Quite deadly: an old sin revisited and defeated

Maybe it’s ADHD. Maybe it’s the Extroversion. Maybe it’s the childhood poverty. I get bored, fast when I was younger. After a conversion of sorts to the wonder of life, I don’t get bored so much. But my journal is filled with tell-tale entries of a sense of ennui, a pall, a “what’s the point?”.

Maybe it’s because we are made for so much more, as C.S. Lewis informs us, so we have an insatiable appetite for beauty, truth and love.

Or maybe it’s Acedia. A really difficult thing to define and hold down, much less conquer.

Here are some wonderful notes from Kathleen Norris’ Acedia & Me: a marriage, monks, and a writer’s life. A book couldn’t be more precise for one’s needs. I am married, love monks (the spiritual life), and write. Smack in the middle of this triangle is acedia leaking out on all three, staining and straining them.

I met Kathleen last year and immediately like her. She is irreverent yet serious, comedic and absolutely great with words. I am certain I will find answers.

Here they are:

Signs of acedia

“I think that much of the restless boredom, frantic escapism, commitment phobia, and enervating despair that plagues us today is the ancient demon of acedia in modern dress.” p3

“The desert monks termed acedia ‘the noonday demon’ because the temptation usually struck during the heat of the day, when the monk was hungry and fatigued, and susceptible to the suggestion that his commitment to a life of prayer was not worth the effort.” {and for the rest of us, it makes all our pursuits feel papery thin and pointless too, especially when it gets repetitive} p5

“But if I become too weary, I can care for so little that it becomes hard to care even whether I live or die. I need help to learn to see again, and to reclaim my life through ordinary acts: washing my hair, as well as the dishes in the sink, and walking out of doors to enjoy the breeze on my neck..” p17

Acedia’s spiritual roots

“..dejection and anger afflict the mind; food, things, and sex burden the body; but acedia is lodged in the very soul. [Mary Margaret] p24

“In a consumer culture we are advise to keep our options open so that we are always free to grab the new, improved model when it appears. It is not easy for us to recognize acedia in ourselves, as it prompts us to see obligations to family, friends and colleagues as impediments to that freedom. Whatever the place of our commitment – – well, we are better off just walking away. If we have come along with the demon this far, Evagrius suggests, acedia will make our self-delusion seem divinely inspired, perhaps sanctioned. The demon ‘goes on to suggest that, after all, it is not the place that is the basis of pleasing the Lord. God is to be adored everywhere'” p25

“Evagrius came to believe that the demons ‘cannot act directly on the intellect. They arouse evil thoughts by working on the memory and imagination.’ Evagrius warns that’if we do not resist these seemingly harmless thoughts at the outset, they soon [pour] out in pleasures that are…only mental in nature and then ]seize us and drench us] in sadness.’ As we come to prefer living in the past, we grow less able to enjoy the present or invest in the future.” p31

“Once I was furious with my husband… I found myself wide awake in the middle of the night, brimming with resentment. David had acted irresponsibly, and i felt thoroughly justified in my rage. But as my litany of complaint raced on, moving from my husband to others…I stopped. Wait a minute, I said to myself, this could go on forever. What’s really happening here?” p32

even if one can detect the reasons behind a sin, this does not correct it’s offensiveness p33 {Karl Menninger}

“..the sadness, the disgust with life, which comes from a much deeper source – our inability to get along with ourselves, our disunion with God” ~ Thomas Merton p148

“John Cassian: Acedia’s whole purpose is to sever us from thoughts of God. | John Climacus: a voice claiming that God has no mercy and no love for us. | Thomas Aquinas: a wanton, wilful, self-distressing that numbs all love and zeal for love, making us unable to rest in God. It divides us against ourselves and our better instincts.” p205

Acedia and Depression

“Most demons – most forms of anguish – rely on cover of night..Depression stands in the full glare of the sun, unchallenged by recognition. You can know all the why and the wherefore and suffer just as much as if you were shrouded by ignorance. There is almost no other mental state of which the same can be said  [Andrew Solomon]” p38

“I am unable to see the grace that is available to me now, in this place and time. Acedia can flatten any place into a stark desert landscape and make hope a mirage. Time itself becomes unbearable…” p39

“Aceda’s genius to seize us precisely where our hope lies, to tear away at the heart of who we are, and mock that which sustains us.” p44

“I find that depression generally has an identifiable and external cause that acedia lacks…acedia arises out of nowhere as it were, emerging from my inner depths without warning, and without any reason that I can determine. Depression will disrupt my life so that I cannot fail to notice and take action, consulting a counselor or physician. Acedia is more subtle, and when ti wells up in me, only the venerable practice of spiritual discernment is of much use.” p147

“A crucial distinction between depression and acedia is that the former implies a certain level of anguish over one’s condition, while in the latter, it remains a matter of indifference. Acedia will always take the path of least resistance and attempt to go around, rather than through, the demands life makes of us.” p150

3 signs

St John of the Cross in his Dark Night characterizes spiritual dryness as having 3 signs:

the temptation to doubt | the temptation to retreat | the temptation to obsess and be over-anxious

Whether in marriage, writing, prayer or parenting, we reach points when we face severe doubts and then we think we should ‘cut our losses’ and then end up guilt-ridden.

 

Fighting free of Acedia

“Can’t we just call it a day, and give our overanxious and ironic selves a rest? Might we consider boredom as not only necessary for our life but also as one of its greatest blessings? A gift, pure and simple, a precious chance to be alone with our thoughts and alone with God?” p40

“a generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men….unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature, in whom every vital impulse withers.” ~Bertrand Russell

“Aldous Huxley’s Accidie begins with a look at desert monks and their depiction of the noonday demon… then traces, how it was became thought of as a physical ailment called the vapors or spleen in the Renaissance. Later, what poet Matthew Green termed the ‘sin of worldly sorrow’ became slowly a literary virtue, a spiritual mode…with Romanticism, the noonday demon triumphed. Accidie in its most complicated and deadly form, a mixture of boredom, sorrow, despair, was now an inspiration to greatest poets and novelists and has remained so to this day.” {paraphrased} p48-9

“I consider it a miracle that I had attained some measure of religious faith just in time to face the crisis in David’s health, and in our marriage. If I had ever thought that I was seeking salvation for myself, I realized now that David and I had become, in the Gospel phrase, ‘one flesh’, and that salvation for me was salvation for him as well. And I was helpless to save either one of us. We needed help, plenty of it. From God, from Benedictine men and women, from pastors, physicians, postmaster and psychiatric nurses, from police officers and a motel housekeeper. From the suffering Jesus on the cross, and the risen one who embodies hope.” p82

“Like faith, marriage is a mystery.” p83

“We shortchange ourselves by regarding religious faith as a matter of intellectual assent. This is a modern aberration; the traditional Christian view is far more holistic, regarding faith as a whole-body experience. Sometimes, it is as W.H. Auden described it, ‘a matter of [choosing] what is difficult all one’s days as if it were easy.’ p84

“Thoughts come and thoughts go. Thoughts that are thought about become desires. Desires that are thought about become passions. While good thoughts have the potential to become virtues, bad thoughts are likely to become ‘bad passions or habits of action’. ~ MM Funk p91

Taking part in an ancient tradition is not living in the past ~ Jeremy Driscoll

“What heals acedia is staunch persistence….Decide upon a set amount for yourself in every work and do not turn aside from it before you complete it ~ Evagrius” p100

“…(Since) acedia for Evagrius was the culmination of all the temptations, then its absence is the fulfillment of all virtues, which find their ultimate expression in love. That is why the struggle is worth our while.” p101

“For the early Christian abbas and ammas, both heaven and hell were to be found in present reality. While both were envisioned as an inheritance -… neither existed apart from everyday experience.” p111

“The Church has not made enough of the sin of sloth, which allows us to settle for being less than we can be, both as individuals and as a society.” p113

 

“The concept of sin does not exist so that people who may need therapy more than theology can be convinced that they are evil and beyond hope, It is meant to encourage people to believe that they are made in the image of God and to act accordingly. Hope is the heart of it, and the ever-present possibility of transformation.” p114

 

“the root meaning of acedia, as ‘lack of care’ could serve to define our present state” p118

“While many felt that , having ‘struggled passionately against the tutelage of Chruch, state, society, convention, morals’, they could now claim true autonomy, they often found it an empty freedom…Far from finding release, modern people fell into ‘a very odd slavery…slavery from within’ – Karl Rahner” p120

“The agents of this prosperity, a new breed of multinational corporations, may have invented the ‘free world’ as we know it, but they also fostered servitude on a global scale…. Our politicians are fond of telling us we live in a ‘free country’. But they less often invite us to consider what our freedom consists of and what it is for.” p122-3

“The confused heart, having lost joy within itself, seeks….consolation outside…itself. The more it seeks exterior goods, the more it lacks the interior joy to which it can return.” p124

“Whenever totalitarianism of any kind rears its ugly head, it’s because ordinary people have stopped caring about the life of the community and the nation. ~ Buchanan” p127

“Hitler’s rise to power would be inconceivable without the ‘existence of millions of uprooted {people} who could not be rouse to care about anything except their immediate circumstances. ~ Simone Weil” p127

“One great difference between these monks and today’s pop psychologists is that the monk’s process of discernment was likely to result in more self-knowledge, less self-consciousness. In our day, this is often reversed…. Today, to suggest that a change might be in order, starting with a healthy drop in self-absorption is anathema..” p134-5

“Those who seek the peace (in the desert) will instead find a raw encounter with all that is untamed and unregenerate in their hearts. This revelation… results in our learning that we engender compassion not through our strengths, but through our common weakness.” p137-8

“Evagrius notes that the demon of acedia manipulates both our presumption and our despair, puffing us up with thoughts of the great accomplishments we will make and then crushing us when our efforts fall short of expectations. We may be left feeling that we have gained nothing and that we were idiots to have attempted anything in the first place. Our only remedy then, is [to] exalt the mercies of Christ… in order to give up the instinctive impulse toward self-justification, a person needed a healthy self-regard in the first place…’anchored in [an] essential disposition which puts [one] at peace with God’. Thus there is no guilt-complex.” p138-9

“The word healing comes from from a word meaning ‘entire’ or ‘complete’, and signifies a restoration to wholeness, For that reason it is a more ‘holistic’ word than therapy.” p141

“Endurance cures listlessness, and so does everything done with much care and fear of God” ~ Evagrius p152

“It is easy to fall in love over a meal in a restaurant, where someone else does the cooking and the cleaning up, it is hard to tolerate, much less love, the person who shares our kitchen, bath and bed. How does repetition turn relationships still and lifeless, so that a once beloved face becomes an object of scorn? What is it about repetitive acts that makes us feel as if we are wasting our time? Although it is easy to dismiss our daily routines as trivial, these are not trivial questions, any more than sloth is mere laziness without spiritual consequence…. Could we regard repetition as a saving grace, one that keeps returning us to essential understandings that we can discover in no other way? For any of us, affluent or not it is by means of repeating ordinary rituals and routines that we enhance the relationships that nourish and sustain us….Whatever you do repeatedly has the power to shape you, has the power to make you over into a different person – even if you’re not totally engaged in every minute. So there. so much for control, or even consciousness.” p186-8

“We prevent God from giving us the spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts…how can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from him the little things?” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer p190

Where can we live but days? ~ Philip Larkin

“When I started using computers,… I noticed that while the programs ..made my work much easier, they also made me more impatient. I went from being grateful for how quickly new software could do the bookkeeping to snarling at the machine for being so slow…. Our perception of time is subject to technological revision, and increased speed has generally translated into a subtle diminishment of our capacity to appreciate our immediate surroundings. p219-20

“Waiting seems at odds with progress, and we seldom ask whether it might have a purpose in and of itself. Etymology helps us here for when we look up at the word ‘wait’ we are instructed to see vigor. Waiting then is not passive but an active and vigilant activity designed to keep us aware of what is really going on. Isaiah invokes this as a source of vitality: Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with strength like eagles (Isaiah 40v31). Such waiting is meant to engender a lively hope rooted in the physical as well as they psyche. It is an action, the hop contained within the word. To hope is to make a leap, to jump from where you are to someplace better. If you can imagine it and dare to take that leap, you can go there, no matter how hopeless your situation may appear.” p220-1

 

And this bit, so pertinent and true for me:

“I was tempted to regard myself and my work as a fraud… I realized that my work could be considered fraudulent only if i bought into the myth of spiritual celebrity. By that I mean the notion that people who write books on spirituality do so because they’ve got it all figured out, and have somehow ‘succeeded’ at the spiritual life. Jesus reminds us, however, that it is not proficiency that heals us, but faith, and faith does not traffic with success or failure. It does know comedy….” p229

“For grace to be grace, it has to give us things we didn’t know we needed and take us places where we didn’t want to go.” p230

 

A Prayer

This is another day, O Lord.

I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be.

If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.

If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.

If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.

And If I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.

Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus, Amen.

 

Acedia

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How To Keep Believing in Rainbows When They Disappear So Fast

rainbow

I believe that all of us live under the eternal arc of God’s goodness. But most days, all I can muster is: I want to believe, help me God.
After all, even as we pause to gaze at the amazing confluence of vapors and light, it eventually disappears, and our pretty bow of colours is lost to us. We cannot touch it or store it. So, we turn our backs to it and return to our routines.

Life must go on.

Yet for some, that is so hard-scrabble that we wonder how they do go on.

Once a year, we organise a healing rally where we pray for those who are sick. I was part of the team last year. When we opened the doors, the church filled up quickly. At one point, I turned around and saw a young girl, about eight, sitting strapped to a special wheelchair. The straps would keep her upright. She was fair, pretty, unsmiling. Her mother was holding her hand while her father sat behind to keep a watch that her skinny frame is not slipping out from under those straps. She is leaning on the tiny pillow stuffed around the backrest to cushion her neck.

When the singing started, I noticed that I was struggling to join the rousing chorus of voices. I feel deeply and often find myself burdened by such gaping needs. The common cold to me is no life trial. But the sight of that little girl got to me. I don’t ask ‘why’ the same way I used to – all angsty, self-righteous and impatient; but I am of the band that still hates to see such seeming senselessness.

Later, what I would hear from nearly every person who stepped up to me for prayer was more than my few words could carry. A woman who has had five surgeries and is expecting another for her recurrent hernia problem. Another said, “my mother has dementia and now I am getting sick. Our medical bills are too much for us…”. After that, a weary mom came forward, prodding her epileptic son along, “recently, he also has eczema”. Then she adds that she has three maladies and her kidneys may be failing.
Due to the crowd, each of us would listen to these brief few lines and then send up a prayer for them as they stood beside us. It felt so inadequate, even unreal, in the face of their suffering.

After the prayers, we sang our last song, God is Good, all the time.

What does it take to honestly sing God’s goodness in the face of such crushing life difficulties? How do we remember that as long as it is day, the water cycle of life goes on. How do we remember that the rainbow is always there – because the water is always there – just that we only glimpse it sometimes.

Sometimes it is cruel to make God sound so close; not that He isn’t, but we are not so easily in tuned with Him. And at times, He does seem to disappear behind the clouds and everything seems just plain dark.

But this precisely is the walk of faith. This is the hard, true stuff of it. Faith is believing that rainbows exist even if we see them so rarely. It is being drawn to its grandeur even if we are also pelted by rain, often within the same day.

This is the hard, real stuff God promises His people if we refuse to split the Word into bits we like and bits we don’t. There are many part of Scripture that are hard to understand, read and accept, such as Jeremiah 31. It’s a grand proclamation about a glorious return of the exiled people of God filled with bright and wonderful promises such as:

Then shall the maidens rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry. (Jeremiah 31v13a)

These verses sound like a bright-below-a-rainbow picnic of wild abandon! What follows is welcome too:

I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance,
and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, says the LORD. (v13b-14) .

I am up on my feet ready to twist to this news until my eyes glance down and I notice there is more:

Thus says the LORD: a voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not. ~ Jeremiah 31v15


This verse sits strangely among the many words of comfort and rainbow-promises.

Why such harrowing information right smack in the middle of the promises of return, vindication and joy? It is hard to make sense of and it’s so bloody, so we skip right by it.

It’s hard to embrace this rainbow and thunder mix, this juxtaposition of abundance and death.

I read and reread it. It feels like I have caught sight of a rainbow, and as I climbed to catch a better look, I come upon a huge craggy boulder that is blocking my view. At this point, the most pertinent thing to respond to is this: will I skin my knees and scrap my hands to get past that boulder?

Jeremiah is setting up traction. There may yet be a vista that lies beyond the beckoning rainbow.


“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord, ‘because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, “declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (v31-34).

There is a new covenant, a fresh start, a brand-new hope for these people to become the people of God.

Faith is glimpsing a rainbow and trusting that there is One who has designed them.

When we reach the New Testament, Matthew uses these same words about the wailing of mothers. Those aren’t words of poetry, they are words of history.

There were inconsolable tears nearly two thousand years ago when baby boys were slaughtered by a nervous king. These tears, incomprehensible to us, were the context of God’s great salvation plan to rescue us from all tears forever.

I wish it didn’t have to happen this way. But it did. God came right into our messes. Jesus was subject to it until it killed him.

 

But it did not end in death. It ended with resurrection.

So if there’s sound advice on how to stay right under the rainbow even when you cannot see it; it’s what God told Jeremiah to do in chapter 32: buy land! By this, God meant, that we are to live our life despite the fears, struggles and the taunt of death even. We are to live deep, to lay down stakes, to dig right in. We are to embrace our darkest and weakest, for God is working something out.

This by the way is sheer madness. Jeremiah is asked to trust when everything appears contrary. His title deed is an act of defiance against how-things-appear. It is a statement that says, ‘the game isn’t over, the score hasn’t been tallied, the results are not out yet’. This too is God’s instruction to us: to live not by sight, but by faith.

In our days, this living by faith can be so tough sometimes. We will see stuff that blocks out the Son and makes the rainbow vaporize. To keep believing in rainbows when that happens, we must look at the definite work that demonstrates God’s Goodness once for all: the Cross and the empty tomb. We don’t deserve it, we wouldn’t have asked for it, and we cannot conjure it – but there it is, both historical fact and faith revelation. God is good to us and has sent us His Son, tore up His heart – that we may know while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

The rainbows appear to remind us they have always been there. They show up where there is light and where life continues.

 

Book Picks: One Square Inch of Silence

I am on the prowl for all things with the word ‘silence’ in it. Even after i just finished writing a book on silence, and in deed because I did, I am humbled by the nuances that can be explored and tasted.

Hempton is “a man on a search for natural silence in a noisy world”, and this book details his search for it in a cross-country trip in the USA. Mind you, Hempton, a world-class sound ecologist has recorded sounds in so many corners of the globe, just trying to track his trips feels tiresome.

Decked with high quality measuring instruments (which I won’t repeat here), he drives a an old VeeDub, listening from Seattle to D.C..

The book is quite a tome which surprised me off the bat. Did he have to search so hard? At first, it seemed just so much acoustics, but as he bares his soul and you travel with the man, you just cannot but feel deeply for the loss of silence around us. Even though we are vaguely aware of this loss, his precise measurements, the many conversations with other seekers, digging up government papers and so forth… the details fill in and the catastrophic level of the problem begins to loom. I am all the more eager for my book to come out, and hope to send it to him once it does!

Meanwhile, here are my favourite bits from his book:

“I see sound by studying the stones in the river, which are arranged, not at all randomly, but in a musical score. The largest stones, about the size of basketballs, make resounding thuds whenever they roll along, pushed by the strongest currents. These are in the main channels, and some lie partially buried. The smaller stones that produce that midtones and high pitches have arranged themselves in conspicuous bands corresponding to currents of different strengths of water flow….when the heavy autumn rains return, the rover’s song will play loudly, so loud that you can hear the underwater concert from the trail.” -p28

“I’ve come to think of silence in two ways. Inner silence is that feeling of reverence for life. It is a feeling we can carry with us no matter where we go, a sacred silence that can remind us of the difference between right and wrong, even on a noisy city street. It resides at a soul level. Outer silence is different. It is what we experience when we are in a naturally quiet place without the modern noise intrusions that can remind us of modern issues beyond our control, such as economic aggression and the violation of human rights. Outer silence invites us to open up our senses and get connected once again to everything around us, no matter in what direction we look…. Outer silence can recharge my inner silence. It feels me with gratitude and patience. I don’t think i have been either tired or hungry while in a place of outer silence…” p31

“Today we live in a time of planetary fast-forward. We’ve unleashed a million years of changes in a single human generation. We take from the earth and return less than we greedily grab and all too often we don’t even know what we have lost, like the sound of our own footsteps.” -p58

“There are so many different kinds of wind.” – p109

“The longer I was there, listening, taking it all in, the more I heard. At first I noticed only the larger patterns, simple gusts and lulls, but then my mind dug deeper and discerned the individual wind torrents weaving through the branches. After 15 minutes the details were countless; the tree was a congregation chanting a hymnal to the sky.” -p111

“More than any other sense, hearing unites everything.” -p112

“There’s a total acoustic and olfactory universe out there that we totally shut down to. I think it’s because of all the racket…The human mind, our intelligence, our consciousness, it all evolved from a habitat whose remnants in this country we call wilderness…We evolved from that…using our senses, and that which evolves doesn’t persist without sustaining the conditions of its creation – Doug Peacock” -p118

“The immersion in silence, like a good soak in hot springs relaxes my tired spiritual muscles. Right now it is all about letting go of my ingrained thoughts and being open to the moment. Everywhere there is beauty to see, music to hear, desert holly flowers and sage to smell. Wispy and gray clouds accent a deep blue sky, the canyon rock grows fiery red. I feel invisible, almost selfless.” -139

“I find it inspiring to return to a place where I can find art. I can find evidences of people who lived in a very direct way….Few people come here. There is no mechanised apparatus allowed here. No loud machinery. I can drop down out of the busy everyday to my apprehension of this place and what it’s telling me. It’s also a place that’s wild. I can break a leg while I’m out here. It’s enlivening, its awakening to be here, to be relying on these capacities which we don’t often get to use in the civilised world.” -p149

“Deep silence is also valuable for providing the best backdrop against which you are hearing audible sounds…. The loss of quiet is literally the loss of awareness. Quiet is being lost without people even becoming aware of what they are losing. It’s tragic – Kurt Fristrup.” -p173

“The avian choir is not just shrinking, but forgetting its repertoire…In Europe, where natural quiet no longer exists, except possibly in some far northern regions of countries such as Finland and Norway, entire populations of birds are adapting their songs to be hears above he din of noise pollution.” -p185

“Nor is he noise solely airborne….whales and dolphins depend on sound to communicate, to find food, to find mates, and to navigate… For one marine species, the Yangtze River dolphin known as the baiji, the din may have been too much. This creature called the ‘Goddess of the Yangtze’ …was practically sightless, relying on a sonar-based sebsory stem to navigate and feed. The extinction of the white Yangtze dolphin…marked the first mammal extinction in 50 years.” -p186

“A bit further down the trail she asks, “Do you ever feel like you’re one person trying to do the impossible?” “I am one person,” I answer….Yes, I ‘m only one person, but I do not feel my quest is impossible. Each side of this very trail we’re walking is lined with miracles, from these giant spruces and first to the equally stunning butterscotch slug…Saving One Square Inch of Silence seems like a modest task compared to creations such as these!” -p206

{Some pages down, as the trip wound closer towards D.C., Hempton is asked this question again by a fellow trail blazer. This time he writes,

“I have learned…that it is not a matter of choosing between what is doable and what is not when making a stand. I know that is it right to save silence. I do not know if silence can be saved. Saving silence will take many voices” – p243

“So why can’t planes be rerouted…to preserve the silence?” – p207 {this is a big issue that once again boils down to a lack of political will and the burden of inter-agency agreement or lack thereof}

“..scientists have learned that an organ dear the ear known as the sacculus, responsible for making the body aware of its position is stimulated by loud music. It also turns on the pleasure center of the human brain – in some individuals, apparently quite powerfully….  Just as excessive alcohol consumption has produced a number of hangover remedies…so-called bangover remedies are beginning to appear.” -p237-8

“Woodpeckers have joined the morning chorus of songbirds, producing resounding echoes that fill the hardwood fores. Each tree has a different tone and each woodpecker a slightly different rhythm.: -p266

“The speed of sound actually depends on how efficiently the sound-wave energy is transferred. It is more a matter of stiffness than of density. -p268

And how else, you may ask, does noise bother us? According to the literature, aggressive tendencies, levels of learning and clarity of thought, hearing loss, and sleeplessness – between pages 212-7 – are enough for me!

I told my friend visiting me from the USA about the book and asked if she had been to Olympic National Park since it’s in her state. She had not heard of it! Well, here it is (complete with audio by the good Hempton himself):

One Square Inch

“I’ve been to every one of our (National Parks) in search of quiet, and certainly this trip across America… I believe quite confidently that there is no natural quiet left east of the Mississippi River and that the nose-free interval – that time between noise events – is generally under a minute when you’re west of the Mississippi River. Sometimes it’s a few minutes, and if it exceeds fifteen minutes during daylight hours, it’s truly exceptional.  The Hoh Valley is the only place I’ve been to where the noise-free interval is measured in hours. And that is really worth protecting.” -p309

“Who would have thought that preserving just one square inch of land from noise pollution would virtually affect an entire 1.000 square miles surrounding it?” – the author’s daughter, at first skeptical and grumpily exited the journey, wrote this in her senior project in the end.

 

osi book

Man who has lost silence has not merely lost one human quality, but his whole structure has been changed thereby ~ Max Picard, 1948

Good Friday

Someone gave me a little magnet once that said:

“Not every day is good, but there is something good in every day”

I loved it and when I did not know what to give my precious niece who lost her dad when she was only twelve, I gave her the magnet.

Something good in every day.

Like my oatmeal breakfast. It was pretty good. I could afford to buy it, cook it, and even add a banana and top it with cinnamon dust.

Like sitting in an actual apartment, not hearing bomb blasts, but bird calls.

Like being able to plan the day and look forward to a gathering with friends later.

Like words, right here, that lets my soul breathe.

 

Gratitude is good (the science confirms it).

But it begs this: we offer gratitude toward someone. Gratitude is a sign that we are beholden, dependent, in need.

Today is Good Friday. This article explains the origins of the word ‘good’.

Ok, not quite, really.

It just says it really means Sacred, holy, passion – the stuff related to God, religion, Jesus (of course). Today, we will not consider any of these words really synonymous.

This means it’s a long trek back to what it’s all about!

Well, every day has something good. But come on, we all know, most days, it isn’t good enough! We are grateful (or we try to be), but something still niggles at us.

We want perfect.

Now that’s another word, which Jesus incidentally uses (in my English version that is).

There is a Goodness we long for that is beyond us no matter how hard we try.

I want Good Friday to offer me that goodness, and it says it does. I admit the gore and harsh realities surrounding the last days of Jesus’ life and his horrible, unjust death, makes it hard for me to join the word ‘good’ or ‘perfect’ to it. But maybe I don’t get to decide some things. Maybe it’s for me to dig in to find what Good is and readjust my version of it.

Who knows, it may take me to a new magnet: Every Day Is Good.

That will be so WOW.

 

This re-telling is pretty wow too: What is Good Friday?

Women, Difficult?

A word play, I am sure.

Men may find us difficult.

We certainly find ourselves in difficult straits, as highlighted by the panels that featured activists, advocates and artists. The issue: women, finding life difficult.

I appreciate the subject, I think the open conversations are so crucial. But I got increasingly hot under the collar, because it reeked of an older rhetoric which I have always felt uncomfortable with.

I get the men saying and doing inappropriate things. I get the job opportunities denied, the glass ceiling and unequal pay. They do make me mad too. I get the 300,000 women not in the workforce, because I am one of them in the traditional sense of the word.

So I found myself muttering a prayer for fresh air.

Practically, the little bookstore was packed, I was standing and trying to shift my weight between my feet so as not to have my back retaliate. We needed fresh air too because as the humour from transgender June Chua and the statistics from Aware advocate piled on, I wondered if we are telling the younger women present to turn on their fright and flight response, to suspect the other gender, to dislike their own gender.

It is difficult to be a woman. The rhetoric keeps spinning:

You have to work twice as hard to prove yourself.
You have to fend off unwelcome sexual attention.

You aren’t safe.

You aren’t celebrated unless you become like one of the guys.

The issue of a woman’s identity, worth, significance and freedom are framed by reference to the male domain of work, freedom of choice, power.

I heard and saw feminine angst, not appeal.

Then we get the conflicted bit about being free to dress the one way we want, “in skimpy clothes” and angry at the lascivious looks and attention that often comes with it.

Can we not say something positive without resorting to the negative?

Can we not have gender equality without gender wars?

I think it’s really brave of the women on the panel to share their experiences, to be so proactive in what they do. I admire their heart and labour, reaching out to fellow domestic workers, creating a shelter for fellow transgender women, working to research, educate and legislate for greater equality.

Too bad the ‘discussion’ bit of the panel didn’t quite happen. At the end, they wrapped up with ‘volunteer, speak up, write….to the right people”. I hollered, “about the right things”. It wasn’t very refined of me. But I really wanted to scream already, having not been picked to ask my question:

Why can’t we turn this conversation on its head?

“Bolinda is my real name”, she who works for the welfare of her fellow Filipino domestic workers. She shared that many of these women suffer the break down of their own families as they care for their employer’s families. There is inequality at its worst there, women to women.

Her words confirmed for me what I wanted to ask, “don’t we all agree that at the end of the day, what we all want is love? Don’t we all agree that what we all need most are strong, healhty relationships that engender our flourishing?”

If that is so, could the 300,000 women who are not in the workforce be doing something really worthwhile, if they sacrificed (albeit it some of them may feel it’s a ‘forced choice’) in order that the most basic unit of society doesn’t splinter?

Why can’t we value the unique abilities of women to build relationships, nurture, multi-task and get the men to see tat these are gifts they can aspire to instead?

Why not turn the tables and be proud of our feminine strengths? This does not preclude women being at work of course, but we simply don’t have to work and aspire like men.

Ah yes, the issue of the moolah which is the major measure of security and success.

I feel this keenly, my choices mean that my CPF is dismal, my mortgage destined to disallow retirement of the cushy version, and my spending power limited to a degree.

But there are other things in life. Everything costs money, it is true, but it costs your life (and possibly the lives of others to accumulate wealth, and what in the end do we want to enrich?).

 

At the end, everyone shuffled off quickly to vacate the space for the next panel. I got to talk to a beautiful young lady who works in tech, and shared some of what i have written here. She then asked me, “so how do we talk to the older generation without getting mad…?”. I am surprised by her question, but love it too. It’s a woman’s intuition at work: how do we do this together?

I am not sure if I helped, but I shared that I believe that every generation has their battles to fight. What we need to do is to decide the battle lines, to draw on the wisdom from their scars and be vulnerable to ask for help that they are able to give.

Not just that, every woman must find her soul, love it and define it with the seasons, opportunities and adversities that come along with it.

I would love to discuss this more, especially in the church. And I really wanted to give June a hug for saying, “look at us as persons”, calling out my resident bias.

Let’s be brave, alone, and together!

 

Difficult-Women-BooksActually

Difficult Women –
with Melissa De Silva, Vanessa Paranjothy (Freedom Cups), Jean Ferry, Amanda Tan (Empyreal), Ginger June (The T Project), Shailey Hingorani (AWARE Singapore), Balli Kaur Jaswal, Indulekshmi Rajeswari, Bhing (HOME: Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics), Rachel Yeo (Inter-University LGBT Network, Singapore), Sharul Channa

 

The panel I listened to was:

Shailey Hingorani (AWARE Singapore), Bhing (HOME: Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics), June Chua (The T Project) & Rachel Yeo (Inter-University LGBT Network, Singapore), Sharul Channa

Also for the record, I counted 3 men in the audience excl the bookstore owner! (and alas, no cats).

Book Picks: Best of My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, Christian Wiman

Wiman has cancer.

Wiman sort of has faith.

Between treatments, bits of reading, spending time with his wife and their weekly visits with a pastor from a church down the corner of the street — came this brilliant volume – a man’s searching thoughts about life and faith.

Here are my favourite bits:

To be innocent is to retain that space in your heart that once a still, small voice saying not your name so much as your nature, and the wherewithal to say again and forever your wordless but lucid, untriumphant and absolute, yes. You must protect this space so that i can protect you. You must carry it with you through whatever milieu you find yourself growing too comfortable: the seductive assurance and instant contempt of secularism, the hive-like certainties of churches, the mental mazes of theology, the professional vale of soul making that a life in literature can become. Something in you must remain in you, voiceless even as you voice your deepest faith, doubt, fear, dreams… [64]

Spiritual Innocence is not naivete. Quite the opposite, Spiritual innocence is a state of mind – or, if you prefer, a state of heart – in which the life of God, and a life in God, are not simply viable but the sine qua non of all knowledge and experience, not simply durable but everlasting. [64]

Some modern philosophers… have argued that existential anxiety proceeds from being unconscious or, or inadequately conscious of death. True I think, but I wonder if the emphasis might be shifted differently…our anxiety is less the mind shielding itself from death than the spirit’s need to be. It is as if each of us were always hearing some strange, complicated music in the background of our lives, music that, so long as it remains in the background, is not simply distracting but manifestly unpleasant, because it demands the attention we are giving to other things. It is not hard to hear this music, but it is very difficult to learn to hear it as music. [92]

(Fanny Howe)..”the self replaced the soul as the fist of survival”. Anxiety comes from the self as ultimate concern, from the fact that the self cannot bear this ultimate concern: it buckles and wavers under the strain, and eventually, inevitably, it breaks.

“Glimmerings are what the soul’s composed of” writes Semaus Heaney…the word “glimmerings” is read as both literal and metaphorical: the soul is not simply the agent that does the seeing …, it is in some way the things that are seen..; or perhaps more accurately, the soul is the verb that makes an exchange between the self and reality – or the self and other selves – possible. It is the soul that turns perception into communication, and communication – even if it’s just between one man and the storm of atoms around him – into communion. [93]

Faith steals upon you like dew: some days you wake and it is there. And like dew, it gets burned off in the rising sun of anxieties, ambitions and distractions.

So strength first made a way,

Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honor, pleasure:

When almost all was out, God made a stay,

Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,

Rest in the bottom lay. [97]

 

At first, attending to the anxiety of existence can seem like a zero-sum game. Any attention turned toward spiritual truth is attention turned away from all we have come to think of as “life”. Thus we parcel out our moments of devotion – a church service here and there, a walk in the woods, a couple of hours of meditation a week – all the while maintaining the frenzy of our usual existence…This is inevitable,…but it is not sustainable, for the soul is not piecemeal. We are left with this paradox: only by hearing the farthest call of consciousness can we hear the call of ordinary life, but only by claiming the most mundane and jangling details of our lives can that rare and ulterior music of the soul merge with… “the music that happens”. [98]

Modern spiritual consciousness is predicated upon the fact that God is gone, and spiritual experiences, for many of us, amounts mostly to an essential, deeply felt and necessary, but ultimately inchoate and transitory feeling … Christ, though, is a shard of glass in your gut. Christ is God crying I am here, and here not only in what exalts and completes and uplifts you, but here in what appalls, that you would call not-God. To walk through he fog of God, toward the clarity of Christ is difficult because of how unlovely, how “ungodly” that clarity often turns out to be. [121, Wiman meets a homeless man]

We do not need definite beliefs because their objects are necessarily true. We need them because they enable us to stand on steady spots from which the truth may be glimpsed…. definite beliefs enable us to withstand the storms of suffering that come into every life, and that tend to destroy any spiritual disposition that does not have deep roots. [123]

Faith is nothing more – but how much this is – than a motion of soul toward God. It is not belief. Belief has objects – Christ was resurrected, God created the earth – faith does not. Event he motion of faith is mysterious and inexplicable:… It may be God who moves, the soul that opens for him. Faith is the word “faith” decaying into pure meaning. [139]

… the life of Christ is not merely a point in time but ..a portal to eternity. … Christ’s life is not simply a model for how to live, but the living truth of my own existence. [165]

 

The endless, useless urge to look on life comprehensively, to take a bird’s-eye view of ourselves and judge the dimensions of what we have or have not done: this is life as landscape, or life as resume. But life is incremental, and though a worthwhile life is a gathering together of all that one is, good and bad, successful and not, the paradox is that we can never really see this one thing that all our increments (and decrements, I suppose) add up to. “Early we receive a call”, writes Czelaw Milosz, “yet it remains incomprehensible, / and only date do we discover how obedient we were.” [174]

My God my bright abyss

into which all my longing will not go

once more I come to the edge of all I know

and believing nothing believe in this.

book

Christian Wiman, poet, is in remission from cancer. He is married with twin daughters.

wiman

You are the best parents for your child(ren): when you don’t feel very confident about being a parent

This post is for the honest people. If you believe you are doing a near-perfect job, don’t hardly get any jitters, never second-guess your decisions, lose sleep or shed tears, move on to a Ted talk or Mr Brown.

This post is for the hungry. Not just a growl in the tum that is settled by a quick wolfing, but those who like to digest things a little, because I am going to try to throw together a dish that isn’t often served, and you need time to taste it and examine its nutritional value.

This post is for the happy people, the folks who want to keep getting up and doing stuff better.

This post is about Parental Confidence, which comes about this way: Parental + Confidence.

Parental
So you had a baby, she came out all squirmy and the room felt like heaven’s entry way. Near exhaustion, you beam as if an angel had scattered gold dust (maybe it has). Congratulations! Just remember this: parenting is never, ever, automatic. It is a decision.

Recently, dear Jason Wong of the Fatherhood Movement/Yellow Ribbon, put out a short vid about not outsourcing parenting.

But guess what? We do.

We need the income.
I need my sanity.
I can’t do this.
I’m not the …type.
My in-laws are free.
I am not a child expert.

Some of these are larger realities and we need to stand together to say ‘No’ to it. Why for example, does Singapore have to be one of the most expensive cities to live in?

Most of the other reasons fall like cards. A child is a life. A gift. A trust.  God has chosen you to bring her here (well planned or otherwise). It’s been said, anyone can be the CEO, but only you can be the parent to your child.

We all know that the family unit is the basic building block of any society, but we don’t really believe it. Or we will not be knocking it down so much. From overworked parents, to stressed out children, families have become a mimicry of the corporate or bureaucratic structures of efficiency and order. We fear losing out, we hurry, we spend most of our energies on administration.

We imbibe all the stuff we hear without thinking clearly for ourselves. This is called conformity. There is stern warning about it:

Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…” ~ Romans 12v1-2

Conformity is the enemy of originality, diversity, and of power. When we conform we hand over power. I am not anti-establishment for after all, the home is an establishment and institution. No home is ever one without the need for rules and for members to abide by them. That is not conformity, for a thriving home will have space for discussion and negotiation. The aim of the rules is not provide stability for vibrancy to flourish.

When was the last time we stopped to think if we really needed all that stuff?

Have we spent enough time to really know our child and to be able to nurture her soul?

Are our marriages dying for lack of love that is a slow and daily cultivation requiring sacrifice?

I am truly glad and almost envious for those who are created so specially to be able to build a thriving marriage, family life and work life that is all Instagram sweetness. Just that I haven’t really met any in real life.

The thing is, with life, you cannot really look ahead to determine the outcomes. You also can’t look back and say you ended up with the best outcome. I have successful friends who watch with anguish as their children become estranged. I have so called less-successful friends who experience the same. Equally, friends across the socio-economic spectrum have good relationships with their children and their home is a haven.

Since we can’t predict or retrospect, where does that leave us?

Our values. 

I have no doubt all parents want to be the best parents they can be. What I sense is that most of us don’t really know how great we can be because we never really attempted it. 

From the way society and couples go about it, I feel that parenting when placed side by side against so many other things, may not be such a high value. What we don’t value, we won’t make sacrifices for.

In what way have you chosen to be a parent, despite the odds?

The parenting choice is not a once-off deal too.

As the children grow, I have found that reminding myself of my scared trust is a daily necessity. It means I need to have resources to love, nurture, restore, pray, train, discipline, guide, protect, and coach…. It means that when there is strife, unhappiness, sloth, and a multitude of small and large offenses and challenges, I am still the adult who can influence the outcomes the most. I have been given a strange and marvelous power. It is a huge privilege. (I have asked God many times, why He takes the risk).

Is parenting your valued choice?

Image result for images of growing children asian

Confidence
No one likes to feel like an ignoramus. But parenting can do that. It is very humbling. It’s also too bad that we have forsaken our familiar networks for the nuclear family so that the load is much heavier, especially if we have other challenges.

But confidence can be grown, with time and practice. It also starts with value.

I was blessed to be number 7 in a family of 9 siblings. So I had some practice with nieces and nephews. I was also blessed to have a mother who is very skillful and adores babies. When I had my first child, my mother and my in-laws were in fact retired and available. But I valued my calling and privilege as a parent. I also know how it felt like not to have my parents available to me in my growing years. So I thanked all of them and despite discouragement, became the primary care giver and made the choice to stay-home and be the ‘pastor of one’ as it were (though it isn’t true, folks came to my home when they needed).

Parenting is a very high value to me.

Who else does my child, chemically inclined, want to bond with so as to feel safe?
Who else is going to think through my child’s needs?
Who else is going to witness the flowering of this life?
Who else is going to catch the developmental concerns as the child grows?

We need the support and help of others. But infant care and 12 hour child-care is not best way to go.

I like to think that I am one superb mom. As proof, my neighbor whom I seldom see, was startled to see me with my baby girl, and remarked that she had no idea there was a baby because she never heard crying (of course, my daughter cried, just not very much and I think it is largely due to my attentiveness).  But I have lost my confidence many times (my last post was precisely about times when we blow it. . Still, my value anchored me. I pray, forgive myself, learn, pick myself up and grow in my confidence.

Confidence comes with practice. We simply have to build it over time, hard knocks and experimentation.

I don’t want to be that bewildered old person who feels awkward with her children, unsure what she has done with all the years she had as a mom, worried about loneliness or worse outcomes.

I don’t want to be that parent who believes others can do a better job with my child than me, when she shares my genes and lives under my roof and longs to connect deeply with me.

I don’t want to be that parent who blames school, spouse, society for how my child turns out and how she treats me.

I cannot guarantee the future, and I don’t need to. I am called to live in the present, where God the I AM dwells closest to us. The present is shaped by our values, what is important to us at the eternity-moment. I am enjoying the moments of deep laughter, peace, stability and even challenges, moments that I have sown into over all the present moments of the years gone by.

It is one thing to occasionally lose confidence as a parent. It happens. It is another to relegate it away and therefore never own the parenting or grow the confidence.

And O, life is one long continuous conversation. I know some who think that they can work and earn first, then attend to the children when they are older. For the sake of the children and the future of society, I really hope the conversation did not get broken. It is hard to pick up a conversation when the sense of intimacy is lost and when the lingo is too different.

Onward parents, let’s grow together in Parental Confidence. Our homes and our nation needs us.

Please share this post with every person planning to have children. 

Transforming Grace (and other variants)

You know what I find disturbing about us Christians?

We have a holier-than-thou attitude.

beware of christians

Interesting title, no?

I would not have said this ten years ago. But a lot has happened in ten years, the most important being this: I have seen the darkness in my soul. Yes, I have come to the place where I understand that when Paul called himself the chief of sinners, it wasn’t hyperbole. We all rank first place when it comes to harbouring demons in the dark alleys of our souls.

Yelling at kids?

Thinking of divorce?

Entertaining hurtful thoughts?

Fantasizing?

Blaming?

Ego trips?

Seized by discontent?

Poor stewardship?

Lack of love?

What if i try out…?

Been there, been that.

This reckoning has in turn done two things. One, I am much less shocked by confessions. Second, I have begun to strip away at the notion of ‘the other’. I identify with others more than I differentiate from them.

Thomas Cole voyage of life- manhood

Thomas Cole’s Voyage of Life

If you have ever met a personal darkness, sensed a shadow, wrestled with a demon, chances are you want to either reach for HyperGrace – it’s no big deal, or we collapse into UnderGrace – we are wrecked with guilt and try our best to cover it all up.

I use these monikers to represent the two common ways we respond to glimpses of what lurks beneath our respectable, put-together selves. In HyperGrace, we may –

. brush it off as not really so serious compared with…

. create a spiritual scorecard by pumping up more rigour for spiritual activities (from dancing to Bible studies).

 

On the other end, some of us veer towards UnderGrace where we –

. smile and act nice, totally inconsistent with what’s tugging at our hearts

. blame others or beat up ourselves for not measuring up

. endlessly analyse what went wrong

This happens to the individual, and even to groups and entire churches.

The problem is that both of these take us away from Transforming Grace, which the Bible says is given to the ‘humble’.

You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe  with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because he cares for you. ~ 1 Peter 5v5-7

Peter wrote this. I dare say no one knows about Grace and humility the way Peter does.

He was the blustering disciple who boasted of his loyalty only to find it crumble when faced with the threat of persecution. He is the one Jesus re-creates a memory of his calling {read this John 21} so that he could be restored. He tasted Grace that morning when his professional fishing efforts yielded no gains. He tasted Grace in the fish on live coals and the poignant words of restoration Jesus spoke into the depths of his being.

He humbled himself in admission of his shadows and failures and was reunited with His Lord in love and mission. Still, he would have moments of weakness, but those are moments and not definitions.


Being humble is connected with casting our anxieties on God. 

We are anxious whenever we don’t know the outcomes to things or when we anticipate a negative result. But Peter, he has learnt that. All his bravado cannot gainsay the truth that he has limits and he cannot really fix some things, even if he can swing a sword the way he can throw a net.

Transforming Grace – that flows downward to the bowed and receptive heart – happens when we humbly agree with God that we don’t have the answer but we know God does.

I love Danielle Strickland’s* definition of humility: agreeing with God about who you are.

Mind you, God does not think small of us. No, he thinks wonderful thoughts beyond our wildest dreams. Yet, he remembers and knows we are dust. We are finite. We do well to remember that of ourselves and others. That’s when Grace happens. Peter tells us that God’s intent is to exalt us. God knows we cannot reach the heights of who we truly are unless He raises us up.

The verses has another dimension:

You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because he cares for you.  

I admit that this is the bit most of us don’t really like. After all, whether it’s our families or work or churches, we all know elders and leaders who we struggle to respect and follow. But here, Peter reminds us that there is the basic posture of being submissive that counts if we want to experience Grace. To be fair, he speaks here of an environment where there is the effort to honour one another.

Being humble creates a flow of God’s Grace into our lives and situations.

water 1 (1)

water flows downwards

We will meet, experience and share Grace when we are willing to kneel with the broken, sobbing alongside, hurting with them, remembering this could just as well be us. This is when Grace creates community.

We will know, be touched and grow in Grace is when we are willing to face our need for it in an authentic and vulnerable fashion. This is when Grace creates courage.

We will stand upon and lead stronger out of Grace when we will call out our tendency to hide, gloss over and conceal. This is when Grace creates maturity. 

These three are good indicators of the present workings of Grace in our lives: community, courage and maturity.

 

To have reckless self disclosure without regard for others lacks maturity.

To have endless discussions without actions shows a lack of courage.

To be part of unending gatherings where our deepest concerns are never shared or heard means there isn’t real community.

Grace transforms our isolation to community, our fears to courage and our infancy to maturity.

Perhaps try this: you may well notice that from the American elections, to ISIS, to the latest local news about things gone wrong, our standard way is to point out what’s wrong, in clear denial that we could go so wrong ourselves (and it’s a miracle we didn’t). This stance has rarely helped us get anything right in the end.

It is a peculiar thing. The knowledge that we are saved by Grace and sustained and sanctified by Grace’s operations in our lives should be us crazy grateful, joyful and humble. Yet so often, we the chosen, the elect, the faithful – saved by Grace – have a way of turning Pharisaical.

We start to distance ourselves from ‘the others’ and become a holy huddle of sorts.

We have our share of doing good and pitching in to improve things, but in our hearts there is a line that says ‘we’ and ‘them’.

We go on a religious treadmill seeking out new and amazing ways for spiritual experiences.

We complicate matters. The Pharisees churned out 613 checklist items to keep the law….how many have we generated while regularly refusing to encourage the formation of lives through basic disciplines of prayer and Scripture and a commitment to community?

Nicodemus was a Pharisee. But he was different. He was at least humble enough to seek out Jesus and considered fresh possibilities. On the other hand, we have the thief that hung next to Jesus. His was not the robe of religiosity but the rags of crime. But he too experienced Grace when he humbled himself to admit that he deserved his sentence.

Go down with a name like Nicodemus or go down without a name like that lowly once-thief. Just be known by God and be touched by His transforming Grace.

You are making a difference, your way

A confession.

There are days I wonder what on earth I am doing. This post for example, what is . its . point?

Why sit on a cushy chair and write when there are starving children, traumatized human slaves, lonely women, marriages falling apart and systemic evils?

You have them too don’t you?

Such days call for remembering old lessons and seeking new ones. 

credit: PaoloTy

Old lessons:

1. There is only so much a brain and heart can handle.
I just heard they have been studying Einstein’s brain for 60 years; this doctor kept it in a large cookie jar for a long time…and we found: thinking about complex Mathematical matters gives you not a larger brain; but a different brain. Or it was the brain that came first… Still Einstein’s brain was preoccupied with higher cognition issues and as such he didn’t garden, bake or write songs.

What do we want our brain to handle?

Endless questioning robs us of precious energy and brain space which can be well used persevering with what we already do; and learning to do it better. (this post will see re-drafts and editing).

2. The happy heart serves up the best meals
If we go to whatever it is we do with misgivings, disgruntlement, jealousy over others’ lot and other such toxins; neither the work we do or the outcomes will be pretty. I consistently noticed that people who do amazing work – from crocheting to selling ideas – totally throw their heart into what they do.

It just matters to them. Others may laugh, criticize, mock or reduce…but they solider on, happily absorbed in what they are on to.

3. There is a God above and the results are not out yet
We are way too used to the exam script. Hustle, sweat and wait for the result slip. Sorry, but where your life is being poured out – listening, praying, going to work each day, noticing your colleagues, interceding for world needs, taking your kids to school, nursing that sick parent… there is no result slip that can tell you how well you have done.

The only indicator is the one within your bosom: do it with great love, advised dear Mother Teresa.

New Lessons

I have not been a huge fan of self-help, until the day my book got stocked there! I stopped defending my purist tendencies and decide to widen my reading. A huge avalanche of great quality inspiration now comes into my inbox regularly. I don’t track with all of it, read all of it, and certainly rarely adopt any of the habits others have crafted for their success. But I learn so much from these folks. From neuroscience to diet, there are so many cool connections to better understand an issue.
Sometimes it’s easy to moan the state of things. But asking the questions and going out to find if there are answers has turned out to be very life-giving. Knowing there are so many passionate people out there who are making a difference humbles me.
When I get restless and angst; and want to invent some great good to achieve, I leaf through these old lessons and let them strap me back onto my seat. Then I think of the people I met, became friends with, read and I take a deep breath. The oxygen of hope helps me feel more keenly and see more deeply. I settle back into my chair; and get on with the day before me.

Sometimes, as I write, an old memory returns – a mercy of course. This morning two came to me.

I think of the surprise I felt when a young lady ran up to me and thanked me for helping her turn a corner. I don’t quite recall what I said or did!

Then as I sat lifting up needs and just naming them… I recalled the impression I received at my mother’s passing: that I need no longer be the spiritual gatekeeper for my large family. That impression surprised me too. It wasn’t a role I had thought up or defined. I clumsily loved and inconsistently prayed…and at that word I felt a huge burden roll off my shoulder.

Sometimes we just don’t know what we are doing and the difference we are making. 

I have found we are happiest when we don’t worry our little heads about that!

Go have a great day doing what needs to be done, what comes your way, and sit deep in your chair!

Free Walking at King’s Park with Charisse Neo

How To Have a NEW Year

First you have to be fed up. Yes, fed up with the old year, fed up enough to want things to be different.

What are you fed up with?

Have you had enough of worrying about what others think?
Are you done with spinning those wheels and not really sure if you are making progress?
Do you so dread the state of your relationships that you are wishing up ways to avoid the people?

 

Sometimes we think that being fed up is a sign of weakness or that we are being plain ungrateful. Well, we all have areas of weakness and we may well be ungrateful. It may be that your weaknesses (a lack of discipline or self-control) contribute to the state of things. Certainly being grateful cures us of many ills so we don’t live in chronic discontentment. But being fed up is different. It is a sign.

The thing is when we feel fed up, we tend to blame it on others. This will only ensure we never get a New year because we have absolutely no power to change others.

So, the difficult and necessary thing to do is to ask:

a. How would I like things to be?

b. What am I doing that is keeping things from being the way I want them to be?

The parent who wants the eighteen year old to grow up but continues to dole out pocket money, calls to ensure there is lunch, tidies the room for him, will stay fed up.

When we are fed up, we are also tired. Our resources have run out. We will begin to go through the motions. We will start to numb. We may even resort to forms of escapism. The length of time spent in gossip, playing online games, over-eating or under-eating. We may even do things we would not normally do, like visit a casino or seek out titillating experiences when prodded on by others.

As 2017 has folded over and a new page is waiting to be written, take some time to slow down and consider how things are in your life.

Today, mark out a few time periods when you can sit and pray, think, and plan for the New Year.

These questions will help:

a. How would I like things to be? [list each area of your life]

b. What am I doing that is keeping things from being the way I want them to be? [is it fear that people won’t respond? Do you want to at least have tried or give up on what you value?]

c. Where is my energy level now?

d. What saps me most and what refuels me?

These simple but powerful questions will surface what is deep within you. Your longings, your anxieties, your life management. When we are dissatisfied or struggle with ongoing issues, we will grow tired and that in turns reduces our resilience and perseverance. It’s a downward spiral.

All of us live with some degree of illusion. We have this ideal we hold ourselves and others to. Even if they are godly ideals, they can end up holding us hostage if we learn how to mature from where we are to where we believe and want to be.

All of us want to be more loving. But the journey of maturation into being a person who genuinely loves others is different for each of us. If we hold on to an illusory ideal where we congratulate ourselves one day and condemn ourselves the next, we won’t actually grow. A swing moves alright, but it doesn’t actually lead to a real change in location.

 

Philippe Malouin, Milan


Real change that comes through maturation is a gift of God, and God loves ‘upcycling’ – the process of using available material to craft new, beautiful and useful creations.

All you need for the New Year is within you.

The stronger marriage between your parents.
The lighter and more caring atmosphere at home.
The community of faithful friends.
The steadier, closer walk with God.
That organised kitchen/desk/wardrobe.
The commitment and joy of meaningful work.
The loosening of bonds that hold others in poverty and oppression.

Your dreams and longings. Your hopes and aspirations. Your wild ideas. They may be held back because you are not taking them seriously enough, allowing your fears to stall you. They may be held back because you have not rested, eaten, exercised well so that you are alert and energetic.

May you experience a New year my friends as you brave it and seek answers to the questions.

 

 

“Praise be to the LORD, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens’  ~ Psalm 68v19