Unbreakable

A few days ago, my dad and I re-watched the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. We’ve been going through all the trilogies and series of movies we enjoy, mainly to kill plague time. I was thinking about the scene when Will and Elizabeth get married on the deck of a pirate ship, in the middle of a battle, during a dark, nasty storm, in a maelstrom. For comedic effect, Elizabeth says, “Do you take me to be your wife, in sickness and in health–health being the less likely?”

I made the mistake of listening to an episode of a podcast about preparing for death. Death is on a lot of peoples’ minds these days. The priests in this episode mentioned how important it is to trust in God’s promises, but at the same time, many don’t know what those promises are. I realized that I couldn’t immediately list off many  Scriptural promises. I did remember the words “You will be my people, and I will be your God.” (Jeremiah 30:22) Variations of these words are repeated throughout the Old Testament. Also throughout The Old and New Testaments are variations of “Don’t be afraid. I’m here, I’m powerful, and I’m taking care of you.”

In the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Precious Blood is referred to as the “Blood of the New and Everlasting Covenant.” I was just absentmindedly thinking about the scene from Pirates, and I was curious, so I looked up Catholic wedding vows. In the U.S., they can take this form: “I, (name), take you, (name), for my lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” I found, too, that in the Catholic Church, marriage is explicitly called a Covenant. Marriage between a man and a woman is meant to mirror humanity’s right relationship with God.

My dad and I have been watching and participating in Sunday Mass as much as we can online in my basement. It would be a lie to say that it isn’t weird. A while ago I wrote about the incident when Jesus slept on the boat while His disciples bailed to try and stop from sinking. The point was, if He was asleep, there was no way they actually were going to sink. If they had just kept bailing, they would have been fine. Quarantine has been emotionally taxing. This weekend, my friend came over, and we talked about how hard it is not to be able to give or receive physical affection.

This time of shut-down and isolation has felt like that time on the boat. Nothing is happening, but it feels like chaos. I meditated about this two separate times. In my first meditation, I just imagined myself as one of the disciples with the storm raging around me, and the Lord was asleep. In my imagination, I didn’t wake Him up; I kissed His face, and for some reason, just knowing He was there was okay, even if the storm was still scary. The other time I imagined the same boat and the same storm, but He wasn’t asleep. I had a bucket, and He had a bucket, and we were both bailing out the boat. He could make the storm go away, but He didn’t; He was just there with me in it.

Sometimes I have a funny realization when I consider some of the things I do, like when I pray Evening prayer after dinner, and I think, “How did I get here?” Ten years ago, I was agnostic, and now I’m part of a religious order. Last night I prayed, not in any particularly deep, formal, or meditative way, but I just “talked” to the Lord while I waited for my dad to come and watch a movie with me, and I had a similar feeling. I had been in my room, just playing a simple puzzle game, but while I played, I just told the Lord what was on my mind. It wasn’t really anything serious; just “random” things I had been thinking about. When I got downstairs, I had the realization, “You’re still here.” After another moment I said, “I’m still here, too.” Our boat hasn’t sunk.

Adapting hasn’t been the easiest thing, but as I told my mom yesterday, I think one thing that has made it easier are the things I do, plague or no plague. When I joined the Carmelites, I agreed to pray Morning and Evening Prayer, do some kind of meditation or mental prayer for at least half an hour every day, do some kind of study into our faith, the lives of the saints, or perhaps our Church’s history, and to go to daily Mass if I can. Since I usually can’t physically go to daily Mass, I’ve been participating online during the week since long before there was a plague. I joked to my mom a few weeks into the shut-down that the only reason I know what day of the week it is, is because my breviary tells me.

I mention all of this because I’ve never stopped praying, but because these things are so routine; because even prayer can become routine, I think it can become too formal, and less relational. Last night I just talked to the Lord about “normal” stuff while I played my dumb game, and it was silly and easy. I did have some more serious stuff on my mind, and I told Him about that, too, but it was conversational.

I had devoted time earlier in the day to nothing but prayer, setting aside any distraction, and that is important, but I find that it’s important to talk to Him while eating lunch, or playing a dumb game, or what have you because in those “nothing else” times, I tend to talk to Him about deeper, more serious, and lately, scarier things. I’ve realized lately that it’s important to talk to the Lord about “stupid” stuff. The friend that came over the other night is like a sister; we met in Kindergarten. We talk about serious stuff, but we also talk about music, movies, and stupid things because that’s what friends do. Jesus is our God, our Lord, and our Savior, but He’s also our Friend, so it’s important to speak to Him in this way.

There are friendships that last a few years, there are friendships that last longer, but just peter out for one reason or another, and then there are friendships that last no matter what. Friendship with the Lord is truly unbreakable, as long as a person wants that friendship. He is the kind of friend who says, “I am yours and you are mine; plague or no plague; storm or no storm, and as long as you’re still here, I’m still here.”

A Beggar At Home

A few nights ago I had a nightmare. I don’t usually have them, but within the past couple of weeks I’ve had two. Boredom, bad news, and an over-active imagination are a bad combination. Saturday morning, I had a hilarious dream. The dream was that it was all over. We were done with the “plague.” My friend had an even bigger music studio, and as Barnes and Noble has Starbucks in the store, the studio had a Burger King, so I was eating chicken nuggets at the music studio.

My mom has invented what I call Apocalypse Pizza. To make Apocalypse pizza you use Naan bread, olive oil, mozzarella cheese, and whatever other toppings you like. For me, it’s peppers and onions. It’s really easy to make and everyone in my family likes it. The problem? We’ve been eating almost nothing but Apocalypse Pizza for several days, or maybe a week. When I finished doing my Morning Prayer yesterday, and went to the kitchen, she said, “Do you want pizza?” I couldn’t forget my dream, so we went to the Burger King drive through.

Since I ate lunch in the car, we took a little drive to see if anyone was out, what was still open, etc. There’s a small lake close to where I live in Massachusetts. It’s a little weird because it’s in the middle of the town and is surrounded by pavement and business. It’s a very popular place for people to take a walk. It’s so popular that the Mayor asked people to refrain from “walking the lake.” When we went over there yesterday, it was packed.

We are creatures of habit, and as Americans, we don’t like being told what to do. Furthermore, humans are social animals, and “social distancing” and “quarantining” can be downright stressful. We’ve been asked to make sacrifices. No one likes sacrificing because it means discomfort. What’s more is that there are many cases when one has Covid-19 and has no symptoms. In these cases, one might assume they are perfectly healthy, visit a friend, young nephew or niece, grandparent, or whoever who is vulnerable that person ends up getting it, and getting it bad. It is better to assume one has it.

I’m really bored. I can’t do a really significant part of my work because I can’t go to the studio. I sympathize with those who absolutely have to go out to go to work, but to those who see this as an accidental vacation, please; as of yesterday, we have 304,826 confirmed cases of this in the United States. Please don’t walk the lake. Please don’t bring your kids to the playground. Please don’t go to the beach. We’ve been asked to stay at home until the end of April. We will likely be asked to stay at home for longer than that. This “plague” will die out sooner than later if everyone would just stay home.

It does mean making at least some of your own food instead of getting takeout all the time. It means finding more ways to entertain yourself and your kids because you can only watch so much Netflix. It might mean making your own coffee instead of going to Starbucks. I get that it’s inconvenient. I completely get that it’s a little lonely. I’m not asking this of you from the outside. I am asking this of you as somebody who is doing these things, too. I am asking this of you as somebody who can’t see her friend, and can’t fully celebrate the most important holiday of her faith.

Sacrificing and discomfort does suck. Being told what to do sucks. You might not be a man or woman of faith, and you might believe that this life is all there is. I won’t try to persuade you otherwise here. Still, you are being forced to sacrifice; your gym is probably closed, the restaurants you like are probably closed, and you are probably working from home. For me, I can stay home and stay inside because I can offer that as a sacrifice to my God. If you don’t know, or don’t believe that God exists, I’m begging you to make that same sacrifice simply for the good of the rest of the world, or even just to make your life more enjoyable.

Please, consider the beggar.

Thanks.

Thou Shall Not Kill

My dad and I have been binging on “The Walking Dead” lately. We’ve just got to the part where the crew has escaped Terminus, and have met with an Episcopalian minister named Gabriel, and of course, Rick asks his questions: “How many walkers have you killed? How many people have you killed? Why?” Gabriel replies, in order: “None. None. The Lord abhors violence.”

The sixth commandment in the ten, which is basically God’s moral road map is, “Thou shall not commit murder.” In some translations, The Bible does say “Thou shall not kill.” I take that commandment to mean, “Do not take an innocent life without purpose or cause.” For example, I am opposed to hunting simply for sport. I am not opposed to hunting for food. Furthermore, violence, and even the killing of another purely in self defense is absolutely permissible.

If you haven’t seen “The Walking Dead,” Terminus is a bad place. It basically is like a factory farm. The people who run it have turned to cannibalism. They trick people into going there, promising “sanctuary and community,” and then kill them and eat them. Rick and his crew (the main characters), are tricked into going there, but they destroy and escape the place, at which point, they run into Gabriel who takes them in at his church. The problem is, some people who ran Terminus survived and tracked them down. Inevitably, there is a showdown at the church. It also comes out in the midst of things, the dead started being zombies, Gabriel got scared, and locked people out of his church. He panicked, and they were eaten by walkers.

Of course he feels guilty about this. He did not take innocent lives, but he allowed innocent lives to be taken. Jesus is often referred to as “the new Adam.” I heard an analogy once. Satan is sometimes referred to as a dragon. When Adam blamed Eve for what he did, it was like he was shoving her in front of the dragon to save himself. When Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross, it was like He jumped in front of the dragon to save His people. Gabriel rightly says in the show that he made a choice; he chose to play the part of Adam.

Obviously, with “The Walking Dead,” we’re talking about a fictional character in a hypothetical end-of-the-world situation. In real life, we are faced with the same choice. It can apply to what we do with our time, who we choose to associate with, how we choose to talk to strangers, friends, or family, what we choose to do when we make mistakes, what we do with our emotions, and really anything else in the present moment. How we live matters.

In a Catholic Mass, we begin with a general confession, and a prayer for mercy. We admit that we have sinned in what we have done, and what we have failed to do. It’s that second bit that always gets me. I don’t speak when I should. I don’t write when I should. I don’t pray when I should. I don’t act when I should. I fail to do a lot of things, or I do them too late. The Mass begins in this way because our sins have consequences. I think I do believe in the butterfly effect, in a sense. Good and bad things we do or fail to do, even if they’re seemingly insignificant, effect other people.

I’ve avoided writing about this for a while because I haven’t known how. When I heard about the “Reproductive Health Act,” which was passed in New York last month, I did several things. I wrote a short, but well thought out post on Facebook, I wrote to several Massachusetts Lawmakers because I wanted them to at least know how I felt about it, and I prayed. I had trouble at first because I didn’t want to be honest with God, but then I told Him the truth. I asked Him how He could have allowed it to happen. I told Him that I didn’t want to, but I blamed Him. I cried, and had a tantrum. When I was done being angry, I listened, and I understood.

He let it happen because He loves the people who do terrible things enough to let us do them. God, our Heavenly Father who is Goodness, Love, and Peace, gave us free will. He loves us enough to let us choose evil; he lets us fail; he lets us learn; he gives us infinite chances to turn back and be forgiven. What’s more is that He can take the worst things possible, and still make good of them, even if it takes a long time. God redeems. It’s who He is. It took me a little while, but I’ve forgiven because Jesus taught me how. That doesn’t mean I have to be okay with this evil law. Any civil law that allows anyone to take an innocent life directly violates God’s law, and is, therefore, evil. Abortion is evil.

It is marketed as freedom; it is marketed as a reasonable choice; it is marketed as responsible, even. I don’t understand the circumstances or thought process that leads people to choose this. That is why I want to make clear that God loves the people who make this choice, no matter the circumstances, and He gives every sinner infinite chances to repent. God hates sin, but He loves every sinner. That being said, it’s still a choice. It’s always a choice, and it’s never the right one.

What people need to understand is that God makes choices, too. When a woman is made pregnant, it’s because God has chosen her to bring life into the world, and He’s decided that the person being created should exist. God is intimately involved with bringing life into the world. At the moment of conception, God breathes a soul into a person. That is precisely what a person is; a body and a soul. Abortion is packaged into a strange category called “women’s rights.” I am not a feminist. I am a humanist. Let us defend human rights. Men and women should be equal across the board. I agree with that. When abortion is packaged along with women’s rights in the pursuit of that equality, it essentially gives a woman the right to murder, as long as the person she’s killing hasn’t been born yet. Some will argue that to “abort” a child would be a responsible choice because the child might have some kind of disability. Another argument is that the biological mother will not be able to afford a child. There is always the option to put the child up for adoption.

To choose abortion would be to take an innocent life without purpose or cause. A pregnancy is sometimes really inconvenient. It might jeopardize a relationship or an income. To anyone reading this, you are inconvenient. I am inconvenient. Every human being is inconvenient. I don’t think Jesus thought of us as convenient when He came to be with us, love us, teach us, lose many of us, and die for us. Any real relationship is inconvenient. We have to make sacrifices to help our friends or spend time with our families. Nine months is a long time, but to anyone considering abortion, it’s not really that long considering the length of an entire lifespan. It literally is the difference of life and death. Choose life. Remember this, too; God loves you.

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.

Who’s Right?

My dad and I have been watching this show on Amazon. I think Bishop Barron’s thoughts on it are really right.

The thing is, I like absolutes. I don’t like gray areas. It does matter who is right. If Christianity is not true, we are wasting a lot of time. If Christianity is wrong, I am wasting at least seven hours every week, but probably more. That’s just between structured prayer time and weekly Mass. If I factor in random mental prayer and “curiosity quests,” my faith is at least a part-time job.

In the show, Ragnar and Athelstan really struggle with this question. At one point, Athelstan says to another character, “I love Odin, and I love Jesus Christ.” It bothers him. At another time, he says, “I couldn’t help seeing some similarities between our God and their gods.” There are some similarities between the gods of myths and other religions, and the Christian God. This is the case because God wants his Truth to be known and accessible to all people. These similarities are simply a starting point, though.

Our relativistic culture likes gray areas. The fact of the matter is, we don’t like to be told that we’re wrong. I don’t like being told when I’m wrong. I don’t like conflict, and taking a stand about absolute Truth often causes conflict. This matters too much, though. I am taking a stand. I am not a crusader. What one chooses to believe is their business, but I believe that there is only one, absolute Truth, and only one true God.

 

Fear Is A Lie

I realized something recently. When I’m working, I listen to Christian music almost exclusively. I’m talking about bands like Tenth Avenue North and Rend Collective. When I’m hanging out with my dad (my mom doesn’t really like music), we almost exclusively listen to secular music. My preferences in both categories don’t cover a hugely wide range of genres because I know what I like. When it comes to movies, I’ll watch almost anything, from romance to action to horror films, as long as the story is good. I don’t mind what some might consider vulgar language, and I don’t mind portrayals of faiths or belief systems that contrast with my own. I’m not afraid of these things.

Similarly, I am beginning to care less and less about what people think when I say that I am Christian, and I believe the Christian God to be the only true God. As I said, I am beginning to care less. As a teenager, I purposefully separated myself from others, but it was not for faith reasons. I had no faith back then. Still, I didn’t care what people thought of me. It was out of spite. Now I have faith, and my God has taught me to love, and now that I do love, I care what people think of me. It’s odd, and ironic. I care what people think because I love. I need people to understand that I believe in absolutes and in objective morality, and though I’m not perfect, I try not to judge. What I am trying to say is that I care less about my image now, and more about whether or not people can see the real me. The real me is Christian.

The world breeds fear. It’s hard to overcome it because the world is just so complicated. There are wars, there is violence, there is hunger, there is sickness, and there is a multitude of other problems, not to mention the supernatural factors. I’ve learned that fear is probably the Devil’s most powerful weapon. The most important thing to remember is that Jesus has already won. That means we’ve already won. My mom and I are listening to a story right now that’s told largely from the perspective of a seventeenth century Jewish woman living in London. At that time in London, apparently the leaders of the Jewish faith condemned theater because it was vulgar. I remember hearing that Christians had very similar sentiments about early Rock ‘n’ Roll, thinking that it was downright evil. They said the same about games such as Dungeons and Dragons when that first came out.

Such fear is nothing but a lie. Of course there are lines that need to be drawn. I don’t listen to certain bands or even just certain songs by bands that I otherwise like because they insult my Lord or my religion, for example. However, fearing something and ignoring or condemning it are two entirely different things. There are things we as Christians can ignore, tolerate, and even enjoy, even when these things are not explicitly Christian. There are also, of course, forms of entertainment or other practices that should be spoken against. Obviously this requires discretion, and I believe there are plenty of people braver and better equipped than myself to do this. My aim in this post is to speak against fear. I’m not a warrior, and I’m not a coward.

I started thinking about this recently because I’ve started getting bored of the same phrases and imagery that are used over and over in so many worship songs. I want real worship, and I want real artistry, not a bunch of lines that are copied and pasted from Scripture on top of yet another new melody. This is done because it is easy, but also because Scripture is the Word of God, and we love it. We trust his word, and it gives us comfort and hope. It is understandable, but it is also overdone. God himself is an artist. His plan and his way of doing things are totally strange, yet beautiful. We are made in his image and likeness, and as Christians, and especially as Christian artists, we should aim to mirror that. Be bold, be strange, venture into the absurd, do not be afraid to love, and above all, do not give into fear.

Why I Don’t Edit

Readers might notice that I don’t always thoroughly edit my posts. I do some editing, but I’m certainly not as meticulous as I am with my book. This is for a few reasons. The first is that this is where I share my thought process, and my mind is crazy and unscripted. I think my blog should reflect that. The second is that I’m imperfect, and I think leaving a few grammatical errors is a fine way of letting it show. The third is that I simply miss stuff, and sometimes I’m just lazy. As long as what I’m trying to say is understandable, I’m good with it.

The thing is, I kind of like imperfection. I love working on mosaics because sometimes trying to get pieces of broken glass to fit together how I want is nearly impossible, and I have to let them do their own thing. Sometimes I’ll want to do one thing, and something entirely different, and often better, will present itself out of the blue. The same might be said of music or painting. Opportunities often arise from mistakes.

When working on mosaics or paintings, I almost always make abstract designs. For one thing, I don’t think I’m quite skilled enough to make realistic things, but I also think the abstract world gives me so much more freedom. Beside that, though, the abstract has a mind and a language of its own. Realism captures an image, while abstract and Impressionism interact with the artist and the audience. In the abstract, even flaws have beauty and meaning.

People are the same. We often don’t make sense, and it is often our perceived insanity that gives us beauty and meaning. We are so unique and abstract to one another that there is a world contained in each individual. God is our artist, but as with abstract pieces of art, we are unruly and flawed. We want to write our own stories, and we are given the freedom to do so, but to make them truly good stories, we need the help of our Artist.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!