Third Sunday of Advent: Teachability

I was informed 3 months in advance about the event and got invited as a dear friend. Then 2 weeks before this big event, i received the invitation in glossy print with our names as sponsors, names familiar in political circles including officials from the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Public Works and Highways, a lawyer, a Congressman, a Police Superintendent, and myself a sinful blogger. On the event day, the pastiche of perfume, alluring to ones smell, filled first the aisle then onto the baptistery from men and women in coats and ties, Barong Tagalog and glittery bling-bling. It was not Baptism Day because we can afford to pay the special price. Besides, Baptism Days can get too crowdy for our privacy, simply a mishmash of the B and C and D classes of people for a baptismal festival. We want our souvenir photos, the pouring of water or the annointing with oil uninterrupted and unhurried by the celebrant. Soloing the Cathedral makes this social celebration plus sacrament more solemn in our opinion. A group photo at the altar afterwards, never mind the responsibilities as godparents, brings the event to its jovial element. These were all playing in our imagination in different frequencies as we await the celebrant to emerge from the sacristy. We, the less ideal, horde of sacrament recipients.

Here comes the priest, ambling towards the pews where we are all docked on. Then he begins, composed as a trial lawyer:

“You brood of vipers, miscreant beings who leech on the coffers of the people, rogues in officials’ robes, you who come here for social networking and fear that if this baby doesn’t get baptized, he would be cast into eternal damnation. You, you…”

Typical of our prideful, achieving and overeducated generation, we grudgingly stayed throughout the tirade, our nerves frothed with anger to hold back or cannon our own tongue-lashing charges. But this was not our turf, and instead, almost in unison, we whispered: “Never with this wicked bastard again, nor in this lousy cathedral.” We mindlessly made the sign of the cross.

My apology peeps. The story and event above is only imaginary to emphasize some points for this 3rd Sunday of Advent, points actually from our tongue-lashing hero par excellence – John the Baptist:

“So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

Not easy to hear at all, especially for an Asian race and sensibility whose softest core is being shamed in public. But the Gospel this Sunday has a very interesting, if not shocking, opening sentence:

“And the crowds were questioning him, saying, “Then what shall we do?”

I hear more than curiosity over practical strategies to conversion. I imagine depth after depth where arrogance and self-exultation are emptied out, replaced by open spirits and spaces. It is called teachability – the openness to be taught of certain things, to learn from those who treaded the self-emptying desert way like John. Am i teachable enough especially in the things of God? Are you?

This 3rd Sunday of Advent, i will light 3 candles along teachability: one for that part of me covered by hubris and remains un-teachable; the second, in gratitude for past spiritual teachers; and the third, for present spiritual guides and those God will still surprisingly send me along the way. It’s my way of making sense John’s fiery, baptismal tongue.

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Photo credit: marc50

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Baptism of Repentance: A Prayer for the Massacre Perpetrators

Gracious God,
You called John the Baptist
to preach a baptism of repentance on Your people.

i hear the words,
but not often the message.
For we do not always understand wisely
that the immersion into the baptismal water
is an invitation into our own dying to our self-centeredness,
a crossing of the River Jordan from our self-centered desires into new life with Christ.

Forgive me God,
for always underestimating my own baptism.
This Sunday,
I am reminded again
that my immersion demands from me
to repent for my sins.
May my confession be truly translated
into some newness in my life.

This Second Sunday of Advent,
i light 2 candles –
one for my sins,
and another in remembrance
of the perpetrators of the Maguindanao Massacre,
that Your light may find its way
into the darkest corners of their hearts,
awakening them from being servants of darkness,
into servants of light
by way of repentance.

Gracious God,
whose other name is Allah,
lead us again into our own baptism of repentance. Amen.

A Love Triangle

While the typhoon wind was raging last Saturday, I was re-reading Hagar – one of the most dramatic stories in the hagar1 hagar book of Genesis, and one that’s truly universal in its portrayal of the complexity of human desires. Hagar was Abram’s Egyptian maidservant. When Abram’s wife Sarai in her advanced age could no longer bear a son for him, it was Sarai herself who told Abram to sleep with Hagar. Round as the Halloween moon, Hagar got pregnant as Abram’s wife. In a very fickle-minded manner, the news of Hagar’s pregnancy angered Sarai and soon despised and mistreated her. Hagar fled into the desert, found by the Lord’s angel, announcing to her a child she would name Ishmael will be born soon, telling her to go back to Sarai’s household and submit to her.

If blogging or facebook had been a fad then, Hagar could have handily hang out online, her FB wall streaming with the sense of betrayal and isolation that Sarai had caused. What could have been her blog titles, intentionally anonymous for the despicable thought that Sarai from the other end, could google her anytime and once found, would craft comments (also anonymously) to further degrade her? Some possible titles:

  • The Wife That Never Was
  • Desert Rodent
  • Hating S.
  • Point of No Return
  • Missing Abloy
  • Laylay Na, Sablay Pa

Haha – you can come up with your own… Our time, our age of information of course, is a point of no return, and is pointless to return, to the time when the world beyond our yards were largely unknown or unheard of. What’s known is known so that denying factual knowledge is like puking food forcibly. The point for this hypothetical set-up is to highlight differences of our time and Hagar’s: ours is a time of increasing speed and space to vent out our thoughts and emotions, a time of growing human solidarity with our personal malaise. Isang note lang sa FB ng sama ng loob at may makiki-simpatiya na kaagad. Hagar’s time must be doubly depressing for its snobbishly hard and isolating landscape. Ikaw kaya mapadpad sa disyerto bitbit ang mo ang yong love triangle drama? Desert life is survival at its extreme.

But hey – i need not be quick to judge desert time especially from the lens of our ‘information time’. One – i haven’t lived in a physical desert. Two – I’m not Hebrew for whom deserts are ambivalent places of struggle with the “demons” as well as transfiguring landscape of dialogues with God. And third – silence and solitude (space and intention to be alone with God) is not the staple habit of our tendentiously noisy ‘information time’. I can only approximate what the desert time was for Hagar in silence and solitude and less through our antsy information time. Every good thing has its own pathology they say. Parang siomai lang sa bagoong alamang pag too much daw.

On the contrary, what was good about the boring indifference of desert time that Hagar encountered was the gift of picking up “hints and guesses” from the Lord’s angel. Sinong gustong makausap ang anghel ni God, taas ang kamay? The problem is even the image of a conversation with an angel appears too mountainous to absorb for our ‘information time’ mindset, even laughable from our literal, scientific, and practical conditioning. But the greater point is in the silence and solitude of Hagar, painful as it was, anything can happen – even an angel’s appearance. Or a burning bush. Or being blessed with courage enough for Hagar to decide to go back to Sarai and face the love triangle drama head-on. Surely, more dramas await Hagar at Abe’s house. At wala pa ring broadband sa kanyang pagbalik kaya wala ring blogging at fezbuk hehe.

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Photo credit: Lillylilla

Lenten Series Tips: Free Cebu Pacific Flight

Let’s talk about travelling – both the geographic hops and our spiritual skips. desert-train Isn’t travelling exciting? Especially when you’re nailed in a place the rut sense of boredom, seemingly eternal sameness, routinary stress, relational rough edges are nothing but piling up day after day after day. You need a break for Pokwang’s sake!

Before we get to the free lunch tips of this post, let’s swerve a li’l bit to some seasonal flavor of Lent. Let’s assume that Lent is a way of travelling commenced by way of Ash Wednesday, an Amazing Race of sort for 40 days, a copy-and-paste from the 40-year itinerary of the Israelites in the desert. Exodus was both a landmark geographic hop and spiritual skip minus those Habagat backpacks and Gatorade supplement (Mark, I notice one in your gravatar, hehe.) Lent meanwhile is ritually packed as a spiritual escapade – ash, palms, Holy Oil, footwashing, or the Cross. No desert-hopping from Meribah to Massah. The travel for us now is more inward both individually and as communities. Will we dare to travel?

If Lent is too spiritual for you and you really want to move geographically within the season or even thinking of frolicking in Boracay come Good Friday, okay, here’s the leeway:

Will you dare to ride a real train (or any transport mode) while being open to be found by God in between imagining the white sand of Boracay or the summer cold of Baguio?

Mother Teresa discovered her “call within a call” while riding a train from Darjeeling to Calcutta.

CS Lewis got off on the wrong train station in London and realized he had been walking on the wrong direction.

Gandhi was so pained after being shoved to get off a train for simply being dark-skinned. Justice became his life’s passion since that incident. (Anybody who have watched Ben Kingsley’s acting prowess in Gandhi?)

Thomas Merton was moved to believe in God after his travel to Rome, amazed by the towering, old Byzantine churches.

And our classic traveller – St. Paul who was converted on his way to Damascus with his horse (did that make his horse saintly also?)

Travel na kung travel. But remember – God can knock us off anytime at the LRT, trisikad, MRT, boat, plane, helicopter, subway train, habal-habal, horse, bike, tricycle, colorum buses and FX, taxi, or government “for non-official use also” vehicles.

Who knows? Next post na lang about Cebu Pacific. Mahaba na to.

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Photo credit: jill in cottonwood

Excuse Me: Heaven Is Not Really The Goal! Part 1

Yes, I did my retreat for 7 days. Not one, single click on my blog although I desert-leadergot to read comments from my gmail as a sign of respect and silent connection with my readers/commenters. In this age of networks, a stand-alone blogger is self-contradicting. Even die-hard evolution biologists (like Elizabeth Sahtouri) who are the most rabid of atheists admit that co-operation from the cellular level up is how the universe operates.

Why an online absence? It’s a simple word called detachment from what I can be passionate about – meditative writing. Detachment is a Biblical thing, too. And monks through the centuries have passed it on as a wellspring of wisdom. Hear this from a monk who was a promising French General but decided to enter the monastery and served their “Muslim enemies” in Algeria:

A monk must be a contrarian, for it is in the insignificance of his life that he leaves his signature.

The world teaches us to find our passion. True enough. But human passion without God and a sense of detachment could be a tricky thing. It’s like Peter, looking for Jesus who retreated early in the morning after a successful healing crusade the night before:

Gosh, where were you. People are asking us. They need us. Now na.

Jesus could read his disciples’ ego and were taking God’s work personally:

Let’s get on the Baliwag Bus and move on to Vigan. There’s so much ego-blowing on here.”

Naman, oh,” Peter pontificated.

Talk of Jesus being a contrarian against the tricky trip of the ego, more so if it is talented and powerful enough to change lives.

In my faith-journey, I have to equally learn that Heaven is not really the goal. It is those simple, seemingly insignificant growth that takes place in silence where the Sacred speaks.

Part 2 of this would be the bloody, shitty part of the retreat. Thanks for those who read my retreat guideline and the feedback. Nortehanon, Coolwaterworks, Walongbote, Honey, Revsiopao, Emilayskie, Bluep – thank you for the sweet notes.

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Photo credit: Hamed Saber

KC Concepcion, Annabelle Rama and Simon’s Mother-in-Law

“Basta ako, si KC lang pinapangarap ko para kay Richard.”

Annabelle Rama

I still have the 3 readings of last Sunday from Job, Paul’s letter to the kcCorinthians, and Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law on my desk. More often, I would print out the readings from this site a day or 2 before Sunday and write if there is something to connect the dots with. My present ministry does not provide some opportunities to preach and so writing goes free-wheeling also. Reading the Scriptures is practically for personal meditation, an ancient practice called lectio divina – reading the Scripture over and over and allowing it before any cerebral work would get the juice out of it. Can you sense how lectio divina is exactly the opposite of President Arroyo’s failed persistence for the third time for a photo-op at the National Prayer Breakfast with President Obama? Lectio divina is simply allowing the butterfly to sit one your shoulder rather than stubbornly chase it. It is akin to our regular jeepney drivers who patiently get used to the prattle of passenger’s coins and change until they have 3 kilos of rice to buy come sundown. Again, very much in opposite of those who slyly chase millions out of a government road project because megalomania has become a violent compulsion.

From this set of Sunday readings, there is heavyweight Job, the persistent Paul, and the always cool Jesus. The suffering Job alone is an enigma to the spirit; Paul’s passsion for preaching is a sparker; and Jesus’ healing activities, including Simon’s mother-in-law, abound with lessons for being actively loving and being silent in prayer.

On Mothers-in-Law

Of course, it is a universal catch-phrase. For those who joined the healing Eucharist on TV with Fr. Jerry Orbos, SVD last Sunday, we heard his light take on why Peter (formerly Simon) denied Jesus 3 times – because Jesus healed his mother-in-law. Too cruel of course, even for a fledgling disciple like Peter.

Enter Annabelle Rama for the showbiz news fodder last night. Why is she quotable in the first place despite her belligerent front and her noisy attempts to fence off her family from fungal malicious attacks? I guess beyond her jest-prone Cebuano accent, she, like Belo, has given a public, defiant face on behalf of the matriarchal mothers-in-law among us. One truth is mothers-in-law are often daring within their sphere of influence but beyond it is the reservation against social labeling on how grouchy they could get, or intimidating, or meddling. So Annabelle wants KC for Richard. And Simon most probably requested Jesus to drop by her house. She could have texted Jesus if she happened to live in Barangka, Marikina today and he was in Payatas. Annabelle wants the creme de la creme of the showbiz-cum-politics-cum-humanitarianism for Richard alongside KC’s father’s early approval. How Cinderella-like! And Simon wanted the best guest and gift for his mother-in-law. How gracious an act! Who can’t put KC on a pedestal as an icon of a schooled, multilingual actress who divides her time between screen appearance and volunteering for the UN-initiated campaign against world hunger? Annabelle can’t ask for more. Could Simon’s mother-in-law ask for more? I don’t think so. With a healing presence as Jesus that could drive away even a thermo-breaking fever within seconds, what else can be asked from Jesus if we have the health we need in order to serve others. Annabelle must have gone home whistling with her pre-Valentine dream; Simon’s mother-in-law happily served Jesus on the table. KC and Richard admitted it’s still a long way to go; and it was a long night for Jesus as more sick people came by droves.

“Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also,” said Jesus.

My world goes on with or without the intervention of my mother-in-law, more so with her positive plea to God on my behalf. And your world?

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Photo credit: aprille_pics2

What’s Your Star to Bethlehem?

First thing I admit – I cried at the doorstep of 2009 and as I bade goodbye to the rocky 2008. It’s not a yearly ritual of mine but the scanty catch of last year was at times paralyzing. I was shedding tears for the pain that was and the promise of a new year. A fresh start is what most of us often want and I’m grateful to be given the time to start anew.

star

For some significance beyond my comprehension, my scholarship at Queens in Ontario has been at bay for 3 years now. It seemed more like an exercise in imagination and hope than really feeling the Canadian cold between reading and writing. Some things, I guess, are just meant to stretch our patience, period. Then when it’s time to let it go, it equally means being open to other possibilities. Loss is never loss at all; most often, it is only a movement of possibilities for growth, or a shifting of priorities. So I am moving on this year, me, a water Ox (chariiing).

This is the second thing I will admit – I read Chinese horoscopes, too. I do think they are intriguing, perhaps, as intriguing as the white smoke that billows out at the Vatican’s chimney upon an election of a new Pope. I do think Chinese horoscopes are keen observations of the pattern and rhythms of animals and peoples and plants and nature. They are scientific to some degree if we mean by science the human effort to uncover the logic of the world, the pattern of the world. So I read Chinese horoscopes to test some synchronicity between the actual me and the primitive “scientific” fact enshrined in those animals. In between those reading time are silent consensus and I believe I am not alone in those “A-ha” moments. But then, this cosmic dozen of Chinese beasts does not predestine my life and my choices. It is not my compass, or my north star. I guess most of us could simply lift our shoulder saying it’s just the Asian in us, very much in parallel with the American Indian tradition of naming themselves after an animal.

In this Feast of the Epiphany, when the Magi were guided by a star into the Little Savior, I remain strong in my resolve to claim Jesus as my destination and the mission entrusted to me as my compass, my guiding star. It took me some wandering to settle with my mission, made me wondering if the Magi themselves had wandered for years decoding the astrological signs pointing to Bethlehem. The wandering – it can happen until one’s mission in life settles like a gentle feather in one’s soul. I’m glad I’ve found mine. Have you figured out yours? Are you ready to peek at mine? Here it is, fresh from my diary, but an entry of almost 3 years ago.

It was one ordinary day of walking at a sports complex. As usual, the open sky domed the place and the surrounding mountains serve as magnificent backdrops. The mountain of Mayapay, which is often kissed by clouds reminded me of the mountain in my dream. But day in and out, I had been feeling so tired of treading the unknown paths. While walking, I prayed asking the Lord for one thing. I was talking to the Lord, believing that He was walking beside me that one ordinary morning. Tears were welling up, where else, but in my eyes. I felt the presence of the Lord. I asked Him for one thing: to show me the way and to give me a sense of direction in life. The following night, I was up in the middle of sleep and I couldn’t wait to write the one line that stirred me: to become God’s living compassion among the suffering sick. I mulled over the line, trying to mentally masticate it while also feeling I’m being seized by its simplicity. I feel like it’s the still point to use TS Eliot’s phrase, where all dances are drawn into the dance. It simply has its drawing power.

Eventually, I realized the statement must be connected to my “Emmaus experience” that one ordinary, walking morning.”

This simple mission, side by side with becoming a Christlike family man, this is my star to the manger, my compass towards the call for wholeness (holiness). Just in case you haven’t figured out yours, here are 3 friendly advises:

  1. Pray. Dialogue with God. Remember, a mission is bigger than a personal ambition or dream because God wants to get involved, to say the least.
  2. From American scholar Joseph Campbell – “Go back to your childhood and find what was the real fascination.” I did mine here. Those early impressions about what we want to be are deeply ingrained in our cells.
  3. Look around you, sort those needs around you, keeping in mind this beautiful quote from theologian Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

You may add your advise in the comment section. In my next post, I will reflect on the intersection between my mission and the needs I see around. Beyond personal ambition, may God reveal to us all our mission in life we can carry out this New Year 2009.

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Photo credit: Mr. Geoff