Spirit & Truth #1 – Praise

Some of the most difficult times in life arise from the unknown. I think, as human beings, we can be so consumed by what is not known to us, what is known only to God. It drives us to a point of fear, of impatience and of sorrow. We struggle to contend with the seemingly infinite number of possibilities that swarm our minds. We worry about certain possibilities becoming our reality. It is this uncertainty and the fear it creates that can begin to inhibit our ability to function to the best of our ability and put us in a position where we begin to question our faith, and question God.

There have been times, particularly over the last few years, where I have been faced with unknowns that have spurned worry and doubt in my mind. Even over the last few months there have been things that have not gone the way I expected, the way I hoped they would. It brings you to a point where you question what God is doing, why things are happening the way they are.

I have talked before about God’s timing, about how His timing is perfect, even when it may not align with our own. Sometimes I think we can become impatient with Him. We struggle to understand why something that we have prayed for repeatedly for weeks or even months or years has still not come to fruition. It may be that God has what we are hoping for in store for us, but it is just not the right time by His plans yet. He may be telling us “not yet”, to wait, to be patient. He will manifest what we are hoping for, or some version of it, in due course, but it will be on His time, not on ours.

I think we can sometimes fall into the abyss of despair as hope slowly slips from our grip. We struggle to hold onto it when things are not going our way, when the unknown becomes all too consuming. And that realm of the unknown can be scary, it can be foreboding. It is not easy to contend with something that is only known truly to someone else, and to God. We may have concerns about an aspect of our life that is not in our control yet is of great importance to us. I know that I have struggled with this kind of thing personally, I have found myself getting anxious about what is not known to me, of what is hidden from my mind. It is as if a storm cloud is hanging over your head and your heart. It creates a shadow of darkness that is difficult escape. You cannot really do anything about it. All you can do is hope, pray, and give it to God.

I was discussing this topic with a friend recently. We were both experiencing this kind of despair at different unknowns in our lives. Our situations were different, but the line of thinking was similar. One thing we discussed was how, despite our wishes for God to intervene, to help us out, He seemed to be taking too long. We both took some comfort in prayer, although it can be challenging to rely solely upon faith. But sometimes faith is all we have, and it does provide us with a sense of hope, no matter how miniscule that hope may be.

Upon further discussion, another way of praying was brought to my attention: Praise. Even though I had just been teaching my Scripture class about prayers of Praise, I never really considered using such prayer in the face of challenging situations. Praise would usually be associated with connotations of happiness, of joy. One would not usually consider the negative or difficult aspects of their life when saying a prayer of Praise to God. But it is something that we can do, and in fact should do more.

When we are facing uncertainties, when we are facing unknowns, when we are staring down hardships and challenges, even when we have just had a bad day, we should turn to God and Praise Him for it. You might wonder why. Why should we praise God for the negative things in our lives, for the things that cause us to become anxious, to despair? It is a fair question. The answer is this: Because God teaches us the most valuable lessons through these times of fear, sorrow, and despair. He uses these times to highlight the good in our lives, the important parts of life that we should value the most. And often He uses these times to bring us closer to Him.

Sometimes when we are struggling with something, we can find it difficult to rely upon faith alone. We can find it difficult to trust in God. It is when we are traversing these times that we should praise God. Take the example of a bad day. Even on our worst days we have the opportunity to learn things. It may not be easy to think about the good that has come out of the bad, but it is likely there somewhere and it is up to us to find it, to focus on it, to thank God for it. It may take some time and patience to do this, but even then we are truly learning something; We are learning patience. And again, we can praise God for teaching us this incredibly valuable skill. He may help us to learn how to let go, and we can praise Him for it.

There are times when we will get frustrated at ourselves, when we will struggle to let things go, when we will find it hard to step away from things that are holding our hearts and minds hostage. In order to find some peace, we need to take some time to check ourselves, to get back to what matters, and to bring it back to God. Because God is good, and we should praise Him for all He does for us.

Spirit & Truth is a series focusing on our humanity and our connection with God. Each edition will draw into focus one aspect of human life and explore it in some depth. Spirit and truth are the keys to living a good and godly life.

God is spirit and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth. – John 4:24

Uncovering Christianity: Exploring The Roots Of The West #9 – Kindness and Charity, Freely Given

One of the great notions of Western Civilization and Christianity is our penchant for kindness and charity. Often, we give up our own time, of our own accord, to help others in whatever way we can. It might be cooking a meal for a friend or family member who is going through a tough time, helping the elderly with regular tasks, volunteering to help those less fortunate than us, or spending time with someone who is struggling. (sometimes just having a listening ear can be all one needs to decompress, to get their thoughts and feelings out into the open, process them, understand them, and then move forward without that baggage weighing them down, demotivating them, and preventing them from doing things they want to do and living their lives the best they can). When we show kindness and charity towards others, it is important that we are doing so out of the goodness of our own hearts, not merely for the sake of doing so or because we are being forced to. That is how resentment is bred.

A key message given by Jesus Christ is written in John’s Gospel, where Jesus said to His disciples:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Jesus demonstrates throughout his Earthly life his love not only for His disciples, but for everyone else as well. He heals people without a second thought; He listens to those who are struggling in their lives; He forgives those who others may deem unworthy of forgiveness; He helps those who have been cast out of society, deemed beyond assistance. It is, however, important to note that Jesus does this not because He is being forced to, but out of his own goodwill.

There is a common misconception in Western society that Jesus Christ was a socialist. Now I want to be clear, I do not intend for Uncovering Christianity to become overly political, but this is a point that must be addressed once and for all. Jesus was not a socialist. How do we know this? Because what He did, and how he told people to go about living, was not forced. It was completely voluntary. The distinguishing feature of socialism is force. If something is voluntary, it is not reminiscent of socialism.

In the New Testament, the place in the Bible where the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) reside, those four Books of the Bible that detail the life, death, resurrection and Ascension of Christ, there is not a word spoken by Jesus to call for the empowerment of politicians and bureaucrats to control every aspect of society. Jesus did not say that these people of power, a power He reminds them was given to them by God, should allocate resources, impose minimum wages, tell people how to run their own businesses, compel workers to join a union, or even raise taxes. In fact, when the Pharisees (the Jewish sect in power at the time of Jesus’ Earthly life, who we have discussed in more detail in previous editions of Uncovering Christianity), attempted to trick Jesus into the endorsement of tax evasion, He cleverly said the following:

“Then, give to Caesar that what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” (Matthew 22:21)

Immediately after this, those sent by the Pharisees to entrap Jesus leave Him, astonished at His response to their baited question. Christ’s response demonstrates His quick ability to bestow wisdom upon those who He meets, and those who attempt to test Him. In saying what He does in the above verse, He allows others to decide what property truly belongs to the State, the rest belonging to God Himself.

There are two particular moments in Christ’s ministry often cited by those who claim Jesus was a socialist, Communist, Marxist, or whatever other absurdity they wish to lay claim to. They see these moments as times when Jesus rebuked the rich. These are clearly misinterpreted, which is unsurprising given the Bible is likely one of the most greatly misinterpreted books in existence. The first of these is the time when Jesus drove the money changers from the temple. This had absolutely nothing to do with money. Jesus was angry at these individuals because they were misusing God’s house, the temple. It also serves as a foreshadowing of the destruction of the temple, which Christ Himself would be destroyed and raised back up in three days (this was in reference not only to the physical temple, but His own Body, the temple of the Holy Spirit). The second is more commonly cited amongst those who are of certain political persuasions but appear to have little to no knowledge of the Biblical text other than verses they have cherry-picked and twisted to suit their own agendas. The verse in question reads as follows:

“Yes, believe me: it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:24)

Most who take this out of context do so as a means of attacking the wealthy, of rebuking capitalism or the free market. Again, this has nothing to do with political ideology, nor is it an example of Christ supporting socialism. What Jesus meant when He said this was that it is difficult for those who are wealthy to resist temptation and therefore it is increasingly difficult for them to attain entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. Being rich may have its perks, but one must ensure they are responsible with such wealth. It is far easier to give into temptations, to become a slave to temptation itself. Jesus is thereby merely warning those who have such riches to tread carefully, to watch out for temptation when it rears its ugly head, and to be prepared, to have enough restraint, to shoot them down when they do, keeping in mind that this earthly life is only temporary, that how we spend our eternal life is of great importance.

To go further on this point, we may look to another story from Jesus’ time living amongst us on Earth:

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Master, tell my brother to share with me the property left by our father.” He replied, “My friend, who has appointed me as your judge or arbiter?” Then Jesus said to the people, “Be on your guard and avoid every kind of greed, for the quality of your life does not depend on the possessions you have, however great they may be.” (Luke 12:13-15)

Again, Christ tells us that our Earthly possessions are not what enrich our lives. They are not what make us who we are, they do not make our lives more valuable than others’. We must be self-aware and ensure we do not become enslaved by greed. What enriches our lives are not tangible assets, but the very parts of our lives that we cannot put a price on. These are the very entities that are core to our being. They are the intangible parts of life, including those such as love, happiness, spirituality, grace, kindness, courage, all the pieces that make up the complex puzzles that are our personalities, that are our intrinsic natures. To that we may add friendships, invaluable special connections and relationships. And, of course, our relationship with God. With these, we are able to live a more fulfilling life.

When we think about helping others, our minds typically go straight to the poor and the needy. People who attack Christianity like to use these people to make a point. They like to say that Christians should support socialism because it would mean the poor and the needy would be less poor and less needy and in a much better position in society. They say Jesus was a socialist because He helped the poor and the needy. Once again, they are twisting the Biblical text to suit their own agenda.

Yes, Jesus Christ did help the poor and the needy. He healed the sick. He encouraged charity, Christian charity. But it is again important to understand that Christian charity is voluntary, that it is heartfelt. It does not come out of a place of obligation, of impersonal compulsion, but of a love of neighbour and of the goodness of one’s own heart. When Jesus spoke of the poor, He did not say “We’re going to make you help whether you like it or not.” He said,

“At any time you can help the poor, for you always have them with you, but you will not have me forever.” (Mark 14:7)

And this message of helping the poor out of personal choice, out of Christian charity, is reinforced in Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, where he wrote:

Let each one give what he has decided upon personally, and not reluctantly as if compelled, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

These two verses reinforce the nature of Christian charity. The first goes to how we always have the opportunity to help the poor, but it is up to us to do so because we want to. This links to the second in that God wants us to give of our own free will, of our own volition, of our own charitable thought. It is all well and good to give out of compulsion but doing so generally creates an air of resentment around carrying out an act of charity, or an act of kindness. This means your charity or kindness is not well-intentioned, it is not enshrined in goodwill. Ultimately, for an act of charity or kindness to be true to its intrinsic nature, it must be given freely, voluntarily, and wholeheartedly. For as Paul writes, God loves a cheerful giver.

One of the greatest examples of true charity is the Good Samaritan. In His teachings, Jesus spoke in parables to help the people understand the messages He was trying to get across to them. The parable of the Good Samaritan, taken from Luke’s Gospel, is a truly memorable story with a key message of kindness, charity, and love of neighbour that we can all live by. Particularly for those who are unfamiliar with the Biblical text and have the urge to learn more, here is the parable in full:

Jesus then said, “There was a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him and went off leaving him half dead. It happened that a priest was going along that road and saw the man, but passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite saw the man and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, too, was going along that road, and when he came upon the man, he was moved with compassion. He went over to him and treated his wounds with oil and wine and wrapped them with bandages. Then he put him on his own animal and brought him to an inn where he took care of him.

The next day he had to set off, but he gave two denarii to the innkeeper and told him: “Take care of him and if you spend more, I will repay when I come back.”

Jesus then asked, “Which of these three, do you think, made himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The teacher of the Law answered, “The one who had mercy on him.” And Jesus said, “Go then and do the same.” (Luke 10:30-37)

In telling this parable, Jesus is highlighting the importance of having mercy on others and showing them charity, showing them kindness, out of the goodness of our own hearts. Although there were two men, the priest and the Levite, who saw the wounded man in a terrible state on the side of the road, they did not go up to him and spend time helping him, tending to his wounds, and assisting him in getting to safety. The Samaritan, however, put a hold on his journey to wherever he was travelling, went to the man, used his own time and resources to treat him and took him to safety. He went out of his way to do all this, even going so far as to pay for the man’s expenses at the inn, and did so purely out of compassion, out of true charity, out of the goodness of his own heart, out of love of one’s neighbour. Jesus Christ told this parable to teach us how to live well. We must follow in the stead of the Good Samaritan, treating others with mercy, with kindness, just as God does for us. The Good Samaritan did not just tell the man to wait for help from the government, or from somebody else. If he did, we may know him not as the “Good” Samaritan, but as the “Good-For-Nothing” Samaritan. Like him, we too should endeavour to help others in a compassionate and heartfelt manner.

The way we act towards others is not only an important part of the way we live, but also of our personalities and the very core of our being. If we force kindness, if we force charity towards others, we will only breed resentment, and that does not work in our favour. It creates a loathsome mentality, one of bitterness, hatred, contempt, all those tendrils of darkness that work to blacken our hearts and our souls. Similar occurrences come into being when we undertake these actions as a means of elevating ourselves to some higher status, or merely for the purpose of boasting about it. But if we act kindly and charitably of our own free will, of our own volition, with goodwill, drawing from the goodness of our own hearts, this will allow light to shine through, creating joy, hope, love and peace in our hearts and souls.

So, if you are looking for a way to brighten someone else’s life, as well as your own, do a random act of kindness. It can truly change a life, or even several. Kindness and charity emanate throughout society. It just takes one good-natured person to start a ripple.

This is the Ninth Edition of a Series entitled Uncovering Christianity: Exploring the Roots of the West. This series explores the values and ideas originating from Christianity, looking back at Biblical times, and relating them to the modern world. There are central themes to each piece in this series, with key messages throughout to guide you in your own life. The series also looks at some of the threats to the roots of Western Civilization and discusses what can be done to placate them and protect the foundation of society. Keep an eye out for new series pieces each week.

Uncovering Christianity: Exploring The Roots Of The West #5 – The Anonymous Christian

Christianity is often viewed as solely religious doctrine. But it is more than just a religion. It is a faith. It is a set of moral principles that human beings abide by in order to live a good and decent life. But you do not have to be Christian to live by these principles. There are many individuals out there in the world who do not label themselves as Christian, nor religious, yet hold the same values that are at the very core of Christianity. In the last few months of 2020, I began thinking about these certain individuals, contemplating how, despite not being religious, they still acted like Christians. This was brought on by having a conversation with someone who was not religious but still held the same values attributed to Christianity. I had often thought about it since, and then, at the Good Friday service at my parish, the parish priest discussed what he called the “anonymous Christian” in his homily, and I knew this was something that had to be discussed further.

The anonymous Christian is someone who does not necessarily put a label on what they are, but their values align with those of the Christian faith. They may not be particularly fond of religion. Or, like the aforementioned individual who I conversed with on this matter late last year, they may have an urge, a desire to learn more about Christianity, about the faith. I hope that through my writing, through this series, and in a personal capacity I can provide guidance to those who have this urge to find out more. The Bible is more than just a religious text; it is a way of life. It contains principles, ideas, stories, and lessons that people may find are linked to what they already believe. Christianity is a universal truth. The effect it can have on people when they encounter it, when they are able to see how it links to their own lives and their own beliefs, is difficult to explain. It is one of those things that is really just beyond words.

Sometimes anonymous Christians are more Christian than us Christians. As a practicing Catholic, I do my best to uphold the values of my faith: caring for others, showing kindness, helping those in need, and even teaching kids about the faith and the values we hold as Christians. But I admit even I fall short at times. I stumble, I do or say something that does not align with my values, and I often feel a deep sense of regret, shame, or self-awareness  afterwards. That is likely true for every one of us, given none of us are perfect. Sometimes the anonymous Christian espouses our values and puts them into action better than we do. While they are out there living their values and being rewarded for doing so in the joy they experience (much like the women who went to the tomb where Jesus had been laid on the third day to find it empty), we hide away like the disciples did after Jesus’ death on the Cross. Yes, in our hearts we may be good people, but we fail to live out our Christian values and use them to help others, to give back to the world, to give back to God in thanks for the gifts he has given us.

Anonymous Christians may at some point decide that they wish to label themselves Christians and begin to deepen their faith. They might start to read the Bible more, to try to deepen their understanding of Christianity, of the belief system, and of the faith itself. They might decide to consult someone who is knowledgeable in the faith, maybe a practicing Christian. Upon reading the Bible, or looking deeper into the faith, they might begin to form questions that they seek answers to, again possibly coming to those of the faith to ask and obtain those valuable answers. They might have an urge to attend church services, to be a part of a congregation of like-minded individuals and meet others who are on the faith journey. After some time, they might even decide to become a Christian or a Catholic and be baptized and/or confirmed as such. It is quite an incredible feeling being a part of a welcoming and loving community.

Anonymous Christians who want to learn more about the faith and immerse themselves more deeply in it should know that they would not be alone in doing so. Practicing Christians and Catholics are constantly doing the same. We learn more all the time. Take it from me. I was baptized Catholic and have attended mass practically every week since I was a baby. As I grew up, I learnt more about my faith and the values contained within it by discussing it with fellow Christians, by attending scripture classes throughout primary school and scripture seminars throughout high school (I was indeed lucky to attend a public high school that offered the opportunity to connect with the faith, something that is becoming increasingly rare nowadays), by attending mass each weekend, by reading the Bible and asking questions, and by watching others live out Christian values in their own lives. Over the years, I have come to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Christian faith and have learnt how to live a good and decent life maintaining the values that I hold dear.

Even now as an adult I am still learning. I have come full circle in terms of scripture classes, going from taking them as a student to teaching them as an adult, so that other kids will have the same opportunities that I did to grow and understand the faith and shape their lives using Christian values. I may teach them, but I often find myself learning things from them that I never thought of before. I also find myself still having epiphanies of sorts at mass when listening to the homily (that is, a reflection on the week’s readings and gospel given by the priest) or even the readings themselves, suddenly realizing something, connecting the dots somewhere that I had not before. For example, at the Easter Vigil mass this year, we heard the story of Abraham and his son Isaac, who he was going to sacrifice for God. But God, seeing Abraham’s loyalty and fear of the Lord, spares Isaac and provides the sacrifice Himself. This Old Testament reading reflects the New Testament story of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, who was sacrificed and died to save us from sin. There is a really beautiful Bible verse, John 3:16, that reads:

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Just like Abraham was willing to sacrifice his one and only son, God the Father was willing to do the same, and did so, out of love for His people, even though the people had strayed from Him. Despite having heard these Bible stories many times before, I did not connect the two until just this year, and it amazed me when I suddenly realised the parallels. The incredible thing about the Bible is that the Old Testament foreshadows the New. God’s test of Abraham, ultimately ending in His provision of a ram to substitute for Isaac as the sacrifice, foreshadows the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, whereby God provides His only Son as a substitute for us. There is the story of David, who was rejected by his parents as a child, and later by his son who rejected him as King and attempted to take over the kingdom himself. The rejection David and his ultimate ascension as King foreshadows the rejection of Jesus by the Jews and his ascension to become their

spiritual King. And there is the story of Moses, who led the Israelites, God’s people, out of captivity in Egypt by the grace of God, just as Jesus leads all who believe in Him out of the slavery of sin and death. There was the Great Flood, which God used to wash away the wickedness he saw on Earth in the time of Noah. Just as the Great Flood washed away the sins of old, baptism washes away original sin from each of those who receive it, be it those in the New Testament, or even us today.

One can even go as far back as Creation itself, when God created the first human beings in existence, Adam and Eve. Upon creating the two, God gave them the breath of life, a truly magnificent gift. This first God-given gift foreshadowed the gift He would give the disciples in the New Testament at Pentecost, just after Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven. This gift sent from above, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the breath of God Himself, was bestowed upon each of them, granting them seven spiritual gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord (what is now more commonly known as wonder and awe). Each of these seven gifts helps their bearer to live a fruitful and meaningful life, doing good on this Earth just as Jesus did throughout His earthly life.

Wisdom allows us to recognize truth, to understand things from the point of view of God Himself. Understanding allows us to grasp the world around us and the points of view of others, as well as the truths of the Christian faith. Counsel helps us to discern right from wrong and make a good judgement as to how best to act. That is why it is also known as Right Judgement. Fortitude, or more simply courage, helps us to stand up for good and defend our world against evil. Knowledge allows us to understand our meaning, our purpose in the world, and to live up to it. Piety gives us a willingness to worship God and to serve Him and others out of love and the goodness of our own hearts. Finally, fear of the Lord, or wonder and awe, is the precursor to wisdom. It allows us to understand and comprehend the greatness, the awesomeness of the Lord and to understand who we are as human beings and why we are here in relation to God Himself. To put it another way, everything we are is a resultant of the wonder, grace, love, and perfection of God.

These gifts of the Holy Spirit are reflected in the way Christians live their lives. But the Anonymous Christian can also espouse similar ways of living, even to a greater degree than some Christians. They can also be witnesses to the gifts, and may be so inspired, so awestruck that they discover an urge, a desire in their heart, to learn more about the faith and come to allow God to enter their life and their heart, to subsequently watch as He works in His mysterious ways to transform their life, and to deepen their connection with Him.

The Christian faith is built upon a foundation of moral principles and values that many of us in the wider society likely share. You do not have to be a Christian to live by these principles and hold these values dear. These are values that make society a better place, that make the world a better place. They help us to live meaningful and purposeful lives, ones in which the potential of achieving fulfillment increases significantly. If more people live their lives according to these values, the world will be the better for it.

So, to all the Anonymous Christians out there, I want you to know that we see you, we see the good that you are doing, the good lives that you lead, and the positive energy you are putting out into the world. Even though you share the Christian values and principles, you may not wish to put a label on yourself just yet, and that is perfectly fine. But if you have an urge to learn more, to discover the faith and all it holds, then I would highly recommend you do so. It will likely be one of the best decisions you ever make and will surely be worthwhile. If you are seeking a stepping stone per se into the world of Christianity and the Bible, I highly recommend watching Jordan Peterson’s Biblical Series. It is quite well done and is a great starting place for those who have that urge to find out more. Peterson himself is a good example of an Anonymous Christian, given he lives by Christian values and principles. In his case, I think after all the lectures he has given of a Biblical nature, all that he has written on Christianity and the Bible, and all that he has been subject to in his own life, particularly over the last few years, he has come to a point where he is wrestling with God, and, at least from my perspective, is coming to a point where he is willing to accept God into his life. It is something that is clearly an emotional and incredibly reflective journey for him, as it is for many who come to discover God’s presence in their lives.

Peterson has helped many individuals who were wondering or who had no idea at all about the faith to come to begin to understand it and embark upon a journey of further investigation and understanding. Indeed, I would say it is almost certain his work has brought more people into the faith, that it has brought more people to God. And that is truly an incredible thing for any one man to accomplish. It shows just how much of an impact Anonymous Christians can have on those around them, and on the world itself. As a Catholic, I aspire to be able to do the same. But Anonymous Christians should know that they can have an incredible impact on the lives of others, and that should inspire them to continue forth on their path, and to embark upon their own journey of discovery and understanding of the faith. I hope that this series might serve to help you on that journey.

This is the Fifth Edition of a Series entitled Uncovering Christianity: Exploring the Roots of the West. This series explores the values and ideas originating from Christianity, looking back at Biblical times, and relating them to the modern world. There are central themes to each piece in this series, with key messages throughout to guide you in your own life. The series also looks at some of the threats to the roots of Western Civilization and discusses what can be done to placate them and protect the foundation of society. Keep an eye out for new series pieces each week.

Uncovering Christianity: Exploring The Roots Of The West #4 – Courage And Grace In Times Of Hardship (Special Easter Edition)

One of the things that makes humanity so great is our ability to overcome. There are often times when we shoulder incredible burdens, when we face the most difficult of challenges, when we climb the highest, steepest mountains. We are subject to pain and suffering, but that is part of human life. It is essential to growth, to build more resilient human beings who can bear not only their own burdens, but aid others in carrying theirs. While it may be a difficult task to accomplish, it is finding courage and grace in times of hardship that allows the human race to flourish and thrive, creating a far greater society.

Courage is not at all easy to come by. It takes strength to muster it, to manifest it into being. There are two parts of us from wherein courage takes form and burgeons out: the heart and the mind. For the most part, courage derivates from the mind. Our mentality is what determines how we navigate the journey of life, how we approach obstacles in our path and ride the waves of emotion that ebb and flow. The heart is where courage catches ablaze and burns bright, flowing out into the rest of our body. To put it into an analogy, the heart is like the furnace, where fires of hope, love, courage, and the like are all lit and burn, spreading warmth throughout the body, throughout the soul, brightening the life of a human being. But fires do not typically occur spontaneously. They must be sparked and kindled by other forces. In the case of humanity, that force is the mind. It is a powerful force that can change the way we feel, see, and act in an instant. In order to create the spark of courage, or indeed of hope or love in our hearts, we must steer our mind in the right direction.

This is not an easy thing to do, especially when we are at a challenging point in our life. Throughout each of our lives, we are guaranteed to face times of hardship. If we did not, we would not have the opportunity to learn and grow as human beings, and this would be a truly dull existence. Framing our mind to deal with these times is a task that takes focus and self-trust. The ease with which we do this depends on where we are at in our lives, what we are dealing with, and any factors that may increase the difficulty of achieving the two key factors of framing the mind.

Factors that may increase the difficulty of framing the mind to spark courage in our heart include those such as anxiety, depression, or any other mental health conditions. Stress and other factors also contribute to this. Opposite them are those that decrease that difficulty, allowing us to frame our mind more easily and effectively. Calm, peace of mind, relaxation (although not too relaxed because that can create a sense of complacency from which we can slip quickly into a world of chaos as we begin to lack awareness of our surroundings, both in a mental and physical aspect), and others can help us to quickly achieve the frame of mind we wish to enter. There are, of course, ways to transform the factors that make this task difficult into those that make it simpler. We can do this by exercising the mind in certain ways, be it through breathing exercises, meditation, closing our eyes and acknowledging our thoughts, or any other method that allows us to focus. Sometimes we need some help to find the right method/s, to order our minds. There is nothing wrong with that. It is something many of us would have done, and continue to do, and no-one should be afraid to do so.

The point we are at on our journey through life depends on the path we take, which, as I mentioned in the second edition of this series, may change as we progress. When we are at a point in our lives where things are cruising along, where we are not coming up against many obstacles, we will typically find life is easy, and be capable of framing our minds without much of a challenge. When many obstacles are in our way and we are struggling to comprehend them all, we will find that life is difficult, and struggle to frame our minds in the necessary way to deal with the blockades in our path. But then there are times when we are at a crossroads, when we come to a point where we must make a decision that will determine the trajectory of our life. These are times when we either thrive or struggle. But it is in these times that it is crucial that we are in the right frame of mind. We might be able to make a decision quickly, although this is not necessarily a good thing as it may come from a sense of complacency that has become self-defeating and has created an unhealthy lifestyle, sometimes physically, but more so mentally. When it comes to important decisions, we need to be able to take time and reflect upon the potential outcomes, but not to the point that they become overwhelming because this can significantly increase the difficulty of the decision and the time it will take to make it. Being in the right frame of mind will greatly assist us in determining which of our potential choices will lead us to the greatest outcomes for our life, both spiritually, and in our quest for growth, understanding, and leaving our mark on the world.

What we are dealing with will greatly influence how we deal with it. There is a wide-spanning array of situations and scenarios that we must navigate throughout our lives. Each individual will deal with these in at the very least a slightly different way to another. These may include things like the death of a loved one, broken family relationships, determining our career, or indeed figuring out our place in the world. There are indeed many others, but these are some of the most fundamental problems many face in their lives that take immense courage and grace to traverse.

Death touches us all at one point or another. Losing a loved one is an immensely difficult part of life to transcend. Sometimes it brings a slight sense of peace knowing that someone important to us who may have been suffering and in pain is now at peace. For Christians, we find solace in believing that when we pass from this world, our spirit moves on to the next, to the Kingdom of Heaven that God built. That same Kingdom that we all now have the opportunity to enter because of the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us. God the Father sent His Only Son to this Earth to live amongst us, to walk amongst us, to teach us how to live a good and faithful life, and to ultimately bear the greatest burden of all and go to His death on the Cross so that we would be saved from sin. Jesus knew the way in which He would die, He knew the events that would take place, and He fulfilled them to the last. Even though He knew He would suffer, even though he had such a heavy load to bear, He continued forward, and allowed it all to happen. Only someone possessing great courage could shoulder such a burden and keep going. Throughout His final hours, His Mother and some of His disciples kept near Him, following Him to the place where He was to die. His Mother, Mary, and disciple, John, watched on as He hung on the Cross, through to His last breath. They watched Him die, great sorrow filling their hearts. On the third day Jesus would rise, having conquered sin and death, but in the time immediately following his passing, there was great despair amongst His followers.

This is what death does: it spurns sorrow and pain in the hearts of those close to the person who has passed. I remember in the days and weeks following the passing of my grandfather, I was trying to contemplate, trying to make sense of why this had happened. Even in the days preceding his passing, I was deeply emotional and began questioning God as to why pop was not getting better, why he was fading away. I wondered why God would allow him to die now rather than giving us more time with him. It was indeed one of the most difficult times in my life. Compounded by mental health problems I was facing at the time, it resulted in a spiral that left me in pretty terrible shape. But in those weeks and months that followed, I found solace in the blessings we had been given in the months prior to pop’s passing. We had gone on a cruise to New Zealand with him only two months prior and had hosted him for a couple of weeks at our home during the bushfires just weeks before. Upon reflection, I was even more grateful to God for giving us these incredible opportunities to spend time with pop before he passed from this world to the next. It was these moments of grace that helped me to overcome the tremendous loss I had felt.

Death is, however, not the only hardship we must face in life. Broken relationships within our own families can be incredibly difficult to deal with. It is especially difficult when we value family greatly, and we do not wish to lose these connections we wish to have for the duration of our lives. Within Christianity, family is one of the most important things in existence. We will discuss the family unit in more depth in a future edition of this series, but for now let us dip our toes in the water. When we have known someone for most, if not all, of our lives, it is difficult to comprehend what life might look like without their presence. Yet when conflict arises in families, particularly with extended family (eg. cousins, uncles, etc.), it can create a divide, a breakdown of communication, and lead to a sort of alienation. This kind of scenario can be quite difficult to overcome, given it may not have been your doing (i.e. It may have been the doing or overreaction of the family member who has cut ties with you) and the action you take may affect others outside of yourself and the family member you are attempting to reconcile with. As someone who greatly values my family and does not want to see them divided to the point where they are unable to reconcile with each other, I will do most anything to ensure this does not happen. Conflict must be addressed and resolved, not permitted to hang in the air unaddressed creating tension wherever it is present. Sometimes, we must help to bear the burdens of others, just as Simon of Cyrene, a man entering Jerusalem on the day Jesus was carrying His Cross to the place where He was to be crucified, aided Jesus in carrying the Cross, helping Him to bear His heavy burden. It takes grace to help shoulder someone else’s burden, but it can be incredibly rewarding.

Determining our career and our place in the world go somewhat hand-in-hand. I suppose the former could be seen as a critical part of the latter. What we choose to do in life obviously gives us some sense of direction, some inkling of our place in society. Say, for example, one chose to be a journalist. They would be responsible for getting information and conveying it to the public to keep them informed. Choosing a career is not always easy, considering it will play a significant role in where you end up in life. Oftentimes people change careers throughout the course of their lives, thereby changing its trajectory to a degree. Our career choice is important in that it gives us some sense of purpose in life. But finding our place in the world does not simply derive from our chosen career. The way we live, our families, friends, and those who we choose to allow into our lives and maintain connections with, our talents and what we choose to do with them, all these things contribute to our greater purpose in this world. If we look back on the Biblical times of the first Holy Week, that is, Palm Sunday (when Jesus entered Jerusalem), Holy Thursday (the night of the Last Supper), Good Friday (the day He was condemned, sent to die, and crucified on the Cross to save us from sin), and Easter Sunday (the day of His Resurrection), we can see that Jesus Christ’s purpose was to take upon Himself all our sins, all our wrongdoing, and face pure torture and a tragic death so that humanity could be saved. His purpose was written from the moment Adam and Eve consumed the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Like Jesus, our purpose is also written, but it is on us to discover what it is. And we cannot do that without courage.

When we look back on the first Holy Week, on the first Easter, we can see that courage and grace were central to Jesus’ willingness to die for God’s people. That courage, however, did not come easily to those around Him. For the most part, His disciples hid, or, in the case of Simon Peter, denied him (three times) to save themselves. They were scared, and rightly so given the Pharisees were angered by how Jesus had taught the truth, the unfettered moral principles and laws laid down by God Himself, rather than the appropriated versions instilled by the Pharisees to maintain power and authority over the people. Jesus was courageous in breaking their rules. He knew He would ultimately pay for the transgressions of the people, and yet gracefully accepted this hardship. Jesus’ disciples did not necessarily possess the same degree of courage that He did, but there is no doubt they had some in following Him and, after His Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven, spreading God’s Word to the people. We must also remember that Jesus Himself was a human being like us. He felt pain and sorrow, particularly on the final day of His human life. He was also somewhat fearful when praying in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His death, requesting of His Heavenly Father that He would “remove this cup from me, yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). But His courage and grace rose to the occasion and were with Him to His last breath, evident in that even after all that the Pharisees, the Romans and the people did to Him, He still prayed for them, saying in His final hours upon the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Like Jesus, each of us possesses the capacity for courage and grace. When we face our own times of hardship, we must ensure that we focus on what matters most, and do our best keep it intact. We must navigate to the right frame of mind via methods that work to get us there and remember that fighting fire with fire is not going to help, no matter the circumstances. The only fire we should even be thinking of is the one of courage that we need to enflame within our hearts. With just a little courage, and a little grace, we can do incredible things: we can mend broken relationships within our own families, we can bear heavy burdens, help others to shoulder their own, land a job that we have been working towards, make a new connection with someone, start a relationship, stand up and speak out for what is right; the possibilities are endless.

Holy Week, the week that changed the world, all began with grace and courage. Christ’s coming into the world started with grace and courage from His Mother Mary. The greatest sacrifice made for mankind was made through courage and grace. Every time we face hardship in our lives, let us remember the incredible courage and grace that Jesus Christ showed in the final days of His life on Earth, and reflect that in our approach to these challenging times.

Uncovering Christianity: Exploring The Roots Of The West #2 – Reflection, Suffering, And The Power Of Love

Before we begin this week’s piece, I would like to add a little tidbit about it. Prior to last night (Monday night) I had already written a piece for this week and had begun a new one for publication next week. However, when I was writing part of next week’s edition, I found that what I was writing could be its own individual part, and from that paragraph (which is the paragraph directly after the first Bible Verse quoted in this piece), this piece was born. I was originally going to publish the previously written piece last night, but I decided against it, and this came about late last night and into the early hours of this morning. I am not exactly certain what inspired it, what inspired me, but I think it may have been God once again working in His mysterious ways. I think there is a reason God wanted me to write and publish this piece instead, and I hope it will reveal itself soon.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I loved writing it.

Throughout our lives in the Western world, we find ourselves experiencing times of suffering and times of reflection. At times, we are also blessed to feel the power of love in our lives, that remarkable thing that is often beyond description, at least from our human perspective. It is something that has the power to bring people together, to bind one person with another, to change lives, to enflame the heart and soul and fill us with the greatest joy. These three things: suffering, reflection, and love, are essential to humanity, and to a stable society. So, let’s explore them a little more in depth.

When God created man and woman, He created them for each other, so that they may join together as one and create a family (we will look at family in the next edition of this series).

There is a verse from the book of Genesis, 2:24 that says:

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Essentially, when a man finds a wife, he would leave the loving care of his mother and father and become one with the woman he marries. Their hearts and souls would be united. It is quite a beautiful thing to think about, the joining of two hearts and souls as one. It is as if each of us as individuals possesses one half of a heart and one half of a soul, yearning to find their counterparts, their other halves. We go on a journey in our life to find the missing piece of our own internal puzzle, that piece that without which we are lost, not our best selves, not enough. But when we find it, it completes us, enlivening our lives, and a bright light bursts forward from within the deepest confines of our very soul. I like to think that two souls that are meant to be together will attract to each other, almost like they have a magnetism to them, at the perfect time.

While sometimes it may be hard to believe that there is a perfect time, it does indeed exist, just not in the way we think. It is important to understand nothing in this world is perfect. We are all human, we all have flaws. But that should not bring us down. Rather, it should lift us up. We should be grateful for our flaws, because they make us unique. If the world was made up of people who were all the same, this would be a very dull existence. God made us all in His image, but each one of us was made in a different way, with different personalities, features, gifts, ambitions, and, of course, imperfections. But that is where perfection lies, in our imperfections. Our imperfections are what gives us our edge, what allows us to stand out from the crowd.

In reality, there is no perfect time for anything, at least not in the human sense. But God’s timing is perfect. Even though at times it may seem as if God’s timing is wrong, it is always right. That timing may impact us in our deepest, darkest moments, but there is always a reason for it. It may be that we are pursuing a dream of ours, and something comes about that stops it short, putting us on a different path. We may not be pleased upon the initial occurrence of this change in our life, but, in time, we may see just why our path was changed. For it may just be that this new path leads us to something even greater than that which we were pursuing. This new path may lead us to meet someone who changes our life, and who we discover is the piece of the puzzle we have been missing. It is at such a point in our lives that we would look back and reflect on how we came to find this incredible person. And that is where we realise that if it had not been for the sudden and at first unwanted change in the direction of our life, we would have never found that person, that amazing human being that would change our life forever. That right there is God’s timing, and it is truly beyond words.

I often reflect back on my own life thus far these days, particularly on the last two or so years. For as long as I can remember, I have been an avid reader, and that love of books and stories turned into a passion for writing stories of my own. By the time I hit Year 9 in high school, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to turn that passion for writing into a career. After I graduated high school, I decided to take a year to figure out what area of writing I wanted to journey into. I had, for years, dreamed of writing a novel, something I still aspire to do today. But I had developed a penchant for politics, so I decided it might be better to go into journalism. I tossed up journalism and creative writing for a while, until I ended up deciding to study both. In the first half of 2019, my life was nothing short of a living nightmare. Dealing with the harsh return of my anxiety, I could not cope with study just yet, so I delayed from March to May. It took me some time, but I finally decided to seek help, and with the aid of a counsellor I got better. After a few more promising months, an assessment led to increased stress, and once again to increased anxiety. After another month or so, it had receded somewhat, only to be brought back on in the first half of 2020. After the passing of my pop, and the period of isolation that followed upon the arrival of COVID-19, I was in a pretty bad way again. Even after seeing a doctor, being put on medication, and starting psychology, it was still months before I really felt like I was back to myself.

It was not until about mid-September 2020 that I felt alive again. It was around this time that I became acquainted with someone new and like-minded, finding myself enthralled at this connection. Over the months to come, I learnt more that seemed too good to be true. It was either one of the most astounding coincidences, or God’s timing. I truly believe it was the latter. And I thank God for it, because without it, I would not have been able to see why I needed to go through all the pain and suffering I endured. I would not have been able to see why things happened the way they did. And I would not have found myself walking a different path that would truly change my life. If it were not for God’s timing, and the connection He brought into my life, I would not be where I am today. I would not be writing this. I have nothing but gratitude and awe for what God brought into my life.

See, that is how deep God’s love is for us. Yes, we go through times of hardship, times of great pain and suffering, but so did Jesus. Jesus, in the ultimate act of sacrifice and love, equal only to that of God the Father’s act of sacrifice and love (giving His Only Son so that we may have eternal life), went to His death upon the Cross, so that we would be saved from sin and be able to spend eternal life in paradise in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus suffered greatly in the lead up to His crucifixion, but He did so out of love for us. God the Father sent His Only Son down to Earth to live amongst us and die upon the Cross out of love for His people.

When we suffer, we may not know why this is happening to us at the time. But, in time, the reason for our suffering will reveal itself to us. Indeed, pain lets us know that we are human. Without it, we would be unable to measure the goodness, the happiness in our lives. We cannot merely do away with pain for the sake of pursuing some utopia in our lives with only the good. If we were to do that, we would eventually lose sight of what is good and what is not. And, most tragically of all, we would struggle to comprehend love.

Pain is a necessary part of life. But it does not have to be a burden. Rather, it is a learning curve, albeit we often do not realise this until some time later. From pain comes love, from darkness comes light. Within my life, I have found a ray of light that has guided me out of the dark abyss I was lost in for the greater part of two years. I hope that each and every one of you who reads this will also find that light in your lives if you have not already. No matter what you are going through, trust in God and He will guide you through it. For God Himself is love, He is light, and He is the way.

To finish, I would like to share (although I have done so before in a different piece) my favourite Bible Verse, one that I keep close to my heart each and every day of my life:

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:6-8, 13

This is the second Part of a Series entitled Uncovering Christianity: Exploring the Roots of the West. This series explores the values and ideas originating from Christianity, looking back at Biblical times, and relating them to the modern world. There are central themes to each piece in this series, with key messages throughout to guide you in your own life. The series also looks at some of the threats to the roots of Western Civilization and discusses what can be done to placate them and protect the foundation of society. Keep an eye out for new series pieces each week.