Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Phone Call I Did Not Make Today

Early this morning, as soon as I woke up, my first impulse was to call and greet my dad a "Happy Birthday!" He would chuckle, and he would act surprised, and say, "You remembered?!" He would ask me 1. If I am ok, 2. If my siblings are ok, and do we keep in touch, 3. When am I going home for a break. He would laugh at my jokes, and he will assure me he is doing well. I would feel like a kid again, and I will remember my dad's booming laughter and generosity. I really wanted to do that today.

But I did not.

I could not.

Instead, I prayed and thanked the Lord for giving us our dad. I thanked the Lord for the kind of father he was to us - gentle, generous, loving, and always supportive. I asked the Lord to hug him for us as he is with Him now.

Happy birthday, papa! We love you so much!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Departures and Arrivals: A Meditation on Being on the Road

There are journeys that are breathtaking in their breadth,distance and speed. In a blink of an eye, you are off to distant lands. You aretransported to where you have never been before. You are taken on a whirlwind of scenery, of people, and places that seem like a blur. They go so fast, and they form a kaleidoscope of images that are sometimes delightful, but more often, terrible. And in the quiet of the night, you look back and marvel at how far you have come, how drastic the transformation was. Some changes are welcomed like a much-awaited loved one. But there are journeys that you’drather not take – it takes you to dark roads, and excruciating departures. You mourn for what you have lost. You keel over in pain over the irrevocable tearing from that former life. Disoriented, maybe a little perplexed, you realize life is never the same again. In an instant, you are changed. There is no going back.

But there are journeys that are achingly slow. The roads seem all uphill. The night stretches on. The ribbon of the highways and the byways unfurl and unwind in a seemingly endless spool. You get impatient for the hor is getting late, and there seem to be no end to this path you are taking. The sense of anticipation of glad arrivals has long gone, replaced by some implacable dread, and nameless anxiety. You think you can bear it a little bit more if you only have an idea where this is going. You wish somehow a map is given, and clearly marked in red X is the destination. If you know how far and where you are headed, at least the endless landscape of utter loneliness and barren skies will not seem so forlorn. You wish to arrive – to be birthed anew, so to speak. This liminal space is now getting cramped. But for now, you are on your way– transient,mobile, on the go, but agonizingly still far off from where you are supposed to arrive.

And there are back roads that seem to detour and take you back to where you began. There never seems to be any departures at all – for you keep finding yourself at the starting point, the mileage shows a great distance has been travelled, but it does not seem to go anywhere but where you first began. In fact, it seemed like you have never began at all. You circleback in some twisted and unexpected ways. The recalculations do not seem to compute. These roads take you back to times past. The ghosts of yesterday are your constant companions. These roads are the familiar terrains: places, people and events you never seem to get away from. While backtracking is sometimes inevitable, may these only be a way to measure how far you have gone, to figure out the difference between this point and that point. But these detours only remind us of the distance yet to be covered – of the lessons, and the forgotten things that needed to be let go. Patiently, you rediscover the landscape once more, hoping that the signs will have changed, the direction leading to somewhere new and undiscovered.

Still there are journeys that never begin or have not begun yet. You wait in eager expectation. The bags are packed, the motor running, thetank filled with the fuel of optimism and desire. In your hearts are the highways toward that glorious place you have been told. Yet the maps do not point to any departures anytime soon. But you stay there, idling. You know you need toget going, you know the roads await you, but there is no push to get going. Forsome reason or another, there are delays, and closed roads. And you sit therefrustrated. You wait. Or maybe the roads are open, but it is you that is resisting. You refuse to leave. You do not wantto get going. You hope that these departures never come, and then they do, you wish to delay it as much as you can because the risk is too much, everything is at stake. You fear of losing everything if you take the journey – but you do not realize that you will lose everything if you don’t get going anytime soon. The sacred journeys are all about losing and finding – but you never find until you lose.

Whatever roads you are trodding these days, know this: youare not alone. There are many pilgrims on their way, and they are the bestcompanions one can have. Welcome them into your lives – make room for them.

Ultimately, find comfort in the knowledge that our Guide is wise – He knows theways. He has the map, and the destinations He has in store for us aremarvelous. Our hope is an odd one. It is the hope of arrival. It is the hope of being face to face with the One who's only been seen in glimpses. Every traveller longs to one day go home.

Our hope is finally to unpack our suitcases once and for all and take up residence in the Home none of us has ever visited. As the songwriter Phil Keaggy put it so simply, "What a day that will be!"

Friday, March 14, 2014

Monday, March 10, 2014

Two Poems

A Broken Sonnet for the Sea

I had a sudden urge for the beach
It calls to me, urgent but out of reach
From my soul’s slumber there rises
A thirst to taste its salty depth -
Ancient tears, distillations of our collective sigh.
Let my memories find its blissful erasure,
I am re-attached to the womb of my unconscious
Echoing the cadence of its ageless pulse
I tread in its quiescent aquatic embrace
The silence is an orchestration of sublime beauty.
Let the gently lapping waves in its sun-kissed reticence
Be a belated gift of my unseeing.

I suddenly want to go to the beach,
I hear the urgent call. It is out of reach.

Unsigned Abstract

From the dusk of my yesterday I take with me
Fragments of my splintered days
I carry it in my hands, the shards lacerating me.
bleeding through the fabric of my vestal innocence.
I shall keep a part of you too. You do not
Define me, but somehow in my undefining,
We are inexplicably, inevitably intertwined.

From the dawn of my tomorrow, I shall look forward
To unhurried morning walks, and I shall taste
Unbitter dam-burst of moments quenching my thirst.
And I shall smile. The stillness in my soul
is a cadence to my victory march. There will be fear –
But it is a fear only the most courageous feel
In moments of great heroic feats.

In the sunshine of the now-ness of my present, I dance.
A kaleidoscope of splintered days and untasted sweetness
Is an abstract painting, a masterpiece still being painted.
And I find myselt humming an uncomposed hymn
Epithets and praises; it is both a laughter and a sob.
I savor these moments with the gentlest truth:
I am afforded the grace of the resurrection of my becoming.

Monday, March 03, 2014


Let me do the one thing that scares me to death.

Let me face that which I fear most. This confrontation is a kind of death that is both liberating and exhilarating. Therefore, let me look deep into my heart and find in the most tender, most hidden side of it, and let me take it with both hands and expose it to You. Nothing is hidden from you - this is true -but in my act of self-disclosure, I am healed.

Fling open the rusted windows and the nailed passages of my soul.

Let the sunshine of Your presence invade the darkest places of my innermost being. For sure, this will leave me vulnerable and sensitive. This exposure is sometimes worse that a thousand deaths, but I rest in Your tenderness. While Your touch will sting and hurt me – it will not destroy me. I may come undone, but the very act of self-revelation is a freedom that shall unshackle the chains that bind me.

Let me breathe in the purest air. Let me feel the life-giving inhalation rush through my lungs, clearing the cobwebbed abyss of my mind. Let me feel the sting of its freshness bringing tears to my eyes.

I am greedy for Your cleansing. I covet the very light I have for so long avoided. I tear open myself to you – naked, utterely bereft of coverings, for Your light shall cover me and clothe me with something new and fresh.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Here's To Wings of Joy and Flights of Delight!

It had been a fruitful, fun and fulfilling year! I thank the Lord for His mercies. His kindness and generosity allowed me to afford blessings upon blessings only the Lord in His grace can give. I am grateful!

Friday, August 31, 2012

A Trip Recalled

Exactly one year ago today, I left for a trip that was more than just literal travel. It was a journey of self-discovery, of rest, and healing, and restoration.

It was a time to learn, to unlearn, and also to go back to my theological and academic passion.

I was challenged to think beyond what I can conceive - to widen my horizons, to welcome new ideas. It was a time to delve into books, do research, present papers, and to listen to the masters teach what they teach best.

It was time to reconnect with old, dear friends, and a time to make new friends. A time to share, and a time to be a recipient of His grace through friends.

It is a continuing story of vindication and upliftment. It is an on-going learning process, of letting go, and of opening oneself beyond one's pain, limitation or injuries.

It is about the Lord who is a God of change, and second chances. Thank you, Lord.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Thank you too, Fuller Theological Seminary and the Center for Missiological Research for granting me the Global Research Institute grant. It was a privilege and an honor and a responsibility that I will never forget.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

High School Reunion as Ritual

I understand why so many are apprehensive about the idea of a high school reunion.

It is always fraught with mixed emotions – full of surprises, expectations, and even foreboding. But it is a trip that is necessary – for one reason or another. Whether it is a trip eagerly anticipated, or dreaded, you find yourself preparing for that trip. And I discover as one gets older (at least on my part), the more emotional the preparation and the trip becomes – a sentimental sort of journey embarked with the most hopeful of wishes, and the direst of apprehensions.

One is filled with tensions both terrible, and yet enthralling. While one is no longer the insecure, awkward youth that first stepped into the portals of your beloved school, you are beset by a whole new set of adult struggles. You know that you are no longer that person that left. In the passage of time, and in the breaking and mending of hearts, souls and body has left marks that can sometimes make it difficult to recognize our old selves.

It is a poignant, bittersweet embarkation – for it is a glad reunion but also a time for grieving for the things we have lost along the way.

And what of the classmates who saw you before all of it changed? Fellow pilgrims toward the path of adulthood, we were all incomplete and still searching for an identity. And in this sometimes-difficult pilgrimage, we have been unintentionally cruel, as Ms. Bunagan once said reprimanding us of our childishness. You remember all the good times shared, the excruciating, the embarrassing, the fun. Old wounds are revisited with the glad discovery that it is healed, leaving only a faint scar.

Then of course, came the day of the reunion.

What words can describe the waves of exhilaration and sweet notes of happiness that came in tides that crest and surge? It is both tender and triumphant. It is laughter with tears shed in joy and sometimes in sorrow. It is redemption, and cleansing. It is confronting that which you feared most but only to realize it no longer holds any terror. It is coming into terms with the mistakes you have made, but also letting go of the wrong committed to you. It is a cold, tall drink that brings relief to a parched soul. It is exorcising ghosts of the past but also embracing a great future so bright, as one 80’s song would put it, “you gotta wear shades.”

The ancients resort to rituals in an attempt to recapture a sacred moment – a space and time where one is able to experience that which is transcendent and ideal. Rituals - especially rites of passage mark the time of growth and development. It is a time of renewal and transformation. It is about the future. Rituals however hold another important dimension: a look back into the past.It is a nod of respect to what has happened. Without the past, one cannot be what you are now, or what you will be.

I don’t want to turn all geeky (but we all were and are – right?!), but like characters from the Greek mythology, we go through metamorphosis. It is the shedding of the old self so that we are not overly burdened by the cares of the past. But it also to recognize what our past has contributed to make us what we are now. It might be painful, it might be traumatic, or for some, sublime and quite enjoyable, but it must be named, and by naming it we are empowered to face a greater future.

High school reunions has taken on this ritual aspect, and for that we are grateful.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A New Blog

Click here for a new blog. It's called UpGazer. It is a record of my thoughts/meditation/devotional/journal based on Eugene Peterson's The Message//Remix: Solo. Please visit - comment if you like. Thanks!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

10 Best Eating Places in Bacolod So Far (And No, I’m Not Going to Talk about Chicken Inasal)

So I had a terrible, overcooked, overpriced burger recently for dinner. This restaurant (I won’t mention the name – Bigby’s) with pretensions to franchise kingdom even had the gall to charge P35 when I asked for mustard! For the most part, I was berating myself. I could have tried any of the local restaurants here in Bacolod and know that I will not be disappointed. One of the glorious discoveries I have made living here in Bacolod only for a few months is that this city likes to eat! Gourmands abound.

I know Bacolod is famous for their chicken inasal, and rightly so. The chicken really is delicious, but there is more to this city than the ubiquitous delicacy. This city likes to eat out, and this is proven by the sheer number of delis, cafes and restaurants – each boasting a specialty of some sort. Quaint, little places pepper the city like hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. I could turn geeky and extol my theories about the rich, interesting history of this island, and its implication to the dining habits and tastes of the Negrenses, but I’ll spare you. I know I have only been here a few months and I can’t say I’ve explored much, but these places are by far what stands out for me. In no particular order, I give you the best eating places in Bacolod:

1. Lord Byron’s. Tucked in the quiet corner of Homesite, this place serves melt-in-your-mouth goodness of spare ribs. The place is a simple affair with gravel flooring, and rustic benches and tables. You need to come early, or call in advance. Their spare ribs are famous and they are gone fast. They have another place near Shopping – but it is beside a car-wash shop. It is a tiny booth and is only for take-out.

2. Twist at Sugarland Hotel. They have an assortment of really good dishes – the steaks are quiet good, but my personal favorite is their lengua estofado. Creamy and surprisingly light, you have not tasted lengua estofado like they serve it.

3. Bascon Café – This place – walking distance from the office, is a favorite. Quiet, elegant and they serve moderately priced but delicious food. Traditional fares like callos, lengua estofado, steaks make up the menu, but there are surprises as well. My personal favorite is the pesce balsamico. Steamed fish with salad and reduced balsamic vinegar sauce, it is a delight and an inspiration. Ask for the mashed potatoes to go with it.

4. Café Uma/ Trattoria Uma – A bit pricey, but so worth it! The pasta dishes and the thin-crust pizza is like a celebration unto itself, every bite a flavorful cry of triumph. It was the first time I saw my companion who is a picky eater wipe his dinner roll with the leftover sauce from the pasta. Yes, it is that good. I am saving up for their wagyu beef burger. I know that it will be a delight!

5. Café 1925 – This is actually in Silay City – around 30 minutes from Bacolod City. Small, quiet and unassuming, I liked the décor. Located in what is termed “Paris of Negros,” the café is within walking distance from the heritage houses that boast of the opulent history of the sugar barons. The first time we went, we were hungry and ordered their menu for the day: osso boco. I love the fall-off-bone tenderness of the beef, and the spicy tomato sauce. It was a perfect meal after we have explored the Hofilena Heritage House and the voice of Mon Hofilena still ringing in our ears and the images of his magnificent art collection dancing in our minds. But the best surprise was just how good their coffee was! Paired with churros con chocolate, the coffee was just the right amount of boldness, tone and flavor. It was so good I’d have made Café 1924 my coffee place of choice had it not been too far away from where I work.

6. Pala-pala – Not the exploitatively expensive pala-pala along 18th Street (where dinner can cost up to P8K), go for the original pala-pala at the corner near the Capitol. Just in front of the seafood market, there are restaurants that will cook and serve you the seafood you buy at the market. It won’t be fancy, but the food will make up for the lack of sophistication. I love how they stuff the squid with lemon grass and grill it lightly – then dip in spicy “sinamak.” They also make the best kinilaw this side of the South.

7. Jacopo’s – intensely flavored Mediterranean-inspired dishes, this place is out of the way corner of that building in front of Robinson’s. You have to look for it because it is easy to miss, but when you find it, you are in for a delightful treat. Their dishes are meant to be shared, and they come in gigantic servings (in gigantic serving plates). Try their pita bread with three dippings: baba ganash, hummus, and chili. You will love it. Try their beef red curry. Oh my! Or maybe their salad with feta cheese and candied almonds, and smoked chicken. Yum! Or maybe their fish with tomatoes in olive oil. So good! Or try their sampler kebabs of chicken, mutton and beef. Ah! You will gesture with your hands, smile a lot and declare, “this is so good!”

8. Calea – Calea is famous for their cakes and their pastries. The three-layered chocolate cheese cake alone is enough to convince you this is a little slice of heaven here on earth. Another favorite is the rhum-raisin pudding with vanilla ice cream. It is, without exaggeration and simply put, paradise. But what I find delightful are their sandwich offerings. Delicious and diverse, they make Calea not just a desert place, but a fun eating place too. I’ve tried their chunky chicken sandwich with apples (I think they call it the Waldorf?), their tuna on a rye, among others, but my favorite is their grilled chicken and vegetables with a tangy barbeque sauce. I also love the stuffed ciabatta with pepperoni, cheese, tomatoes and lettuce. It comes in generous servings I could never finish it in one sitting. I usually have the other half wrapped to go to be enjoyed later.

9. Cookies and Crumbs – Right in front of the New Government Center, this oddly-named restaurant (you’d think they just serve cakes, and pastries) has surprisingly good combo meals. I love the mozzarella chicken, pesto spaghetti and salad green combo. The coffee is mediocre at best, but the namesake, their cookie is chewy and tasty.

10. Café Bob’s Deli – I am talking about the portion at the back of Café Bob’s along Lacson where they have a mini-grocery and a deli with assorted cheeses and meats and hams. The pizza was light, crispy and a delight, while the pasta was robust and earthy- just the way you would envision a perfect meal after a long day at work. So good!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Forgotten Unicorn

Psychological Meaning: In mythology, unicorns are either white or multi-coloured. They unite the spectrum showing that the one is the essence of the many. They are the mythical embodiment of the inner realm of the imagination. They may also represent power, gentility and purity. Your dream may be an expression of inspiration and wonder at the marvels of the inner world.

Somewhere in between the hidden spaces of lucid dreams and wakeful slumber, i see you...
You whom I lost so long ago, You whom I have let go in my careless whim to grow up fast I remember you

Abandoned, you stand there - the traces of your majesty cannot be hidden by the marks of neglect upon you.
You embody all the childhood dreams we have left behind in our pursuit of grown up ambitions.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Summer 2011 Reading List

It has been a while since I've done this, but here is my summer reading list for 2011. It is not much, but hey - one or two books a week ain't that bad, right?

1. Paul Theroux' Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar

This is a follow-up of his classic, The Great Railway Bazaar written 30 years ago. He revisits the the world he travelled back when communism was still strong in Eastern Europe, and where trains where the best way to see the land from Europe to Asia.

2. James Clavells's Tai-Pan

I first read this when I was in highschool. I found this on the bargain bin of NBS for P75. Will definitely re-read.

3. Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat/ Three Men on the Bummel

The grand daddy of all the travel narratives, it is funny and with surprising keen observation and commentary about life, existence and what brings meaning to our pursuits.

4. David Mas Masamuto's Harvest Son

A memoir of sorts of his recollection growing up and working on a grape/peach farm. Lyrical and insightful it looks at the rich and sometimes complicated histories of families and their tradition. Here's what is says on the author's website about the book: " In prose of zen-like clam and clarity, Masumoto relates how he learned to prune vines and survive a storm; to value the knowledge of old farmers and the rusty tool forgotten in the shed; and to take on a leadership role in his Buddhist community. He also shares life vividly in the present: how it feels to really sweat while you work; the way dust cakes on your neck when you're driving a tractor; the pleasure of rinsing off under a cold faucet; a grandmother's joy at hearing that her grandson will visit her birthplace; the way grapes are dried into raisins; and the way a family works together in the fields.

5. Tim Brooke's Guitar: An American Life

The blurb reads, "this book is a narrative of the cultural history of the guitar and a chronicle of the intricate process that went into the construction of the instrument."

6. Anne Lamott's Grace Eventually: Thoughts on Faith

Reading Lamott is like listening to a favorite eccentric aunt - full of wisdom, witticism and surprising insights.

7. Roxanne Coady, editor, The Book that Changed my Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books that Matter Most to Them

So tell me about your reading list...

Friday, January 07, 2011

How To Be Alone

But when you notice that it is vast, you should be happy; for what (you should ask yourself) would a solitude be that was not vast; there is only one solitude, and it is vast, heavy, difficult to bear, and almost everyone has hours when he would gladly exchange it for any kind of sociability, however trivial or cheap, for the tiniest outward agreement with the first person who comes along, the most unworthy...but perhaps these are the very hours during which solitude grows; for its growing is painful as the growing of boys and sad as the beginning of spring. But that must not confuse you. What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours - that is what you must be able to attain.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letter 6, Letters To A Young Poet

John Donne’s famous lines, “No man is an island,” have given encouragement to many, for it is true that we cannot live apart from others. We seek company; we build these webs, connections and interconnections of relationships, associations and friendships. But when we think about it, we are islands. We are islands floating in a common sea. This is not to be anti-social, or to be aloof, or uncaring, or unconnected with others.

In the final analysis, we are all indeed alone. At the end of the day, as Rilke poignantly describes, we are left our own life. We are left with this essential condition of isolation. Oh we rail against it, we find ways to drown out this solitude that is ours. We are afraid of being alone. We are terrified to think that we can be disconnected. We do not want to be left by ourselves, and we resort to all things in order to avoid it, in order to never let it happen. Music, television, noise, friends – all these to avoid the gnawing feeling we are islands floating on our own. We are derisive of those who treasure their privacy, who want to be left alone.

But as it is essential in us, this separation, this basic solitude that marks our existence, we must learn to come into terms with it.

Only by making peace with our self – in the primeval understanding of our independent selves can we come into a real connection with others. In our separation can we better appreciate our associations with others. It is not being hostile, it is not being anti-social when we learn to cultivate our private, solitary gardens.

It is, rather, because of a deeper appreciation of others, of self, and the relationships that must be cared for with diligence.

Ann Morrow Lindbergh has this to say, “When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others...only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others. And, as for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude.”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Holiday Greetings

To all friends - here's wishing you the profoundest joy and stupendous blessings throughout the year, by the most abundant grace of God!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Simple Virtues: An Excerpt

here's another excerpt on that book i've been trying to finish...chipping at it one word at a time :-)

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just,
whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely,
whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue,
and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Philippians 4:8

In Search for the Simple and Deep Things

It was midsummer when we went to the idyllic island of Guimaras to spend ten days at the Trappist monastery. Of the myriad memories that assail, I remember first the heat – infernal and all-encompassing. In my waking dreams, I go back to that place and feel the sun on my face once more. Sweat poured profusely comingling with the tears the flowed in copious amount those ten days we had – seminary professors, pastors, counselors, medical doctors, social workers that made up our group. Only when the dusk comes that you find relief from the humidity and the heat.

Then I remember the laughter – from our boisterous group still adjusting to the unaccustomed silence, and the gusty belly-laughs coming from the monks – from Brother Bruno, our retreat master. He was witty and funny and charming. In his life before he entered the cloisters, he must have been a gregarious, sophisticated man of the cloth. One would think that monks living such a hard life would be glowering, dour men who would never smile or have fun. But that is farthest from the truth. None were as cheerful and light hearted as these men.

The monks were quick to laugh, to smile, and almost in child-like simplicity. They went about their duties with quiet dignity. When they rise at 2:15am to prepare for the Vigils, the monks no longer go back to bed, but devote their time in prayer and intercession for the slumbering world. They then engage themselves in manual labor, tending the farm, the food processing, and many other works. Work and prayer- this is their credo. At certain hours (7 times in a day), the bell rings to call the faithful to times of prayer. During the prayer time, the monks lift up songs of praise and adoration to God as they chant the psalms. A portion of the time is also devoted to Scripture, meditations and readings. I love the moment of silence after the Scripture is read.

In a flurry of memories, the details come into focus: Calloused, sunburned hands folded in repose, stilled from the labors of the day. Palms held open, it is a poem of praise, a hymn of celebration. These hands, this life: all are offered as a fitting sacrifice. In your mind’s eye you see the gray robe swaying gently, the brown belt swaying rhythmically along the waist, sandaled feet hurrying to go back to the enclosure – like lovers on their way to a tryst, or children on their way to play- these are images evoked as the monks nimbly proceed to the chapel for the prayers. Indeed, the monks are on their way to meet their Love and child-like, they lift up their eyes to gaze at the Father in wonder and awe.

In the space between sleep and being awake, I hear it once more: the sonorous chants of the monks as it echoes in the chamber, and strikes a chord that reverberate to that place where we hide the most secret, most sacred of our being. In the darkness, a faint light sends a sliver of ray that lifts up the weakened spirit as His presence is made manifest in the absence of abstractions. (This is during the Compline, the last prayer for the day. It is a worship service done in total darkness, and only the voices of the monks can be heard. They are singing, chanting psalms and prayers to the Lord.)

And then, silence – the absence of noise that comes from the outside world, but it is also the stilling of the inward voice that sometimes yells when it is not being listened to. The noises we have come to rely on to cover the emptiness of our lives are slowly peeled away. We cringe at the thought of so much silence, because ultimately it leads us to look inward, and what we see, what we hear there will tell us how we really are, how we have been –and we may not like what we see there. Silence is uncomfortable, painful even. But those who dare immerse themselves in silence, and in solitude find Someone waiting for them there – and find acceptance, not condemnation. We find love instead of rejection. We find grace that unshackles us from the burdens of our religion.

In the absence of worldly possessions – the dearth of outside distractions, how does one find fulfillment? The learned Jonathan, one of our companions, tells us, “We think that life in the monastery – life without t.v., without magazines, without the modern gadgets we think necessary to enjoy life- is at best boring, and at worst, tragic. But we who are outside the enclosure, with all these things, don’t we also find life boring, and tragic? It is therefore not these things that bring meaning and joy into our lives. It points to something else”

I agree. It is not the outward, glitzy things that matter most. There is more to life than these. However, we have somehow forgotten that below the surface of things are matters of profound significance. We are satisfied skimming at the exterior. But we have exchanged the simple and the deep things of God for the shallow and the complicated of this world. No, I am not an advocate for the ascetic life of the monks. In fact, for me, one of the highlight of the retreat is the 10th day, when we can go back to our noisy, busy lives. And yet somehow, the words of Jonathan struck a chord.

If it is not these things that bring meaning and joy to our lives, what does? What should be pursued? When all is stripped away, what should be the essential way to live?

The desert fathers of long ago described it as “in simplicitate cordis, in simplicity of heart. It described a life stripped of all that is unessential and trivial, a life increasingly focused only one thing is important: seeking Christ. This is how one should live. This is what should be pursued. And the expression of this life is found in the works of our hands, in our dealings with others, in the way we treat and look at ourselves. There is no separation from who we are and what we do. Who we are – our inner most identity, and what we do - our dealings, the very thing that defines our pursuits – these are integrated in an uncomplicated unity. We find its most meaningful manifestation in simple virtues.

The Weary Kind

OST from the movie "Crazy Heart"

The Weary Kind
by Ryan Bingham

Your heart’s on the loose
You rolled them seven’s with nothing to lose
And this ain’t no place for the weary kind

You called all your shots
Shooting 8 ball at the corner truck stop
Somehow this don’t feel like home anymore

And this ain’t no place for the weary kind
And this ain’t no place to lose your mind
And this ain’t no place to fall behind
Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try

Your body aches…
Playing your guitar and sweating out the hate
The days and the nights all feel the same

Find More lyrics at
Whiskey has been a thorn in your side
and it doesn’t forget
the highway that calls for your heart inside

And this ain’t no place for the weary kind
And this ain’t no place to lose your mind
And this ain’t no place to fall behind
Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try

Your lover's won't kiss…
It’s too damn far from your fingertips
You are the man that ruined her world

Your heart’s on the loose
You rolled them seven’s with nothing to lose
And this ain’t no place for the weary kind

This song and the movie moved me in ways that soothe the aching pain within...Jeff Bridge was awesomely good in this!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Waiting for the Gushing Waters

There are things that you think you know, but in reality you only have an inkling of the depth and the significance of this very thing right in your face. But how many times have just given it more than just a cursory glance. We are satisfied with the briefest of knowledge – we sometimes lose patience and do not dare to see what is beyond. For the most part, we do not explore out of fear – out of discouragement – out of reticence perhaps. And as a result, we miss the treasure that lie just beneath the surface.

There are detours and dead ends that seem to lead one-way streets to nowhere. There are corners and pockets of darkness that seem to trap and where the air seems dank. And by escalating increments, the waters of the brook seem to dry up, the raven-brought provisions seem to become rarer and rarer. Where there was comfort and peace, there is nothing now but brambles and sun-baked soil. Take heart, for this moment of stillness and inactivity is actually a deep sigh of preparation – a pause before the heavy onslaught of affirmation is about to pour.

“Blessed are those whose hearts are on the highways to Zion…” intones the pilgrim gladly traversing the road to significance and deeper meaning. Blessed are they indeed for even as they pass through the Valley of Weeping, they shall know firsthand the sweetness and the freshness of the cool spring that shall gush forth as they come out of that deep chasm. And the parched land shall be watered, the thirsty shall have their fill.

Drink, for the water is sweet.

Drink, for this spring shall be your satisfaction.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Joy: an excerpt

Here's another excerpt from the book project i am working on...chipping away at it, one word at a time hehehehe...let me know what you think....

“The joy of the Lord is our strength”

I enjoy a good laugh as much as the other person. We belong to a culture who loves to laugh – even in inopportune times, we laugh. As a people, we like no better than to sit back and have fun. And why not? There is something musical about the boisterous laughter shared by friends and family. There is something divine in the shared times of joy among loved ones. For in the midst of abundance, at the vortex of giddy happiness, in the gut of a belly laugh, we sense a Being whose mirth is the source of all that is good, beautiful, and humorous. We recognize that this is His gift to us – the gift of laughter. Laughter enables us to be glad about His goodness- that there is much to celebrate, to feel good about this world, His creation, no matter how bleak, how gloomy it can be, it still is a place worth enjoying.

In a sense of merriment, all that is good and refreshing spills out in pure and sweet notes of hilarity – a love song of sort, offered up to Him who allows us to have this sense of wonder and delight. To laugh is to appreciate His ways – it is to celebrate His abundance.

Laughter allows us to see the ridiculous in us, the absurd, the foolish – and with laughter, we sense that there is nothing wrong with being ridiculous, to be comical at times. We are not too twisted, too cynical so that we are unable to acknowledge life’s little jokes.

Laughter harks back to times when we were more innocent, unblemished –holy. Laughter is holy. An absurd notion, but when you consider it, it is in laughter that we sense purity, and a sense of separateness from a world that has become too dour, too serious. Perhaps, one of the marks of holiness is to be able to appreciate, and indeed offer peals of laughter to Him who created everything, and created everything good.

But what happens when the laughter stops? What if humor runs dry, because much as we don’t want to be killjoys and sourpusses, there will be times when there darkness will come, and tears will flow? What happens when the reason there is more reason to cry than to laugh?

This is why we come to the virtue of joy.

Joy is a sun that shines and permeates our existence. Even when the storm clouds cover it, its golden rays will soon seep through the dense haze, and allow us to bask in the warmth and the life-giving abundance of its splendor. Joy is the sun that allows us to weather through the most difficult circumstances. Joy is the rhythm we hear, and the music that plays in our hearts no matter what the circumstances are. Joy is the spring that allows us to step up and move forward in the many challenges of life, even when it is difficult to laugh. It is a virtue for joy is a treasure whose value will not diminish in the midst of a crisis.

But joy is sometimes described as elusive. In this dark, hostile world only the unrealistic can expect joy. And yet, I have a sneaking suspicion, that if we only look hard enough, if we only truly see, this joy – this most hidden and most surprising of all God’s gifts isn’t so hard to find after all. Of course, this is not to say that life will always be sunny or rosy. Being joyful does not mean being out of touch of reality, or being naïve fools that expect happy endings all the time.

Joy is so much than just fairy tale happy endings grandly produced and aired nightly in telenovelas and romantic stories we read. In fact, joy has nothing to do with the shallow schemes or unrealistic expectations. Even when there seems to be no happy endings, joy will not be lost, nor diminished. Joy comes from somewhere deep, somewhere truer. It comes from the Giver of all joy.

This is where abiding joy comes from – from the wells of the ever refreshing presence of He who finds delight in us. He is life – He is the source of all that is good and beautiful. The result of our being where He is fills us with a joy that lasts even in the gloomiest of times. He is our joy. His presence – strong and mighty, tender and loving, terrible and kind – brings the deeply-felt sense of security and belonging. His strength is our joy – even when the crops fail, and the dark last longer than it should. This brings to rest the notion that joy is about the ups and downs of life’s circumstances. It rejects the very idea that our joy can easily be lost in the gloomy passages we sometimes have to pass through.

Because He is our joy, the very idea of being in his presence brings warmth to us. It is in finding ourselves and declaring ourselves desperately dependent on Him that we find this elusive treasure of joy. Scripture lets us on the secret: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (Jn. 15:10–11)

Monday, July 05, 2010

My Odd Shelf

Anne Fadiman in her book, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, speaks of her “odd shelf.” She says, “It has long been my belief that everyone’s library contains an Odd Shelf. On this shelf rests a small, mysterious corpus of volumes whose subject matter is completely unrelated to the rest of the library, yet which, upon closer inspection reveals a good deal about its owner.” Fadiman then provides samples of such odd shelf. She shares, “George Orwell’s Odd Shelf held a collection of bound sets of ladies’ magazines from the 1860’s, which he like to read in his bathtub… Vice Admiral James Stockdale, having heard that Frederick the Great had never embarked on a campaign without his copy of The Encheiridion, brought to Vietnam the complete works of Epictetus, whose stoic philosophy was to sustain him through eight years as a prisoner of war.” Fadiman further discloses that her own odd shelf contains sixty-four books about polar exploration.

Reading her excellent essay, I took stock of my library and tried to see if an odd shelf may be detected in my collection. I am a bargain book hunter, and I am an inveterate reader, so I own an eclectic collection – from Garbriel Garcia Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera to Moose Hunting in Canada to The Art of Origami Vol. 10 (who can resist at P30). If gauging from the number of books one has on a certain topic or theme can one identify the odd shelf, I would say that I do own quite a collection of travel narratives (travelogues?). What are travel narratives? I am hard-pressed for a definition, but to the best of my ability to define, a travel narratives are certain books that talk about places, people and perception an author may have about a certain locale or geography.

Example of this is Paul Theroux’s travel series. He traveled through the Americas on a train, journeyed throughout Africa, travelled around the Mediterranean basin, explored the Pacific islands, and other exotic places. His narratives are also a study of human behavior. Although he has taken a more sarcastic tone that I don’t appreciate in his later travel works, I always enjoy the idea of going on adventures, discovering new things, seeing beauty and splendor even in what other people consider mundane.

Bill Bryson is another favorite, His humorous takes on the places, people, and things he had seen has given me laugh out loud situations a lot of times – sometimes in awkward places where people look up and stare at the possibly crazy person beside them, uproariously guffawing at who knows what. His rollicking adventure through the Appalachian trail, or through Europe is always entertaining. Bryson makes arduous hiking fun. And the way he describes the places. There are moments of pure poetry. He says in Neither Here nor There, “Is there anything, apart from a really good chocolate cream pie and receiving a large unexpected check in the mail, to beat finding yourself at large in a foreign city on a fair spring evening, loafing along unfamiliar streets in the long shadows of a lazy sunset, pausing to gaze in shop windows or at some church or lovely square or tranquil stretch of quayside, hesitating at street corners to decide whether that cheerful and homey restaurant you will remember fondly for years is likely to lie down this street or that one? I just love it. I could spend my life arriving each evening in a new city.” Exactly, right?

Peter Mayle’s accounts of his life in Provence takes me to that exotic place I have only heard of, read about or seen in romantic movies. He wrote a series of memoirs of his stay in Provence, and his most famous is “A Year in Provence.” This is followed by a series of Provence memoirs. Droll and funny, the narrative tells of the food he has eaten, places he has been to, indoor plumbing and the eccentric people he has met. Mayle also wrote novels set, where else, in the different places in Provence. My favorite is “Hotel Pastis”- the story of a wealthy Englishman building a hotel. Although I was a little bit disappointed with the movie adaptation of “A Good Year,” Mayle’s vision of that part of France was integral in the narrative and was captured quite well on film.

Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun started my interest in this genre. A friend gave me a battered copy (a Booksale find- what else?). The film with the same title that starred the divine Diane Lane was loosely based on Mayes’ book. Her vivid account takes you right there – Mayes’ doing her early morning marketing – the grotto where an old man brings flowers to everyday – the food, the scent, the texture – all there for one to virtually experience. You can almost feel the warm juices of the grapes that tasted purple. Her next book, “Bella Tuscany,” although not as captivating as her first was also charming. This of course started my buying any Tuscan-themed books I could find in my friendly neighborhood secondhand bookshop.

There are other travel writers – Orhan Pamuk’s poignant recollection of the Turkey of his youth, Ma Jian’s introspective travel through Communist-regime China. Graham Greene’s travels eloquently written travel memoir has captured not only the places he has been to, but also his personal journey toward himself and gives us a glimpse of who he is.

But why do I buy these books? Why are these books fascinating? The very idea that a separate world out there is waiting to be discovered mesmerizes me. The thrill of discovery – the wonder of experiencing the world in a whole new way is captivating. I know I may never see these places I read about, but reading about them keeps the dream alive.

Tuscany! Provence! Iceland! China! Africa! Columbia! Tierra del Fuego!

What is your odd shelf?