Tag Archives: Catholic

Lent: Prayer; Fasting; Alms-giving

I’m just a couple of days into Lent. I never like it per se, but I always try to make it productive and helpful in my spiritual growth. Lent is about Fasting, in other words, sacrificing in some way for God, focusing on prayer more, and alms-giving, or generosity. I initially decided to give up coffee because I Really. Love .Coffee. I figured out that it costs about $2 to buy a cup of coffee, and since Lent is forty days, I’ll give $80 to a charity through our church.

Then I realized I could do a few other things. I play this dumb game, 2048 on my phone. I realized that I spend kind of a lot of time on it, just when I have to wait, or whatever. I didn’t realize just how much time I spend playing it. So I cut that, too. Then I realized that I spend an awful lot of time “curiosity questing,” which basically means watching a lot of lectures and what not on YouTube, or listening to several hours worth of podcast episodes. I cut that, too. I went a little hard-core this year.

It feels awkward, but somehow I’m finding it easier than expected. On Wednesday after work I ran into the question “Uh… what do I do now?” I could have read, but at the moment, I’m reading The Divine Comedy, which requires the capacity to think. My brain was sort of shot at that point, so I had two options: video games, or prayer. I opted for the latter. For the record, it’s not because I’m some holy woman. It’s because I didn’t feel like playing any of the games I have. I actually ended up checking out some stuff from FORMED. I realized, maybe a bit too slowly, that it’s basically Catholic Netflix.

I ended up checking out a series called “Into The Desert.” It’s actually quite good, and it’s about a type of prayer called Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading. Basically, there are four steps to it, but one is supposed to start by simply reading a bit of Scripture, meditating on it, and then praying with that in mind. I’ve been working on that over the past couple of days. There aren’t too many episodes, and they’re not too long, so I figure I’ll watch the rest of these and see where things go. A suggestion I read for something to do over Lent is to carefully read the Gospel of Mark since it’s the shortest and most concise. I’m trying to use what I’ve learned so far while reading the Gospel. I think it’s been a fruitful experience.

I also decided a while ago that I’d commit to praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary every day during Lent. I woke up around five this morning, and couldn’t fall back asleep, so I read and prayed for a while. Sometimes I do the Rosary with a recording that uses Scripture verses. I got to the verse where Pilate says to the crowd, “I’m innocent of this righteous man’s blood. See to it yourselves.” I thought, “If you don’t do anything to stop something bad from happening to an innocent person when you very well could, you’re definitely guilty.” It then hit me that I’m guilty, or at least I’ve been guilty.

I know I’ve probably been there. I know there have been times where I could have stopped something bad, or at least inconvenient from happening to someone, and I did nothing. The thing is, I can’t think of any concrete examples. I think we’re blind to it. I can think of a time recently when I did do something. I’ll be getting a new wheelchair soon, so my dad and I went to the hospital recently to meet with someone who needed to show me some features, figure out exactly what I want, and get some measurements. While we were in the waiting room, there was a woman with a fussy kid in a stroller. She was the kind of kid who would drive any normal person, myself included, crazy.

My inclination was to ignore them. The kid was seriously bored and whiney, and refused to indulge in any of the things her mom offered her to alleviate the boredom. I was bored, too. We had to wait I while. I didn’t have my phone, or it was dead, so I asked my dad to help me get my Rosary, which I normally have in my bag. Apparently I had left it at home. The kid’s mom, I could tell, was getting frustrated, so I said, “Hey, kid… you want a ride? You can ride on the back of my wheelchair, or sit on my lap if you want.” The kid didn’t respond, and her mom kindly declined, but I could tell she was at least vaguely relieved and grateful for some offer of help. Thus we commiserated.

Sometimes commiseration is all you can offer, but commiseration, I know from experience, is better than nothing. I sometimes wonder why Saint John or Mary–Jesus’ Mom–never said anything while standing by the cross. They couldn’t have said, “It’ll be okay.” He was dying. Yeah, He was going to rise from the dead, and Mary probably knew that, and maybe John kind of knew that, at least in theory, but the fact of the matter was that He was dying. All they could do was stand there so He knew, and could see that somebody cared enough to stand there.

In the video I watched today, Dr. Tim Gray talked about how prayer is about relationship, and intimacy with God. He said that God is love, and if we are to converse with, and know God–know Love–we have to know how to love. He said that before Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He talked about alms-giving; charity; generosity. After He talked about prayer, He talked about fasting. Particularly, when talking about fasting, He explains that we’re not supposed to look miserable and whine about it while we’re doing it so that people will see that we’re doing it and believe that we’re holy by default.

In fact, Jesus says that we’re meant to be discreet about what we do when it comes to fasting, charity, and prayer. We’re not supposed to brag about it, and we’re not supposed to whine about it. Realistically, the things I dropped this Lent were just habits that can be broken or adjusted. I think I’ll permanently drop 2048. I’ll definitely be having a cup of coffee on Easter, though. The “curiosity questing” just needs to be monitored better, so this will certainly help with that. I’m glad I’m really cutting all of it down, though because I’m already, just within the past two days, praying a lot more, and I think, being more thoughtful about it. Anyway, that’s it for now.

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Pray Without Ceasing

I mentioned in a recent post that many Christians, myself included, sometimes view prayer as another thing to check off the “to do” list. Many people have specific times every day that we pray, whether it’s when we get up in the morning and when we go to bed, when we have our meals, or at specific prescribed hours. Some use specific methods, formulae, or scripts. Some don’t. However, the Lord asks us, through Saint Paul, to “pray without ceasing.” As I said, many of us make the mistake of allowing prayer to be something to check off the list. This inevitably makes it feel tedious when it should be a real, genuine conversation with the Lord.

As I mentioned in my post about idolatry, prayer doesn’t necessarily have to be done in any specific way. We can laugh with the Lord while watching a funny movie, or cry with Him when we hear some bad news. Lately, I find myself asking for small favors, and because He grants them so readily, I remember to thank Him. It doesn’t even have to involve words. When we’re lost for words for whatever reason, sometimes all we can do is acknowledge that He’s there, and that He’s God, and we’re not. Sometimes that feels really good, and sometimes it feels scary, but sometimes that’s what needs to happen, and sometimes it’s all we can manage.

I don’t think I’ve reached the point to where I literally pray without ceasing, but I can say I pray a lot, largely in small ways, and I thought it would be helpful since we are nearing Lent to share some of my prayer habits.

1: Say “Good morning,” and “Good night.”

This is really easy, and can actually sometimes be really hard. I don’t remember exactly when I came up with this prayer, but it’s short, sweet and to the point: “Good morning, Lord. It’s a good morning because it’s one that You made.” Sometimes that can be hard to say because either, the previous day was crappy, and it’s still on my mind, or I’m anticipating something I don’t want to deal with on the day that I’m waking up into. Regardless, Good is good, anything He makes is good, and therefore, regardless of my own circumstances, the day I’m waking up into is good. Similarly, I say “Good night,” to God because it’s my way of leaving everything to Him. It also just makes sense. If I say “good night” to my parents, then obviously, I’m going to say it to my Heavenly Father.

2: Along with that, have other prescribed times.

These don’t have to be specific (e.g. at 7:00 PM). For example, after I say “Good morning,” I sometimes go straight to the Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. Other times, I’ll let my mind wander for a bit. I don’t wake up at the same time, every day, so sometimes this is done at 6:00 AM. Other times, it’s done at 2:00 PM. It just depends on when I went to bed the night before, and when I woke up, and sometimes, if I had insomnia or not (the plight of being an artist). I also do Evening Prayer from the Liturgy when I finish whatever it is I finish work for a given day. Sometimes that’s at 6:00 PM, and sometimes it’s at 9:00 PM. Sometimes I don’t have time for this prayer until right before I go to bed, which on Thursdays isn’t until Midnight or after. I also pray before meals, and when I’m in the shower.

3: Unscripted prayers should be short, personal, honest, and to the point.

I’ve had to have several priests tell me this, but it’s okay to be angry at God, and it’s okay to use your own vocabulary. When I’m pissed off about something, I just tell Him. I’m the kind of person who thinks too much. I know that. Because of that, I can sometimes be a bit of a melancholic. I have to refrain from watching the news a lot of times because it can get me into a really bad place emotionally. When something really bad is happening, and I’m kind of stuck in it, sometimes my most meaningful, honest prayer is, “This sucks, Lord.”

4: When you don’t have the words, but you want to pray, just start with what you’ve been given.

Growing up, we weren’t the kind of Catholic family who prayed before meals, said the Rosary together at night, and went to church every single Sunday. I never really learned to pray anything other than the “Lord’s Prayer” until I went to college. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, my teenage years were a pretty desperate time for me, but I wasn’t using even what I had been given. If nothing else, I could just have said the “Lord’s Prayer,” and he would have known what I needed. Of course, I didn’t know that because at that point in time, I didn’t really know anything about God.

5: Be quirky.

This is sort of a small thing, but sort of a big thing, too. We’re all different people. I’m an abstract-thinking person. The other day, the phrase, “Come to me, and you will find rest,” popped into my head. I thought, “You know, I know that, Lord, but I’m not sure I understand it, really. I have an idea, though.” I got my guitar and said, “I’m just gonna play, and You use me, and I’ll just let You direct me, and show me what that ‘rest’ sounds like.” What He showed me was the inspiration for an instrumental tune that’s going to be on my upcoming album. Sometimes just letting Him play guitar through You can be a form of prayer.

6: Read stuff, and try stuff.

I was really good about praying the Rosary every single day for a long time. Now I’m not great. It takes twenty minutes, and I often simply don’t have time. Instead I try to do the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which takes about six and a half minutes, and you use Rosary beads for it. It was given to Saint Faustina in a vision by Jesus, and given my somewhat melancholic tendencies, I find a lot of hope in it. I also recently learned about the Catholic Acronym, F.I.N.C.H., which is about the message of Divine Mercy that Jesus wanted to share with everyone through Saint Faustina. (F) is the Feast of Divine Mercy, which takes place the Sunday after Easter. On this day, Jesus promised to give significant mercy to His people. This was not a one-time thing. You can check out the details online. (I) is the Image of Divine Mercy, which Jesus told to have Saint Faustina to have painted. This image is supposed to remind us of His Mercy, and of the fact that we can trust Him. (N) is the Novena of Divine Mercy. The Novena is simply that one should pray the Chaplet every day between Good Friday and the Feast of Divine Mercy. (H) is the Hour of Divine Mercy, which is at 3:00 PM when Jesus died. We are to make note of this, and, if we have time, to spend an hour with the Lord in prayer, or just to say a prayer of thanks for His sacrifice. I’m definitely a fan of the Divine Mercy stuff. If this doesn’t strike a chord with you, try something else.

I try to keep my prayer routine at a good mix of stream-of-consciousness, and scripted stuff. Both are, or at least can be meaningful. I find also, that a good time to pray is before I start my work for the day, whether that is writing a song, writing for the blog, or working on another project. I can get stuff done on my own, sure, but it’s a lot easier when I ask for help. Today I started working out how I’m going to organize a pretty big project I’ll be working on with my Godfather, and I knew that if I didn’t ask for help I’d get nowhere. I was sleepy to begin with, and really, I should never be in charge of organizing anything. With that in mind, I prayed, and it took me some time, but I figured out exactly what needed to be done for at least the first draft. When I finished, I just said “Thank you, Lord.”

That’s the last thing I want to make note of because it’s super important. Say “Thank You.” Our parents teach us to say “Please” and “Thank you,” when we’re kids, and I think anyone with good manners remembers to say this to other human beings. The crazy thing is, we ask for stuff from God, and God provides, but so many times, we just forget to say, “Thank You.” God is good, and I think we just expect to get what we ask for. I may be twenty-five, but I’m still a spoiled kid. Granted, sometimes I don’t realize until later that God has answered one of my prayers, because He can be very subtle, and there is absolute wonderful joy in that realization. Especially then, I’d say it’s important to give thanks.

To those who are really just getting started, though, keep in mind that Christianity is about love. Just start from the heart. Talk to God like you’re talking to your best friend, because that’s who He is. I’ve had to learn a lot of this by accident, but another great place to start is to go to Adoration. Find a church that offers it at a time that works for you, and just sit with Jesus. If you can’t figure out what to say, say nothing. Let Him get the conversation going, because He will. Let Him help. He loves you.

American Idols

I never watched the show “American Idol.” When “The Voice” came out, which was basically the same thing, I watched some of that. I do like to see people’s talents. I had an interesting conversation with my producer recently about my talents and his. I’ve said it before, but I can confidently say that I’m a good songwriter, and my talents have improved over time. I’m an okay singer, and again, I’ve got better over time. My producer is likewise, amazing at what he does. He can take the bare bones of something I’ve written, so melody, lyrics, and harmony if I’ve planned it ahead of time, and turn it into a ridiculously awesome song.

When I was in middle and high school I would probably say that, in some ways, I worshiped various musicians. I think humans are naturally inclined to worship something, and if it’s not God, it’s a band, a sports team, money, the leader of their political party, or maybe a pantheon of these things. I’ve come to realize that something people idolize these days is time. Personal time is a high priority for people. I get it. if I had all the time in the world and no relationships or consequences to think about, I would spend eons playing video games and reading fantasy books.

As it is, I do have relationships and consequences to think about, so I don’t do what I am naturally inclined to do. What or who we worship is a choice, and choices have consequences. What’s frustrating is that none of the CCD students I teach attend Mass. They are all completely obsessed with whatever sports team they’re on, and of course, practice is on Sunday. I’m not frustrated with the kids. Their parents have made a game into an idol. They really had no choice. I’m frustrated with the parents, though, because they have chosen their idols, and they are passing those idols onto their children, and that’s dangerous.

Today I taught the kids about Ash Wednesday. It’s early, but the lessons kind of jump around all over the place. I explained to them that God loves us enough to die for us. He made His choice. No matter what, we are worth that to Him. I explained to the kids that the ashes are a sign of acknowledging our sinfulness, but they’re in the sign of a cross because God claims us as His, sins and all. I don’t know how to get that to sink in, but I’m trying.

Still, I know that soccer is more important to them than God is. I was the same way as a kid. The trouble is, you can’t just tell someone that God loves them and they’ll magically believe it. You have to choose to believe something, and even then, we’re meant to have a relationship with God. To these kids, God is a stranger, and the thing is, he’s not intrusive. He waits for our invitation. I only offered an invitation when I had nowhere else to turn. Misery was what it took for me. I don’t want these kids to have to go there.

I started rereading the book of Jeremiah. I wrote a post about this a long time ago, but Jeremiah was speaking on God’s behalf at a time when Israel had turned to many idols. It was also a warning. God said that the Babylonians would come and take them as captives if they didn’t repent, particularly of their idolatry. God allowed their defeat and exile because they didn’t acknowledge Him as their God. If they had asked and said they were sorry, God would have somehow helped. My guess is that might have looked like another nation allying themselves with Israel or something.

Some might construe this as God being petty. Actually, it’s as if you completely ignored your best friend right in front of them, even as they’re speaking to you, and instead, made conversation to a napkin. Your friend would certainly be offended. Because they loved you, they would try to get your attention, try to repair the relationship, and try to get you to see their hurt and get you to apologize, but eventually, that friendship would break. That’s what happens when we find or create idols.

No one likes to talk about Hell. I don’t like to talk about Hell. Sometimes as Christians, we have to. What people don’t realize is that Hell is a choice. We have so much freedom as human beings, and not enough people realize it. The difference between Heaven and Hell probably isn’t what a lot of people think. The difference is, eternal life with perfect happiness and love, or eternal life without it. God is Love. To choose to worship something else is to choose a loveless life.

Don’t get me wrong, leisure is important. If we don’t take time to relax, or do something enjoyable, we’ll lose it. That’s a given. All I’m really trying to say is, remember who loves you most, and make Him your number one priority. It’s not that hard. One thing I think people get hung up on is, they think about prayer as one more thing to get to. Prayer is just an ongoing conversation. You can talk to God when you’re watching a funny movie, for example. Comment about it to Him; laugh with Him. Talk to Him at work like you talk to your coworkers.

Idolatry is probably the easiest sin to commit. I think most people have the misconception that God is loud and scary. He’s not; at least not usually. On the other hand, the idols of the world clamor for our attention, and it’s easy to get sucked in. Luckily, our God is merciful, and we have the sacrament of penance. We can go to our Father and say “I’m sorry,” and He forgives us. There’s a misconception about this, however. Many wonder why we have to go to a priest. First of all, we can and should say we’re sorry to God right away. We go to a priest because he forgives us on behalf of God, but also on behalf of the Church.

The Church is the mystical body of Christ, so when an individual sins, we’ve not only hurt our own souls, but we’ve hurt the whole Church. A good analogy is to think of sin as an injury. A venial, or what we might think of as a “small” sin, is like a small cut that we can put a bandaid on and it’ll heal on its own (as long as we apologize to God). A “bigger,” or mortal sin is like if you got a bigger cut and needed to get stitches, so you go to a doctor. That’s what the priest does in a sense. He gives you stitches for your soul.

We’re not on our own. We are responsible for our own souls, but also the wellbeing of the Church in general. Many Christians don’t realize this, and I think that’s part of the reason the Church suffers. No two Christians are truly strangers, even if they’ve never met. A forty-year-old Christian man in Africa is my brother, despite the fact that I don’t know his name or anything about him, because we have the same Heavenly Father. I think that’s what I love so much about the Church, and what makes idolatry so dangerous. God unites us. Idols divide.

Eyes That Speak

There’s a part of me that can’t help feeling bad for Judas. For a long time, I just hated him. Jesus has taught me about His mercy, and because of that, I can’t help feeling bad for a man who did a really terrible thing, but who still could have received that mercy. Earlier today I was thinking about when Peter denied knowing Jesus. He hadn’t meant to, but he looked Jesus in the eye after doing so, and I’m convinced that His eyes spoke to him. I’m convinced that those eyes said “I told you you’d deny Me. I forgive you.” I know that those eyes would have said the exact same thing to Judas had he been there, but I’m not convinced that Judas would have believed it.

The reason my attitude towards Judas has changed is that I’ve realized that I face a similar struggle as he did, only to a lesser degree. Judas did a selfish thing and betrayed a friend. Then he was utterly ashamed of what he did and became convinced that he was unlovable and irredeemable. Last night I read the part in John where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. It didn’t speak to me, but when I went back, and sort of “read” those eyes, those eyes spoke to me. Those eyes said to me, “You are never too messy for Me to love.” I needed those eyes to tell me that.

I’ve been listening to a podcast called “Catholic Stuff You Should Know,” which if you’re Catholic and nerdy, is just absolutely perfect. I stayed up ludicrously late listening to it last night, and one of the topics that was discussed were the theological virtues of faith hope and love. They talked about how each virtue has a vice that goes along with it, and how every person generally falls into a category of being strong in one virtue/vice, and really struggles with another. They said you basically have to “self-diagnose” to know where you fall, but my diagnosis is that I struggle with hope/despair, but am very strong in love/pride. It seems obvious that despair is the opposite of hope, but they explained that pride is the opposite of love, and not hate, because hate is a kind of disordered love, whereas pride is a cold indifference.

As I said, I struggle with hope/despair, and I think Judas went to the absolute negative extreme of this struggle. I don’t struggle with faith. Faith is about trust, but it’s also about maintaining an honest, ongoing relationship with God, too, and I think because I struggle with hope, I don’t have trouble being honest with Him. It doesn’t help that I’m a perfectionist. Even if it’s subconscious, my temptation is to believe that I can or even have to live up to a certain standard; that I can reach perfection on my own. I do know that I need His grace, but the truth is, sometimes I don’t want to admit I need it, and sometimes I’m hesitant to ask for it. Asking for mercy is still kind of nerve-wracking.

Obviously I didn’t see Jesus’ eyes when he inaudibly forgave Peter in the Bible passage I read today, but His eyes said something to me today. I have trouble forgiving myself even after I’ve gone to confession. I think those eyes said to me, “I’ve forgiven you. Now forgive yourself.” Sometimes I have to remind myself that Jesus is my King, so I’m going to take that as an order. I think it’s important to think about the things Jesus conveyed in his actions, and just the way he looked at people, and not just reduce Him to words. No one is as simple as even the most complicated things they say.

Holy Waiting

This Advent is a little different for me because I’m, in a sense, waiting for a new coming of my Savior into my life, but I’m also awaiting the birth of my godson, who is due in January. The baby shower was on the first Sunday of Advent, and it was a good party. A lot of people were there. I normally don’t do super well with crowds, so I helped amuse a couple little kids who were there and helped make some decorations for the baby’s room. We had a two hour drive home, so I spent some of the time praying the Rosary. At some point, the phrase “holy waiting” popped into my head. My initial thought was, “I hate waiting.”

I’m naturally curious, so I did give it some consideration, “How could waiting be holy?” Waiting is tedious and boring. I am obviously not alone in this sentiment. Then another thought popped into my head: “couldn’t any activity be holy, provided it’s not sinful in itself?” I was teaching my CCD students last week, and I mentioned that I’m a songwriter. I told them that most of my songs are, in some way, about God, prayers to God, or about things that God is or has been involved with in my life. In the studio, my producer and I pray before we get to work, and it’s obvious to us when God starts really working his magic. In this way, I do think that working on my music is a holy activity.

Truthfully, though, the idea of waiting being holy is hard to wrap my head around. Then again, there are different ways of waiting. Waiting for me usually involves mindlessly trying to beat my high score on 2048. I could spend the time reading scripture or praying, but honestly, when I’m waiting, I just don’t want to have to think that hard, or really at all. I want to kill the time so it feels like it’s going by faster. The fact of the matter is, though, I’m not “killing” the time, and it’s not going by any faster. I am wasting the time I’ve been given. Advent is precisely a time for waiting, and I think it’s a time for making waiting a holy occupation.

I’ve been waiting for my godson with his parents for a long time now, but in hindsight, it’s seemed like the time has gone by insanely fast, and I’m just really excited to meet him. I am not patient, but I think, in some way, waiting to meet him has made me a little more patient. I think to understand how waiting could be holy, though, we have to take a look at what Mary did during the first Advent. She waited, but I don’t think she worried. I checked out a reflection on this by two priests and a nun, who emphasized all the interruptions of the personal plans of Joseph and Mary during that time.

From the get-go, Mary was planning to marry Joseph. That was complicated when she was asked to be the mother of God, but she said, “yes.” That again was complicated when Joseph realized that she was pregnant, but not by him, and they had to have a difficult conversation. He was planning on “divorcing her quietly,” which would have been the kind and honorable thing to do, but he was then asked by an angel to be Jesus’ foster father. Things went pretty smoothly after that, but they weren’t a wealthy family by any means, it was the first century, and anything could have gone wrong at any point during the following several months. The point is, they trusted God, and it didn’t–until Mary was eight and a half months pregnant and they got the news they had to go to Bethlehem. That was not going to be an easy journey, but still, they trusted God. They had to trust God the whole way because they didn’t know where they were going to stay, or where or when Mary was going to give birth. In the Gospels, however, there’s no indication that either of them panicked or worried too much at any point.

There’s no knowing for sure what could have been going through their heads at any given point, but obviously, they would have had normal human concerns. To not worry at all would have been abnormal. Humans have needs and concerns that are unavoidable. The point is, they didn’t let those concerns take over. They knew that God would take care of them. In the reflection video I watched, they talked about waiting with God instead of waiting for Him to do something. They also emphasized the importance of being vulnerable and being still with Him.

Earlier today, while waiting for my mom to run a couple of errands, I sat in the car and just prayed, out loud, about nice, simple things. I have a tendency to only talk to God when something is freaking me out or when I or someone I know needs something. Today I told Him that the sky He made was beautiful, and later, while eating my lunch, I just talked about food. I told Him that I’d like to know what He ate when He was here on earth because He knows what I like, but I don’t know what He liked. Maybe taste preference wasn’t much of a luxury He could afford, especially when things were getting dangerous for Him, but I’d still like to know. Maybe it’s not the greatest example, but we were waiting–just waiting and talking. That is priceless time that is not wasted.

All that brings me back to the question of “how can waiting be holy?” I think it’s less abstract than I originally assumed. Talking to God while sitting in the car makes sitting in the car holy. I think one doesn’t even necessarily have to be praying for waiting to be a holy activity, though. I remember the night my dad and my aunt went and waited with my grandmother over the couple of days before my grandfather died. I wasn’t there, but I don’t think they talked much. They just waited and loved each other and him. I think that was holy waiting, too. I think simply hoping is a kind of holy waiting.

Advent is a time for hope because we’re reminded of the first Advent, and we’re once again, waiting for Christmas. Jesus’ coming into the world to save us was a historical event, but we revisit it every year not just to remember it, but because we can personally invite Him into our lives again, in a new way, as our Savior. Saying “yes” to His love, or to anyone’s love isn’t something we do once. The “holiday season” is chaotic, and truthfully, it kind of drives me crazy. It probably drives you crazy, too. Try to find some space in that craziness to be still, wait with God, and to be vulnerable and honest with Him. That, I think, is holy waiting.

The Battle Of Helm’s Deep

Church is sometimes awkward. This past weekend was the celebration of Christ the King. Our priest is really good at making things plain and simple. He said we all had to just stop and ask ourselves who or what is, or is going to be our king in the end. He said there are ultimately two questions one needs to ask in deciding who or what our king is going to be: 1) can this person or thing love me unconditionally, and 2), can this person or thing protect me? The choice is ours. That’s a complicated choice, and it’s one we often have to make more than once. I’ve made my choice, and I’ll continue to make the same choice. Jesus is my king. The reason our priest’s homily was awkward for me was that it brought something else to mind. I have to trust my king.

I have made my choice, and I will continue to make the same choice, as I said. Jesus is my king, and I trust Him. The problem is that I’m having trouble trusting the church hierarchy. He’s pointed out to me that He has allowed those in charge to have the power they have. That kind of means I have trouble trusting His patience and wisdom. I’m reminded of a scene from Lord of the Rings. It’s before the battle at Helm’s Deep. The people of Rohan are drastically outnumbered, and the king asks one of his servants, “Who am I gambling?” The servant, who is arming him for battle says, “You are our king, Sire,” To which the king responds, “And do you trust your king?” The servant says, “Your men, my Lord, will follow you to whatever end.”

Right now, I kind of feel like one of the soldiers of Rohan. I kind of feel like we’re outnumbered. In the end, Rohan won that battle, and I know we’ll win this one. I do trust my King, but I want to trust Him more. That was my awkward prayer at church yesterday. There is no other person or thing–not my parents, not my brother, and not my bird–who can love me absolutely unconditionally. Everyone has a breaking point. That’s a fact. My family can protect me from most things, but not everything; not death, and certainly not the consequences of sin. Only Jesus can do that, and I will worship only Him.

I wrote a while ago about the wedding at Cana when Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to. I hadn’t thought about it then, partly because it wasn’t related to the point I was making, but they do exactly what He tells them, despite the fact that it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. “They’re out of wine? Okay, you guys, fill those empty jars with water.” There’s no indication that the servants know what He intends to do, or even what He’s capable of. They just do it. Maybe it’s simply because they are servants and are used to just doing what they’re told, whether it makes sense or not. I think those servants are actually an excellent model for how we are supposed to relate to the Lord. Things get messed up. That’s okay. He can fix it, and He wants us to help. That’s actually pretty simple.

Despite the often strange and extreme lengths Jesus goes to to show us His love, we’re pretty slow to recognize it. When I became Christian, I didn’t have any really serious Christian friends. Luckily, when God made me, he made a stubborn woman, so I prayed. I prayed for years about this. It did take years, but now I do have faithful Catholic friends, and though it took me a little while to recognize it, I really am grateful. If we are facing the Battle of Helm’s Deep, then this is my declaration, “I will follow my King to whatever end.”

The Messenger

I recently came across a story about a girl who fell into deep depression while at school in New York. One day she decided to write a letter. It was addressed to no one in particular, and it wasn’t about the girl writing; it was about whoever would find the letter. She told the finder of the letter that they were wonderful and beautiful, and that she hoped they would have lovely times to come. She noticed that writing the letter, and leaving it for someone to find made her feel better, so she kept writing and anonymously leaving letters.

Eventually, though, she started a blog about it, and the idea caught on. People started writing letters and leaving them on the bus, on park benches, on restaurant seats, and sticking out of books in libraries. People would comment on the blog posts of the girl who started the phenomenon, personally requesting letters of encouragement, and she would write and send letters to them. This is actually what inspired me to find a pen pal, but yesterday morning I dreamed that I found a group of boys who were doing it. The dream was so real that I took it as a sign from God that I should get a move on and start leaving love notes.

My mom and I went out to lunch yesterday, and the Paper Store was in the same plaza, so I scurried over there and found two stacks of sparkly cards with different designs on them. Last night my mom and I finished listening to an audiobook about a girl who converted from Islam to Christianity, called “Hiding in the Light.” I highly recommend it. The story was absolutely crazy. The point is, at various points, the girl quotes from Scripture. Towards the end of the book, she quoted the entirety of Psalm 29, so I looked it up to read it for myself. The last two verses really stuck with me: “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace.” Psalm 29:10-11

Today I wrote two love notes and went to the chapel where they have adoration most weekdays until midnight. I left one of the notes in an empty chair, but decided I’d keep the other with me to leave somewhere else. I ended up spending just over an hour in the chapel. I hadn’t really expected to, but almost as soon as I showed up, I started crying. I’ve been a bit of an emotional train wreck lately. I need to stop watching the news. Too much bad is happening. It just doesn’t seem like enough, or to be honest, really anything is being done about the abuse crisis in the Church, and that really bothers me. People are angry at God, and leaving the Church, and that’s no answer, and He doesn’t deserve that. There is other bad news, too though. I’m tired of violence and natural disasters. On top of all that, some people I know are having some weird relationship issues. All of this is just really weighing me down, and it seems to be causing me a fair amount of writer’s block, which isn’t helping matters.

While I was in the chapel, though, Jesus reminded me of two things. I wear a necklace with three treasures on it. One is a Miraculous Medal of Mary, the other is a medal of Saint Faustina with the Divine Mercy image on it, and the third is a tiny silver Sacred Heart. In particular, Jesus brought to my mind His Sacred Heart. He seemed to be saying, “I know. My Heart hurts, too.” He also brought to my mind a hymn that’s occasionally used in Church. It’s called “You Are Mine” by David Hass. I had my phone with me, so I looked up the lyrics. I couldn’t listen to it because I didn’t have my ear buds with me, but the song is written from Jesus’ point of view, and it was like He was silently singing to me. The Chorus of the song is: “Do not be afraid I am with you/ I have called you each by name/ Come and follow me/ I will lead you home/ I love you and you are mine.” I find that very comforting.

What I’m really struggling with right now is that it’s not my own problems that are causing me all this emotional trouble. It’s other people’s problems. It’s the problems of people I don’t even know. I realized while I was praying, though, that this must have been exactly what Gethsemane must have felt like. The whole thing just feels awkward and disjointed. On a strictly personal level, my life is going great right now. I can’t think of life on a strictly personal level any more, though. Life is always, and always has to be shared. On a scientific level, it’s just a fact; humans are social animals, but on a spiritual level, it’s even more weighty. We have to love because Jesus loved us first, and love can seriously hurt.

The ironic thing is that giving love in a real, tangible way seems to be the remedy for that hurt. Leaving the anonymous love note in the chapel felt good. Just writing the love notes feels good. I hope I can make people marginally happier with the love notes. I like the fact that it’s anonymous. It’s kind of nice to have it be a secret. I prayed over the two love notes I’ve written, so I like the idea that they’re really God’s love notes and I’m just the messenger. The note I left in the chapel was actually just the quote from Psalm 29. I’ve memorized it because, like the hymn, I find the finality of it comforting. “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood. The Lord sits enthroned as king forever.” No matter how insane the world gets, God is in control. God is over the flood. God is king forever. God is a good king and that will never change. I know that, and I can trust that.

Winter Light

We changed the clocks back a couple of days ago. It’s cold and windy, and it’s getting dark awfully early now. There’s no way around it; it’s November, and Winter is fast approaching. I probably do more than my fair share of griping about Winter. Because I use a wheelchair, I have relatively bad circulation in my feet, so if I’m outside for any length of time on a cold or windy day, I get cold and stay cold. If I had an idol, it probably would be the space heater in my bedroom. At least I haven’t got to the point of naming it.

This Winter is feeling different than most, though. For the past few years, there has always been a new episode of Star Wars out around Christmas. As awesome as that is, I can only get so excited about a movie series. The reason I’m actually pretty stoked about this Winter, is that it will usher in a new member of our family. My godson is due to be born in January. I got him all kinds of Star Wars themed baby clothes because his parents are just as nerdy as I am.

What I’m really excited about, though, is his baptism. The baby clothes were more a gift for his parents, but I got him a personal gift from me. I was driving myself crazy trying to think of a good gift to give to a baby that would make sense and mean something to him when he’s older. Finally I gave up–sort of. Lately, it’s seemed like God has been letting me get stuck on purpose so I have to ask for help. As my mom and I were driving home from running errands, I said, “Lord, I am seriously out of ideas. Can you give me something?” It came instantly.

I got him a stuffed animal sparrow that makes little chirps when you squeeze it, and I’m going to have my dad make a nest for it. The idea is from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said that God cares for all His creation. He cares very much, even for each individual sparrow. Therefore, He said, there’s no reason for anyone to be afraid because a human being is worth much more than a multitude of sparrows. I’m going to write my godson a letter to put in the sparrow’s nest explaining it. I don’t know his name yet because I thought his parents were sold on Max, but they’ve decided they also like Luke, so they want to see him, and then they’ll decide. I like both.

Usually I associate Winter with darkness and boredom. Usually I see Winter as something to endure. This Winter is going t o be different. Jesus said that we are the light of the world. I don’t know his name yet, but I’ve been praying that my godson becomes a saint. I just know he can set the world on fire. God knows us and loves us even before we exist. I usually didn’t give this a whole lot of thought until I found out my godchild was a boy. For some reason, seeing the sonogram, and knowing his gender made me fall in love. This Winter is different because unlike most Winters, I see light on the horizon. I know that little light will drool, and poop, and cry, and otherwise be an annoying baby, but he’ll still be a bright and beautiful annoying baby.

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.”

Sunday Lump

I’m not good at relaxing. I’m good at being lazy. I have a constant need to multitask because if I don’t, I procrastinate, and get nothing done. I haven’t been working on my book much of late. That’s part of the reason I started the music project, which I am enjoying very much. I think that’s okay. I think part of my problem, however, is that lately it’s felt like working on my book is just that–work. A book is a piece of art, and I’m an artist. While it’s true that working on my art is my job, it shouldn’t only feel like a job.

The music project has created stress because it takes up time that I would otherwise use to procrastinate or actually write, but that’s the point. I can’t afford to procrastinate anymore. I’m starting to enjoy working on the book again, but the funny thing is, between working on music, the book, and the blog, I’ve become a bit of a workaholic. The thing is, the music project doesn’t only involve writing and recording songs. It’s already started to involve self-promotion because I’ve released the single. That’s involved re-teaching myself how to use movie-maker, and upload videos to YouTube, how to promote my stuff on Facebook, and how to upload stuff to Bandcamp. It’s all technically simple, but if you’re not tech-savvy, it takes at least a little time.

Before I started writing this post, I glanced at a map I drew of the continental landscape of my book, and it gave me an idea. I was going to start working on it, but then stopped myself and laughed. I told myself to relax. My plan for today was to sit around and read. I haven’t been reading. I’ll do that this evening. I slept in, and hung out with my family instead. I’m going to afternoon Mass in a bit.

When I’m being lazy, I say I’m being a lump. A lot of times, I don’t mean to be a lump. I just am. Today, I’m forcing myself to enjoy myself, get a few minor things done–mainly prayerful things–and be a Sunday lump.