Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Learning How To Run

It was either New Year’s Day or the day after that I decided what my New Year’s resolution would be. I decided that I would try to share a blue diamond with someone every day. A blue diamond is, metaphorically, in my mind, something that can make even just a moment a little better than it otherwise would have been. I decided on this because God has shared countless blue diamonds with me. I use this metaphor because of something that happened last September, which you can read about here. I decided on this because I’ve come to understand that God can take any tiny little nugget of faith, or any loving action, and turn it into something powerful and effective. The thing is, my resolution was that would share blue diamonds, but I’m finding that more difficult than I anticipated, so I’ve changed my tune a little bit. My new resolution is that I’ll share blue diamonds if I have them, but when I don’t, I’ll offer God my nuggets, and he can share blue diamonds.

When I woke up this morning, this verse came to mind, seemingly for no particular reason: “Love is patient. Love is kind.” I couldn’t remember the rest of it, so I looked it up. 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 says, “Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Honestly, when I was only half thinking about this as I was getting ready this morning, I couldn’t remember if it was Biblical or Shakespearean simply because I hadn’t read it in a while and it’s rather poetic. There are a few things in these verses that really stick out to me.

“… it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” God is love, and, particularly in the sacrament of reconciliation, he not only forgives, but he forgets even our worst offenses. In various places, God is described as being “slow to anger and abounding in love.”

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” This, I think, reflects how we are meant to respond to God’s love for us. God protects us, so we are likewise supposed to protect others in any way we can. We are also meant to trust God and trust the people we love. God is the source of our hope, and we can know that because he loves us, even when things look rather bleak, we have someone to look to for guidance. Love always perseveres. In other words, true love just keeps loving, no matter what.

“Love never fails.” I think this stuck out to me because it means that if love is our default operating system, we will achieve some kind of goodness, even if we don’t achieve what we want. If love is our default operating system, then we will achieve what God wants, which is likely better than what we wanted, anyway.

Last night it occurred to me that while it’s true that I’ve trusted God with my soul, I haven’t entirely trusted him with every aspect of my life. I’ve seen how trusting him, and learning how to “walk on water” as it were, has changed me. It changes everything. The fact of the matter is, though, that I can still see the shore, and he doesn’t want me to only go that far. He wants me to run, and we’ve got a long way to go.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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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!

Why Should We Care?

Something we talk about a lot at school is 1) what is beautiful and 2), why do we/should we care? I’ve recently decided, as mentioned in a few previous posts, that there is good in everything. Something good can be found in every event, situation, person, place and object in this world. Of course, goodness and beauty aren’t exactly the same thing, but I do think that beauty is inherently good. I would also like to clarify that horrible disasters, for example, are not good in themselves. They do, however, tend to bring out the good in people. Sometimes, it’s impossible to see good in things, but it is there. God has a plan, and his plan is insanely complicated and confusing and indiscernible, but it is inherently good.

There is a line in “You Do All Things Well” by Tenth Avenue North that says, “You work in beauty, even out of ugly things.” God uses people and things in completely unexpected ways to change the world and do miracles. It is partly the unexpectedness of these miracles that is beautiful. Whenever we see something that is beautiful, we can identify it as being so. However, there are things that one might not immediately label as beautiful, but some people still call them that.

I do not think however, that Beauty is so subjective. I do believe in absolutes. I have trouble identifying them, but they do exist, and it is best to adhere to them if possible. When I Googled “beauty in the Bible,” I found a whole slew of verses talking about how we should worship the Lord for his greatness and beauty, but that earthly beauty is dubious at best. There are so many commercials on TV featuring women with fake foreign accents flopping around, acting “sexy,” with bright lipstick and shiny hair. The word “sexy” triggers alarms in my head. For me, “sexy” is synonymous with “superficial,” and “superfluous.” These women, to me, are not beautiful.

Something that really freaks me out is when women who are 50 try to look 30. It’s just not “natural” to me. I get that some women do it because of insecurity issues or what have you, but it’s still kind of freaky. I suppose it’s a little judgmental of me to think this way, but I’ve always thought that one should look their age, as well as act their age. I’m not trying to bash women who are into looking pretty, and if it honestly makes them feel good about themselves, awesome. Good for them.

The point is to talk about what is beautiful. I believe that we are given examples of beauty on Earth so that we can understand God’s beauty, to a small degree. We mostly find beauty in visual art (paintings, sculpture, etc), music, and stories. Many times we call emotional sentiments beautiful. Beauty, therefore, seems to be understood primarily as an emotional response to stimuli of a certain kind. Some people, scientists in particular, call things like mathematics “beautiful,” perhaps because it gives them an understanding of something they would not have known before. In a sense, art does the same thing in a different way. We often understand love, for example, in terms of metaphors. Without these metaphors, we would only understand it as an abstract, and somewhat removed emotion.

If beauty is an emotional response, then is it an important one, or is it superfluous? Is it generally harmful or helpful to individuals or society as a whole? Why should we care about art or bother to nurture our sense of beauty? I tend to think that beauty is an important emotion to nurture. If we think about jealousy for example, we find that it can often be a motivator for positive action. I am jealous of the way my friend sings, so I strive to be a better singer. Although rather indefinable, beauty is also a positive motivator. If we can’t find it, we create it. It also seems to be a catalyst for other, stronger emotions and actions such as love, joy, or empathy.

My brother has been assigned “Hamlet” for the second time in high school, and he is thoroughly displeased. I love “Hamlet” because of the beautiful language and deeper issues within the play. Sam hates the idea of looking for deeper meanings, artistic devices, or analyzing the emotional states of characters and relating them to real life; English class type stuff. He argues that it is pointless and unproductive and says that the United States should sacrifice a generation of Children and only teach math and science in schools because our country would be so much farther along in terms of solving problems.

It’s true. We would be much farther along in those fields if a generation was sacrificed. However, would this generation understand love? would they even be able to relate to one another? Would they be able to work together to solve problems? It’s possible to a degree if part of the curriculum involved classes on cooperation, but the whole idea just sounds very stark and lonely. What would our culture be like? What would people do in their free time? If everyone was working in scientific innovation, there would be no one writing books or making movies or composing music. These are the things that people talk about and enjoy together. This scenario sounds extreme, but entertainment media is a huge part of our culture, and in terms of curing diseases or figuring out how the Big Bang happened, it is pointless.

We learn about literature and art in schools so that those of us who enjoy it can create more, quality art. At least that’s my take on it. What about religion? Would religion be banned from this society of math and science? Perhaps not if the purpose of excluding art is to solve problems more efficiently, since religious groups are often concerned with helping others and solving problems. Then again, religion and science sometimes tend to be in contention, so it might be a precarious friendship. Lastly, art and beauty often bridge gaps between cultures and create empathy between people who may not otherwise be prepared to accept each other.

Obviously, I’m very biased, but I just can’t imagine a world without art and beauty since my life revolves around it. One last question I would like to pose is, does it really matter what happened before the Big Bang? As interesting as they may be, I feel that some scientific “innovations” are just as unhelpful as our favorite movies. It’s all relative, and we all like to have our fun.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Tragedy, Beauty and Empathy

Just for the record, I’m not writing this because anything sad happened. I’m just obsessed with Shakespeare’s tragedies.

What is beauty? I’m not really even sure I know. If you asked me why I thought a certain piece of music or a poem or a painting was beautiful, I probably couldn’t tell you. I certainly recognize beauty, as most people do, but I don’t think I could define it accurately. I went to a friend’s blog to see if he’d posted anything new….. He hadn’t, so I reread a bit of one of his old posts. He mentioned Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. The two famous lovers kill themselves because they cannot be together. M said that if it were real life it would be horrifying and tragic, but somehow Shakespeare manages to make it beautiful. I think M is right in saying that it is beautiful, but I don’t understand why!

In my Shakespeare class we’ve just finished reading this play and we were just discussing this question. My conclusion was that there is beauty in the love itself and not so much the details of it. It is a very simple, pure love. They are so young and so innocent. At first their love seems almost silly. Juliet is not even 14. I didn’t have my first (and only so far) crush until I was 15. I would argue that their love is so beautiful because it simply cannot happen and we as the audience want it to very badly. Even in the few moments they have together, they are constantly afraid of getting caught. In a sense it is a paradox. It is sacred and yet forbidden and because of this, it ends in death.

I thought about avoiding this, but I’m wondering; is there something intrinsically beautiful about tragedy? I want to say “no,” but I just feel that a straight “no” is somehow wrong. If the answer is “yes,” then how are beauty, tragedy and emotion related? I personally find emotion to be exceedingly beautiful. There is something very powerful about extreme joy or sadness or anger in another. I think seeing so much energy focused into one particular mental state is like reading a very clear confirmative statement; this is what it is to be human. So on the surface, the relationship is pretty clear. Tragedy leads to emotion and emotion is beautiful, therefore, tragedy is beautiful. I think this is why we hear about it so much in the news. Tragedy, for whatever reason seems to be more compelling to most people than “good” news. I think it is because when we hear about horrible things happening far away, it gives us some kind of gut feeling that is similar to anger or sadness, but we don’t have to deal with it right at home.

What about when we have to deal with tragedy in our own lives? Is it still beautiful? I’m going to use the example of Hamlet since he is the most “real” of Shakespeare’s characters for me. Hamlet had tragedy and betrayal all around him and it really affected his outlook on life. He says to his “friends” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he still recognizes the beauty of nature, etc, but it means nothing to him now. Granted, Hamlet’s situation is pretty unusual—his father comes back from the grave and tells him to kill his uncle—but in another sense his situation is probably quite relatable for some people. His father died and his mother married another man within a month or two of his death. That could and does happen. For Hamlet, his own tragedy is not beautiful; in fact, it causes him to lose everyone: his lover, his mother and his friends (with the exception of Horatio). For the reader or the audience however, Hamlet’s tragedy is exceedingly beautiful, in part because of Shakespeare’s language, but also in part because of how plausible it is.

Interestingly, I don’t think the Bible says much about tragedy or how to deal with it (granted I don’t read the Bible nearly enough). The only place I can think of where it vaguely addresses it is Ecclesiastes “There is a time for everything…. a time for mourning and a time for rejoicing.” (I’m quoting from memory, so I probably don’t have it exactly). There’s a little comfort there, but you have to read into it a little. Sure, things may be bad now, but they’ll get better. I think the implication is that the Bible doesn’t address tragedy that much because we as believers are supposed to look to God for support. That’s great in theory, but not always great in practice. We can pray for those we’ve lost and ask God to take care of them and believe that He will, but most of the time, our primary concern is “Where can I find the closest hug?”

So why is there a disconnect? Why do people like to read about or see or listen to tragedy if there is no beauty in it when it happens to them? Perhaps seeing it somewhere else is some kind of relief. “Oh good, that’s not happening to me.” I think that’s part of it, but I also think it is because of human empathy. I think we like to be able to feel for or comfort people. It lets us feel that we are doing something worthwhile and helpful.

I could go into more detail on that, but this post is already sadder than I had planned on it being so I think I’ll stop here. I’ll write a happy post soon, I promise! I’ll be done with my finals and on vacation next week!