Glimpses of the holy

When I was in college, I had the chance to speak during chapel, a not-well-attended service in the late Tuesday morning. I sat on a stool, with a red notebook where I had jotted down my talk and an orchestral score for a demonstration. Let’s find beauty in the little things, I said. Let’s find it in the words of a poem, in a pun, a tree, in the soles of your feet hitting the ground as you run, or in the sound of the woodwinds during the opening of Brahms’ Symphony No. 2. Whatever it is you enjoy, find the beauty present in those details which seems mundane. It’s there. Try it. See it.

I would add now, however, that such awareness does not need to be restricted to details in things we enjoy, but it should be extended to the interactions we have with others. Our days may be full of uncomfortable and even painful interactions, whether with strangers, colleagues, or family. At the same time, they include small moments of generosity, gratitude, or just mere pleasantness as we share a meal, talk about our day or about an idea or thing that either person just can’t get out of their head.

A poem someone shared on Facebook not long ago popped up on my feed, and I think it beautifully describes these brief interactions and small gestures where meaning is waiting to be found and enjoyed.

I often struggle with who or what God is, but I cling to the description of God in First John 4:8. Simply, that God is love. I think I do this because I experience and see that need for love in me and those around me. And, while it seems to be out of reach, I think we get glimpses of it, and so we keep reaching out. Such glimpses (themselves experiences of love) are not to be found in grand gestures, those that seem to expect reciprocity, but in the small acts of giving of oneself which find their fulfillment in the acceptance and enjoyment of those who receive them.

What if [these small kindnesses] are the true dwelling of the holy? What if we experience God in these seemingly mundane interactions? What if we can find beauty, the holy, in the ordinary?

In the weeks prior to my chapel talk, a professor shared an article on the “disease of busyness.” How are you?, someone may ask, to which we reply with some variant of “I’m just so busy.” Just as I did then, I relate to this—feeling sort of called out—as I see the piles of journal articles I must read, research papers I should start writing, qualifying exams I need to prepare for all looming over. I do think it is important to come back to a place of wonder, where the little things which pass us every day are noticed. Who knows how much of an antidote to our busy schedules this is, but the small things will be there whether we pay them any attention or not.

May we, amidst our hurried calendars and relentless worrying, pause long enough to experience these glimpses of the holy, the divine, afforded to us in the everyday kindnesses we exchange.

An Exploration of (My) Faith

As I have shared before with several people and also in this blog, I have struggled with my spiritual life for the past year at least. Lately, though, I have found belief in God itself to be quite a challenge. From beginning to question my beliefs and deconstructing my faith, I have come to a point where the idea of God just does not seem to make sense. But I have not given up, and I have decided to continue this struggle by engaging in conversation with others about questions of faith, spirituality, and belief in God. And, since you know I love podcasts, the product of this will be For Laypeople, By Laypeople.

Let me be clear: I am trying to hold on to God with everything I have. Losing my faith scares me to death. I want to believe in God; but I am struggling to do so. I love the Body of Christ, but I’m tired of sitting in the pews wondering why I’m there if I don’t feel anything, if half the time I’m not sure I believe in any of what the pastor is saying. I find the Christian story so fascinating and beautiful that I can’t get away from it, and I want to believe it and live it with everything I have and am. So bear with me.

I strive to be completely honest about my faith. I think it is important for believers to be open about how difficult belief can be. It is a scary thought, for sure, but there are many of us who have questions but don’t feel like these can be discussed among believers because they may challenge the very foundations of our faith. And so we hide our doubts and avoid our questions in order to fit in. We grow discontent with our spiritual lives and live out a lie, one in which we may ironically find comfort. But I don’t wanna live out a lie, so I will be honest, and I would be honored to get your honesty in return.

While I believe sharing our struggles is beneficial to the body of Christ because there is a lot we can learn from one another, I am hesitant to be this open when I know how some in the community might perceive my struggle. All I can say is there are people who sincerely and constantly yearn after God and can’t seem to find anything or anyone. The process is exhausting and support, rather than reproach, from fellow believers is crucial.

Lastly, I know nobody needs yet another podcast on faith. There are some great (e.g., The Liturgists) and not-so-great podcasts out there, but I think I do need this podcast myself. I need a space where I can talk openly about where my struggles come from, a space where I can engage with different perspectives and learn from them. And while this is a very selfish project, I hope you can find something useful in whatever conversations take place in For Laypeople, By Laypeople.

So, with that, here’s the first episode:

Like an old Sabbath

A few weeks back, I was invited to do special music for the church I’ve been attending since I arrived in Houston. Given that I really had not other performance opportunities in sight, I accepted.

I haven’t played much, and I have honestly felt the void. On Monday, I had an excellent practice session. It was productive and fun—one of those you don’t get all the time. Then on Wednesday, while preparing the piece for Sabbath, I hated my guts because my altissimo register just plain sucked (that’s what practicing is more like on a daily basis).

So even though I generally don’t play music outside of the classical genre, I looked forward to performing once more, to feeling those nerves and the adrenaline, to enjoy being shaken by the beauty of music.

My faith has been faltering; my spirit has struggled with finding purpose, my self-esteem with the ever-challenging demands and expectations of a PhD program. But today, playing for the worship service at the West Houston Seventh-day Adventist Church, I felt fulfilled. Making music, participating in worship, if only for a moment, I was home.

The Sabbath closes and I thank God for a much-needed reminder of who He is even as I am overwhelmed with, not doubt, but questions. And I am grateful for another chance to make and share music. I needed it.

#023 – Michael Paradise

Listen on iTunes!               Listen on Stitcher!                   Download

Before leaving Lincoln, Neb., for good, I sat down with Michael Paradise in his office at the College View Seventh-day Adventist Church where he serves as the young adult pastor. I was curious to know what it is like to work with young adults and what made him want that job—it may have something to do with having a pretty wife.

After a fun chat, I left so he could continue eating pizza and playing worship songs on the guitar, which is basically his job description—according to him, not his employer.

#022 – Honest and Self-revealing

Listen on iTunes!               Listen on Stitcher!                   Download

Slade and I have been spending quite a bit of time attempting to read at our local coffee shop, but we just end up talking whenever we run into each other. We decided to talk for the podcast about some of the Christian books we’ve read—or more specifically, just me ranting about an “honest and self-revealing” book I read. Enjoy!

This episode contains some explicit language.

This was our new set up! How does it sound (and look)?

In Times of (Some) Trouble

I’ve heard it’s easy to trust God when things are going great. When things are looking up, we look up. However, when crises arise we focus on what we can do instead of asking for help.

That makes sense, I thought when I first heard this idea.

I’ve also heard, though, that when we have plenty, we forget about God and perhaps tend to believe it’s all from our own making. Then, when we hit rock bottom, we kneel and ask God to take hold of us because we just can’t go on.

Of course that’s how it works. (See, hindsight bias applies for erroneous conclusions, too.)

So, which one is it? Which one is the universal principle we should apply? I don’t know I care which ‘axiom,’ if any, better describes reality in this context. What I can tell you is I’ve struggled to be close to God in both situations.

When things were okay, I prayed for meals and before going to bed—morning prayer has always eluded me. Once the day looked ominous, I prayed for meals and before going to bed. Treading rough emotional patches, I prayed for meals and before going to bed.

Although I’m not sure I’ve prayed every night in the last two weeks, my relationship with God hasn’t improved nor deteriorated. But perhaps, things have changed slightly.

Scattered throughout the year, from January and through the summer, I’ve dropped to the floor and pleaded with God for guidance, for the certainty I once had. In the last few weeks, those prayers come with tears.

I’ve shed copious tears (in that regard, I live an opulent life), but I maintain abundant reserves.

I just don’t have time or space to cry, even if I need it. Do I have time for a chapter of two of First Peter when I need to soon decide whether I stay or go home to Mexico?

How do I take time to read the Gospels when I’m trying to find some solid ground—ironic, I know—or at least prepare a speech to recite when I’m asked what I’m doing, why I’m still around?

Petty social stuff, right? I’m guilty!

But how can I read little, cutesy devotionals when on top of the existential crises I need to figure out where from I’ll get enough for food?

How do I take time for God when time is what I don’t have? Think about your life in heaven, I can hear you say. I get it, there’s a life after this one, but this one is pretty fucking real.

How do I take time for morning prayer when I have no idea where I’m sleeping that night?

————————

Yet, God has provided in abundance. Not the way I expected, not in all matters, but in what I needed most then.

I don’t care about those universal principles we come up with for the next pop religion book or viral sermon. Don’t give me the prosperity gospel or the newest Joel Osteen grin.

When things are not looking up, I’ll look up. I’ll try that. It’s all I can do.