Beautiful Things

I’ve recently had a few conversations with some friends concerning things that make the world seem all the more cruel. Children abducted, lives lost, loved ones lost. The world seems at times to be full of such hateful darkness, and it can be a persuasive thought to think that the universe is filled mostly with death, destruction, and the plain undoing of good. I am reminded though, through observation and through faith, that the world is full of wonderful things. And not simply here, but out in the universe. Starbursts and distant nebulae forming entire solar systems, light and maybe life… a beautiful procession, from out there to here, on earth. A new child is born, a young couple fall in love, old friends reconnecting. The rising and the setting sun, the sound of the ocean’s tides gently lapping against the shore… There is so much here that’s worth living for, so much beauty, so much awe and wonder inside us, outside us, all around us. Thank God.

You make beautiful things, 
You make beautiful things out of dust.
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us

— “Beautiful Things” by Gungor

 

 

Thinking About Today

A friend told me a rather unfortunate story of some colleagues having experiences that were so near to death, it was jarring. The realization that instantaneously, our lives can be snuffed is eye-opening to say the least, but the unfortunate reality is that we tend to think of that less than we should. Now, I wouldn’t advocate for us thinking that death is just around the doorstep all the time – in fact, I would think that quite debilitating. But it is worth understanding the notion that our time is limited.

The conversation left me thinking about my own contemplation on the issue. Have I done well with the time that I have? It may be argued that I’m not the best judge of some things, but that doesn’t really take the onus I have to ask myself that. I find that if I don’t ask myself such things, it is easy to slide into complacency, to stop taking time for others and to live a very self-centered life. What scares me is that I’ve spent enough time not asking the question, that when I find myself at the end, I would regret not having done something (as opposed to enough).

It’s worth noting that the sense of purpose and fulfillment for people varies greatly, although we can find a number of commonalities. So, what I consider to be a noteworthy, purposeful goal for myself, may be entirely different from what others consider to be the same, and just as valid and important. So the question is not whether you will be the next Martin Luther King, or Oliver Tambo. No, the question is more about the here and now – something I must remind myself constantly. The secret then is about our passions and our execution. Will we be there for those that we care about? Will we try to make things better today? Will we live out the passions that light up our hearts? In a way, it is deceptively simple, for it is all about love. I don’t know whether I will shake the world in the future, but I do know if I loved it today.

 

The Beauty of Creation

Recently I co-led a discussion, with my bright-minded friend Tyler Journeaux, on Genesis and the creation story therein. Although most of the discussion revolved around the different positions one can have in interpreting this text, I had a small section towards the end to discuss the ramifications of the story, and how they affect our perception of God, the universe and of mankind. I have to admit that I ended up finding it difficult to express some of the points I wanted to articulate. In part that is because the contents of the narrative fill me with such great awe that I could scarcely find the words to communicate what I was reading. Oddly enough, I ended up just repeating the same things over again. However, I find the written word to be a more forgiving medium and so I wanted to take a small amount of time and reflect on the important, indisputable data that the creation narrative lays out for the Christian world view. This should apply regardless of ones particular believes in the method, mode or manner of creation, in terms of time, evolution or whatever physical constraints you would wish to believe in.

The first thing that strikes me about the narrative is the obvious intent of creation. The act of creation was no mere accident, or a by-product of God’s essence. Instead the narrative describes a being who, by the force of his will, actively creates a world. Again though, this universe isn’t simple, and in it he creates a plenum so that it is full of stuff, full of mechanics, objects and being. Every details is attended to: different heavenly bodies and different types of creatures, a complete spectrum of things. Then he creates mankind, and as the narrative puts forward, we are in his image. But how unique that image, versed in flesh and bone, taking part in a natural world, and enjoying it as well.But the narrative goes further, and sets us up in “dominion” over the earth. We are given language, and a means of communication with the divine, and with that the onus to exercise his edicts, to name the world, care for it, and spread throughout it. Lastly, as if it couldn’t be that we would have such faculties without it, we are given the ability to choose between one thing and another- free will. When all this is done, the creator says “It is good.”

The significance of this narrative flies in the face of many of the ideas we, as a species, have thought about ourselves, and about the universe. That fundamentally, the forms and shapes of this universe are “good” in the mind of God, and that they are actually, and really, the intended expression of creation and love, means that all that we are is of designed valued. In a sense, it is not as if we spend our lives becoming something more, but rather, we grow into that which God intends us to be. The concept that matter is by it’s very nature good, and that our form is in the same manner declared as good means that we are not merely disembodied souls or spirits attached to a frail frame, or to a corrupted form. We are, in the full intent of God’s creation, body and soul, defined not merely by one or the other, but by both together. My form is part in parcel of what defines me as human.

In my rather limited studies of world religions, I have found it most hard to cope with the world view that this is ultimately illusion, and that we are not meant to be corporeal creatures. That we are either intended to meld into an ineffable one-ness, or to become a silent nothings, tears into the most basic of understandings I acquire about myself and the world: that I am. I exist, apart from you, different from you, and while we share many qualities with each other and all of creation, we are ultimately not the same, nor should we be.

This is life. And despite the fall of man, and despite the choices we make for lesser goods, there lies in this experience, the pulse of ultimate, purposed reality. Even though a corruption exists, an insanity that would have us prefer meaningless things over true love, we are mankind and we are supposed to be here. Take pride in your being, not merely because you are, but because we are unfathomably linked to the very essence of the universe, despite it’s untouchable vastness. You and I are voices in the beautiful music of creation.

Some Thoughts on Freedom and Choice

We are naturally inclined to believe that we have the freedom to choose between one thing and another. Often, we are told “there’s always a choice,” and I, for the most part, would like to hold on to this mantra. Ultimately I think we do have always have a choice, but it’s not always that simple, is it? It’s not always A, or B, but sometimes there’s a C, D and n amount of variables involved. There are other instances when an option isn’t really an option, or it isn’t as completely free as we would like it to be. In example, if I had to choose between killing a child, to killing a 1000 people, I would not immediately, or even after much deliberation, know what to do. The reason being that my ethics, and I think my natural instinct doesn’t qualify either of those as real choices, or real options.

Now that’s an extreme example, but that’s not what I was thinking of when I started writing this. I mention it however to illustrate a certain level of complexity in the nature of choice as we experience, and to provide a groundwork to talk about day to day choices, or even life choices. In particular, I was thinking about relationships. For whatever reason, I’m constantly confounded by the lack of logic that appears to exist when people are making decisions about their relationships in life. I say appear because what I’m trying to get at is that, there’s a lot more at play in the minds and the hearts of individuals then what is readily discernible.

Break-ups, friendships growing distant, lost love, and loneliness are all sad things. Sometimes they happen via the choices we all make, and in ignorance, we sometimes say “You could have chosen differently.” The intensity of blame, and the weight of consequences, that can sometimes come along with statements like that, surpasses insensitivity. I’m not saying that we couldn’t all make better decisions concerning our relationships – chances are that we probably could do with a bit more time and wisdom. I’m just saying that maybe it isn’t always clear, and maybe the reality is we’re left with a bunch of choices that aren’t really options.

In short, could we have had things different? Were the relationships (friends, family, whatever) we’ve wanted actually in our grasp? I don’t know.

Yes, I Have Regrets

It seems that people are always telling me to never regret anything. It seems there are hundreds of catch phrases like “One life. One Chance. No Regrets” or “Live life with no regrets.” But I’ve got to admit they always bugged me, and I always thought the statement was blatantly wrong. It bothers me that it’s motto of the fearless life. What ever happened to “I must not fear: Fear is the mind-killer?”

I realize some people may read this and want to tout on how a regret-less life is the best life – aye, I can already hear your clamouring in background. Now I’ll agree that it’s true so long as you have nothing to regret. Problem is, we’re human, and if you’re anything like me, you have a box full of regrets. Regret is to me, a sense of inward and, at times outward honesty. I admit, that there are many a times where I’ve done things that I thought, in hindsight, I really ought not have done. Yeah, we call that regret. But everytime I hear “No regrets!” as a life anthem, I can’t help but feel like it’s ignorant, self-centered and arrogant.

Regret is a function of our consciousness, our awareness of reality, and frankly, of our shortcomings. Regretting something usually means you learned something, and that usually means you’re not going to be doing that again. Really, a life without regrets is a life that is usually full of reckless abandon. It’s not fearless, it’s ripe with fear. Fear that maybe we’re all the same, and sometimes we all do stupid things. So yes, I have regrets. I have a lot of them, and I’m glad I do, because hopefully it means I learned something. I won’t let them ruin my life, because the past is the past (even though it comes and bites you in the ass sometimes), but I’ll live with the consequences, and if my will is strong enough, avoid making the same mistakes.

Reflections on my Story with God

I am wrapped in the mystery that is Jesus Christ, because although many things are known about this god-man’s life, about his being here, and about his saving grace, he is ever-more than what I have been able to understand… more than what I could ever imagine.

To some, he is a good man. A teacher of wisdom. To others he was radical, brash even, someone who was shaking the system too much. Many called him a prophet, and few dared to call him King. But he was nothing short of phenominal, not because he shook the system, but because he shook the entire world, where now, 2000 years later, millions upon millions profess his teachings, his love, and yes, his divinity. But to talk about who he was, is a fallacy, because it is not as if he has ceased to be, rather, he is. Jesus is now, will be, and shall forever be because he is not merely a man. He is God… but not simply God (if one could make sense of what I’m trying to say).

To say God-Man… I feel that it doesn’t do justice to him. It’s almost like touting the names of greek heroes like Perseus or Heracles… It seems finite in nature, a statement aired in the language of our mortality. Rather, Jesus Christ is God who became man. And this, is of terrible importance. Jesus is the everlasting, the eternal God reaching down to us. Because when we said “Save us,” when we said “hear us,” and we confessed that we couldn’t understand the divine, that we could not do it on our own – that blessed, most glorious heart… that love which can scarcely be uttered… listened. God listened to me, and to you. To our forefathers who cried out in the darkness. He heard the entire world, and he did not stand idly.

Instead, he brought himself to us, and what a loving sign that should be! That he would come, and love us, embrace us and teach us what his heart is, and what his will it. How surprising it is to know that the plan was “Love” all along. But the fascinating thing is, he didn’t stop there, and with a wisdom, a justice, a mercy…. a mind I could never really understand, he righted our wrongs.In a most humble way God, in the person of Jesus Christ became frail as we are, to show us the strength that we have – in the almighty. And then, in a demonstration of perfection – perfection misunderstood through eons, he gave his very life, sacrificed himself to fix us.

When I think about all that Jesus has done. I’m blown away… and I’m broken… ashamed even. Because I take it for granted. I constantly judge, and I call Christ out… and while one day, I hail him my commander and chief, the other I curse him. I realize the gravity of what I’m saying and I know that it isn’t a commentary on Him, but rather it’s a commentary on me… and maybe, if you can relate, it’s a commentary on us. And how screwed up we can be about this relationship. I find it shameful, and difficult in many ways to explain how I could at times be of two minds with the idea of God. But to understand what I’ve experienced, you must also understand that Jesus Christ didn’t just give of himself, but he asked of us certain things too.

You see we often look at the historical documents that reveal Christ to us, our primary source of course, being the bible. And when we look at that, we see it through our eyes now, with the added benefit of two millennia’s worth of hindsight. Often, we imagine a non-imposing calm Jesus who would let things slide. But if I’m honest Jesus would have frightened me because he was intense… everything about him was passionate, and his countenance… his eyes pierced the people around him. He said the boldest of thing: “I am the Truth, the way and the Light.” He said “I am the living water.” His power was so much that when the sea rose hungry for the lives of men, he had to but utter “Peace” and she was still again.

This man, who raises the dead, and heals the sick is the same man who challenges us. Be different. “Love the lord your god.” “Be Perfect as your father in heaven is.” He teaches us to take care of our widows, to love our children, to attend to the poor. He challenges us to be as he was…

… and he promises us everlasting life.

I think that’s the part I got wrong… perhaps, the source of mind dual-mindedness… Now I don’t mean to say that he doesn’t promise us that. Indeed, like many of you, I truly believe in that promise. But I constantly forget the difference between now and eternity – between the tasks set out for me now, and the promises set out for me in the future

I’ll try to explain – Those who know me well, know that in the past… and I guess even now, I’ve given up a lot of my time volunteering, in a small variety of different groups. Sometimes, it’s teens, kids, sometimes it’s people our age… I’m here today, to do that. Those who know me better, know that what time I have left between work, volunteering, and school in the past, was left to give personally to different people… one on one… friend to friend… just trying to love and be Jesus to the world.

But in the years of doing that, I constantly shut myself off. The road wasn’t two ways, and I confess that many a time I cut off God, my lifeline… even if it was him that I was working for – because deep within me, I didn’t really understand Jesus’ “Love” plan.

Somewhere along the line, through a seemingly endless series of misunderstood misfortunes, I began to believe that I was entitled to a certain a kind of happiness – That my Master “owed me one.” I wanted just one thing, maybe a few things… here and now, and that consumed me. I lost sight of the promise, the everlasting life. I lost sight of the goal, and the purpose. I lost sight of god.

It got bad. I got tired. I gave up. Bit by bit, I lost myself to the work of Jesus, instead of losing myself to him. I grew resentful, because of all the energy I was expending… versus the perceived lack of return from God. I came to a point where I no longer believed I was a person, and I mean that in a most serious way. I became a “good” machine. A tool. And that’s all I saw in myself. I robbed myself of my own emotions, my capacity to internalize the things that we often take for granted about our humanity, until finally… after a long series of poor decisions… I poured the very last bit of person-hood I had into someone, instead of giving it to God.

It is difficult to explain, in the context of our most fortunate way of life, the desire to escape it, and to leave the world of the living behind. Like Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, I was torn desiring to part and be with Christ, knowing all the while, that to live was the true intent of God. It’s even more difficult to explain how such a knowledge had become a great torture chipping away at the last spark of life I had in me.
My soul-less-ness was years in the making, but through all that time, Jesus stood by my side, and I knew it. And like any good Commander, he fed me even if I would not eat. He showed me, through his church, and through the people around me what his love means. And he impressed unto me, despite my constant resistance, until I could no longer ignore the concept that perhaps, I was a subject of love, and not just a tool of it. Jesus showed me that Love is much bigger than what I can do, and that I had to partake in it. I remember reading through Marcus Aurelius who surmised that a man could not expect of himself what was not natural. I couldn’t love the world without wanting it back, and I realized that even God almighty loves the world, with the desire that we will love him too.

It’s still in the works now, and understanding person-hood (which I had long abandoned) is a troublesome affair for me at times. After all, even slaves can get used to being less than what they really are. And though I shy away from internalizing love, I know that God is calling me to it, to understand it, so that I might actually be more like him, in service and in enjoyment of life. So, just as I have been challenged to understand this plan of God, so too I challenge you to let Jesus love you first, so that you can go on to love him and the rest of the world.

The Joys of Silence

For whatever reason, I feel that I am often called to share myself through service, through my words and through my actions, as if I must set the example for others. This past weekend, I attended a Montreal Challenge retreat and I was strangely gifted. This time, I didn’t have to say much. I didn’t have to share myself, and I didn’t have to show some great example of how to lead one’s life.

Don’t get me wrong, I like talking sometimes, and part of me writing this blog is sharing my experiences for myself, and for those who care to read. But too much is too much. This weekend, I was glad to not have a voice. To be silent, and to be served by story of other people’s lives. It was great that this time, I didn’t have to try to relate to an audience.

In reflection, it’s perfect timing for me. I feel that, for better or worst, I’m at a time where I should just be relatively silent. And you know what, I kind of like it. I think it’s a time for me to let others speak in my communities, let their voices be heard. Maybe, if I can listen for moment, I can learn something.

Taking Time

A good friend and mentor of mine, once said that human beings are fairly resilient emotional creatures. We are constantly getting our “hearts” broken, constantly submitting ourselves to change, constantly seeing our loved ones go, in one way or another. Somehow, most of us get through it, and we find fulfilling ways to carry on. This is normal. But what happens when we feel broken for too long? When things seem like they can’t be fulfilling any longer, and that our loss (whatever the nature), seems to overcast the whole world?

I used to think, perhaps not outspokenly, that brokeness is controllable. And once we’ve cycled through the stages of our problems, we can return, shortly, in good repair to a normal life. I thought, maybe because I didn’t understand, that long term sadness was a major defect, and that people who couldn’t get out of their rut, simply wanted to be there. I didn’t even really get the idea of depression, although a clinical condition did make it more “acceptable” to me.

I suppose the years have show me, however, that sometimes, it just sucks for awhile. And that’s OK. The expression that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, rings with a certain reality. Sometimes, we invest a part of ourselves, unconsciously into someone, something, or even an idea, and when we lose it, we lose our way. For a time, I definitely invested myself too heavily in volunteering work, so that when I didn’t have as much to do, I found myself lacking in identity.

But what to do when we’ve lost that thing? I’m learning, and I suppose sharing the concept, of taking time. Whatever you really need, I suppose. There’s probably such a thing as too much time, but I think that’s a lot longer than I had originally thought, and probably longer than most of us think.

My aim in this short confession is this: I’m telling myself, and telling those of you out there that it’s OK. It’s OK if you’re not doing alright, and it’s OK if you’re still dealing. I’m no expert, but I’m human, and sometimes, it’s not easy. Sometimes the bolts are rusty and take a lot more time and effort to undo. So take the time, don’t rush yourself. Rather, take the time to find yourself. Find the best things about you and remember them.

Hold your own,
Know your name,
Go your own way,
Everything will be fine.

        -“Details In The Fabric” by Jason Mraz 

Called To Suffer

It seems to be a general theme among some people, that we ought not suffer much in our lives. That if we are suffering something is wrong and out of balance. But is this really how the world works? Is this as it should be? I would agree that it would be best if we did not suffer all of the time, but how much is too much, and is there such a thing as too little suffering?

I am, in many ways, a stranger to great suffering. I have a roof over my head, friends and family that are alive, and I’ve obtained, by whatever graces God has allotted me, and by some work, a very happy sum of non-essential swag. Physically, I’m blessed with a body that doesn’t suffer illness to any great extent, I’ve never suffered famine, nor been at the edge of my life (although there was a few near misses involving stupid accidents). But like a great variety of people in western society, I suffer in my mind. In my thoughts, and in my heart, I am far from being whole, far from understanding, far from being rightly human, and enjoying the mysterious beauty that is life. In this way, I understand suffering the most. To lose your mind, or to be ailed by the flesh, I do not know which is worst, and I cannot judge such things.

The interesting thing about life though, is that it is full of suffering. Poets of old, and even the modern artist understands this. A story which has no suffering can scarcely be called beautiful. In suffering, we find the true metal, in which our souls are made. Even our first moments in this world, emerging from our mother’s wombs, we experience suffering – the removal of one world for another. The human experience, is born in suffering, and we are formed by it. In my mind, it seems simple: we are what we are, and this world is as it is. Imagine something else, and you imagine something less than what we are. We are part of a universe which waxes and wanes with tragedy and ecstasy. I do not know if I can properly imagine a good man who has not suffered – for why would I call him a man if he has not endured what men do; and how should I call him good if he hasn’t tasted pain.

This brings me to the next point: That perhaps we should suffer. I don’t mean to say that we should be ailed by pains of all sorts because we deserve it, but because it is what makes us human. Nor would I say that I find pleasure in an innocent child in pain, or anyone in pain. It hurts us to see others suffer, because for the most part we genuinely desire the good fortune of others, and not their misery. But even in that, suffering works, not only on he who suffers, but it develops compassion in those around him as well. In suffering, humanity is exercised. It seems that as suffering occurs, the hearts of men are alight with the desire to relieve it, and bonds are formed between people.

But what of this in light of God? What of this in light of Christ, and ultimate goodness? At this moment, I don’t want to discuss the idea that God has a bigger plan for us, although invariably that will be found in what I’m saying. What I would like to point out is that throughout the western story of God, men have suffered and it was normal, and it was good. Some suffered more, some less, but most of them did.

Two stories attract me the most: One that some consider myth is the story of Job. Here is a man who quite literally loses everything. Yet in his pain, he still exhibits some trust in God. And even though he’s angry and he wants to know what’s going on, God has this respect for Job. Eventually restoration came to him, a rather mythically happy ending, but it didn’t occur without suffering. The suffering, and the human reaction to it, contrasts the good. Although it is a sad story, it does say something about how we live, and how big of a part suffering is of our experience of God.

The second story, that is a propos with the Easter season, is that of Jesus Christ. Throughout his ministry he calls his followers again and again to take up their cross. He reminds them that to drink his cup is no easy thing, and that it is full of pain. This man, who had a peace unlike others, who healed the sick, and gave hope to the lowly; is also the same man who sweat blood in a garden, was hated and pursued by authorities time again, was beaten, tortured and crucified. This man didn’t have an easy life, and he doesn’t seem to be telling us that we will either.

So what then of this? What do I make of this? It seems that in some way, goodness, whether simple or divine, seems to be part in parcel with suffering. And I guess that to be part of a great host of saints one must accept this fact. But not without seeing that not all suffering is good, and not all suffering is just. Yes, we are meant to suffer, but in a like manner we are meant to relieve suffering as well. This is our lot, and this is just one of the things that makes us what we are: Human.

An Intricate Web

It is indeed interesting for me to reflect on life all the time, watching it pass by, watching people, things, events… watching the world change. Sometimes I wish I could simply “stop this train,”  but alas that is not what life is. Life is an intricate, web of seemingly purposed and seemingly unpurposed events. Everything we know is brief, a coming and going. The moments we behold, already passed.

Yet we take it in, and ought to take it in. We drink of this life, breathe the air, and experience the events. How must we respond? With a directing mind which “wakes itself, adapts itself, makes itself of whatever nature it wishes?” (Meditations, 6:8) What does it mean to be a human being in creation? The more we ask, the more questions arise… What does it mean to see? What does it mean to feel? What does it mean to remember? How are any of these natural? What part do they take?

Questions upon questions. Still, we are wrapped in this intricate web of nature. We are what we are. Perhaps, nothing more… perhaps, nothing less.