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.”

So Will I

God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. I read this tiny little thing last night, and for some reason, I just started balling my eyes out. There’s just something infinitely beautiful about it in its simplicity.

I recently discovered this song, and now I’m completely obsessed with it. I think maybe it gets at what I mean.

 

Look At The Sky

The other day I realized just how much I stare at my phone. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I realized that for the longest time, I had not looked at the sky. After realizing this, I realized just how much I don’t pay attention to as an adult that really seemed to matter when I was a kid. As a kid I would just sit and stare at the sky and think about a million things and nothing. It seemed like there was so much more in the world. I didn’t notice when I stopped doing that. I didn’t notice as the world became smaller and faster.

I’ve been trying to make a point to look at the sky now. I still don’t always remember. I think it’s important. I used to see pictures in the clouds. I don’t see pictures anymore, but I still think the sky is beautiful. I think it’s important to appreciate the things God made. If it wasn’t important, he wouldn’t have made things beautiful. The world could have been black and white. As an artist, I don’t always know why I make things or write things. I just can’t help it, and even though I don’t have an explicable reason for them, I love the things I make. I imagine God feels the same way, particularly about people who can love him back.

It’s funny that a lot of things in the world can keep you alive in one case, and can kill you in another. I like fire. At one point in time, fire was integral to the survival of the human race. In fact, for several years we’ve heated our house with a wood stove through the winter because it’s been cheaper. Fire is something I can still stare at for hours and think about nothing and everything. I like to play with fire. I like to watch stuff burn (yes I know that sounds weird) because it’s interesting and beautiful.

I’ve said this before, but I have over one hundred cousins of various removes, etc, so I just call them all cousins. Anyway, at camp this summer my mom had to explain to one of my cousins who has some form of developmental problem that he couldn’t touch fire. He understood that it would hurt him, but he thought he could run to the lake and put it out before it got too hot. Like me, he thought fire was beautiful and interesting and just wanted to understand it better.

Two years ago, when we had a record-breaking winter, my dad went hiking and made a video. It was snowing and sub-zero on the mountain, but my dad had the time of his life. He loves cold and snow. When I was a kid I liked it. Listening to the weather forecast and hearing seventies and eighties instead of eighties and nineties makes me a little sad these days. At the same time, a part of me is hoping for another record-breaking winter. If it has to come, I’d rather it come in full force. When we got Seamus, we tried to give him some snow to play with. He was afraid of it. He’s a really stupid bird.

I wonder if it’s easier to appreciate things when you think about how you relate to those things, or when you project yourself into a story or an idea or a situation. In my last post I talked about Mythic Island. There was a specific way in which to get there. You had to build a fairy house. Fairies would show up and live there, and in return for building them a house, they would do things for you. In particular, they would create a magical portal that would allow you to get to Mythic Island. A fairy house is a tepee made of sticks and leaves and things. The better the fairy house, the more fairies it would attract. The more fairies you had, the more they could do for you. When we hung out in the woods as kids we would think about these things, and we would build fairy houses just to be nice. We had more of a reason for being there.

I think it’s harder to relate to the world when our worlds are our computers. On Facebook and WordPress and wherever else we “exist” we create the versions of ourselves that we want that particular world to see, and we see the manufactured versions of everyone else. We can look at pictures of clouds and fire, but they’re no substitute for the real thing. When I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends, it was like going back to Mythic Island. At the time, though, things from Mythic Island would come into the “real world” and we had to help dragons get back home. I guess maybe that made the world seem a little bigger, too.

What I didn’t realize as a kid was that the world is really big. It’s just my little piece of it that’s small. In Mythic Island we could ride our dragons hundreds of miles in a day, we were powerful, and time didn’t make sense. It was our world, and that’s why it seemed so much bigger than the “real world.” I guess I just kind of miss being amazed by the sky. The world really hasn’t changed. I’m just more easily distracted, and ironically, I think I’m less patient in some ways. For the longest time I didn’t want a cell phone. Everyone my age (eleven or so) had one, but I didn’t care. Then when smart phones became a thing my mom practically had to force me to get one. And a few days ago I realized that I forget to be amazed by the sky.

Don’t forget to be amazed. Even if you’ve looked at something a million times, look at it again. Listen to that song you love again. Smell those flowers. Climb that mountain. Eat that cookie. Go back to Mythic Island.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

It’s Complicated

I understand why people find it difficult to believe in Christianity, or any religion for that matter. I understand why people find it difficult even to believe in any kind of benevolent deity. I acknowledge the terrible things that so called Christians have done and the things they still do today. The truth is that they are not Christians. The truth is that the Gospel is less complicated than it sounds. The truth is this:

We are all born into a broken world and we are all inherently sinful. However, we were all created in the image of God; we all have good in us, and we are all forgiven because of what Jesus did 2,000 years ago. His sacrifice allowed us to have a relationship with God, but in that, he wants us to uphold a promise: that, in the simplest terms, we will love everyone no matter what.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!