Tag Archives: Movies

Not Just Waiting

I miss something I’ve never actually had. It’s kind of a confusing feeling, but I’m used to it by now. I attend Mass primarily with people around my grandmother’s age, and I’m one of about seven people who attend weekly Adoration. When we sing, I’m one of the only people who sings loudly, and I don’t sing nearly as loudly as I want to. At the Easter Mass, when the priest says, “He is risen,” and we’re supposed to repeat it triumphantly, he just repeats himself because no one says anything. We’re so used to the fact that Christ is risen that it sounds like old news. It’s not old news.

I miss the joy and triumph I know people once had. I think to a lot of people, church feels like an annoying obligation. If that weren’t the case, and if people really believed what we say we believe, we’d be louder, and Reading would be a much more Christian town. Yesterday I was teaching the kids about Advent. I had watched a video done by Bishop Robert Barron about the kingship of Jesus, and about how Advent should be about preparing for the King. I asked the kids how we might prepare for a king. They didn’t really have a concrete answer, and I realized, neither did I. I call Jesus my King, but I’m realizing that I might not exactly know what that means.

I’ve fairly recently started praying the Rosary daily. I learned how to do it a while ago, but I’ve only started to get serious about doing it within the past couple of weeks. That was when I learned that demons don’t like it one bit, and that it was just a very powerful prayer in general. At first, I have to admit, it did feel a bit mechanical. Now, I can do it really without even thinking so much about what I’m actually saying, and just focus on each of the mysteries. Just within the past few days, the Lord has given me some good stuff to think about. I’ve just been doing them in circular order, so last night I did the Sorrowful Mysteries. I hate it, but last night I realized that Jesus hurts with us when we hurt and I have no way of repaying him. As I write this, though, I’m realizing that maybe praying through his Passion is my way of hurting with him.

Yesterday I read a post entitled “Love Hurts.” It makes you vulnerable, and if you’re willing to be vulnerable, you have to be willing to let your heart be broken. I wrote in one of my stories that a broken heart has to be given away to be fixed. Two or three weeks ago, the Gospel reading at church was about when the king separates the “goats” from the “sheep,” in other words, the unrighteous from the righteous. He says to the righteous that they took care of him when he was alone, or sick, or lonely, or in need, and they say they have no idea what he’s talking about, and he says that if they did it for any of the “little guys,” they did it for him. Likewise, he says that if the unrighteous didn’t do these things, they didn’t do it for him. I hate this parable because there’s not a whole lot of practical stuff I can do to help the “little guys.”

I sulked for a day, thinking I was going to Hell for sure, and then I don’t remember what brought me to this conclusion, but I read something, or saw a video, or something, that basically led me to realize that Jesus expects us to give him what we can, not what we can’t. To tie all of this back to Advent, we have to understand that Christ is the risen King. That should be freaking us out because it’s kind of awesome. Advent isn’t just about his first coming. It’s about preparing for his second coming, too, and about recognizing his Kingship in our lives now. Jesus is a fair and loving King. He also happens to be the God of the Universe, who came into our world as a baby. As a man, and through his witnesses, he says to every single person, “I want you to do and/or believe ‘X,’ but I love you too much to make you.” We should be seriously freaking out about this. All I have to give him is my writing talents, my prayers, and my time.

Yesterday, on my break between my CCD classes, I went into the church and just hung out for half an hour or so. Since no one else was in there, I sang a song for Jesus, and then felt sort of awkward about it. I’m not very good at being quiet. Maybe that’s something I need to work on to prepare for the King this Advent. Maybe I need to turn some of the music and movies, and everything else I love off just a bit, so I can hear his voice a bit more clearly. Maybe all he needs is a little more room.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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Continued…

In my last three posts I talked about my hope to be a consecrated virgin. Things are moving as they should be. I’ve been praying a lot and looking into better ways to pray. I met with the vocations director this past Friday. She was nice and gave me good advice. She told me the most important thing to do was to find a spiritual director who will help me figure things out, and to slow the heck down.

Yesterday I helped teach eighth graders about death, which was kind of hard, not because I find the subject depressing or awkward, but because they do. We had to talk about heaven and hell and purgatory, and I guess it’s just a lot for fourteen year old kids to digest. I also finally told Father Patrick about what I’ve been thinking about, so now everyone who needs to know does know–that being my parents, the two priests at my church, and the people who are helping me along. Also, one of my friends knows, but I don’t think I should tell anyone else until I know more what I’m doing.

Anyway, my mosaic still isn’t finished. These things take more time than one might think. I keep reassessing it every time I work on it, which I guess is normal for every art project. I added a design piece, and I have a few to alter. The bottom half of the background is just about finished. The reason it’s taking so long is because I have a lot of small parts in the design that are hard to work around. I’ve also started working on an idea for my next project.

I’m actually hoping to make several mosaics that share a common theme: Who is God? This mosaic is symbolizing the moment of creation: God is our Creator, so the actual design is an abstract representation of the Big Bang, but there’s parts of the design that are meant to show that the Universe was created out of love, and there’s parts of the design that are meant to show that even at this moment, God knows there’s sadness to come.

My next mosaic is going to show God as Savior. I haven’t worked out the design yet, but I think I have to show that to save us, he had to be a victim, a conqueror, and a friend. In this case, I actually do think friendship is the most accurate way to describe it. I’ve got an idea of the materials I want to use, but I think I’m not going to know how to design it until I have the pieces.

My third mosaic is going to represent God as Guide through this life. I have absolutely no idea how I’ll design that one. Probably what I’ll do is look at some motifs from the New Testament, play around with some of my own ideas, and take it from there. I could also use some stuff from other stories I know. I think I’ll also want to use brighter colors for this one because for the mosaic I’m working on now, I’m using somewhat dark materials. That’s actually why I’m replacing a bit of the material I have on this one. The red glass I’m using is too dark, so I got some slightly more orange stuff at the store.

I gave up TV and movies for Lent. It’s actually been fun, and I’m learning a lot. I’m rereading the Harry Potter books, as well as some spiritual stuff, and I started working on a new song. My mom went out, and my dad went to bed early the other night, and I realized just how much time we waste watching TV. A week ago, Tuesday, My friend and I watched more of Once Upon A Time. He freaked out when I told him about my TV fast. What I didn’t know, and what my Godmother informed me of, is that you can break the fast on Sundays, so we’ll just have to make that work until Lent is over. Yesterday I did watch the second half of a documentary called “Everything and Nothing.” It was so confusing that when it was finished I had to take a two-hour nap. I did watch a few hours of Once Upon A Time with my friend last night, too, but I’m being a good puppy.

Incidentally, Easter falls on April sixteenth this year, but my family always goes to the Easter Vigil the night before. My birthday is April fifteenth, which means I’ll be celebrating Christs’ resurrection on my birthday, which is ludicrously epic.

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!

Our Cockamamie Quest

Yesterday I worked for several hours on the first leg of a journey my friends will soon embark on. I’m going to be the DM for my friends while my brother’s at school. I think I have some fun ideas to work with. It’s actually kind of terrifying being in charge of a little universe, and working on this kind of story is very different than working on my novel. I can only plan for so much because they might do something I didn’t see coming at all. I’m starting them off with a fairly obvious premise, but they do have to figure a lot of stuff out.

I’ve been having kind of a hilarious email exchange with my cousin. It started several weeks ago and our initial question was whether or not Jesus likes little kids. It was just a silly, hypothetical debate, but it’s since moved into some actually serious questions. It’s awesome because my cousin lives in Canada, and since texting country-to-country is expensive, we don’t talk much except for at camp and at Christmas. The whole thing is funny because we’ve been simultaneously having a Star Wars debate about whether or not the Dark Side of the Force is inherently evil. My position is that it is not.

I also started playing Skyrim yesterday. Anything involving dragons is automatically epic in my book. I’ve thought dragons were awesome since I was five. I’ve also started reading the Wheel of Time series, which is a humongous monster, but a huge story is no longer intimidating to me. I read the Bible cover to cover. It took me ten months, but if I can stick to that, I can most certainly stick to a long fantasy series.

I’ve also been more seriously working on my book again. It would be simply unfair of me not to dedicate this thing to God because my strategy for dealing with writer’s block or simply for coming up with ideas has been to say, “God, I’ll type, you write.” Quite frankly, he’s written a lot of my book, whether literally or not.

The point of all this is that I am completely immersed in stories lately and I love it. The other night, my friend and I watched the first eight episodes of Stranger Things, which was so great because the main characters are a group of four middle school boys who play Dungeons and Dragons and get wrapped up in a very real extra-dimensional, good-versus-evil battle. It reminded us so much of when we were kids. When other kids were doing whatever it is normal kids do on Friday nights, we would ditch the “real world” and head for Mythic Island where we plotted and fought against the wolf demon Agorauth.

It’s funny. When I was a kid I wanted nothing to do with the “real world.” I made up stories and tried so hard to escape into those stories. I guess I like stories so much because I can predict what’s going to happen a lot of the time. The real world is much more unpredictable. I love stories for what they are. I love stories about different realities where dragons are real, but I love them as stories in the real world. They make the real world better.

For a long time I didn’t like my own story because I didn’t understand my own story. Maybe it’s cliche to call a life a story, but that’s how I think of it. I like my own story. It’s unpredictable, and the world it takes place in is scary, but the worlds of all the best stories are scary. Some of the best stories take place after the end of the world, or some catastrophic meltdown. Realistically, most of the stories I like–most of those worlds–are a lot scarier than this one. This one’s just the scariest to us because we’re living in it. What also tends to be true of my favorite kinds of stories is that humans (or other humanoid creatures, elves, etc) are more powerful than they are in the “real world.” Characters are a lot more capable of taking care of themselves.

In this world God says “surrender.” It’s the most counter-intuitive thing a person could do. Our instinct is to armor up, grab a sword and fight against whatever evil confronts us. We want to fight because we think it’s our job. We think we’re the main character. In Mythic Island, my friends and I were the main characters. In this world we’re only seeing our little pocket of reality in a finite blip of time and space. At the same time, we’re not insignificant. In church on Saturday we sang a song, the chorus of which was: “Long have I waited for you coming home to me and living deeply our new life.” We’re not the main characters in the epic story that is reality, but we all have an important part to play. We matter and what we do matters to the story. God made us because he loves us.

God says “surrender.” We have to surrender to something. We may not be the main characters in The Story, but we’re the main characters of each of our own individual stories that are significant to The Story. Ultimately, everyone has a destination and their own mission to complete. I like thinking of it that way.

Surrender means listening. Surrender means trusting. Surrender means embarking on the cockamamie quest that is your life. In the best stories; the ones that matter; the one’s that really influence you, the characters are asked to do seemingly ridiculous, impossible things, but these things are asked of them by someone they respect and maybe even love, and they wouldn’t be asked if it wasn’t of utmost importance. You’ll also notice that they aren’t told all the details at the start. They are presented with a problem, they are told what to do, and the details become clear as they move along. This is true in the Gospels. It’s true in real life. Jesus says “Follow me.” His first followers didn’t ask why. They didn’t ask where they were going. They didn’t ask what they were supposed to do. They trusted him. If you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons or a game like Skyrim, your character is presented with the same kind of scenario. You’re given something to start with, and as you move along, things become clear. Our first “quest” as Jesus’ followers is to learn to surrender; learn to trust.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Landmarks

I’ve had a busy summer thus far. I’ll be going camping in a few weeks, which is crazy because camping always kind of marked the end of vacation when I was in school. Time has changed since I graduated. I’m not exactly sure how to explain it. It’s just different. One of my friends is also done with school and he’s living and working back at home, just a few houses away. One of my other friends is still in school, and she’ll be starting up again come September. My other friend is (I guess) working for his cousin or something. My two guy friends, along with my brother, are my D&D chums. My brother will be back at school shortly after camping, so we’ll see how that goes.

I’ve took a bit of a break from working on my book for the past few weeks for a few reasons. Part of it is that it’s summer, and we’ve just had a lot of company at my house. Part of it is that I’ve had a serious bout of writer’s block for a while. Part of it is that my friends are home, Pokemon Go is a thing, and they constantly want to hang out, which I really don’t see as a problem. Part of it is that I’ve been trying to figure out what God wants me to “do,” so I’ve been trying to spend more time with him. I actually think it’s all worked out for the best. My dad and I have been watching a lot of movies lately. At the moment, we’re into conspiracy theory and post-apocalypse stories, and that’s helping. I got a new idea for my book that I think will move my story forward.

What I also figured out, which probably should have been obvious, is that I need to always be at least one step ahead of my characters. Part 1 of my book was significantly easier to write because I had “landmarks” planned out that would get them to Part 2. I didn’t have to get from A to Z. I just had to get from A to B to C, and fill in the details along the way. Part 2 has been harder because, for a long time, I didn’t even know how the book was going to end. Last night, I figured out at least one new “landmark,” which I think will be exceedingly helpful, and I think it will help me figure out what other “landmarks” I need.

Looking at life in the present tense, most things look like a series of happy accidents, but looking back, I see landmarks. Last night I discovered a new one. A while ago I wrote about wanting to belong only to God. Although I haven’t written much about it, I was seriously considering becoming a Consecrated Virgin, but every time I seriously thought about it, it felt wrong. I think this was the case because it sounded very much like I would be subject to the will of the Church (i.e. the will of the Bishop of the Diocese of Boston), and not to the will of God. I would like to make it clear that I like the Catholic Church. For the most part, I trust the Catholic Church. At the same time, there are things I don’t entirely agree with, and I know that the Catholic Church, while mostly good, is mostly led by fallible men.

For a long time, I’ve felt like I’m not very good at praying. At least, I’m not always super comfortable when praying. At the same time, I didn’t want to just use “scripted” prayers, because that felt like removing myself from the conversation. Very recently I found this prayer:

Oh, Sacred Heart of Jesus, to you I consecrate and offer up my person and my life, my actions, trials, and sufferings, that my entire being may only exist to love, honor, and glorify you, This is my irrevocable will, to belong entirely to you, and to do all for your love, renouncing with my whole heart all that can displease you. I take you, Oh Sacred Heart, for the sole object of my love, the protection of my life, the pledge of my salvation, the strength for my weakness and faultiness, the reparation for all the imperfections of my life, and my secure refuge at the hour of my death. Most Merciful Heart, be my justification before God your Father, and shield me from his anger, which I have rightly merited. I fear from my own weakness and malice, but placing my entire confidence in you, Heart of Love, I hope from your infinite goodness. Annihilate in me all that can displease or repel you. Imprint your pure love so deeply in my heart that I may never forget you or be separated from you. I beg you, through your infinite goodness, grant that my name be engraved on your heart, for in this I place all my happiness and all my glory, to live and to die as one of your devoted servants.

As I read this for the first time, I prayed it. It sunk in immediately. This is not the original version. The version I found was written in “ye olde” English. I’ve changed words here and there to make it more personal, without changing the meaning. I think the process was a kind of prayer in itself. Whenever I thought of it, and had enough time, for the past few months, I’ve been looking into how to pray better. One thing that has been emphasized over and over in various contexts is that prayer is a conversation, and therefore, it’s important to listen. I’m getting better at that.

I also came across an argument, which I think is valid, that the Lord’s prayer is a formula for all prayers. The pastor (who was not Catholic) explained that Jesus’ formula was this: Praise, Repent, Ask, Yield (i.e. listen). Admittedly, at least the way I know it, I don’t think Jesus’ prayer is exactly set up like this, but I’ve been loosely following the formula, and I think my version of it works. I use a “scripted” prayer of praise that I wrote, then I do an Act of Contrition, then I say the prayer I wrote out above, then sort of a general prayer for the world, that I wrote, and by that point, I’m ready to “freestyle” it, and more importantly, I’m much more ready to listen.

Honestly, while I do feel like I at least kind of know how to listen at this point, I still can’t say that I’m good at it. One thing that I have learned that’s very important when it comes to prayer is to just sit still. The funny thing is, I learned this from my bird. I was picking a fight with Seamus the other day, partly just to be a pest, but partly because I wanted him to snuggle, and he bit me. I said, “Just sit still and let me love you.” I think this is often exactly what God is trying to say to us. Quite frankly, it’s hard to sit still. Even if I’m physically sitting still, my mind is often going a mile a minute. It’s probably different for every person, but I think it’s absolutely necessary to figure out how to “let him love you.”

I said that I’ve been trying to figure out what God wants me to “do.” I’ve been waiting for him to give me something specific, but I don’t think he’s going to. I found that Sacred Heart prayer by accident, but I think I was meant to find it. That prayer was a landmark. Over the past several years, there have been things he’s “told” me to do: be a bridge; tell the truth; be still, and know that I am God.” What’s more is that I’ve got ideas or written songs that have seemed to come out of nowhere. These, too, I see as landmarks; gifts that God has given me. They’re not mine. In a way, I’m able to draw a map of my life. Some landmarks are obvious; points in time that I can easily identify, like when I graduated high school, or when I released my album. These obvious things don’t define me, though.

It wasn’t until yesterday that I looked up the actual definition of “consecrate” because it was always just sort of implied. To consecrate is to dedicate to a deity, or to make sacred. It was by a happy accident that I found the Sacred Heart prayer, but it was exactly what I needed to find. When I found it, I didn’t think about it. I read it, and I prayed it, and I meant it. I wanted to belong only to God, and he made it happen.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Mom

Last night I realized something. I watched a movie with my dad, like I do most nights, and one of the main characters gets kicked out of her band because she’s pregnant. One of her band mates says to her, “Look, being a mother is way more important than being in a band.” I don’t ever want kids. Being a mother sounds to me like a miserable, thankless existence. You have to give up all your hopes and dreams for at least eighteen years (actually the rest of your life if you want to be a good parent) to cater to these insufferable nuisances we call children. It’s easy to see it that way if you look at it from a selfish perspective. I am selfish in that respect.

However, last night I was able to see it in a different light. Lately I’ve been fascinated by the Eucharist. Something in me knows that it’s the most important thing on Earth. I mean that quite literally. It’s the one thing through which humans and God can actually, physically touch, but it goes even deeper than that to a level that I can’t really even express. I’ve said this before, but I know that I want to find a way to give myself entirely to God. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do that. I’ve been rereading the Gospels–not that I haven’t done this several times before–but I haven’t spent much time on this one thing that Jesus says: “There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends.” I never put two and two together, but I’ve always felt like being a mother must be like some kind of self-death. It’s probably about the biggest sacrifice I can think of.

This also pertains to something else Jesus says: “What you do for the least of these, you do for me.” Millions of women sacrifice comfort and happiness on a daily basis so their kids can have awesome childhoods. My mom loves kids. Even before she was a mother, she knew she wanted grandchildren. I know I will have to disappoint her. My mom is wicked good at what she does. She was meant to be a mother. Before I was diagnosed with MD, and before my family moved to Boston, she was making more money than my dad. She gave up a fun social life and a promising career to take care of me.

Sometimes God makes us give up something we desperately want or value very highly in order to obtain something better. We don’t always know what that better thing is. I also think that, in hindsight, what seemed like a sacrifice at the time, was really worth it. I know this because my mom is hard on my brother and me. I know she’s proud of what we’re doing, and she wants us to keep succeeding at what we do. She’s happy that I’m an artist. She wants me to be an artist. When I graduated, she told me not to look for a job. She said, “You’ve been making stories your entire life. Write a book.” I don’t think most mothers would say that to their kids. I was ready to “sell out” and she wouldn’t let me. That’s still crazy to me.

I don’t know the full extent of what my mom sacrificed when she decided to have kids. She’s said you can’t understand what being a mom means until you are one. I do know that what a mom does for vulnerable little kids, she does for God in some way. For a multitude of reasons, I can’t and shouldn’t be a mom. As I said, I don’t want to be, anyway. Still, until I put it into perspective with these two things Jesus said, I saw it in a completely negative light. It only seemed like a punishment one inflicted on herself for no good reason. Now I see it more like a dance or an intricate painting. I can’t pull it off, and I’ll never understand it, but I can certainly appreciate its worth.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve been a little stuck with my story. I worked on it for several hours yesterday, and I did figure out how to fix one problem. I needed to better clarify something, and I think I did that, but true clarity won’t come until later on in parts that I haven’t written yet. I have so many external motivations to finish this thing, and at the same time, I don’t actually feel motivated right now. Ironically, Part 1 was so much more fun to write, even though Part 2 is so much more eventful. I have an ending, and I have a basic idea of how to get there. I just get hung up on the details. It’s also just such an enormous story, and the sheer scale of it is intimidating. Given that my mom specifically told me to write this thing though, I have to finish it.

What Christianity Is Not

To figure out what Christianity looks like, I think we have to figure out what it doesn’t look like. What actually makes someone a Christian? What are the duties of a Christian? What does it mean to practice what we preach? Why does it sometimes seem like the church is dead or ineffective? As I said, I think the best way to answer these questions is to first figure out what Christianity is not.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Christians have to prove that God exists, yet the Church spends ludicrous amounts of time, effort, and sometimes money to do just this. The fact of the matter is, it’s not our job. It is our job to tell people the “Good News.” However, I think even Christians themselves have lost their sense of what this actually is. Salvation is not about where you end up when you die. It’s about knowing that you are a sinful person, and that you are forgiven, you are loved, and you will never be alone.

Being Christian does not give you license to judge anyone. Look at the U.S. in particular, however, and you will find that some of the most judgmental people call themselves Christians. In fact, many will judge other Christians very cruelly because they belong to the wrong denomination. The Church is supposed to be the unified body of Christ, not a house divided against itself. Every denomination has something about it that is imperfect. We can not adequately emulate Christ if we are fighting among ourselves or even being downright cruel to people who adhere to different ideologies than us.

Christianity is not at war with philosophy or science. It can and should inform our understanding of both, and both can give us a more concrete understanding of how God works in the world. God wants to be known, and the fact that the world and the universe can be studied and understood by the human mind is a testament to this. He can never be known completely in this life, but he gives us clues through philosophy and science as to what he is like. For example, Jesus says that he is the light of the world. Genesis says that the universe was created when God said, “let there be light.” I once read that at the moment of the big bang, there was most likely a tremendous flash of light. I also recently read that scientists discovered a zinc spark–a kind of flash–that occurs at the moment of conception. Every human mind is unique. It’s like it’s own little universe. Chew on that for a bit.

In a similar vein, Christianity should not be afraid of art. I am unashamedly very Catholic. I am also a science fiction writer, I hang out mostly with atheists and agnostics, I watch movies and play games in which religion is out of the question, or other gods exist and have real power. Art never, under any circumstances, brings God’s  truth or omnipotence into question. Some genres portray sinful behavior as normal or even good. It’s up to the individual to decide whether these portrayals are personally problematic on a spiritual or emotional level. If they are not, then there’s no reason why the story as a whole should not be appreciated and enjoyed. Art should be primarily judged for its artistic quality.

Lastly, Christianity is meant to be personal, but it is also meant to be active. The reason why the Church often seems boring, outdated or “dead” is because many have completely internalized and abstracted the faith. It is true that Christianity encompasses a philosophy or a set of “rules” by which an individual should live. However, Jesus said that the most important thing is to love God and to love our neighbors. Love is communal and concrete. At the very least, two people must be actively involved. Love obviously can take many forms, whether it’s a work of charity, the act of forgiving someone, or a selfless personal relationship with another. Love involves giving of one’s self, but it is often misconstrued as something like an abstract, impersonal respect, particularly when it comes to acquaintances or strangers. Put simply, people just don’t pay enough attention to each other. Christianity demands that we start paying more attention.

People have lost faith. There are plenty of reasons for this, but I think the simplest is that we are no longer willing to believe the unbelievable. Why don’t we see miracles happening anymore? It’s because we doubt their validity. We see them as “magic,” and magic is directly opposed to what we know and are capable of through science. We have more faith in doctors and engineers than we do in God. I am absolutely guilty of this, so while I’m pointing the finger, I’m pointing at myself, as well.

Further, society has lost its sense of what sin is. Sin is a refusal to do what is right, and what is asked of us by God. By extension, it is separation from God. God is the ultimate good, and the true manifestation of love. Therefore, separation from God is separation from love. Sin isn’t always as concrete as people might think. It’s complicated. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect….” Obviously no one is nor can we be perfect, but it is something we must strive for. Union with God brings peace and joy. I’ve realized that something I have to overcome is impatience. Sin does not only refer to specific actions. It encompasses sentiments and ideas as well. What I want to emphasize is that being sinful does not make someone a bad person. It just means that one is imperfect and therefore, apart from God.

So what does Christianity look like in an actual, practical sense? We are given specific duties. I think these duties can be summed up in three commands.

1: Love God. Worship him and honor him, and pay homage to his kindness and greatness.

2: Tell people about God and about salvation.

3: Be kind. In other words, be self-giving.

It sounds straightforward, but actually, the way in which we do these things involves some creativity. This makes the task more personal, but can also make it more difficult. Furthermore, they are all intertwined. In doing one, we tend to accidentally, or intentionally do one of the others to some degree. Truthfully, we can’t love God without loving other people because God has infinite love for all people. Therefore, worshiping God involves spending time with people and being kind. Then there is communal and informal worship. Communal worship is what we do in church. Informal worship is more personal. Prayer is a kind of worship, and again, this is somewhat structured, but is still more personalized. Completely personal worship is when we do our work or create something in order to honor God. Loving other people and loving God requires that we tell about salvation because we should want people to know about the greatest love there is.

This is often difficult because people have been force-fed the wrong message and mistreated by those who claim to be followers of Jesus. The message that we ought to be spreading is actually rather simple. All we really need to tell people is, “What you believe is between you and God, but I want you to know that the God of the universe loves you, and you can know him and he will always be with you because Jesus paid for all the evil in the world and he is alive now. Everything will be made right.” The point is there is nothing negative in that statement. We can’t start with sin. Starting by telling a person that they are sinful does not work in a relativistic society. People have lost their concept of objective morality. We have to start with love and move towards a concept of sin, emphasizing all the way that we must strive for the good, but that we are safe.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

The Intensity Of Head-Space

Today is Star Wars Day, so of course I have to write about it. There’s so much I could write about. Realistically, it’s an absolutely amazing story. It has so much longevity, and as far as I know, it’s the closest we’ve got to a parallel universe. What I mean by that is, for one thing, it exists in several genres. Regardless of the quality, one can read, watch, and play Star Wars. This has been true since the very beginning. The universe exploded with A New Hope, and it’s still expanding. What is also significant is that is the amount of contributions from fans. The people who love this story shape what happens in its future and in the parts of the galaxy we wouldn’t otherwise see.

The latest RPG I’ve been a part of is a Star Wars rendition of Dark Heresy. We decided to go this route because we understood and cared about that universe. The time period our game takes place in is the height of the Empire (between Revenge of the Sith, and A New Hope), far away from where the “main story” is taking place. Before this, I had been part of two Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. I hastily threw together my characters, not thinking too much about who they really were, what they cared about, or where they came from. This time I took time.

My character’s name is Sky Turin. Before becoming a Jedi padawan she lived with her father on the lowest level of a planet similar to Coruscant, though this was not where she was originally from. Her parents were from the Sky, which was the wealthiest part of the planet. Think of Cloud City. The Surface, where she lived for most of her early life was the poorest. Her parents were what would probably be the Star Wars version of missionaries, working to empower the poorest people on the planet. When Sky was nineteen she rescued a Jedi, not much older than herself, who crash-landed in her neighborhood while in pursuit of a Dark Jedi. Dark Jedi, if you don’t know, were force-users who were not directly allied with the Jedi or the Sith. They generally minded their own business, but the few Jedi who remained after the Empire took most of them out pursued them, either to bring them over to their side or detain them if they could.

While Sky was helping Val escape, Val discovered that Sky could use the Force, though she didn’t know what she was doing at the time. Sky went with Val to the remaining Jedi–none of them officially masters–and was permitted to learn the Force and become a Jedi herself, as the Jedi were desperate for recruits. After some preliminary training with a light saber, Sky and Val went to a planet similar to Earth to investigate a possible meeting of Dark Jedi in a mountainous area, similar to the Rocky Mountains. While they were there they were ambushed and captured. Their captivity didn’t last long, however, because Val was extremely powerful with the Force. They were able to escape, but had to leave in separate ships. When Sky returned to the Jedi council, she discovered that Val had not returned. The council would not permit her to look for Val, so she left and began searching against their will. This is where I entered our campaign. While I don’t know the specifics of where the story is going, I do know that Sky is assertive, hates the Dark Jedi, hates the Empire, and mistrusts the Jedi themselves. She has been taught that the Dark Side is evil, and will lead to her own destruction, but she’s so obsessed with finding Val that she will most likely not always stick to the Code entirely. She’s also impulsive and will probably make some stupid decisions.

I considered writing Sky’s story in full detail. In fact, I tried, but she’s too distant from me, for lack of a better way to say it. Ironically, I think I have trouble creating a story in an already existent universe. My novel takes place in a future version of the U.S., but almost everything about that world is my own. It feels awkward to me to write about a universe that someone else made, even if I’m inventing most of the details of a story that is otherwise original. It feels weird to talk about the Force and the Empire and the Jedi as if they were my own. It feels invasive in a way, like I’m invading someone else’s creative space. At the same time, the Star Wars universe has always seemed very inviting when it comes to original ideas. I think what this ultimately comes back to is that I’m much better at coming up with characters than I am at coming up with plot. I’m great at writing their past, but when it comes to writing their present, I often get stuck.

I’ve written two hundred pages of my novel thus far, and I’m about fifty pages into Part 2. Part 1 was a lot easier to write. So far I’ve had to write two battle scenes. I think they were both okay, but they both need work. I have trouble with timing and intensity. Right now I’m working on a captivity situation. I have to deal with the head-space of a character who has just been captured and is about to be interrogated by an evil government. This kind of scene is slower, but I think, just as intense, and I’m much better at writing this kind of thing. I think Star Wars is a very action-oriented story, and maybe this is why I have trouble writing in that universe.

One of the greatest stories I’ve ever read is Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Most of that story takes place in dialogue and internal thoughts, which one might assume would be boring, but it’s anything but. Solitude, in particular, can make for some seriously intense character and plot development. Head-space, while mostly metaphorical, is still space, and in that space, anything can happen. In that space, a character can go insane or overcome impossible odds. A person’s psychology makes them who they are, and plot can’t exist without characters. A world without people in it doesn’t matter.

I’ve seen some great and some terrible post-apocalyptic movies. I’ve noticed two things regarding these, and regarding my story. First, the movies that are good have more people in them. It’s hard for a story to maintain its momentum when no one is around to keep things going. Second, what I’ve noticed, and sometimes want to smack myself for, is that I keep creating more characters. My story takes place over a very large area–basically the entire United States. I’ve noticed that the space in which a story takes place tends to correspond with the number of characters that are needed to keep the story going. Sometimes great movies or great stories take place in one house, or even one room. Sometimes there are only two or three characters involved, and these stories can be great. Some of the most intense scenes in my story are conversations or even internal monologues.

Interestingly, in the case of Star Wars, we really don’t get to see too much of the characters’ head-space, at least not directly. Their personalities come out in how they react and adapt to various situations. This is clearly effective because we know and love characters like R2D2 and Chewbacca, who never even speak a word of English. However, I think to get to know characters in this way, there needs to be constant action. There isn’t a lot of time, or even good reason to slow down. Finding a happy medium is definitely difficult. I think the few exceptions are the exchanges between Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi, but even these are short and almost invariably turn into light saber fights. The thing about dialogue is that it has to be executed well. There are far more longer exchanges in The Phantom Menace-Revenge of the Sith, but they’re often not well written. They’re either boring or cheesey. If there had been less talk and more action, I think they would have been better movies.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

The Language Of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

One Year Later

I’ve been trying for a week, at least, to do two things. It’s been difficult, because they are related, and if I can’t do one, then I can’t do the other, either. It’s Valentine’s Day, and all weekend I’ve been trying to convince myself that I don’t care. I’m about 90% of the way there. It’s important that I don’t care because, for one thing, I’m single, and for another, I promised God that I would belong to him 100%, and to me, at least for right now, that means not having a “romantic” relationship with anyone else. I decided on this many months ago because, for several, rather complicated reasons, finding a partner would be difficult at best.

This decision has been, for the most part, emotionally helpful. It seems counter-intuitive, but giving up in that department has allowed me to be happy for people who do have strong relationships, has allowed me to focus on more important things, namely my novel, my hobbies, and my friends, and has allowed me to strengthen my relationship with God. However, just because I’ve decided I will never have a “significant other” and have decided not to look, does not mean I don’t still sometimes want a partner.

Last month, when I realized Valentine’s Day was coming up, I started to feel a little bad. I’ve realized that this issue is a little more complicated than I originally assumed. I’ve read and heard some things explaining how having a strong relationship can be a way of glorifying God. Lately I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what it means to belong to God 100%. I want to know if I can have a partner and still be dedicated entirely to him. The thing is, I feel like it’s a little bit of a betrayal if I’m longing after something I can’t have. But if I’m longing after that person (whoever it might be), does that mean I should seek them out? I’m just a little bit stuck.

A little while ago I went on Facebook. Normally that would be a bad idea for someone like me on this day, but I actually liked seeing what people were doing or a few silly or cynical posts. I was going to go to the movies with a couple of friends tonight, but they ended up having other obligations. I planned to go to the movies to distract myself, but actually, I don’t need to. As far as I’m concerned, today is just another ordinary day. I have some things I’d like to get done, anyway.

I know this day can be hard. I totally get it. I wish I had some words of wisdom to share, but I really don’t. I’ve been trying to figure out a meaningful way to tell the world that God loves everyone; God’s love is eternal; God’s love is no-matter-what, but I can’t. I don’t know how to make that sink in. I can’t figure out how to say it in a way that hasn’t been said before. You’ve probably heard it so many times that it doesn’t mean much any more. You have to feel it to know it.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!