Forgiveness: A Spoken Word Poem

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Forgive and forget

That’s how it’s supposed to work, right?

I’m supposed to wish the best for those I hate,

give love until it hurts to those who caused the hurt.

Forgiveness does not come easily.

It’s so much easier to plot revenge

to turn the people — the bullies — into monsters

Soulless and heartless

Chaotic and uncaring

What nobody tells you

is that forgiveness ia process.

It’s not something that comes overnight

It’s more like drinking water

after years, lifetimes, from feasting on poison

You’ve become so used to tasting the toxicity of revenge

that forgiveness, by contrast,

is sickeningly sweet

It’s like putting together a thousand-tile jigsaw puzzle

or the pieces of a shattered mirror

never knowing if the picture will ever be complete

Until one day you finally see another reflection

The ghosts of your past are in the corner of your eye

But they’re haunting someone else

All of a sudden, you realize that you’re strong enough to chase them away

Where did this strength and power come from?

How did you get out of the woods?

How did you find the way out of the labyrinth?

Forgiveness is the key.

Like a seed, forgiveness grows unseen

Taking root in our hearts until the armor of our hate is shattered

Until our resentment and revenge fantasies evanesce like a storm cloud

We find ourselves free-falling

Surprised at what we thought was unimaginable

Then, through love, we are given wings to fly

because through forgiveness, we set ourselves free

 

Dear Saint Peregrine…

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So many people have been passing away from cancer this week. I wish it could stop.

Death has been constantly on my mind ever since I first lost somebody I loved. It was their time, I know, but it hurt me because that person mattered to me. I have people in my life who are growing old and I wonder when their time will come. I wonder about Pope Benedict. My heart broke when I saw him walking through the Doors of Mercy with an assistant at his side.

I’ve never seen a dead body. I’ve lost people in the past, but it always happened at a distance until I got older. It’s never easy to understand. It’s always sudden. And it’s always painful.

To paraphrase this monologue from a show I watch: “I don’t understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she’s- There’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore. It’s stupid. It’s mortal and stupid. And-and people are crying and not talking, and-and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, they will never have any more fruit punch ever, and they’ll never have eggs, or yawn or brush their hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why.”

What hurts more is when people lack empathy when I try to make sense out of the senselessness of death, bringing to mind how millions of starving children in Africa are dying everyday. That lack of empathy hurts.

It doesn’t matter to me that I never knew these people and that they never knew me. These are people whose light shined into others’ lives. Somebody out there has just lost a husband, a father, a son, a mother, a daughter, a wife. Even though the people who have been dying this week have been as distant to me as the stars in the sky, the light from these people shined into my life. And now their stars have gone out.

Saint Peregrine, pray for the souls of everyone who has passed away from cancer this week. May God’s perpetual light shine upon them. And may we all try to make sense out of this senseless death with empathy and compassion.

Cirque D'Etoiles: A Spoken Word Poem

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All things tend towards chaos

Life is the tightrope we walk to avoid it

Suddenly

Unexpectedly

Death arrives like the ricochet from a cannon’s blast

Throwing everything off-kilter

Down into the black without a safety net

Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints

Every life shines and fades as quickly as a meteorite in the sky

Millions of meteorites fall everyday,

yet supernovas are the ones that shake us up

We can understand the death of an old, worn out star

Yet when other stars die out, especially in quick succession,

it throws the universe off-balance

more than the deaths of little comets and meteorites

Is it just the succession?

The confusing juxtaposition between the end of one life

and the continuation of another?

The stars are supposed to be constant

yet they fall and they fade and they die

and nobody understands,

nobody explains why.

Maybe it’s not the fault in our stars

that throws us off our tightropes

Maybe each supernova

reminds us that we’re each a little infinity

and some infinities are bigger than other infinities

Stars fall and fade and die

but each supernova gives birth to something new

With each piece from the fallen stars,

we create an order out of the chaos

embracing the infinite

No safety net is needed

because our hearts are our wings

Love, the fuel that propels us to fly

You can take the stars out of the sky

but you can never take the sky itself

With love, we send a kiss out to the stars

Creating tiny pieces of light that shine in the dark

 

Love/Death/Life Doesn't Discriminate Between the Sinners and the Saints

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What do David Bowie, Alexander Hamilton, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have in common with a girl like me? Apparently, our birthdays are all on the same week. Alexander Hamilton was born on January 11th, 1755. 261 years later, David Bowie passed away and entered into a rebirth that we call the afterlife. I don’t know where he is, but I pray for the repose of his soul. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s birthday is this Saturday. And me? I’m caught in the middle, with my birthday being January 13th.

 

I’m not as familiar with David Bowie as everyone else. I know some of his songs and I understood his legacy as a rock star. I never watched Labyrinth (mea culpa, fellow 90s kids), but I know genius when I see it. And David Bowie was a genius. The moment that keeps coming to mind for me isn’t any of his movies or albums, but a moment when one of his songs was used in a movie:

Perks of Being a Wallflower holds a special place in my heart because it was the first movie that I watched when I began my recovery from the constant anxieties I’ve been suffering. I identified with Charlie because I was uncertain of myself. And yet, I understood that joy from the tunnel scene, hearing that perfect song on the radio and wanting to relish the moment while it lasted. That little moment wasn’t much, but I felt a bit of happiness that, before that point, eluded me.

There’s a song in Hamilton called “Wait For It,” one of Aaron Burr’s signature songs in the musical. It establishes that while Hamilton chases his ambitions, Burr is waiting for the right opportunity to come his way. Lin-Manuel Miranda said this about the song:

I think we’ve all had moments where we’ve seen friends and colleagues zoom past us, either to success, or to marriage, or to homeownership, while we lingered where we were—broke, single, jobless. And you tell yourself, “Wait for it.”

Like Aaron Burr, I’m still waiting for my time to shine. I wish that I could be like Hamilton, brave enough to make my own opportunities, or like David Bowie, who always pushed the boundaries when it came to music, or like Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose hard work can be seen in the musicals he worked on.

But as this particular performance shows, sometimes, you have to just wait for it.

How To Avoid Going Through The Motions Of Spiritual Life

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Have you ever felt like your life was like this song:

Granted, you’re not gonna be slaying vampires or demons anytime soon, but the sentiment is still there. Life isn’t always a song or a series of spiritual highs. There will be dry periods. There will be times when you go through the motions of spiritual life without even being aware of it.

It’s normal to not always be focused on the Mass. Sometimes, you forget to pray a day of a novena. And sometimes, we tend to rush through our prayers. Don’t knock yourself down for the little mistakes. What’s important is that you keep praying in spite of how you feel.

If you falter a bit when it comes to prayer, try offering up your prayers for someone in need. Intercessory prayer is a powerful gift. People you can pray for include your family, your friends, your co-workers, the homeless, the unborn, the politicians you hate, the Souls in Purgatory…the list is basically infinite.

This passage from Matthew also helps to keep things in perspective:

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. – Matthew 6:5-15

While it’s great to pray on the commute, don’t just babble through your prayers. As a cradle Catholic, I grew up with saying my prayers throughout the day. I never knew that being in prayer was supposed to be a state of reverence. Believe me, it’s not easy to feel God’s presence, even when you’re in Mass or Adoration. But the point is just to try.

I’m not advocating a “fake it till you make it.” To quote Amy Cuddy in this seriously awesome TED Talk, it’s more like faking it until you become it. Eventually, you’ll find the rhythm again and join in the dance of prayer. It doesn’t matter how loud or how spiritual you may seem. Prayer is a conversation between you and God. Sometimes that means telling God “I seriously don’t feel like praying right now because…” Sometimes that means telling God about all the negativity and frustrations you feel. God is there to listen.

At the same time, though, use the dry periods of your life as an opportunity to listen to him. Maybe the problem is that you talk too much. God speaks in the silence of our hearts. Silence can be a scary thing for us in this world of constant interruptions and noise. And yet, it’s such a necessity. It helps us to settle down. It brings us calm. Don’t give into whatever fears or negative thoughts that manifest in the silence. “Be still and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10

If you don’t feel the desire for God’s presence, that’s ok, too. The Jesuits have a prayer to ask for “the desire for the desire of God’s presence.” (Kinda like “I want to want you,” not to be confused with “I Want You to Want Me.”)

The point of this blog post is that there will be times when we feel ourselves going through the motions. It’s okay to not feel those spiritual highs all the time. In fact, it’s actually more normal to go through long dry periods. The point is to keep going in spite of how we feel and to focus on what matters most.

I’m gonna leave you with this wonderful song that explains spiritual dryness:

7 Quick Takes on Seven Saints for 2016

 

 

One tradition that Catholics have in the new year is that they pick a saint to be their patron for the year. Usually, it’s done using Jennifer Fulwiler’s Saint Generator. However, one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to get to know more than one saint. So for today, I’m gonna do a Seven Quick Takes on seven saints that I want to get to know this year.

 

— 1 —

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The Saint Generator gave me Saint Zita. I first read about her in an A-Z book of saints from my local library. Saint Zita is the patron saint of homemakers, housekeepers, servants, domestic workers, etc. Basically, she’s the patron saint for the downstairs half of Downton Abbey. She was born in Lucca, Italy around the time that Saint Francis was beginning his ministry, so it’s no surprise that she dedicated her life to helping the poor, sick, and imprisoned. It’s not certain whether she was married, but she didn’t enter a religious order either, so she’s a great saint for single women who work on the grind. Plus, if you ever have to deal with flack from co-workers, Zita understands that struggle all to well, so ask for the patience that she had with her fellow servants.

Also, she’s one of the incorrupt saints. That’s something I consider majorly cool.

— 2 —

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Another saint that I want to get to know this year is Saint Teresa of Avila. She was the Teresa that inspired St. Therese of Lisieux and helped reform the Carmelite Order. I’m reading bits and pieces of her autobiography, The Way of Perfection, and The Interior Castle. I love how she describes the soul as a castle made out of a single diamond with many rooms inside. I feel like that’s how I see my own identity. I also love her prayer of “Let Nothing Disturb You” because it feels more like a meditation or a grounding mantra. Just thinking of it right now makes me feel at ease.

— 3 —

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I’ve already written about Mother Teresa, so without repeating myself, I just want to say that out of all the saints I’ve been reading and admiring, Mother Teresa is the one that I want to emulate the most. I want to be able to go out into the world and show God’s compassion to everyone, regardless of whatever faith or social class they’re in. I want to have her compassion for the sick, the poor, the dying, as well as for those who are spiritually bankrupt. I hope I get to watch her canonization in September.

— 4 —

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Mary Magdalene continues to be an enigma for me, even with the headcanons that I have for her. But instead of trying to speculate over who she was, I’m gonna start by going with what I do know. She was a Jewish woman. She was a leader amongst the disciples, especially with the female faction. She had seven demons exorcised out of her. She was there for Jesus during his crucifixion, burial, and was the first to see Him in his resurrection.

Many saints looked to her as a model for constant penitence because of her reputation as a fallen woman. She can be seen in a feminist subtext as someone who stood out amongst the norm by being a female leader without any husband with her. But what I admire most about Mary Magdalene is her loyalty. To stay with a friend when everyone else has gone away, to watch them die…It takes a lot of courage and loyalty. It’s that kind of loyalty and faithfulness to Jesus that I want to emulate.

— 5 —

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Even though I learned a lot about the life of Saint John Paul II, I’ve only skimmed the surface when it comes to his writings. One book that I want to read this year is Theology of the Body. I found a copy at my local secondhand bookstore (best place to find almost anything really) and I have other books that give commentary on the Theology of the Body. Since it’s highly unlikely that I’ll be going to Poland for World Youth Day (unless I win the lottery), I want to get to know the wisdom of this particular saint.

— 6 —

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For the past week or so, I’ve been praying the 30-Day Saint Joseph Holy Cloak Novena. It’s a long one, but I’ve already experienced some great graces from praying this. And given how I credit Saint Joseph for helping me out during my Lenten retreat last year, I have faith that he will help me out with whatever I decide to do this coming spring. He’s also been a big help when it comes to my writing, which I consider to be both my work and my passion.

 

— 7 —

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I think everyone out there has a favorite Marian title. Our Lady of Perpetual Help has been with me ever since I was a kid, when I went to a school that bore her name. The school has closed down, but the church is still there and it hasn’t changed much since I last saw it. But I want to know more of the devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help beyond the image I’ve seen throughout my life. I learned that it has Czech origins, but nothing beyond that.

 

So those are my 7 Saints for 2016. Feel free to comment about which saints or devotions you feel like focusing on this year!

Women of Christ Wednesday: Mother Teresa, a Saint for the Millenials

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Mother Teresa was someone I knew ever since I was a kid. I didn’t get to see her in action because she died around the same time I was old enough to receive first communion, but her legacy lives on in the Missionaries of Charity. I’ve mentioned before that I kind of fangirl whenever I see sisters wearing the blue and white habits because to me, they represent Mother Teresa.

In contrast to certain other people who claim to preach God’s word while their actions indicate otherwise, Mother Teresa serves as a great example of how the Catholic faith is lived out. In Rediscovering Catholicism, Matthew Kelly shares an anecdote from Jim Castle, who encountered Mother Teresa on a flight from Ohio to Kansas. Jim prayed the Rosary with the soon-to-be saint and when the flight was over, she gave him her Rosary. Praying the Rosary led to many graces for Jim and his friends and family, but it never would’ve happened if Mother Teresa didn’t take that opportunity to evangelize. Her evangelization was simple: sharing a moment of prayer with a stranger. It’s definitely something to think about. Times that we would perceive as being inconvenient (long flights, commutes to work) can easily be opportunities for prayer and evangelization if we’re open to that possibility.

Another way that Mother Teresa seems to be a great saint for this modern age is her struggles with staying true to God. I’m currently reading her autobiography Come Be My Light and I’m already finding myself relating a lot to her spiritual journey. Creating her own order wasn’t an easy task, nor was organizing the Missionaries once the group was established. But as Bishop Robert Barron pointed out, what makes Mother Teresa stand out the most is how she endured the darkness inside of herself.

So many people think that religion and spirituality are supposed to be “feel good” things. In reality, to use a very millenial hashtag, #thestruggleisreal. It’s a constant struggle to stay true to God’s will. What made Mother Teresa extraordinary was that she kept on living her vocation in spite of what she felt. And up until recently, very few people knew of the struggle she lived with throughout most of her life.

There are a lot of other things that Mother Teresa taught me. They’re mostly little things. But my favorite thing from her is the “I Thirst” meditation.

The word “thirst” is also something that gets used a lot in millenial slang. When a millenial says that “the thirst is real” or someone is “thirsty,” they usually refer to someone being desperate for affection. Mother Teresa, however, understands that the thirst that we have for love is a reflection of Jesus thirsting for our love.

Mother Teresa is one saint that I want to model in my life and I can’t wait for her canonization!

Why Supergirl is My New Favorite TV Show

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It’s probably hard for y’all to believe, but I’m picky about the shows I watch. I don’t get into the Shondaland dramas or anything too dark and depressing. I binge-watched Jessica Jones when it came out since I liked Daredevil, but by the time I got to the end of the series, it left a really bad taste in my mouth.

As much as I liked aspects of Jessica Jones, I hated that what motivated the heroine wasn’t a desire to atone for her past or to try and reform the city, but just as a way of “getting by.” She’s fighting to survive, but there’s no real hope in the overall tone of the show.

In contrast, there’s Supergirl. I’ll be the first to say that the show is cheesy. The dialogue can be laughably bad at times and some episodes felt a bit too simplistic. But by the end of each episode, I am left with a beautiful feeling. That feeling is called hope. The show is very idealistic in contrast to the majority of the shows and movies that take place in the DC Universe, but the idealism is a breath of fresh air considering how cynical and dark the most popular shows on TV are nowadays.

While the plots and dialogue can be hit and miss at times, what keeps me going back to the show are the characters, so I’ll go into each of them starting with the major recurring antagonist Maxwell Lord, played by Peter Facinelli.

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I love to hate this guy. He’s basically like Lex Luthor or Iron Man gone wrong. He is very skeptical about Supergirl and wants to tarnish her reputation. He’s driven on the desire of autonomy, to never rely on superheroes to save the day. He has a tragic backstory, but while he wants to make the world a better place, he wants to do so on his terms. In another show, he would’ve been a great tragic protagonist. But in this show, he’s a worthy adversary of Supergirl because he’s human and can affect how the world sees her through his influence.

The alien/metahuman villains are usually just around for one episode, with General Astra being the exception.

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General Astra (played by Laura Benanti) is the main alien antagonist. She was Kara’s aunt, her mother’s evil twin sister. She’s driven to rule the world through fear and intimidation. Again, in another show, Astra’s motivations would be seen in a more sympathetic light, willing to do whatever it takes. The best way to describe Astra up to this point is “the ends justify the means.”

But the character I hate the most is actually another human antagonist, General Sam Lane, played by Glenn Morshower.

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As much as I support the troops in real life, General Lane represents the dark and gritty view of heroism that’s in a lot of the DC Universe movies. Like Astra, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to carry out his plans and doesn’t give Supergirl any compassion or consideration. The worst thing about him is that he’s supposed to be a good guy, but his methods and motivations aren’t exactly as clear.

These three antagonists stand in stark contrast to someone who is quickly becoming my favorite character on the show: Cat Grant, played by Calista Flockhart.

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Cat started out as a one-note mean boss. I’ll admit that her stances on feminism can be heavy handed at times and she’s very self-centered, so she’s not all good. But at the same time, I love that she acts as an indirect mentor to Kara/Supergirl. In the most recent episode, Kara basically admits that working at CatCo is one thing that keeps her grounded in life, even if that job involves being at Cat’s beck and call. Cat was smart enough to figure out that Kara is Supergirl, but Kara found a way to trick her boss in order to keep her job. I refuse to believe that Cat bought into Kara’s “double act,” though. She’s way too smart for that, in spite of her idiotic incident with the elevator in “Livewire.” Instead, I choose to believe that she’s letting Kara have her secret identity and playing along with Kara’s game.

There’s also another mentor figure that I’ve grown to like: Hank Henshaw, played by David Harewood.

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Initially, I was kind of cold towards Hank. I understood his skepticism towards aliens and his reluctance towards Supergirls’ acts of heroism given her inexperience, but he reminded me of a gym teacher or a drill sergeant at times, willing to break the hero. It turns out, though, that he is a good person underneath his hard exterior.

Alex Danvers (played by Chyler Leigh), Kara’s sister, is also a wonderful part of the supporting cast.

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Alex is another realistically portrayed female. Her jealousy towards Kara is very understandable, but it never gets to the point where she outright hates her sister. She wants to protect her sister and at the same time figure out how she can be her own person. She can hold her own in a fight and she helps Kara out with balancing life as a superhero and as a normal girl.

But Alex isn’t the only one who helps keep Kara grounded.

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I have a love-hate relationship with Winn. On the one hand, he’s adorable, played by Broadway veteran Jeremy Jordan, and he contributes a lot to the story as a hacker and the voice of reason, especially in the most recent episode. Unfortunately, like Xander from Buffy, he has a major crush on Kara and sometimes acts out on his jealousy. I understand having unrequited feelings but as I’ve been learning, you aren’t entitled to a person’s love just because you want them. And given that Jeremy Jordan has played the whiny, inconsistent Jimmy on Smash and the well-meaning but tragic Jaime in The Last Five Years, I have my doubts about him.

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On the other hand, James Olsen (played by Mehcad Brooks) is proving to be a great character. As someone who grew up watching Smallville, I love this new version of Jimmy Olsen, a photographer who outgrew his initial dorkiness. Kara has the hugest crush on him and I don’t blame her! He’s a sweet guy and he wants to go out of his way to help Kara as she learns how to become her own hero.

It just sucks that he’s still a dork when it comes to love. Oblivious doesn’t even begin to describe it!

Which leads me to the only character on this show that I just want to either go away or die.

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I don’t like Lucy Lane (played by Jenna Dewan-Tatum). At all. Granted, part of my hate for her is due to shipping reasons. I hate the high school level drama that is the romantic rivalry that Lucy has with Kara. Lucy has inherited her father’s skepticism and while she gains respect for Supergirl and treats Kara kindly, she hasn’t learned the rule about exes: you guys broke up for a reason! Again, I can’t give a fair aspect of her because I hate that she’s getting in the way of Jimmy and Kara, but she needs to contribute more to the show other than being a romantic rival and a lawyer.

And last but not least, we have the star of the show, Kara Danvers/Supergirl played by Melissa Benoist.

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Kara is my favorite character on the show aside from Cat Grant. I am always on her side, even during her dorky moments. She may not always get the best storylines and her dialogue can be cheesy as heck, but I relate to her trying to become her own person amidst the scrutiny of every eye on her. I love that she follows her cousin’s example and that even when she gets pushed to her limit, she finds a way to get out of her situation without resorting to giving into her anger. What I like best though is that she still has lessons to learn even after she establishes herself as a superhero. She’s still learning, even with all the superpowers she has. I relate to that aspect of her more than anything else.

I do hope that the writing for this show can get better. It’s already making great progress so far. I highly recommend this show, especially to families. It’s lighthearted enough for the whole family to enjoy. My dad has a great time pointing out the little shoutouts to other superheroes in the show, specifically Mr. and Mrs. Danvers who are played by Dean Cain (from Lois and Clark) and Helen Slater, who played Supergirl in the 1984 movie.

BTW: This show needs to cross over with The Flash. It would be absolutely perfect!

Screenshots of Supergirl are copyright to DC Comics and CBS and are used for editorial purposes only.

The Force Awakens: Nothing New Under the Sun (SPOILERS)

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One thing that keeps getting brought up in a lot of reviews of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is that the plot is basically the same as A New Hope, but with characters we don’t really know and aren’t as invested in as the older characters. We’re at this point in media where we understand that there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to ideas for movies and TV shows. The stories that drive the Star Wars films are centered around Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces and “The Hero’s Journey.” So I understand what people mean when they point out how this film feels like a retread of A New Hope. However, there are new elements to The Force Awakens that take the familiar “Hero’s Journey” plot and give the movie a fresher feel.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

For one thing, I like that there’s the initial misdirect of Poe being the protagonist. If you take away all the marketing and hype, someone who has never seen anything related to Star Wars might see Poe as the main character. Instead, he acts more like Leia, who stays on the outskirts of the story.

The real heroes of the story are Finn and Rey, with the adorable BB-8 rolling along as their companion. What makes Finn and Rey different from, say, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are this: Finn is someone who is defecting from the First Order. We never saw anyone in Star Wars from the Empire decide on joining the rebels. There are also implications that Finn may be suffering from PTSD but it’s never fully explored in the film. Rey, on the other hand, isn’t an ordinary farmboy like Luke was. Instead, she’s a scavenger, a survivor on the desert planet with major abandonment issues. She’s waiting for her family to come back for her, but it’s shown that she’s been waiting for a very long time.

There’s an issue of Rey coming off as too powerful too soon given how she got out of being captured and how she’s “powerful with the Force.” However, I don’t think she’s a Mary Sue because she has flaws that are an actual detriment on her character.

Kylo Ren is set up to be a Darth Vader Clone. He’s intimidating and a powerful leader, but if any of you have been seeing the memes where Kylo Ren is really an emo Disney Princess, you can see where things start deviating from the formula. I like that Kylo Ren is actually a teenager with major issues. He’s seen lashing out like a whiny brat when things don’t go as planned.

I also wonder why he chooses to try and stay in the dark side even when he feels that pull to be good. There are a lot of theories going around about it, but I personally think that Snoke influence Ren into believing that whatever his parents taught him about the war against the empire wasn’t true and that Luke killed his own father. This personal belief is what leads him to killing his own father later on.

One other thing I liked about the film is how Leia and Han act as the mentors in this story. In a lot of ways, this whole film feels like the first “generation” of characters from the Star Wars films are passing the baton (or the lightsaber) on to the next generation, to Finn, to Rey, and to Poe. I care enough about the new characters to hope for the best for them.

So yeah, I think that Star Wars: The Force Awakens deserves all the money it’s been getting. It deserves all the hype because it reintroduces Star Wars to a new audience while at the same time gives new material for the fans who’ve been following the films since the beginning. I hope that it tops Avatar as the highest grossing movie of recent years because unlike Avatar, there’s more to the movie than just the space setting and the cool CGI. The characters are ones that feel new and the plot feels fresh.

If you haven’t seen it yet, go do so! Take the kids! It’s worth the price of admission and more so.

The Spiritual Journey of "Out of the Woods"

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Welcome to 2016 everyone! Like most people during this time of year, I want to reflect on the past year and make resolutions for 2016. But since, like most people, I watched Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin Eve in anticipation of the countdown, I got to watch the premiere of Taylor Swift’s latest music video “Out of the Woods.”

Out of all of the videos that Taylor has released from her 1989 album, this is by far my favorite since “Bad Blood.” It takes me back to the Taylor I knew: the Taylor who wore long, beautiful dresses and tried to figure out what love meant. The video itself is reminiscent of a spiritual journey.

It starts out with the words “She lost him” and opens with Taylor standing on the beach in a long light blue dress. As the song begins, a forest starts growing around her. This symbolizes the beginning of a spiritual journey, being led into a seemingly dangerous place where wolves (which could represent opposition or anxiety) and tangling vines (which represents sin) are out to get you at every corner. Day turns to night as Taylor weaves her way through the woods and runs from the wolves and through the tangling thorns. In the chase, she falls and her dress gets torn, representing the first stumbling.

All of a sudden, Taylor is on top of a mountain. The wolves are still chasing her. Taylor rips the necklace she was wearing off and tosses it over the mountain. Then she takes a leap and dives into the ocean below. This represents the second part of the spiritual journey: taking a leap of faith and letting yourself be submerged into an ocean of grace. I also saw her taking the necklace off as letting go of what you used to love in order to immerse yourself into a deeper love.

But just as Taylor is in the ocean, she’s suddenly in a desert. She touches a tree and then finds herself frozen in the middle of an icy forest, running from an avalanche. Both of these can represent spiritual dryness. Spiritual highs don’t last long and the dry periods of spiritual life can either feel as barren as a desert or as cold and bitter as winter. Either way, these dry periods prompt us to reflect and have faith in spite of how we feel.

The bridge of the song finds Taylor crawling through a muddy swamp as vines entangle around her in every different setting. This is the fallen state of grace, when we are covered in sin. Like the vines, sin paralyzes us. But as the song transitions towards the last chorus, little lights surround Taylor and even though she keeps getting thrown down and finds herself surrounded by fire, the vines don’t try to entangle her anymore. Instead, she gets up and gets out of the woods. The music video ends with Taylor back at the beach as the forest disappears behind her. Her dress is shorter, but her eyes are so much wiser. She sees her old self looking out into the ocean and reaches out to touch her.

Then these words flash on the screen: “She lost him but she found herself and somehow that was everything.”

The last part of the music video to me represents the sense of renewal which leads to finding the best version of yourself again. You return to where you started because God draws straight with crooked lines.

Fellow Swifties will recognize the words from the end of the video as the secret message from the song “Clean.” In a way, this message combined with the music video basically describes what 2015 was to me. I didn’t lose a person so much as ideas on what I thought my life should’ve been. I met with a lot of disappointments in 2015. And yet, through my own spiritual journey, I found myself again. I let go of all of my preconceptions on how things were “supposed to be” and took a leap of faith, entering into this new life where nothing’s quite as certain, and yet my faith and trust in God remain constant.

And somehow, that faith and trust was everything. It led to me making new friends. It helped me to grow as a writer. Most surprisingly of all, I became a more forgiving and hopeful person.

It’s hard for me to choose one word that will be my constant throughout 2016. Mercy is a good contender since this is the Year of Mercy. I’m reading Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light, so light is also a potential word. I’m still on this spiritual journey towards finding my vocation, which makes the word “direction” quite appealing. However, what resonates the most with me right now is love. Bishop Robert Barron said that “Mercy is what the Divine Love looks like when turned towards the sinner.” Mother Teresa was called to be a light of love to the streets of Calcutta. And in this journey that I’m taking, I feel like love will be what will lead me to wherever I end up next.

I don’t just mean romantic love, although I find myself longing for that more than usual. I also want to learn how to balance love of God and love for myself in a healthy way. To be humble but at the same time be self-assured and hold my ground to protect myself from creeps and devils. “Love” also applies to my writing. I want to finish all of my writing projects, pour my love into every single word and share that love with the world. Most of all, I want to be able to get past my cynicism and be able to love my neighbor and see the best in them.

So here are some questions for you: Where are you on your spiritual journey right now? What do you think is your word for 2016?

I pray that God will help lead you out of whatever woods you happen to find yourself in. Happy New Year everyone!

Screenshots from “Out of the Woods” are copyright to Big Machine Records, Taylor Swift, and Joseph Kahn and are used for editorial purposes only.