Flashflood Aftermath: Suffering and Silence

“After Auschwitz, there must be poetry, in which language is torn and broken, into which words are pulled, but in which there is also an essential address: the words and the silences are pulled toward an other.”  

Karmen MacKendrick

A story or two in words of some survivors, a single photo, are enough to move me to tearful silence. Their suffering, the depth of their sense of loss, the trauma so marked up in their bodies, in their faces are unspeakable. No human language can contain their grief;  the survivors themselves have no language for it except by way of stammering, wailing, broken, torn ones. By way of tearful silence, of tears and silence. Movement in silence and through silence could have been the best response.

But how does one make sense of the constant interviews of the survivors, asking them “how they feel,” often cornered to respond in a language (in Tagalog) that runs against their tongue and their manner of speaking it, the source of stigmatization? How does one make sense of the closed-up corpses that sociologist Randy David and a fellow blogger so poignantly pointed out that is so disrespectful of their dignity? Of the constant scrambling for photo opportunities and endless chatter in sensationalized media voice as if it is a climax of a soap opera that TV sells? In this kind of situation, often, one doesn’t know where charity ends and self-promotion begins.

And I have one perception on this malaise – it is a desacralization of the sacred silence, no matter how marred by the reality of loss and death, that the dead and their survivors so deserve along the river bank, by the single post of the house left, in churches-turned-evacuation-centers, before a mass grave. Let silence reign in the midst of such unspeakable suffering. But no because the Filipino pathos is always cast and cultured in the Hollywoodish climactic, the sensationalized ‘underdog’ of a soap opera whose upcoming triumph could happen through a sudden twist of the whole drama. Before any donor knows it, media and some charitable organizations have been telling them that the first tall order in the midst of a tragedy is to fix the damage, to fix people’s suffering. Abate? Yes. But to ask people to articulate their grief through interrogation, covering their tales by words or images as if “everything must be said; it must be said now, with nothing left – it has to get somewhere,” – isn’t this irreverent and violative of a very rich refuge in times of unspeakable suffering – silence and the need for someone to stay in their silent scream.

True enough, the dead need further autopsies and the survivors need food and shelters and movement through mobilization for its delivery are needed. But I’m convinced that this movement can be done in prayerful silence less the self-flaunting, and more reverential of the silence of the dead and the survivors.

But then, this silence has to start from within and has to be cultured also. Perhaps, those cameras can still keep going in meditative movement minus the reporters’ microphone. I bet it’s more powerful than any professional’s seemingly endless chatter.  And then through silence, lessons from the tragedy are better learned and absorbed as well, who knows. And by the way, one can also stay in prayerful silence from afar and be in solidarity with the suffering.


Photo credit: interaksyon


Flashfloods: The Human Culprit

1. The red circle is the approximate area in Kalatungan and Kitanglad ranges where heavy Sendong rains fell. It is also the approximate area where logging is rampant e.g. Vicmar Dev’t Corporation and Bualan Cooperative which was exempted by DENR in April from EO23 or the PNoy logban.

2. The two red lines to CDO and Iligan is the water flow from the denuded forests.

3. This would show the source of the flood waters that hit simultaneously Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, and sparing the coastal municipalities in between Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. Heavy rains brought by typhoon Sendong fell in the Kalatungan range. If you observe the light green-brownish color, it indicates thin vegetation. This is where massive logging is happening for the last 30 years. If you notice it drains straight to CDO. If you go to the left of the map, down Kalatungan is Kapai and Mandulog, this is the part that drains to Iligan. There are ridges and gorges there that feed directly to the Mandulog river.

I’m sending my little help with these odious facts in mind…


BenCy G. Ellorin of Help CDO

Between rituals and ceremonies…

“I feel the term ritual should not be squandered or loosely applied to inconsequential and habituated behavior. There the better word to use might be ceremony. Authentic ritual enactment concerns itself with transition and transformation; ceremony with the awarding and preservation of status.”

Bani Shorter, Susceptible to the Sacred: The Psychological Experience of Ritual (Routledge: London, 1996, p.30)

I’m tired of going to his mass, not that I’m tired of going to mass. Who is not (unless one doesn’t really care about the distinction above) when even in the closing of the Church’s liturgical year capped by Christ the King, all one hears during the homily is the perfunctory, repetitive, information-driven reminder of how a liturgical year looks like, the major seasons and its distinctive assigned colors, not to mention of the pending projects like the multipurpose building and the covered walkway aimed for the coming advent dawn masses and Christmas. I found it very anti-ritual, shallow, devoid of the kind of substance that a meditative homily is potent to transform the landscape of attention of the listeners. One could argue that perhaps more from among the congregation still need those information. But isn’t this spiritual consumerism at the expense of the depth of a ritual, Eucharist for this matter, where a homily is an opportunity to plunge deeper into the mystery of Christ’s humility, rather than get caught up in the pragmatics of liturgical legalism? Isn’t it theologically commendable that a homily part is where worshipers can “take off their sandals” as flesh and spirit plunge more deeply into Ember of the Unknowable?

“Brought to the crossroads, where creative freedom is a choice, at the juxtaposition of human and divine energies, space is required for contemplation of the mystery of revelation. This space will be imbued with symbolic presence and respect for that presence determines the outcome. For the symbol does not disguise; it reveals over time. Attentiveness is needed during the process of its unfolding, a certain patience and the willingness to relate to it as something more than oneself though belonging to oneself. Meaning follows.”

“Ritual is the name we give to what happens in that hazardous space, gives witness and pays homage to an encounter between human and divine forces, an exchange that involves a sharing of attributes, though not of essences. Precisely because of this what happens can only be expressed  in imaginative and metaphorical form.” (op.cit. p.119)

Are our liturgies too modern in losing a sense of “sacred space,” turning homilies into announcement boards, rituals into ceremonies, mythos and the symbolic life into the verbosity of the human logos?

I suspect that if people keep eating the bread of rituals and symbols, the multipurpose building follows by a “different route” like the Magi.


Photo credit: mattstone

Gibran and his 7 self-reprimands

Seven Reprimands

by Gibran

I reprimanded my soul seven times!

The first time: when I attempted to exalt myself by exploiting the weak.

The second time: when I feigned a limp before those were crippled.

The third time: when given a choice, I elected the easy rather than the difficult.

The fourth time: when I made a mistake, I consoled myself with the mistakes of others.

The fifth time: when I was docile because of fear and then claimed to be strong in patience.

The sixth time: when I held my garments upraised to avoid the mud of Life.

The seventh time: when I stood in hymnal to God and considered the singing a virtue.


The Best of Kahlil Gibran. Book Palace: New Delhi, p.71. Gibran wrote in two languages: Arabic for Lebanon, Syria and the Arabic world; English for the West. Gibran’s mother was the daughter of a Maronite priest. The Maronite Church uses Syriac, or Aramaic, in its liturgy, the same language spoken by Christ. While his feet “were stumbling on the stones of Nazareth, he decided to write his book Jesus the Son of Man.” On the Church becoming feudal during his time and bishops and priests used their position to advance and enrich friends and relatives, he wrote 2 famous stories: “Kahlil the Heretic” (a novice tries to convince the monks to distribute all their possessions and to go preach among the poor)  and “John the Madman.”

“Life is not only merriment; Life is desire and determination.” K. Gibran

The fierce landscape, the “cedars of God,” the mountains of Lebanon that Gibran grew up with, the Wadi Qadisha that has a “mighty force that compels the mind to dwell upon the words we have for eternity.”

Holy Week, Easter and Sexuality

Quite ordinarily and punctuated by hours of solitude even within the household, we observed the  Holy Week.

After Palm Sunday, I prayed for the Holy Spirit to make me more attuned to the transforming message and power of the Holy Week. By Wednesday, I found myself fuming with anger while praying at the Chapel of St. Pio. The taxi driver stealthily snaked us through a long route to the Chapel for us to cash out what could have been half of the metered rate. Ironically, we talked about icons all the way to the place :-).

Thank God the place was really silent despite the number of pray-ers. There was nourishing silence that hovers the place, magnified by the framed testimonies of prayers for healing answered attached to the wall, the hospitable readiness of a number of wheelchairs at one door, the neat lines of votive candles, images of Padre Pio and St. Francis of Assisi. Silence was extended to the garden outside the Chapel where life size statues of Padre Pio, Jesus praying at Gethsemane and the Blessed Mother join this chorus of silence.

I was still collared by the noise of anger. But like other pilgrims, there are more important people to pray and ask Padre Pio’s intercession for either silently or through the prayer requests pad provided by the Center. I need not settle my anger right away; it will go away within the week was my little hope.

At home, I have to be realistic. Having a 3-year old kid is not the best time to totally fast from TV. But at the same time, something admirable is going on these days especially with one local channel. It is the way it consciously provides time for religious matters. It is the way the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) is negotiating with media these days, is trailblazing, not to mention its own vocational promotions, religious programs for the viewing public. It is the way it highlights the healing power of the Eucharist through the kind, presidential presence of its main person in Fr. Gerry Orbos, SVD. I was glued to the Holy Thursday mass he presided and despite his charismatic though gentle leadership, the homily on self-forgetfulness was truly contemplative. On behalf of the clergies, he apologized for their misdeeds. It was my first time to witness the ritual of foot-washing beautifully altered: after he washed the “apostles” feet, the latter followed suit for each other. Beautiful symbolism!

I know there is a downside to televised masses especially for those physically able to walk down to the church. So we came down to the real community, more or less charged by this virtual offering.

Good Friday. Not quite good for a woman neighbor, 4-month pregnant, alone and had been trapped for 20 minutes inside their suffocating bedroom because the doorknob malfunctioned. We came to her rescue by sapping part of the wooden door frame with a knife. The thin phone card didn’t work out. Good Friday relief for her.

Pregnancy seems an ordinary sight. But I brought the image as well to the Easter Vigil after re-reading Fr. Lovett’s liturgical plea for the return of this rich, sexual symbol for Easter Vigil:

“It makes sense to talk of an emasculation of the symbolism because the 1956 liturgy was strongly sexual. Only thus could it celebrate the transforming power of creation in us. All the symbols came from the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis. The font symbolizes the womb of mother Church fertilized by the phallic form of the lighted candle which is plunged ever deeper with rising tones by the celebrant. When the candle had reached its deepest point, the celebrant was instructed to breathe on the water in the form of the Greek letter psi, first letter of the term for life, psyche. The symbolism is of fecundity and regeneration. The fertilization of the virgin Church is related to the fertilization of the primeval waters, the waters of chaos. We are given a creation story centered on Christ. The birth of new members, the catechumens, is linked to the birth of the universe.”

Why this sexual symbolism? Fr. Lovett also provides the answer:

“There is a connection between sexuality and death. The message of both is one and the same: we do not have our lives for ourselves, we are not our own…Our habitual trivialization of sexuality is the sign of our inability to accept its true meaning. We creatively live sexuality by accepting the truth of our mutual belonging and by accepting it radically, my flesh for the life of the world.”

Children seem are faring better with the symbolic fertility of the Easter bunnies. In darkness and through the chaos of our lives, we have just been “fertilized” by Christ through his resurrection. Happy Easter to you…

Reference: It’s Not Over Yet: Christological Reflections on Holy Week (Claretian Publications: Quezon City, 1990, p. 66-67)

Photo credit: sumcct

I am the Arroyos and the Ligots. I am Merceditas.

“Rather, it is that my sin and your sin consists not in isolated small or gross acts committed or omitted by our choices and actions, or in some vague, isolated theoretical attitude, but instead that we, you and I, by virtue of our common humanity, and in the solitude from which true relationship springs, come to realize that we are implicated in every sin.”

Maggie Ross, The Fire of Your Life (Church Publishing, Inc.: New York, 2007, p.37)

Lord, have mercy on this bedraggled Christian nation! Lord, purify me by Your great mercy that I may seek repentance for my sin and turn to you to be renewed and reclaim my belovedness in You. Teach me the ways of self-sacrificing love that I may turn out more just towards others and your creation. Amen.