Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Constant Creation

As my sophomore year of college rapidly approaches, my brain has slowly begun to re-occupy the headspace my Visual Arts curriculum requires of me. As I thought of all the observations being an arts student filled my head with one night, I watched as the sun set through a set of intertwining tree branches. I thought about all the work I had created, observing everything inanimate and living from still lifes to landscapes to the human figure. As I observed the sunset and thought about the One who created it, I thought of a term Michael Gungor had used to define artists: Creators. In his book "The Critic, the Crowd, and the Muse," Gungor revolutionized the way I defined the word "art." So often our society boxes the term "art" into a space that only includes forms of expression like writing, photography, painting, or drawing. In reality, Gungor argued that anything that involves personal vision and passion to do is art. Building a house is an art. Observing and scientifically hypothesizing about the world is an art. Loving people and cultivating relationships with them is an art.

As I thought about the breadth, majesty, and universal quality of such a definition, my mind came back to that singular word: creators. As I began to think about what any creator does in their craft, the awe of the gift we have in being able to take part in the creation of little parts of our lives struck me. The act of creating, be it a photograph, a book, a house, a relationship, and beyond, is arguably the closest we can come to understanding the higher ways of God aside from the act of love. Given the integral role love of what you're doing plays in creating something powerful, it only became clearer to me as I thought about it more what a beautifully introspective insight practicing an art form can be. In some small way, we can begin hearing, seeing, and understanding God's work in our lives through the creative process.

As I thought about the pieces I'd created during my first two semesters that stood out to me, the two qualities that ran through all of them were a quality of hard work and unexpected significance. Most of these pieces weren't finished the first time I thought they were finished, taking copious amounts of reworking and redefinition. Most of these pieces also weren't ones I'd constantly believed had the makings of greatness. Often I hadn't realized my satisfaction with them until a long way into the creative process, sometimes not until the very end. Their creation had not been one single, sudden, defining act. They had taken constant creation to form into what I wanted them to be.

In the same way, when I thought about the times I had felt God most change me, it was rarely when I thought it would happen, and even more rarely did it happen in the way I thought it would unfold. Greater than either of these observations, though, was the realization that I, like one of my drawing pieces that had needed constant reworking and love to reach completion, will never finish being created until I (hopefully) reach Heaven.

One of the greatest doubts I think we struggle with as Children of God is the belief that God's creation of us mirrors that of a DJ who creates a playlist, puts it on to play, and then walks away. We can wrap our heads around a single act of creation, that "before I formed you in the womb I knew you" (Jeremiah 1:5), but that God could continue to know, create, and form us as we live and breathe is a greater, more incomprehensible reality. As life spins in a whirlwind around us, a mix of joy, sorrow, clarity, and confusion, it's hard to believe God's Hands could be lovingly gliding over it all, smoothing out the imperfections and crafting something beautiful like a potter with his pottery.

In a world that is passing and ever preparing for and awaiting Jesus' return to bring it all to glory, everything is in a state of constant creation or re-creation. While we are blessed enough to be created by a loving God and rescued by a loving Savior, sin like a black ink splashed across a beautiful painting tries to darken and mar the inherent beauty within us. So long as this world and life exist, sin will be there to try and corrupt us. Only through allowing ourselves to be a perpetual work-in-progress, a constant creation never finished until the Father completes us wholly, will we be the full masterpiece He intended us to be.

" My future hangs on this
You make preciousness from dust
Please don't stop creating me

Fragments of brokenness
Salvaged by the art of grace
You craft life from our mistakes

Black skies of my regrets
Outshone by this kindness
New life dawns over my soul

Oh Your cross, it changes everything
There my world begins again with You
Oh Your cross, it's where my hope restarts
A second chance is Heaven's heart"

Rend Collective Experiment, "Second Chance" 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A River Through the Wasteland

The journey of the human soul could be likened to a valley with an ever-changing climate. One day it could be lush and green and flowing, the next day the ground could be dried and cracked as a gray sky hangs overhead.

My freshman year of college became a huge time of spiritual tumult for me. I started the year fresh out of a week at Camp Veritas, determined not to let the spiritual high drop. I refused to think a turning point in life could have negative spiritual effects, or require more of me than life previously had. For the first few weeks of school, I kept my spirits up. My prayer life was in good check, I thought I could make it. As the semesters wore on though, spirituality became another item on a checklist, rarely either being checked off or even penciled in. I made small efforts to keep spiritually afloat- went to Mass every Sunday, prayed with other people when they asked or I thought it was necessary, talked about my faith as something I believed in, because I still did. My spiritual life was like a man dying of thirst admiringly holding a glass of water in front of him. I kept my faith close enough that it wouldn't dry out completely, but not enough to thrive and grow.

I dwelt in this existence for a few months, making multiple attempts to climb out of the hole without ever persevering or trying hard enough to succeed. While I didn't doubt God's existence, I doubted whether my relationship with Him had any chance of thriving or being revived. I continued to hope, but struggled to believe that that hope could become a reality.

I felt a new level of desperation when my summer began as I struggled with a number of personal losses. Compounding that was a need to find a ride down to Maryland to help launch a new Camp Veritas location. Time was running out fast. "No, God," I pleaded, "this is too much. I've been far from You, I know. But please, help me this one time, so I can both grow closer to you and help a greater glory bring others into Your Love as well."

Through divine providence, things did line up just in time. Within the wasteland my soul had grown to feel like, I felt something like a trickle of water flow through, slowly restoring the light in my eyes and the joy I'd struggled to feel in my heart for so long.

The night before Camp began in Maryland, the group of conselors I was traveling with arrived at the Lake Summit campus we would occupy for the week. As we walked into the big, open auditorium/worship space that would become our chapel, the spirit of His presence floated through the room like a breeze.

 The joy and anticipation of the impending experience wafted like a graceful incense through the air, and I felt inexplicably peaceful about what was to come. I hadn't totally come back from all the hurt, self-inflicted or otherwise, that I'd allowed to drag me down, but I was beginning to heal and feel again.

What followed was one of the best weeks of my life, even for a Camp Veritas.  It was a generally new group of people, in a brand new place, secluded for a week in a microcosm of Christian love, fellowship, and worship. It took me out of myself and my normal headspace enough to help me re-evaluate my life and begin afresh in my relationship with God. The biggest lesson came Friday night, as I watched 3 of my little 7th and 8th grade boys prostrate themselves on the floor of the chapel during adoration and another pray aloud in front of the entire camp. It was one of the most powerful experiences I've ever had, a reminder that God is often working miracles right in front of us, in times, places, and ways we least expect.

When you've got an amazing group of co-counselors supporting you on a huge spiritual journey, what more can you ask for?
As our time in Maryland came to a bittersweet ending and a portion of us departed for New York, a meditation our director gave during one of the praise and worship nights stuck in my head. Ryan talked about how when St. Paul struggled with the suffering God allowed him to endure, God's tough-love answer to him was "My grace is sufficient." As we went into our second week of Camp directly after Maryland back in New York at Mount Saint Mary College, that meditation was what stuck with me. Going from co-counseling a group of 10 boys in Maryland to co-counseling at group of 16 boys in New York with minimal recovery time, all I could rely on was God's grace. I learned to see it in laughter-filled conversations at meals, midnight Walmart runs to grab supplies with my co-counselors, moments of bonding and relaxation with my kids. As my physical exhaustion set in, there were times where doubt or fear could creep in. Those times ultimately became the moments for the greatest spiritual growth and dependence on His grace, moments to overcome the longer-sitting doubts and fears I'd let collect inside me. While doing two back-to-back weeks of  camp may have been physically exhausting and sometimes spiritually challenging, the positive impact of those two weeks far outweighed whatever exhaustion or sacrifice they required.

After two crazy weeks of loving kids, loving Christ, camping, couch-surfing, carpooling, and a million other adventures, the Camp Veritas double feature came to an end. As it drew to a close, the wasteland inside began to feel more like a garden. Life was budding and beginning again. While I don't deny there will always be times of spiritual drought, my dedication to keep reaching, looking up, and walking towards the light has been set firm. Those two weeks encompassed a turning point in life no words can accurately or fully describe. Being a Catholic and living that life is more than believing a God exists and that he sent His Son to establish a religion on Earth. It's realizing that God the Father and the gift we have of a Savior in Jesus is the single greatest act of love ever done. It's about letting the love of everything God has done, is doing, and will do drive you to follow His Will and commandments. To let His Love move you to show it in your own life and the relationships you form. While His Providence may not manifest itself when or in the way you may expect, His plans are greater than our own, and ultimately give us what we need when He knows we need it, not when we think we do. If we let the water of His healing and love wash away our wills and over our hurting souls, there is ultimately joy beyond our comprehension in store.