Anathema

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Arnold stopped to peer at the moon, glabrous and pale in the late night sky, then slipped through the broad cathedral doors. The church was silent except for the echo his shoes made when he walked across the marble floor, and he suppressed a shudder as he passed by flickering candles and confessionals, surrounded by leering statues of the saints.

He stopped beside the front row of pews, genuflected before the blessed sacrament and sat. It was a ritual he’d learned in his youth. A ritual he hadn’t practiced in years.

The domed ceiling rose to a spectacular height, covered in otherworldly frescoes depicting the cosmic struggle between God and Satan. He looked up and felt dwarfed by the vastness of eternity, a terrible awe of Heaven and Hell, and felt as if he might be crushed between the two.

Arnold took a deep breath and gazed toward the altar, where a large wooden crucifix loomed over the empty congregation, hidden beneath a dark shadowy veil. He imagined the figure of Christ within, face frozen in perpetual agony.

It was Holy Week, a time of penance and reflection, and Arnold had a lot to think about.

The cathedral was a special place. Time was thin here, and if he focused hard enough he was sure he could peer through it, into the past, where he’d spent so many formative years in the Church, into the future, where he searched for answers to questions that had almost destroyed him once and threatened to destroy him still.

What was he? He was no closer to figuring that out than he’d been fifteen years ago when his terrible transformation began.

Life had been simple as a child. He’d done as his parents had told him, had believed as the priests had taught him. He’d gone to mass and confession, learned his prayers, absorbed himself fully in the truth that was presented to him.

Now, he was a stranger in his old place of worship, a stranger to his family, a stranger to himself.

He waited, as if God might glance down from Heaven and notice him at last. But there was only the quiet and the dark.

A faint buzz emanated from the stone walls, as if a tension was mounding in the cathedral’s foundation. Arnold closed his eyes to pray.

“Hail Mary,” he began, voice husky and dry. He stopped to clear his throat, then started again. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”

Was there a Lord? If so, how did Arnold fit into his plans? The buzz grew louder, and Arnold could feel the pew begin to vibrate beneath him.

“Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”

What did it mean to be blessed? Arnold had been taught that to be saved, one must remain in a state of grace. Was Arnold in a state of grace, or was he now anathema? Did he have a place in Heaven, or a place in Hell? The buzz transfigured, became a loud shuddering rumble.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

A thunderous crack exploded like a cannon, and Arnold’s eyes popped open.

The veil had torn along a jagged seam that ran down its center like a fault line in the earth. The heavy wooden cross beneath trembled, leaned forward as if in prayer, then came crashing down, destroying the tabernacle, scattering consecrated hosts like confetti.

The earth shook with such violence that Arnold imagined the gates of Hell were opening, ready to swallow him whole.

“Please, God, make it stop!”

Arnold rocked back and forth like a toddler, holding his hands over his ears as if the gesture could protect him.

Then just like that it was over. The Earth stopped moving. The cathedral fell silent once more.

Face hot, Arnold’s neck bulged as he beheld the ruined altar, veins popping through his skin like thick cords.

“What am I?” he shouted at the painting on the ceiling. “Why are you doing this to me?”

A man emerged through the open doorway behind the altar, a silhouette wreathed in moonlight. He stepped forward until the pallid illumination revealed a pair of wide, disbelieving eyes.

The parish priest.

Arnold leaped to his feet and bolted.

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Choices

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Janelle stood before a network of interconnected roads, celestial paths across space and time that fanned out into the horizon and beyond, forking and dividing in an increasingly complex and unforeseeable set of possible futures. So many choices. It was dizzying, thinking of all the places she might go, all the things she might see. Some were good. Others were not.

She hesitated.

She’d spent her whole life preparing for this moment, taught by her tribe from birth that someday she would have to stand before the Great Road and walk toward her destiny.

They’d promised her a guide, someone who would travel beside her unseen and pick her up when she couldn’t go on by herself. But now, at the outset of her journey, she felt alone, and that made her afraid.

Faced with an infinite array of choices, how was she supposed to pick the right one? She could see one, perhaps two steps ahead, could calculate the probabilities and possible outcomes as she saw them, but beyond? Her journey might have promising beginnings, yet end in disaster only a few steps ahead. Every step forward, every fork in the road was another risk, and one way or the other, whether her travels were long or short, fortunate or unfortunate, no path continued forever. One day, at the end of her road, there would be a door, ready to take her to the other side. Not knowing where that door might be or where it would lead terrified her.

But she couldn’t stand here forever. Some had tried, had spent their entire lives paralyzed by indecision, too afraid to move. But they had eventually been escorted away in shame, forced through their own door before their journey had even begun. Janelle had no desire to pass over her journey.

The end, she realized, would come for her whether she was ready or not, so what was the point in stalling? She would have to go, hope she was headed in the right direction and trust that her unseen guide would catch her if she fell. Her tribe had said the first step would be the hardest, that once she got moving she wouldn’t want to stop. It was time to see if that was true.

She took a deep breath, her heart thumping in her chest like an overworked piston. She glanced down at her feet, swallowed a lump that had formed in the back of her throat. She lifted one foot, then the other.

There was a shift, an instant of double vision as the world changed, and then her surroundings resolved. She looked around, overcome by cosmic beauty such as she had never seen before. She was overcome with joy. Now she was hooked. The fear remained, but was superseded by a deeper desire, an inborn need to discover what else was out there. There was a whole road just for her. There would be joys and sorrows, conveniences and hardships, but in the end, it would all add up to one hell of an adventure.

Janelle found the next fork. Stepped. The world shifted.

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Thread

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It was with her for as long as she could remember, a thin golden thread of light that tugged at her as if she were a hooked fish. She had no idea where it came from or where it led. She only knew that it was always pulling, that with every passing year the tightness increased until the pain was too much to bear.

Nobody else could see it. Not her mother or father, not her relatives, not her friends. It got to be so bad that she spent most days alone, afraid others would think she was crazy.

On her eighteenth birthday, the pain blossomed into searing fire. Not knowing what else to do, she left home, left behind everyone and everything she’d ever known. She followed the pull of the thread out of Phoenix, out of Arizona, out of the US. Traveling helped; the thread slackened when she followed. She spent most of her life allowing it to drag her across the world, never knowing where or if it would end.

Now, after more than forty years of never staying in one place, she stands before a tiny redbrick house in Belgium and knows that she’s come home. She sees that the golden thread leads here, that inside the house there is an even brighter glow. This is where her journey ends.

She swallows, takes a deep breath, walks up and knocks on the door. There’s a brief moment where she wonders what she’ll do if it doesn’t open, and then it does. Gold floods her vision.

“Come in,” says a kindly voice. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

She enters. The door closes behind her.

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Age and the Loss of Innocence

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There are those exceptional moments in life when you experience crystal clarity in thought and purpose, when all is as it should be, when all is right and good with the world. But those moments are rare, are few and far between, and they almost always occur when you’re young. As a child, you didn’t have time to formulate your own beliefs; instead, your world view hinged on the beliefs of others. The innocence of youth is a wonderful carefree time in which the mind and the heart are free from the burdens of autonomous thinking and responsibility.

Then a tragic thing happens. You grow up. You question. You doubt. The world view you subscribed to when you were young no longer seems to apply. You wake up to discover you’ve been abandoned in a hostile world that makes no sense, and you’re forced to fend for yourself, to scrap together bits and pieces of the truth as you find them, to piece together some fragmentary understanding of who you are and why you’re here. You toil in the dark without relief, with only the cold and empty void of unconsciousness for an interlude. You’re faced with the prospect of death somewhere on the horizon, yet have no knowledge of when you’ll meet it face-to-face or what will happen when that day finally comes.

This of course is a necessary thing. Without the impetus to search for the truth, you would lay on your back day and night, unmotivated, listless and without purpose. It is this very emptiness, this very despair that compels you to move forward. You venture on. You hope and you pray that the light you seek at the end of the world exists, that the faith you placed in this unnamed truth was not in vain.

And sooner or later, one way or the other, you’ll find out.

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My Mission Statement

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I’ve spent the past few years thinking a lot about who I am and what I was made to do. It’s been a long journey, fraught with anxiety, self-doubt and confusion. I’ve traversed the desert of darkness and despair, have had to question whether or not I have a purpose, if I was meant to be a writer or if my art is just the accidental by-product of genes, passed on through countless generations, heralds of random chance and a fundamentally chaotic universe.

By attempting to comprehend my existence and its reason for being, I’ve come to a much fuller understanding of what it is I’m supposed to do.

It’s my sincere hope, of course, that everything I write will entertain and delight you, my readers. I want to make you happy. In a world filled with anxiety and despair, I want to give you leisure and rest.

But there’s more.

There are things I wish to communicate, themes that have surfaced over and over again as I’ve plumbed the depths of my imagination. Everything I write, while intended to entertain, also serves a higher purpose. What follows are three things I hope to accomplish as a writer.

1. To explore the entire spectrum of the human experience.

What motivates people to do what they do? Why do they feel a certain way? How do people react to the actions of others? These are just a few of the questions that fascinate me, questions that have set me on a path of exploration that’s taken me deep into the heart of humanity.

We are a species rich with depth and complexity. There are no simple answers; every question is answered by another question. Yet in the neverending process of asking new questions, we come to a fuller understanding of ourselves.

2. To discern and articulate the extraordinary that hides in the shadow of the ordinary.

As humans, we’re easily distracted by the everyday tedium of our existence. We lose ourselves in routine, becoming so absorbed in the doings of the world that we fail to see what lies beyond the surface.

I believe that beyond the thin veil of the ordinary lies something much more wondrous and strange than any of us could possibly imagine. I believe that once we train ourselves to see the world as something more, the cardboard superficiality of our dull surface-existence falls away to something much more rich and mysterious.

3. To demonstrate that life has meaning, that all of us have a purpose.

I firmly believe that existence has meaning. I will always believe it, no matter how confused I become, no matter how many times others may argue to the contrary. In the vastness of the cosmos, we are not alone. Each of us has been given a mission, some task to perform in love for the benefit of the human family.

Simply by being who I am and by writing what I discover hidden within my soul, I hope to convey this message to others, to give hope where so many have fallen to despair. I wish to show the universe for what it is, a cosmic framework in which everyone and everything are interconnected for an everlasting good that was made to be shared.

How about you? What’s your mission?

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What’s My Mission?

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Purpose. It defines our existence. We spend our whole lives searching for it, and we don’t stop until our ephemeral lives come to an abrupt and unpredictable end. We pay counselors, therapists and psychologists hundreds of dollars to help us find it. We spend innumerable solitary moments beneath the stars, hoping and praying that in the stillness of the night, the cosmos will whisper their designs into our ears, and we grow restless and anxious when the years pass without an answer.

Ultimately, what we’re looking for always boils down to the same question: “What’s my mission?”

Each of us has one.

We are a race composed of individuals, each with our own unique talents, each with our own unique ways of contributing to the world. We all take our place in the human family. Each of us assumes a role, some task that we’re called to fulfill until our Earthly lives are complete.

This is our mission, a biological imperative embedded in our DNA, an indelible mark upon our souls, a divine mandate that we’re powerless to resist if we wish to live happy and fulfilling lives.

Our purpose in life is to discover what this mission is and to complete it.

To uncover our reason for being is to locate our rightful place in this cosmic symphony, to harmonize with the celestial melodies of a divine purpose that far transcends our own.

Everything we do should further this goal in some way. Until we know what our mission is and until we can accept it, we’ll be doomed to wander the desert of internal anarchy and despair.

Some of us believe in purpose, but only on a larger scale. We often ask ourselves, “how can one ordinary individual have a measurable global effect?”

Whether great or small, our actions can and do transform the world.

In Does What You Do Matter, I argue that it’s precisely those “insignificant” activities which manifest the greatest changes. Life is a tapestry, a mosaic of apparently unrelated events which, when taken as a whole, form a clearly-discernible pattern.

It’s out of the humdrum and the ordinary that the miracle of civilization itself emerges. Without the standard occupations, there would be no food, no running water, no medicine, no roads, no waste management, no electricity. If everyone were to give up their jobs at the same time for as little as a day, the world would come undone, like a tattered cloth left too long to the elements.

In fact, the anonymous individual is the great unsung hero of the world. Those rare role models we know by name we know only because there were millions of unknowns working behind the scenes.

Yet, even if we understand this, we’re still going to ask ourselves, “how do I discover what my mission is?”

Personal revelation demands hard work.

Figuring out what we’re supposed to do is by no means a passive endeavor. Rather, it’s a lifelong quest. We must traverse steep psychological mountains, wander through barren spiritual deserts, never resting until we reach the understanding we seek. Our quest requires three things:

  1. Answers to basic questions. Every quest has a beginning. Ours should start with what we already know about ourselves. What are we passionate about? What are we good at? Can we align our career goals with our interests? If not, can we at least integrate our interests into our off hours?
  2. The ability to make the best of our current circumstances. Living a purpose-driven life requires us to accept and embrace what we’ve been given, and to use it to make the lives of those around us better. We always accomplish the most good simply by being who we are and by living in the moment.
  3. An open heart. Above all, we should think, pray and listen. We should ask for guidance, because our maker will always furnish the answers we seek in the fullness of time. His won’t be a voice of thunder but of circumstance, and we must pay close attention to the things that are going on around us so that we can discern what it might be trying to tell us.

Our mission is knowable, and we can fulfill it.

Each of us was fashioned with all that we need to be successful already inside us. We must only find the courage to chase after it, to search high and low for the key that opens the lock to our souls. Open that, and our hearts will unfurl like budding flowers, revealing its deepest mysteries.

Here, in the center of our hearts, where God and Man intersect, we will find the answer that we’ve pursued all our lives.

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Your Life Is More Than Ordinary

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Everyday life always seems so ordinary. We get up in the morning. We work. We go home. We eat. We sleep. We repeat this cycle five or more days a week. We might stray from the routine when we have time off from our weekly responsibilities, but even in leisure, we often settle into some kind of recurring structure. It’s so monotonous. So regular. So ordinary.

But ordinary is only a minuscule component of the great epic we call life.

For all that the tedious day-to-day grind consumes us, it’s really nothing more than the thinnest of veils, behind which lies a vast and fathomless depth of exotic beauty, of incredible wonders beyond our wildest imaginings. On every level, the ordinary aspect of reality goes only skin-deep, from the daily routine that serves as the framework in which we define ourselves, in which we eventually choose, in the fullness of time, to be the hero or the villain; all the way down to the vague and ill-defined subatomic particles that comprise our physical being, behind which hide the sublime mysteries of existence and consciousness themselves.

Our minds require the ordinary, because they need something familiar to make sense of, and our bodies require the ordinary, because they need something tangible to interact with. But ordinary is only a thin veneer, an external symbolic manifestation of a much fuller reality that’s always with us, even when we can’t see it. In the depths of the extraordinary is where we search for and discover our purpose, where we think and feel, where we love and pray, where we experience the fullness of our existence.

We must not let the everyday tedium deceive us into believing that life is nothing more than the meaningless rabble of an eight hour work day.

We must be bold enough to call ourselves explorers. We must resolve to dive head-first, as deep as we can, into this extraphysical world, to be brave enough to embark upon our journey without ever looking back. Our purpose, our reason for being, our very souls themselves, are bound up and locked away in its infinite depths, waiting for us to claim them if only we have courage enough to go after them.

If we stray too long near surface things, if we allow ourselves to grow comfortable and complacent in the skin-deep realm of the ordinary, we’ll begin to wither and fade like uprooted wildflowers. We’ll become so consumed by the shallow meaningless doings of the ordinary world that we’ll lose sight of our purpose, of the great cosmic questions and wonders that would otherwise propel us to the stars. We’ll become one with a temporary dying surface-existence so completely that we’ll come perilously close to dying ourselves.

Touring the world of Fantasy is one of many ways to explore the extraordinary.

It’s in stories that we encounter the threshold between the extraordinary and the ordinary, the line that separates thought and motivation from act, that separates purpose and meaning from their observable physical effects. In the world of the imagination, the mind is free to contemplate and dream, to chart the boundless reaches of the unseen world that usually exists just out of sight.

Fantasy teases us with external observable analogs to the otherwise abstract mysteries that lay hidden beyond the veil. We witness acts of magic; we embark upon epic quests; we take part in grand sweeping romances that move mountains in the name of love. When we travel long enough through the world of Fantasy, we’re left with an indelible mark that we take with us into the real world. We’re left with the ability to perceive and understand the true abstract essences that comprise the things we witnessed in the vistas of so many fictional worlds, and we learn to recognize them in what once seemed so plain and ordinary.

And then something marvelous happens. The thin surface that separates the world of wonder from the world of the ordinary looses its opaqueness. Ordinary life becomes transparent to the extraordinary that lies just beyond its shallow boundary, and we’re forced to confront and come to terms with the wonders that we were created to explore. Once this happens, nothing can stand in the way of our search for meaning, for purpose and for truth.

Dare to embark on this epic quest.

Seek out the extraordinary. Search for your purpose, for your soul. Search long and hard, high and low, in a world where there will never be a dull moment, where there will always be something new and exciting to discover. Do this, and you will be forever transformed.

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Why I Write

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Why do I write?

Writing isn’t easy, especially for those of us who work full-time in a completely unrelated field. You come home from work exhausted. Those very rare moments of explosive inspiration aside, you have to force yourself to sit down and work some more, when all your body really wants to do is eat and go to sleep. You have to face the demons of self-doubt, which hover over your shoulder in the darkness, whispering that you’re not good enough, that you’re a hack, that today is the day everyone will discover you’re a fraud. You have to recognize that you will fail, and you have to do it anyway.

You then have to be brave enough to confront the crap you wrote the next day. You have to take this rough source material, this hunk of dark grey clay forged from the jumbled stilted dreams of the insubstantial mind, and mold it into something half-way decent. You have to revise. You have to revise again.

After the number of revisions rivals even the number of stars in the galaxy, you have to break out of your shell and share your work with others. You have to not only accept but embrace rejection. You have to allow your heart to be broken, and then you have to pick up the pieces and try again. You have to revise. You have to revise again.

If you intend to publish, your not even close to finished. If you go the traditional route, you still have to send out hundreds of query letters to agents, be rejected over and over again, and hope that at least one will take an interest in your work. And whether you go through traditional channels or self-publish, if your book is to have a prayer of succeeding, you’ll still have to hand your work off to an editor, who will point out all the many things that are wrong that you didn’t catch in the first bazillion and one revisions. You have to revise. You have to revise again.

After all this, there’s nevertheless the very real possibility that nobody will want to read what you spent months or years writing. Bookstore shelves are littered with books that will never be purchased, books which will be returned to the publisher for a refund, books written by authors who will never have an opportunity to publish again. The Amazon Kindle store is bursting at the seams with self-published titles that will all suffer a similar fate. And if your books do sell, they likely won’t make anywhere near enough to financially justify all the blood, sweat and tears that went into your writing.

Why would anyone subject themselves to such a torturous and thankless routine? I can’t answer for all writers, but I can answer for myself.

I write because that’s who I am.

It doesn’t matter if I have an audience of one million, one thousand, one hundred, one or even zero. I write for my Creator, the author of the cosmos, because it’s what he called me to do. I in turn write for myself, because it’s my purpose, because composing new stories is what fulfills me as a human person. I feel compelled to write, even when it hurts, when I’m busy, depressed or lacking inspiration. It’s built into my DNA. It’s written indelibly upon the mandates of my soul.

I write because it’s in our own pale and imperfect reflections of the universe that we come to know and love the universe itself.

I write because beauty is important to me. I know that nothing I create will ever be perfect, but I strive for perfection anyway.

I write because I’m haunted when I don’t. The days I spend away from my notebooks and computer are days that I feel anxious and restless. Ideas back up in my mind like a clogged up sink, and their continually increasing weight begins to burn my soul like wild fire. I eventually have no choice but to huddle up in the dark after hours and yield to this all-consuming force.

I write because I have a passion for creating things. I liken the difficulties encountered when crafting a new tale to the pangs of childbirth. When the pushing is over, when you’re finally laying down in bed exhausted, sweat beading on your forehead, when the challenge of giving birth to an idea is finally over, you can at last gaze upon the child of your mind with stupid giddy love and wonder. It doesn’t matter that your child isn’t perfect, because the child is yours and you love it anyway.

In short, I write because I’m a writer. In the end, that’s the only reason that should matter.

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