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Oh Existentialism…Or Maybe Not

Y’know those people who have existential crises?

Apparently I’m one of them. Or so it seems.

I’m typing this on the floor of my dorm room, and after a solid hour laying flat with music blasting in my earbuds, I’m finding some semblance of peace at last. Or the closest thing I’ve known to peace for a few years. It’s not so much that everything has gone away, because it definitely hasn’t. I’m still laying here, feeling small, looking at the enormity of my problems while simultaneously realizing how ridiculous some people would think I am.

But right now, I’m looking at it all without feeling like I’m drowning. I’ve got just enough strength to keep breathing for awhile, and just enough hope to turn the next dark corner.

And after all, what else can we ask for?

I shouldn’t be surprised, I guess, that God still cares for me. But everything I’ve ever known about life and love is that, in the end, everyone leaves you, and you’re left behind.

So it’s always a refreshing, beautiful thing when God’s constant love hits me like a brick wall all over again. Every moment that He reminds me is a treasure, completely new and completely breathtaking. And it always comes right when I most need it and least expect it.

I guess it’s almost a good thing that I haven’t been able to make friends until recently. If I didn’t believe God’s love was constant and faithful and intimate, how could I believe that human love could hold possibly hold anything good? Even friendship.

And suddenly I find myself learning both of them at the same time, without ever fully taking it in. Every time, just every time, I can’t help but feel like my heart is gonna break from the healing joy thrusting out the memories and lies. And I cry easily, so it’s been a lot of tissue boxes to go through.

There’s really nothing like it, having everything fall apart only to realize you were seeing it from the angle, and God’s got all the pieces of your heart held right where they need to be. I haven’t quite gotten there this time, but somehow, I don’t need to know.

So even though the leap is still terrifying, even though stepping out of my comfort zone has strained every nerve to the breaking point, even though I know there’s probably many more broken nights in the near future, I think I just might make it through. Just as long as I throw myself into the arms of the Lord.

Gratitude

What kind of legacy am I leaving on these posts?

It would be so easy to start complaining right now; the later it gets, the more my mind zooms in on all that went wrong, all that I missed, all that I regret.

But instead, I think I’ll stop and remember what a good day it was.

I woke up this morning–I mean c’mon, there are a lot of people who don’t even have that blessing–on the campus of my super Catholic, super awesome, super friendly college, and started the day with music and musicals. I ate, drank, walked, lounged; I went to my first Lord’s Day as an intent to the household I have come to love, hung out with dear friends while I wrestled with Origen and sipped soda, then joined my household brothers again for a fantastic movie, walked (just walked, how fantastic, seriously!) with my big, and came home to chilling with other wonderful friends and praying together.

There were so many blessings today. Just stopping and thinking about them is a far better exercise than venting all my complaints; especially because, when stacked against the blessings God showered on me, all the pain, no matter how much it tears at my gut, seems…petty in comparison. Not that they’re not there, just that I don’t give them more attention than I need to. The spiral doesn’t have a chance to work, because it’s just a spinning top in my hand now, and not a swirling black hole.  It still doesn’t sit right, but it doesn’t crush me. Humble gratitude makes things seem a little more manageable, sometimes a lot more manageable.

So thanks God for today, even though sometimes I screwed up royally and had things royally screwed up for me. Thanks for making me realize that when it comes to blessings versus complaints, they’re not really even on the same scale, and things are gonna be ok, even when I can’t see it like I do now.

Just thanks, God.

My Soul

People have called me an ‘old soul’ pretty much all my life, it seems like. 19 years old, and people think of me as an old soul. Is it any wonder I over-think things?

Not that they’re wrong, I guess; it comes from knowing when to keep your mouth shut. Or just always keeping your mouth shut, I guess. People around me talk all the time, as if it just comes easy to them; I wonder if they know how wonderful that is, how much my soul quivers with joy when I say something and it doesn’t come out ridiculous.

But does that really make me any more mature? Or does it just make me scared?

Perhaps it’s maturity; I like to think of it like that, anyway. While the rest of the world goes on running at break-neck speed and screaming over the static of society, I sit in the corners yet untouched by the noise, still vibrating with echoes of the mystical quiet of Eden, and wait for the cool of the day when the Lord whispers into my soul. How I wish I could walk with Him like Adam and Eve in the garden.

I guess “listener” has always been built into my soul, partly genetics, partly experience, and partly something else I can’t quite put my finger on that now and again just quivers with happiness every time someone confides in me or simply speaks with me. Sometimes I wish I could be the one doing the talking, that I could take a little more central role, stand a moment in the sun and not always feel sidelined. And yet, as Agatha Christie says of Mr. Satterthwaite in Three Act Tragedy, “the role of onlooker suited him well”.

Really, what  it all comes down to is opening the heart as well as the ears. A good listener needs not only to hear and remember well all that has been told them; anyone could do that. A true listener has to be able to do something a little more: take everything they hear into their own hearts. It takes a certain kind of sympathy, or perhaps a kind of empathy, or both, with a spectacular kind of solidarity which, together in some miracle of grace, allow you to enter into the life of the other. You must be able to exercise that beautiful gift called understanding at any moment, even if the voice you listen to grates on your ears or stabs at your heart. You must have an inner life that is rich with experience and incredibly fertile.

Perhaps the best listener I know is my new “big”. Only this morning, I became an intent to a household, sort of the Catholic version of a frat (minus the drinking, drugs, and other assorted stupidity). A “big” is someone in the household who is something of a mentor, like a big brother to you, walking with you through the process to become part of the household according to the covenant. Mine happens to be a dear friend (well not “happens to”, I got to choose; but hey, he could have said no). Though he comes off as very outgoing and talkative, he has an impeccable ability to silence himself, to to quiet his heart whenever I need to speak. His quiet, gentle nature doesn’t inhibit him from being a rambunctious, quirky guy; his loud, boisterous personality doesn’t block out his calm, understanding heart–so understanding that he is often able to articulate what I myself couldn’t quite pull from my own heart.

So maybe it’s high time I took up my role as listener properly–to let go of the fears (because I have plenty of them, trying to choke out the words I want to speak) and actually fall into silence less out of necessity and more out of understanding; to let go of the twisted idea that being quiet and being talkative are mutually exclusive.

It’s time to quiet my old soul, tell myself it’s ok to rest now; it’s ok to stop being afraid; it’s ok to stop throwing up walls that just keep collapsing anyway. It’s ok to just live, to just laugh, to just love.

Lost in Love

I am happy.

And yet how can I be?

Heavy is my heart, yet light is my spirit; I feel as if I could fly, though my mind lies leaden upon the cries of broken hearts.

There is so little I can do, for myself or for anyone else; and so, as I float awhile on the sweet, intoxicating beauty of voices raised in harmony, my soul gently whispers,

“Dance with me, Oh Lover of my soul, to the song of all songs; Romance me, Oh Lover of my soul, to the song of all songs…”

Not much else matters in life but that we are forever romanced by Christ. He’s been romancing us since our very creation; even as we were taking our first steps, He was caressing us; He has cried with us, laughed with us, sat up with us, ran and jumped with us, and always and forever whispering His love into the depths of our hearts. When we learn to see this, to hear his voice and see His love played out before our very eyes, peace is truly possible, and life has meaning and purpose.

One way He reminds me of His love is through choral music. Every note washes away my fear, frustration, and exhaustion for just a little while, flooding my soul with beauty; it feels as if my soul is about to come pouring out of my body and just run like river, flooding all the world with this beauty. It’s one of God’s little ways of romancing me, and I can’t help but be utterly in love with Him.

It’s moments like that that remind me why I fight: I fight because I am madly in love.

And even my crazed love cannot begin to compare to His love for me.

I’m at a loss for words now; what more is there to say? I love Him, and HE LOVES ME. Me, me, all of me, this mess of me, the best of me, the worst of me, just plain and total and wonderful and horrible me. HE LOVES ME.

And HE LOVES YOU. You, amazing you, broken you, sad you, joyful you, fearful you, reckless you. YOU. HE LOVES YOU.

Next time you speak with Him, sit with Him and simply speak as you would to the one you love most; then sit in the silence, and let Him romance you for awhile; even if you feel nothing, He is planting, tending, growing the seeds of His love in you.

Ever Rambling

One of the most striking exercises for me in my spirituality and struggles is to look at another person straight in the eyes. Simple, almost ridiculously so…just one world peering into the atmosphere of another…

We are both body and soul, intimately united such that one without the other is…indescribably horrific to picture, for it is the reality of our greatest fear and most unnatural happening: death. The rending of a person in one flicker, the divorce of a couple literally united since conception–we have only that single word, like the slam of a door, to speak of it.

Philosophers can only speak analogously of the union between body and soul, saying that the closest image we have of this union is that of a man and woman united in marriage…”The two shall become one flesh”…the closest we can imagine of God’s love for us is also our best image for the union between body and soul…

I understand it best in the moments my heart rushes fastest and my head becomes clearest. Like when I stand overlooking a cliff: my heart cries out to leap into the air and fly, defying the earth cascading away beneath me, while my head gently whispers that it just can’t be so. In a moment of peace, both nestle a little closer to Him, who murmurs, “That’s alright; let’s imagine it awhile, then walk on. We can all fly together when you get home.”

I guess I never liked the idea that my soul was in my body until I realized I, I was the one disliking it…and I was body and soul in the first place. I knew that my soul wasn’t trapped in my body; I just didn’t know it was comfortable there.

Heaven…we’ll be perfectly happy there…after we undergo that which is most horrendous. Only something stronger than death could possibly carry us through. Thankfully, we have the only One ever to defy death on His own power: Christ Himself.

Morning Has Broken

While in high school, I was blessed to help lead a retreat for my peers known as Kairos. The name for the retreat comes from a Greek word which, very loosely translated, means “God’s Time”; it’s the time of God’s action in our lives, the time of salvation history, the work of eternity within time and space (something my metaphysics professor would term “spiritual time”). While I can’t reveal a lot of what happened on that retreat (after all, no one likes spoilers), I can say that attending it was life-changing for me, but leading the retreat was even more so.

You see, there is a great deal of sharing and openness that happens at these retreats. People suddenly become startlingly real, and open up as if suddenly a flood of stark honesty burst through the barriers of years of hiding, bringing showers of tears with it; and yet, when the darkness is washed away, and all the broken pieces carried away in the tide, there is finally enough room for the light of healing and grace to burst through and embrace their broken lives with peace.

And I got to be a part of it.

One of the incredible graces of this life is that we all have the chance to act as channels of light, instruments of grace. Each of us is given opportunities to bear the love of Christ to another, to not only watch the Holy Spirit at work but be a part of it. Being on the retreat, I got to soak up the love of Christ and others; leading it, I got to pour it out on others–twice as fulfilling.

We are all called to be ambassadors of love, to shower grace on the lives of others by submitting to Christ and living our lives by the inspirations of the Holy Spirit as we rest in the arms of the Father. There is nothing more painful than watching another person cry, and yet nothing more beautiful when the tears are tears of healing, tears born of years of frustration and self-loathing and shame finally released in the wild realization that all this shit they’ve lived with is not their fault, that they are infinitely, incomprehensibly, madly loved. And still more beautiful is realizing that this Love, this grace, flowed to them through you by the will of the Father.

This is what I truly, deeply live for: to be that ambassador of Love, to be an instrument upon which the master musician may make a melody of love to the world (THANK YOU JOHN MICHAEL TALBOT FOR THAT GLORIOUS ANALOGY), to be Christ for others, and watch them realize how utterly beautiful and meaningful they really are, to watch the pain and perforated masks fall crashing to the ground with the flood of their tears, to hold them and show them how very much they are loved, and see the garden of their souls grow under the tender care of God.

I know that many who read this probably need this healing. It is for you I fervently pray tonight, with intense joy in knowing that the Lord is only too pleased to bring you comfort, if only you will let it all fall away. I urge you, brethren, fellow pilgrims, don’t be afraid of healing. Don’t be afraid of tears, of pain. You are madly loved, insanely loved; only a love crazier than imagination could drive God to die for you. Believe that His love is enough, that His grace will flood your soul if you will only let the flood of years past out in one mad rush. Know that I love and pray for you all, my brothers and sisters in Christ. Lift up your face, and let the healing rain of grace wash over you.

The dawn has already broken; all you need to do is turn from the twilight.

A Midnight Musing

I remember a time I loathed the idea I might have some limitation, some handicap. I always knew I had seemingly odd differences, but I began to see them as no longer neutral but profoundly negative. I trembled at the terrible notion that I might be terribly held back. And yet the stark reality of my own weaknesses, my difference from the world around me, was staring me in the face and daring me to discover its source, tossing up the most horrible possible answers. More horrible still, I latched onto the worst possible answer and hinged my life on that assumption about myself, about who, or maybe more accurately what, I was.

Three years later, I would discover this was false, that I had believed a lie. Or half a lie. I was wrong about WHY I was different. But if those three nightmarish years taught me anything, they confirmed more fully in me that I truly was different, limited, and in some sense weak, though I began perhaps to see a flicker of strength within.

Still, the fact of my weakness plagued me. For another three years, life would be full of questioning, self-loathing, and terrible displays of my weakness: I felt too much. Every face was either one more stimulus for an already-overwhelmed mind or one more reason to cringe into a corner. Every sound, every inflection of the voice, every touch, every speck of light–I was paralyzed at times. One moment I would be sympathizing with a loved one, the next nearly gagging on my own breath from the weight of the emotional stress. And all I could think was how much I sucked for not being normal.

The past few weeks, after learning that all my life I’ve been living without a choice in the matter, I’ve been trying to live as if I could make it go away, make it stop hurting. I know now that that’s impossible.

And somehow, that makes me happier.

There’s a strange sort of…peace, I suppose, in simply sitting back and saying, “I’m limited.” There’s a remarkable clarity in looking at all you wish you could do and saying, “So be it.” There’s an odd kind of consolation in simply stretching out your arms, looking to a crucifix, and saying, “My turn.”

I’m not despairing, I’m not despondent, just…a different kind of hopeful. I’m not hoping for healing anymore. I’m just hoping for the strength to see this journey through, cross and all. I’m choosing to accept the hardships of this life with patience and look to the promise of an eternity without pain or tears. I’m not giving up on this life, I’m just trying to see it through a new lens, one that does not rejoice in suffering but accepts it anyway and tries to be joyful through the pain. I’m seeing outside myself, seeing the beauty that God has placed in the world, not as simply a nice touch to the reality He created but as a message of His love for us, a source of his comfort on this rocky road to Paradise.

I don’t see all rainbows and butterflies anymore, but I’m not limited to the showers and worms either. No, at last, praise God, I’m beginning to see reality as it was meant to be seen, and it’s because I finally know that I can’t see it all.

I don’t even know if any of what just spilled from my fingertips even came out coherently, but it doesn’t matter. I know that if it’s touching the paper, someone, somewhere, needs to hear this. To whoever it is, know this: you are dearly loved, your pains are not punishment but profound signs of the love of a Father too dearly fond of us to let us live in mediocrity. He has shown us what it means to suffer in love, and the great rewards that are to come. It’s easier said than done, but speaking as one who is beginning to pass from darkness to light, it is well worth all you must surrender in love to He Who first loved you enough to die for you. May God bless you.

Gentle Man

Sensitivity. Not generally something a guy is expected or desired to possess as a personality trait, is it? Our culture declares that men should be impervious, rigid, rough. Stray from this pre-set stereotype, and you’ve opened yourself up for ridicule and scorn. Either step into the mold of a mix between Beowulf and a boulder, or accept that you’re gonna be on the fringe of society and called out for a lack of masculinity. Such is the mindset of the world.

As I’ve said before, I have SPS, which means that I literally have no choice when it comes to being sensitive, it’s just how my body works. Everything around me affects me tons of times more than the average person. I notice everything, feel things more deeply; everything bombards me–light, sound, touch, emotion, pain–with a force like a freight train, and my mind keeps running through the wreckage at a thousand miles a minute. Even the things that bring me the most joy wear on me until I literally can’t take anymore. It’s not uncommon for me to close or cover my eyes and ears in frustration, or simply walk off to the most quiet and lonely place to give myself a break. It’s either that or completely break down.

Needless to say, this didn’t particularly help me in my self-image growing up. A kid who cries at thunderstorms and fireworks, who would rather spend time singing or reading a book than running amok on a sports field, isn’t generally looked on as the most masculine. Particularly when your singing voice doesn’t change until freshman year (don’t get me started on all the “you sing like a girl” comments).

But when I looked at other guys, as much as I wanted to be more like them, I couldn’t help turning away and chuckling to myself. I felt like I possessed some secret treasure, a precious  gem that brought me more than their trinkets of entertainment could ever bring them.

In an instant, I could sail on the words of some great author to the most distant lands of imagination, and scour the depths of the human heart along the way. I only needed to set my fingers on a piano or lift my voice in a familiar tune and suddenly I was washed in a sound that soothed rather than shocked, a sound that seemed to cleanse my mind of anxiety. I had but to kneel a moment before a glistening tabernacle and I felt in the depths of my soul that He was with me, loving me. I felt everything, and when I encountered beauty, I could be moved even to tears.

And I thought, “What’s so wrong about that?”

I think we as a society have forgotten the importance of the gift of the Holy Spirit called gentleness. We as men are indeed called to be strong and courageous, for these too are virtues; yet it is also our call to be gentle, humble, and truly loving. Part of these more forgotten virtues and gifts is being open  to being touched and moved, to being receptive to that which God desires to use to move us closer to His heart. We are called both to roar like lions and sit in receptive sensitivity like lambs,  to rise in strength with the Lion of Judah and walk in gentle peace with the Lamb of God.

So as we enter the Easter Triduum, I challenge all men to lift up their reluctance to feel, their fear of emotion, their illusion of superiority in hollow strength, to be crucified with Christ, that they may rise with Him as true gentle men. I call them to combine a lion’s spirit with a lamb’s heart.

Serenity

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

This well-known “Serenity Prayer” was what a friend chose to have tattooed on her shoulder. My first reaction was something like, “You put what? On where? Using WHAT????” Needles and I have a long-running love-hate relationship: I hate them, and they love to see me squirm. Naturally, I was curious as to what would possess a person to voluntarily have one stuck in their shoulder multiple times.

Turns out, she had dealt with great grief and suffering in her life, and this prayer had come to be not only a comfort but a guide to how she dealt with life: receiving wisdom from God to analyze her situations, serenity to accept the things that had happened to her, and courage to change how she dealt with them and approached the rest of her life. This prayer was so much a part of her that she wanted it permanently etched into her very flesh. While I don’t normally advocate tattoos (I mean, c’mon, who needs a skull in flames sitting permanently on their body which probably looked much better without it? There’s gotta be a better way to spend that money…), I could not help but feel great admiration and respect for this young woman.

This prayer has come, in the past few days, to touch me in a very deep way. It turns out that I have an inherited trait called Sensory-Processing Sensitivity, making me an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person…real original name, huh?). It affects about 15-20% of the population in varying degrees, and basically it means that my nervous system is incredibly sensitive and easily overwhelmed. On the pro side, it’s easy for me to enter deeply into the spiritual life, to appreciate beauty, and to pick up on the feelings of others. On the con side, I’m easily overwhelmed by crowds and over-stimulating environments, I’m hypercritical of myself, and, because of old insecurities, social situations are an ordeal for me.

Having only recently discovered this, I’ve dealt for my whole life with this without being able to name it, and thus unable to accept it without any amount of serenity. I always had a fear of fireworks, couldn’t connect well with guys (loud, rowdy, obnoxious guys were the only guys I knew), and never got why I couldn’t get into sports and preferred instead singing in a choir. Insecurity after insecurity built itself up within me, and all I could say with any certainty was that I was different, and the only word I knew for “different without a name” was “freak”.

I’ve always heard that the most relieving thing for a person dealing with psychological problems is to be able to put a name to it, and now I can say it’s totally true. It’s a little like dealing with temptation: once you can name your demons, you can combat them. The difference is that we’re dealing here not with demons, but with our own broken and beautiful humanity. When once we can look at our brokenness as God does–with great love–we find new meaning and purpose. I am not a freak; I am a man with both a gift and a cross, just like everyone else; mine just happen to be rolled up under one heading.

My prayer is that I may accept with serenity who I am, change with courage the way it has affected and will affect me, and know with wisdom which is which; to simultaneously love myself and make myself the best I can be, not so much for my sake but for His.

And my prayer for any who struggle in any way, especially those who are fellow HSP’s, is that you, too, may receive wisdom, courage, and serenity from the loving hands that first created you.

Branching Hope

Image

Another misty moment more,

a cloud of light my heart cannot comprehend.

Has it truly slipped through my trembling fingers

once again?

 

Do I clutch hopelessly

like the trees trying to grasp the passing winds,

begging to be born aloft,

brought away,

carried in gentle hands

to some distant country called peace,

only to be blasted by the onslaught,

bared of all hastily-grown defenses

and shrouded in a snowy blanket

of cold oblivion?

 

And yet

the trees are graced,

for they continue to stand

though weighed down and cast in rushing glory,

and remain

with gentle hollows and spread branches

where a passing zephyr may take refuge awhile,

and the winds may always find

stillness.

 

So I’ll let this wind blow,

this stream of words and dreams

too swift to savor,

and I’ll spread my palms

to catch what gusts of grace may come

to ease my weary soul awhile.

 

I’ll open my heart

to these fellow pilgrims,

and perhaps see mirrored within

a hollow kept warm and ready

for my presence.

 

And when the snows fall

and blanket my eyes with blindness,

I will fall out of myself,

this dense wall I call my defense,

and let the love that was always there

carry me far away

to that distant country called peace.

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