I am hanging out with two brothers of the Dominican Order on today’s CE Podcast. I am really enjoying these interviews and I hope you’ll enjoy listening to my West Coast accent, again. Take a listen here.
My latest article is over at Catholic Exchange where I talk about the St. Joseph Novena. This is my most Catholic article to date and thus may not appeal to all of you, but you are welcome to read it (of course). I have a strong devotion to the Husband of Mary and he is certainly one of the types I try to conform myself to, and probably fail to live up to. But, hey, anything good is worth making a poor attempt at. If you are the prayerful type, I can’t recommend the St. Joseph novena enough to you. I’m not going to bs you and call it magical, but it’s a great way to contemplate St. Joseph and Christ in just a few minutes. Enjoy.
O Saint Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.
O Saint Joseph, assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.
O Saint Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. Amen
O Saint Joseph, hear my prayers and obtain my petitions. O Saint Joseph, pray for me. (Mention your intention)
Alright folks, time for one of my Big Mama Lichens moments:
Friends, I am Michael Lichens. I write and I edit. Catholic media has been a gift for me in that I get to do what I love and pay most of my bills. However, I would have nothing to do with it if it weren’t for my love of the Church.
Now, there are rumblings on the blogospere right now. In many ways, I don’t want to step in because I am aware I’ve started my share of flame wars and also because any attempt at dialog makes me sound like a mother who is tired of hearing her kids argue.
I won’t get into specifics. If you read past the first paragraph then you already know what I’m talking about. However, so many blogs seem to be like what my friend Kevin Tierney describes as tribal warfare. All among Catholic. Not just Catholics, but what might be called “conservative” Catholics who love the faith and try their best to heed all the teachings and proclamations of our Holy Mother Church. Yet, they act like someone has come in and stolen their jelly beans.
Let’s make it clear: we are judged by how we love one another. Really. No Kidding. Is it love to call people out and then insult their masculinity? Or to assume that they are some kind of secret liberal because they didn’t vote for your favourite statesmen? Perhaps some think it’s love to tell authors to kill themselves or to find some way of insulting their station (whether it’s single, celibate, married, gay, whatever).
Not just no, but frak no.
Don’t get me wrong, I hold some positions that are controversial. I’m anti-war, anti-death penalty, anti-torture, pro-doctors, pro-vaccines, and love to eat gluten even though I’m trying to avoid it. Never did it occur to me that someone is a bad person for being in disagreement with me. Wrong? Yeah, maybe even a tad naive.
I wasn’t always this way. I used to pick fights and start little wars all the time. If you search this blog hard enough, you can see where I’ve been downright insulting. But I grew up, and that’s what I’m calling us all to do. Ladies and gents of the Catholic blogging world: It’s time to grow up.
Also, a wise priest chided me. He told me something that made me realize how ineffective anger is. He also asked me, when I was in the midst of a flame war, “Suppose your non-Catholic friends come over and saw you calling that guy an a-hole? Would they think that this religion held the truth?”
As Catholics we’re not called to merely write clever lines about the news and hold our fundraisers. These are not bad, but if we don’t help people to see the truth, beauty, and love in our faith, then just what in the-literal-hell are we doing?
So, what I’d like to offer is a challenge. From here on in, before you write about another person, try to remember that they are a person with pain, suffering, and struggles. Perhaps what they need is less arguing and someone to take them out to coffee and listen to them. If you can’t write anything without turning it into a scene from Glengarry Glen Ross then it’s probably time to take a breather and go play with your kids or say a rosary.
Oh, and don’t compare yourself with St. Catherine of Siena or St. Jerome. You are not them. Trust me. St. Catherine cleaned the wounds of lepers and those afflicted with disease and felt a call to such compassion that she drank the water she used to clean them. St Jerome lived in a cave and did great work for the Church. They didn’t make their whole career at taking potshots at people; and that is why they’re remembered.
I have read the biographies of many saints and have been to many chapels. I have yet to see a celebration to someone whose job was to be angry on the internet. If you aspire to be St. Catherine or St. Jerome, awesome! Just know that you have a lot more work to do than just being cranky.
I still love what I do, but let’s try to remember what we are called to be. No matter how well I write, I have a feeling that when I’m before the judgement seat of Christ he isn’t going to ask me how many flame wars I started or how many debates I’ve won. Rather, he’s probably wondering how many widows I comforted, how many hungry I fed, and how I showed love to the people who needed it most.
That is all. I’m out.
*drops the mic*
Today on the CE Podcast I sit down with Dale Ahlquist to discuss GK Chesterton and his influence on Michael Collins, Gandhi, and the many Catholic converts. Take a listen here.
As well, make sure to register for the 34th Annual Chesterton Conference in San Antonio, Texas. I’ll be there with Sophia Institute Press and it’d be awesome to meet all of you who read this blog.
Heck, I’ll buy coffee for all three of you.*
*Coffee is only dependent on folks who arrive to the conference and under the assumption that this blog isn’t read. If it is, then, oh boy. Forgive me for being broke or donate to my cause.
My latest piece is over at Catholic World Report, focusing on the poetry of GK Chesterton. It is surprising how good of a poet the man was, given that he’s mostly known for his quotable phrases. However, as I hope I demonstrate, his poetry really is worth learning.
With the renewed interest in Chesterton and his work, we should not neglect the contribution he made to English verse, which is at times child-like as it explores the deep mysteries of faith and existence with the very heart of a child he was so praised for possessing. While his poetry might have seemed archaic compared to the great modernist poets of the twentieth century, his desire to express beauty and truth within a traditional rhyming and sometimes iambic form left a legacy of good and unforgettable poems that are worthy of study and memorization.
For you partake of that last offered cup,
Or disappear into the potter’s ground.
When the man comes around.
-Johnny Cash, The Man Comes Around
Yesterday would have been Johnny Cash’s 83rd birthday. In years past, when I was thin enough to fit into it (thanks food binges and booze!) I would wear my black suit on that day and find a bar to toast the man. This was especially effective at the Waterloo in Louisville, CO which is a giant memorial to The Man in Black.
To say the least, the man has had a rather large impact on my life. Of course, I heard him in childhood due to my dad’s love of all things music. That passion for his music grew and became something of my own during my high school punk/rock phase where I was seeking anyone that could exhibit the raw emotions and the spare lyrics that I found in The Sex Pistols and Dillinger Escape Plan. Of course, as someone who grew up Evangelical but always struggled with doubt, he was many times a reminder of the “beauty, ever ancient and ever new” that I was always seeking but not finding.
Thanks to a Cash marathon for his birthday, as well as a Twitter conversation with Dawn Eden, I have decided to call this A Johnny Cash Lent. Stay with me, this will make sense if a bit.
Since our last Easter, which marked my tenth anniversary as a confirmed Catholic, a lot has happened. I grew in my job as an editor, published two well-received articles on depression, and lost a friend and mentor. Despite that a lot was going well in my life, I had to face some challenges within my own soul and confront some uncomfortable demons. I entered the Church with confidence and exuberance, but by my tenth anniversary I found many of my prayers were a rant at God while also trying to remember to praise Him. In prior years, I drowned these thoughts and voices in booze, sensuality, and everything that goes with it. This year, I found writing, prayer, and contemplation was far healthier but also quite a bit more difficult. If I’ve learned anything in my 30’s it’s that the slow death of self-medication is far easier than trying to wrestle with your own demons in the hope that life is worth living.
While my life, compared to Johnny Cash and many others, has been incredibly easy, his music has meant a lot to me. In his lyrics I found an Old Testament man strumming the steel strings of a guitar, singing once about how “God’s Gonna Cut you Down” while also begging “Lead me Father, with the staff of life/Give me the strength for a song” and it was all from the same man who knew well both the disappointment of his own life as well as what Graham Greene called “the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”
Cash grew up listening to and signing the songs from his mother’s hymnal. In fact, one of the reasons why he left Sun Records was because of Sam Phillips reluctance to let him record Gospel. He was publicly a Christian who wrote moving words about Jesus and his own struggle to grow closer to Him. When asked about his faith Cash would say, “The gospel of Christ must always be an open door with a welcome sign for all.” However, he was also not shy about the complications of faith and life. In one interview he said:
“I confess right up front that I’m the biggest sinner of them all. But my faith in God has always been a solid rock that I’ve stood on, no matter where I was or what I was doing. I was a bad boy at times, but God was always there for me, and I knew that. I guess maybe I took advantage of that.”
In Johnny Cash one can find faith, but it was complicated. Even in his infamous amphetamine habit, he saw that he was trying to escape something. “I used them to escape and they worked pretty well when I was younger,” he admitted in the same interview. “But they devastated me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That third one, spiritually, is the one that hurts so much—separation from God.” Even in his benders, he knew that he couldn’t escape and only in Christ was he to find that solid rock he’d been searching for. Though he was not even looking for God, he saw that God was still looking for him, “There was no line of communication. But that came back. He came back. And I came back.”
As I said, Cash’s faith was complicated. However, isn’t it always? Aren’t we all a lot like the young Augustine, praying daily make me chaste, Lord, but not yet! As Christians, especially confirmed Catholic with the Sacraments, we know that Grace is always there and available to us and that God hears our cries, but how often have taken advantage of that time we think we have?
If I could go back eleven years ago and talk to my younger self I’d give a lot of advice; “See a therapist, don’t stop taking your medication, and try to go for a walk once-in-a-while.” However, I think I’d more likely tell my young, idiot self, the wisdom of The Man in Black, “It takes a real man to live for God—a lot more man than to live for the devil.”
Lent is a time where we join Christ in the desert and ultimately prepare ourselves to remember his death and resurrection. We also take this time to remember our own sins and where we have fallen short. It can be hard, dangerous and exhausting. Like Christ, we’ll be tempted and many of us will fall like we have oh so many times before. That is the real challenge of Lent: to come face-to-face with yourself and to be able to turn that face to light of Christ. To live for God is going to take real courage, but grace is sufficient to give us the strength to stand when life exhausts every ounce of energy we had.
This Lent, let’s be more like Johnny Cash! Let’s admit our faults and our shortcomings but do it with the confidence that they are not what defines us. Rather, let those challenges give us a tender heart to stand up for the weak and displaced and be a symbol of God’s mercy. Let this Lent be the time where you’re not shy about your faith but also willing to meet everyone where they are and offer the love and friendship this world so terribly needs.
As Good Friday approaches you may don black and I hope you can sing, along with Johnny, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
Nota Bene: Of course nobody can write a post about Cash without mentioning “Hurt.” I appreciate an old artist who is aware of his mortality and especially enjoyed the “Hurt” music video because he strikes me as doing what I imagine every writer wants to do: write his own ending, and make it sound like the Book of Ecclesiastes
Over at Catholic Exchange, we launched a podcast that is hosted by yours truly. It’s actually been fun to be making these, but also a lot of work and thus another excuse of why I don’t blog that much.
So, I am still convinced that strangers don’t read this blog, but apparently someone felt the need to nominated this little effort as the Best Under-Appreciated Blog for the 2015 Sheenazing Award. If you’d be so kind, why not vote for me by going to A Knotted Life. There are many more better blogs that are nominated, so my feelings are not hurt if you don’t vote for me. I’ll still be here talking about coffee, Catholicism, life, and all the small miracles.
However, I do want to say how much I’ve come to appreciate all you dear readers. I always get some feedback and it’s a joy to interact with all of you. I don’t get to blog as often as I’d like, but it’s a true pleasure to do this and knowing that I make a bit of a difference in some lives.
I am happily writing this blog in a coffee shop in snowy Boulder, Colorado while my family hangs out and is slowly winding down their evening. This is the second year in a row that I am able to be home for Christmas and I am all too aware of how fortunate I am to talk to my parents face-to-face while my nephews play with the Yodeling Pickle that I got them (why, yes, the Lichens family shares a weird sense of humour).
For a good three years I was unable to go home for anything as I had no money and little in the way of vacation time. As a single guy, this was a difficult thing to bear especially as more and more of my friends were growing their own family and I was feeling more and more alienated from the seasonal cheer I was supposed to exhibit. The very last one, 2012, my untreated depression started to make me afraid of crowds to a point that I missed the Christmas Eve mass and was sure not going to go the following morning. In fact, that Christmas I had one of my most intense let’s not talks. These talks are familiar to many who suffer mental anguish wherein you start to run out of reasons to take your own life and then must decide let’s not end our life, even though living hurts. I don’t tell you this for sympathy, my dear reader, but to tell you that I do know the pain of being alone and single at Christmas. If you are also suffering the pains of the mind, you know also how the darkness of winter can so easily overcome the glittering lights of the Christmas octave.
There are, no doubt, some of you who are reading this who have no family to go home to even if you have the funds to travel. While there are others who, either through divorce or other tragedies, are having an empty place at Christmas that was once filled with some semblance of family. No matter what, it’s a painful place to be and I know it far too well. However, I am not here to remind you of something that is far too familiar as much as to offer some things that have helped me and to also offer those who are more fortunate a glimpse of what your neighbor may be enduring.
At this time of the year, I often contemplate the Christ child in the cave with a tired, weary, and perhaps even frightened Joseph and Mary looking over him. How often we’ve passed by a Nativity set or seen the Christmas pageant without even thinking of the strangeness of the Lord of the universe, the Word of God who was in the beginning of the world, sleeping in a place that was previously used to house and feed livestock. Those very hands that would cure the blind and be nailed to a cross were now too small to touch the creatures of the earth that once laid in that cave. Christ would say, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head,” but that was even true at the very beginning of His earthly life. The Holy Family was in the most humble of circumstances and yet this was what the angels would call attention to and what the prophets had promised.
Joseph had taken on the heavy burden of looking after Mary and this new child and he would later have to flee to Egypt; a land his ancestors fought so hard to escape had now become a refuge for him. We don’t know a lot about St. Joseph and we understand that he was not necessarily a man renowned for his heroism in his own life but that was not going to stop him now and his bravery and sense of duty would allow for the world to receive the One who would redeem all of us.
Then there is Mary, the woman that many have called the Joy of all Who Sorrow. This Lady was now the Mother of God and was to now carry the burden of raising this child and to ultimately see his painful and humiliating death.
I bring up this image because the Incarnation is that singular thing that has kept me a Christian through all the loneliness and hardship. The God who could have been born a ruler or a hero had instead such a great love for us that he took on our lowly nature in order to redeem it. I wonder if any of us were to have stumbled onto a homeless God living in a cave with animals if we’d be able to even comprehend what was in front of us. Would we be offended that the Lord of all Creation would not have thought to even provide a house for he and his parents? Or would we be disgusted at the idea that all our hope rested in this manger that barely qualified as a shelter?
The love that Jesus had for us was not one that wanted to merely rule over us as some cosmic despot but was instead one that wanted to experience our most frustrating and humbling times to show us that holiness was possible no matter where life left us. This God did not undergo His birth, life, death, and resurrection just to leave you alone but is indeed with you in your loneliness, despite how distant He may seem.
If you are able, try to contemplate a Nativity scene or an ikon and think of that very first Christmas that seemed all but jolly and festive. Think of the ways you might be like Joseph to a family, helping them with their burdens while they can also ease your own loneliness. This is difficult in our modern society, but it is not impossible.
While I have had to be away from family for Christmas, there was one family that acted as a domestic Church and welcomed the stranger that was me. They always made sure I had a place to eat, drink, and celebrate the season. They were a small part of God’s grace, making sure that I didn’t merely exist in the shadows. This is a task many families are afraid of undertaking for fear that their home may be too chaotic for the childless. For me, and many singles, this was never an issue for the many noises of children and adults at Christmas are better than the silence of a small apartment. So, welcome who you can and be willing to accept the welcome of others.
As a single person you are also able to help in ways that a family cannot. There is a part of all of us that desires to be wanted, to be needed, and you’d be surprised how well-received your own offers for assistance and help can be. Can you cook a meal for a low-income family and bring them some small items for the octave of Christmas and the New Year? Or, if you are suffering from a lack of funds, see what charities around you need an extra set of hands? If that’s not possible, then go to Mass and ask for an opportunity to help your parish and your neighbors and God will surely find you one. In my own life, showing kindness has meant all the difference when I have those let’s not talks.
If you have a family, try to find those who would spend the holidays alone and let them know that they have a place at your table. Don’t worry that the house is not clean enough or that your children may be chaotic messes. Merely letting people know that they are wanted is the greatest of all gifts and it can seem small to you but can make a world of difference for your single friends. If you give it enough time they will not be that single man or woman from work or church but will be a friend and perhaps a small but not insignificant part of your house.
To you my single friends and my readers who are right there with me, I wish you a blessed and happy Christmas! Christ is born and lives among us and He shall not depart. For all of you who continue to read my work, you are a great and joyful part of my life and I thank God that you are on that other side of the screen.