Tag Archives: Despair

As Simple And As Difficult

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Love Stories

The past two days have been pretty amazing. Yesterday was the second meeting of the Carmelite group I attended last month. They have Mass at the meeting, which meant I got to receive the Eucharist two days in a row. I didn’t go to our regular Mass yesterday afternoon, so I went this afternoon. That means three days in a row receiving Jesus in communion. I’m planning to go to the worship thing tomorrow, so that will be pretty awesome. I’ve just been really happy this whole time. I went to bed last night with the thought, “I am loved,” in my head.

Before I got up today, I watched a short video of something a priest said. He was reading from the diary of Saint Faustina. She had written of a conversation she had with Jesus in a moment of despair. Jesus explained to her that He will call a despairing soul to Him several times, and even if that soul despairs of His mercy, Jesus will make a huge effort to prove He is loving and merciful, and that no soul is beyond His love. It’s only if the soul willfully rejects His mercy that He will let that soul go. In that conversation, Jesus refers to Himself as the soul’s best friend. Though I’ve been really happy over the past three days, I wondered for a moment at lunch today: could He really be my best friend? Then I thought, “Well yeah, I know He’s my best friend. It’s just weird because He’s God and I’m just me, and He’s perfect and I’m not.”

Yesterday I had to be at the monastery for the meeting at eight AM. I’m nocturnal. This is entirely against my nature. We didn’t really have much food in the house for breakfast, but my dad threw together an omelet for me, which was actually pretty good because it had broccoli and onions in it, but it didn’t have any meat. I don’t know why, but if I don’t have any sausage or chicken in an omelet, it does not fill me up. I ate some toast on the way, thinking this would help, but it didn’t do much, and I had a seizure in the car.

I was able to think coherently enough to pray a little just before we got there, so I said, “Lord, I want to do this for you, and I think this is what you want me to do, but if I’m going to do this, I can’t be fuzzy.” When we got to the monastery, I took an extra pill, and I was mostly back to normal by the time we got through morning prayer. Incidentally, yesterday was a celebration in the Church for the birth of the Blessed Mother, so we had cake. This obviously helped alleviate my hunger.

Several of the people there know about my epilepsy by now, and they’re really helpful and understanding. I have to take my medicine at ten and eleven AM, which are kind of inconvenient times during the meeting, so again I prayed. I said, “God, I’m nervous. You are a merciful God, and I know you want me here, so I need you to take care of this.” As soon as I finished praying, a girl whose name is also Katie came over and asked if I needed help getting my pills.

God’s mercy, love, and goodness really are unfathomable. Last night I started really thinking about a kind of love I’ve been feeling lately, but still don’t quite understand. I recently got a text from my “cousin,” with a picture. It was a sonogram of her son–my godson. The funny thing is, I was kind of hoping for a girl. When I saw that sonogram though, with the confirmation that he was a boy, I immediately fell in love. I had been praying for this kid all along and I was joking with my “cousin,” saying that it’s been awkward not knowing which pronoun to use. Now I know that I’m going to be the godmother of a little boy named Max, and I am ecstatic.

Just thinking about him makes me happy. This makes no sense to me. How can I love someone I’ve never met before? The craziest thing about it is that I don’t even like babies. I just know that somehow Max might change that. Earlier I was thinking about something I had heard from a musician I admire very much. He said, in a nutshell that it doesn’t really matter what we do. It just matters why we do it, and who we do it for. I’m starting to think there isn’t really one particular thing God wants me to do with my life. I do know one thing, though. I do what I do because I love Him. I don’t always love Him the way I should, but ultimately, that’s what God’s will for everybody generally is. Jesus said to love God, and love the people around us.

Looking back, I see the line of strangers I’ve befriended, and I see that most of the time, they have been people that the rest of the world passes by. After Mass today I was talking to my dad and laughing because I was thinking about how, when I was a teenager, all I wanted to be was different. I wanted to be nothing like everyone else. At the time, that actually meant befriending the people that others rejected. In fact, between my Junior and Senior year, I took a summer program for highschool kids at Berklee in Boston, and I made a very memorable friend. He was a homeless man with some form of Autism or something. I never knew his real name, but he called himself Polliwog.

I never made friends with any of the other students, but I saw Polliwog every day between classes. I played guitar for him, and he danced, and it made both of us happy. Though I didn’t recognize Him at the time, I think I saw Christ in Polliwog, and I’m convinced that that was the first step towards changing my heart so I’d let Him save me a couple years later. I still think about him from time to time, and I hope he’s doing well. When I was talking to my dad on the way home from church I joked that I always wanted to be different. I got what I wanted. I am different than a lot of my peers. I just never thought being different would look like being madly in love with Jesus.

In the end, though, being in love with Jesus automatically means striving to be like Him. That means loving like a crazy person. Before I knew Jesus, I befriended those the world rejected because the world rejected me, too. Now I love because I love Jesus, but also, I think, for reasons I don’t even understand. John the Baptist said that he had to decrease so Christ could increase. To live like Jesus means letting Him live through me, and love through me. God’s love and mercy are infinite. I am not infinite, but God can work miracles through people like Polliwog, and he can teach love through Max, and He can show His mercy through my hopeful prayers.

There is so much reason to trust and love the Lord, and to love those around us. All we have to do is choose peace when the world chooses violence; choose forgiveness when it’s easier to hold a grudge; choose faith when the night is at its darkest; choose love because love saves the world and love sets us free.

Stars In The Night

Remember that the stars are brightest on the darkest nights.

Today I went to Mass for the Devotion to the Sacred Heart that I’ve been doing. During Mass, our priest said something that I thought was really helpful. He said not to focus solely on Judas because that will lead us to despair. When things look bleak, we need to focus more than ever on Jesus. There will always be Judases in the Church, but the Church is the Body of Christ, and Christ can’t be defeated.

After Mass, there was time for Adoration. The other night, Jesus said to give to Him what was on my mind, so I let Him have it. I told Him my feelings are complicated. I’m angry and afraid and upset. I keep telling myself everything will be okay because He can make anything okay again. Then I realized that, up until now, I have not acknowledged that things are very not okay right now, at least not really. He helped me to understand that it’s important to realize that things will be okay, but also to simply be in the crappy situation you’re in at the moment.

On Good Friday, I don’t think Jesus just “muscled through it.” I don’t think His thought process was, “I just have to make it a few more hours, and my Father will do the rest.” His thought process was probably more along the lines of, “I’m scared, I’m miserable, I’m dying, and I will die. I know it will be worth it. I know that, but right now, I am dying.”

Hope requires imperfection. You can’t see light if you’ve never seen darkness. If everything is perfect all the time, there’s nothing to hope for. We hope because we have to. There is darkness, especially right now, but if you’ve ever been camping in the middle of nowhere, you know that the stars shine the brightest on the darkest nights.

Praise the Lord.

Say It Anyway

Sometimes I find myself about to write about something, whether it be about God, faith, my family, creativity, writing, or what have you, and a little voice in my head says, “I’m sure people have heard that a million times from a million different people.” Then another little voice in my head says, “Say it anyway. Maybe you can say it a little bit different so that it will click for someone in a way it hasn’t clicked before. Maybe hearing it this time is the last time they need to hear it for it to make sense. Maybe hearing it this time will help them to understand it in a different way. Even if no one listens, say it anyway because it may not matter to anyone else, but it matters to you.”

This happens to me a lot. Have you noticed that good stories never get old? I have watched Lord of the Rings, and the Star Wars movies a thousand times by now, and I could easily watch them a thousand times more. Every time you read a good story or watch a good movie, you pick up on different ideas or different symbolism. Different things take on different meaning and more significance. I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging when I say I can quote quite a lot from the Gospels because there’s just so much there and I’ve read them so many times.

The other night I was at Adoration at my church, and sometimes while I’m sitting there I just “talk,” and I don’t remember exactly how we got to this, but eventually I just stopped and thought, “You know, you’re a story-teller. You told and tell a lot of stories. Could you tell me a story? It doesn’t have to be anything new. It could be something I’ve heard before.”

Immediately I started thinking about all these different ideas about light. I remembered things like: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then, the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” and “A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Then I remembered that while working on my novel the other day, I had a segment where Aven, one of my main characters is in prison, and he has a weird experience where he sees darkness, and realizes that this is what he’s seeing. This is significant because he’s blind. He realizes that there’s a difference between being blind and seeing darkness. Finally, I remembered a story I’ve been working on recently just for fun where the main characters have to find the Soul of the Light to break a curse that has been on their kingdom for hundreds of years.

There’s a part in Lord of the Rings where Frodo remembers he has the light that Galadriel gave him. He has sent Sam away because he’s been tricked by Golem, who has left him to die in the spider cave. Galadriel gave this to him saying, “May it be a light for you in dark places when all other lights go out.” When Frodo lights it up, he’s in panic mode. He’s desperate. For him, all other lights; all hope, has gone out. I really don’t think Galadriel’s gift is meant to be taken only literally. Hope is often symbolized by light, and light is even sometimes symbolized by other things. At the beginning of the Lord of the Rings trilogy the shire appears bright, beautiful and peaceful. At Bilbo’s birthday, there are fireworks, there is light. When they leave the shire, they are cast into a dark forest, and are followed by the black rider. There are many juxtapositions of light and dark in Lord of the Rings, particularly in reference to specific places. Where there is death, in particular, there is darkness.

Eventually, though, even Galadriel’s light can’t keep Frodo out of danger. Even that light goes out, but Sam comes back. Forgive the sentimentality, but Galadriel’s light could not keep Frodo out of danger. It failed, but Sam’s loyalty didn’t. Sam’s loyalty was a light that really couldn’t go out. For those who might argue, Sam did not leave by his own free will. Frodo told him to leave, and in fact, he held to his loyalty to such a high degree that he obliged. He knew that many of Frodo’s decisions and judgments were wrong, but he allowed his friend to make those choices, determined to protect him while he could. Truthfully, the more I watch Lord of the Rings, the more I think Frodo isn’t a very good friend. He has his reasons. His task is not an easy one. Regardless, Sam is seriously devoted to him, and in the end, it becomes clear that Frodo is appreciative.

The point is, Loyalty has to be mutual, and it takes perseverance. Frodo and Sam do not have an easily relatable or translatable relationship because yes, they are friends, but they have slightly different social status. Sam is Frodo’s servant. By the end, it seems like this slight status difference is gone between them. This is only possible because of what they went through together. At the end of his life, Jesus says to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything I have learned from my Father, I have made known to you.” Being a friend of Jesus changes our position in the Universe, whatever that may be.

I took a long time thinking about two things in particular. What does it mean to be full of light? What is the difference between being blind and seeing darkness? I think both have to do with one’s outlook on the world. We spend a lot of time, when thinking about external spirituality, trying to figure out our position on X, Y, or Z, or wondering whether a particular practice is appropriate in worship. Internal spirituality is often much more abstract and simple. We spend our time praying or listening to music or simply musing. I don’t think we spend enough time thinking about how God actually views the world, and how, as his friends and followers, we’re meant to view the world. This is important because our outlook on the world affects our actions in the world, and our internal spirituality. If we have a generally negative outlook on things, we will lose hope. The hope we have; the light we have is, therefore, at risk of going out.

This also relates to loyalty in that our outlook on the world is connected to our outlook on people in general. A positive outlook allows us to be more trusting, more open, and more loving. It allows us to live more freely as God would want us to live. Often, we don’t openly talk about God or faith or spirituality in general for fear of judgment. If we have a more positive outlook, we will be much more likely to trust, and much more able to forgive when our trust is taken advantage of. This obviously does not mean that we should throw caution to the wind in every situation, but being more trusting and forgiving also allows people to trust and forgive us.

To see darkness is different from being blind. To be blind is often a metaphor for being unaware. Seeing darkness is to know that there is light or hope, and not know how to find it, or to see it and refuse it or give it up. I think a tangible example of this might be in one of the final scenes of Return of the King. Sam is trying to help Frodo get to where he can get rid of the ring. He tries to give him hope by reminding him of home, but Frodo says, “I’m naked in the dark with nothing, no veil between me and the wheel of fire…” In response, Sam says, “Then let us be rid of it. I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.”

Sometimes we do have to carry people until they can see the light again, or maybe even for the first time. That can mean a whole lot of different things, and sometimes it just means making sure we pray for them. Jesus says, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Sometimes people can only rely on God to carry them, but there’s no one more trustworthy, no one more loyal, and no one more capable. Jesus says these things with certainty and authority. They’re true and unchanging.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Because It Really Does Work

I was in a class that I hate last night, and there was a guest speaker. She was a retired preschool teacher and the wife of the minister at her church. She came to tell my class a story. She brought props. She came to tell us a story about how she and her family got through her husband’s cancer, her cancer, and her recent knee surgery. It got real really fast.

I remember reading a book called “90 Minutes In Heaven.” It was about a preacher who got into a really bad car accident and had a near death experience. Actually, he technically did die. His heart stopped and he saw amazing things before he was resuscitated. He spent a long time in the hospital and had to go through a really arduous and painful recovery.

What these two stories had in common is this: the characters in them were not alone. The lady in class last night said that she and her family would not have got through two cancer diagnoses and recoveries if they hadn’t had people praying for them. They knew that they had people and God on their side, and it was tremendously helpful to them psychologically, but also, they–and I– believe spiritually, in that the prayer itself made a real, significant difference.

The preacher in the story I read had given up on life. Towards the beginning of his recovery, there was one night when he was lying there in the hospital and decided to stop living. This decision had a real, physiological effect. He started dying. His friend, who was also a preacher came and told him that he may have given up, but his friends were going to hold an all night prayer vigil and were not going to let him die. They did that, and miraculously, the preacher started getting better and completely recovered relatively quickly.

I know from experience that it sometimes feels like praying is futile. Sometimes prayers are answered, and sometimes they’re not, and we have no idea why. Sometimes our prayers are answered in ways we don’t understand; in ways that don’t really seem like answers at all. Sometimes we have to wait. Sometimes, even if our prayers are answered and we’re sure of it, we despair because of all the prayers (our own or not) that don’t get answered. Sometimes we despair because the world and its problems are very big and we are small.

I read a quote–by whom I forget–that said something along the lines of: hope and despair are not polar opposites. They are out of the same mold. The only difference is that hope holds on to something. Hope believes in some kind of future. Hope allows for love, while despair is weirdly narcissistic.

As individuals we are small, but together we are huge. Metaphysics suggest that all beings are interconnected in a mesh that is meant to work as one individual, or mechanism. Sociology suggests that humans are social animals that are happier and more productive when working and playing in groups. Religion suggests that we are meant to worship God together and work together to better the world.

So many times it seems that when people pray in groups, those prayers are answered. When people pray together, miracles happen. When people pray together, mountains get moved…. That’s not to say that individual prayers aren’t as powerful. God loves each individual person equally, and pays just as much attention to the lonely hiker lost in the mountains as he does to the mega churches on Sundays.

That being said, there seems to be some kind of power in numbers. I know that, for some reason, I find it easier to pray when I’m with other people. I also feel more genuine when I’m praying with other people. Sometimes when I’m praying by myself, I get distracted, or I don’t say what I really want or need to say. Sometimes I try to pray for something I know I should care about, but actually really sort of don’t.

A couple nights ago I had a dream. A knight was charged with the defense of the castle while the king was away. He was strong, and a good fighter, and fully capable of doing his job. However, he was not quite capable of dealing with a supernatural threat. At one point, a demon showed up in the castle and attacked the knight, nearly killing him. The knight said, “Please, have mercy on me.” The demon obliged, but said that the knight must leave the castle and that he would be forever shamed. The knight left and went to hide away in a dark place. Then he said, “Lord, let there be courage where there is fear; let there be strength where there is weakness; let there be love where love is lost; let there be faith where there is none.” I had not been a character in the dream up until that point, but then I came into the dream as kind of a spirit-thing, and gave him a hug. That was it.

I think his prayer was wicked good, and I’ve been using it when I can. I’m really not sure what my part meant. I guess I’ll leave you with that. That is my prayer for tonight; that there would be courage where there is fear; that there would be strength where there is weakness; that there would be love where love is lost; that there would be faith where there is none in this crazy world.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!