Healing, Truth, and This is Us

Healing, Truth, and This is Us

It is necessary for me to fight the urge to write about each episode of This is Us.  Although God is rarely mentioned, I discover ribbons of truth interwoven into every episode.  The authenticity and genuine growth of the characters is unlike anything I have seen in a TV show before.  I encounter truth in their interactions and truth in their experience of a beautiful, broken family.

One aspect I have particularly appreciated is the way they show that past hurts influence our current perspective of the world.  The viewers see glimpses from different points in the characters lives and we begin to understand why different experiences crush them or fill them with joy or anger them.  Through beautiful storytelling, we see, perhaps clearer than the characters do themselves, why they respond in different ways.  In a brief flash, we are shown a moment of their life from twenty years earlier and then see how they respond to something similar as adults.  They don’t respond entirely as we would expect, yet we are able to see how their choices are colored by past experience.

As the audience, we have questions about what happened in the missing years that we haven’t been shown, but I appreciate that there are few nice, easy answers for the characters.  Situations aren’t simple.  The correct move or response isn’t always obvious.  Life isn’t always clear and we don’t always grasp how the past has a hold on our present.  Yet This is Us attempts to show that facing our past, with all the hurts and wounds, seems necessary if we desire to move forward in wholeness and freedom.

Or perhaps that is what I read into it.  Either way, it seems relevant in my life.  Over the past few years, I have been going to spiritual direction and that poor priest has watched me dissolve into tears innumerable times.  Sometimes it is because of a situation that recently happened, but many times it is due to something I thought I was “over” but was not.

The past is a powerful force.  Our negative experiences are real, valid experiences and yet they should not be given the freedom to wreak havoc in our present life.  Running away from these moments doesn’t transform the past nor does burying them deep within and trying to forget them.  It is only in confronting them, in the light of the Father’s love, that we release ourselves from the chains our wounds can form.
Continue reading “Healing, Truth, and This is Us”

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A Grateful Mission

A Grateful Mission

Like a mother who gushes with affection over a sleeping child, I often feel particularly fond for my students when they are taking tests.  They seem so quiet, so studious, and so devoted to the task at hand that I find myself gazing at their little, intent faces and being so thankful to be a teacher.

In all honesty, that isn’t the only moment I am thankful to teach, but it is one continually recurring theme.  Moments of quiet, moments of humor, and moments of profound learning make me grateful to teach.  The inside jokes we share and the relationships that are built over time make me thankful to interact with so many high school students.  When I am able to step back from the late papers, endless questions, and constant repetition of directions, I see young people seeking.  Seeking just like I am–for happiness, for joy, for love, for peace, for life.  When I see that perspective, I am grateful for the time to be with them, accompanying them for a short while on their journey to eternity.

It makes me wonder if I have any type of impact.  This little heart inside of me longs so much for a great mission.  And then I remember that I teach.  I interact with young people daily and if that isn’t the rich soil for a great mission, I don’t know what is.  Grades, dress codes, and attitudes can make me forget the mission that is in front of me every day.  Yet every now and then, I will get a glimpse of what God might be doing in souls.  I see that perhaps my littleness might be in the midst of something great right now and completely unaware of it all.

Still, the heart longs to know a difference is being made.  Thankfully, God gives me reminders in little moments.  There is enough to assure me that it isn’t for nothing and yet little enough so that it doesn’t all go to my head.  It is found in class camaraderie when one class writes me up for a detention when I return a little late for class.  I see it in a small group of women who enter into conversation about pursuing true beauty.  It is experienced in random after school conversations and hearing that my class is teaching something.  The look on some students faces as we tackle the problem of evil and honestly question how a good God could allow awful things to happen.  Brief moments, easy to pass by, but ones that remind me that something is happening here and now.

It isn’t because of me.  It is because of God’s grace.  Continue reading “A Grateful Mission”

Is there free will in Heaven?

Is there free will in Heaven?

“Do people in Heaven still have free will?”

Our conversation started with evolution and gradually meandered to angels, free will, and humanity.  I told them that angels had free will and they asked if angels could still rebel.  Explaining that angels will their decision to follow or not follow God with their entire beings, they then asked if people in Heaven could sin.  When I said they wouldn’t, they wondered how free will could be found in a place where there was no sin.

“It seems like free will would just be an illusion,” they said, when I told them that in Heaven we would be purified and would always choose to follow God, even while exercising our free will.

I needed to make a correlation that they would understand.  One student compared it to pizza.  If he said he would eat pizza for the rest of his life, he wouldn’t be free to eat anything other than pizza.  That wasn’t quite the comparison I was looking for in order to explain the situation to them.

I’m not always very quick on my feet.  Sometimes, I want to beg them for more time and to consider than I am a slow thinker, a muller of thoughts and ideas.  Instead, I tried to think of something tangible that they could understand.  How could one make a particular choice that was forever and yet still exercise their free will?

Now that I consider it, I could have referenced Jesus or Mary.  Instead, I used vocations.

“Priests, religious, and married persons make vows that they intend to follow forever and yet they freely choose to will those decisions daily.  Our free will in Heaven is kind of like that, but we are able to perfectly will it always.”

A couple committed to marriage make vows to love the other in a free, total, faithful, and fruitful way.  They still have a free will, but they have publicly voiced their desire to always will the good of the other.  This doesn’t make them less free.  Instead, their commitment allows them to experience the freedom of total gift of self to another.  Yes, they could choose to cheat or leave or lie.  But if they follow the vows, they will freely choose to not do those things. Continue reading “Is there free will in Heaven?”

To Write

To Write

I’ve wanted to write a book for years.  When I was in first grade, I wrote a short story for a contest and I won.  Several years ago, I went back and read the story, expecting it to be mildly phenomenal.  Instead, I was surprised that it wasn’t that good at all.  I basically wrote a story about a typical day in my life, some of it was true and some of it was embellished.  In eighth grade, my English teacher really complimented my writing and encouraged me to start submitting articles for the town paper.  Apparently, there was space to fill, since the next couple editors of the paper allowed me to submit articles periodically for the next few years.

Over the years, I have wondered what the Lord desired to do with this desire of mine to write.  This blog started mostly as a way for me to process the new world of teaching high school students.  Now it is a place where I reflect and share on a number of different thoughts and feelings that come up.  Yet, still, I find a longing to write a book.

When I was younger, I assumed it would be a fictional novel.  Since I lived on a steady diet of novels, I figured my love for them would bring about writing one of them.  As time has passed, I’ve found myself wanting to write something nonfiction, but unable to quite put my finger on what it is I want to write.

This indecision is something that is familiar in my life.  I need only glance around my room to see partially finished books, half-made plans, and a to-do list that goes back months.  My desire to leap forward is tempered by a desire to not fail, to do the right thing at the right moment always.  Yet I read the books or blogs that other people have written and while I enjoy them, I cannot help but think, I could write something like that. Continue reading “To Write”

Seeking the Face of God, Even in Tragedy

Seeking the Face of God, Even in Tragedy

“We live in a crazy world,” I told my class near the beginning of a class period.

“One of you asked if I had heard of the truck bombing and I thought I had, but I wasn’t sure if it was from last week or this week.  Then I looked it up.  Two hundred and seventy people died and it just sounded an awful lot like several other events.  We live in a world where it is possible to be uncertain if a tragedy like this is news or something from a couple of weeks ago.”

This particular class period, we were reflecting on the Ignatian theme of finding God in all things.  It is easy to find God in bits of beauty–in the sunset, the splendor of fall foliage, or the smile of a newborn.  The difficulty is found in seeing the face of God in tragedy–the shooting in Las Vegas, the 9/11 attacks, or the truck bombing in Somalia.

Practice makes perfect, though, right?  Or, at least, better?

So our class time was spent in small groups brainstorming a few tragedies and then considering how we can see God in the midst of these situations.  I challenged them to go beyond the cliché lines they hear or the standard Theology class answers.  Instead, I wanted them to delve into these painful situations and to truly seek the face of God.

This class period had the most somber tone of all my classes and I found myself telling them that I viewed this exercise in a hopeful way.  Yes, we were talking about a loved one being diagnosed with cancer, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and struggles in relationships, but we were doing so because we believe God can be found even there.  Perhaps, especially there.

After a group presented how they found God in a particular situation, I opened it up to the entire class.  Time after time, I asked, “Anything else?  Any other ways you can see God in that situation?”  There wasn’t a particular answer I wanted from them, I just wanted them to deeply reflect on all the possible ways God could be found in difficulty.  My hope was that if they did this while a bit removed from some situations, they will be able to try to do it in the midst of suffering.  I want them to remember that God can be found in all suffering.  And I want them to know it in a visceral, heart-wrenching way and not simply a pat answer on a Theology exam. Continue reading “Seeking the Face of God, Even in Tragedy”

Falling

Falling

The splendor of the leaves and their far-too-fast descent remind me of a beautiful poem by the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.  I’ll let him do the work this time, not complicating the simple beauty he presents with my added words.

Autumn

The leaves are falling, falling as from far off, 
as though far gardens withered in the skies; 
they are falling with denying gestures. 

And in the nights the heavy earth is falling 
from all the stars down into loneliness. 

We are all falling. This hand falls. 
And look at others; it is in them all. 

And yet there is One who holds this falling 
endlessly gently in his hands.

A Beauty Filled Life

A Beauty Filled Life

As I walked the Camino, I found within myself a longing for beauty.  Mile after mile passed beneath my feet and I made commitments to myself about how I would like to live my post-Camino life.

Read poetry every day.
Look at new artwork.
Listen to classical music.

All of those commitments and ideas didn’t translate as neatly into my reality as I had hoped.  In the rush of the daily grind, it is difficult to intentionally set aside time to experience beauty.  Most days, my taste of beauty happens when I remind myself to take in the fall foliage before winter sets in.  But an intentional pursuit of beauty?  Generally, that is non-existent.

Last night, I flipped through a book of poems entitled Poems You Ought to Know.  My English degree (with a concentration in British and American Literature) meant that I recognized most of the names in the table of contents.  Some of the poem names even sounded familiar, but few were ones I could stop and say, “Oh, I love this one!”

Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” was there and I recalled that in college I taught a lesson on this to a classroom of high schoolers during an education class.  It is a beautiful poem, I think, even with the natural morbidity found in Poe’s works.  The poetic devices that I had reviewed with the class came to mind dimly.

It makes me wonder why I don’t read poetry like my heart desires.  Why do I not sit down and read a Shakespearean sonnet in the evening?  Why don’t I learn about the famous classical composers?  Why don’t I use the gift of the internet to virtually explore art museums and learn about the different periods in art history?  I desire it.  Why don’t I do it?

Because it is easier to not.   Continue reading “A Beauty Filled Life”

Joyless Pragmatism

Joyless Pragmatism

“I just wanted you to know that I won’t offer to pray in class because I’m not Catholic.  If you want, you can email my parents and ask them about it.  But when you look around the room for volunteers to pray, that’s why I’m not offering.”

A student had approached me after class one day and started our brief conversation with that explanation.

“Oh?  That is fine that you aren’t Catholic.  I assume your parents are not either, so I wouldn’t email them about it.  I still expect you to answer questions and participate in class, though”
“No, they are Catholic.”
“They are, but you aren’t?”
“Yes.”

I’ve often wondered why some people remain faithful to the religion of their parents and others don’t.  Considering that this student brought this conversation up in the first place, I figured I could try to ask some questions to get some bearing on the situation.

“Are you Christian?”
“No.  I believe in God, because I think it is silly not to.  I just believe he created the world but isn’t really active in it.  I’m not against Christians or anything.  I just think you do your thing and I’ll do mine.”

This student seemed so…pragmatic.

I think the thing that struck me the most was how reasonable the student was striving to be.  Granted, I am grateful when students are reasonable, but I couldn’t help but sense an absence of joy in this system of belief.  In many ways, I was impressed with the responses I received to my questions.  Yet I also wondered if this lack of belief stemmed more from a desire to be intelligent rather than closely examining the issues.

The popular notion of ‘you do you, I’ll do me’ continues to baffle me.  If there is any honest pursuit of the truth, then clearly you doing your own thing and me doing my own separate thing cannot both lead to the correct answer.  Continual diversity in beliefs cannot lead to unity in the end. Continue reading “Joyless Pragmatism”

Avenues to My Heart

Avenues to My Heart

When I started college, I wanted to be a high school English teacher.  I have loved reading since elementary school and I wanted to encourage others to love reading, too.  Along with reading, I also enjoyed writing.  With these two loves, I assumed teaching English would be a fitting career.

The second semester of my freshman year of college found me taking a Theology class.  Since I had exclusively attended public school growing up, this was my first formal Theology class.  Other students who had attended Catholic schools didn’t seem as impressed as I was with the class.  Simply praying before a math class at college was an exciting concept for me.  Reading encyclicals and Church documents?  That was a complete thrill and I remember marveling at how accessible I found them.

After this introductory class, I was hooked.

I kept slipping extra Theology classes into my schedule.  Until, finally, my adviser asked what I was doing.  My heart wanted a Theology degree simply because it meant I could study more about what the Church thought and did.  So I dropped my Education major and paired my English major with Theology.  While I still loved reading and writing, I knew that I could never be quite as passionate about English as I could be about Theology.

Even with a Theology degree and a day full of teaching Theology classes, it still satisfies a desire of my heart when I can sit down and read good theological works.  Whether they are more dogmatic or more spiritual, I find the truths they speak to be balm for my soul.  I read Bishop Conley’s address to a group of Catholic school educators and administrators and I found myself underlining several points.  Bishop Conley said, “If you want authentically Catholic culture, you need authentically Catholic schools.”  This makes me applaud and then question, “How?”  Hearing about the faith is enlightening and joyous for me.  Learning about my role as a Catholic educator is inspiring.  It fills me with truths I know to be solid.

Despite the length of time I have spent on Theology (the beauty and the teaching of it), the inspiration for this post is not Theology.  Rather, it was in conversation with a co-worker that I realized that while theological reading is beautiful and soul-lifting, so is literature. Continue reading “Avenues to My Heart”

Heroic Action or Infringement of Rights?

Heroic Action or Infringement of Rights?

As much as our world changes and the values and morals alter concurrently, sometimes it is good to see that embedded deep within us is a natural understanding of how we should respond.  Many health situations that create controversy and endless disagreements often start from a good intention that is found within us as human beings.  The push for assisted suicide generally comes from seeing someone suffering and acknowledging that things shouldn’t be that way.  Our desire to eliminate suffering in others is good, but we don’t always pursue the correct course of action.

What this tends to create in society is the belief that each individual should be able to do what they think is best.  As an individualistic society, we are quick to argue that nobody can force their beliefs and opinions on me.  I am free to do whatever I want, whenever I want.  Sometimes we will add the caveat “as long as I am not hurting anyone,” but often, culturally, we see our freedom as the one objective truth.  

Do you remember hearing roughly a month ago about a MLB umpire who saved a woman from jumping off the Roberto Clemente bridge in Pittsburgh?  I found the story a beautiful testament of someone caring about a stranger and doing something when others just walked by.  What I find particularly interesting about the story is how it was reported.  People came together to help a woman who was trying to jump off the bridge and commit suicide.  John Tumpane, the man who first started helping the woman, is spoken of as a hero and as someone who saved another person’s life.  These weren’t Christian news agencies, but this event was reported very similarly in several mainstream secular articles.

I agree that he was able to help save someone’s life, but I find the cultural inconsistency obvious.

This woman didn’t want to live.  She made a plan, she started to carry out that plan, and then she was stopped by someone walking by.  Most people will look at this as a positive ending to a story that could have been tragic.  We see someone wanting to end it all and we rejoice that someone noticed and she was able to hopefully receive the help she needed.

In a purely individualistic sense, what I see is a woman who was not allowed to make a choice she wanted to make.  She wanted to end her life, but other people decided that her life was worth living, worth saving.  To us, it is easy to see this as heroism in action.

Why do we as a culture not view this as an infringement on her rights?   Continue reading “Heroic Action or Infringement of Rights?”