5 Ways Clive Staples Lewis Inspires

According to English writer G.K. Chesterton, “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”  This statement rings true especially in relation to another great English author—Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis! No another writer, accept maybe J.R.R. Tolkien, has influenced me and provided me as much inspiration for my writing over the course of the past couple years as Lewis.

C.S. Lewis once declared, “I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.” While that statement is true for all good books and excellent authors, his pithy saying certainly foreshadowed how all of his writings would be received by his fans [and any literature enthusiast!] in the decades after his death. Below are five reasons why the premiere Christian apologist of the 20th century inspires me [and others] in the 21st century and beyond.

1. Imaginative Genius: Up until a few years ago, I only knew C.S. Lewis through The Chronicles of Narnia series. His character of Aslan, the symbolic figure of the Holy Trinity is among the greatest fictional characters ever created. Both the power and gentle nature of Aslan makes him relatable and mysterious figure at the same time.

Along with creating the history, characters, and landscapes of a world accessed through a mere wardrobe, reading Lewis’ Space Trilogy truly proved to me his imaginative genius. His science fiction novels take readers on an interplanetary peregrination. Out of the Silent Planet depicts unfallen alien species unstained by Original Sin. Lewis’ creates a vivid experience that continually draws you into the mysterious rational alien and their eventually interaction with humans. The second novel Perelandra retells the traditional story of the Fall of humanity, but occurring on the planet Venus. Lewis’ prompts interesting questions about man’s ability to evangelize beyond Earth—assuming extraterrestrial life exists!

2. Engaging Your Intellect: In addition to stirring the imagination of readers, C.S. Lewis also wrote with the ability to whet your intellectual pallet. His ability to write about deep theological truths with ease of understanding and depth is second to none. Even though I earned a Master’s Degree in Theology, I still learned a lot from Lewis’ introductory primer on Christianity—Mere Christianity. While the entire book is a gem, for conciseness’s sake I will only point out a couple key passages that made the human condition of sin easy to understand the relay:

“Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on thing and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.”

3. Gateway to Tolkien: The great friendship between C.S. Lewis and contemporary professor of literature J.R.R. Tolkien is legendary. Concerned about the state of literature both writers pledged to do something proactive instead of simply lamenting. During the 1930s, Lewis and Tolkien truly came to the scene with the former penning his Space Trilogy and the latter publishing the classic work The Hobbit.

Both men challenged each other to be a better writer and grow their writing abilities by exploring different genres. Below is a link which details Tolkien’s friendly challenge to Lewis to delve into the realm of science fiction!

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/12/how-cs-lewis-space-trilogy-came-into-being.html

Tolkien stated of his bond with Lewis, “Friendship with Lewis compensates for much, and besides giving constant pleasure and comfort has done me much good from the contact with a man at once honest, brave, intellectual–a scholar, a poet, and a philosopher–and a lover, at least after a long pilgrimage, of Our Lord.” I am indebted to C.S. Lewis for introducing me to the joy of reading Tolkien.

4. Versatility: Lewis’ dexterous prose and subject matter enlighten my mind and infuse a youthfulness to my life like no another author—save possibly Tolkien himself! Tackling the age-old dilemma of evil in The Problem of Pain to enchantingly depicting eschatology in dream-like sequences in The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis provides a panoply of subject matter for theologians—lay and professional—to discuss and re-read many times over.

5. Schools through Suffering: St. Ignatuis of Loyola spoke of the purpose of trials in this way, “If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.” While C.S. Lewis did not formally convert to Catholicism he definitely endured suffering and helped lead countless to a deeper relationship with Christ. Suffering immensely from the death of his wife, Lewis channeled this pain and it bore the fruit of his work A Grief Observed.

The rawness of his prose struck me as both honest and real. Lewis lamented in A Grief Observed, “We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.” I certain relate to this. From a cerebral level I certainly understand the promise of suffering Christ guarantees in John 15:20. Not until we encounter suffering do we truly get tested. Only after the storm do we realize the lessons given.

C.S. Lewis declared, “We read to know we are not alone.” Through reading the masterful works of the great English writer I grown both as a Christian and as a writer. His ability to move my mind to ponder higher realities with simple examples allows me to understand the good, true, and beauty in the world much better.

Little Steps to Big Success!

Humanity in the 21st century live in a time defined by the age of social media, instant gratification, and spirit of one-upmanship. Listening to sports radio the other day, I learned that baseball—the traditional national pastime in the United States—is on the declined. Players focus on hitting grandiose homers and run the risk of striking out. This all-or-nothing principal, typifices our high-risk/high reward culture. Put another way, Hollywood actor Jason Statham, “Every sequel needs to be bigger and better!”

As a member of the human race at this particular time period, I too struggle with the appeal and temptation to reduce my worth—as a writer, employee, and father—to be equal to how “big” or “flashy” my success look like. According to the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” His words seems to be penned for me in particular. I often insist on taking the more glamorous, but more complicated, route in life. The same is true when it comes to my blog posts. I try to think of a superbly clever topic and feel like I need a particular word count—the more the better—in order for a post to be considered successful or relevant to my audience.

Being pinched for time lately, my desire for the pizazz and ambitious adjective littered prose hit a wall. I simply cannot write 1,000+ word posts three times a week. Perhaps it is a season; regardless of the specific reason it is good to be reminded that the frequently and sheer amount of articles I procedure do not equal quality. I am reminded of the words of St. Therese of Liseux, “Remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God. Do all that you do with love.” The littleness of the French saint’s way really leads to big success [both in holiness—and when applied to practical living].

Focusing on little acts of love at home [and even little acts of efficiency and politeness at work] provide the foundation for greater growth and potential for increased sanctity and success. Without rambling on too much, I will leave you today with a few quotes from the Little Flower—I hope you find hope in this little way!

The value of life does not depend upon the place we occupy. It depends upon the way we occupy that place.

Perfect love means putting up with other peoples shortcomings, feeling no surprise at their weaknesses, finding encouragement even in the slightest evidence of good qualities in them.

My vocation, at last I have found it; my vocation is love.

Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love

Creativity—Thinking Inside the Box

Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell once said, “If everyone has to think outside the box, maybe it is the box that needs fixing.” The over-used mantra, “think outside the box” may be misleading to a naturally creative people or someone who struggles with perfectionism. The continual pursuit of one-upmanship in developing more creative and unique ideas can lead to an increase in stress. The great English poet T.S. Eliot declared, “Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.” Oftentimes, apprehension goes hand in hand during a creative endeavor that I am pursuing. Whether it be composing a blog post or writing an article for Catholicstand.com or determining the type of art I desire for the board game that I am developing, a dally exists within my mind.

In an effort to think outside the box, I forget to consider options/ideas that worked for me in the past. Instead of thinking beyond the “guidelines”, it may be helpful to reflect on creative ideas that worked previously. According to Anthony J. D’Angelo, “Don’t reinvent the wheel, just realign it!” My most successful posts actually involve the least amount of mental strain. Creativity comes naturally in writing such articles. Only in giving up my need for control and desire for absolute perfection do I experience the freedom of creativity—these writings also tend to appeal to a wider range of audience as well.

Trust in your natural abilities. With regard to your weaknesses rely on others for advice. I will make use of Gladwell’s insight again. He stated, “Success has to do with deliberate practice. Practice must be focused, determined, and in an environment where there’s feedback.” Creativity need not always be an anxious and exhausting endeavor. Thinking inside the box does not stymie creativity. In fact, in some cases revisiting the bounds of the box will lead to the recipe to replicate past creative ingenuity with greater ease and ability than thinking outside the box!

5 Reasons Why Your Statistics on WordPress do not Define You as a Blogger 

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Mark Twain once wrote, “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” We seem to within the age of advanced metrics, statistics, and quantification of nearly all aspects of life. Within the workplace it is likely that you may be evaluated based off an array of statistical categories and metrics. As an avid football fan, I noticed a great increase in the amount of time and column space that sports agencies such as ESPN and network sportscasters spend on discussing [mostly debating] who belongs in the “elite” quarterback conversation in the NFL. Needless to say, statistics have become part and parcel of our daily life over recent history—the same is true for blogging.

Dating back to my high school years I developed a strong interest in gathering various information and analyzing it. For a time, I seriously contemplated going to college to become a professional statistician. The analytical side of me naturally ogles and takes glee in the statistics that I have available through WordPress. Are we to be measured by our accomplishments or by the attitude that we put into our work? The world makes external successful paramount in determining our self-worth, however, is this a healthy way to live? More importantly is this approach to determining dignity of a person actually true? I hope to address these concerns in today’s post.

Depending on your worldview and upbringing it may be debatable as to whether the achievements that we accomplish through our career and hobbies act as the defining feature for a person’s self-worth. What I want to discuss today is that measuring your success as a blogger solely on statistics and viewership is not the entire picture. Below are five reasons to support this claim.

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  1. Why are you writing?: This is the first question that you should constantly keep on the forefront of your mind when blogging. Are you writing to gain notoriety or as a means to improve yourself and others? Put another way is the purpose for blogging ultimately self-serving or for serving others? St. Thomas Aquinas once stated, “The things that we love tell us what we are.” I continually need to remind myself that I write to better myself and to help others find joy in this life—not to amass high stats!

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2. Consistency is King: Although the world is a constantly changing reality, humans still hold a strong desire for stability. Possessing a consistency of character, will, and an even-keel of our emotions is a strong indicator for success. I struggle with keeping my emotions in check at times. What helps me during low points in my writing journey is to continue to focus the reason that I write–to help others find joy! I found this superb yet simple quote from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson helpful. He said, “Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.”

What has continued to provide me assurance and sustained me through periods of writer’s block is to always remember to focus on consistently writing and not worry about the popularity of my articles. Consistency is preferred over flashy statistics or outlandish blog topics.

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3. Quality over quantity: Following closely with the previous point, it is good to remind yourself that while it is important to write on a consistent basis focus on the caliber of your post instead of the number. When I stray away from this principal I generate haphazard articles that are sloppily put together. Although I am able to get an immediate satisfaction from publishing that day, when I reflect on previous blog posts I tend to have a regret about hitting the Publish button.

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4. Self-worth not determined by external measurements:  According to the Catholic Church, the dignity of all human persons is not measured through our social, political, and monetary accomplishments. We are born with an innate dignity. The Second Vatican II document Gadium Et Spes [Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World] declared,

According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown.
But what is man? About himself he has expressed, and continues to express, many divergent and even contradictory opinions. In these he often exalts himself as the absolute measure of all things or debases himself to the point of despair. The result is doubt and anxiety. The Church certainly understands these problems. Endowed with light from God, she can offer solutions to them, so that man’s true situation can be portrayed and his defects explained, while at the same time his dignity and destiny are justly acknowledged (#12).

 The key phrase that jumped out to me is that when we place ourselves at the center of attention–the result is doubt and anxiety!  Focusing on how popular you become as a blogger will have an initial rush of confidence and feelings of happiness, but these sensations will pass. Believe me, each time I hit a benchmark goal that I set for my writing career [i.e. landing a columnist opportunity, becoming a managing editor at an online magazine, and even an article published in a print magazine] I experience short term pleasure, but if I continue to judge my worth as a writer on these external accomplishments I soon fall into despair.

Pridefully, I fell into the trap believing that it is possible to achieve success all the time and when I hit periods of drought anxiety soon follows. Please do not falter in the same with that I struggle with frequently. Your self-worth as a writer is not to be determined by the amount of followers you have.

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5. Writing as a Tool to Help Others not for Self-glory: Dovetailing from the last point and also circling around to reiterate the first reason, it is important to remind yourself that writing is supposed to be a tool to help others, not an avenue for self-glory. The Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho appropriately stated, “Writing means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things – thoughts, ideas, opinions.” Use your platform on WordPress [or other sites if you reading this elsewhere] to promote your writing as a way to bridge the differences in the world and be an advocate for truth!

I initially wrote this article as a means to help temper my addiction to checking my WordPress app over twenty times a day—I thank my wife for confronting me about this issue. Over the course of writing this article, I realized that others may struggle with this similar obsession. I focused my efforts in trying to be as articulate as possible in assuring any of my readers that are also writers. Please do not despair if you experience a lull in your blogging hobby/career. Please feel free to share this article to any of your friends that may struggle with similar issues of self-doubt or those who have hit a thick wall of writer’s block! Thank you again for all of my followers, readers, and advocates that have supported me throughout my journey.

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3 Tactics to Depress Your Depression

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The beginning of this week continued my struggle with depression. Over the past several weeks, I lacked both the physical, mental, and emotional mettle to write. Journaling and blogging used to come more natural to me, however, lately I ran into a seemingly impenetrable mental wall of writer’s block. During periods of depression, you may feel utterly helpless and lack the motivation to implement means to overcome this vile force. Trust me this feeling is real and appears to be inescapable. I felt the same way to start the week. Please know that hope is always on the horizon—the problem is that you may need to remind yourself of this fact!

Hope arrived on the scene in a unique manner this week—through reading the classic children’s bedtime book Goodnight Moon to my youngest son. Currently he is going through a language explosion—he was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder—he development was delayed but through frequent therapies we are seeing the fruit of his hard work. The story involves saying goodnight to an array of items and characters in a bedroom. Upon getting to the page about the red balloon, my son shouted “Ah a balloon!” This image of a fully inflated balloon stuck with me throughout the night and into the morning. I viewed my current emotional state as a metaphorical depressed balloon unable to lift off the ground due to lack of the energy, gratitude, and hope.

It took a simple image of a balloon to jumpstart my creative juices about what to write about today. I wish to provide three tactics to take the wind out of the storm of depression you may be facing now—or will be facing in the future!

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  1. Shield Yourself with Thanksgiving: Before going into battle, a solider needs to wear armor and acquire the appropriate defensive tool. Just like physical war, fighting depression involves taking the necessary steps to defend against the continued barrage of negative self-depreciating thoughts. The legendary college basketball coach John Wooden once stated, “If we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointments, we would all be much happier.” Adopting this mindset today defended me against depression’s attack.

Start this defensive tactic to keep depression at bay. For example, at lunch I made a mental list of three specific things I was thankful for today. Strawberries, my comic books, and the ability to write freely immediately popped into my mind as things I feel blessed to possess. Try this simple exercise as a way to easily remind yourself of the various blessings in your life. You may be pleasantly surprised that things may not be as bad as you would think!

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  1. Miniature Victories Win the War: A second tactic to weaken depression’s grip is to focus on minor victories throughout the day. Recognizing that the battle against depression is not necessarily achieved through a once-size-fits-all solution became an important step in my battle. Viewing any positive thing that occurred to me over the course of a day as a win is essential. Fitness trainers tell us the importance of focusing on small incremental goals and the same and spiritual directors remind of the importance of praying consistently in short periods of time first before proceeding to long sessions of meditation—why would it be any different for people who suffer from bouts of depression?

 The relief that arrives when I realize that small triumphs over depression are just as successful and valid as large victories.  According to Andrew Carnegie, “If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” Naming your goal and setting forth a plan is a concrete tactic to combat depression. However, in implementing any plan towards your ultimate goal keep in mind that it is important to celebrate the little victories along with the end result. 

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  1. Fellowship not Forlornness: The great Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov stated,  “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” When I strive away from a purposeful life that is when depression seems to infiltrate. Sure life has its natural ups and downs. However, for someone with chronic depression it is vital to journey throughout life in fellowship rather than tackle your struggles alone.

The best literary example that comes to mind when thinking about the importance of communion to fight off despair and depression is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. His first installment of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy involves the formation of a Middle Earth menagerie composed of four hobbits, two humans, an elf, a dwarf, and the wizard Gandalf. Similar to depression, the power of the One Ring involved the ability to gain control of its bearer over the course of time. The Fellowship’s singular purpose was to provide aid and companionship to aid Frodo in his journey to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. I found this excerpt that exhibits the importance of friendship during moments of doubt,

But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,’ said Frodo.
Sam looked at him unhappily. ‘It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick with you through thick and thin–to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. 

Are you experiencing moments of doubt now? Does it appear that there is no one around you to trust? Please know that this is a false belief—there is always someone who is willing to help. During times of deep depression I too struggle immensely with doubt. I doubt that I am worthy of friendship. I sometimes even doubt that my beloved Father in Heaven care for me.

Surrounding myself with good and holy people help pull myself out of this tendency to self-doubt. Last week, my manager at work provided much needed words of consolation when I struggled with depression in the workplace. Each week I attend the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where I am united in communion with other fellow Catholics. Through reception of the Eucharist I am nourished by the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ to journey out into the world for the next week. Thanksgiving, recognizing the small achievements, and seeking fellowship with others allow you to gain an upper hand in your daily battle against depression. Thank you all for reading my articles and continue to fight the good fight!

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3 Incredibly Simple Tools to Incapacitate Anxiety 

According to Derek Beres, a Los Angeles-based author, music producer, and fitness instructor in a 2017 article Why is Anxiety Increasing in America?,

Anxiety is one of those phenomena that non-sufferers sometimes claim, ‘it’s all in your mind.’ That’s simply not true; panic attacks are also a somatic experience. With a growing awareness of what creates anxiety and a captive online community searching for solutions, we’re learning more about what those triggers are and how they interact with our mind and body.

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While I am far from an expert on the psychology or neurology, I do have knowledge about anxiety from my own personal experiences. Suffering from anxiety and depression myself I learned methods to combat worry and constant anxiety. As a father and husband I learned that the bustle and complexity of family life ultimately points me toward growing in the virtue of patience and gentleness instead of being a burden to my career endeavors. Facing a barrage of continual interruptions, meltdowns, and challenges from my youngest son–who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder– some days I feel like giving up. Ironically, enough, this is the seventh attempt to finish this paragraph already this morning [my two-year old wanted me to get a particular toy-car from under the couch and then he proceeded to open the fridge and point to the pickle jar for his second-breakfast snack! :)]

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Sadly, I momentarily allowed the stress wanting to post today’s article sooner rather than later to get the better of me. Suffering interruptions and being compelled to exercise patience I believe actually strengthens my message rather than weakening it. I am reminded by the words of St. Maria Faustina on the subject of suffering, “O, my Jesus, I understand well that, just as illness is measured with a thermometer and a high fever tells us of the seriousness of the illness; so also, in the spiritual life, suffering is the thermometer which measures the love of God in a soul.” Below I am sharing three incredibly simple tools to help to incapacitate anxiety.

Disclaimer: Please remember that the battle against depression and anxiety must be continually fought so while these tool are effective they may not all apply to you now, but I promise you it would be wise to keep them on your utility-belt for the future.

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  1.  Checkpoint victories: Recently, I learned that the best way to develop a strategy against stress, anxiety, depression, and fear of failure is to focus on miniature goals. As an avid runner in high school, I utilized this practical strategy when finishing a 5-6 mile training circuit. Focusing on a point close ahead [i.e. a stop-sign, a large tree, or the corner of the block] I made checkpoints for me to continue running towards. As a result of these minor checkpoints, small victories led to the major victory–finishing a training session without stopping or setting a personal record during a race.

While many of you may not be a runner, and some may even despise exercise [believe me I understand some days I dread working out and simply lack the energy to do so!] the idea of setting short-term and minor goals is something that is transferable to managing daily anxiety. “Focus on two or three specific goals instead of trying to succeed at mastering many, many things at once. This will help reduce your stress,” my manager told me yesterday. Today, I am heeding his words by incorporating these three tools today and for the rest of the week.

Even as I write/wrote this post, I am making bit-sized victories as my kids demanded/asked for my attention. Consequently, the involuntary writer hiatus count is up to 18–it may be up to closer to 30-40 by the time this post is complete that may depend on whether my kids place nicely together the amount of times I decide to help of my favorite literary creature the Thesaurus for inspiring me to come up with fancy phrasing/names such as the involuntary writer hiatus count [as opposed to the boring “interruption-count”]

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  1. ♬ Make a list, check it twice ♬: No, I am not referring to the Christmas classic song Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Thank goodness, right! We already have Christmas in July specials do we really need Santa in Springtime? The second tool to incapacitate anxiety is to make a list of all the blessings in your life. A simple way to incorporate this into the work day is to put a blank Post-It note on your desk. Next, as the day progresses [if there is no time in the morning] start to jot a names of people that bring you joy. Include as well any material goods that you are grateful for as well: shelter, sunlight, water, food, clothes, and other simple joys. Trying this yesterday allowed me to re-orient any negative and anxious feelings towards a mindset of thanksgiving.

 

  1. Acid Attack:  According to research [see link for more information: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/tamara-star/post_13013_b_11766146.html%5D , eating citrus fruits is a practical tasty way to lower anxiety. Noticing a fellow co-worker eating an orange everyday on her morning break piqued my attention especially because she shared her daily struggles with anxiety and depression. I tried this simple strategy this week–and it worked! The citric acid and taste of the orange calmed my stress. I even kept the orange peel and smelled a few times the oil from the peel and scent of citric acid continued to provide soothing relief.

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Well, I finally finished this post. Anyone interested in the grand total for the involuntary writer hiatus count: it reached 30–and no, I did not visit my friendly online Thesaurus again, that was all my children–impressive to say the least! Hopefully, you find these tools invaluable in your war against anxiety. Once again, it you do not find them useful currently, please keep them in your anxiety armory for the next skirmish against stress. After all that writing, I am famished, I think my second breakfast will consist of a couple oranges! Thank you again for reading.

 

Columnist Opportunity I Received!

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I hope everyone’s start to 2018 is off to a good start. We have been experiencing an frigid beginning to the new year in the Midwest. Despite the frozen conditions, my hope in the Lord always melts away the rigidity of my wounded soul. I am pleased to announce that I will be featured as a columnist for Catholic Stand starting January 12th. With my commitment to writing for that site my work on this blog has taken a little bit of a backseat. I do apologize for the diminished content. Writing for multiple platforms is a new venture for me. While balancing the two will contain challenges, I will still be making regular posts on The Simple Catholic blog.

I also want to say that I appreciate all my readers commitment and support of me during this new [and still learning] phase of my writing career!

FYI: I will update this post later to include the link to Catholic Stand upon publication of my article.