Podcast year 1

Between a dream come true, a wild hope and a lot of frantic work — which had bereft this site of taps on the keyboard… (the last post was in June) — has been The Cathedral Podcast: the first Christian podcast in Singapore.

 

podcast_cr

It’s also interestingly a year of podcast explosion. But that’s not why we are on board.

We began recording unrehearsed conversations about matters on life-and-faith, simply because it needed to be done.

Life is going so fast, in a crowded, busy city – that it’s easy to run on auto-pilot, to be carried by the strong cultural winds, to be lost in the crowd.

A Christian is by nature a thoughtful being. But thoughts need to form, filter, and to foster action.

Singapore has many thinkers and shakers. I don’t care to react to history and cry ‘imperialist’ at every influence from the West, but we have a specific and unique context that requires our own cruciform stories and expressions.

It’s time we hear our own, celebrate the gifts that are scattered liberally and full of surprise, by a God of wonder, forever intent on redeeming us.

podcast roll

I will admit. I missed being here sharing my reading discoveries and letting my soul spill a little. Both were disciplines that kept me feeling green and fertile.

The podcast journey, with a team of incredible beings (human), isn’t without its challenges. But for what we were able to pull off, what we faced down, and how hard and often we laughed together — I can safely say God has chosen once again to widen my experience of His Generosity. Not to mention His Kindness.

So I guess, I will leave you words for this year-end season: spoken ones.

Have a listen won’t you, and share it if you think it’s good. (Yes, as with all things these days, you can click ‘subscribe’. It’s on Spotify and iTunes too.

 

Here’s the team (minus the Vicar and DN who was on vacation, coz he likes to take photos, not be in them!)

podcast team 2019

 

 

 

 

It’s all about A Marriage

It’s explosive.

 

And popular culture wants us to think it happens between the sheets.

PJAK 2018

In two days, I would have been married for twenty-three years. Since time remains a mystery and a blur to me most days, I simply cannot wrap my head around it.

I feel  deeply gratified that the difficult business of finding someone to call your own happened for me without the use of Tinder. But as I have written both  here and here and in an entire book called When God Shapes A W.i.f.e., the daily experience of being wedded to another soul takes one’s breath away – by which I mean the breathlessness that arises from exhaustion with trying to fit two unevenly shaped pieces together. Or two really bad dancers. Or two architects who brought their own blueprints and cannot agree on which bits to add and alter.

The theatre of my mind plays a thousand scenes on me, having a grand ball of a time pulling up the negative memories especially and I find that wisdom learned still needs the power of choice to become wisdom lived.

My journals bulge with words, questions, doubts and frantic prayers.

I struggle, fight, wear out, and get up again. There is a strange hopeful, dreamy DNA at work.

Last month, I think I found what this mystical power is.

My union is a signpost of Another union. This means that the true power of my marriage is what it conveys, not what I feel.

A few weeks ago, in a darkened mood, I sat waiting for the morning light, my way of surrendering to God. As I looked out my window, a strange purply-orange hue filtered the sky and the words came: “subtle beauty”. I knew God was describing my marriage because that was the question I posed.

We don’t typically look dreamily into each others’ eyes. We don’t extol each others’ virtues and rush to defend each other in public. We seldom hang tight like a unit with others around. We often fail to read other right. It’s not what I would like, and it certainly doesn’t seem romantic at all by today’s standards!

But I have a fierce commitment to God as does he. We made a vow before God and He witnessed and ratified it.

We may have married too soon or even married the ‘wrong person’. We most certainly could have been far more humble and teachable.

But the vulnerability, the exchange, the coupling and the cold distance are cradled by a Union that also is rocky and yet moves forward to a sure and certain end.

Hear the way Greg Enas from Biola puts it:

” … we his Bride will walk down that aisle to meet our Redeemer face to face where the greatest love story ever told will be consummated.”

That will be explosive!

And in the meantime, our tested faith must take us to another conversation, another sacrifice, another day. For this is the will of God.

God planned the marriage and some of us get to experience a this-worldly version of it. The this-worldly marriages of ours point to and mirror a deeper and more astounding reality that we can imagine. If we buckle and lose our way, our grief will be great when the Great Bridal March plays. But as I lean into this mystery, yes mystery (!), my own marriage feels lighter, as if carried by a more solid one that won’t ever fail.

 

other and earlier thoughts:

A Valentine’s Day Special

To Marry Or Not

Love, Sex and Marriage

Be The Mystery You Are

I know the power of gratitude. I just don’t agree that it’s some secret key.
The heart has too many chambers for one single key to fit them all. A master key you say? Yes, I am familiar with that notion, what the Housekeeping people in a ‘well-appointed hotel’ uses to enter your room. Perhaps even something a locksmith worth his mettle whips out to rescue you from the sorry state of being outside your own home, instead of in it.
But it isn’t just the chambers. The heart is flushed by constant movements – all that whoosing – which a Russian physician named Korotkoff described in five phases, which are actually the collapsing and reopening of our vessels, as the heart does it lubbing and dubbing. The drama intensifies. Quite a good number of things can interfere, interrupt and disrupt the regularity and frequency of the heart’s function. Each of these has its own fancy name.
Perhaps like me, your heart doesn’t do a straightforward lub-dub accompanied by the gentle taps of Korotkoff. Yours feel more like it’s flubbing.
I have known for years that I get palpitations. Twelve years ago I found out that my arrythmia is probably due to a tiny hole in the atrial region. Just last week, they found that my right valves actually don’t close properly. More fancy names, which means the blood flows aren’t as streamlined as they should be, and my heart is under stress. More tests are required to detail how the heart is really doing.
This knowledge parallels another ongoing investigation of my heart –
The things I care about.
Why tears suddenly come.
The empty spaces from loss of loved ones, death of dreams, loneliness.
Why I hope one moment and despair the next.

When I even so much as gingerly mention any of the above to a living soul, I am often handed some platitude mixed with varying degrees of genuine concern. I am both grateful and grate. The former because people are trying to be helpful. The latter because they haven’t taken the time to consider the problem properly, if indeed there is one.
Just as my physical condition tends to let rip a list of good doctors I should consult or investigations I should endure, my emotional and spiritual state must have a label, a history, a prescription.

But I am a mystery.

This is not due to some overblown ambition or misguided transcendentalism. It is in fact a reasonable conclusion.

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For one, neuroscientists tell us that our minds are beyond definition, much less laboratory-like control. Our memories for one, are reliable up to a point. We have an immense ability to adjust our stories, playing the victim or the victor as we choose (the former seems more popular). This means our recall won’t be a hundred percent accurate. Dwelling on the past, running over old events to find ‘answers’ are therefore rather useless, because we would have fudged the facts in our favour, exaggerated aspects of the events, failed to comprehend the entire picture due to our biases and blind spots.
Johari’s window reminds us that there are four window panes and one which we will miss, so our picture is at best 75% accurate.
But we can’t help it. We want to know, often to assign blame. We need to know. Sense-making is unique and vital to us, as the beats of our hearts.
As long as we remember the limits of our knowing, and allow that just like our hearts’ beating, it’s really a mystery.

And hence faith is necessary – to really live.

Trailblazing, Writing and Tears

It came with an email, one of those you get from subscriptions. The link led to a site about a competition for six-word memoirs, which had a link to this short video. This morning, many days later, I picked up the video and followed the simple instructions with some seriousness.

Spiral bound notebook and pen in hand, I began to follow the instructions to begin free-writing a list of words, whittle it down to three, and then free write about three of them in two minutes each.

This is how I got the following:

Trailblazing

What do you do when there’s no path? You make one. It isn’t so much that actual paths didn’t exist, but with no one to point them out to you, to slide up and perhaps whisper, “O look!”, neither my mind not my heart knew the wide possibilities before me. Still surprisingly, I believe they did. Unlike today’s children who are guided by well-educated and heeled parents through the maze of school and extracurricular options, mine was more a willy-nilly, vague hunch that there’s something out there. I just needed to put one foot in front of the other, and find out.

 

Write

For the longest time, I would not call myself a writer. Why should I? Writers have names like Somerset, Olivia, Finnegan or Shakespeare! I do like words, and my all-time favourite game is a brisker version of forming words, doing away with the board, called Snatch-Scrabble. I love puns, aphorisms, idioms and proverbs. I even enjoy some form of poetry. Most of all, writing saved me. The first real piece of prose I wrote was a runaway note. Perhaps as a sign of sorts, I now teach Journaling, where putting on paper the thoughts and turmoil within is critical to sanity, and ensuring one stays home!

 

Tears

I think it’s the shedding that this at all makes sense. I remember as a young child, quite startled once, when after a good cry, I wondered how it is those small eyes of mine, right there on my face could produce water I had thought then briefly only, as children do, where it had all come from. I now know where the water comes from, but the tears remain quite a mystery still. Recently in fact I wrote a small piece called The Inconvenience of Tears.

 

Each of these then I distiled into a sentence, here in reverse order:

Our eyes can water because our hearts need to cry

Writing is more than putting marks on paper or imputing data, it is sorting through life.

Something within us tells us there’s a way forward that we desire.

 

Maybe you’d like to try it too. The other piece on tears is here.

 

affirmation

this note from the editor who accepted my first magazine article

Inktober: Poison

Mothers feed us milk they say

what’s this in my veins

I must numb with stuff that kills

 

A haiku in response to local news about the adult daughter of one of Singapore’s richest couple, arrested for substance abuse and drunk driving. In her defense, she shares how her parents’ divorce, then hers and the subsequent rejection by her elder daughter stressed and impaired her.

I know it seems unfair that I chose to indict the mother, for I am sure both her father and her spouse have contributed to her pain. But there is something primal here that I want to get at.

My heart goes out to her and I lift a prayer for the family.

All the privilege in the world cannot protect you from the poison that leaks from hearts broken by broken promises. It is a swirl that quickly gathers momentum and creates a slush that feels so hard to clean up, it is better to part ways. But alas, the swirl does not stop easily, if ever.

 

[Inktober is a month of daily prompts. I am ten days late and land on ‘poison’! The trail led me to this incisive artwork by Melanie Franz, and the haiku was the result]

Non-required Reading

Are you reading something because you have to read it?

A manual, an email, a textbook, a facebook feed or post, a news article, or a religious book?

It struck me that reading is often a means to an end: I have to read the terms. I need to read through the material. I better have read the instructions…. I have emails to clear!

 

Reading as a joy seems pretty lost to us these days, safe the few lucky children who still get to luxuriate in it without being rushed off to some class or other.

Perhaps we could borrow the lyrical lilt of the old rhyme, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?”, replacing it with “how does your reading go?” I stumbled upon NON-REQUIRED READING while reading something on Medium or was it an online arts journal. See, I cannot remember (we have way too much information and no time to organise them in our inundated brains!). The title just felt like I had to reach for it, plus the author had a real air of mystery what with a name I could not pronounce: Wistawa Szymborska.

So I did. I reserved it at the library, picked it up a few days later, and it now sits at my bedstand for me to nibble on before I hit lala land. The original appeal came through the author’s credentials. But as I read the book, a translation from Polish, the point of the title began to sink further in.

This book serves no real purpose if you don’t count the rediscovery of the joy of reading as a pursuit! As I turn the pages, I am literally taken from town to city, homes to alleys, habits to habitats, as she skilfully summarises all types of non-fiction books, with much wry wit.

Here are some fun bits from it. Try to see if you can guess the non-fiction subject she is writing about.

1.

“A strict personal politics prevails in the world of opera. Family relationships are prescribed by codes as inviolable as those governing primitive tribes. A soprano must be a bass’s daughter, a baritone’s wife, and a tenor’s lover. A tenor may neither generate an alto not copulate with a contralto. A baritone lover is a rarity, and it’s best if he just settles for a mezzo. And mezzo-sopranos, in turn, should watch out for tenors – fate casts them often as ‘the other woman’ or in the even sorrier role of the soprano’s best friend… . Apart from father, basses ordinarily play cardinals, the powers of darkness, prison functionaries, and, in one case, the director of an insane asylum… . I admire opera, which is not real life, and I admire life, which is at times a true opera.” (Musical Chairs)

2.

“A little bird sits in the tree / And wonders at humanity, / Even the wisest man around / Can’t tell where happiness is found./ 

Still you’re better off not knowing like a human than knowing like a bird. Birds are lunatics with no clues as to their own lunacy. Instinct, which orders them to fly off every fall and resettle somewhere else that may be tens of thousands of miles away, only appears to be kindly and concerned with their well-being. If all that mattered were better food supplies in a more temperate climate, more than species would end its protracted flight sooner. But these demented creatures fly on, over mountains, where expected storms may smash them into cliffs, over seas, in which they may drown. Nature’s goal is not even ruthless selection: there are circumstances that destroy both strong and weak alike… . Nature plays an even more diabolic trick on the lemming, a gentle creature dwelling in burrows. Every so often these burrows get overcrowded, so the lemmings abandon their long-time homes en masse. To start another colony nearby? Not a chance – they start walking, just walking, for such is their hormonal destiny. They keep walking until they reach the sea, in which they drown. This species continues only thanks to those few individuals who remain t home in the old burrows.” (Compulsory Happiness)

3.

“Children like being frightened by fairy tales. They have an inborn need to experience powerful emotions. Andersen scared children, but I’m certain none of them held it against him, not even after they grew up… . He speaks to them not only about life’s joyous adventures, but about its woes, its miseries, its often undeserved defeats. His fairy tales, peopled with fantastic creatures, are more realistic than whole tons of today’s stories for children, which fret about verisimilitude and avoid wonders like the plague. Andersen had the courage to write stories with unhappy endings. He didn’t believe that you should try to be good because it pays (as today’s moral tales insistently advertise, though it doesn’t necessarily turn out that way in real life), but because evil stems from intellectual and emotional stuntedness and is the one form of poverty that should be shunned. And it’s funny, lain funny!” (The Importance of Being Scared)

4.

“Others may seek out junk shops only when pressed by dire necessity.; they drop in for inspiration and rummage among the chisels for an hour, purring with pleasure. You have to be born a handyman, you can’t suddenly become one in midlife… . The handyman has a flamboyant boyhood; he has learned how to balance on death’s edge amid corrosive liquids, broken glass, short circuits, and experimental detonations… . This book is thus intended for those credulous clods whose hearts it floods with the false hope that the first hook pounded into a wall as per its direction will be a hook well-pounded. This foray into home improvement will inevitably end with a call to a repairman, who will dolefully drag out his arrival for two weeks. And here I see the single reason for reading this book. You can chat with this repairman with the same finely feigned air of mastery that the poet Julian Tuwim once used on his locksmith. And what good is life without conversation?” (Home Improvement)

5.

“The authors stray far beyond their titular topic int heir ardor for instruction. Apart from mishaps at home, they cover accidents in the yard, the forest, and the river. And they close their useful booklet with a chapter on ‘Procedures in the Event of Mass Injuries (Natural Disasters, Atom Bombs). The reader’s astonishment is complete, since nothing in the book, whose dust jacket depicts a colourful house standing on a bandaged leg, had even hinted at such a conclusion… . There’s not way to be sure that the next book off the presses won’t be a handybook on the care and feeding of infants that culminates with the apocalypse.” (Nowhere to Hide)

 

The answers:

  1. The Opera Handbook
  2. The Enigmatic Lemming
  3. Hans Christian Andersens’ Fairy Tales
  4. Repairing and Redecorating Your Apartment
  5. Accidents in the Home

 

I conclude that this reading is far from required indeed, though on nights when I have enough wakefulness left in me, I look forward to reading this Nobel Prize collection of prose!

NRR

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

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?