Bring Me to Life

Icon of the Resurrection (Jesus lifting Adam and Eve out of Hades)

Jesus reveals to us God who is one with us in suffering, grief and death… a God who weeps with us. God doesn’t intervene to prevent the tragedies and sufferings of life. If we had a god who simply swooped down as some “deus ex machina” to prevent human tragedy and sinfulness, then religion and faith would simply be reduced to some form of magic or fate, and we would be helpless pawns on the chessboard of some whimsical god. Where is God in the midst of human tragedies? God is there in the midst of it all, weeping. This is our God who stands in deep, human solidarity with us, and through the glory of the Incarnation, embracing fully our human condition. — Pope Francis

Back in 2011 a coworker of mine introduced me to a song by Evanescence called, Bring Me to Life. She said, “I think this song could be about prayer.” I listened to it but never gave it too much more thought until last year when I met a young woman on a retreat who told me that this song helped her find faith. Though the band’s intent in writing the song is not totally clear (their music video is a fanciful story of a suicidal woman), the lyrics lend themselves powerfully to a Christian interpretation. In any event, this woman I met on retreat told me that she had been entertaining suicidal thoughts in the wake of some personal life failures. Especially after her long-time boyfriend suddenly left her.

She said she was driving in her car one evening and was desperate to relieve her inner pain. That night she came as close as she ever had to giving up and ending her life. She said, “I never really thought about God much before. I grew up in an agnostic home. It wasn’t that I was really an atheist, I just didn’t see religion as relevant. But in my desperation that night, my thoughts raced. I was searching for some meaning and purpose above the pain and loss. I turned the radio on to distract me. And then this song came on and devastated me. I had to pull over. As I heard the lyrics, and felt the music’s call for help, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. I found a voice for my inner torment. And without my even knowing it was happening, I suddenly thought of God. It was God who was the only possible object of all my cries for relief. I was alone, but not any more. For the first time ever, I prayed. I prayed the words of that song.”

I listened to the song later at home and was overcome with emotion thinking of her pain, and with an overwhelming gratitude that the God behind this vast universe is, in His deepest nature, the answer to this song’s desperate cry. I imagined her sitting in the car, drenched unknowlingly in God’s co-mingling tears.

Listen with good speakers, feel and imagine her prayer:

Consecrating and consecrated

I had an insight while I was teaching a few weeks ago (on the lay vocation) and it blew my mind. I shared it with a friend afterward and he said, “Write it down as soon as you can.” So I did. I will share it with you on this Holy Thursday. It is actually not really a new insight, just a new vantage on a previous insight.

That evening I was teaching on paragraph #34 in Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, which says this:

The supreme and eternal Priest, Christ Jesus, since he wills to continue his witness and service also through the laity, vivifies them in this Spirit and increasingly urges them on to every good and perfect work.

For besides intimately linking them to His life and His mission, He also gives them a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men. For this reason the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.

This passage links in a stunning way the Eucharistic Sacrifice to the ordinary lives of men and women who live in the world, and go about gathering the “material” of their spiritual sacrifices, which are accepted by God and joined to the sacrifice of His Son by the Holy Spirit. “Pray, brethren, that your sacrifice and mine may be acceptable to God the almighty Father…” This work of “gathering” material for the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Council tells us, is an act of secular consecration that necessarily precedes the sacred consecration in the Mass. The lay faithful, who were made priests in Baptism, gather each day the fragments of what they have consecrated by means of their faith-full lives, and gather those fragments together at the Offertory as bread, wine and alms.

With that very basic background, let me share the insight that kindled a little fire in my mind. Here is what I sent myself as a voice-to-text email the night I had this insight. It’s a string of messy sentences, but I will leave it as it was from my phone (correcting bizarre v2t spellings!). Sorry it rambles:

Teaching tonight about the link between the two consecrations–liturgy of Daily Life and liturgy of Eucharist. There is a profound connection, and fiery analogy between the transubstantiation of the bread and wine effected under the force of Christ’s words of selfless and self-sacrificing charity AND the consecration of the world to God by the lay faithful, which is ALSO effected under the force of their Christlike lives that speak His Word of self sacrificing love and call down the Spirit poured out into their hearts at Baptism. In the liturgy of the Eucharist the bread and wine receive a new substance: the merciful Christ’s risen Body and Blood. In the liturgy of Daily Life the secular world receives a new form: the mercy of Christ. Parallel liturgies going on, one feeding into the other: Life into Eucharist and Eucharist into Life. My God.

So I was thinking in class teaching today: in Latin theology it’s the Words of Institution that bring about the transformation of the bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood — “this is my Body broken for you…my Blood spilled out for you”. It’s very specific. How can I say this? The Christ made present in Mass at the consecration is very specific in His mode of presence: Present at the apogee of His selfless outpouring, the most concentrated moment His life-giving merciful love for fallen humanity: this my self-sacrificing Body and Blood for you. The Eucharist is not a “generic” Jesus presence, but Jesus in-the-midst-of-offering-His-life-in-love presence. And there is no mistake He changes bread and wine. Yes because it’s Passover, but also because God is a feeding God who lives and loves to give joy to humanity [Psalm 146:7; 104:15].

So this is amazing: the Eucharistic transformation at Mass is a paradigm, a model, a source, an exemplary sign of the Way [John 14:6] the lay faithful, in their secular contexts of life, are supposed to consecrate the world to God in Christ: building a culture of mercy, a civilization of selfless and sacrificial and merciful love for fallen humanity, feeding the hundry and giving joy to the downcast. Consecration, which means to “make holy,” does what holiness is, and holiness is of course the “perfection of charity” which is perfectly modeled in Jesus’ sacrificial death. The laity in the world love like Jesus does in the Passion, which is what the Last Supper really is. The Meal of that sacrificial-love-in-action. The Truth of the Way of Life that Christ revealed to us AND gave to us at the Last Supper, epitomized in the Words of Institution, IS the very specific meaning and sructure of how we are to “consecrate the world.” It’s the consecratory pattern (taxis/ordo) after which we are to build a culture of life and civilization of love [neat typology for this: Exodus 24:8-12; 25:40]. No accident that “love one another AS I have loved you” is said at the Last Supper in the midst of Eucharistic Consecration [John 17:17].

The new transubstantiated substance that remains in the aftermath the re-creating Consecration is also to be the new substance of the culture we are to be building. It’s why He commands us to eat and drink before He says: Go! The Real Presence is the Real Blueprint and source and cause and goal of all our world-consecrating strivings after-Mass. Empowered in our baptismal priesthood, we are lay missionaries who go out into the world as its soul, threatenig to love that world into new life. We are a praying laity who call the Spirit down everywhere we go in hope that every quark of time and space will be redeemed in that “eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.” I’m thinking: Catholic Social Teaching really is in the deepest sense the specific application of this Eucharistic paradigm to the whole social order. If we say: how do I apply Eucharistic logic to business or economics or the arts or war or sex or medicine? CST! For the laity CST is their new “Way of Perfection” to transforming and transformative union with Christ the Lover of Mankind. Teresa of Avila gave her nuns a contemplative’s Way, the Church has given the secular lay geniuses their Way.

When the priest says, “Go! Be Sent!” he really means, “Continue in your lives the substance-changing liturgical work you have seen and heard and ingested today. Gather more grain for bread and grapes for wine, grind them down by your labors, bake bread and ferment wine by your charity and return again with all you have gathered to offer it here so we can send it up  on High to store as Treasure in Heaven for the life of the world and the glory of the God who made heaven and earth to be filled with His glory.” So when St John Paul says “Christian marriage is in itself a liturgical action glorifying God” this what he means, that marriage is a great work of preparing material for the Kingdom. My God!

I know a woman who has a Down Syndrome son who is also severely disabled. He suffers from chronic insomnia, and regularly has sleepless bouts that stretch for three days in a row. And he’s afraid of the dark, so she stays up with him for that whole stretch of time and then works during the day. She’s been doing this for 24 years. Never complains. Whenever I compliment her, she deflects it by saying: “He’s the champ, not me.” And one time she added, “If I’m ever saved when I die, it will be because of him. He pulled me out of my selfishness and taught me to love. He’s the champ.” Well, the whole world is saved by her Christ-like love, is consecrated. Between mother and son, their daily “sleepless” sacrifices of love given and received are so vast — I imagine — that were they physical and not spiritual things they could not be contained by a thousand worlds. Such a beautiful love, a beauty that saves the world.

I leave you with an image of the Consecration of the Eucharistic Liturgy to capture the union of the two liturgies into one. The faithful, Christ’s Body, are anxiously watching as their offerings are being accepted, consecrated and taken up into the Kingdom:


Kitchen Sink

This is the last in the collection of reflections I wrote on Twenty One Pilots while I was traveling a few weeks ago. I had a stretch of quiet free time and a sense of the muse, so I went with it.


I would like to share a poem that I wrote. It flowed out of my meditation on the irony of social media’s capacity to foster an isolated generation. That meditation was inspired by  a TED video a colleague sent me, called Alone Together, on the isolating dynamics of social media, as well as by the Twenty One Pilots’ song, Kitchen Sink.

The vision of this poem flooded my mind the moment I heard Kitchen Sink’s final line, that pulls its author back from the brink of isolation. The sudden change of course is heralded by the the shift from a weary and eerie cry, “Leave me alone!” to a more insistent but equally eerie, “Don’t leave me alone!” The song’s solitary quest for meaning (represented by his private understanding of the metaphor, “kitchen sink”) in a sense affirms the uniqueness of our dignity as an individual and meaning-making person. Indeed, each person’s experience of their inner life is incommunicable. But there is a temptation in this gift, the danger of moving from an inner solitude of the heart to an external isolation from others and inner fragmentation without being in touch with the common good of shared meaning. The singer is, however, rescued from this threat of isolation as he opens out in the last lines of the song toward a quest for the shared and public meaning of human existence. Though we never want to submit our unique individuality to the uniformity of a “copy and paste” culture, we can only truly affirm the depth of our uniqueness when we are able to join our inner life to others’ inner lives in a community and communion of truth and love — becoming one mind, one heart (Phil. 2:2-3). We are persons only in relation to others, and that interrelationship requires a real presence to those who are with us in real-time and real-space — and not just virtually. I recently thought, 3 John 13-14 could be the motto for a redeemed digital culture:

I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together mouth to mouth [stoma pros stoma].

The final cries of the song — “Oh!” — let us know this man’s struggle is an ongoing story, still lived out from within a culture increasingly Alone Together.

First my poem, then their song.

Today lives are lived – they say – connected,
webbed, networked, yet vivisected;
bound to a thousand friends, all-intersected
we believe, profess ourselves inter-affected;
yet, powered down we fall into deathly isolation
overtaking our illusions of loving relation, as we,
adrift on shifting sands, fragmented bits of meaning
swaying left, right, split by unbridgeable leaning,
our dialogues turn dark, unilateral, soaked in profanity
cooling us cold, into silicon embers, an LCD humanity
incapable of being within, indwelling another view
— killing the graces of inter-meaning faces —
shrink-wrapped into bundles, purveying anesthetized insanity.
For unto oblivion are our softly lit faces, gently distracted
by a fast-paced semblance sense of having interacted,
only to realize our subdivided soul had been subtracted.
Sadly weeping, we fall down and tumble to solid earth
only from there reclaiming our Height, our inalienably dimensional worth
grasped first in the moment we saw a humanly divine Face at our birth.
From earth, praying on knees bent on, upward reeling, crying out
piercing through azure Skies capped without ceiling,
feeling my heart bleeding, precisely incised by paschal healing.
O Christ, twice born as Face from Face, leave me not now left alone
locked in hopeless dissipation, faceless, and roll back this heavy stone
O Fisher of all nations, freeing me from my tangled Nets, together-unrelated,
insulated, refrigerated, always agitated in a mind ever more disrelated;
in a mind dulled, driven by the senseless quest to be alleviated
from pallid meaning; my shallow swamp of self-syndicated gleaning
masking fitfully an inner pine for One whose love is joy all-beaming;
joying precisely because this One is at once the thrice intersected We,
always and for all ages on ages, an interfacing, all-loving Three
forever toward Another, Facing forever and forever eternally
all for me
for thee
that we
may see
in love alone
are we
set free.

Okay, now hear 21P here:

My Twenty One Pilots Obsession (apologia pro musica sua)

A very fun to write entry from my journal:

“What’s with the Twenty One Pilots obsession, Tom?”

I was asked this question a few weeks ago by a local reader of my blog, who quickly added: “Just kidding!” She asked a good question. What’s my good answer? Of course, there’s always something inexplicable about why you like this kind of music and not that. My taste in music is quite eclectic and idiosyncratic, spanning Athonite Byzantine chant, Pat Benatar, Lara Fabian and Twenty One Pilots. But here are a few reasons I can articulate: Sharing my daughters’ joy in them. Their alternative sound. Their artful and substantive lyrics. Their youthful passion. Their apparent sincerity. Their refusal to indulge in our culture’s sexual pathologies.

But most of all, I am enamored by their willingness to plunge headlong and clear-eyed into the tangled anxieties of postmodernity, all the while remaining free from its caustic cynicism, in order to open up the possibility of redemption in Christ. Twenty One Pilots is about the work of re-enchanting a thoroughly disenchanted world. Their quest to reach the victims of our age of anxiety makes me think of the Greek word St. Paul uses in his Acts 17 “men of Athens” speech (in vs. 27) to describe the non-Jewish world’s searching quest for the one true God:  psēlaphēseian. It means something like “groping about,” referring to what a blind man does when he tries to make his way through a dark and unfamilar space.

Tyler and Josh are ready to join their generation, and all seekers, in this stumbling journey through the darkness led along by the light of a divine darkness that is faith. Western culture is ever-more a de-sacramentalized world, made incapable of gesturing beyond itself, of supporting the pursuit of the ecstasy of charity outstretching toward God and neighbor. It is a world rendered flat, insipid and banal by a progressive evacuation of the infinite dimensions of transcendence. The motto of (post)modernity, fearful of the Most High, is “stay low.” This is the world Twenty One Pilots rebels against, a world described so powerfully by David Bantley Hart:

Late modern society is principally concerned with purchasing things, in ever greater abundance and variety, and so has to strive to fabricate an even greater number of desires to gratify, and to abolish as many limits and prohibitions upon desire as it can. Such a society is already implicitly atheist and so must slowly but relentlessly apply itself to the dissolution of transcendent values. It cannot allow ultimate goods to distract us from proximate goods. Our sacred writ is advertising, our piety is shopping, our highest devotion is private choice. God and the soul too often hinder the purely acquisitive longings upon which the market depends, and confront us with values that stand in stark rivalry to the one truly substantial value at the center of our social universe: the price tag. So it really was only a matter of time before atheism slipped out of the enclosed gardens of academe and down from the vertiginous eyries of high cosmopolitan fashion and began expressing itself in crassly vulgar form…In a sense, the triviality of the movement is its chief virtue. It is a diverting alternative to thinking deeply. It is a narcotic. In our time, to strike a lapidary phrase, irreligion is the opiate of the bourgeoisie, the sigh of the oppressed ego, the heart of a world filled with tantalizing toys.

Twenty One Pilots sings of the epic themes of human existence: life and death, hope and despair, sin and redemption, love and violence, addiction and freedom, alienation and presence, fear and trust, God and man, et alia. Their songs are sometimes quiet, sometimes screaming, sometimes whimsical, sometimes grotesque, sometimes searching meditations on the complex relational interplays between man and God, man and man, and man within himself. So many of their songs are deft condensations of latent beauty-truth-goodness, of faith-hope-love found fully in Christ. They make these triplets haunt, infest, inhabit, infiltrate our world of uncertain shadows, but never in a moralizing or preachy way. Their lyrics make clear that prayer need not simply be an effusion of plastic pieties, but can be a raw, gritty experience turned upward in “hope against hope” that postmodernity’s deafening silence masks something far deeper: an exquisitely attentive Word of eternal listening.

I write and comment on them because they are a sign, a witness, an example — even at times, exemplar — of the lay vocation to consecrate the world to God with all the quiet subtlety of transubstantiation. Just think of how in the Liturgy, without notice, the bread and wine are radically remade into a New Creation by the God who makes all things new. We lay faithful are to employ our secular genius by renewing the secular world in Christ, embodying daily the challenging truth of these majestic words from the Second Vatican Council:

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds (Gaudium et Spes #1).

And while we Catholics must have a strong ecclesial [churchy] center from whence we are sent out among the wolves (Matt 5:44), as strong Communion leads to a strong Mission, and must avoid being assimilated by our materialist and consumerist society, we also mustn’t succumb to simply holing up in a gated community. We cannot rest secure in confidently smiling out from our airtight apologetics-Ziploc bag, being bearers of Truth who look on a confused world only to curse its darkness. No! Instead of such triumphal insularity, we must unzip all our synthetic seals and be poured out into the midst of the din of sin, the moans of despair, the rebellious sounds of revelry, and there sing a new song that all can join in on. We must with confident love invite the intoners of postmodernity’s cacophony to hear our rich harmonies, and make it clear our song is for them and about them. We must give them opportunity to come to know in us the Jesus who said to the safely-sealed-up chief priests and elders: “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots enter into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31). We must take up Pope Francis’ challenge to the youth at World Youth Day:

I want to tell you something. What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess. We knew that in Rio there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses! I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. Because these need to get out! … if they do not do this, they become a non-governmental organisation, and the Church must not be an NGO.

Twenty One Pilots has gone out into the streets, casting seeds of hope into the field, leavening our cultural grammar, salting our syntax and illumining our lexicon with a grammar, syntax and lexicon drawn out of the inkwell of the Gospel. Yes, they do so imperfectly, as it always must be. But they are risking precisely what I passionately believe our Church absolutely must begin to seriously and systematically cultivate among the lay faithful: not simply inward-facing ecclesiastical ministers but outward-facing ecclesial apostles; not simply keepers of an enclosed garden, but day laborers ready to go out and work day after day in the hot sun cultivating the hard, rocky, weed infested field of the world. We need culture-makers willing to risk everything to cast seeds into the world.

In the movie, Risen, there’s an amazing scene where the Roman tribune Clavius, in his frantic search for the corpse of Jesus, interviews a blind old woman named Miriam. She tells him she heard the voice of the risen Jesus. He spoke to her. After Clavius dismissed this as lunacy, Miriam walked away. But she stopped, turned back and said to Clavius in an ominous tone: “Don’t you want to know what he said to me?” He said, “Sure.” She told him: “He said, ‘You are seeds, already cast.’” Then she said, referring to Clavius’ plan to crush this new messianic movement: “You’re too late.”

We are the seed casters and the seeds cast.

It only seems appropriate to leave you with another Twenty One Pilots song. I will not comment on it other than to say that this song is their manifesto of refusal to succumb to the commodifying, mass production-oriented and often heartless tendencies in the pop music industry. Here’s to hoping and praying they will remain part of the faithful resistance, (re)inscribing a new heart onto the chest of an increasingly heartless culture. As usual, lyrics are below the video:

They say stay in your lane, boy, lane, boy
But we go where we want to
They think this thing is a highway, highway
But will they be alive tomorrow?

They think this thing is a highway
If it was our way
We’d have a tempo change every other time change
‘Cause our minds change on what we think is good
I wasn’t raised in the hood
But I know a thing or two about pain and darkness
If it wasn’t for this music, I don’t know how I would’ve fought this
Regardless, all these songs I’m hearing are so heartless
Don’t trust a perfect person and don’t trust a song that’s flawless
Honest, there’s a few songs on this record that feel common
I’m in constant confrontation with what I want and what is poppin’
In the industry it seems to me that singles on the radio are currency
My creativity’s only free when I’m playin’ shows

They say stay in your lane, boy, lane ,boy
But we go where we want to
They think this thing is a highway, highway
But will they be alive tomorrow? Will they be alive tomorrow?

I’m sorry if that question I asked last
Scared you a bit like a hazmat
In a gas mask
If you ask Zack
He’s my brother, he likes when I rap fast
But let’s back track, back to this
Who would you live and die for on that list
But the problem is, there’s another list that exists and no one really wants to think about this
Forget sanity, forget salary, forget vanity, my morality
If you get in between someone I love and me
You’re gonna feel the heat of my cavalry

All these songs I’m hearing are so heartless
Don’t trust a perfect person and don’t trust a song that’s flawless

They say stay in your lane, boy, lane, boy
But we go where we want to
They think this thing is a highway, highway
But will they be alive tomorrow?
They say stay in your lane, boy, lane, boy
But we go where we want to
They think this thing is a highway, highway
But will they be alive tomorrow?

Will they be alive tomorrow?
(Will they be alive tomorrow?)

They say stay in your lane, boy, lane, boy
But we go where we want to
They think this thing is a highway, highway
But will they be alive tomorrow?
They say stay in your lane, boy, lane, boy
But we go where we want to
They think this thing is a highway, highway
But will they be alive tomorrow?

Help me Polarize

“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

One of my Scripture professors years ago said:

The goal of reading the Scriptures with faith [aka lectio divina] is to allow the biblical stories to become your stories, to allow them to weave into your life so deeply that you begin to think of your life in their terms. That way you don’t just think ‘about’ Scripture, but you think ‘out of’ Scripture. Jesus told parables not so we could struggle over them like some logic puzzle, but so we would see the world through them.

When I first heard the Twenty One Pilots Song, Polarize, I felt powerfully their capacity to see the world “out of” the parable of the Prodigal Son. Let me take a shot at capturing its meaning, though not without remainder as there are a number of images and sounds I will not mention. Here’s some notes I jotted down after listening to it one night.

When I first heard it, what I sensed immediately in both the lyrics and sounds was the visceral anguish of the prodigal son, languishing in throes of famine, close to starvation and death, plagued by shame over a betrayal of both his father and his brother. This son-brother “lost his halo” in the nighttime of his exile among the swine herds, which represent the son’s abandonment of God’s Law and resulting desperation. His alienation from God has set Sunday, which is the Lord’s Day, on fire (Domingo en fuego = “Sunday on fire”). His God-touched searing conscience now stirs him, beckoning him to run back to his father. You can hear the agony of living with so many “disguises,” with hypocrisies (hypokrisis means to ‘act’ or ‘pretend’), as well as his desire to recover the authenticity of his true identity as a son of the Father and as a brother of humanity. He, and his friends who share his plight, want to be better. They want to parse out within themselves — or, better, have God parse out — what is right from what is wrong. That’s the promise of the new heart and new spirit in Ezekiel 36:26-27. The singer wants to escape his repeated denials (3x), his cycles of compromise, and learn to live according to the law of love of God and neighbor, i.e. to “be a better brother, better son.”

The whole song is spoken to God as a prayerful colloquy, offered up by a lost and penitent soul who longs to be found by his Father. Though he wants to run to God, he finds that he is still weak, stumbles, finds himself unable to break free from the pull of the night. He wants God to “polarize,” separate within himself good and evil. Only God can save him from his incessant inner compromises with evil and sort out the human mess. In fact, the whole song bears within it — to me, simply and brilliantly — the agonizing inner “fight” found in St. Paul’s public confession in Romans 7:14-25. We are the problems, indeed! This radical confession of powerlessness, this cry out from the depths to God, is what makes the climactic line of the song so exquisite:

I don’t know where you are
You’ll have to come and find me, find me

He screams these words to God. Wow! A desperate plea lifted up to a running Father (Luke 15:20) who spies him from a distance and goes out to find, meet, embrace, clothe and celebrate his rescue. Even the very last lines of the song linger in the feelings of longing and lamenting regret, have the feeling of a plaintive call, three-times repeated, and backed by the sound of a church organ.

What a powerful expreession of gut-felt faith. Listen to the whole song (with good speakers if you can) if you feel drawn in by this:

Maria and Ashley, slanderers…

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 9.29

Maria and Ashley with…

None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colors and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you. — St. John Paul II

I am blessed once more to feature my daughter Maria’s writing, with her gracious if blushing permission. But that’s not all! I also get debut the writing of her dear friend and co-vocalist Ashley. Yes, of the famed Maria and Ashley. After reading these, I began to hope one day they might cease to Cover only others’ songs and begin to write their own.

As was the case with the poem I wrote about yesterday, Maria’s poem was written as part of her English class’ unit on poetry. She asked me to read it and then tell her what I thought it was about. I read it quietly. As before, I was delighted by the artfulness of her language and her ability to beautifully structure the meter and rhyme. But, just as with yesterday’s poem, when I got to the last line I drained my hyperbolic word bank dry. Before I get to the details, I’ll ask you read it and see if you can guess what the poem is about:

There for my compulsions of cathartic release
A vacuum for my thoughts ‘til my mind is at peace

The greatest of listeners, absorbing every thought
Unfailingly present whenever you’re sought

Upon your exemplary performance, my success is dependent
With you in my grasp, my thoughts grow transcendent

Transporting me to where my mind is seldom sedentary
I yield to your craft, O slanderer of the ordinary

Spoiler alert: Okay, so it’s describing the pen. What mighty allusions! But it was not just the clever metaphors or meter and rhyme that struck me. It was, as last time, that last line that caught me: “I yield to your craft, O slanderer of the ordinary.” I shouted with a touch of mania: “Are you kidding me? Majestic! Outrageous! Stupendous! What is this? How do you think of that?”

Here’s what I wrote later in my journal:

That’s the true vocation of a writer, isn’t it? To make the familiar strange and the strange familiar; the extraordinary ordinary and the ordinary extraordinary? Maria’s love of language and her firm grasp on its potential for beauty bleeds through her pen. Her voice is inflected with faith in the forgotten power of language to reveal, by refraction, countless forgotten beauties. Faith! I’m absolutely convinced that an imagination captured by faith hope love, breathed into us by Christ the Tektōn [artisan], creates a capacious imagination. Faith! To think in Him who is the Word, the Origin of all beginnings, the goal of all strivings, the restless resolve of all opposites, the diverse unity that preserves all difference — how can He not give to the mind its fullest “breadth and length and height and depth” (Ephesians 3:18)? He is the Most High slanderer of the ordinary, the writing God who has chosen us to be and do His calligraphy … The Scribes of the Kingdom (Matt 13:52) use words to render the mundane celestial, and the stable an earthquake, before returning them again to us. Writers discover the uncommon in the common, expose infinite dimensions hiding within a flat wasteland, reveal a surplus of meaning latent in every empty space.

I also thought after reading Maria and Ashley’s work tonight about the word tektōn, which is used in Mark 6:3 to describe Jesus’ profession. It’s usually translated ‘carpenter’ but is so much broader. The Greek lexicon says: “a worker in wood, a carpenter, joiner, builder, any craftsman, or workman, the art of poetry, maker of songs, a planner, contriver, plotter, an author.” Fabulous! God is a tektōn, so of course Christ was. Brilliant! I thought of the Catechism 2501 — I used it in a talk to musicians once: “Created in the image of God, man also expresses the truth of his relationship with God the Creator by the beauty of his artistic works. Indeed, art is a distinctively human form of expression; beyond the search for the necessities of life which is common to all living creatures, art is a freely given superabundance of the human being’s inner riches. Arising from talent given by the Creator and from man’s own effort, art is a form of practical wisdom, uniting knowledge and skill, to give form to the truth of reality in a language accessible to sight or hearing. To the extent that it is inspired by truth and love of beings, art bears a certain likeness to God’s activity in what he has created. Like any other human activity, art is not an absolute end in itself, but is ordered to and ennobled by the ultimate end of man.”

So there’s that. Whew.

Then, just when I thought I was safe from any more unsettling provocations, Maria passed on to me Ashley’s poem. Who are these 16 year olds? Where do they come? After having Maria admonish all pen-wielders to slander the ordinary, Ashley the tektōn then carried out a slandering fest, consecrating empirical data into a sacrament of beauty. That’s how it felt! Ashley’s poetry is a protest against modernity’s insular vision, against its atrophied imagination and healing her generation’s neurotic fear of having upward-opening holes torn in its synthetic ceilings for fear they might reveal God’s downward gaze.Those eyes! What hue? Azure? Indigo? Turquoise? Zaffre?

As I read “On the Lake” I was transported into Ashley’s world-view, drawn through her eyes to envision colors I had never seen myself, but now have. I even tasted color — bitter sweet! And I could hear her heart singing praises on High that echoed down low around every inch of those canyon walls, only to again scale up into their insurmountable beauty. What more can I say? Let her slander for me…


On the Lake// 
I want to paint a picture of it, but no painting could do justice to its surreality.
Rusty-colored rock walls, built towards the sky, seemingly endless.
The ground not solid, but a crystal clear lake of blues-
The kind of blues that can only match the color of God’s eyes.
For even the blind man could recognize an aesthetic realm such as this.
The canyon could dizzy and perplex even the most intellectually gifted of men.
It has the kind of beauty I begin to develop a deep nostalgia for even before I arrive, as I
know how I will miss the grace of the natural atmosphere.
It is the closest place to heaven on earth, like a mirror parallel to the blue of the sky-
The reflection of the bitter-sweet color strays before it hits the rock.
It is the land of Aphrodite and Venus, where they sang and danced and laughed.
It is easy to feel free in the midst of the red rock, the same rock that shifts and transforms
and never looks the same, but always maintains its allure.
A land so dry and barren, yet still, I have never felt more tied to the earth, with all its
humbleness and peace and magnificence.
The sun kissed my shoulders, my skin now the same shade of red as the rock walls.
But I didn’t care. How could I? How could I possibly care about anything besides taking in
every inch of the canyon walls? How could I think of anything so extraneous when
surrounded by this insurmountable beauty?
I must let the earth consume me completely,
For in just a few days, I will desperately dream to be on the lake again.


It only seems a fitting end to re-post Maria and Ashley’s latest musical slander…I mean, Cover:

Maria’s Ode to the Sky

Beauty is the word with which we shall begin. Beauty is the last word that the thinking intellect dares to speak, because it simply forms a halo, an untouchable crown around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love. — Hans Urs von Balthasar

My daughter wrote a poem a week or so ago. All I can say is, Wow. Yes, sure, that’s because I am her Dad. But really, objectively, it took my breath away because it’s just a remarkably sophisticated poem for a 10th grader. Her creative employment of metaphors, her adept use of rhythm and rhyme, and the depth of meaning outpace her years. She wrote it for school as a reflection on the experience of lying on the ground at night, looking up into the starry skies and bright full moon. She asked me to read it aloud while she sat and listened. As I made my way through it, I delighted in its vivid imagery and sprightly sound. But when I got to those last stanzas, I completely lost it. I drummed on the breakfast table, shouted with joy and made a general fool of myself: “Seriously? Crazy! This is ab-so-lute-ly unreal!”

Here it is:

An Ode To The Sky
This vast ocean I behold,
Formed in a Master’s careful hold,
Is a sea of glowing chandeliers
Blanketing us from the bitter cold

The lights surround their mother so valiant
Firmly standing as a gleaming battalion
I lie here paralyzed, consuming their wonder
Admiring His prized and precious medallion

Doused in tranquility, swallowed by space
Humbled in His atmospheric embrace
For one day I will enter the gallery
Where I will look down upon this place

This idle world of mortal gloom
Shall yet be saved before consumed

Especially in those last two stanzas, she captured exquisitely the Christian vision for the ultimate destiny of both human life and the whole of creation, beyond the veil of death. What hope that death has not the final word! As I read her poem aloud, I was thrust into the presence of a God who “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4); that long for “this idle world of mortal doom” ti be saved in, with and through us: man made fully alive in Christ (Rom. 8:19). She took all of Christian eschatology [theology of the Last Things] and wrapped it up in a single phrase.

Later on that night, I read it again in the quiet. That last line spoke differently, articulating a new language for me to describe the nature of the Eucharistic Consecration at Mass. I imagined the bread and wine, which are symbols of the whole of creation transformed under the dominion of redeemed humanity, being “saved” under the force of Christ’s self-sacrificing words of Consecration precisely in order to be consumed by the faithful. The holy Eucharist, which is the collapse of the distance between heaven and earth, is also the nexus, the locus of this world’s salvation. In this sense, transubstantiation simply means that what has been offered to God at Mass by the faithful — “your sacrifice and mine” — has been, by the Spirit’s dew fall, saved — “stored up as treasure in heaven” (cf Matt. 19:21 where the “sacrifice” of a life expended for love of God and the poor is “saved”). Those who approach the saving Bread and Chalice to consume become what they receive (cf John 6:51).

My point here?: Maria is what all Christians must become: architects of wonder. I was built up that day, awakened anew in wonder, beneath the nimble art of her pen.

I have always believed that for a teacher there can be no greater joy than watching his student surpass him. The same could be said of a father and his child. Thank you, Maria, for giving me a new language and lifting up my heart with wonder into the gallery of the heavens.

Let me leave you with two quotes that I have long loved and pondered, and which now seem even brighter beneath the light of An Ode to the Sky. The first quote is from Bishop N.T. Wright, the second from Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes #39.

“Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about … The point of the resurrection is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die. What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it. What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

“For after we have, in the Spirit of the Lord and according to His command, propagated on earth the goods of human dignity, fraternal communion, and liberty — indeed, all those fruits of our nature and industry — we will discover them anew, yet cleansed of all sordidness, illuminated and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father an eternal and universal kingdom: “a kingdom of truth and life; a kingdom of sanctity and grace; a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.” On this earth the Kingdom is present already in mystery; but at the Lord’s coming it shall be made consummate.”