Monday, 20 August 2012

On the Busy Streets of Ho Chi Minh - Part I

Have you ever been a passenger on a motorcycle? If you ever had such an experience, what were your feelings, and if you never had, how do you think you would you possibly feel as a pillion passenger? I was not exactly pleasantly surprised when Sr. Anna, Superior of a Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) community in Ho Chi Minh, came to pick me from the airport on her bike. I have never rode on one and never had the intention of doing so. How was I to place my luggage? How would I balance while holding onto it? There was no time to think. It's just hopping on and let's go... I felt awkward, scared and was praying hard not to fall off. But the bike ride was more insightful than I could ever have imagined. 

I began to look more closely at my fears. I was no longer in control of my life, that is if my life was ever in my control to begin with. Where the rider turned, how she turned, at what angle, how fast she rode, when she break and accelerated, how near she went to the other vehicles on the road and how fast she could react to avoid being knocked by any of the many other bikes on the road... all were beyond my control. My life became dependent on the skill of the rider. And it was so striking because I could see the parallel with my spiritual journey and with life. 

How often does the control over our lives get shifted into the hands of another. Our performance bonus may not depend on the amount of work we have done as it is on the favour we have won from the boss. Diseases seem to have an upper hand in deciding the amount of time we have left on earth. A patient in the operating theatre has his life in the hands of his surgeons. In all these situations, the constant is uncertainties, fear and anxieties, because we can no longer influence or map out the outcome. Clearly, in our lives, as much as we think we are, we are really not the riders as much as we are the pillion passengers. 

And as passengers, how safely we arrive at our destinations depends on who we are riding behind.
Is this rider a safe and law-abiding road user? How many years of experience has he? And if we were to conduct an interview to hire a resident rider to drive us around everyday, these are the questions we will probably ask on top of his accident records. We want to minimise our risk of accidents by narrowing down our candidates to the one we deem as most reliable and trustworthy in his riding skills and in character. The one who best fits the job. 

And which leads me to the question "Who am I riding behind on the road of my life?" Who may you be a passenger to on the road of your life? 
Into whose hands have we entrusted our lives to?
Have we held onto life in our own hands, have we placed ourselves into the hands of money, status, a certain person like our spouse or children? 
Who drives the vehicle of your life? Who holds the steering wheel of your life?

On the last day of my stay, on the way to the airport, I was riding behind the same Sr. Anna on the same bike. And what a stark contrast it was in my experience as a passenger. I was no longer afraid, worried or tensed up. I still prayed but with confidence that I am in the safe hands of God and Sr. Anna. I began to look around at the scenery instead of trying to jut my head out to look ahead. I closed my eyes at one point and felt the breeze upon my face. I was at ease.  

What caused this change?
In those few days of living with the rider, I came to know who she is as a person. My personal encounters with her convinced me that she treasures life and knows what is important in any situation. I could trust her that in a crisis, she will not abandon me for the safety of herself. 

On the busy streets of our lives, who are we riding behind? 
Is it God? 
He who has an accident-free record, who is so completely reliable because His love for us holds us safe. He who places us above Himself when He decided to forego His glory for our eternal life. The Father who forgets His dignity as a Father, as God, and runs out to welcome us home. The One who parted with His Beloved Son to bring us back to His side. Can there possibly be another rider who can give us more security? The more we come to know this Rider, the more we can sit securely behind Him.

Who are the riders you are seated behind?
Where are you headed towards? 
Have your rider(s) gotten you lost on the busy streets of your life?

20 August 2012

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Fixated Eyes

We have a practice in school whereby to get the pupils' attention, the teacher would say, "Eyes on me." And the pupils are supposed to reply, "All eyes on you." After which, they are supposed to look at the teacher and focus. No distractions, no more talking. Listen to the teacher. 

Today's Gospel is the familiar scene of Jesus and Peter walking on water. Jesus told Peter, "Come." And Peter did. He walked on the water towards Jesus. He, as human as you and I are, defied all known Scientific principles, went against what was natural - to fall straight down into the water. This is a marvellous gift of affirmation for us because it shows us what faith in God can do. 

But when the wind blew, Peter felt it and started to fear. He began to sink. Isn't this so familiar to us? We are told to have faith in Jesus but when a fight occurs at home, when a relationship is broken, when the doctor brings us unpleasant news of our health, when a job is lost or when an examination is failed, we see the realness of the situation and we can no longer identify with this faith in Jesus. We lose hope, feel helpless and anxious, and we see nothing but dead ends. We, like Peter, begin to fear as soon as we are hit with the reality of our frightful situations. 

But yet again, isn't it so wonderful and comforting to know that even though we fall short of Jesus's call to faith, even though we doubt in Him, Jesus knows we need help and like He did to Peter when the latter called out to Him, He stretched out His hand and grabbed hold of Peter, prevented him from sinking and drowning in the stormy sea. We need not be perfect to win God's love and help. 

In all situations, if our sight is fixed upon Jesus, upon His glorious resurrection, His infinite compassion for us, need we fear anything? But fear comes in when our focus waivers and shifts away from Him, so much so that our eyes see the threats and can no longer see the God we know. Our minds and hearts take after what lies in our eyes. 

Today, our Gospel calls us to fix our eyes upon Jesus, our minds and our hearts.
Which brings to mind a song. 

Instrumental version 
With lyrics [Alan Jackson]

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Patience made Easier

Patience. A rather difficult feat, and still growing in its level of difficulty as each day passes. Impatience within the family, at school, at work, at the marketplace, at the malls, on the roads especially. We may try very hard to be patient but before long, we break and we snap, we horn, we curse, we scold. An argument results, disharmony in the family, hurtful words hurled with no turning back. Regret and remorse are left when the spurt of frustration dissipates. Discouraged, we try to find some strength to convince ourselves to do better next time. But why this lack of patience? This lack of love? 

Impatience, like sadness and anger, is a telling sign that something does not sit quite right within us. It could be work stress that is telling us that our bodies and minds have been ill-treated. It could be a person who have hurt us in the past and without knowing it, some resentment is still lurking around in some corner of our hearts. Whatever the cause, impatience seems to point towards a disharmony, a lack of peace in our relationship - with ourselves, with God, with fellow men. 

And when faced with such a disharmony, it is futile to just suppress our frustrations and simply tell ourselves to try again the next time. This method, though quick and easy, does not arrest the problem at its deeper, underlying cause. We are just pretending to be alright.

At this point, it might be helpful to recall one or more incidents in which you lost your patience. 

One of the possible ways to curb impatience might be forgiveness rather than suppression. And it might well be a very important prayer component throughout each day. 

Besides doing an examination of conscience and seeking God's forgiveness for the wrong done and the good undone for the day, perhaps, this whole issue of forgiveness needs to take both directions - of looking at the areas I need forgiveness and of looking at the areas I need to grant forgiveness. After all, we cannot pray the Our Father with "...forgive us our trespasses and lead us not into temptations..." Jesus taught us in the prayer, "... forgive us our trespasses as WE FORGIVE those who trespassed against us..." Both are taken as one entity. We are asking that God forgives us in the same way as we forgive others. 

When we have forgiven and let go of the hurt, the resentment, and pushing the 'reset' button in our relationships, only then can we be patient with one another because there is no more accumulated animosity. Each encounter becomes a fresh encounter. Isn't it true that most of our arguments are powered out of proportion by built-up frustrations, be it with the person we are arguing or with others in unrelated incidents, or perhaps, even with ourselves? And at times, the person we need most to forgive is ourselves. Times when we wanted to do better but did not, when we fall short. If we are not even secure and at peace with ourselves, holding onto so much tension, how can we be at peace in any other relationship? How can there be understanding and kindness?

Often, we do not really bring to awareness our unpleasant feelings, let alone the ones who may have caused them. Without this awareness, we cannot possibly make that deliberate act to forgive the person. Thus, in prayer, and in fact, throughout the day, we must at least have brief moments of bringing our attention to the inner most part of our beings, get in touch with the feelings that lie so unnoticed, and see if there is anyone we need to forgive. Praying for God's grace to forgive, we let go of the hurts and restore the peace in our hearts. 

We are not born into this world as impatient beings. Perhaps, if we find it in our hearts the courage and love to forgive truly those who have hurt us, we might find that patience isn't all too impossible after all.  

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Culture of Our Family

Today's readings (Jeremiah 26:11-16,24) and Gospel (Matthew 14:1-12) tell about two people who spoke the truth - John the Baptist and Jeremiah. 

John spoke up against the sin of Herod taking his brother's wife. Surely, it is not pleasing to the deliberate sinner to hear of his own sin. While Herod was afraid to put John to death, Herodias was not. She hated John for laying out so openly the sin she refused to turn away from. She could not stand the light that John shone on her darkness. Wanting to remain in her darkness, she had the head of the Baptist on a platter. She snuffed out the light that made her bare. 

Jeremiah was close to being put to death by the priests and prophets for pointing out the truth of their sinfulness and the anger of God. Pride masks darkness and lies to avoid the light. Not wanting to hear that they are wrong. Not wanting to change for the better. Not wanting to admit their inadequacies. Can such hearts come before God in sincerity? These so called ministers of the law and truth.

Light or darkness?
Truth or lie?
Do we not have to choose one over the other everyday of our lives? 
And which have we been choosing?
Have our choices been conditional on the price attached? 
If it is not too easy to choose the truth, then maybe I will speak the opposite this time. God will understand my reasons.
If the truth is going to land me in trouble because of a mistake I made, then... better not. It will be disastrous if the truth is out. 
If the truth is going to be difficult for the other person to accept, then I had better find a way to make it diluted so it does not come across too harsh. What if the person cannot take it? 

Rejection, persecution, insult, etc and in the cases of our readings today, death. These are the consequences of upholding the truth. To what extent are we prepared to accept them in our daily Christian living? 

Beyond the choice between telling a truth or a lie is the choice between living the Truth or the lie. And the only mode to living the Truth is that of our deeds. Upholding the Truth, that is Jesus Himself. Being a witness of His love and mercy, compassion and faithfulness by being these to others, bringing these values to the world. Being a witness that He is our God, the one true God, who came to invite us into the Family of the Trinity. And being family, to reflect what this Family stands for, to stand for what Jesus has shown us to stand for. Or have we been afraid of the consequences this may bring? The sacrifices and sufferings it may cost us?

Those who have gone before us and who have stood firm on the path of righteousness have now been united into the Family of God. John the Baptist, Jeremiah, and others...

Now is our time, our turn.
How may you more deeply embed yourself into your true Family today and every day?

04 August 2012, Saturday