Permission to Study

As someone with a degree in English, I am familiar with analyzing texts and the practices and theories that go with that. As a Christian, I know what it’s like to have something sacred. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with reading practices for my sacred text of the Bible. I have read passages, felt like it spoke to me, looked at the footnotes, navigated to some related passages, and moved forward. I didn’t know how to go any deeper.

And that’s why I’m thankful for my favorite podcast: Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.

You might be asking, “how does a podcast about Harry Potter help you to read the Bible?” It may seem counterintuitive. But these two Harvard Divinity School graduates walk through each chapter of each book (so far, we are on Order of the Phoenix) in a specific theme and use sacred reading practices to analyze the text. In essence, this is what I did in college. And, since I did a few papers on the Harry Potter series, I’m familiar with analyzing the messages and symbols in the books. But for some reason, I never thought to apply those same practices to reading my Bible.

I always had this perception that using study methods on the Bible was wrong, but the more I’ve listened to the podcast and done Bible studies, I realized something: how can I begin to further understand something if I don’t study it. It may sound odd, but its almost like the podcast gave me permission to study what I love. Ya know what I mean? And it’s for that I’m grateful.

I may not always agree with everything in the podcast, but that’s the beauty of not only these types of endeavors, but also of textual analysis: each interpreter can see something different, the text can speak to them differently, and each person has their own opinions and ideas on what they encounter. It doesn’t mean anyone is wrong. What is important is that you are exposing yourself to new, and sometimes different, ideas and figuring out your thoughts through it all. What’s important is that you are learning.

I’m thankful that I learn things every day. I’m thankful that I can learn valuable lessons from something that could be seen as simply entertainment. And I am thankful that there are people who take the risk to analyze pop culture in unique ways and share that adventure with others.

 

“My philosophy is that worrying makes you suffer twice.” — Newt Scamander

In moments of distress, we all turn to something–alcohol, a drug of some kind. I have a tendency to turn to the world of Harry Potter. Yes, I know, I should really turn to my Bible first, and that’s definitely something I am working on. Harry Potter allows me to get lost in a story and to, therefore, forget, at least momentarily, what was distressing me. At the very least, it forces me to step away from the problem and come back to it. The world of Harry Potter, though, also offers some good insight, especially in those moments of distress.

Tonight, it was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. There is a scene where Newt and Jacob, the No-Maj, are trying to get the Erumpet back into Newt’s case of magical creatures, and Newt puts Jacob in some protective clothing. Jacob asks Newt something along the lines of doesn’t the situation worry him. Newt responds: “My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.”

As one of my “resolutions” is to not to try to make sense of things that don’t make sense, this line felt particularly timely.

While the scene in which the line was spoken was one of humor, I definitely felt it was fitting to other instances. And it’s true–worrying does make you suffer twice. You suffer through the state of worrying, then through whatever situation it is you were worrying about. You could even be amping yourself up over absolutely nothing. As someone who struggles with anxiety, I know what that’s like.

It also seems vastly similar to the Biblical idea to “be anxious for nothing” because God has our lives under control.

So, as I continue along this journey, I am going to continue to reiterate the commitment to myself to try not to worry, to not make myself suffer more than is absolutely necessary. I don’t know what this next week, month, or even year will hold, but I have to trust that God is looking out for me, and He will hold me in my worry and distress.

No need to suffer twice.

“There are all kinds of courage”

“It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – Albus Dumbledore

As you know, this year has been rough. It didn’t start off that way, and I didn’t anticipate that it would be, and yet…well, here I am. With the new year quickly approaching, I have been reminiscing. While it is, of course, sometimes quite painful, I have begun to see that I have choices. I have a freedom I didn’t see before, and I accept that.

This hardship has given me an opportunity to learn about myself and to accept myself in ways I maybe didn’t before.

My mom insisted I open my presents on Christmas Eve, as we were leaving Christmas Day for Orlando. She told me I had to specifically open a large, rectangular package. As I sat on the floor, drink next to me, and opened this box, I began to realize what she had gotten me and why she wanted me to open it before we left. Lifting the cardboard lid, I pulled out replica Hufflepuff robes. I bounced up and down, hugged her, and cried my thanks. Literally, I think there were tears in my eyes.

Maybe it was wearing the robes and being able to represent my house. Maybe it was using the interactive wand and watching the scenes in shop windows move. It all felt more magical this time.

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I think, though, the reason it felt that way was because I allowed myself to be more…well, myself. I was excited. I was having fun. My mind wasn’t whirring with what ifs or trying to connect dots that don’t make sense. I didn’t feel like I was being judged by anyone, even when my mom and I went to the hotel’s rum bar for drinks and the bartender simply said “You know, I don’t see a lot of Hufflepuffs.” For once, I simply took it as a comment on my t-shirt, without a hidden meaning of a passed judgement.

As the new year fast approaches, I have begun to make my own type of resolutions. The biggest being:

  1. I am going to stop trying to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense
  2. I am going to be unapologetically me

and

  1. I am going to make plans I want to make

It’s been on my mind for a while—years, actually—but, for some reason, my most recent visit back to Diagon Alley sparked my desire to begin planning a trip to England. I texted a close friend of mine to see if she’d be interested in joining me, and, to my surprise, she said yes. We haven’t even hammered out actual dates, but just the simple idea of getting to plan such an adventure with a friend got me really excited. I don’t think I’ve come down from the high yet.

For me, this is huge. A few months ago, I could barely fathom planning a semester. The key here is planning things I want to plan, things that bring me joy. Yes, I still have to plan for my courses, but this makes it easier somehow.

I still don’t know what will happen this year, but I know it is through God that I am beginning to have some sense of clarity and patience. It is only thanks to God that I have seen I have choices, too, and I can stand by what I believe. It is only through God I have the strength I have.

As it is a holiday weekend, of course there is a Harry Potter marathon on TV. (I swear this particular station plays a Harry Potter marathon for everything.) As I’m still on my “Harry Potter high,” I’m eagerly watching as much as I can.

At the end of Order of the Phoenix, Luna gives us some wisdom: “things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.”

As I said, I have realized I have choices. So, this coming year, I am choosing to take Luna’s outlook. The alternative is depressing.

I don’t know what this choosing says about me. That I am a true Hufflepuff, “patient, true, and loyal”? That I have more faith than I thought? That I am stronger than I think? It tells me I have more power than I thought I did. It tells me I am growing. And that is a pretty decent way to start a new year, if you ask me.

As Dumbledore tells us: “There are all kinds of courage.”

The Scarring of Thoughts

Laughter. Excited talking. The façade of a train station. The noise of a train. Tears of excitement sprang to my eyes, and I was bouncing on the balls of my feet. I took in my surroundings with pure joy and in total awe, like a small child who is visiting DisneyWorld for the first time.

“Why are you like this?” my husband joked quietly with me, shaking his head, as we boarded the scarlet train, him, my mother, and myself cramming into a small compartment.

“You just don’t understand,” I told him, my voice shaking with emotion at the overwhelming experience.

As the train travelled the five minute journey, I eagerly awaited our stop. As we got off the train, I squealed with little-girl delight and drug my husband across the platform and down the stairs.

Buildings gleamed in the sunlight. Turrets reached sky-high. Shop windows reflected what could lay inside. 

I was staring at a world I had imagined for years and had been looking forward to visiting for months.

 I had finally stepped into my books.

 . . . . . .

Visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was a highlight of that summer for me.

My husband and I had just graduated college, and we were about to celebrate our 2-year wedding anniversary. As a combined graduation-anniversary-(my) birthday present, my mom took us to DisneyWorld. In reality, my husband let me have that one because he knew how much I love Disney. And he agreed we could go to the Harry Potter amusement park at Universal Studios.

The poor guy was embarrassed to be with me I think as we hopped from one side of Universal to the other so I could fully experience the world I had spent years reading about and imagining.

Of course, I had to make a stop at Ollivander’s, and I insisted on buying the wand that interacted with the shop facades of the park.

“You realize everyone else who has that kind of wand is…twelve, right?” he quipped.

“Your point?” I responded as I showed off my wand work on a nearby window. (Yes, surrounded by girls much younger than me.)

I think I literally spun in circles to take it all in.

While I was persuaded to agree, rather angrily I might add, to see the rest of Universal Studios, I was completely enamored with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I could have spent all day there.

. . . . . .

September 1st. It’s my birthday. But it’s also an important day for us Harry Potter fans—it’s back to Hogwarts!

This year marks “19 years later” and the final words in the series: “All was well.”

That trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was by far my favorite trip, second only to the vacation my husband and I took this past December. Granted, I do remember some things of that trip I’m not proud of. Namely, the fact I may have thrown just a bit of a fit when my husband suggested—nay, begged—for us to visit the rest of Universal Studios because, as he put it, we didn’t spend all that money just to see one part of the park. Like a petulant child, I crossed my arms and grumpily followed him. I eventually “knocked it off” and apologized, realizing he was right and I was being stupid.

My point is, Harry Potter has played a big role in my life. Really, it’s the story I always come back to. I’ve written about the themes in college papers; I (attempt to) discuss ideas about the story as they crop up in my head; I listen to a Harry Potter podcast; I have a Pottermore account; and I follow (and participate in) the newly-created WWBookClub on Twitter.

As I’ve been battling depression, it’s the comfort zone I retreat to. It’s familiar enough I know the story line, yet I can always find some new nugget to pick out and think “wow, that’s great.” I always seem to catch something new.

I’ve been listening to the audiobooks, because listening to them helps me to relax, and I just finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. For me, the battle in the Department of Mysteries holds so many mysteries in itself—allusions, images, and even things I hadn’t noticed by just reading. But one piece in particular caught my eye (er, ear).

[WARNING: if you have not read the books, a spoiler lies ahead.]

During the battle, the group gets separated, and somehow Ron ends up attempting escape alongside Ginny and Luna Lovegood. He gets a bit crazy in a room we assume is made of planets, and, upon seeing an aquarium full of brains, he’s entranced and insists on viewing them up close. He uses “Accio” to call one to him, wanting to know more about them. When he finally gets his hands on it, though, it begins to attack him.

Once the battle is over and the group is recovering in the hospital wing, we find Ron still has scars on his arms from where the tentacles of the brain attacked him. But it’s not the attack itself that strikes me, nor is it the scars. It’s what Madam Pomfrey has to say about them: “Sometimes thoughts can leave deeper scarring than anything else.”

Since hearing that line, I have been thinking a lot about it, and I think she’s on to something.

We are usually our own worst enemy. Our minds cause anxiety and depression. And those take form in thoughts. Anxiety tells us we won’t ever say or do the right thing; it keeps our mind spinning and spiraling until we turn to any method to shut it down. Depression tells us we are not worth it, no one likes us, or just makes us live in so much mental pain we can’t function; it sucks the energy right out of us. As I discussed in my positivity challenge, our thoughts can help us or hinder us in seeking positivity—negativity can change our brain chemistry, but so can positivity. Our thoughts can affect our reality (“Your mind affects your mouth, and your mouth affects your mind”). Then, our thoughts, especially expressed out loud, can affect others.

Thoughts really do leave deep scars, and I wish that I had Madam Pomfrey’s potion as a quick fix.

But I don’t.

. . . . . .

Our thoughts determine our actions and reactions. They can leave deep and painful scars, but they can also be empowering. When we choose to stop allowing anxiety to take away from our today, our thoughts will no longer control us; instead, we control them.

If I continue to dwell on what I believe should be instead of what is, on what I want instead of what God wants for me, I will have scars. But there is a kind of potion that can heal: giving it to God. While it may not act as fast as many solutions in the world of Harry Potter, it is the best solution there is because you relinquish control, knowing He will cover you.

And with that knowledge, eventually all will be well.

. . . . . .

Are you a Harry Potter nerd? What House are you? (I’m Hufflepuff.) What is your most memorable take away from the series?

What’s your comfort zone for dealing with scarring thoughts?

(Not) Exceeding Expectations

“It is our choices that show what we truly are far more than our abilities.” – Professor Dumbledore

The Harry Potter novels are full of wisdom and life lessons, usually found in the words of Albus Dumbledore. There is meaning in most everything in the novels, and many people, myself included, have examined these meanings and written about the themes present throughout the series. All my best learning seems to come from Harry Potter.

Perhaps that is why my favorite podcast has become Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. Although this podcast has been around for over a year, I have just started listening, and I started from the bottom (Book 1, Chapter 1). But one session in particular made an impact on me: “Expectations: The Journey from Platform 9 3/4.”

The quote the session began with is what hit me hard and got me thinking (and crying) in my car: “Expectations are resentments under construction” – Anne Lamott

And it really got me thinking about the expectations I have had in my (short) life.

I was told that I sometimes make people feel like they’re just part of some plan I have in life. That hurt to hear, but then I realized that maybe there is truth in that.

I romanticize just about everything. (Not necessarily intentionally, and not necessarily consciously either.) In my Creative Writing course in college, my instructor told me he loved my story concept, and that I should keep writing it, but that I may have to end it in a way I hadn’t anticipated: with an unhappy ending. I gave up the story immediately because I love happy endings. I couldn’t put my character through the struggle I knew I would have to write because I wouldn’t want to go through it. I had an expectation going into writing that could not be met as I developed the character and the story. So I got upset and never wrote another word on it. Because I knew there was no way the ending could turn out any other way.

Choices show what we are, so what does this choice say about me? That I wasn’t ready to face the expectations I knew couldn’t be met.

I create these expectations of situations and people around me that no one can ever live up to. When those expectations aren’t met, I can become frustrated and angry, which only hurts the other person, me, and whatever relationship was there. It creates resentment because I just think “how could this expectation not have been met? was it that difficult?” And, of course, all that does is grow into a tumor of resentment in the back of my head.

I always thought growing up meant making all these plans and packing up ideas in a box with a neat little bow on top and presenting it, saying, “here’s the solution!” That’s what I expected from everything in life: school, marriage, a career. And that tumor would just continue to grow. But I’ve recently realized that isn’t the case.

If I learned just one thing in the seven years I was participating in higher education (and the one year I’ve been out), it is this: college is not reality. Do not base your expectations for life on what you experienced in college. Because in school, everything is packaged neatly: you have specific classes you need to take (with a few of your own choices scattered here and there), you have deadlines for assignments and exams, there are office hours with professors, you have a plan to lead you to graduation… That is all well and good, but life does not mirror that one bit.

I thought having these types of expectations for a person showed I cared, but, in reality, they breed resentment (remember the aforementioned tumor?).

Why?

Because no one can live up to romanticized expectations that sound like they’re out of a storybook, and life isn’t “once upon a time…”

When someone doesn’t meet those expectations and I become upset, it makes it seem as if I am trying to change that person or fixing something to be the way I want it to be, even if that was not my intention. It makes them feel as if they are just a cog in my machine of a plan of life and not the player or partner in it they should be.

My mom has often give me this little nugget of advice: don’t expect someone to do something (or act in the same way) you would because they are not you. Even if they began as good-natured expectations, those types of expectations will always breed resentment. Because you are expecting someone to act in a way that may not be in their nature. It leads to implications that their nature, who they are, is an inconvenience to you.

I have heard that a few times: that because I had the expectation of a plan, I was making the other person feel like an inconvenience. So these expectations can not only make us resent others, but they can also make others resent us.

Since hearing this perspective-altering quote, I have decided to adjust my perspective, to change my expectations. Sometimes, it’s best not to have any.

If choices show what we truly are, what does this choice say about me? I hope it says I am willing to recognize my faults and weaknesses and make things right when needed.

Who knows. Maybe I’ll go back to writing that story…