Remember And Sing

Late last night I read yesterday’s Mass readings. The first was Acts 16: 22-34. It’s about when Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi. Verses 25-26 say, “about midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose.” I remembered that this had been the Scripture that initially inspired my song Nothing Else.

While Paul and Silas were hoping, questing, and teaching people about Jesus, they were imprisoned. In the middle of the night, though, they still prayed, and they still sang songs; they worshiped Him. I don’t remember what the “bad thing” was that compelled me to write this song. Lately I’ve had writer’s block. I tried for a few minutes, then just sang a few lines from the prayer I wrote five years ago.

You let us know you’re listening;
let us know you’re listening.
This is why we sing;
we sing.

You let us know you’re listening;
let us know you’re listening,
so in the dark we sing;
we sing to you.

You let us know you’re listening,
so we sing for joy.
Because you are good, Lord,
we sing.

This is a song to sing in the dark.
This is enough, a spark to start a fire.
This is a prayer you answer with love;
cause you are God, and you are with us.

I haven’t actually listened to a whole lot of Christian music lately. I’ve been trying to write my own original music, or blog posts, and I often find music distracting. The rest of Nothing Else is about wanting to be alone with God, especially when everything is falling apart, or at least seems like it is.

Paul and Silas were in a pretty bad situation, but at midnight, they sang; they hoped, and there was an earthquake. Acts continues the story and tells of how the jailer and his family were converted to Christianity after speaking to Paul and Silas.

This past Monday, the Governor of Massachusetts announced that we will start phase 1 of re-opening the state. Cardinal Sean O’Malley also announced that churches in the Archdiocese of Boston will begin re-opening. Around a year ago, I wrote my song Victory. The chorus goes: “You are my new dawn/ so here’s my hallelujah/ I sing your victory song/ the King of Heaven Come.” The news of churches re-opening, and Masses starting again really feels like I’m seeing the pale light just before dawn.

Being able to go back to church, for a lot of people, is going to feel like the end of “war.” For a lot of people, it isn’t. A lot of people are still sick, jobless, worrying about a family member, worrying about keeping their business afloat, or worse. We still have to be “social distancing.” This isn’t over. Remember that. Remember them. Remember too, though, that there are things to celebrate. Find that song to sing in the dark, look for the light just before the dawn, and sing “Hallelujah.”

Works Of Mercy, Quarantine Edition

Lately I’ve been thinking about the Works of Mercy because of the very real circumstances people are facing due to the pandemic. The Works of Mercy are split up into two categories: Corporal, and Spiritual. As Christ’s followers, we’re meant to do these things in imitation of Him. He says in Scripture, “What you do for the least of these, you do for me,” and He speaks of many of the Works of Mercy.

The Corporal Works of Mercy are:

  1. Feed the hungry
  2. Give water to the thirsty
  3. Clothe the naked
  4. Shelter the homeless
  5. Visit the sick
  6. Visit the imprisoned or ransom the captive
  7. Bury the dead

The Spiritual Works of Mercy are:

  1. Instruct the ignorant
  2. Counsel the doubtful
  3. Admonish the sinner
  4. Bear with wrongs patiently
  5. Forgive offenses
  6. Comfort the afflicted
  7. Pray for the living and the dead

It is important to do all of these things as much as we can, but I want to focus on the Corporal works of Mercy for now. In Quarantine, we can still fairly easily do the Spiritual Works, online, in our bedrooms, in our basement, in the shower, or what have you. We can talk to friends and family online and while we’re all in uncharted territory and maybe suffering emotionally, we can comfort each other.

The other Works are often harder to do in general. I think right now, though, they are especially important. Right now, depending on where one is, it is more difficult to get resources (food, cleaning products, etc), and where many are losing their jobs, it is important to do what we can to help. This may mean, if we can, donating to food banks, for example.

As one progresses through the list, it seems that the Works get noticeably more difficult. Again, it is relatively easy to “clothe the naked” because one can donate hand-me-down clothing. To shelter the homeless is probably the most difficult, but I think, possibly the most important. I think with much more free time on our hands it is easier to become more introspective, and even selfish. Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves. This literally can, and should mean the people living next door to us. If we know they are struggling to pay the rent, for example, and we know they have quarantined for several weeks, for example, it would be merciful to either offer them a room to stay in for free, or simply offer financial assistance.

To visit the sick and imprisoned are both extremely dangerous right now, but they remain important things to do. I think in this case, it is important to use technology to offer friendship and comfort, even from a distance. Especially where hospitals and prisons are some of the most dangerous places, it is important to be a source of hope to those who are scared. Obviously this is no substitute for being there in person, but it is still necessary.

Lastly, though it’s a bit of an ugly thing to think about, it is a Work of Mercy to bury the dead. I think this means a couple of things. It means making sure a person dies with dignity, and it means making sure they are honored at their burial. To be clear, when I say that a person should “die with dignity,” I do not mean that assisted suicide should be an option. I mean they should be respected and taken care of until the moment of death. No matter what condition they are in, they are a valuable human being. When I say that they should be honored at their burial, I mean that they should have a proper funeral, regardless of how many people can attend.

Right now, the world seems a bit out of control. It can be tempting in such a world to fall into a purely survivalist mindset. It is in such a world, however, when mercy is needed most. It is extremely important to teach the faith, and to pray for people, for example, and if this is what we can do, we have even more of a responsibility to do it, but if we have the means, freedom, and ability to provide for the physical or financial needs of those less fortunate than us, it is vitally important to help. It is a sign of our own humanity, and a recognition that the life of the other is just as important as our own.

I have defined “mercy” before as “love in action.” Another definition, however, is “kindness to those who don’t deserve it.” This is God’s love for us; He didn’t owe us anything, but He came to save us; He died for us. It doesn’t matter if you “owe” anything to your friend, or even a stranger living across town. If we are to be like God; if we are to arrive at Heaven’s gate, we need to be merciful, too. I did not cover every way in which we are to do these Works of Mercy, but they need to be done. This is a time to be creative and to love each other as God loves us.

Unbreakable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now And Then

Earlier today, as I went to the table to eat lunch, an odd prayer came to me. Someone I know is sick, and I don’t know yet if it’s the coronavirus or not, but I asked that Jesus would take care of her. Then I said, “This is the worst thing you will have got us through.” Then a question came to me that really seemed to come from Him. He seemed to ask, “Is this worse than before you knew me?”

I thought about how things were even just a month before I did know Him. At the time, I was lonely. I have amazing friends. I have an awesome family. The classes I was taking were really interesting, and I loved my teachers. All the same, I was lonely. I thought I needed a “soul mate.” At the time, that meant I needed a boyfriend and eventual husband. When I applied to a Christian college it was because I saw that the people there seemed weirdly happy. They seemed to have something that I didn’t that was making them happy, and I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted it with a vengeance.

Though I had gone through CCD (Christian Child Development) until I was seventeen, I didn’t know who Jesus was. I only had a vague notion that there was a god who I was “supposed to” believe in, but by my junior year of high school, I didn’t. It only took around two and a half months at a Christian college to convince me that Jesus was an actual Person who really cared about me. It followed, in my mind, that I should ask Him for what I thought I needed. I did pray, but no young man came. One night in October, I distinctly remember the words, “Please… I love you!”

For a long time I’ve tried to figure out why I said “I love you.” It was at that moment that the loneliness died. The “I love you” was really “I love you, too.” What I realize in retrospect is that I had built up some walls that had to be broken down to let His love in. Back then, He loved me, and I didn’t know it. Back then, Heaven was touching earth in the Eucharist and I didn’t know it. Back then, terrible things could happen, and before I was a Christian, I was kind of a stoic; I didn’t want anyone to see me cry, and I had no one to cry to.

While I ate lunch, I compared then to now. Now I know Heaven touches earth; God touches me when I receive the Eucharist; God speaks to me and forgives my sins through the priest when I go to confession. Now I know that He’s closer than touch because He’s not bound by the Sacraments, but I see Him every day because I watch daily Mass online, and it’s driving me crazy. Now I see what He’s doing in priests and doctors and kind people in general. Now I know that He didn’t create, nor does He want death, and I know it makes Him sad, and the fact that He’s sad makes me sad. I concluded that, yeah, now is worse than then. The thing is, I know Him now, and I know He’ll get us through this. Maybe the “us” is my family or yours, or maybe the Church, or our country, but He will.

Let me just conclude with this:

and this

Songs And Silver Things

Yesterday I tried at writing a song, but writing what’s on my mind and in my heart as lyrics is difficult. Last night I listened to an episode of a podcast by Father Mike Schmitz that was released around Christmas time. It was about the events surrounding Mary and Jesus’ early childhood. She had agreed to be the mother of the Messiah, but had been given no details about what would ensue following his birth. Joseph initially thought she had been unfaithful; when Jesus was to be born, they had no comfortable place to deliver Him; they had to flee into Egypt because Herod wanted Him killed; when they presented Him in the temple, Mary was told that a sword would pierce her heart, and that her Son would be a sign of contradiction; when He was twelve, he was lost for three days.

Father Mike noted that these last two events are two of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary because we know what they mean in retrospect, but it wouldn’t have been joyful for Mary and Joseph at the time they were living through it. Fr Mike said that as humans, we like certainty. We like telling stories about past Christmases or birthdays or camping trips because they will not and cannot change. They are certain. Within the past few years I’ve had to really internalize the Lord’s teaching: let tomorrow worry about itself. Tomorrow is not certain, but two things are: the past, and God.

Yesterday I tried writing lyrics about giving your heart away and how that can be dangerous. Everyone gives their heart to someone or some thing. We are created in God’s likeness. God is love and love is always given. We can’t help it. Who or what we love is important, but that could be a topic for entirely different blog post. I realized yesterday that even giving your heart to God is dangerous. A few days ago, I realized that I was tempted to stop caring; to stop caring about other peoples’ suffering, and to stop caring that I can’t receive the Sacraments. If I did that, if I let my heart get hard, it wouldn’t hurt any more.

The week before Mass was suspended everywhere, I named the sky “Faithfulness” because God is faithful. Last night I saw an amazing sunset through our kitchen window. I hadn’t payed attention to the sky in quite a while since it’s been cold here and I haven’t left the house except for a handful of times. As when I prayed on Easter Sunday and Jesus really seemed to hold my hand, that sky seemed to say to me, “I’m still here.”

As silly as it is, I’ve adopted one of Columbus’s rules from Zombie Land: Enjoy the little things. These days we can’t take anything for granted. My mom has started ordering groceries for delivery. The problem is, so has everyone else, and trying to get an order through is incredibly time consuming. Within the past two weeks I’ve started eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There’s nothing extraordinary about that except that I hadn’t eaten a PBJ probably since elementary school, and I have a renewed appreciation for melting chunky peanut butter on a piece of toast.

It’s the little things–the way my bird smells, the taste of strawberries, that irrefutable sunset–that remind me that God is still here, if I pay attention. I had online formation with two members of my Carmelite community this past weekend, and we talked about Saint John of the Cross’s Dark Night. Our formation leader said that the darkness is sometimes how we experience God’s presence because what we usually consider “light” is what we understand, while the “dark,” is what we don’t. Sometimes God draws very near and since there’s so much of Him that we don’t understand, it can feel like an experience of “darkness.” Scripture attests to the fact that the Lord is close to those who suffer: “Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted.” This is one of many examples.

For the most part, my friends and family have been unaffected by the Corona virus, at least when it comes to our physical health. That was until very recently and members of my Carmelite community started requesting prayers for people they knew. That was actually a little bit scary because it started seeming a little more “personal.” I worry for those who don’t know the Lord and who are very sick, and I worry for those who have to go to the hospital for some other reason and end up getting the virus.

Honestly, I worry a lot for people who don’t know the Lord, partly for their souls, but also simply because knowing Jesus makes any kind of suffering so much easier. He truly is the Light of the World; He is the Light of Hope. Without even considering “final destinations,” He’s someone to look to when things are scary. Even if He doesn’t immediately get rid of the problem, He is faithful, patient, and compassionate, He comforts me, and He makes it worth it. Trusting Him through the chaos makes us stronger and deepens our love, for Him and for each other.

While it was going on, Mary didn’t understand why things were happening the way they were, but she trusted. She trusted all the way to Calvary, and despite the heartache of her Son’s death, she still trusted. Her trust was rewarded on the first Easter. It can be tempting to stop caring, but don’t. Trust the Lord. He knows heartache. He saw the suffering of people around Him and did something about it because it affected Him. That was precisely why He performed His miracles. He saw the death of His friend Lazarus and He knew He could and would bring him back, but the death of a friend still caused Him to weep. In Gethsemane He took on our own heartache because He didn’t want us to go through it alone.

Jesus is not bound by the Sacraments, and He can work miracles and mercy however He wants. Part of why He gave us the Sacraments is so we can experience His presence through our senses. This is a difficult time because right now we can’t do that. We still have things like music and Sacramentals, though.

When I’m desperate I can listen to a man sing “God when you choose to leave mountains unmovable/ Give me the strength to be able to sing it is well with my soul,” and know that I’m not alone. When I’m desperate I look at the things I wear around my neck that remind me of who He is and who I am. Among those things is a small silver Crucifix. That, maybe more than anything silently says to me, “I’m still here.”

A Beggar At Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please, consider the beggar.

Thanks.

When The Sky Does Fall

My last post was about how I didn’t lose my book and my sky did not fall. I believe that my sky didn’t fall because I trusted in God. But what if I had lost my book? I had made the choice to trust God before I knew what was going to happen. I had chosen to trust him even if the worst did happen. Trusting God and losing a book would have been one thing. It would have sucked, but I would have been able to recover from it. God wants our trust. He wants to be our family, and that’s what family is about. We entrust the most important parts of our lives to our God, and sometimes we do so because there’s no one else we can trust.

I saw an absolutely terrible thing on the news a couple of days ago. it was about the orphaned and neglected children left without resources or comfort or love in the aftermath of the war in Syria. I haven’t forgotten about them. I’ve made sure to include those kids in my prayers because they need someone to take care of them, and I don’t know how many people changed the channel because they didn’t want to hear or see the sad story. I am trusting God with the lives of those kids who aren’t even mine, but they need help. Still, there’s only so much that can be done, and some of those kids will die. In that sense, the sky will fall. Blue diamonds will be lost. I would just like to ask that anyone who might be reading this to join me in praying for those blue diamonds.

Sometimes our skies fall much closer to home. Relatives or pets die. We get sick or injured. Students end up not having enough money to finish a degree. Relationships end badly. Trusting God is a choice, and we have to trust him with these issues before the sky falling is even a possibility; before it even crosses our minds that something bad could ever happen. Reading this here will not help anyone do that. Writing it down doesn’t make it any easier for me to do it. The ultimate question is, what do we do when the sky does fall? Do we continue to trust?

Think about this: Jesus’ whole life was a series of falling skies, both for his friends, but mainly for his mother. When the angel Gabriel came to Mary and asked her if she would be the mother of the Messiah, it was up to her. She had to make that choice. She had to trust God that this would turn out okay. She knew that the Messiah would save Israel, but she didn’t know exactly how he was going to do that. She chose to trust. Then again, when she went to the temple to present Jesus to Simeon, she was told that because of her son, a sword would pierce through her own soul. She didn’t know what that meant, but it couldn’t have sounded good, and again, she chose to trust. Jump ahead a few decades, and she trusted Jesus all the way to the cross. The sky fell hard, and still she trusted. Most of his friends couldn’t handle it, but she trusted, and luckily, John trusted, too. Three days later, everything turned out okay. We know how the story goes.

We have to make the same choice. We have to choose to trust God, and in a way, it’s harder for us. Mary was born without sin, so it was easier for her to know and to trust God. On top of that, she had some inclination of how things were going to turn out in the end. In our lives, that often doesn’t happen so much. We still have free will, though, and trust is a choice we have to make in the end. We know the story of Jesus’ life on earth. We know what he’s done in our own lives. We know he can do anything, so before anything happens, good or bad, choose to trust. Choose to hope. Choose faith. Choose love. Choose peace, and know that the God of all that is good loves you, wanted you to exist, wants what is good for you, wants the best for you, and is coming back in the end. The sky might fall. The sky might have already fallen for you, but know that Jesus can take a fallen sky and make a blue diamond.

I wish you all countless blue diamonds in the coming year, and a very merry Christmas.

-Katie

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!