What We Say In Silence

I didn’t write over the Triduum this year. Normally I do, but I was an emotional train wreck. I cried for most of the Easter Vigil Mass. I had taken a nap earlier on Saturday, so I wasn’t exactly tired. At 12:30, then, my dad and I started one of the Harry Potter movies and went to bed around 3:00.

Normally for us, Easter looks like getting up and having a feast with a bunch of relatives from New Hampshire and Maine. We had our book club on Friday, and planned to meet online for a bit. We talked about food and boredom and pets. Instead of our usual pile of food to feed an army, we got an order from Buffalo Wild Wing, and my mom ordered a chocolate cake and a carrot cake. After we chatted online, my dad and I watched the next Harry Potter movie. Then I went to pray.

It seemed like the Lord was asking, so I said, “I’m not angry with you. I just don’t know why this is happening, and I don’t know what you’re doing, and it’s kind of freaking me out.” That day I had Joy Of The Lord by Rend Collective stuck in my head despite not having listened to it in a while. The Chorus ends with, “In the darkness I’ll dance, in the shadows I’ll sing/ The joy of the Lord is my strength.” I thought about the first Easter. The disciples were together behind locked doors, afraid and uncertain about what even the next hour might bring. That felt familiar.

I imagined myself in that room with them. Most of them had fled and abandoned the Lord; all of them thought He was dead and that the previous three years of their lives had been a waste. They all knew that they were in very real danger. I imagined sitting there, and suddenly Jesus walks through the closed and locked door. Chairs are knocked over; people shout, but He raises His hand in blessing and says, “Peace.” In His language, though, it would have been “Shalom.” For some reason every fiber of my being hyper-focused on that “Shalom.” I wasn’t simply imagining this anymore; I was praying it.

In my meditation, He walked over to me, got down to my level (because I was sitting in a chair, sort of stunned), and showed me His hand. Instinctively, I took it, and it was like everything disappeared, even time. It was like He was silently saying, “I’m still here.” I waited for Him to do something; I was letting Him drive the bus at this point. I thought the scene would continue and He would show His scars to His disciples because that’s just what would happen next, but nothing else happened. For a moment, I thought about letting go so things could progress like they do in the “story,” but it was almost like He silently said, “You don’t have to,” so I didn’t.

When I finally opened my eyes and looked at my phone, I was surprised to see how much time had passed. I told Him that it feels like the world got pulled out from under me. Then I realized that His world had got pulled out from under Him, albeit in a different, and much more painful way, but He knows what it feels like to be thrown into all-of-a-sudden chaos. I also realized that He came back with scars.

I don’t think anyone is going to come out of this unscathed. Those who don’t contract the virus are still worried about their kids’ education, their financial situation, the health of their loved ones, their own mental health, their spiritual well being, or simply what the future as a whole will look like. For better or worse, this is changing us. The first thing Jesus said when He came back to His disciples was “Shalom.” For some reason that felt like I had found a point of gravity and I suddenly wasn’t just spinning off in space, bouncing off of asteroids. It felt like I had found a star and could rest there. Even though it wasn’t a physical touch, He held my hand and silently said, “I’m still here.”

Today I was thinking about constants and how valuable they are. My stupid bird still sleeps under my ear and screeches at the kids playing in the yard next door. I still play the same stupid video game with my dad. We can still watch Harry Potter. The water is still running. The lights still work. I can’t see my friend, I can’t go to the studio, I can’t go to Mass, and that stuff is scary. Most importantly, though, Jesus, the God and King of everything is still here. It’s a lot easier to listen to the chaos because it’s all over the news and social media and even in our heads and it can drive us crazy.

Yesterday, I started my meditation not really knowing what to expect. Early on, when things started shutting down, I was nervous, but said, “Okay, Lord, you got this,” but of course I’ve been listening to the chaos. Last night, in my meditation, the Lord stopped everything and said, “Shalom.” He’s done it before; He can calm the storm, and He can catch us when we’re sinking. It might still rage around us, but we can find His peace in our souls. Hold onto that Easter moment. Let Him hold your hand, and let Him be your star.

I’ll Stick Around To Remind You

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. I’ve been busy loving a teenage boy from where, I don’t know, praying, working on my book, and working on music in the studio. I just finished up the second song, “Heart Of Love.” I don’t know where it’ll be on the album, but I’m just overjoyed at how good it sounds. A lot of love went into this song, on my end, for sure, but I’m convinced, from heaven as well. Ken and I pray before every session, and both of us have been convinced that we’ve had very little to do with this song. Even when the work was barely started, we couldn’t stop ourselves from laughing at how good it sounded.

Last week we finished “Heart Of Love” and started work on a song called “Sunset Sparrow,” which is partly dedicated to my new friend, but also to anyone who is suffering from loneliness or any kind of mental health issue. The first verse ends with a question: “Sunset Sparrow, can you see the city lights, and in the sky beyond, can you see the stars?” The Chorus goes like this: “If your answer’s ‘no,’ I’ll stick around to remind you, the night can’t last forever, and the morning’ll break through.”

A couple of weeks ago, my friend and I decided to watch “The Hunger Games.” There’s an interesting conversation in the first movie between President Snow and the guy who designed the game/arena. President Snow questions, “You like an underdog?” The guy responds by saying, “Everyone likes an underdog,” to which the president responds, “I don’t.” My friend reflected, “People don’t actually like underdogs. People like underdog stories.” Truthfully I haven’t thought about it a whole lot, but at the time, she seemed to be right, and I think she probably is.

I have also heard over and over that we live in a cut-throat, survival-of-the-fittest society. Though I have seen beautiful exceptions, I think, for the most part, this is overwhelmingly true, too. This leaves people afraid to reach out to one another in kindness because it leaves them vulnerable. Any show of weakness could mean defeat. I am reminded of the “Good Samaritan” story. Two of the three people who pass the wounded man–the underdog–pass him by. They are more interested in their own survival; the task at hand.

Jesus uses that story in a particular context as a teaching device, but I wonder what the wounded man–the underdog–would have been thinking. I had a very strange conversation with my new friend just a couple of days after we made contact. I asked him how his weekend had gone. His response was not a positive one. I spent two hours trying to convince him that he was lovable, that he was loved, that I don’t abandon my friends, and that I wasn’t going to abandon him. He countered by saying that he was very good at pushing people away, and that we couldn’t possibly really be friends because we had only known each other for two days, and then, it was only over the internet.

I spent the whole two hours inwardly hoping he wouldn’t ask me why I loved him because if he asked me, I don’t think I could have explained. The fact of the matter is, though, that, though I only really know his name and his age and the bare minimum of his personality, I love this kid, even if I can’t articulate a reason. Pope Benedict XVI said, “Only when God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively, it is good that I exist.” Saint Paul said that we can know God loves us because, and I am not quoting directly, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” I’ve recently come up with a prayer that I find exceedingly helpful when, in a sense, I have to remind myself of what I believe. “Lord, I’m a mess, but I’m your mess.”

For too long I tried to figure out why God loves me. Of course I know that God is Love, so I can infer that, in some sense, he has to love me. He kind of can’t help it. At the same time, I personally don’t have to exist. He wanted me with all my quirks and talents, and preferences, and what not, to exist. He created me knowing I’d be a mess, but he loves me too much not to have made me. Accepting my own messiness has not been easy. It probably never will be. By messiness, I don’t only mean sinfulness. I’m talking about other things, too, like the leftover insecurity that still occasionally tries to rear its head from when I was a teenager, or even my medical weirdness.

Acknowledging the mess is important, but if anyone only looks at their mess, they’re left with not much more than a bad mood. That’s why the second part of the prayer is important. By saying that I’m His mess, I am reminding myself that I belong to Him. It’s my pledge of loyalty, but also a way to say, “I know you love me, and I love you, too.” In a world where we’re convinced we have to do everything on our own, it’s easy to make the mistake of either not asking for help when we need it, or ignoring those who do need our help.

From talking with my new friend, I’ve discovered a new sense of the idea of tough love: “I’m going to love you whether you like it or not because you need it.” Sometimes unconditional love is uncomfortable. It can sometimes seem entirely idealistic and unrealistic, when, in fact, the opposite is true. The God of the universe who can literally do anything, and never changes, loves each person literally no matter what, even if our actions or words are sometimes not to His liking.

Last night I reflected on the fact that, while praying, I usually call God, “Lord.” That should be no surprise, except that, when Jesus instructed his disciples (i.e. us) to pray, he told us to address God as “Father.” That’s the whole point. God is the most perfect Father we could ever have. Even when we’re being “the actual worst,” He loves us. Sometimes when our loved ones are going through something particularly hard, or they do something particularly detrimental to themselves, another person, or our relationship, it’s tempting to decide, “I can’t deal with you right now,” and then “right now” lasts a long time. God, on the other hand, doesn’t think like that. Unlike humans, God can handle any mess, no matter how big, and nothing we do, and no matter how we feel, we are unconditionally loved.

I wrote “Sunset Sparrow” initially as a promise to my friend from my personal perspective. However, on further reflection, I’ve realized two things. The first is that I have never encountered the kind of deep darkness I’m finding in his soul. Maybe he’s being an overly dramatic teenager, but I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt. Secondly, though, I think the chorus of the song can be addressed to anyone. “I’ll stick around to remind you. The night can’t last forever, and the morning’ll break through.”

My upcoming album is a worship album, but I wanted the songs on it to be a bit less conventional than the usual fare of worship songs. The fact of the matter is, after a while, truth can only be said the same way so many times before it starts sounding like white noise. I hadn’t intended to write a song to reflect God’s faithfulness directly. On the other hand, I have asked Him to give me some words from His perspective that He wanted me to address to someone in particular, or the world in general. I had hoped He would give me something new to say, but no spectacular divine revelation came. Instead, He gave me new words to convey an ancient message: “I am faithful;” in other words, “I’ll stick around to remind you. The night can’t last forever, and the morning’ll break through.”

Quick Answers To Strange Prayers

“What have I got myself into?” I sit here this afternoon with a message in my inbox from a teenage boy from exactly where, I don’t know, knowing that, in fact, this kid is an answer to a prayer. Nonetheless, I feel as though I’ve probably bit off more than I can chew. Two days ago, I was praying my Rosary, as I do every day, and the focus was on the Sorrowful mysteries. Whenever I focus on Christ’s Passion, the thing that bothers me most is that he had to endure it alone. He was as alone as anyone could possibly be, and that kills me. When I finished my Rosary, I said an extra prayer, which was, “Lord, I wish there was a way I could take some of that loneliness away from you.” Then it hit me. “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”

I can’t directly take away the loneliness of His Passion, but I can help someone else who is lonely. I had insomnia a couple of nights ago, so for something to do while I was trying to fall asleep, I joined a website that helps people find pen pals. I created my account, and on my profile, I said that I was hoping to make a new friend, and to be a help to someone who was lonely. I prayed that a lonely person would find me, but yesterday I decided I couldn’t just sit around and wait. Jesus went looking for those who needed His help, so I decided I needed to, as well.

I found the aforementioned kid’s profile, and he said he suffered from severe depression, and was looking for a friend. He’s fifteen, and he was looking for someone more around his age, but I sent him a message anyway, saying that I might be able to help him, or just be a friend. I told him that when I was younger I dealt with pretty bad loneliness, and I knew that it sucked. I didn’t expect him to reply, but surprisingly, he did. He was surprised that I’m twenty five, and he agreed to be email buddies. This was all in a conversation we had using the website’s mailbox, so I gave him my email address, and now I’m waiting. In the meantime, I’m also praying for him.

I worry that I won’t have the right words to talk to this kid, but I suppose I don’t have to. I most likely can’t physically be there to give him a hug when he needs it, but maybe all I need to do is listen. I often forget that it’s just as important, if not more important, to listen, than to say the “right” thing. Sometimes people don’t need to hear anything. Sometimes they just need to get their words; their thoughts; their pain out. If I can’t be the angel who comforted Jesus in the Garden, maybe I can be a friend who comforts this kid in his garden.

Words Make A Difference

Today I woke up thinking about linguistic idiosyncrasies. I have no idea why. What I mean, though is that I was thinking about how language, and our use of it, changes over time. When my dad was a kid, to describe something as “cool,” he and his friends would say it was “wicked pissa.” When my friends and I were teenagers, we would say it was “sick.” When I was fourteen and my guitar teacher was twenty nine or so, he would call things, “mad ill.”

My use of language has definitely changed since I was fourteen. I have no idea why, but for a while now I’ve been describing things that I really like or that get me excited as “disgustingly good,” or just “disgusting,” or “stupid good.” I remember when we were younger, we used to use the word, “awesome” a lot.” Now I tend to use “ridiculous.”

When I was a senior in college, I had to fill my schedule with a couple electives. The funny thing about my school was that there weren’t really any classes that were just fun and easy. That being the case, I decided to take “history of the English language.” It wasn’t an easy class, but it was definitely interesting. Our final was to write a paper that had anything to do with the English language. It was as simple as that. I decided to write my paper on the use of slang. I find slang immensely interesting. In part, my paper dealt with the reinterpretation of how certain words are used in informal vernacular, and in part with the invention of new words. I came across one argument that I strongly agreed with, that if an invented word is universally understood in a specific context with an actual definition, whether or not it’s in the dictionary, it is, in fact, a legitimate word in the English language. A significant portion of my paper dealt with this idea.

I’ve invented a few words and phrases. Mostly only my dad and I know what they mean, but between us, they make sense. For example, “blargh,” means “darn it.” The word “gabuje” has several uses, but it’s always accompanied by body language or some other indicator that makes it makes sense. It means, “move,” “help me with this,” or in the form a question, “are you ready?” My dad also invented the term “bird tantrum.” a bird tantrum is when you’re annoyed, generally about something stupid, but you have no words to describe what you’re annoyed about.

On a more serious note, I learned something very interesting the other day. In middle and high school I took a total of five years of French classes. In French, as well as with other languages, there is a formal, as well as an informal word for the second person singular, i.e. “you.” In French, the formal is “vous,” the informal is “tu.” The latter is what one might use with close friends or relatives. Apparently there used to be a recognizable formal and informal second person singular in English, as well. The formal was “you,” and counter intuitively, the informal was “thou,” or “thee,” depending on the context. Therefore, when certain prayers were translated into English, the translators intentionally retained the informal, intimate use in recognition of the kind of relationship we’re supposed to have with God.

Of course we haven’t retained the formal/informal use of the second person singular in English, and I kind of find that regrettable. Unless I’m reciting the Lord’s prayer or another old prayer I have memorized, I call my heavenly Father, and my Savior, “you.” In a way, I think it makes the short moments taken to recite old prayers more precious, knowing what it means to say, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” He’s my God. He’s the King of the Universe. He’s my Savior, and my brother. He’s my family because he chose to be. He chose me.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Braving The Bleak

Last week we were on vacation, camping in Maine. It was mostly awesome, but my medication did still give me some issues, and it was frustrating. I had to take a lot of naps. Today I was back to work. I’m working on a rather dark story for my mythology, which isn’t exactly fun, but I’m getting through it. I’ve actually enlisted one of my friends to help me with this one. Basically, I’m describing a Realm in my universe called the Bleak, which, unlike others, is deeply connected to darker human emotions. In another story I described a Realm called the Waiting Lands, which a human could possibly get to, not just in their minds, but also in bodily form, but they would have to “brave the Bleak” first. The Waiting Lands are very strange, but also very cool.

When I’m writing, or sometimes much later than when I actually finish a story, I find myself reflecting on how my fantasy mirrors my reality in a way. Last week was kind of a Bleak for me. I had a lot of fun with my cousins, but I was dealing with issues with my meds, and on top of that, I found myself fighting a pretty difficult spiritual temptation. I am hardly ever angry at God, but I did once yell at him. I didn’t doubt him. I was just mad.

Of course God, being obnoxiously helpful like he is, decided to intervene. My dad decided shortly after my spiritual tantrum that we should cut my dose just a little bit without informing my doctor, which seems to be working, and one night when I couldn’t sleep because I had slept all afternoon, I was reading random stuff on my phone, and I found Saint Therese de Lisieux. That girl lost her mother at the age of four, she was sick quite often, and she died very young. Still, she trusted God completely. I read snippets from her autobiography, “Story of a Soul,” and it was all about how God is truly a God of love. This really moved me, and I keep coming across more and more things that emphasize the fact that God loves me and that he’s listening.

There’s a line from a Tenth Avenue North song that keeps running through my head that seems quite appropriate. “Even when we fight temptation, even when we stand accused, we know that you will defend us, we can always run to you.” I won’t lie, fighting this particular temptation has felt like an uphill battle. Last night, though, I started rereading the Gospel of Luke, really slowly, just because I wanted God to talk to me. He did, in two ways, actually.

I don’t remember how I got to it, or what the verses were that made me realize it, but somehow God spoke to me and told me that I was promised heaven. Initially I thought, “duh, I’m Christian.” But then a voice in my head said, “No, think about it.” God doesn’t break his promises, and the fact that that promise stuck out to me means that I needed a reminder. It also said to me that I haven’t lost the fight. That wasn’t where it ended, though. I had a weird dream this morning. This seems to happen a lot. I was on a weird roller coaster train, and it broke. All the passengers were literally going to die. A voice from nowhere in particular said “Love, luxury, lust.” Then a priest on some kind of flying platform started going to all the passengers. Finally he came to me, right before the train was going to fall, and he gave me my last rights. I wanted him to stay with me, but I let him go so he could get to the other passengers. Then I woke up.

The dream said to me that there was love, and there was luxury, and there was lust on that train. It didn’t matter. Jesus came to save everyone. More to the point, he came to promise heaven to everyone. Okay, there is a path we have to follow, and it gets a bit complicated, but Jesus also said that he’d stick with us no matter what. When asked why he hung out with sinners and outcasts, he said that these were the people who needed him most. He’s not afraid.

I was one of the last people the priest came to in the dream. The train was about to fall, but he got to me. I’m not sure if that says anything in particular, but it was comforting. Maybe if there is a message there it’s that God will catch me if I fall. I think I needed a reminder of that, too. There are a  number of places in the Bible that say the Lord is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Other translations might say “slow to anger and rich in kindness” or something similar. God is not looking to scrutinize and make us feel guilty for our every move. He’s our Father. A good father doesn’t do that. He will make sure to kindly correct us when we do something we shouldn’t, but ultimately, a good father loves his kids. That’s what it comes down to.

Today we got to see a full solar eclipse. We didn’t get the full effect in Massachusetts, but we watched it on TV, and got to see a partial effect outside, which was still pretty cool. My brother was less impressed, but I get excited. There was a bizarre sense of unity because of the eclipse today. It was all over the news, and unlike usual, the news was happy. Everyone was on the same page. While watching the full effect on TV, I couldn’t think of exactly how to express my reaction, but I thanked God because something like this is a gift. It’s definitely something you don’t see every day. I know this seems unrelated to the rest of my post, but maybe it means that I’ve braved the Bleak, or at least I’m almost through.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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.

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