Have you ever stopped to let yourself feel the weight of all that’s been lost?
At least for me, it’s terrifyingly easy. For example, just today I was listening to the Original Cast Recording of the recent Broadway adaptation of Anastasia (which I highly highly highly recommend, by the way), and what struck me most was the sense of something lost that the revised story and additional musical numbers highlighted. A lot of the more fanciful elements are gone, so it really hones in on the mournful, post-revolution ethos of Russia, looking back longingly at the time of royalty, nobility, high culture, beautiful music, a sense of pride and solidarity. Long story short, it’s heartbreaking. And it made me think of other ages, societies, cultures, ideas, and the like, that have been lost. It’s honestly kind of depressing once you start going. The ages when monarchs were recognized not as tyrants or holdovers from the past but a present and promising face of servant-leadership, the senses of words and ideas that held closer to the truth than current adaptations or even aberrations, the years when there was music created simply to be beautiful–not popular, or political, or agendized, just beautiful. I even got to thinking about losses in my own life, friends I’ve said goodbye to, childhood innocence, dreams and goals that turned sour.
And then, at work, I got a phone call from Janice.
I’ve never met this woman and I know next to nothing about her except that she’s somewhat elderly and lives somewhere mountainous in the middle of nowhere, “God’s country” in her own words. I’m in the middle of placing an order for her when she starts telling me her favorite jokes, and then telling me stories about what it’s like living where she does, about how she looks out from her back porch and only sees two rooftops, about all the elk she’s seen and the deer her family feeds. I swear, it was like being snapped awake, like being pulled out of the fog, and my day was suddenly turned from brooding and depressed to grounded and full of light.
It’s strange, but go with me on this: I think that’s the difference between a purely human perspective and a divine one. When we got locked into a human perspective, and what matters above all is humanity’s importance, then the loss of humanity’s golden ages is not just sad and tragic; it’s devastating and worthy of despair. It’s easy to look out at the world and see its brokenness, its seeming devolution into madness and lethargy and cacophony, especially in comparison with other ages of apparent glory (even taking into account their own flaws). But this wouldn’t be the first time the world has looked like this, and may not be the last; and the great difference between a perspective of hope and a perspective of despair is realizing it was never humanity’s job to aggrandize and glorify itself anyway. As good as humanity can do, we just can’t do it perfectly, or keep it perfectly together forever. And that’s actually for the best.
I think Chesterton puts it best in The Everlasting Man when he talks about Calvary:
All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent in one way or another the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not save itself. Man could do no more. Rome and Jerusalem and Athens and everything else were going down like a sea turned into a slow cataract. Externally indeed the ancient world was still at its strongest; it is always at that moment that the inmost weakness begins. But in order to understand that weakness we must repeat what has been said more than once; that it was not the weakness of a thing originally weak. It was emphatically the strength of the world that was turned to weakness and the wisdom of the world that was turned to folly.
The world is always entering, passing through, and leaving golden ages. The best the world has ever been only lasted for awhile. You can tell yourself the lies of progress all you want, that we’re constantly moving to bigger and better things, but this planet is only so big, and the human mind and heart is only capable of so much, and technology can only extend our reach so far. A day will come–maybe it’s almost here–when all those avenues will be searched out, emptied of their riches, dried up. If time doesn’t do it, nature or the pratfalls of fellow humans will stop them up.
But there is another perspective to take, one which sees humanity as a mind-boggling and beautiful paradox with a story that sends sabers of light to pierce through the darkness that hovers over a merely human life. It’s God’s own perspective, which sees and knows the humanity he has created for what it is: mere creatures made to be sons and daughters of God, mortals made to be immortal, natural beings made to be supernaturalized.
When Chesterton talks about the Incarnation, he pretty much blows my mind:
It is quite unlike anything else. It is a thing final like the trump of doom, though it is also a piece of good news; or news that seems too good to be true. It is nothing less than the loud assertion that this mysterious maker of the world has visited his world in person. It declares that really and even recently, or right in the middle of historic times, there did walk into the world this original invisible being; about whom the thinkers make theories and the mythologists hand down myths; the Man Who Made the World…I have not minimized the scale of the miracle, as some of our milder theologians think it wise to do. Rather have I deliberately dwelt on that incredible interruption, as a blow that broke the very backbone of history.
Man will always have periods of enormous light and periods of enormous darkness. Our history has truly glorious moments, but it’s easy to use those as stepping stones to our own aggrandizement, building a backbone to our self-made image to rise against even God, even as it collapses under its own weakness. When God became man, the backbone was snapped; the framework and foundation upon which the glory of humanity tried precariously to rise was broken. But with that collapse, the whole world was righted from its topsy-turveydom. Mankind was buying into the idea that life and history was a shroud of darkness with pinpricks of light. Christ Our Light came to show us that that darkness within time and space was surrounded by the pure light of eternity.
And that light continues to pervade the world. There have been times when that light pervaded culture, music, seemingly the very air of the world, and there have been times like our own when it’s all we can do to tear our eyes from the surrounding darkness. But the light lives. Christ continues to be present in every single tabernacle, punching through time and space and darkness just to continue to be with us and make the light ever-present. The Holy Spirit continues to breath life and hope into Christ’s very mystical body, the power of the Lord coursing through the veins of the warrior-queen that is our Mother Church, and the Blessed Mother and all the saints, citizens of the New Jerusalem, are continuing to call to us and pray for us, cheering and urging us forward like the moon and stars in the dead of night. Our God is a mighty warrior and the very source of light and life, and he heralds and ushers and carries us on to a life where all we’ll see is light.
And sometimes, all it takes to see that is for another human being to snap you out of your own reveries, handing you a ray of the light, reminding you of the One in Whom all that is lost will be found.
I found out today why I’m always running.
My last post, “A Thought About Farewells”, came from a place where I think my heart has secretly been for many years–hiding from the truth that goodbyes really do happen, that we cannot go back and reclaim the moments we’ve lost. It hit me like a brick wall this summer (while playing mini golf, of all things) that, no matter how hard we try, we can’t soak in every part of every moment that we’d like to. We only have so many eyes to see, so many ears to hear, so many hands to embrace. Things will be missed, and before we can try to grab them back, the moment will fly from us just as every moment has since time first began to turn its pages.
There are so many beautiful things about being part of a large family, both close and extended. One of the harder parts is feeling like you just blinked and suddenly the baby you were holding in your arms is toddling around, and the little tykes are suddenly going through puberty. The new moments aren’t bad, but the ones that are gone were pretty darn good too.
Moments just don’t last forever. And if you let yourself be fully invested in them, your heart is going to ache. This is the truth I’ve been running from, as time and time again I’ve come to love and then to lose.
Honestly, left just with this, I’d be crying myself to sleep right now. Which is what I did for years at the end of the days where I either hid from this truth in any corner I could or just let it completely overwhelm me. Truth be told, I’ll still probably cry myself to sleep many more nights in the future; it’s the price to be paid for letting yourself feel loss.
But if there’s anything these years are finally teaching me, it’s that this is not the end of the story.
The answer here is hope. It’s not a fix-it sort of answer; it doesn’t make the hurting stop. It doesn’t even really give a reason for the hurting. What it offers is something much bigger: a future where moments DO last forever, a future where there AREN’T goodbyes, a future where somehow a single glance at the face of God will quell every question and leave our hearts in complete peace and utter love.
The most marvelous part about hope is that the Holy Spirit gives us the first tastes of that hope here and now, in these fast-fleeting moments. When Christ came, He brought eternity into time, and now the Holy Spirit draws us out of time and into eternity. He brings us Christ Himself in the Eucharist to feed us as we walk with him through the moments of life into the unbroken joy of Heaven. The glory of our sorrows is that we are not alone in them; Christ has entered into every moment, every ache, every joy, every pain, and has given us the Holy Spirit as a promise that we will eventually pass out of all that is passing into the place where nothing passes, and we are in the very embrace of God.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer man is wasting away, our inner man is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
What more is there to do but give glory and praise to God for loving us so unfathomably much? Not a drop of our pain goes unnoticed. We are not echoing voices in a hollow universe latching onto others and onto fantasies. We are beloved children, never for a moment left alone, always heard, always laughed with, always cried with. Brothers and sisters, we are loved with a love that is unlike anything this world can ever even begin to offer; every moment of every life is held in the hands of a God Who literally died for us, who pines for us always and will never stop wanting us to be with Him in eternity.
And if you feel that you are too far away, that this is just too good to be true, know that even in that you are not alone. I was not kidding when I said that Christ is with us in EVERYTHING. I know that it is not always easy at first to believe that God loves or even cares about us. I didn’t, for years; He had to prove it to me. And He did; He finally got through my stubbornness and my doubts. He found me after I said my first really painful goodbye years ago, and he cried with me. When I finally, flailingly, asked Him to help me, even though I wasn’t sure He loved me, He gave me the strength to survive and began walking me down a path that I never could have foreseen, a path of healing and freedom. And He wants to do that for all of us.
Ok, I know that basically sounded like an altar-call. Consider it a personal testimony to assure you that all the craziness I spout on this site isn’t really about me. It never was, and every post I’ve written that tends in that direction is flawed. What it’s really all about is trying to give an account, a reason, for my hope, hope that I have not always practiced. It really isn’t easy to choose, in every moment, to live as though death is not the end of our story, to love with God’s love so as to bring the God of eternity into time and men of time a step closer to eternity. But it makes all the difference.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3-7)
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, Jesus.
By far the hardest words for me to pray.
As far as I can tell, not feeling loved has been the source of most of my problems in life. Doesn’t always mean I wasn’t truly loved; just that a lot of my life, I just didn’t feel it, didn’t believe it.
So how can I seriously ask God to take away my desire to be loved?
This is something I’m still not sure I have the answer to, but I have little hints now, I think. I find myself desiring love that I shouldn’t have, love that, in the long run, isn’t really love but just something that serves to fuel my ego. It sounds weird put that way, but I think that’s the only way to describe it. There’s a part of me that just wants to be loved in ways I shouldn’t want, or at least ways I shouldn’t be seeking to accomplish.
Even that word is problematic: “accomplish”. Love isn’t “accomplished”; it’s not just a task or activity that has a definitive end. It’s more like a dance. Because love only happens when the one loved freely returns that love as best they can. What I might picture in my mind as the only way someone can show me they love me isn’t truly the only way I can be loved. It might be the way (or something close to the way) in which I know best or for sure that I’m loved, but I’m not that other person I’m desiring love from. They have their own ways in which they show love; I can’t force them to love me the way I want them to.
In other words, maybe it’s been me all along that hasn’t been loving. Maybe I’ve just been selfish, immature, greedy. Maybe I’m even more broken and twisted inside than I’ve dared to admit.
And for that, I owe everyone who has known me an apology. Because I think the cry in my heart hasn’t been as noble and devastating as what has come out of my lips or my actions; I’m actually pretty crummy in a whole heck of a lot of ways.
But light has shone on that darkness now, and the darkness won’t overcome it.
I think I’m learning humility far greater than the little moments of humiliation I was expecting this Lent; I’m learning that I really am pretty small and dirty and just…I don’t even know if there are words for things as low as me.
And yet, I’m also learning that the Lord has seen this in me all along…and somehow still sees someone worth saving, someone worth loving, and someone worth dying for.
The more I know myself, the more I have to weep at the immense love God must have for me to see me and still want nothing more than to have me with Him forever, even if He has to bleed out on a cross for me.
So to those who have stuck by me and loved me with love that still staggers me, even now, thank you. You are truly vessels of God’s grace, and you seriously deserve so many blessings.
And now I guess I’ll just awkwardly end this here. And it’s OK that I don’t have some sort of impressive final word of wisdom. It’s even OK if no one reads this. It’s all OK, because God loves me, and even if no one else does, I have a soul full of love and grace, and that’s plenty reason to be happy.
There’s a concept in metaphysics related to time, that there are different types of time. There’s objective, of course, the measure of change that we use clocks to observe. There’s subjective time, which is our perception of that change (you know, like how a 30-minute crash course on sexual harassment feels like it’s never going to end). There’s also spiritual time, which is when we are unaware of the passage of time because we are pulled by God out of our normal experience of time (aka ecstasy). There’s one other type of time, which I want to focus on: metaphysical time.
This kind of time presupposes that things are made with ends, that they grow and change with a purpose towards a natural end. It is the measure of the distance between where a being is metaphysically and its metaphysical end. Remarkable thing about metaphysical time, most things just progress naturally towards their natural ends unhindered unless stinted or interrupted by outside forces. We’re like that to an extent ourselves, but there is a major difference.
We have the power, throughout our lives, to derail that growth towards our ultimate end: Heaven.
So why am I writing about this on New Year’s Eve?
All over the world, people are celebrating the beginning of the New Year with (drinking, drugs, sex, other ridiculous stuff, and) resolutions. In a quiet way, people are looking at the past year and, while they are remembering the good memories, they are also seeing the things in themselves they don’t like, the choices they made that have derailed them. Their response? Resolutions, promises to make new choices, choices to put themselves “back on track”, heading towards their good and happiness.
Unfortunately, not everyone understands what this end is, this good, this ultimate happiness. Not everyone is able to see all the things in themselves that are stinting that metaphysical growth in themselves. And many look at how far they’ve jumped the tracks and simply give up on trying to find their way back to the straight and narrow.
But that’s the remarkable thing about redemption: IT HAPPENS.
We just celebrated the Incarnation of Christ, His coming into our world. He came specifically to redeem mankind, to undo what all mankind throughout history has done and win graces to save and constantly renew us. Again and again these graces are offered new to us in the sacramental life of the Church. What an incredible blessing!
So now that this year is coming to a close, I just want to sit in gratitude for the fact that Mama Troll in Frozen was wrong when she said, “We’re not saying you can change him, ‘cuz people don’t really change. We’re only saying that love’s a force that’s powerful and strange…” Love does, in fact, transform, not just draw out. Love intimately and powerfully works in the person, shaping them. Love can work even the most distant, hardened, or shattered heart into a masterpiece of grace.
I’ve discovered that in my own life this past year. It’s been an intense year of growth, coming to terms with the fact that massive changes needed to happen in my life. and by God’s grace, I’ve grown to a point where depression and anxiety, which I have struggled with for years, is now almost nonexistent, and I have the hope and courage to continue to work at cooperating with the transforming grace of God in my heart, rooting out old habits and mental frameworks that have stinted my metaphysical and spiritual growth for so long.
So first of all, thank you to everyone who has stuck with me and believed in me, and been living witnesses of the love of Christ to me. I love you so much.
Second of all, take courage! The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it! Let the coming year be a transformative one. Trust in the Lord; He can and will transform and renew your heart.
Happy New Year, everyone! May God bless you and yours abundantly.
In solemn awe the seraphim cry “Gloria” on high,
as hosts join in rejoicing at sight:
the New Creation’s dawn is come, salvation’s morn is nigh,
and breaks upon a cold December night.
The light of Love, on wings of grace, stoops into time and place,
the Word speaks in a tiny infant’s cry,
and God, so inexpressible, now takes a human face,
content within the Virgin’s arms to lie.
The hearts of men with labor pains once wracked now moan no more,
for Christ is come to take away our sin.
Let Mary and the Spirit make a manger and a door,
that Christ in you be born anew. Amen.
Writing a Christmas poem has become a tradition for me. I wish I had more time to put better thought and effort in, but the important thing is that it expresses what I want it to: that this Christmas can be an opportunity of great renewal, of letting Christ be born in our hearts and our lives, just as He was born in Bethlehem. He comes with redeeming love. So rejoice, even if you don’t feel happy, because we have a reason to be truly joyful all the days of our life, a reason that began with one moment, on one night, in this world. May God bless you and yours with peace, love, and joy; may you sleep peacefully in the arms of Mary, our Mother and His, and may you rise to the splendor of the dawn of Christ’s coming in the love of the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. Merry Christmas to one and all!!
So guys. Depending on what I learn in my classes on the Holy Spirit and the Nature of Love next semester, I might have found a topic for my thesis.
And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deut. 30:6)
OK I promise it’s more than just this cringe-worthy biblical quote, just hear me out. And tell me what you think, I’d love to hear your insights/input.
The reason I started with this quote is because I think this idea of “circumcision of the heart” is a linking factor. “Circumcision of the heart” has to do with the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant in Christ. Under the Mosaic Covenant, and in fact all the way up to the New Covenant, the sign of being formally brought into the covenant was circumcision, representing the casting off of sin and one’s former way of life to live in God’s love, under His paternal care.
In the New Covenant in Christ, we are given rather a “circumcision of the heart”, an interior circumcision worked by grace in which the person is radically transformed, his sinfulness removed from him and dignity as child of God restored to him. This occurs sacramentally in Baptism first and subsequently through each Reconciliation.
The Holy Spirit is particularly involved in these acts of grace; it is He Who brings the graces, which were won by Christ on the cross, to each individual soul to unite them to Christ and present them to the Father. It is also He Who first “cuts to the heart”, so to speak, concerning man’s sinfulness and need for repentance, leading him to turn in metanoia (conversion of the heart) to God’s mercy. (See John 16:8)
How does beauty play into this?
If you have yet to have been truly touched by beauty, this will make no sense to you, and I question how you are able to function as a normal human being. If you have, continue on, fortunate soul.
Think of the last really beautiful moment in your life. It can be some big moment or change in your life, a moment of healing from a past wound, a particularly beautiful piece of music or art, a breathtaking moment spent in nature, or anything else similar. These moments touch us in the deepest parts of ourselves, and have a cutting sort of sweetness, a potency that feels something like pain to the heart and yet is deliciously sweet. It’s almost as if something cuts into us and strips away a veil, a veil that hung between our deepest, truest selves and the sweet something expressed in beauty that we all crave.
Coincidence? I think not.
Perhaps beauty is a way in which the Holy Spirit cuts to the heart of man, showing him both the splendor of something beyond him and humbling him as he recognizes his own incongruity, insufficiency, or brokenness. Perhaps beauty is one of the Holy Spirit’s instruments of “circumcision of the heart”, moving man to repentance and true transformative change in his life through grace given by God. Perhaps, in beauty, we see both our potential and our lacking, and we are given the courage, the incentive, which moves us to cast off what is imperfect in us. In the sacraments, the heart torn by recognition of sinfulness thanks to the Holy Spirit is healed and separated from that sinfulness by the Same Holy Spirit.
Quick stipulation: I realize that beauty isn’t the ONLY means used by the Holy Spirit to “cut to the heart”. There are moments of intense recognition which He grants when we self-reflect; I think that moments of beauty can be a starting point for these self-reflections. In fact, come to think of it, this self-reflection is where the true decision to commit and submit to the “circumcision of the heart” has to occur. I think another starting point can be moments of suffering, if approached in the right spirit and with right understanding of the mystery of suffering in light of the Paschal Mystery and the beautiful truth that is our understanding of suffering as potentially redemptive.
This is just based on classes and readings and formation so far; I have a while to go on this, obviously. Is there actually a connection here? Anything I’m missing? Did I say something heretical or inaccurate? What are your thoughts? What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream? If two trains leave at the same time from the same point on the moon, one with rocket boosters and one with a standard engine, which one is carrying carrier pigeons?