Storm signals, compassion signals

“When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,
he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;
give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”
Then he said, “Bring them here to me, ”
and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied,
and they picked up the fragments left over—
twelve wicker baskets full.
Those who ate were about five thousand men,
not counting women and children.”

July is normally a typhoon month for the country, with an average of 5 of this kind of damaging wet weather. We got overloaded this July with 9 according to PAGASA. The consequences to human lives, communities and properties are tremendously burdensome – city and rural areas flooding, streets covered with mud or even lahar; people drowned in rivers or buried alive by landslides; houses gobbled up by the sudden monstrous rise of water; ricefields and fish farms devastated. Just when residents were about to finish fixing their houses, another storm would turn their effort into futility. How painful! How frustrating could it further get! The sense of devastation and loss are marked up in people’s faces like ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday; they are drawn in their wearied faces.

Pinoys are no strangers to storm-induced suffering. We are quite familiar with it. Or over-familiar with it enough to numb the human capacity for compassionate action.

That over-familiarity could also become an inhuman habit is something not unfamiliar – souring relationships, unfinished meal at fastfood restaurants, boredom over repetitive Sunday gospel readings or “old” laptops. It’s a creeping disease even in social networking like Facebook where people are over-familiar with each other with all the photographic evidence and details but fail to connect more deeply like two friends engaged and interested in each other in an other-centered conversation, hearts out the way compassion is other-centered by nature. I wonder if with over-familiarity, the choices are reduced to two – relational depth or simplistic connection? Compassionate, heartfelt connection, or the shallow self-gratification by way of information?

But then, the gospel injunction to become “true neighbors” in the parable of the good Samaritan is by way of mercy, through the networking of compassion rather than the gathering of information that the priest and the Levite had cognitively modelled in the parable.

Once again, I heard the same timeless call for compassion in the story of the feeding of the more than five thousand. I imagine the Son of Man traversing the dusty roads from Galilee to Jerusalem, passing by familiar faces of people in pain. Anytime, the Son of Man could have fallen into the trap of over-familiarity to become heedless to every Bartimaeus or women hemorrhaging more than a dozen years. Anytime, the Son of Man could have excused himself using our modern phrase of “compassion fatigue” (a symptom of our lack of courage to pursue solitude, the source of compassion). Yet, one more time, I heard the Son of Man, likely to have wept in silence, coming out from a painful solitude occasioned by the beheading of someone he looked up to – John the Baptist – sharing compassion to the hungry crowd and the sick. Scholars may explain to us the meaning of “miracle” in this passage from a scientific sociological perspective of the crowd bringing their own provision. But the scientific information is not the spiritual bread in this passage. It was the Son of Man’s compassion born out of his sorrowful solitude, set in a secluded place conducive for silence – a case of solitude chased by the desire for him. It was the Son of Man’s compassion likely unleashing what was in the heart of every wounded member of the crowd. The spiritual bread here is the sense that every Eucharist is a celebration of compassion – the Holy extending mercy, cajoling every attendee to stay and need not go somewhere, to simply sit in the open field of divine generosity to be joyfully satisfied. The spiritual bread here is the sense that every time I honestly admit before the Holy, alone or with others, offering my wounds or lack: “I have here five loaves of bread and two fish,” I am already sitting in the field of the Eucharist for every Eucharist is but the begging of the Holy’s mercy, the encounter of God’s tireless compassion with the human need for it. Eucharist is not so much the rubrics nor the repetitions but the meeting of two desires. Exodus of solitudes. Communion. The meeting of two loves until a “good measure, pressed down,shaken together, running over, is poured out into one’s garment.”

“…and they picked up the fragments left over— twelve wicker baskets full.”

In every storm that left people in pain, I am invited to become eucharistic. It can begin with the honest admission of the figurative “five loaves and two fish” I have and done as an act of oblation. The rest is for Him to multiply, His mercy to fill, and purify my complacency born out of over-familiarity. Amen.


A Doorway to Silence: The Contemplative Use of the Rosary

This book is written by Robert Llewelyn, while a chaplain of the Julian Shrine at Norwich, England. In a sense, this book stands unique from other books about the rosary especially filled-up with meditations on the mysteries. Fr. Llewelyn simply invites every pray-er of the Rosary to make it the springboard to Silence. Here’s a part of the introduction of the book which I deem captures the gist of the book:

“The rosary, in something like its present form, has been in use in the Western Church for almost a thousand years and a custom which has so universally stood the test of the centuries should not lightly be discarded. Much of our prayer life will lie the other side of the rosary but without its use (or the use of something similar) it may be that many will never discover the country beyond. The prayers and structure of the rosary are unique to the Christian Church, but the principle is common, if not universal, beyond the Christian faith. Our awareness of this should serve to enhance its value.

The rosary has been, for many, a way in to silent prayer. The silence of the heart before God is of the essence of the prayer life. It is well for newcomers to the rosary to understand this. We start with the mind gently enfolded in the words (or it may be resting in one of the mysteries) and very properly, they are the focus of our attention. After a while that focus is likely to begin to disappear from consciousness, and this is where the beginner may become alarmed. What is happening, however, is that – so long as the intention to pray remains – the heart is being drawn gently into the silence beyond the words. The quality of the silence which may be ours when the words have dropped away completely at the end of the exercise will itself be proof that this process has been taking place. Anyone who is experienced in the use of the rosary will at once understand the significance of what is being said. The newcomer will probably understand only after becoming acquainted with the practice.

It is advisable to say the rosary plainly and simply as an offering to God without introspective glances to inquire whether what we are doing is meaningful or not. The exercise, if it is to be begun at all, must be begun in faith and it is in the power of faith that it is to be carried through.”

Mary Help of Christians – pray for us…


Prayer of Intercession

Two thousand years of Christianity, yet listen to how we pray those prayers of intercession during masses and other verbose liturgies: we keep someone in mind, mention the predicament or problem to the Listener of our prayers, and then here’s the verbosity – getting into the specific of how we should see the result, on how exactly the Listener must respond to the problem framed according to our human understanding. “Lord, my mother-in-law is terribly sick. She must have been stressed out while meddling with her grandson’s choice of a preschool against her own choice. Help her clear her minds from being too controlling. Ease all her worries, especially from financial ones. Most importantly, may she learn to adjust to the changing culture of the new generation. Amen.” Verbose I believe!

Personally, I’m changing the way I intercede for others thanks to Maggie Ross (see Maggie Ross’s The Space of Prayer here) who taught me to unlearn the many years of my education in praying. It’s as simple as the following pointers:

  • Keep the person/s in mind and despite knowing the problem, avoid framing the specifics within the prayer moment.
  • When you enter a prayer moment, keep in mind that God was ahead in the place and space. Acknowledge that the time and space is already a space of prayer.
  • Fall as freely as you can into silence by avoiding words like asking for specific results. Simply breathe the silence, keeping in mind that God understands better the problem than you do.
  • By simply lifting up the person without getting into the specifics, and by falling into wordless intercession, you actually create a space for God to act, decide, resolve over those needs and problems more complex than we usually thought. God can readily enter into our complex lives and personalities to simplify it beyond our expectations.
  • A prayer of intercession I believe is one way of loving our neighbor unconditionally by simply allowing the person to slip from our mental remembrance into the more silent, loving space of God.

The following is a prayer of intercession I wrote for a grad school of business.

Reader: “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.” Let us offer the following prayers, resting on the assurance that the Father and Mother of us all wants everyone be saved. For every petition, we say:

God who saves all beings, may we find our ultimate security and health in you.

For the urban poor in our midst, those who live under bridges and in sidewalks, karitons and esteros, riverbanks and overcrowded areas (short silence…)

We pray: God who saves all beings, may we find our ultimate security and health in you.

For the Church as institution and unity of believers, those invested with the authority to lead, and the flock being served, for all our weaknesses and brokenness that tend to disrupt the joy and promises of our missions and visions (short silence…)

We pray: God who saves all beings, may we find our ultimate security and health in you.

For all faces of exploitation in our society – of child labor and deprivation of basic social goods, of women in global trafficking, pornography and the trap of domestic violence, of workers paid cheap, of fooled movers of the underworld of narco-politics and gambling (short silence…)

We pray: God who saves all beings, may we find our ultimate security and health in you.

For the government leaders of our country, and for all their human tendency to amass wealth, power, and impressions at the expense of their own peace and of the many (short silence…)

We pray: God who saves all beings, may we find our ultimate security and health in you.

For the intellectually disabled in our midst, living in care centers or in their homes, showing us the way of joyful powerlessness and less complicated living and thinking (short silence…)

We pray: God who saves all beings, may we find our ultimate security and health in you.

For all of us in the academe and higher education, with the resources at our disposal to improve the many  faces of poverty and moral decadence in our midst, and the nagging call for us to respond creatively (short silence…)

We pray: God who saves all beings, may we find our ultimate security and health in you.

For the non-verbal beings in our midst – the soil, the rocks, the trees and many others, often ignored or trampled simply for their not being human (short silence…)

We pray: God who saves all beings, may we find our ultimate security and health in you.

Prayer: God who saves all beings, save us from our belief that we are eternally excluded from your act of salvation, and that others, especially the last, the least, and the lost are in the same situation of damnation. May we embrace more often your love and promise of joy more than we cling to our controlling desire for our own comfort and security. All these we pray through Jesus Christ, the One who trusted you fully. Amen.

Friday with the Icon of Mother and Son

My current read is Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa’s Life in Christ: A Spiritual Commentary on the Letter  to the Romans. The book is both deep and dense – spiritual in the sense of how penetrating Fr. Cantalamessa’s insights are into Paul’s messages to the Romans, and intellectual in the sense that he knows intimately the voices of the saints in the Church. But don’t get him wrong – the book despite its breadth, has all the aura of humility typical of a true-blue Franciscan in him, of being honest in saying “I don’t know” when it comes to probing the “mind of God”. Right in the introduction, he has to forewarn every reader that the book is not a theological treatise because in the first place, Paul’s Letter to the Romans was intended not for the scholars of his time but for all of “God’s beloved in Rome” that includes for the most part “the simple and the illiterate.” For all its honesty between what we know and what we don’t know about God, on why theology should never be separated from one’s prayer life, that amidst the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox differences there lies the need for interdependence as each is bestowed with different gifts all for the sake of building up the faith – these to me make the book a challenging read.

“…and as in the mystery of redemption it was given to the Eastern Churches to place greater value on the Incarnation and to the Western Churches on the Paschal Mystery, so within the paschal mystery itself it was given to the Eastern Churches to give greater value to the resurrection, and to the Western Churches, the Passion. This took place to make us dependent on one another and to give rise to the appeal for ecumenical unity from the very depth of the mystery we celebrate together. For each great mystery it is as if God made two “keys” to be used together, giving one to the Eastern Christianity and the other to the Western Christianity so that neither can reach the fullness of truth without the other.” p.78

In the succeding page, he described an icon used in the Orthodox Church – the icon of Christ’s resurrection and wrote these words that made me pause:

“It is a “kerygma” in color; in it the resurrection is not demonstrated but shown. It withdraws the veil and puts us in contact with the invisible reality. In all other forms of representation it is man who looks at the image, but in the icon it is the image that looks at man and completely dominates him.”

The quote brought me back to blogger Maggie Ross, who at one point visited the display of Byzantium religious art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and wrote this poignant impression: 

“These pieces embodied the ultimate that human beings can be and do – human beings never pointing to themselves showing off their skill but always directing attention beyond themselves, opening windows into the ineffable. The items on display were steeped in prayer, soaked in centuries of veneration that permeates the very air we breathed, while grace worked within us unawares. Art such as this is dangerous: it transfigures.”

Let’s try to be more visual about those icons that have the power of transforming us if done (consistently) in the “pilgrimage of prayer.” Here’s one video i snatched from Babushka, an Orthodox blogger. It’s beautiful and worth the time to pause from here:

Haiti: of Faith and Suffering

217,000 Deaths

300, 000 Injured

1 Million Homeless

Thousands of Protesters

A Number Violently Arrested for Looting

There’s not much to say these days about Haiti. Pardon me for using these images without permission, images that speak of the seemingly unspeakable suffering of the Haitians, very sacramental to command its own reverence, all enveloped in sacred silence. My earnest intention is simply to spread compassion. I pray the photographers will become instruments of touching further the conscience of the world.

Friday Fasting will be my simple way of knowing the face of your hunger, of what it means to crave even for crumbs…

Against Abortion: A Way from a Mother’s Womb

For this 4th Sunday of Advent, i am sharing to you something very personal. This was originally shared to a clinical group 5 years ago and given the title Culture, Spirituality, and Transformation: A Way from a Mother’s Womb. With a little pruning, I am giving it a different title however for 2 reasons and in view of these 2 crucial events: one is Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth where the “infant leaped in her womb”; and the second, as my protest against the 15 US Catholic Senators who voted to finance abortion through public money.

Let me set the reflective mood first with this quote from Henri Nouwen:

Where is this peace to be found? The answer is clear. In weakness. First of all, in our own weakness, in those places of our hearts where we feel most broken, most insecure, most in agony, most afraid. Why there? Because there our familiar ways of controlling our world are being stripped away; there we are called to let go from doing much, thinking much, and relying on our self-sufficiency. Right there where we are weakest the peace which is not of this world is hidden.”

Adam’s Story: The Peace That Is Not Of This World”

There is power in telling our stories, there is transformative power in sharing them. By sharing our stories, we learn to embrace our “angels” and name our “demons.” I have my story. You have your story. Let me begin mine from something so unique to me yet shared by human beings: what i learned, still learning, and need to unlearn from my mother’s womb.

Being in the womb was like being in the garden of relationality. It was total unity, like that of Adam and Eve before their expulsion from the Garden; a unity of my father’s sperm and my mother’s egg, of my mother and me. A unity so primordial and ancient, so universal. Never so close can one living being get to another living than being in one’s mother’s womb. What a profound and life-changing bond! Me, altering my mother’s body, my mother significantly shaping an emergent being in me. My mother standing with her own intra and extra personal resources: physical, psychological, and spiritual; Me, heavily dependent on those resources yet thriving independently on my own.

At the 16th week of my mother’s pregnancy, i could have been sensitive to light as my vision developed slowly in the dim, confined prenatal garden. Then by the 4th month, i may have developed basic reflexes and a host of facial expressions. At 5 or 6 months, i may have been sensitive to touch, then eventually to the noises in my mother’s body, and to voices , or music. Between 28 and 34 weeks, my brain’s neural circuits may be as advanced as a newborn’s and my cerebral cortex, mature enough to support consciousness. A few weeks later, my brain waves could have become distinct. Thus far in science, this is how a “normal” prenatal being develops.

I hope yours was a normal one.

I probably struggled hard with mine. After all, my mother was born fatherless and denied of her natural need for a father. My grandmother was a victim of masculine violence. And so is my mother, a kind of masculine violence that perhaps will never be resolved in her lifetime.

How about you? What was your mother’s experience in her mother’s womb?

While in my mother’s womb, the cycle of masculine continued. My father left her with no intention of taking responsibility for his actions. Masculine violence being passed to me, and certainly, to a good number of innocent beings around me. No wonder – millions die from violence! My prenatal world knew only the hostility of wounded men. Certainly, i must have felt my mother’s anxiety and her endless, restless thought to protect me. Our bonding was deepened because i was her treasure in a fragile vessel. The more intense the anxiety, the more neurohormones released to combat stress. I wonder what measure of those anxieties i have absorbed. It was a stressful world for a fragile being like me. No doubt, it was my first experience of violence in that garden of unity.

How about you? Was yours a serene world or a world of protest?

I grew in complexity as the environment, both internal and external, continued to fashion me. My growth continued despite the injustice. Or more ambiguously, despite the dialectic of my father’s absence and my mother’s over-attachment to me. My growing complexity continued. The more complex i became, the more resistance i had against my upcoming detachment. The womb became my protection against a violent world. My mother never had an easy “death” for me (i have one scar on the skull from some forceps). Alienation from that comfort zone was too painful. Onward with the struggle against the seemingly punishing uterine contractions and constricting birth canal. I have to “die” from that archetypal union anyway, to discover more about that violent world that i sensed, my mother hoping to find friendship for me outside her life-nourishing womb. It was only through the struggle of contraction of the uterus and the birth canal, the struggle against alienation, and the “emptying of the womb” that i could be thrown back into the “womb of the universe” where a more developed consciousness thrives.

Since then, i learned that truth is not as clear as black or white. I learned about culturally induced and unnecessary anger and anxieties. And so about the dialectic of connectedness, alienation, and transformation. Now, i am back to that struggle to reclaim that lost primordial oneness with Mother Nature. This time, in the womb of Mother Earth with its connecting, alienating (like abortion), and transforming elements.

In the midst of anger and anxieties, uterine contraction and paternal absence, alienation and violence, LIFE PREVAILS! Because,

You formed my inmost being;You knit me in my mother’s womb.
I praise You, so wonderfully You made me;
Wonderful are Your works!
My very self You knew;
My bones were not hidden from You.
When i was being made in secret,
fashioned as in the depths of the earth.
Psalm 139:13-15

I am wonderfully made. I can forgive. I am forgiving.

I am evolving more beautifully from my past.

I hope you are…

————Photo credits: VickyvSwiredfool

Sharing to you my silence…

Perhaps, you never know what blogging has done to me. Sure, many out there would bother to raise their eyebrows, especially the intellectuals among us because on the surface, blogging seems to concoct less marinated thinking and a tequila of writing-out-of-haste. Besides, there seems to be that howling question that could perplex the more boundaried in their privacy – why spill out personal stuff in public? I can only render due deference for keeping their fence well-guarded.

To me, blogging has been an experience of a prayer, and by prayer, I mean the intention and action to create a space for the Sacred and my longing to behold the Face, in between words and silence through listening. Blogging to me is self-discovery, having the ultimate goal of knowing God! The rest are pathways to the Sacred. Blogging is one way of travelling, meeting signposts of the Sacred along the way – some more aware of the signposts than the others, some more curious of the message than the others. I am only learning to be more aware, awake, curious and this alone is a mix of thrill and waiting in boredom unless I want to force-feed myself with every bewildering message I encounter.

For example – I am almost totally gripped now by one blogger whose message and integrity I am now completely learning to trust and listen. I trust the vision, the invitation into deeper solitude and silence and feel so engrossed by the depth of every entry.  I can read entry after entry like scanning a newspaper page after page. But then – I am intervened by silence, by awe and it is often hazardous to one’s spiritual and physical health to ignore silence. Noise is a temptation towards dissipation, an escapist tendency as familiar as forcing my fingers to write just to have something to post so my readers keep coming back. It is so anti-silence the goal of which is to be safe with oneself and the Sacred more than pleasing others. So here’s the resolution – I won’t post for another 7 days. Let silence speak. Let me share with you my online silence. From here, let me leave you with this song: The God of Silence: