There was a smell of loneliness in the air tonight. She frowned and turned the idea in her mind. There was a thought. What did loneliness smell like? Like ocean water spraying into her nose. And if you wondered what loneliness sounded like, it sounded like the chatter of a million people when she’s trapped inside a locked, empty room, or screaming at a soundproof wall, or the ringing in her ears after a concert. And going further, what did loneliness look like? It looked like a poem written with invisible ink, or the raw shade of red after a good, long cry. That was how loneliness smelled and looked and sounded. And tonight–she brushed her hand against the dark alley wall–tonight she could almost touch loneliness.
How refreshing it is to sit down with someone and dig into spirituality on a different level. How unexpectedly peaceful, genuine, to see past the surface, to dial into their headspace, to connect among the chaos.
And how much more fulfilling when contrasted with the normality of the setting! No compelling music, tear-stained faces, surrounding emotions—this is purely the Spirit settling in me, only God convicting me. Only God.
I love the music and community and emotion. I love God sweeping through the filled room. But I am fascinated by the normality of the classroom. I am intrigued by the idea that God can work in the regular chatter around us.
I am amazed that God alone can transform me, even though I have been told that since day one.
The torn curtain hangs there. The ground has stopped shaking under my feet and my head has stopped pounding so much—it’s more like a numbing throb now, and I doubt it will ever go away. People are crying, laughing, a stew of mixed emotions in the hot, baking sun. I don’t feel any of it. I mean, if I think about everything that has happened in the past three years, even today alone, wonder and sorrow and joy surge through me, but when I look at Jesus’ body, he looks so… dead.
Sure, the Son of God could bring back others from the dead and start earthquakes and even make the whole sky turn to night, all as he hung there, but he couldn’t save himself. He wouldn’t save himself, despite everyone needing him. What kind of a—?
No, I can’t think that. They’re dragging his body away now, the guards, leaving a trail of blood and dirt. They pass by me. They haven’t closed Jesus’ unseeing eyes, and his head flop over and looks at me. I don’t know what I expected, but his eyes are the same as they always were—dark brown, almost black, only this time there’s a lifelessness to them. All signs of godliness, glory, goodness are gone. The Son of God has never looked more human. I turn away.
I can’t help but think of what he said to us, about coming back to life. I believed him when he said it; everything he said felt true. I believed him the moment he died, with the temple curtain ripping and tombs splitting open and the power of God revealed before my very eyes. But now? I want to, but I can’t get the image of his limp, scarred body out of my head. With the image comes another horrid thought: What if I was all a lie? It doesn’t make sense, I know, based on what I’ve seen and felt and heard, but the question glues to the inside of my skull.
I look up to see where Jesus’ body is, but the guards are gone now. There’s a few workers cleaning up the filth, masking the torture, and suddenly I want to be anywhere but here. Take me from this hell! I plead. It sounds like a prayer, but who am I praying to? God is dead. He can’t hear me. The tears, the visible anguish, finally come. Snot and dirt mix with them and my feet give way. I am overcome with the sharpest form of grief, and I am helpless and weak and so, so tired. I can’t do this anymore.
More than anything, I want Jesus to be the truth, like he said he was, but he’s dead now. Nothing’s going to change that, no matter how much I hope.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning as I surveyed the full parking lot at your Typical church. Mountains standing in the distance, blue sky hovering above, bright sun baking each individual car like tea biscuits—it was the perfect morning to appreciate God’s amazing creation and huddle inside the auditorium. All church services have hiccups, of course—not enough coffee, that one baby who cries the entire service, the worship leaders forgetting to play “Good Good Father”—and today was no exception. No one was expecting the sun to appear in Chilliwack until late June, I suppose, so the sun made it impossible to see the song lyrics projected onto the two sides of the church. This wouldn’t have been a problem except for the few newcomers scattered in the congregation who didn’t know the words. No one wanted to tell them, but everyone knows that if you don’t sing during the worship service, you lose three points off your spirituality. Thankfully, that one really tall kid from youth group closed the blinds and the newcomers were able to mumble along, much to everyone’s relief. I personally don’t believe the newcomers were even Christian because they clearly didn’t pass the Christian test of knowing Chris Tomlin lyrics. If I saw correctly, one of them even had a tattoo, and it wasn’t a Bible verse or written in Hebrew. I don’t know what they were thinking.
Of course, the entire thing could have been avoided if I had attended a more Relevant church this week. The modern, windowless look isn’t for everyone, but at least it keeps the sun out. I’m not sure how spiritual these churches are, with their lack of pews and stained-glass windows, but I guess the bright lights and high-tech sound equipment make up for it. Sometimes, I forget I’m in God’s holy sanctuary and assume I’ve wandered into the middle of a music concert—TobyMac or Lecrae, of course, because the Bible clearly forbids any secular music within a ten-foot radius of a Christian. Even without pews, I’m certain the Holy Spirit visits these churches more than other types, based on the youth attendance alone. You know it’s a Relevant church when the youth group sits in the back of the congregation and shouts “Amen!” when the pastor mentions the upcoming youth retreat at Stillwood. When I was still attending kid’s church, I couldn’t wait to go to a youth retreat and add twenty points to my spirituality. They may be overpriced, but God calls all of us to make sacrifices.
The one thing I don’t like about Typical and Relevant churches is their communion. They usually have these dry, gluten-free pieces of cardboard to chew on while the pastor reads from Matthew 26. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all about inclusion and allowing hipsters to participate in communion—but I don’t know how spiritual it really is. Is Jesus’ body made of gluten-free crackers? I don’t think so. Some people haven’t grasped the fact that communion has to please my tastebuds in order for me to truly experience God and his sacrifice on the cross. Traditional churches, on the other hand, serve generous cubes of legitimate bread, along with the usual grape juice. They’re doing it right.
The one thing about Traditional churches is that, in the few times I’ve attended one, I haven’t seen a single child there. My best guess is that they hide them away and let them watch Veggietales during the service (that’s what they did at my previous church, when they were looking for a new kid’s pastor), but I’m not even sure any kids go to these churches. Also, the first time I attended one, I didn’t even know it was a Traditional church and I wore blue jeans—with holes in them, for goodness’ sake! I was so embarrassed when four spiritual points were taken away for not adhering to the dress code.
The best part about living in Chilliwack is that, now that I know the rules and expectations of each type of church, I don’t have to compromise my spirituality! If I want to wear blue jeans one week, I’ll attend a Relevant church. If I’m looking for comfortable seating, I choose a Typical church. And I always schedule my attendance to make sure I land all communion Sundays at a Traditional church. After seventeen years of living here, I’ve finally mastered the art of church.
Dear Grade 10 me,
Stop. Take a breath. I’m here from the future, and I came to tell you a few things.
First of all, I am so proud of you and the young woman you are becoming. You have accomplished so much and there’s so much more in store for you…and me, because my future is still barrelling ahead. Keep challenging yourself. Keep making goals and please don’t get frustrated when you don’t achieve it at first. These things take time, believe me. Sometimes your attempts are simply stepping stones to achieve something different and better.
I know you think it’s silly to cry yourself to sleep, but don’t write it off as if it’s nothing. Don’t give up on the fight to find better friends. It does get better…it gets so much better. You will find better friends and you will have fantastic conversations about morality and faith like you want. I myself am excited with where these friendships are going.
And please don’t stress out. I know that seems like terrible advice, and maybe it is, but this too shall pass. I’ve been hearing a lot of grade 10s freaking out about getting jobs and finishing homework and looking into universities. Please enjoy these years and don’t worry about the future. Leave that to me (and believe me, I don’t have it all figured out either).
Keep adventuring, keep seeking for something deeper, keep writing your heart out. Keep pursuing God with everything you have. Don’t be afraid to do things that scare you; don’t ever make the excuse that you’re shy or quiet. Seize the day. Adventures await. God has great things in store for you.
You are loved.
The God of the Bible is a God of mystery, love, and wonder, and He’s a God of The Hero’s Journey. That’s right—the God who rescues and restores is a part of the most famous outline of every story. He takes us from our ordinary world and calls us to a life of adventure and excitement. He gives us mentors and guides us through all the terrifying, all the rewarding, all the uncomfortable moments in our lives. And through it all, no matter how much we stumble or lose hope, God always transforms us. God works in drug-dealers, Pharisees, farmers, young kids, detectives, pastors, mothers—yes, every genre and type of person. In every situation, God pulls us from an ordinary world to his world of transformation and celebration. And this is the kind of God I want, who takes the ordinary and makes them extraordinary, who sees complete potential in the underdog. This is the God I want.
BY PHILIP LARKIN
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
From time to time, the thought of death materialises in your mind. It doesn’t only happen at funerals. Sometimes the thought comes when you lie in bed and sleep refuses to come. Your head is foggy with exhaustion, shadows shift on your blankets, and everything seems like a nightmare you don’t remember. Or sometimes you walk past a homeless person on the streets of Vancouver, and you try not to think about their life but you can’t stop. What if you were that person wrapped up in a torn sleeping bag? What if you had to constantly juggle life and death, hoping for the best? These thoughts tumble in your mind and they are far from pleasant, but you think them nonetheless. You may not be depressed and you may not be a pessimistic person, and yet the “soundless dark” (l. 2) beats drums in your head until the “light strengthens” (l. 41) and life becomes brighter than death.
Philip Larkin understands the contrast of light and dark, of life and death. Is that not why the words sound so similar? His poem, “Aubade,” explores the hopeless thoughts of death, but he somehow ties it into this idea of constant daily life. The world wakes up, goes to work, drinks at night, goes to bed, wakes up. The Earth keeps going round and round like a spinning top, and there is sureness in the knowledge that it will keep spinning forever—until one day it ends…for you, at least. One day you won’t wake up. One day there will be “nothing to think with, nothing to love or link with” (l. 28-29). And this, Larkin argues passionately, is what every human is terrified of. You “can’t escape, yet can’t accept” (l. 43-44). You fear, like Augustus Waters in The Fault In Our Stars, oblivion.
The fear of “how and where and when” (l. 6-7) you will die also emerges in your mind. Will it be painless? Will you suffer for years before mercy lets it end? Larkin claims that “death is no different whined at than withstood” (l. 40); you still want to greet death with honour, but it doesn’t change the certainty of dying. Larkin emphasizes, though, the idea of death more than dying. It’s not the fear of how you die as much as the fear of staying dead, of never feeling or thinking or being again.
You think all these things whether you want to or not, and then they slip away again. Moonlight slips into your bedroom and dances on the floor. You arrive at your destination in Vancouver and all thoughts of the homeless disappear. “The curtain-edges grow light” (l. 3) and the world wakes up as usual. Darkness will come again, and one day it will take you too, but for now the light is brighter. For now, there is nothing you can do but embrace the light.
I still remember your bedroom, you know. The image stirs up emotions and memories I haven’t thought about in several years, and it hits me with a force I can’t explain.
Your bookshelf, I know, is to the left, stuffed with novels I gazed upon, with title scribbled on my palm to read later. Straight ahead sits the table that once was scattered with potions mixed together out of perfumes and shampoos and craft sparkles. Your closet and carpet had explosions of clothes you never bothered to pick up; it was a shock if I ever saw your room clean. And who could forget your movie posters littered across the walls? Harry Potter, who at the time I didn’t even know had a scar on his forehead, stared intensely at me as I sat on your squeaky bed. Then there’s your trusty desk, with tiny shelves filled with loose papers and pens. Sometimes you’d pull out a letter I had recently written to you or hand me your reply stuffed in a bank envelope and covered in stickers—man, I loved those letters. You know I have a box full of them, passed back and forth through siblings, and I hope you know that sometimes I take them out and read them. Do you do the same?
In Psychology class last year, I learned that every time you remember something, you’re actually remembering the last time you thought about it. How many times will it take until I no longer remember your potions or movie posters? Is this why I’m only ninety percent sure your walls are light purple?
I don’t know why your bedroom popped into my mind tonight or how many more months it will be until I think of it again. Maybe ten years down the road, I’ll run into you at the supermarket. Maybe I won’t.
I hope that I’ll always remember your small, messy bedroom and the things that made it unique—and the person who made it unique. Here’s to your room and the memories attached to it. I wish you the best in life.
Blustery wind slaps the sidewalks and
A woman yells at her seven year old.
Seven years old, seventeen years old.
The seventeen year old is bent over
The wind picks up again,
Sliding across to the fast food place
Blowing napkins across the sticky floor.
A man pays for his unhealthy food,
Spilling his change.
The wind settles to a breeze and
Sweeps into the public library.
An old man buttons his coat.
In the corner, a Christian girl sneaks
A sip of beer.
The wind pauses, refusing to move.
Nothing to see here, nothing to see.
It picks up and flies to the street again,
To the yelling woman.
But what if I told you
The woman stopped her son from the approaching car,
The seventeen year old was finding directions
To the ancient bowling alley?
What if I told you
The man paid for someone behind him,
The old man’s coat kept him warm,
The girl was drinking old-fashioned root beer?
I refuse to view the worst in people.
I refuse to see with news reporter’s eyes.
I choose to smile at my neighbours and
See the good.
See the good.
The celebrated windows flamed with light directly pouring north across the Seine; we rustled into place. Then violins vaunting Vivaldi’s strident strength, then Brahms, seemed to suck with their passionate sweetness, bit by bit, the vigor from the red, the blazing blue, so that the listening eye saw suddenly the thick black lines, in shapes of shield and cross and strut and brace, that held the holy glowing fantasy together. The music surged; the glow became a milk, a whisper to the eye, a glimmer ebbed until our beating hearts, our violins were cased in thin but solid sheets of lead. Evening Concert, Saint-Chapelle by John Updike
Why do humans love music? What part of the melody enraptures us again and again, not just in this century but in every one before ours, and makes us feel something more than ourselves? In his poem Evening Concert, Saint-Chapelle, John Updike explores a small piece of this in a way that resonated with me. The first half of the poem describes a classical music concert and slowly becomes energized as Updike illustrates what the listeners hear and feel—“passionate sweetness” (5), “the blazing blue” (7), a “glowing fantasy” (10). Some say humans are nothing more than animals bent on survival, but I disagree. We are more than that, even in the way that we feel something when we hear music. This is what music should look to us and what it should do to us.
I love the way Updike describes the music in the chapel. He describes music as “shapes/…that held/ the holy glowing fantasy together” (8-10), as if one careless breath might break the shapes apart and erase the floating emotion. (What would happen if an unbroken shape floated away? I read a book, Lost and Found, which had a similar idea. What if sound traveled in bubbles and “you had to pop each one to let the sound out”? (Brooke Davis, Lost and Found.) ) He ends the poem by saying, “…our beating hearts, our violins/ were cased in thin but solid sheets of lead” (13-14). We allow our hearts to open up to music for a short while before encasing them in lead again. Music is where we learn how to be vulnerable, how to bleed, how to see life with new eyes. When the music ends, we close up again and the world starts spinning like usual.
In the context of this poem, music may represent general art. Music, visual art, acting, writing—they are all pointless endeavors that give the illusion of worthlessness, but art brings meaning and color to our lives in a way nothing else can. Art and beauty makes you feel something, and that is perhaps the most meaningful part of living.