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


Plane crash…

The crash of a 6-seater plane yesterday in a slum-by-the-creek had claimed 16 human lives. Around 60 poor families were affected by this tragic incident. The site is only about 200 meters away from where we are residing. Not wanting to rush to the site yesterday, I took some time instead this morning to visit the area and the evacuation center and extend what little help we can. The ash-smelling site was full of irony – poor people made poorer by the tragedy. The more one behold those “empty houses,” the more one is turned silent. No sooner, the spirit of those who perished will roam around the place, perhaps in search of answers. Much like the deep curiosity of the living. But the dark remains of the fire will only keep the curious wait in irreconcilable silence. But no sooner too, structures will sprout from the ash-covered ground, from the very muteness of the place. Life is liturgy.

A Prayer for these times of natural calamities

Dearest God,
these are very uncertain times,
times of suffering for the people of Japan and the rest of humanity,
times triggering our deep-seated fear of death,
of the pain of losing,
or being swallowed into the immeasurable vastness beyond our space-time;
times fed by our human interpretation
of fire, water, earth, and wind going berserk
in their Biblical cataclysmic sense.

Our minds cry for clarity,
but we know not how Nature will move, reconfigure
in the coming days, months, years.

Our bodies cry for safety,
yet Nature shakes us, reminds us in a painful way
the fragility of human life,
for we are like “flowers quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow,
waves tossed in the ocean; vapors in the wind.”

Have mercy on us and our human folly of arrogance and self-importance.
Help us toss into the vast humble Silence of Your self-giving love
the deceiving obstinate desires to become successful, popular, secure, important,
needed, ever-calculating Supermen and Superwomen.
Have mercy for we do not even know what really is worth-desiring – You and You alone.

Our hearts cry with the suffering, the grieving, the homeless, the orphaned,
the wounded, the hungry.
We cry for mercy with them.
We cry with them,
for their humanity is also our humanity,
the very earth they trod on is also the earth we trod on.

As we approach Your altar of Bread and Wine,
we bring our tears,
and our cries for mercy and forgiveness as our offering,
hoping that as the host is raised and the cup of wine consecrated,
our tears be transformed into our bread of steadfast faith in You,
our cries into our wine of deep trust in You,
that they may become our prayer with the Psalmist:

“Impregnate us with Love, O Comforter!
Let our fears be transformed;
let all that keeps us separated and confused flee!
As smoke is blown away, so let our fears rise up before You;
as wax melts before fire,
let our fears be melted by Love!
Then we will be released from bondage;
we will exult before the Beloved;
we will be jubilant with joy!

As the earth quakes, as floods strike without warning,
let your Presence be near.
As the mountains tremble and volcanoes spew forth ash,
let your Presence be near.
As rain falls in abundance on desert floors
restore the lands that they might flourish,
that the flocks may roam and graze on fertile fields.
In your Mercy, O Beloved,
You provide for the needy.
You are with us.”

Amen to your Presence…

Psalm 68 from Nan C. Merill’s Psalms for Praying

St. Antony of Egypt: Toothful Abbot

Thanks to science, Vitamins (especially Vitamin C) were discovered.

But there’s also something in solitude that is analogous, if not superior, to Vitamins. It’s not that solitude must be pursued for the sake of health; health is simply a gift solitude brings. Take the case of St. Antony of Egypt, pioneer of monastic solitude. After 20 years of solitary life sleeping and living in caves, huts, and cemeteries; fighting demons of spiritual and psychological in nature; battling with thirst and hunger; facing lions, snakes, scorpions in the wilds; eating bread for years; fasting, still came out of his long solitude physically robust, his body agile as of an Olympian. According to his biographer St. Athanasius:

“…not only was he a picture of health (not a single tooth was missing!”), but his face was illuminated by compassion and joy.”

He died at the age of 105…

Robert Ellsberg
All Saints (Claretian Publications: Quezon City, Philippines, 2008)

If you have the means, would you order a shark fin soup?

I have not tasted a shark fin soup, and decide today i will never order such if i found myself billeted to a Chinese resto. Here’s why:

  • A bowl of shark fin soup can cost $100
  • A single fin is worth more than $1,300
  • Shark hunters are only after the fins; dead shark bodies are often discarded and to think that sharks have low reproductive rates
  • Each year, 73 million sharks are killed mostly in the name of trade and business
  • 10 million kilograms of shark fins are exported annually to Hongkong by nearly 87 countries 
  • Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand and China are the biggest shark fin consumers
  • Shark fin soup consumption conveys status symbol
  • Spain, Singapore, and Taiwan are the biggest suppliers

What’s the big deal currently? At the UN-initiated 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Doha, Qatar (March 13-25, 2010), soup-consuming countries listed above sabotaged and rejected the proposal to ban the trade on the following endangered ocean dwellers:

  • spiny dogfish shark
  • scalloped hammerhead
  • oceanic whitetip sharks
  • bluefin tuna (for sushi)
  • and red and pink coral

Environmentalists considered this an embarrassing triumph of trade over science, of profits over conservation.

It makes me think: sharks are often portrayed as deadly for human beings, and not necessarily as important members of the ocean world and ecosystem, perhaps in order to justify the human violence (whose undergrounds are consumerism, status symbol, or wealth) against them. That they are “killable” indeed. Now – who ends up the real killer and threat to the ecosystem?


Photo credit: Joshkay

Still on the Sexual Abuse of Children

“Being a Christian is not cutting yourself off from real life; it is entering into it more fully. It is not failing to go deeper; it is going deeper than ever. It is a journey into the heart of how things really are.”

Rob Bell
Author – Velvet Elvis

There is something truly disturbing this Lent, not because it should not have happened, but for the mere fact that it grinds with the liturgical rhythm of Lent. It is un-veiling of what Lent is supposed to be – a time of repentance, honest inward-looking, bleeding with our very wounds, both personal and institutional.

The Vatican is bleeding this Lent, almost in self-imposed suffering, for secretly allowing pedophiles to roam around like lions looking for someone to devour. From the American stories of abuse to the Irish cover-up and now to the German connection of the Pope to pedophilia, the world is left to stare with anger and suspicion over what’s going on indeed in most confessional cubicles, and for some fundamentalists, is turning this into an opportunity to viciously attack and tear down the whole Church as if pedophilia is as epidemic as malaria. And how the Vatican is handling this insanity and very un-Godly mess! Bring it on the mess this Lent. There’s no other road to healing but to tell the stories of the wounded and wounding pedophiles and whatever clandestine structures are feeding them. There’s no other road to healing than remembering in repentance and compassion the secret stories of the innocent abused.

A lot needs honest admission in this Church.

Infantilism (or baby-ing instead of showing the way of honest silence for example) of the weak leaders through rigid and even surreptitious structures is one.

Overreaction, or even groping in the dark over postmodernism (gender issues; growth of personal authority) is another.

Clerical status and the confusion over the extent of political involvement in the State led into more confusion for the people.

Privileged hierarchy over the laity continues to be wounding.

But the most appalling, to echo blogger Maggie Ross, is the dwindling lived vision of the Church as a sacrament, a mere pointer to the Sacred because most leaders are so drunk in its worldly and noisy power, no longer setting an example that “union with the self-emptying God” is the ultimate humbling power and source of self-forgetful service for humanity. It’s not essentially about being ordained or being in religious life. It’s about our life in God through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

If the Church as an institution continues in its project of self-conversion before our humble, crucified God, you and I also partake in this grace of conversion. I eat the same bread of the children, shared the same baptism. I must change endlessly until death before him who is always thousands of steps ahead of me. And so my Church leaders. And the way to partake with this goal of conversion is from within the Church herself, in being honest to the rhythms of her liturgical seasons – hot or cold.

Should we say Lent is a comfy time of mere entertainment from Passion plays? Ah-ah.