What We Say In Silence

I didn’t write over the Triduum this year. Normally I do, but I was an emotional train wreck. I cried for most of the Easter Vigil Mass. I had taken a nap earlier on Saturday, so I wasn’t exactly tired. At 12:30, then, my dad and I started one of the Harry Potter movies and went to bed around 3:00.

Normally for us, Easter looks like getting up and having a feast with a bunch of relatives from New Hampshire and Maine. We had our book club on Friday, and planned to meet online for a bit. We talked about food and boredom and pets. Instead of our usual pile of food to feed an army, we got an order from Buffalo Wild Wing, and my mom ordered a chocolate cake and a carrot cake. After we chatted online, my dad and I watched the next Harry Potter movie. Then I went to pray.

It seemed like the Lord was asking, so I said, “I’m not angry with you. I just don’t know why this is happening, and I don’t know what you’re doing, and it’s kind of freaking me out.” That day I had Joy Of The Lord by Rend Collective stuck in my head despite not having listened to it in a while. The Chorus ends with, “In the darkness I’ll dance, in the shadows I’ll sing/ The joy of the Lord is my strength.” I thought about the first Easter. The disciples were together behind locked doors, afraid and uncertain about what even the next hour might bring. That felt familiar.

I imagined myself in that room with them. Most of them had fled and abandoned the Lord; all of them thought He was dead and that the previous three years of their lives had been a waste. They all knew that they were in very real danger. I imagined sitting there, and suddenly Jesus walks through the closed and locked door. Chairs are knocked over; people shout, but He raises His hand in blessing and says, “Peace.” In His language, though, it would have been “Shalom.” For some reason every fiber of my being hyper-focused on that “Shalom.” I wasn’t simply imagining this anymore; I was praying it.

In my meditation, He walked over to me, got down to my level (because I was sitting in a chair, sort of stunned), and showed me His hand. Instinctively, I took it, and it was like everything disappeared, even time. It was like He was silently saying, “I’m still here.” I waited for Him to do something; I was letting Him drive the bus at this point. I thought the scene would continue and He would show His scars to His disciples because that’s just what would happen next, but nothing else happened. For a moment, I thought about letting go so things could progress like they do in the “story,” but it was almost like He silently said, “You don’t have to,” so I didn’t.

When I finally opened my eyes and looked at my phone, I was surprised to see how much time had passed. I told Him that it feels like the world got pulled out from under me. Then I realized that His world had got pulled out from under Him, albeit in a different, and much more painful way, but He knows what it feels like to be thrown into all-of-a-sudden chaos. I also realized that He came back with scars.

I don’t think anyone is going to come out of this unscathed. Those who don’t contract the virus are still worried about their kids’ education, their financial situation, the health of their loved ones, their own mental health, their spiritual well being, or simply what the future as a whole will look like. For better or worse, this is changing us. The first thing Jesus said when He came back to His disciples was “Shalom.” For some reason that felt like I had found a point of gravity and I suddenly wasn’t just spinning off in space, bouncing off of asteroids. It felt like I had found a star and could rest there. Even though it wasn’t a physical touch, He held my hand and silently said, “I’m still here.”

Today I was thinking about constants and how valuable they are. My stupid bird still sleeps under my ear and screeches at the kids playing in the yard next door. I still play the same stupid video game with my dad. We can still watch Harry Potter. The water is still running. The lights still work. I can’t see my friend, I can’t go to the studio, I can’t go to Mass, and that stuff is scary. Most importantly, though, Jesus, the God and King of everything is still here. It’s a lot easier to listen to the chaos because it’s all over the news and social media and even in our heads and it can drive us crazy.

Yesterday, I started my meditation not really knowing what to expect. Early on, when things started shutting down, I was nervous, but said, “Okay, Lord, you got this,” but of course I’ve been listening to the chaos. Last night, in my meditation, the Lord stopped everything and said, “Shalom.” He’s done it before; He can calm the storm, and He can catch us when we’re sinking. It might still rage around us, but we can find His peace in our souls. Hold onto that Easter moment. Let Him hold your hand, and let Him be your star.

Queen Mother

This past summer, I did a personal retreat in preparation to consecrate myself to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. If you’re not Catholic, that will probably have sounded like gibberish. The Virgin Mary has a lot of titles in the Catholic Church. One of those is “Our Lady of Mount Carmel.” The first Carmelites put themselves under Her protection, along with, it goes without saying, the protection of the Lord. The Carmelite Order originated in the Middle Ages in the context of a European feudal system. The way a feudal system worked was that a person would put himself under the patronage of a lord or lady. The man would serve his lord or lady and the patron or patroness would protect his or her servant.

During the crusades, when warriors went east from Europe, doctors and spiritual leaders went with them as support. a group of men decided to stay in the Holy Land and settle on Mount Carmel, living largely as hermits. Eventually, due to invasion by Arabic groups, they were forced to leave the Holy Land and return to Europe where they continued their way of life under the Rule of Saint Albert, who was the Bishop of Jerusalem at the time the Order got started in the mid 13th Century. While looking at the date, one might wonder when devotion to Mary got started. Mention of Mary in Christian worship started as early as the 3rd Century, just about 100 years after the Gospels were written

It should be noted that in ancient times, in various cultures, including ancient Israel, the queen was not the wife of the king: she was his mother. Often, the queen-mother would be sort of an advocate for the people to the king. In the Catholic Church, Mary is seen as this Queen Mother, and our Advocate. If Jesus is the King of the Universe, it makes sense, given His culture, that His Mother would be our Queen. A lot of people outside the Catholic Church ask why we pray to Mary and the Saints. We believe that our life on this Earth is a journey and a sort of challenge to authentically grow a loving relationship with God. We don’t come into the world perfect. We’re tainted by original sin, so we have to, with His help, strive for perfection. To be clear, it’s the Lord who gets us to Heaven, but our striving matters because it makes us truly His.

Our striving may end when we get to Heaven, but our life doesn’t. We’re still ourselves, and we still have relationships with people who are still on the journey. When we pray to Mary or Saint Peter or Paul, or someone else, we’re just talking. Often, when we pray to someone in Heaven, it’s to ask them to pray for us. It’s no different than asking a living friend or family member, except that we know the Saints in Heaven to be very holy people; we know that they are close to God. Being His Mother, we know that Mary is very close to God.

Still, many wonder if Catholic devotion to Mary is a little “over the top.” I get it; I thought this way for a long time. There is, however, Scriptural support for devotion to Mary. First, consider the wedding at Cana. The party ran out of wine. Mary noticed, and mentioned it to Jesus. Given that Jesus Himself was devoted to His mother, He changed the water into wine. If you need more evidence that Jesus was devoted to His mother, however, just consider the incident when He got lost in the Temple in Jerusalem. After He was found, He went home with His parents and, as Scripture says, “was obedient to them.” Even as He is dying on the cross, He makes sure that His mother would be cared for by John. He also makes a point to say that she is meant to be John’s Mother. John does not use his name in the way he writes his Gospel. He uses the name “the beloved disciple.” in the Catholic Church, this is interpreted to mean anyone who follows the Lord. Therefore, it is understood that, at the cross, Jesus had me in mind as His beloved disciple, and gave his mother, not only to John, but also to me, and the whole Church. This makes sense because the Church is the Body of Christ.

There are also references to Mary in the Old Testament, and elsewhere in the New Testament. By way of a few examples, Mary is prefigured by several Old Testament women. First, Mary is considered the new Eve, as Jesus is considered the new Adam. Eve is considered the mother of all the living, and she was unfaithful to God. Mary is considered our spiritual mother in God’s New Covenant, which He established through Jesus’ sacrifice, and she is faithful and trusting. Next, God promises descendants, and ultimately, a dynasty to Abraham. While He makes this promise to Abraham, it can only come to fruition through Sarah. Similarly, Jesus cannot come to live and die for us as a Man, except through a human mother, so while God’s promise of salvation isn’t achieved by Mary, she does participate in it. Finally, Bathsheba, the mother of the wise king Solomon is an advocate for him, and also rules alongside him as queen-mother, mirroring Mary’s role as she rules alongside her Son. There are many more examples, some more obvious than others, including the woman described in the book of Revelation.

All of this really is to say that Mary matters. St. Louis De Montfort makes the bold claim that devotion to Mary is the “surest, easiest, shortest, and most perfect” way of becoming a saint; in other words, of getting to Heaven and being close to the Lord. This is because if we let her do what a mother does–take care of Her children–she can teach us and help us to be like Jesus. She doesn’t do anything on her own. She is just as human as I am. Anything miraculous she does, she does by the power of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t completely unexpected since Jesus’ disciples performed miracles in the Gospels. When she asked the angel Gabriel how she was to conceive Jesus since she was a virgin, he explained to her that the Holy Spirit would “overshadow” her. This was a marital act, and Mary is considered to be the spouse of the Holy Spirit, so by her faith, and by His grace, she’s able to do a lot.

This leads me back to my first point. Back in July I consecrated myself to Mary. This hearkens back to the idea of putting myself under her protection as the first Carmelites did in the context of a feudal system. I dedicated myself to her because she can walk with me and guide me as I walk with Jesus, and chase Him to Heaven. I wrote out my consecration as follows:

I, Katie Curtis, a repentant sinner and servant of my Lord, Jesus Christ, entrust myself to you, Mary, my Lady of Mount Carmel. I ratify in your hands my baptismal vows, and resolve, with your help, to follow Jesus more closely and perfectly than ever before. I give you my heart. Keep me in your heart, and help me be attentive to Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls. Help me to love Him with your purity, and the crazy love that He deserves.

I give you my everything; my body, my soul, my goods, both interior and exterior, the value of my good actions; whatever you ask of me, that I may be brought closer to my Love, and my Lord. Help me to always trust Him, and always know and do His will. I entrust myself to you, as Jesus did, and I give you permission to do your work in, through, and around me, to make me a saint.

The simple version of that is, “Mom, I’m gonna trust you to teach me how to be like my Divine Brother.” I can trust her with that because she raised Him, and when He got older, she observed everything He said and did, and “pondered it in her heart.”

Just a couple of weeks ago, I took up the Rosary again. I had picked it up a few years ago for a few reasons, but then my devotion petered out. I picked it up again simply because I felt prompted to by the Holy Spirit. The Rosary might seem like a mindless recitation of repetitive prayers, and done wrong, it can be. Done right, though, the repetition of the “Hail Mary” isn’t the point. The point is to focus on the mysteries. I was prompted to focus on the “Sorrowful” mysteries that day, which walk you through the Lord’s Passion: The Agony in the Garden, the Whipping at the Pillar, The Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, and the Lord’s Death on the Cross. The Rosary’s repetitive prayers themselves are mostly there as a time keeper, but the Rosary itself helps one view the Mysteries of the Lord’s life through a Mother, or at least a beloved family member’s eyes.

In fact, the “Hail Mary” prayer is Scriptural. The angel Gabriel, on his appearance to Mary says, “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you!” and when Mary appears to Elizabeth, Elizabeth says, “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The complete Hail Mary prayer is this: “Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” What we’re saying by praying this is, “Mary, you’re a holy woman; you’re the mother of Jesus. Please pray for me.” By praying the full Rosary, I’m saying, “Jesus really matters to me. You were there; you witnessed His life. Help me to understand His life and how to love Him best.”

Some might argue that focusing on Mary takes the focus away from Jesus. In some sense, yeah, that’s kind of true. In the same way, however, you could say that admiring, talking to, hanging out with, and seeking advice or prayers from your friend, pastor, or whoever, who you think is a very holy person takes your focus away from Jesus. Ultimately, however, if you’re trying to be a holy person, in modeling yourself after someone you admire (a friend, a church leader, a canonized saint, or Mary), you’re still focusing on Jesus because you’re still trying to be like Him and get closer to Him, as they are.

God’s Timing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing Up With Me

I just read a few posts from 2012-the year I started my blog. It’s interesting to see how the site has grown up as I’ve grown up. I already thought I was a Christian when I started blogging. The truth is, I didn’t personally know Jesus yet. I believed he was the God of the universe, and I vaguely knew that he saved the world, but I didn’t yet understand that he had saved my soul because he genuinely cared about me personally and wanted to be my friend. In 2012 I had some pretty funny, some good, and a lot of naive ideas. My posts were also a lot more varied in terms of subject matter back then, which I guess is neither here nor there. My posts these are largely about work and God, though sometimes they’re about stories in general or random life stuff. The blog has also largely turned into a way of procrastination, as well as a space to dig for treasure, and hopefully find some truth, whether I like that truth or not.

In the almost seven years I’ve kept the blog, I’ve learned a lot and I’ve gained just over three hundred followers. I don’t think all those people come here often, but that’s okay. This blog has been a companion in my many journeys that have taken place in the course of such short a time. It has been my companion through college, finals, insomnia, epilepsy, faith, hope, fear, love, and milestones. In a lot of ways, it’s kept me going. It’s been a place where I can share my truth, which sometimes, as ugly as it can be, just needs to be squirted out in muddy water colors. This is where frustration and triumph happens. This is where failures are confessed and victory proclaimed. This is where messes are made with the joy of a child, and I admit, in the grand scheme of things, I am one.

I write this as an encouragement to all my fellow bloggers, journalists, and writers in general. Tell the truth. Tell your truth, but more importantly, tell God’s truth. Fear nothing. Writing takes courage, and honestly, sometimes clicking the “Publish” button can be terrifying. Click it anyway. Sometimes we write something, expecting it to get us tons of attention, and no one gives us a second glance. Keep writing. In every circumstance, keep writing. When the world is falling apart keep writing. When you’re on cloud nine, write about it because sometimes the rest of us need to hear what cloud nine looks like. Sometimes your good day can be a happy five minutes for someone who is having an otherwise crappy day. Stories, especially true ones, teach us empathy, so write them. Keep writing, and don’t stop. Write without a reason. Write because you like to. Write because you know you’re good at it. Write because you think you’re good at it. Write even if you suck at it because it brings you joy. Just don’t stop.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Yup…

Today I got up and my mom said since it’s Valentine’s Day she’d take me out to lunch. I just wanted take-out, but since she offered I agreed, to be polite. Unfortunately we had an appointment, and therefore, didn’t have enough time to eat a sit-down lunch, but I got my buffalo chicken wrap. It’s my favorite thing in the world, but it’s super unhealthy, so I’m careful not to give into my craving too often.

After our appointment, Seamus (my bird) desperately wanted to go for a ride in the car, so we took him to the Starbucks drive-through with us. Several of the employees there know who he is by now. There are plenty of people who drive through with their dogs, but I think we’re the only bird family. Plus my best friend works there, so I’m sure she’s told them all how actually nasty he is. He doesn’t like people aren’t part of his flock. He just looks cute from a distance.

I got some more of my mosaic done last night. I’m thinking I’m going to need a lighter shade of blue or maybe teal. right now I’m working with black, white, red, and blue. My dad was helping me and he was perplexed at what I was doing last night because I was kind of haphazardly putting pieces down. I’ve been trying to tell him that I’ve had a concept in my head, not a complete, perfected picture. As I get more done, though, I get more of an idea of what it’s “supposed” to be.

Kathy (the woman I mentioned in my previous post) did end up getting back to me. We’re going to meet at my house tomorrow. I don’t know why I’m nervous. I guess part of it might be that although the idea isn’t exactly new to me, I’ve been kind of skirting around it and now I’m finally taking the plunge. There’s also the annoying thought in the back of my mind: “What if I’m wrong?” There are really two ways of looking at it. God calls everyone. I know that, so either I just need to shut that doubt out for good, or if I am wrong, it means I need to figure out what he actually is calling me to.

Last night I came across this: “Every word we speak was taught to us by God’s Spirit, not by human wisdom. And this same Spirit helps us teach spiritual things to spiritual people. That’s why only someone who has God’s Spirit can understand spiritual blessings. Anyone who doesn’t have God’s Spirit thinks these blessings are foolish.” (1 Cor 2:13-14 CEV) Admittedly, there are times when I find myself thinking about things Jesus says or does, in the Gospels and throughout time, and I think, “Lord, that’s crazy. You’re crazy. I’m crazy. All of this is crazy.” This quote that I found last night just made it make a bit more sense.

Anyway, I have a bird to harass and art to make.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Conversation

Awhile ago I found a little green book on the coffee table in our living room. I picked it up and started looking at it. It had a picture of someone hanging onto a cross in a heart on the cover and had that old book smell that I can’t resist. It was filled with super old poems meant to help people through doubt or fear or what have you. I read a couple of them. They weren’t really “my thing,” so I put the book down and left it alone, but I kept thinking about it. Why did we even have it? Where did it come from? I asked my dad, and he said he had bought it a long time ago in a used book store. He just happened to be looking at it on a whim. It seemed like a pretty weird thing for my dad to buy. I was never really under the impression that my dad would be interested in this kind of thing. I decided to “borrow” it, but I didn’t look at it again for weeks.

For several weeks now I’ve been trying to finish the third story in my mythology. It’s a very short story, but it’s complicated because it’s about how death enters the human realm. In my mythology, the spirits in various realms are the equivalent to gods, though there isn’t much of a hierarchy, and they don’t interact much with humans. In this story Death personified tricks Wisdom personified into allowing him to accompany her and the soul of a little boy into the human realm. I won’t spoil exactly how the story ends.

This story was hard to write partly because the main focus of most of it is the exploration and musing of a spirit cartographer named Anthes, and also because I wanted to write an origin of death story in which death isn’t humanity’s fault. I think it was hard for me to write because of what I believe in. Another reason, however, has to do with the action of a character in a previous story who created a barrier between realms that is very difficult to cross.

Every week my friend and I have Story Time on Sunday nights. Several weeks ago we began watching “Once Upon A Time” on Netflix. I can’t even explain how much we both love this show. It’s such an insane, complicated, fun, magical story that takes place across multiple realms. The stakes are high. The characters have depth. The funny thing is, it’s often predictable, and often not. The writing, meaning the actual script, isn’t always totally perfect, but I can’t expect it to be, and most of the time, it’s good or great.

My friend doesn’t usually have work on Mondays, and I can sleep late, so we usually stay up insanely late. We are addicts, but at least we admit it. This Monday he did have work, though, so he left early… early here meaning midnight. I wasn’t tired when I went upstairs, and my mom said she wasn’t either, so we considered watching a movie, but I could tell God wanted my attention, so I went to my room.

I don’t remember everything we talked about, but after a while he told me to open the little green book. I opened to a random page and found a poem written by an anonymous author. The first stanza was this:

Body and mind have tried
To make the field my own;
But when the Lord is on my side,
He doeth the work alone.

I don’t really even know why, but this did a lot for me. I spend so much time in fantasy land, whether I’m writing or playing a game, or what have you. Sometimes it’ll suddenly occur to me that though I love stories of every kind, and as scary, unpredictable, and chaotic as the “real world” is, and as powerless as I am, I want this world because the God that I know and love is in this world. While we were talking he said, “I redeemed you. I’m helping you.” I needed to hear that. I know it’s not just that he’s helping me with my story, and that’s not really the only thing I was thinking about. Sometimes he interjects things into our conversation that don’t exactly make sense in context, but end up being exactly what I need to hear.

I read an article about really listening to God. I’m not sure I’ve ever audibly heard his voice, but I can tell when he’s speaking to me. Sometimes it’s through song lyrics. Sometimes it’s through other people. Sometimes it’s something the priest says at church. Sometimes it’s through my own thoughts. Other times it’s more abstract. Communication doesn’t just happen through words. Most of the time we recognize it through body language or the way a song makes us feel. Sometimes God speaks through sunsets or moonlight or thunder or bird song (or maybe my bird being weird).

The truth is, God tends to be fairly quiet, but what he does have to say is important, and sometimes earth-shattering. It’s important to listen because he will let people ignore him. After Story Time on Sunday, I wanted to just watch a movie with my mom, but I could tell he was saying, “Please come hang out with me. I have something important to tell you.” I didn’t hear words in my head, but it was a feeling, and it was easy to put into words. It’s sometimes easy to forget that God wants people to just spend time with him. I’m learning that sometimes that means just sitting around and talking about stuff.

What does any of this have to do with fantasy stories? I love the idea of magic. I grew up on Harry Potter. I still love to have in-depth discussions with my friends about Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. God gave me the stories that I love. After Story Time, though, I often get that now fairly familiar feeling that translates to “Katie, can we hang out for a minute?” God gave me so many of the stories I love at his own expense. Sometimes I get so sucked in that I forget to thank the one who led me to the stories in the first place. The point is, God is ultimately the writer and creator of everything good.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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!