Gethsemane 2020

Thursday marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum. We’ll celebrate the institution of the first Eucharist and the Lord’s entry into Gethsemane. For many, this time of quarantine feels a bit like our own Gethsemane. We’re cut off from what we’re used to. The news is overwhelmingly bad. The number of cases continue to grow by the thousands. In Gethsemane, Jesus was left alone to take on the weight of the world.

In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for hours. I live in New England where we have the world’s best doctor’s and hospitals. Medicine and medical research will eventually get a handle on this disease, but prayer will help those doctors and researchers, whether they know it or not, and it will carry us through this.

The Fathers at the Shrine of the Divine Mercy have been putting a lot of encouragement on Facebook. Something that I’ve had to have drilled into my head by them, as well as Pope Francis himself is that God is merciful and understand the circumstances. Before Mass was suspended and churches were closed, I realized I had to go to confession. Then I couldn’t. God had to use several voices to convince me that I was forgiven because I really am sorry and intend to go to confession As soon as I can.

When I first joined the Carmelites, I was naturally curious, and I already knew a little about Saint Therese of Liseux, so last year, my mom and I listened to her autobiography in the car. After that it was like she wouldn’t leave me alone. She kept dropping quotes on my Facebook page, or I would accidentally find references to her in searches of completely different topics. At my clothing ceremony, the congratulation cards my community members gave me all had her picture on them.

In some ways, Saint Therese reminds me of myself. She’s playful and innocent, but also stubborn in her faith. On Saturday I came across another quote. She said that it is obviously grace when we receive the sacraments, but it can also be a source of grace when we can’t. I’ve had to think about it, but I think she’s right. Not being able to receive the sacraments means having to trust the Lord more, and to appreciate the sacraments more. You can’t miss what you’ve always had easy access to.

God doesn’t let bad things happen for no reason. When bad things happen, it’s usually because He can bring some greater good(s) out of them. I wondered what good(s) could possibly come from a pandemic. That had me stumped. Bishop Robert Barron had some insight into this. It’s hard to know if there’s an “umbrella” good for all of humanity in this, and if there is, it might be unrecognizable for a while. It is easier to see personal goods that have come of this. For me, the goods aren’t even difficult to see. There are really several goods that have come of this for me.

1. I’ve learned that God’s mercy and love are even deeper than I previously understood or believed.

2. Since I gave up shows and movies for Lent, I’ve had a lot more time to read. Granted, I’m reading a ridiculous fantasy story, but I enjoy reading, and I often lament that I don’t have enough time to. Really I do, but I end up watching Netflix instead.

3. I’ve come to better appreciate things I took for granted before: my health, takeout, going to the studio, Saturday night Netflix party with my friend, etc.

4. I know more clearly what I really want. When Mass got suspended, I said to the Lord, “I don’t even want Heaven; I just want You.” It seemed weird saying that, and I second-guessed myself. I’ve been praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy with the priests at the National Shrine at 3:00 every day, and they have the Eucharist exposed. I realized that for half an hour every day, I can at least see Him, and I realized that this in itself is His Mercy. Yesterday, it came to me again, and I realized that if Heaven was an empty room with just Him in it, then that is sincerely what I want.

5. I’ve actually been able to talk to my extended family more than I did before. Since we started our virtual book club, I’ve been talking to my aunt, two cousins, and my grandmother once a week, and because we’re using Zoom, I can actually see their faces instead of just reading texts.

6. I’ve been seeing people use social media to connect with each other and make each other laugh instead of pointing fingers and spewing political nonsense.

When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, He asked His Father, “Take this cup from me.” I’ve been asking the Lord for the same thing. God could have sent lightning bolts from heaven and zapped all of Jesus’ enemies so He wouldn’t have to endure the Cross. Jesus Himself said He could summon an army of angels to defend Him. Instead, the Father allowed the Jewish authorities and the Roman soldiers to exercise their free will, and Jesus allowed them to do this to Him so that humanity could be returned to right-relationship with God.

This is our Gethsemane, and probably for a multitude of reasons, the Lord is allowing it. That is not a reason to stop praying. Prayer keeps us connected to our God, and while it might not bring an immediate end to the pandemic, it can help individuals, it can help us in smaller, personal ways, and it will bring this to an eventual end. I’m convinced of that.

Jesus said that to be His, we would have to take up our crosses and follow Him. Easter couldn’t have happened without The Agony in the Garden. In Gethsemane, Jesus was scared, He was lonely, and He was terribly sad. To varying degrees, I think these are things we’re all feeling right now. This Sunday, Easter will still liturgically be celebrated, and we have to find ways to celebrate at home because Jesus is still risen. We don’t know exactly how long our Gethsemane will last, whether it’s weeks or months, but at the end of this, we will go back to the studio, back to the gym, back to the salon for a much needed haircut, back to school, back to work, back to each others’ houses, back to the movies, and we will go back to church.

I think Saint Therese is right in saying that there is a grace in this. In Gethsemane, an angel came to comfort Jesus. We’re not alone because He’s still here to comfort us. He doesn’t abandon His friends. Trust Him, and use this time. Slow down, pray, and look for greater goods. I’ll leave you with this:

Holy Week (Wednesday)

I saw something on Facebook that said today is the day Judas decided to sneak off and agreed to give away Jesus’ location; a decision that sent history and spirituality in a drastically new direction. Tomorrow is the night of the Last Supper, and the beginning of the Passion where Jesus stays up all night and prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. He’s not afraid of dying. God can’t die. He is afraid of the horrible pain that the human part of his nature is going to have to endure, though.

Death is a very weird part of life. My dad and I listened to a story on NPR a few weeks ago about a woman who trains forest rangers on what to do when they find a dead body in the woods. She talked about how people generally want to see the body and say goodbye. For some reason, this wasn’t the case for me when my dad’s father died several years ago. I never saw his body. I chose not to. I’m not sure why that was.

I’m really comfortable with the idea of an afterlife. I never knew my mom’s dad. He died when I was only about a year old. I just figure I’ll have a lot of annoying questions for them both when I get to heaven. The thing is, it’s fun to think about heaven or eternity or paradise, or whatever one wants to call it, but nonetheless, death is weird. It’s weird for the people who are left behind.

My dad’s father was seriously sick and stuck in a nursing home for two years. By the end, though it felt wrong, or strange, or both, I found myself praying that God would take him. Then I found that I didn’t feel as sad about his death as I thought I should. It was, what I would call, an unfortunate relief.

The other night my epilepsy was acting up, and I found myself praying nearly the same thing that Jesus did on the first Holy Thursday: God, if there’s a way that you can get rid of this, please make it go away, but if it’s meant to be for whatever reason, I pray that your will is done. Shortly after that I fell asleep. There is nothing better than sleep when dealing with epilepsy. I am hardly exaggerating when I say it feels like dying and coming back to life. It’s strange and scary, but it induces the deepest sleep.

I try to envision myself as one of Jesus’ friends, and I wonder what they must have been thinking this week, and particularly over the next few days. Beyond the question of whether or not he was or wasn’t the Messiah they had been waiting for, their friend was in a terrible emotional state to begin with, but then he had to be tortured and executed. Just reading or hearing the story makes me angry and sad, and I can’t imagine what they must have been feeling.

I imagine that Saturday was the worst, though. The initial shock was over. Everyone was hiding and waiting. Probably some of the Apostles had forgotten about what was supposed to happen on Sunday. They were probably thinking more about what on earth they were going to do next. Their leader was gone, and with that, they probably felt like their purpose truly was, or may have been lost. On top of all of that, all but one of them had abandoned Jesus, and they now had to deal with the self-incriminating emotions connected with that.

What I do know is that they had hope. Jesus told them that they were going to mess up, but that they were also going to turn back. They didn’t initially know what they were doing, but once they did, they had something to hold onto. And still, death is a weird thing. I may have hope that I’m going to see my grandfathers in heaven, but for years now they’ve been in a place I can’t get to. When I was in middle school, I remember being vaguely familiar with a girl who had cancer, though I didn’t know it for a long time. I was not particularly religious at the time, and all I can remember thinking when she passed was, “Now what?”

Whether we’re talking about the wait for heaven, or the Easter Triduum, there is always this feeling of “Now what?” It’s this strange, irreconcilable jolt of separation that even the most hopeful have to deal with.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

 

 

 

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!

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!

Be Careful

It seems to me lately that social media, or at least Facebook, is getting more negative. I don’t have a lot of Facebook friends–just my chums and extended family, and a couple of our neighbors, which in total, amounts to 100/150 people. A lot of those people rarely use it or don’t use it at all any more, which reduces the number to somewhere between 20 and 30 people. I still use it quite a bit to keep in touch and for networking or organizational purposes. Often it is fun. People post silly personality tests or interesting articles, and I like that stuff. There are certain types of posts that just drive me insane, though.

  1. Passive aggressive: These posts are directed at no one in particular, and yet they are obviously meant for someone. They are usually some kind of attack by people who will not confront their problems by talking to people directly. Instead, they clutter up everyone’s news feed with meaningless banter that is just confusing and annoying. Either break off your relationship with that person, or talk to them privately. Don’t expect me to pity you if I don’t even know what you’re talking about.
  2. Self pitying posts: These all say essentially the same thing, that being, “If you move on from your difficult past, it will make you stronger.” While that’s technically a good message, it gets posted a lot, and says to me that the people who are posting this really aren’t moving on. Furthermore, posting this doesn’t accomplish anything. You’re posting it because you’re dwelling on your past. Learn to forgive. Learn to appreciate the little things. Allow yourself to hope. Everyone has difficulties and regrets, and I get that it’s easier for some people to move on for whatever reason, but posting this stuff on Facebook accomplishes nothing.
  3. Guilt trip: Someone posts a picture of a kid with cancer and says something along the lines of, “If you don’t ‘share’ this, you’re a heartless jerk.” That doesn’t make me want to share the post, and often makes me scroll past it without doing anything. There are similar posts that say, “Hey, do me a favor and pray for this kid.” Those are nice. That’s not a guilt trip, and that actually makes me want to pray for the kid. In fact, sometimes if I see something like that I’ll just stop what I’m doing and pray right then and there so I don’t forget. Maybe the intention really is good, but telling me I’m a jerk if I don’t share your post does not make me want to share your post.
  4. Straight-up mean: These usually come in the form of comments. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a perfectly innocent post about even a vaguely religious or political topic, and people start ripping each others’ throats out. It happens a lot with controversial issues, but sometimes it happens with completely amoral, apolitical, areligious stuff. People will post something about a cool art piece, and it’ll start an all-out war. This wouldn’t happen if people were talking in person, so it shouldn’t happen on Facebook. Debate is fine. Being a jerk is not.

Social media is a tool. Yes, it is also a form of entertainment, but it can be used for constructive or destructive purposes, just like movies, books, or other forms of entertainment. However, because it is interactive, it is particularly powerful. It can be used to bring people together and lift people up, but it can also be used to gang up on the vulnerable and cause a lot of damage. We are constantly using it, and therefore, we are constantly exposed to whatever messages are being spread. Humans are social animals, which makes social media addicting because it allows us to be more social. I’ve quit cold turkey a couple of times, and I can go several days without checking it, but I freely admit I’m probably a little addicted. It’s useful, but it’s dangerous in that way, and I just think that people should be more careful about what they post.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Confessions Of A Gospel Snob

I’m kind of tired of the New Testament. Earlier this summer I decided I would read the Bible cover to cover, so for the past several weeks I’ve been making my way through Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and now, I’m in Numbers. It’s been both strange and refreshing. Honestly, I’m just kind of tired of the same old Christian posts on here and Facebook, and quite frankly, everywhere else. A lot of us (I’m sure I’m guilty, too) tend to just cycle through the same old ideas, and while they’re still true, and always will be, they just start to sound empty.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the message of the Gospel. I love Jesus. It’s all good over here. I just think that we need to find some new way of talking about it. Put it this way: it’s not cool. I know that’s not the point, and maybe you can’t express it in a way that’s “cool,” I also think that we need to get creative, especially if we’re going to teach the Gospel to younger people, and especially the next generation. I don’t know whether or not my brother is planning on ever having kids, but if he is, I want to make sure they know who Jesus is. I don’t know if I can trust my brother enough to do that (at least right now). I honestly have no idea what he believes. He’s an enigma to me. I can’t get a straight answer out of him, either. Alas.

What Iv’e read so far of the Old Testament has been interesting. Some things have been surprising. Some of the things God requires of Israel, and some of the things he does are confusing. It’s certainly different than the teaching of the Catholic Church in a lot of ways. I’m very interested to read the New Testament in perspective. I’m enjoying reading the Bible like this. I’m just focusing on it like it’s a story or a text book, which is different from my usual take on it (for obvious reasons). I think it’s actually helpful to view it in this way, which I haven’t done before, outside of school. The last time I did this kind of thing was four years ago, and that was for school.

I want to know God better. I don’t read the Bible enough. Some people read it every day. I think I’m just stubborn. I convince myself that I’m to busy, but I’m really not. I’m finding lately that I’m not very good at prayer. I find it difficult. I think I’ve always kind of had this problem, but I just haven’t noticed it. I probably just think too much about it. I don’t pray about what I’m reading. I probably should.

I trust God, and I love him. I can honestly say that because I’ve made it through some rocky places and come out better for the trouble. I think too much. It’s a giant pain in the neck sometimes. I’m a superstitious person. Before I was Christian I was willing to believe just about anything, and now that I am Christian, I’m willing to believe a lot (i.e. all my eggs are in one basket). I’m stubborn about it, too. That’s why I think we need to change the way the Gospel is presented. We need to make it “cool” while still being truthful. I’m not sure how to do that, but I’m sure we can figure it out. I definitely think music helps. Music is super helpful, actually. We need to exploit every medium we can. Not only that, but we need to invent new ways of expressing things. I know I’ve done this rant before, so I’ll shut up now.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Giving Up Facebook And Getting A Bird

As many of you know, I am Catholic, so I gave up Facebook for Lent. I’ve found the experience interesting because I’ve found that while I am more productive without social media, I’m not as productive as I thought I would be. I guess I should add that I’m a little obsessed with being productive. I feel like I have a responsibility to the world to accomplish things because I was blessed and lucky enough to be born and raised in upper middle class America.

That being said, I think I have a slightly different idea of what being productive means than some people. Being productive to me doesn’t always mean completing tasks. Being productive to me sometimes means trying new things or making sure I’m enjoying time with people I love, and letting them know how much I love them. I fully believe that love is contagious and can be spread more easily than people might think.

Because I’m not on Facebook, I am getting a lot done, however. In fact, I’m amazed at just how much I can get done, and how much free time I still have. I didn’t realize just how much time I was wasting on something that was really rather pointless.

However, Facebook does have its merits. When I decided to quit the day before Ash Wednesday, I was sure I was going to miss a lot. I was convinced that when I got back on I would be completely out of the loop. Facebook allows us to keep up with what’s going on in our friends’ and families’ lives so easily, that the thought of not knowing is a bit scary. My family is friends with a lady named Charlene. She’s in her early sixties and doesn’t use Facebook. She comes over once or twice a week with her silly little dog to hang out and chat, and she was telling us yesterday (March 2nd) that she had been completely unaware that one of her friends had recently lost their dog, and another friend had had a child.

My mom is on Facebook, and we’re “friends” with a lot of the same people, so I don’t actually think I’m missing much. If I was, she’d probably tell me. I do intend to start using it again after Easter, but I intend to use it a lot less than I was. I still need to use it for my music, and I don’t want to be completely in the dark as to what people are up to. Plus I have a hilarious surprise for everyone.

On Friday I’m going to New Hampshire to buy a bird. I had a parakeet several years ago, and he died at the age of 12. I’ve been petless for far too long now, so for graduation my parents are buying a conure for me. If I get a boy his name will be Seamus, and if it’s a girl, her name will be Lucy. Only a few people know I’m getting him/her, so it’ll give me an excuse to be random. I’ll post pictures here, too because, let’s face it, I get way too excited about cute animals: especially when they’re mine.

Some people say giving something up for Lent is silly and superficial. I think in many cases it is, and I usually don’t do it. Instead, I try to get rid of bad habits or adopt good ones. This year I’m trying to get rid of a very old, and in my opinion, very bad habit. I don’t feel comfortable posting about it, and I’ve actually tried and failed several times. It’s too personal, and it involves someone that is very important to me. This person doesn’t know about it, and it doesn’t really even affect them. It’s just something I don’t like about myself, so I’m trying to get rid of it. In the past I’ve tried using negative reinforcement, and that hasn’t worked, so now I’m trying positive reinforcement and that seems to be working a little better.

Ultimately, I guess what I’m trying to say is that Lent doesn’t have to suck. It can actually be that little extra push that people need to get something done or make a change or just attempt at being a little more conscious of spiritual matters. Sometimes I don’t do anything at all, and I kind of feel like I’m missing something if I don’t. I actually feel like it’s an opportunity that is easily missed.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!