helps. Music is super helpful, actually. We need to exploit every medium we can. Not only that, but we need to invent new ways of expressing things. I know I’ve done this rant before, so I’ll shut up now.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Do Me A Favor

When I was in high school I was a deist. I believed in some sort of divine entity, but didn’t think he had a whole lot to do with humanity any more. There were a few reasons for this. The first was that I couldn’t understand why, if God supposedly loved humanity, he would allow so much pain and suffering. The second was that I was looking for a miracle; I was looking for the pillar of flames, and I wasn’t seeing the smaller miracles that happen all the time. The third was that I had been taught God’s wrath without being taught God’s love, and even though I prayed occasionally, I had no idea that one could have a personal relationship with him. The fourth reason was that, put simply, I was too scared to be an atheist.

In my high school, on the coolness scale, spirituality worked something like this: atheism was cool, agnosticism was weak, and religion; particularly Christianity was boring or a joke at best, and at worst, insensitive and exclusive. The fact of the matter was, I grew up Catholic. I wanted to be a rebel, so my deism might have also been a part of that. I was too scared to be an atheist, and the picture I had in my head of what God was like was too clear for me to be an agnostic. So I was a deist, even though I didn’t have a word for it at the time.

One of my close friends in middle school was an atheist, and one of my best friends now is an atheist. Honestly, I think that must take a lot of courage. The idea of dying without a God or an afterlife doesn’t scare me. In fact, death doesn’t scare me at all. If there were no afterlife, one would just go to sleep, and that would be that. If there is an afterlife, it’s just an added bonus. No, what scares me is the idea of living without a God. I know what it’s like. I’ve done it, and at least in my experience, it was awful. I was lonely and scared, and I felt very small all the time. True, these feelings, in part, just come with being a teenager, but they also come, in part, just with being human. Sometimes I still do feel small and helpless, but I also know that the most powerful being in the universe is looking out for me, and it’s okay that I’m small. I don’t have to completely fend for myself all the time.

It must be sort of like how my bird thinks about me. Without me taking care of him, he probably wouldn’t last very long, but he knows I love him, and if he wants something, a lot of the time I’ll give it to him. I’m nice to him, and we love each other. On the flip side, I don’t need him to survive, but I bought him because I wanted someone who would love me and who would be excited to see me in the morning. He is a pain in the neck, and sometimes I have to give him a time-out, but then I let him out and we make friends, and he gets to be my little co-pilot when I’m beating my dad at video games.

Quite frankly, I don’t know how I would get through the day sometimes without knowing that God is taking care of me. Does that mean that every single thing I do is going to work out perfectly? No, of course not. This is not a perfect world. What it means is that I’m not alone in my experiences. It means that, while I don’t have a set, definite road, I have a destination, and God knows how to get me there. That destination might be in this life or the next, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I’m living, and I’m working, and I’m playing, and I’m trying to make this world a little more like what God intended for it.

I get that a lot of this doesn’t make sense if you don’t believe in God in the first place. I get that, for various reasons, people are angry with God. I can’t tell you what to think, but I can tell you that it’s okay to be angry with God, and it’s okay not to understand him. Just do me a favor and talk to him. Being mad at God forever or refusing to believe forever is like being angry at, or ignoring a friend forever. Just do me a favor and talk to him.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!