Friday, March 11, 2011

Convivio 2011

March 11th, 12th, and 13th will see hundreds of teens gather for Convivio 2011.  I'm one of the adult volunteers, so I'll be there all weekend.  There will be no updates until post-Convivio.

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers this weekend!  It is a big undertaking!  Thanks!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Meditation: Five Smooth Stones

I like to meditate on Scripture.  Occasionaly, I will post five-minute meditations that you can do anywhere there's a bit of quiet.  This one is particularly appropriate for the begining of Lent.

When David fought Goliath, he had nothing but his sling and five smooth stones.  One interpretation of the story I've heard suggests that the five smooth stones are the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  I like this interpretation.  David's greatest weapon against Goliath was his faith in the Lord and his knowledge of the Covenant.

We can adapt this story into a helpful Lenten meditation.

In order to meditate properly, there are a few things we need to do:
      Adopt a relaxed but upright posture to allow for proper breathing.
      Breathe in, deeply and slowly, through the nose, and breathe out through the mouth.
      Ask the Lord to guide our thoughts.

David was a boy when he faced Goliath.  The Phillistine warrior was a giant man who used his strength to destroy Israel's champions.  He seemed invincible.  None dared challenge him, even as he blasphemed the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Yet David was able to defeat him with only his faith in God and five smooth stones.

What is the Goliath you face in your life?  What seemingly unconquerable obstacle comes between you and the people you love or the life God wants you to live?  Name your Goliath in you mind.

David drew his courage from the Lord.  So, too, can you.  God has given you what you need to defeat Goliath.  At your feet are many smooth stones.

Each stone bears the name of a gift God has given to you.  Perhaps they are the names of loved ones.  Perhaps they are the names of talents.  Perhaps they are the names of role models, poems, songs, or other sources of inspiration.  Reach down and pick up the five smooth stones you need to defeat your Goliath.  Receive the gifts God has laid at your feet.

Now, armed with what God has given you, face your Goliath.  You may defeat him as swiftly as David did.  You may have to endure a great, prolonged struggle.  It does not matter.  God is with you.  God has given you exactly what you need to endure the fight, and to win the day.

Now, take three deep breaths, and return to your regular routine.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Reflection: Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day when millions of Roman Catholics get dirt smeared on their foreheads.

Why do we do that?

Well, ashes are a sign of repentance in Scripture.  We often hear of sinners dressed in sackcloth and covered with ashes, doing public acts of penitence to demonstrate their sincere sorrow.

I don't think any American Catholics are going to walk around wearing sackcloth today, but plenty will be marked with a little black cross.  Remember when that British news anchor did not know what was on Vice President Biden's forehead?  Here's a link to the video (the quality is a little poor, but I wanted to find a video that did not insult the VP, and this is what I came up with).  That gaffe is, to me at least, a sign of the loss of a sense of sin among modern Christians (though the reporter does get credit for her admission of shame at the end).

The point of being marked by ashes is to publicly acknowledge personal sinfulness.  I'm a sinner.  I don't always admit it.  I need to, if I want to break the cycles of sin in my life and receive forgiveness.  Ash Wednesday's ritual is a great help in that effort.  It is a little humiliating to walk around with a dirty face all day, but I need to be humiliated so I can gain some humility.  Humility is a prerequisite for love.  I can't really love others if I love myself more than them.

The great joy of Ash Wednesday is that the very thing that marks me as a sinner is the sign of my redemption.  To accept the ashes is to accept the healing love of Christ.  The cross is a tool of torture transformed into an instrument of salvation.  I like to think of it as the printing press that was used to spread the Word of God.

To truly repent I must truly convert.  Whether I am like Peter, slowly learning the true identity of Jesus and growing out of cowardice into courage, or like Paul, suddenly thrown from the seat of pride into the humble dust of blindness, I have to allow Christ to change me.  I am not right, not the way I am now.  There is good in me, but there is also evil.  Only Christ can achieve the total transfiguration for which my soul longs.

So, as Lent begins, I'm going to strive to put away my sins and take up the mantle of Christ.  I'm going to receive the Eucharist, confess my sins, and pray.  And pray.  And pray.  I want the external sign of my salvation to become the internal first principle of my life.  Scripture puts it this (arresting) way: circumcise the heart.  Circumcision is the outward sign of the Covenant, but it is what is inside a man that makes him faithful to God.

I know I'm going to fail.  I'm going to fall, probably a lot.  But I will pick myself up, let Christ dust me off, and continue on.  Why should I worry about getting dirty when I'm already covered in ashes?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Poetry: Ode to a Printer

I had to buy a new printer this past weekend.  I was trying to print out a poem for a contest, and my old machine suffered a fatal blockage in its paper artery.  Tis a great loss.  The poem below gives voice to my deep sorrow.

Ode to a Printer

O noble son
Of ancient press,
Who saved me from
Inky distress,
To you I raise
This lauding verse;
Forgive me if
It's kind of terse.

You spat our words
In brilliant black.
You did not lack.
You copied, scanned,
And even faxed.
Yet care of you
By me was lax.

An errant pen
Cunningly placed
Into your mouth
Is my disgrace.
Your paper jammed.
Your case I broke.
Your gears did cease.
I guess you choked.

And so I weep
And moan and wail.
Best Buy has not
A single sale.
So I must spend,
And pay full price
To replace you
And that's not nice.

I pray this libation of words will appease my printer's soul and speed it to its final reward.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fiction: The Blind Wizard's Journal

I'm not ready to start writing the sequel to my fantasy novel.  My first one needs revision, and that process will determine the course of the second part of the narrative.  Additionally, I'm not looking forward to plunging into the pool of Lariel again, given that it took me ten years to get out of it the first time.

However, I've recently come to a new respect for the first-person narrator, and Lariel provides a ready source of material.  Thus is born The Blind Wizard's Journal.  It is a bridge between my first book and my second book.  I suspect that crossing the chasm will shape the landmasses on either side.

           I have never kept a journal.  Writing was not a habit I pursued when I could see.  Now that I am blind, I desire written words like a starving man desires bread.  I do not care what the words are.  I do not care who the author is.  Idoun himself could write of the foulest experiments he has carried out, of the screams of his victims and their slow transformation into Sharo'Dan, and I would devour the words.
            It is not my hand that writes these words now.  For all my power, I cannot restore my sight.  No magic can.  But it is my mind that directs the pen now writing.  Tak, the guardian of the Coriura, has a fragment of my soul inside him.  That fragment is my portal into his body; into his hands and eyes.
            Idoun blinded me a week ago.  Every day since then I have been studying the magic that binds Tak to me.  I have learned many things.
            Tak is a creature unlike any other in the whole of Lariel.  His body is made of pure magic, but he eats and sleeps as if his flesh were made of the same stuff as my own.  When he is alone in the Tower, his mind is like that of an animal.  But as soon as a person comes near, thoughts explode within him.  I have sensed it happen.  So has Mirrin.  I cannot explain it exactly, but I know that, in that moment before his mind constitutes itself, I can force my own consciousness, or some piece of it, into his body.  I can flex his fingers and see through his eyes.
            The first thing I did was look into my own eyes.  They are dead things.  Indeed, they look almost as if they have never lived.  They are dark stones crusted with insect carapaces.  I replaced my blindfold quickly.  That Mirrin will still make love with me in the light tells me more about her than any number of words.
            I made Tak's gaze linger on the Coriura for a long time.  Its beauty is like that of the stars.  To see Mirrin's face lit up in its glow once more...
            Why not?  Why should I not see her face again?  Her face, and Joseph's and Hannah's, and Kephis', and the Prime Minster's?  And our child's, when she is born?  Ah, Mirrin is so convinced that our child will be a girl that I already believe it to be true.
            That first day I spent many hours enjoying the light of the Coriura.  Breaking my connection with Tak was very hard.  I was so afraid of the dark.  But I did it, and darkness has lost its power over me.  Tak told me his mind was 'tucked away in a corner' while I controlled him.  He knew that I was directing his body, and he accepted it as if it was expected.  It almost felt as if he had been happy to surrender himself to me.  If I were to try such a thing with a human, elf, or sprite, it would be the vilest abuse of magic.  But with Tak, because of our bond, and because of his nature, it is acceptable.
            I wonder if he could do the same to me, if he wanted?  Or if Mirrin and I could use him to send thoughts to one another?  Or if we could do even more?
            I must speak with her.

So, there you have it.  The start of The Blind Wizard's Journal.  Certainly not worthy of awards or lavish praise, but I think it is at least a little interesting.  I'll try to post more of the journal once or twice a week, but I make no oath.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fiction: Variations on a Theme

I'm a gamer.  Or, I was a gamer.  I don't have much time to play video and computer games any more. But I'm still a big fan of video games.

I once wrote a short story, Variations on a Theme, set in a video game universe I still love to visit: Blizzard Entertainment's Starcraft.  The company was having a contest, so I figured I'd type something up and send it in.  Little did I realize that my residency in a certain state disqualified my entry.  Not that I would have won.  The dialogue is wretched, and the plot is awful.  But I really like the writing on the first page:

             No music was sweeter than the refrain sung by a chorus of depleted uranium spikes as they tore through Dominion neosteel.  No instrument was capable of evoking more emotion than a custom C-10 canister rifle that thrust its payload into the spine of a High Templar.  No drum could sound a more profound note than a tactical nuclear warhead detonating in the bleeding, beating heart of a Zerg hatchery.
            And no conductor could command the battlefield with virtuosity enough to match that of Galen Hasgrove.
            The Bombardment of the Dylarian Shipyards.  The Scouring of Braxis.  The Liberation of Moria.  All these were Galen's compositions.  Each one was a unique opus, unlike any arrangment that preceded it.  Though overshadowed by his latest triumph, which he had christened, 'Mar Sara's Rapture,' his past accomplishments still did not fail to please the ear.
            Yet each piece was merely a variation on the same theme: the Independence of the Kel-Morian Combine.  No lesser authority than Gen Mah Sakai himself had commissioned Galen to produce these works, and he hated to disappoint his audience.
            His next, and greatest, challenge had already been laid out before him, and nothing short of a masterpiece would satisfy Sakai.  That was why Galen had allowed Combine surgeons to crack open his skull and replace the psychic dampeners that were choking his nerve clusters with technology that approximated the function of a psi-emitter.  For this performance to succeed, the conductor would have to become part of the orchestra, take up his chosen instrument, and play as he never had before.

Everything in the story belongs to Blizzard Entertainment.  Except Galen Hasgrove.  He's mine.

I do not intend to rework this story.  The setting isn't mine, and I'd rather spend time developing my own fantasy world.  But I do think that writing fan-fiction is a good exercise now and again.  It forced me out of my comfort zone (fantasy and sci-fi are similar in some regards, yes, but not identical), and I was constrained by the history of a universe that was not my own.  Starcraft's history is a foreign object, fixed in space and time and unalterable.  Creating a narrative that adhered to Starcraft's conventions made me just a smidge better at writing.

I'd like to write a new fan-fic in some other universe.  Anyone have a suggestion?