Recovering Mysticism: Part Four

A friend asked me the other day why. Why did I suddenly get all metaphysical? (Although I’d put forth it only SEEMED sudden, this has been building for quite some time.) The answer is pretty simple – I knew there was more. I knew people weren’t leaving Christianity for other more ‘mystical’ religions for a reason. People were lacking something, and here’s the deal – God doesn’t lack anything. If the God we’re following is leaving us unsatisfied, unfulfilled, ‘lacking,’ then we’re doing it wrong. God has provided everything we need, everything we could want. God created our souls. He knows what they need. And if we come to know God and feel like we’re missing something, then we ARE missing something – but it isn’t God’s fault. It has to be ours, and we have to figure out what we’re doing wrong.

Someone on Twitter reposted my Mysticism series and someone commented about how it was good stuff, but they’d say ‘mystery’ was the word I was looking for, not ‘mysticism.’ Well, with all due respect, no. I meant mysticism. Here’s the thing – while we cannot fully, one hundred percent bask in God’s glory until heaven, He doesn’t make himself a mystery. He tells us absolutely as much about Himself as He can. The Bible is full of everything about Him, everything we need to know. It’s not ‘mystery’ we’re looking for – it’s answers. Not questions.

God, who God is, is clearly evident on every page of the Bible, a book we all have the incredible blessing of access to – but we’ve become so familiar with it that we can’t see the forest for the trees. We read words and we know things, but we don’t see. The word ‘Behold’ is all throughout the Bible, and as Jared Wilson points out in his book ‘The Imperfect Disciple’ (which I HIGHLY recommend), some translations do not include the word ‘behold’ and instead use the word ‘look.’ He encourages us to reread verses like Psalms 63:2 and Ezekiel 44:4 and John 1:29 and 2 Corinthians 3:18 and read them without the ‘beholds.’

“…he’s not merely saying ‘look at him.’ He’s telling us to look with consideration, with appreciation, with fixation and transfixion. To behold something is to ‘hold’ something in our vision, to let the weight of it rest on our mind and heart.”

We know how to look. Looking is second nature. But we have forgotten how to behold.

Jared Wilson continues, “The problem is that many Christians have stifled their ability to behold the glory of Christ without realizing it. They have stunted their capacity to see some measure of his all-encompassing excellencies, not because they are generally disinterested in him but because all of their other interests have dulled their spiritual senses. All of the other things they look at dull their vision. They struggle to behold Christ’s glory because they have a generally decreased capacity for bigness in the first place.

But we can work against this. We can do some simple things that help us behold better. What efforts can you make to help yourself behold the glory of Jesus? Well, maybe you want to start by going outside…. Truly, I think one reason we aren’t captivated by Christ’s glory is because we have a diminished capacity to be captivated by anything big. We are preoccupied with small things. And, in fact, we somehow have an inverted sense of measurement in that big things seem to us small or familiar while small things become big to us, at least in terms of our time and attention and energy.”

John Piper said, “Do you know why there are no windows on adult book stores? …Because they don’t want people looking out at the sky. …The sky is the enemy of lust. I just ask you to think back on your struggles. The sky is a great power against lust.  Pure, lovely, wholesome, powerful, large-hearted things cannot abide the soul of a sexual fantasy at the same time. I remember as I struggled in my teenage years and in my college years…one way of fighting was simply to get out of the dark places – get out of the lonely rooms…Get out of the places where it is just small – me and my mind and my imagination, what I can do with it and get to where I am just surrounded by color and beauty and bigness and loveliness. And I know that when I used to sit in my front yard at 122 Bradley Boulevard with a notepad in my hand and a pen trying to write a poem, at that moment, my heart and my body were light years away from the sexual fantasizing that I was tempted by again and again in the late night, quiet, secluded in-house moments. There is something about bigness, something about beauty that helps battle against the puny, small, cruddy use of the mind to fantasize about sexual things.”

Jared Wilson continues, “Do you want to see glory? ‘The heavens declare the glory of God.’” (Psalms 19:1) Resting from the spaces, then, where you are an acting sovereign and instead getting out into the spaces where God’s sovereignty is more palpable, believe it or not, will help you see Christ as bigger. See, what you’re focused on will shape you, lead you. The spiritual dynamic the apostle Paul is employing in 2 Corinthians 3:18 – how beholding Christ is in a way becoming the likeness of Christ – works for almost anything else we’re intently looking at. What we behold, we in some way become…Want a heart as big as the sky? Behold the sky. Want a soul as bright as day? Behold the day.”

“What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” — G. K. Beale

When I was in my early teens, I heard a sermon preached on Revelation. That book of the Bible had always terrified me – I found it full of horrifying imagery and vague, dooming prophecies that seemed very out of whack with the rest of the Bible (or at least the new testament). But that sermon had a huge impact on me – the only sermon I’ve heard in person to date, in fact, to affect me in such a way. It changed the way I saw – and see – God. It’s where I learned God breathes in our prayers like incense. (8:3-4; 5: 8)) It’s where we see John comparing God to every jewel and precious thing available in a puny attempt to say ‘LOOK AT HOW INCREDIBLE. HOW BEAUTIFUL. HE’S BEYOND ANYTHING WE HAVE IN COMPARISON.’

It’s where God says ‘I am the bright and morning star.’ (22:16) The Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and last. It’s where we get a truly awesome look at angels – who, contrary to Renaissance art, are not voluptuous women and chubby babies with wings. They have multiple eyes and multiple wings and are all kinds of shapes and sizes and are freaking incredible. I think Guillermo del Toro gave the most accurate portrayal I’ve ever seen of an angel with his Angel of Death in Hellboy 2. It’s no wonder angels always have to preface their words with ‘DON’T BE AFRAID.’ Because who looking at one of them wouldn’t be afraid?

John uses all kinds of immense, terrifying, awesome, inspiring imagery in an attempt to show us what he saw. You can feel his urgent desire to compare something incomparable to things we understand – frustration, as well as awe, flow through the pages. That day, I began to see God not as some pale, emaciated white guy gazing heavenward with doe-eyes, but as God.

A God. The God of Gods. The King of Kings. An image flashed through my mind – a giant, humanoid figure towering among galaxies and nebula. Instead of flesh, a deep blue marble; a lion’s mane of hair (if you could call it that); instead of a face or genitals, clusters of stars because we’re in His image but He is so much more, so many things. (No, I’m not saying God is a woman. I’m saying God is God, and both men and women are made in His image, and He’s far above + more than what we can envision. Even John had a hard time describing him, and he saw God.) Is that really what God looks like? Probably not. But that image pulls me out of my tiny view of God and into something huge, cosmic, bigger, all-powerful.

Too many of us see Jesus, and only Jesus, when we think of God, but here’s the thing: Jesus was God in human form. Jesus was God packaged into a tiny little finite meat suit, bursting at the seams. God looked like Jesus on earth for thirty years, but Jesus is not what God exists as.

God has wrath. God has jealousy. God is righteous, God is kind, God is just, God is merciful, God is peaceful, God is a warrior, God is our friend, God is our King. God is so, so many things, but we’re so ‘used to Him’ that we don’t see him. We don’t Behold.  

I hope this maybe helped shake up your ‘familiar’ view of God – I urge, urge urge you to open your Bible back up. Read the old testament – it’s ignored far too often, and yet it’s where every thread ties through to Jesus, shows us who God is. The uncomfortable sides of God we don’t want to talk about because it doesn’t fit with our wishy-wash, fluffy God. ‘He is not a tame lion.’ But he is Good. He is the ultimate Good, in fact. He is Love. He is Love. But Love, real Love, true, deep, sacrificial Love, is not weak. Love is the ultimate Strength. And it doesn’t always look pretty.

There are some things that really helped pull me out of my ‘familiar,’ dull view of God into something bigger – although looking at the sky, I have to admit, really was one of them. I recommend Transformation Church services (you can watch them on Youtube – I can’t recommend them enough. Pastor Mike Todd is incredible at taking the familiar and showing it in new, real perspectives).

I recommend reading The Celtic Way of Prayer by Esther deWaal, Re(Union) by Bruxy Cavey, The Imperfect Disciple by Jared Wilson, Love Does and Everybody Always by Bob Goff, Found by Micha Boyett, Mere Christianity and Miracles by C. S. Lewis. I recommend, above all, reading the Bible as it was meant to be read – as history and poetry and revelations and proverbs and essays, God-breathed to tell us about Him, with illustrations using imperfect people, holy people, people doing their best (and sometimes, their worst) and God in all.

The point of the Bible is God. It’s not about how many verses you can memorize (although memorization is great). It’s not about answering study questions. It’s about getting to know the God of the Universe. When you pick up a Bible, you pick up the key to everything – and God has given you the ability to unlock that Everything.

How can you not be excited?

 

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Recovering Mysticism: Part Three

As of the last post, the general consensus seems to be: ‘Mmmmmmm I’m not sure, but I’m still interested.’ Believe me, I know. That was me a year ago. The wariness is real. On the bright side, I didn’t get pitchforked, which is a good boost to carry on to part three!

ASTROLOGY

I bet the first thing that comes to mind is a horoscope. Some kind of fortune-telling sketchiness, whether it’s in a newspaper or pops up on your Instagram feed. Astrology, in our modern minds, is associated with divination – groundless, generally speaking. ‘Oh, you’re an Aquarius therefore if you were a tea, you’d be English Breakfast!’ or, ‘If you’re a Libra, today is a Good Day to Pluck Your Eyebrows.’ But here’s the thing – until the 16th century, astrology was just as respected and valid as astronomy. Why? Because it wasn’t the ‘astrology’ we know of today.

NOTE: Most of my notes on ‘astrology’ here are derived from Hillsdale University’s EXCELLENT lecture (and my favorite lecture in history), ‘C S Lewis on Medieval Cosmology.’ It’s the seventh lecture in their series on C. S. Lewis and I HIGHLY recommend the full lecture series to anyone. So if you want to have someone far more professional than I am, discussing someone far more intelligent than I am while covering the same subject matter, head on over and give it a listen!

Okay, back to the 16th century. For most of history, astrology (I’m going to call it Original Astrology, or OGA for short, because I know how hard it is to separate the conception of something from a different idea) was considered completely Biblical and valid by everyone, Christians included.

Professor of Apologetics Michael Ward says, “Astronomy and astrology weren’t really distinguishable until the Copernican revolution. And no Christian theologian before that time denied the general theory of planetary influences, or the significance of constellations. The planets obviously weren’t to be worshiped, and their influences were not to be regarded as determinative – overruling your free will and your responsibility before God; and the lucrative and politically undesirable practice of ‘astrologically grounded predictions’ was also to be avoided, but within these parameters the Christian church was quite content to sanction what we would now call Astrology. After all the Bible itself appeared to support the belief that there were seven planets, and that they possessed influences. The author of the book of Judges in the old Testament, for instance, chapter five verse twenty, records –

‘They fought from heaven, the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.’”

He continues in the Cosmology lecture, “The author of the book of Job as translated in the King James version of the Bible, mentions the ‘sweet influences of Pliedes.’ (Job 38:31)….And throughout the Bible the stars are seen as signs; most notably at Bethlehem of course, signifying the birth of Christ, in Matthew’s gospel, and sometimes as a celestial court or angelic choir. Christ Himself is shown in the book of Revelation holding the seven stars – that is, the seven wandering stars, the planets – in His right hand. A vision which Austin Farrer, Lewis’s close friend and an expert in apocalyptic imagery, understood to be a portrayal of Christ’s lordship over time. For it’s after these seven planets that the weekdays are named.”

And yet modern Christianity has very little to say on this subject. It seems to think of it hardly at all, if ever, and I think that’s a great sorrow, and a great loss to us. In shunning ‘astrology’ as it is now known, we have also shunned OGA – which could be called a study of God’s heavenly workmanship. After all, it’s commonly known that a full moon affects people. If the moon has enough energy to draw the tides of our ocean, and if we ourselves are energetic beings, it’s downright irrational to claim the heavens have no affect on us whatsoever. Can the stars predict the future? I don’t know, but I DO know that predicting the future isn’t something God wants us to do. He says that multiple times in multiple ways. That’s for Him to know and us to find out, as it were.

But in shunning a word with bad connotations, we’ve also shunned a huge part of His glory and majesty as everyday knowledge. We’ve reduced the Heavens to mere ‘space’ with no intent or purpose other than to ‘be there’ and keep us hot or cold. We’ve removed the glory and majesty, the sheer magic, out of the whole idea and in doing so, we’ve lost something that Christianity accepted as important and part of daily life until the sixteenth century. And I believe we are the poorer for it.

The modern church has thrown the baby out with the bathwater in big, big ways – ways that affect how we perceive reality, how we live, and – most detrimental of all – how we know God – the Heavenly Father and the Morning Star.

And that baby-bathwater scenario is what I’m passionate to change, and what I hope to keep discussing through the rest of this series. Thank you all for sticking with me and listening to some ideas that probably sound crazy – I’m LOVING your IG messages and emails! If you have any questions, I can absolutely do my best to answer them!

See you all in the next post – whether it’s tomorrow or three days from now. I’m writing this series as the inspiration hits, so – stay tuned!

Recovering Mysticism: Part Two

NOTE:  I was seized with the need to write part two this morning and impromptu sat down and wrote all of it in half an hour. It’s terribly long for something written in thirty minutes, and I considered splitting part two into – well, two parts – but I decided against it. Make a cup of tea (or coffee) and settle in for a bit of a read, which I hope excites you.

It wasn’t a straight line, getting from St. Cecelia’s to here. It’s been nearly two years, in fact, but they haven’t been two idle years. I began slowly, the equivalent of peeking around corners and under rugs, just barely dipping my toe into studying ‘other’ things. Not because I was afraid of Delving Too Deep, as Saruman would say, but because somewhere I’d picked up the misconception that to look at other religions was somehow betraying the one I followed. (Where did I pick up that idea? I honestly don’t know. It’s nowhere in the Bible.) I was nervous, and I never really talked about it. I began to read, here and there. I began to follow a few crystal-oriented Instagram pages, then a few more because a) crystals are beautiful and b) it began to make sense. Crystals /are/ extremely high-energy. They /are/ extremely high-vibration. Everything around us runs on energy and vibration, and also hey, colors! Colors are a big thing. Did you know that the colors we vibrate at are, in fact, chakra points? That when God gave Noah the rainbow, that promise literally lives inside us as the color of our own healthy vibration?

I began to discover more and more, picking up speed. But I know myself – I have a tendency to get stars in my eyes for something, run after it, and then realize wait, I should have probably thought about it more. So, in order to make sure I didn’t accidentally wind up three hundred miles from my original goal, I determined to get serious about pursuing and practicing my own faith. I’d always found it strong, if not particularly interesting, but I can’t tell you what getting up earlier and setting aside actual time has done for me. Reading the Bible, reading books, praying – spending time just listening. Just spending time with God. Yesterday I sat at my window with a cup of coffee and just talked to him – not ‘Father in Heaven/Amen’ praying. Just talking. It’s incredible.

And I found that as I grew more and more excited about my faith, God kept giving me more things to be excited about. Even if sometimes my knee-jerk reaction as, “Um, excuse me?” because let’s face it – there are a bunch of adults my age out there who – if Christian, especially if homeschooled – are going to be extremely startled by the concept of someone being a ‘Christian witch.’

I bet you just had a visceral reaction and if I were sitting there, I’d probably go, “Right!?” It was on a blog, and I remember thinking the person writing the blog was misguided and my goodness, probably into some dangerous stuff. That was probably a year ago.

This year? I know what she meant. I don’t even disagree with her. That sounds absolutely bonkers, right? Probably even totally unbiblical, because after all, ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’ But see, here’s the thing –

I dove into Etymology studies. After all, we all know the word ‘wizard’ wasn’t even around until post-Jesus, and all it meant was ‘wise.’ Turns out the word ‘witch,’ while laden with all kinds of connotations – some true some not true – wasn’t around either. God condemns those who practice divination and spirit communication. The future, and the dead – those are His realms. He doesn’t want us messing with them.

Not because they can’t be done, either. They can. We can read about that in the Bible, too. The Christian church has a long history of starch anti-magic, but here’s the thing – many, many things that fall under the umbrella term of ‘magic’ today, I firmly believe God created purposefully to give us to use.

Use of herbs? Magic. Use of crystals? Magic. Even – get this – astrology? Was sanctioned by the church, and until the sixteenth century nobody questioned it as being ‘anti-God.’ It seemed to them to fit perfectly with their conceived notions of who God was, and I believe they were right. Probably not in the way you think, but I’ll get there in part three.

According to Philip Carr-Gomm in The Book of English Magic, ‘Historians now believe it is highly unlikely that organized groups of people met as witches in covens to pass on traditional lore and to carry out rituals….It seems more likely that what we think of as the witchcraft of earlier centuries was a type of folk magic practiced by individuals. To stave off illness and starvation, bad weather and harvest failures, people have always turned to the supernatural – using chants and dances, blessings and the ‘sympathetic magic’ of ritual enactments of success, in an attempt to attract beneficent forces and to repel malign ones. Beliefs and practices of every age – of the Druid and Anglo-Saxon wizards, of every kind of pagan and even Christian practice – were included in this folk magic, which was not termed ‘witchcraft’ by its practitioners, since it was designed to repel the magic of witches, who were believed to be evil and the cause of misfortune. It was only in the twentieth century that a reversal of meaning occurred, and the term ‘witch’ started to be used in a positive sense to designate followers of the ‘Old Ways’ who used folk magic for benign purposes.’

I’m not using that paragraph to say you should drop everything and cast a spell, but rather to illustrate how often we take at face value something that may not be what we think it is. Even the history of magic, witchcraft, etc. itself is fairly complicated and has changed to mean something often very different from our preconceived notion.

I follow many Christian Instagram accounts because not only is it encouraging – a bit of long-distance fellowship, even – but, well, I’m a Christian. A devout one at that, so I want to be encouraged and challenged in my faith. I also follow the Instagram accounts of quite a few practicing witches. It began because nobody else was talking about crystals in any kind of grounded way – the rest were more akin to that one woman I met in a crystal shop who kept talking about envisioning your roots wrapping around mother earth and shooting energy back into the sky. (Did I have a hard time not laughing? Oh, very. I’m sorry. I’m sure she was a wonderful person.)

Did a few of you cringe when I said I follow some witches on Instagram? Did I lose my Christian Credibility? Hopefully I’ll be able to clear it up for you, but I’m going to do it in very simple terms because otherwise this post will be freakishly long:

– the modern concept of ‘magic’ is an umbrella term under which fall many wonderful, good, God-given holistic practices with scientific basis such as the energy of crystals, color theory, vibration-raising, manifestation, and intent. Things I DO believe are wrong to practice also fall under the concept of magic – divination, for example. Ancestor worship. Shamanism. Contacting the deceased. The thing is, you can pick and choose which you do. You can collect crystals for positive energy. You can use herbs for healing. You can use the energy God gave you to raise and lift and direct toward things – and much of the witch community would say you were one of them. You can also do those things and be a completely devout, Biblical Christian believer. It makes the concept of ‘Christian witch’ seem not quite so far-fetched, doesn’t it?

– I don’t recommend walking around calling yourself a Christian witch, however. I remember my first reaction to it. Your first reaction to it might have been about five minutes ago, and we don’t want to be a stumbling block to our fellow believers even if we’re right. That said, if you told me you were one, well, okay. I’d be considered one, too. But being a Christian also means respecting where your fellow Christians are, and not bulldozing them.

Remember in the paragraph from English Magic where Philip Carr-Gomm said some Christian practices also fell under the umbrella of folklore magic? I’ll give you an example. One of my favorite books is The Celtic Way of Prayer. The Celts were an extremely imaginative people, but also incredibly grounded. They were fully aware of the spiritual realm all around them, and they were also very ritualistic – they loved song, they loved recitations, they had a different prayer, chant, song, or ritual for nearly everything. Listen to this passage from The Celtic Book of Prayer.

‘The day starts with three palmfuls of water splashed on the face in the name of the three members of the Trinity, and from then on the Trinity is never far away. The day will end with the ritual of smooring the fire at night…The embers were spread evenly on the hearth in the middle of the floor and formed into a circle with a small boss, or raised heap, left in the middle. This circle was then divided into three equal sections with a peat laid between each section, each peat touching the boss, which was called the Hearth of the Three which formed the common center. The first peat was laid down in the name of the God of Life, the second the God of Peace, and the third the God of Grace. The circle would then be covered over with ashes sufficient to subdue but not extinguish the flame in the name of the Three of Light. Then the woman would close her eyes, stretch out her hand, and softly intone the following prayer, which opens:

The sacred Three

To save,

To shield,

To surround

The hearth,

The house,

The household,

This eve,

This night,

Oh! This eve,

This night,

And every night,

Each single night.

Amen.’

That, my friends, is a prayer. It is also a ritual. Sounds kind of like a spell, doesn’t it?

And yet, can you find any good reason (aside from the fact in our modern homes, the whole fire ritual thing might be kind of impractical – which is genuinely sad) to say, ‘You shouldn’t perform that ritual? You shouldn’t pray that prayer?’

NOW before I get a ton of comments and messages telling me I’m giving into the lies of the devil or that I’m going to lead other young adults astray etc. (which yes, I’ve had said before – mostly after I wrote a defense of Harry Potter) let me just say: there is more to come, I have more to say, please don’t take THIS part two like that’s the end and I’m finished talking. I’m not. There’s a good deal more to say, and I probably said something here that could be misconstrued or taken out of context (if you’re so concerned you can’t sleep, then okay, ask me what I meant, but chances are high it’ll be cleared up in one of the further parts of this series).

ONE MORE POINT:

I realized, as I began to really ponder, study, and pray about all this some time ago, that I was walking around – as many people do – with double standards. I’ve always hated double standards and have a kind of hissing, wet-cat reaction to them, so when I find them in myself I grab them by the root and do my best to yank them out. My double standard here was that I’d always found it all right to study some religions – Buddhism, for example – and not others. Wicca, for example. Why? Well, Buddhism seems safer. ‘Safer’ from what, I then have to wonder? Am I afraid that knowing about a religion is going to somehow mysteriously suck me into it and I’ll have no say? If that’s the case, my faith isn’t terribly strong. Am I afraid I’ll be ‘betraying’ God by searching for truth? I don’t think God’s afraid of truth, or looking for it. He kind of invented the whole concept. Do I think it’s ‘unchristian’ to know about other religions? If that’s so, Paul probably shouldn’t have quoted a poem about Zeus during his sermon on Mars Hill.  (See Acts 17:28.)

I realized that the faith I was holding to was, in fact, a scaredy-cat, trembling faith, afraid of challenge, afraid of knowing too much, afraid of other religions, afraid of – well, you name it. And here’s the thing – God doesn’t ask us to be afraid. For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and of a sound mind. He asks us to be bold. Paul says it’s ALWAYS good to be zealous of good things. The entire concept of Christianity is based around power, boldness, faith, fearless love; of right and wrong. We know what Right is. We know what God we follow. And if we think He’s afraid of – well, of Wicca, for example – then friends, we’re worshiping the wrong God.

Recovering Mysticism: Part One

I walk into church on Sunday morning. I see people I know and love, I say hi, I laugh. I walk over to get coffee at the coffee bar, a line standing out to the door like it’s Starbucks on a Monday morning. Parents are toting their kids – some crying, some cheerful – to the nursery located just outside the auditorium doors. I walk through the auditorium; two huge screens display pictures of mountains or birds or what-have-you. I sit down in a plastic chair. I sing songs with some of the worst lyrics known to man, wishing they made me feel something other than ‘cringe’ (which yes, is an entire emotion. Looking at you, Sloppy Wet Kiss). The preacher walks out onto the stage; too far away for me to see his face, but at least it’s up on the big screens. I listen to a sermon. It’s a good one – nothing new or exciting, per se. Nothing that shakes me at my core or gives me a new perspective, but it’s a good one.

I leave the building – a big, square, unimaginative thing built to pack people in several times a morning. Space and efficiency are the names of the church-building game.

This experience has repeated itself in every church I’ve ever attended – with the strength of each element varying, of course.

Many wonder why people – especially people my age, in their twenties – are leaving the church. They wonder especially why they’re leaving the church for things like Paganism and Wicca.

I don’t wonder.

Living in Omaha, I made a friend. His name was Erik, and he worked at the bar across the street from the coffeeshop I frequented. He was the first Pagan I ever met, and I loved him. He was a tall, plaid-wearing, mid-fifties Jack of all trades – if you needed a private investigator, a carving, fresh vegetables from his garden, or a fence built, he was your guy. He would stop and talk to so many people, and everyone knew and loved him, and it fascinated me.

I would stop in at the bar after I finished my walks downtown and back – hot, sweaty, and ready to be refreshed by a ginger beer + bitters. He gave them to me for free, and I would sit in the cool air and talk with him.

He was excited to be a Pagan. We first met because I was reading Norse Myths and sketching, and he stopped by my table on his way out to chat with me about it.

(How often have you been reading the Bible, and had a Christian walk up, excited, to chat with you about it? How often have you done the reverse?)

Rarely do I see someone excited to not just talk about their faith, but to be their faith. He was. And, although I didn’t realize it at the time, it opened a line of thinking in my subconscious.

I began to wonder – what if Christianity, as we know it today, was missing something? I’ve always blamed people for not being excited enough about it, for not living it like they should. But what if it was the institution?

And there, I believe, lies one of the main problems. Christianity today is an institution. It’s corporate.

Not far from where I met Erik sits a Cathedral. And stepping into this Cathedral is one of the most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. I’m not Catholic – that didn’t matter.

st cecelias
photo of St. Cecelia’s courtesy of Yelp

It was magnificent. Every single detail about the building was designed with love and care and imagination. With worship. Inside, the very air you breathed felt like worship. You could tell just walking in – this place had been bathed in prayer. It had been built to do so.

God was there.

Without exaggeration, never once have I walked into a modern American church building and felt that. Never once.

I cried, for no reason I could name. I sat, and I prayed, and I cried, and I felt both convicted and refreshed. Convicted of what? I didn’t know. I just knew that in that moment, something had been planted in the dry soil of my faith.

I had no idea just how big it would grow.

 

Still My Sister: A Prompt

still my sister

Kazariah Henge was a merciful man. You could ask anyone, and they would give you the same report – even-tempered, thoughtful, slow to wrath. Good qualities in a leader, anyone would agree. He was careful not to leap to a conclusion without thoroughly studying all aspects. He held the support of his vizier and the ephorate, all wise and knowledgeable men. Especially his vizier, who wasn’t as prone to polishing Kazariah’s words to make them brighter than they were.

Stepping back and looking at himself, Kazaria could understand, he supposed, why some people might not agree with him. Stars, they might not even like him very much – he was all right with that, as long as his conscience was clear. After all, doing the right thing was always met with opposition from people with dark intentions.

He just hadn’t expected the opposition to come from Linnet.

He sighed deeply and dragged his hands down his face, his fingers tracing every sharp angle, every little scar. It might not be the face of a saint, but it was the face of a good man. That, at least, he could say with confidence.

It might be the only thing he could say with confidence, now that he knew what Linnet had done. It was the sort of event that shook the very stones beneath his feet, the kind of thing that shot a tremor underneath the very fabric of the kingdom. Everyone would feel it. It would leave the entire populace unbalanced as soon as they heard about it – but Linnet was intelligent and clever, she would have known that before she did it.

Unless it was due to an uncharacteristic lapse of judgment, which he thought unlikely. “If only you were an idiot,” he said aloud to the dungeon door facing him, closed and inscrutable. It was a thick, well-built door, because quality was important. Besides, hearing screams from the dungeon really rattled the servants.

Kazariah shook his head and hauled on the heavy wrought-iron ring. The door opened with a hollow, reluctant groan, and the emperor began the slow descent down the long, twisted staircase. You had to be careful on these steps – they were worn and uneven with age, and a misstep could send you hurtling to your death, or at the very least a broken limb or two.

He reached the bottom and shifted his jaw, thinking. He could go back up the stairs. He didn’t need to confront Linnet about her actions – not today, at least. He could put it off. Eat dinner, sleep, wait until he was calmer and his head was clear.

But for all his virtues, impatience was a fault he had in spades. He lifted the ring of keys from the wall and strode to the farthest cell. His movements sped up; he twisted the key in the lock and shoved the door open, his blood seething in his ears.

Linnet sat on the floor, both ankles chained to the wall, her mouth twisted to the side and her arms folded over her chest like a petulant nine-year-old. “About time you showed up.”

Kazariah frowned and snapped his fingers. The torches on the walls burst into flame, roaring zealously for a few seconds before dimming to as steadier, warmer glow.

“Thank you,” said Linnet. “I was about to go blind down here.”

Kazariah couldn’t bring himself to walk any closer, so he remained where he was. “How can you sit there,” he asked, his voice hard and quiet, “and act like you did nothing?”

“Well, I got tired of standing after the first couple days, so I decided to risk your annoyance and sit,” she snipped.

“Linnet!”

“Don’t ‘Linnet’ me! I’m not pretending like I did nothing. I’m chained up in a dungeon cell awaiting your royal verdict on my guilt, what do you expect me to do with my spare time? Draft an apology?”

“Did you?”

“Of course not. I’m not sorry.”

He felt his shoulders sag and forced himself to straighten them. Broad. Strong. Confident. These were his attributes, and he wouldn’t let her steal them. Not even down here, where nobody could see. “You’re not sorry,” he repeated. “Why not?”

“Because.” Her eyes flashed in the firelight. “You and I disagree on certain policies. Sometimes, they can’t be reconciled.”

“So you come to me! You tell me your disagreement. You don’t—” His voice caught, and he paused to regain control of himself. Evenly, he continued, “You don’t rush off in the middle of the night and assassinate someone.”

“Of course not. I don’t assassinate just ‘someone.’ It had to be really special,” she said dryly.

“I genuinely don’t understand how you can be flippant about this.”

She opened her mouth to respond and he waited for a quip, but none came. Instead her gaze lowered to rest on her knees, and said nothing.

“Are you sorry?” he asked softly.

Silence.

Then, she shook her head.

Kazariah swallowed past a cold lump in his throat. “If I had known you disagreed with me so strongly, if you had only told me, we could have talked, Lin. We could have worked something out.”

“I know what your idea of ‘working something out’ means,” she said. The spark had gone out of her, a candle blown out in a sudden gust of wind.

“It has a better outcome than you chained up in the dungeon of our castle, awaiting a trial,” he snarled, his anger flaring. He gripped his face again, with both hands, to keep himself from lashing out. His nails, pristine and filed to small points, dug into his face.

She giggled. It sounded entirely wrong in these surroundings. “Yeah. Maybe. But you know, I kind of have the feeling I might have died mysteriously in the middle of the night, too, so.”

He stared at her, horrified, and sank down to one knee so he could meet her gaze directly. “How can you say that?” he asked hoarsely, the question twisting painfully out of his throat. “Whatever you do, you’re still my sister. We have a bond. A disagreement can’t break it.”

“No,” she agreed. “It can’t. But you can.”

She could not have hurt him more if she had thrown a javelin through his stomach. He rose to his feet, numb. His chest tightened, made it hard to breathe. He shut his eyes for a long moment. “The ephorate will find you guilty. You assassinated General Thur-Azaroth, there were witnesses. You didn’t even deny it.”

“I know. It wasn’t my stealthiest moment.”

He kept his eyes shut. He couldn’t bring himself to pry them open and see her sitting there, defiant. Stubborn.

Dead.

“Apologize, and I can forgive you. You know what happens if you don’t.”

“I’ll think about it,” she said, in a tone that implied she had already thought about it, and given her final answer.

He nodded and turned his back to her. As he lifted his hand to extinguish the torches, her voice stopped him.

“I’ll take whatever comes my way tomorrow. I can live – or die, I guess – with my actions. But how can you?”

“Excuse me?” The question caught him off-guard, like a punch in the face from a friend. “How can I?”

                “Just asking.” Her voice was cold. “I’m not the one who sent a brutal general and a warlock to make an example of an entire coastal city.”

He didn’t turn around. “They shouldn’t have committed high treason.”

“You’re the one who made it high treason.”

Her words fell on his amazed, horrified ears. She was so far gone she couldn’t discern left from right, right from wrong. “I am not looking forward to tomorrow,” he said stiffly. “But the kingdom will be the better for it.”

Nobody could insult him, call him a coward, and get away with it. If it took burning a city to ash to prove it, then it was the right thing.

He was the emperor, Kazariah Henge, and he had said so.

He snapped his fingers, and the flames blew out.