Tag Archives: spirituality

A Strange Dream

A few nights ago I had a very simple dream. This in itself is odd because my dreams are never simple. I’m usually embarking on one epic quest or another and they don’t usually make too much sense. In the dream I was in a seemingly endless, empty white room with no one else in it except me and a man wearing a somewhat strange outfit. The only thing I remember distinctly is a white fur coat. I was looking for Jesus and since there was no one else there, I assumed this was him. As soon as I started talking to him, however, two things happened.

Firstly, I quickly realized that this wasn’t who I was looking for, and secondly, a man who was a mirror image of the first man showed up out of nowhere. Since this was a dream I didn’t think this odd at all, so I went over to the second man assuming that, once again, this must be Jesus. Interestingly, though he looked exactly like the first man, he had a completely different personality. Once again, however, as soon as I began talking to him, I realized that this, too was not Jesus. The process repeated over and over, every time producing more and more men who looked exactly alike but had completely different personalities.

Then I stopped. Finally I knew this wasn’t working. By now there were countless men I hadn’t even spoken to yet, all who looked alike, and who, I could guess, all had different personalities, but were not Jesus. So I tried a new strategy. If I spoke to no one, they did not speak to me, so I simply wandered around and looked. They all looked the same. Eventually a theory popped into my head: maybe these are all different versions or parts of who Jesus is or even how people perceive him, and I have to find the one I’m looking for.

Shortly after that, however, I realized this was an absurd thought and there is only one Jesus. Only one. As soon as I realized this, I saw a man who looked like the others in that he had the same facial features and hair, but I distinctly remember him wearing much less elegant clothes. What was also distinctly different was that, unlike the others who were standing, he was sitting on a rock, his feet were in a pool of water, and he looked very weak, like he was about to fall over. This scared me. I wanted him to be okay. I knew this was Jesus, and once I was sure of it, he got up unsteadily, came over to me and gave me a hug. He said a few words, but I don’t remember what he said. I woke up after that.

I don’t think he actually said much, and I’m not really sure how important it was in the end. If he had wanted me to remember it, I would have. It’s easy to forget things between dreaming and waking up. I think what was important was the entirety of the dream itself. I learned a lot of things that I already knew in part, but that hadn’t entirely solidified in my mind.

In Mathew 24, Jesus warns of “false prophets:” people who preach things that sound like truth but really turn people away from the Truth. He warns of wars, famine, and natural disasters, and he warns that people will hate his followers because of what they (we) believe. He says that his followers need to be careful and not be fooled. There were a lot of people in my dream who looked like him, but who weren’t him, and it took me quite a while to figure that out.

What was interesting, however, was the real difference in appearances. The other men in my dream may have looked like him to some degree, but as soon as I talked to them, I knew I was talking to the wrong people. Not only that, but they looked strong, well dressed, and dignified, while Jesus did not. Jesus doesn’t present himself as above anyone. We find him in simple things and small acts of kindness. He humbles himself despite the fact that he is the Son of God. He is a part of the Holy Trinity. That’s kind of insane.

What hit me most of all was the very end of the dream. When I found him, he looked exhausted, like he was going to faint, and I felt responsible, as if it wouldn’t have been so bad if I had found him sooner. I was so surprised to find him like this that I hesitated, and I felt bad about that, too, but before I could even move to help him, he was getting up. When he hugged me it was the most relieving feeling I’ve had in a very long time, and it was in a dream.

I just wanted to write this all down and share it with whoever finds it interesting or helpful. I would love to hear what anyone has to say. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

 

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Welcome Home

My parents and I have been arguing about where to buy our second home (their retirement home–I can work from wherever I want). We know we want to live in Maine where most of our extended family lives. My mom has fallen in love with a falling-down farm house in Naples, and though Naples is quite close to my godparents and Mom’s cousins, I think Portland would be better in terms of accessibility. My dad seems to like Portland better, but we’re all just going back and forth really.

A lot of people my parents age seem to be talking about buying a second home–another place to hang out and live. However, for years now I’ve felt like I have three homes. The first is obviously the house I live in and, by extension, my little neighborhood that goes around a loop, so there’s barely any traffic. The second is the music studio where I learned to play guitar and recorded eleven songs. In a way, I also learned to pray there because my teacher and later, producer happened to be Christian. The third is the church that I couldn’t stand as a kid, but am now seemingly magnetically drawn to. To be fair, I still think it’s the ugliest church in America, but the priests are awesome, the other volunteers and parishioners are really nice, and it’s just about a mile from my house so it’s easy to get to.

About two years ago another one of the teachers mentioned Eucharistic Adoration to some of the older kids around Lent. He didn’t elaborate much about what it was, but for some reason I thought it sounded interesting, so after a little while, I decided to go. The truth was I had never heard of it before. I went that week, and I honestly don’t remember what happened in particular, but I decided to make it a habit to keep going. I’ve been going almost every week now for the past two years.

Our parish also offers confession during that time, and at some point, for an inexplicable reason, I felt I should go. It was the first time I’d been since I made my confirmation, which meant it was the first time I’d gone in several years. I don’t remember what I confessed that night, but I do remember it felt like a humongous weight had been lifted off my shoulders. After that I got a little crazy and probably a little paranoid and started going about every two weeks, and sometimes more than that. Now I go about once a month, sort of like a check-up.

Going to Adoration is never quite the same from week to week. Sometimes it feels a bit futile, like there’s a tiny voice in the very back of my mind wondering why I’m there. During those times I pray anyway, but it kind of feels like I’m talking to myself. Other weeks, amazing things that I can’t explain happen. Last night I went as usual, not really knowing what to expect. I almost didn’t go because I was in the middle of working on one of the stories for my mythology, but I got a little distracted, and somehow came across the bit of Scripture where Jesus says, “Can’t you wait with me an hour?” So I decided, yeah, I’ll do that.

When I got there, I grabbed the little pamphlet with the prayers on it for the end, found my spot, put my phone away and waited. I’ll try and explain exactly what happens at Adoration the best I can since I know many of my readers are not Catholic. Catholics believe that the Eucharist (consecrated bread and wine) are literally transformed into the body and blood of Christ. Some people take issue with this because it sounds like Christ is being sacrificed again. However, what it does, is it allows people to be present in his once-and-for-all sacrifice. That’s what happens at communion. Adoration outside of Mass is when the consecrated hosts are exposed so that people can look and sit and be in his presence.

I was a few minutes early last night, so I was totally ready to go by the time our priest came out and set everything up. For some reason I felt slightly awkward at first and I wasn’t sure why. It was like both of us (me and the Lord) were waiting. The thing is, when I’m nervous or scared, I ask Jesus to stay with me; just to be with me. Unfortunately, I forget to promise to do the same for him. There was nothing on my mind at all really for the first thirty seconds to a minute while I was there, and then I remembered why I had come in the first place, so I said, “Well, I’m here. I’m with you, Jesus,” and then one of those amazing things that I can’t explain happened. I couldn’t really think for several minutes after that. It was kind of like really seeing someone you love for the first time and fully understanding how much you love them and how much they love you and how awesome they are. Then of course I couldn’t shut up.

I sometimes have trouble praying at Adoration. Part of the reason I go is because it forces me to leave my normal life and sit still for an hour, and sometimes my mind just wanders. Last night I didn’t have trouble, though. In fact, I almost wished we had had a few extra minutes before the closing prayers that we all do together. I don’t know how much time it really was before the Katie in me kicked back in. It felt sort of outside of time. It could have been fifteen minutes, it could have been three. All I know is that whatever I felt brought me to tears.

Actually, at the beginning of this post I talked about the places I think of like home to me, but the truth is, they’re really just buildings. I think it’s really the memories and people associated with places that make them home. Really I could probably list off a whole bunch of places that could be home to me, including the camp ground we’ve gone to since before I can remember, Portland Maine itself, and the movie theater a couple towns over. Again, though, these places are home to me because of the memories and people I associate with them. I know that what I felt last night felt really good, and maybe it was God’s way of saying, “Welcome home.”

 

 

You Are Time

Imagine you know you’re part of an army but you don’t know who your allies are. You know you’ve got enemies, but you don’t exactly know who they are. For all you know, they’re invisible. They’re often smarter than you, and they’re masters of trickery. It’s dark, you’re tired, and you know your side is losing. You start to wonder if resistance is futile. Eventually it really starts to seem that way. Then something drastically changes. Defeat seems inevitable until a new ally suddenly appears. He fights valiantly and he teaches you his ways. He heals your allies and defeats innumerable enemies.

Then, once again, something changes. He warns that it is only a matter of time before his death, but your victory. He is captured, tortured, and killed, and you are forced to fall back, but miraculously, just days later, he is alive and your enemies vanquished. He was right, and he celebrates your victory with you because now that enemy you faced is conquered for good. He eventually says that he has to go, but he will send his spirit so he can always love you and guide you and help you, and he keeps his promise.

Centuries go by until it seems that the whole world knows him, or appears to know of him. He is glorified in acts of heroism that mirror his own. He is honored in acts of love and goodness. Fantastic works of af art are created by those who love him still. You find, nonetheless, that things inevitably change. Slowly but surely, in many places he is forgotten; in many places is made into a laughing stock; even his very name is dishonored, thrown into the mire of language with unutterable words.

And you ask, “what does it matter? What is a name?” A name is how you are known. You are known by your name as a writer or a thinker or a worker or a finder, or something else that makes you who you are. He is a hero, still here, still living, and his very identity is used as a curse. His name has weight; it is precious.

Holy Week (Monday)

This week is Holy Week. Friday is Good Friday. Even though I know what comes after, I’m dreading it because of what happened on that day 2,000 years ago. This post is not about that, though. What I intend to do, Monday through Friday of this week, is to write precisely about what Good Friday tried to destroy. Life. What I mean is that Good Friday stood for Death. It stood for hopelessness.

Probably some, and possibly many will take my posts this week as political. I urge you not to. Some of the things I will post about are tied to political issues, but they are not political issues in themselves. All that being said, I’ll get started on my first topic.

What does it mean to be pro-life? What does it mean to live life to the fullest? These two questions are closely related. As many readers already know, I am pro-life. Yes, I do strongly oppose abortion and the death penalty, but that is not the extent of what it means to be pro-life. It means supporting discussion and if that fails, civil disobedience when it is necessary. It also means helping disadvantaged people in constructive ways that build relationships and boost confidence. It involves being creative. It requires time, effort and sacrifice. My dad used to use a cliche every so often: “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. If you teach him how to fish, he will eat for a lifetime.” Do I always know how to “teach a man to fish?” Nope. Am I always capable of it? Nope. I do, however, think that there are people who are willing and able, and that this is the best solution to dealing with a multitude of social and economic problems. Again, this is getting borderline political, so I’ll leave it at that.

However, none of this addresses what it means to be pro-life on a spiritual level. One of the most commonly known things that Jesus said to his disciples was, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” Jesus is our connection with God the Father. Another Christian cliche is that we’re meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Relationships are a two-way street. He can chase us forever, but if we’re not interested, he won’t force us to pay any attention to him. To be spiritually alive means to enjoy the relationship that Jesus is offering us. To be pro-life from a spiritual standpoint, then, is, I think, to simply encourage people to acknowledge the invitation, and if they choose to pursue things further, to help them along. People never have only one relationship. Everyone has to ask for advice or direction in many relationships. A relationship with God is no different. What strengthens a relationship with God is worship (both individual and communal), prayer, and reading. Even fiction can help. Let God enjoy life with you, whether it’s playing with your pet, or taking a walk, or eating too much ice cream.

This addresses my second question. What does it mean to live life to the fullest? To an extent, this is a matter of opinion and preference. However, it also depends on one’s personality in general, and one’s overall situation. Some are happy living with the bare necessities, while others strive for extravagance. However, when one cannot attain what they want or need, living life to the fullest means accepting what one has and what one can attain. It also means being able to adapt and go outside one’s comfort zone. This will mean something different for every person. Sometimes it will mean watching a movie in a genre you might not usually pick. Sometimes it will mean skydiving. Lastly, living life to the fullest means allowing one’s self to let loose, and let go of one’s ego. It means learning to laugh at yourself with genuine joy.

Of course living life to the fullest also has a spiritual dimension. To address this aspect of it, I think I need to ask another question. What constitutes a full or fulfilled life? Every person will have a different answer for this, but I think it is possible to find a partially objective answer. Every human requires and seeks a handful of things in life. These are reflected in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, with physiological/biological needs being the most basic, and self-transcendence being the highest. Self-transcendence refers to the need to give oneself to something outside of oneself. As an example, he specifically refers to spirituality. Maslow also describes his idea of self-transcendence as “ends rather than means” to oneself, significant others, and even the cosmos. In other words, oneself is something sought after by things outside oneself. God seeks us out. God is infinite and perfect. We are not. God has no actual need for us, but he has a desire for us. It seems that to respond to that desire positively is exactly what Maslow means by self-transcendence.

However, there is one aspect of this that I have not addressed. In both sections on our relation to God, I have primarily focused on what God gets out of it. What do we get out of it? I think the best way to close this off is to address that question personally. Strengthening my relationship with God has made me more creative, more outgoing, more honest, more altruistic, and more patient. It has raised my self-esteem, and given me immense comfort when things aren’t going quite right. It has made me more positive and less egotistical. That all has happened in the span of seven or eight years. I certainly won’t claim that my life is perfect, but it’s good.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

 

 

Human

I was at a seminar at our church last night about the humanity of Christ. Obviously there’s a lot to talk about there, but I came away from it with one particular conclusion that I thought I needed to share. I’ve been slowly making my way through the Gospel of Luke, and I’ve been reading it differently than I normally do. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like I’m actually hearing Jesus talk, instead of just reading what he said. Sometimes I’ll reword the lines on the page just slightly so I can “hear” it better, and in doing that, I’ve come to understand Jesus, and therefore, God’s personality better.

I used to read certain things Jesus said as if he was being impatient or snarky. When I was just starting to read the Gospels on my own, there were a lot of times the words, translated into English, on their own, made him sound kind of like a strict, emotionless teacher and not a whole lot more. I’m thinking of the many times he tells people they have “little faith.” On the other hand, he tells his disciples that someone with faith as small as a mustard seed could move mountains. That can be confusing. I’ve discovered that, yes, I do have little faith, but God answers my prayers in amazing, and often unexpected ways.

Last night in the seminar we discussed human nature in general. Human nature is the interaction of a person’s body and soul. However, our human nature is flawed by original sin. Christ’s is not. He reveals to us, then, not only who God is, but also, what humanity is really meant to look like. In essence, I think, he reveals to us the truth that we were made in the image and likeness of God.

The final and most important conclusion I took from the class last night was that, yes, God loves everyone no matter what, but what I think most, including myself, neglect is that he wants desperately for us to love him back. This is evident most in the Old Testament. Our priest explained something to me after the class that I hadn’t understood before. What we perceive as “God’s wrath” isn’t exactly God “reacting” to what we do, but is a consequence of us straying away from his love.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly

Continued…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

The Moment Of “I Love You”

I’ve tried to write this several times over and haven’t been able to. Partly, I haven’t known where exactly to begin, partly I haven’t known what to include, partly, I find this kind of thing a bit cliche, and partly, it’s a bit of a novel. All that being said, I’ve decided to start with a preface. As I said, More often than not, I find a lot of “coming to faith” stories at least somewhat annoying. A lot of them have the same, or at least a similar notion that the writer was so terrible before, and drastically better, morally speaking, immediately after their conversion. I also find it problematic when a person shares their story and neglects basic rules of writing style, spelling, and grammar. While it may be more important on some level to simply get the story out, the neglect lessens its credibility. More could be said, but I think those are issues for another post. Now I will share my story.

I grew up Catholic, largely because of a promise my mom made. When I was a year old I was diagnosed with a kind of Muscular Dystrophy (MD) that would kill me by the age of five if I was lucky. I don’t really know the time frame for all this, but when my parents got the news, my mom started praying like a maniac. I had tests done, and the news continued to be bad. I need to pause for a moment to explain a Catholic peculiarity here. A common misconception is that Catholics worship the Virgin Mary. The truth is that she has a very high place of honor, being that she is Jesus’ mother, and we recognize that her prayers are helpful and influential. Now to get back to my story, the news was bad, and eventually my mom gave up. Rather, she stopped praying to God, and asked Mary to pray for her because if anyone in the world knew what it was like to lose a child, it would be her.

Circumstances continued like this for about six months, if I remember correctly until one day my dad called my mom. He had taken me to an appointment and inexplicably, things had drastically changed. What had seemed like a ritual reiteration of a death sentence for six months had suddenly turned to a promise of life. Somehow the test results had drastically changed. I had a kind of MD, the effects of which were not entirely certain, but I would grow up, go to school, and do “normal kid stuff.” I did mention that my mom made a promise. When she asked Mary to pray for me, she promised that she would raise me as a “good Catholic girl,” so CCD was included in the “normal kid stuff” I ended up doing.

The truth is I have always been a believer in the sense that I want things to be true; I’m a bit gullible; my natural impulse is to trust people. As a child I believed in God, but when I was very young I knew him only vaguely as the Creator of the universe, and even then, not necessarily one who had a conscious mind or paid any attention to us. Eventually that changed. I came to believe that he paid attention to us, but mostly like someone watching an ant farm. As an older child, particularly in my middle school years, I just lost interest in God. I got busy doing more “normal kid stuff,” as does everyone.

In particular, my friends and I became very busy defending Mythic Island, an invented universe that was under siege from the wolf demon Agorauth. One of my friends and I created a comic for the school newspaper. I wrote the story and she drew the pictures. Every Friday night we would all congregate at my house, eat terrible pizza and play Star Wars Battlefront. Of course, since it was middle school, it wasn’t all fun. We can only assume that our group was comprised of the most unpopular kids in school. We all got picked on in one way or another.

High school changed things drastically and quickly. The summer before our Freshman year, we ended our Mythic Island adventure. That same year, one of my closest friends got incredibly busy with sports, so much so that we could hardly hang out. He also got a girlfriend, and I realized that boys could be more than just friends. Towards the end of that year I got a guitar who I named Francisco. You can probably imagine why.

At that time, I was still in CCD, and for a reason that was inexplicable at the time, I was hating it less and less. Most of my friends’ parents had allowed them to drop out years earlier, but my mom was not going to break her promise. CCD classes in ninth and tenth grade were structured towards getting students ready to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, should they choose to receive it. A “Yes” signifies that a person is an adult and active member in the Church. The odd thing was, though I was becoming more receptive to what we were learning, there was little emotion in it. It was just another class.

Another friend of mine was enrolled in the program after his parents divorced in the middle of our Freshman year because his dad thought it would be helpful for him. He hated every second of it. He had changed after the divorce. It had made him a completely different person. He was dispondent and reclusive. He stopped doing homework; wouldn’t hand in projects; intentionally failed tests. He was also rather disrespectful to our teacher in CCD, which I did not appreciate. I only mention these details about my friend because in part, I think it made me want to make up for it, so I participated more in class and I really listened. I wasn’t passive during that time.

We completed the Confirmation class at the end of our Sophomore year. It concludes with an all-day retreat at which we had discussions, weird spiritual activities which I didn’t exactly understand, and a mass, if I remember correctly. There was also a lot of free time, and my friend and I spent that time silently playing cards. At the end of the day we were given a letter written by our parents. I don’t remember much of what mine said. I do remember them saying they were proud of me, and that from this point on, my spirituality was my business. Finally, we were asked, “Will you be confirmed?” I said I would.

At the beginning of my Junior year I went through the actual ceremony, and I did keep going to church, but had I been asked at the time, I would not have been able to tell why. For the next two years I can, I think, accurately say that I was a Catholic in practice, but an agnostic in belief. I still didn’t really know who God was. I knew what he did, but that was it. During that time, I had begun to feel an increasing sense of loneliness. One of my friends had already had a girlfriend and a break-up. My other friend had been in a relationship for three years. I had never dated. However, this loneliness was more complex than the desire for a partner. I constantly needed to be around people. If I couldn’t find someone to be with on Friday nights, I would sit alone and cry. I felt unneeded, and I hated it.

Inevitably, we all graduated, and my friends went away to college. Because I need help with a few basic things, I commuted to school and lived at home. It so happened that I applied to two schools, and was only accepted to one, so that’s where I went. I had hated the school search. The whole thing felt wrong to me, but something about Gordon was different. Their campus was really nice. The people there were really nice. They had a creative writing program, which sounded really nice. I somehow felt at home there. Gordon is a Christian school, and I think normally I would have had reservations about that, but unlike every school I looked at, it just felt “right.”

Starting classes at Gordon was like stepping into a whole new universe. We started classes by praying. We were required to attend chapel three times a week, and I enjoyed it. People freely talked about having a relationship with Jesus. This was all great, except that it made me more lonely. The one thing I hung on to was that my classmates and teachers and chapel speakers had taught me to pray in a way my church hadn’t. Don’t get me wrong, now that I’ve been Christian for five years, I appreciate and use the more formal Catholic prayers quite a lot, but first I had to learn how to talk. It was shortly after we had begun classes in mid August that I had begun praying that God would help me find someone to love me. I prayed this almost every night before going to sleep with increasing desperation.

I don’t remember the exact date, but I can conclusively say I truly became Christian one night in October, 2011. I was lying in bed, and I was crying. I was praying from the darkest, lowest, smallest, loneliest part of my being. I don’t know what would have happened had it passed like any other night, but for some reason I said, “I love you,” and I felt an overwhelming sensation of comfort and peace and warmth, and I felt like I wasn’t alone in the best possible way. It was spontaneous, and my only explanation is that he was saying, “I’m not going to find someone for you. I love you.” A lot has happened since then. I almost left the Catholic Church, but have since fully embraced it for a number of reasons, which I won’t explain here. I’ve never dated and have become perfectly content being single. What was sparked at the moment of that “I love you” has turned into a real relationship. I have a writing career, and am studying theology independently. I don’t necessarily know where it will go, but I trust God.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly

Our Cockamamie Quest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Those Places

Sometimes my epilepsy gives me weird symptoms. I won’t go into all of them, but one thing is particularly interesting. Sometimes it doesn’t do much other than give a distorted visual image. The funny thing is, I can describe this image in quite a lot of detail. Usually, when I get this visual distortion, I see a room. It’s not just any room. It’s like it’s made up of colored light, like the light one sees when the sun is shining through a window and colors appear on the floor. There is a big window across from me. I can never see what’s outside the window, but it’s always there. There is also sometimes the silhouette or shadow of a desk, and a man sitting at the desk. The image always comes and goes very quickly. I often wish I could see more.

Very recently there was darkness on my mind. It was more than just sadness. It was like I had discovered a dark place in my soul. It wasn’t an epileptic symptom. I was trying to make sense of things, and instead of an explanation, I saw this. It was mountainous. There were no trees or plants. I don’t know what was behind me, but ahead, there was an expanse of gray stone, and in the distance, rocky hills. There was darkness all around me, but there was light on the horizon. The light barely reached me, but it reached, nonetheless, dimly showing me where I was. Initially, I wanted the light to go away. I wanted it to let the darkness take over. It was like the light was alive. After a couple of days this image or idea went away and took the darkness with it.

When I was younger, mostly when I was in high school, I would fantasize about meeting the perfect man; the love of my life. I had this image in my head of a man in a dark room, down on his knees, praying for me, because I was praying for him. My heart ached for this person I was waiting for; who I had made up. I sometimes tried to visualize myself in that room, bending down to touch him, and to help him up, but for some reason, I never could. I eventually said goodbye to him. I said, “I’m sorry. We’re never going to meet. You’re waiting for someone else, and I bet you’ll meet her.” I’ve only thought about him a few times since, and even then, only briefly. I think he has found who he was waiting for.

I did find who I was waiting for. I had a dream about him. I was in complete darkness, but for some reason I could see his silhouette. He told me to follow him, so I did until I saw a light off in the distance. He said again to follow him. Then I woke up. I wonder if the man at the desk in the room of light is the same person. I think I’ll find myself in that room someday. It always seems like I can see the light, but I’m not always in the light. It seems that sometimes to find the light, you have to find the darkness first. You have to see war to recognize peace. You have to be lonely to recognize love.

In that dark place in my mind, I initially wanted the light to go away. That initial desire only lasted a minute because as soon as I realized what I was feeling, I wanted the light to stay. I couldn’t let it leave. I held onto it for dear life. It wasn’t just light. If it had gone, I would have been alone. There was healing in the light that hurt my eyes at first. It said, “Don’t look away. Come this way. Just keep looking. Follow me.” I want to make that place brighter. If there is light in me, I want to find a way to let it shine.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

What Christianity Is Not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2: Tell people about God and about salvation.

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

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

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

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!