Monday, 21 July 2014

Hanging or Hanged

What do you think of sufferings? 
How do you normally react towards emotional pain?

Consider these... 

Can you sit side by side with sufferings and look at it in the eye, no matter how long that may last?

Or would your immediate reaction be to reject it and run far away from it? 

Maybe you would panic, lose control of your emotions which then grow into a tornado within your mind, tossing around everything it finds in its way? 

Or perhaps, you would refuse to let it take up your time and energy, and so you gather yourself together and get on with life? 

What do you do with the pain you feel? That yucky, awful, uncomfortable prick that sometimes grow beyond into a thorough pierce through your heart. A bleeding that sees no blood, an ache that painkillers cannot reach.


No one likes to suffer and we would avoid it as best as we can. To do so, we device many defence mechanisms to keep pain out, or at least to temporarily not feel it. Be it to get high on drinks, blast the music, become very task-oriented... anything that would distract us from noticing the pain. 

Anything but sitting with the pain and allowing ourselves to feel its total intensity. We break records in our marathon run from our pains but... what are we really running from? If the pain is within us and we are running away from this pain, then isn't it true that we are also running away from our own selves? And if we run away from pain and ourselves, can we possibly grow in our union with Christ, who is most familiar with pain, most acquainted with sufferings? And so too, we are running away from God, and this cannot be life-giving. 


Today in one of my lessons, a student stood in front of me for her music test. She comes in leggings everyday because her eczema condition is severe. Looking at the rash covering her arms, her face, surrounding her eyes, my heart melted and ached. It pricked and it pricked, over and over. 

Beyond the physical itch and annoyance, I cannot imagine what emotional pain she must be going through each time she looks at herself in the mirror, each time she scratches and tears her skin. Each time she tries a medication with a hope for a cure, only to be left disappointed once again, helpless. I got connected with her sufferings and the growing sparkle in my eyes almost gave me away. 

In that moment... I touched the sacred heart of Jesus. My heart merged with His for a while in that divine encounter. Sensus Christi, the sensing of Christ that St Paul speaks: that I may feel with your feelings, with the sentiments of your heart, which basically are love for your Father and love for humanity. 

If looking at her sufferings with my imperfect love could move my heart so much, how much more does Jesus' heart bleed when He watches us suffer?

For the first time, I could sense at least a small percentage of what God feels towards His people. I could feel how it pierces His heart just as it did to mine today.

It was an encounter with Jesus whose heart continues to be pierced through by our sins, our sufferings and pains. It was an encounter made possible only because I know suffering. And only by God's abundant graces, have sat side by side in many occasions with my pains, to look at them face to face, and invited the healing presence of God into the very midst of them. That somehow, God continues to invite and encourage me to throw open the gates of my heart to choose love, to choose vulnerability, because invulnerability leads to death. 


Sufferings have the ability to form us interiorly in a very special and significant way. It grows us into compassionate beings, increasingly into the image and likeness of our Creator. It grows our hearts into the heart of Christ. We begin to feel with Him, to feel like Him, to love like Him. 

Jesus, in His last hours, faced immense sufferings. He could have done many things to escape the sufferings. But He chose none of it, only to hang. To hang there with hands outstretched. This hanging, this total submission to feel the extent of His pain and suffering, physical and most of all, emotional. This hanging which moves His heart to know the hidden pain of Man, and which then allowed Him to go even a step further to forgive and intercede for His own executioners and accusers. 

This same hanging we are invited to do in our own pain, our own down moments. Not to run, not to busy ourselves or complain, but to hang. To allow our hearts to be formed in compassion and love, patience and wisdom, discipline and courage. To allow our hearts to grow into the heart of Christ. 

Thus, do not fear pain which can only paralyse but cannot kill. We ought to be more fearful of what we do or don't do with our pains because these decisions can either lead to life in Christ or make us emotionally and spiritually hanged.


Will you sit side by side with sufferings and look at it in the eye, no matter how long that may last?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Faulty Trains, Love Derailed


It was one of those news that would set the citizens talking, criticising and complaining again. And indeed, it caused much inconveniences to many. Yesterday evening, a train with a brake fault resulted in trains travelling at a speed slower than usual. The eventual delay added 20 minutes to travelling time. 

While the fault was primarily within the faulty train, the deeper cause of this incident and the recurring interruptions to the public transport system may be rooted elsewhere. And its ripple effects are surely felt by many more. If a passenger has a tight schedule to keep to, an urgent matter to see to, the consequences may be direr and more difficult to manage than the good an apology can bring about.

In fact, apart from a faulty train, there are many other instances in which we have encountered the malfunctioning of something and the consequences it brings. A mobile phone dropped onto the road resulted in a cracked screen, a toothbrush’s bristles pointing in every direction but upright, a pillow that has flattened to half its height. There are many. And we know that once something loses its ability to function as it was made to, it will no longer be as useful as it could be. Something is just not right about it; it is no longer whole.

This which we notice about things. Can we recognise a similar pattern in people too? In the relationships we share? How we manifest a certain kind of behaviour we can never understand why? Until we dig a lot deeper within ourselves and find the deeper cause rooted in some other issues that never got resolved. And what ripple effects it must also cause others, damaging precious relationships.

Take for instance a person with commitment issues. The behaviour manifested – inability to commit in big and small matters. Unwillingness to marry someone one has been dating for more than a decade, just to name one example. The deeper question to ask is, “Why?” And in this case, what do I resist about entering into marriage with this person who is a good match for me? What is holding me back? What is the real cause?

One of the causes of commitment issues, if it is not the only, is invulnerability. To be unwilling and not daring to let ourselves be in a vulnerable position where we can be hurt. Certainly, no one chooses to be hurt and it is unwise to go around looking for hurts too. But to guard ourselves so that we will not get hurt, that no one will cause us to feel down, is a fatal defence mechanism that many people have come to learn and practice subconsciously.

It is fatal because we can only be hurt when we love, when the gates of our hearts are opened. To guard ourselves from hurt is a choice against love, to close tight our hearts so that other people will no longer influence and affect how we feel. So even if we cannot keep them far from us geographically, especially if they live under the same roof as us, then at least we keep at a distance from our hearts. 

And to choose not to love is to choose to die, to be zombified. We are made out of love, for love. Love is the energy that fuels our minds, bodies, hearts and souls; our lives! As the late Pedro Arrupe, SJ wrote:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, 
than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. 
What you are in love with, 
what seizes your imagination, 
will affect everything. 
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, 
what you do with your evenings, 
how you spend your weekends, 
what you read, 
whom you know, 
what breaks your heart, 
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. 
Fall in Love, 
stay in love, 
and it will decide everything.

People are afraid to love because of the fear of getting hurt. And this is because they have tasted hurt and know how awful it feels. The paranoia of having to experience such pain again can make us shut ourselves in and others out. So in our example, a person facing commitment issues may well be guarding himself against this vulnerability. If I believe that marriage is lifelong, then marriage means lifelong vulnerability. Because although I love this person now, what if it does not work out well? I cannot run, cannot escape. I am stuck and susceptible to more and deeper hurts. Scary and too huge a risk to take. 

Hurts left unhealed, unprocessed bring no growth in a person. On the contrary, they stifle, inhibit and cage us within those very wounds. We suppress and lose the ability to name those hurts, to know what is not right inside us. Something is just not right within; not whole anymore. That brake fault in the train, my anger that cannot find peace, insecurities that cannot find assurance, impulsiveness that cannot find control. 

Perhaps many Singaporeans will be pointing their fingers at the staff of SMRT for the lack of maintenance, for not responsibly ensuring the smooth running of the trains. Maybe the management will be looking downwards at the mechanics. Somewhere, somehow, whoever it may be, there is a missing link, a weakest link. Something else is not right that has caused the train to be recurringly faulty. Somewhere deeper within us, there might be something not right, not whole, causing the various manifestations in our unloving behaviours, words and thoughts. Until we decide to find and resolve those issues that lie deeper in us, these manifestations will keep recurring. Trains will keep breaking down. Relationships continue to be damaged because of our unloving. We cannot function as we are made to - to love. 

What is there in your deeper self that makes you less than whole? 
How can you seek good guidance to journey towards wholeness?

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Que Sera Sera - Doris Day

I was reminded of this childhood song. After all these years, I'm just beginning to understand how difficult yet essential it is to say "que sera sera, whatever will be, will be".

This song points out a "whatever" attitude in the different stages of one's life - as a child, young adult in love, and as a parent. She is looking ahead into the uncertain future, wondering what is out there for her. She wishes to see what is there. Perhaps then life's transitions from child to teenager, teenager to adulthood, adulthood to parenthood will not be so unknown and frightening. 

And as her mother taught her, and she in turn passes this teaching to the next generation, the future is not for us to see. It takes one to the point of accepting this human limitation that we cannot predict the future. There are things beyond our understanding and knowledge. We only know that what will be will be. And in the eyes of faith, we know that God is in charge and because of His infinite love for us, whatever that will be must be for our good, for our betterment and not destruction. 

And so explains this indifference. Not in the manner of not caring or getting emotionally involved in what life will turn out to be. As the Chinese would say, "bo-chap" attitude. But an indifference because my life has been entrusted into the hands of God and thus, whatever, wherever, however, whenever, whoever... matters not. So long as His will be done. So long as its"Why" finds its answer only in love - love for God. 

It gives us great freedom when we arrive at this point in our faith journey to be able to sing this song of such an indifference. "Que sera sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future's not ours to see. Que sera sera. What will be, will be." To be able to say, "I don't know. But that's perfectly okay!" or, "It is unfortunate that this happened. I'm very disappointed. But that's okay!" 

That's okay because God is in control and He knows what He's doing. I give in to His love and let it enter and overpower my fears and anxieties.

Let us pray for this grace of faith and indifference. 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Wind Beneath My Wings

Have you ever watched an eagle glide in the air? How it spends a lot of time in a day just opening its wings and letting the strong winds take it to great heights?

It is truly amazing that the eagle displays such a behaviour although perhaps, we can say it does not have the capacity to analyse and evaluate its actions, and neither can it make an examination of its inner motivations for doing so.  

But any hunter will know just how much an eagle's spreading of wings will increase his chances of spotting this animal and shooting it. It increases the eagle's surface area, making it more visible while on the move too. It makes the eagle more vulnerable to everything else in its surroundings. 

And this vulnerability is striking. It allows the eagle to effortlessly remain in the air for a very long period of time. It flaps its wings several times and then let the wind carry it up and around. You would see that at times, the eagles are not even circling the air. They simply remain very much in the same position, or sometimes, the wind can even carry them backwards. 

All of which speaks to me the invitation to imitate the eagle in my relationship with God. To let God be to me as the wind is to the eagle. The invitation to open wide my arms, rest in His love and let Him take me. To let His love take me wherever He wills, with an indifference in my heart, my will surrendered over to Him. And all I need to do is to wait, listen and respond. Not to "effortize", not to force out a path that isn't there, not to initiate a step before God shines the spotlight onto the way. 

This spreading of wings, opening of arms. It is also the same physical position Jesus took when He hung upon the cross, the same inner disposition of surrendering to the Father. Of total vulnerability. It was also the invitation to Peter at the sea of Tiberias, as Jesus said...  

John 21: 18-19
"In all truth I tell you, when you were young, you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go. In these words he indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glorify God. After this he said, 'Follow me.'"

Within this invitation is the call to a process of maturing our faith. When our faith "grow(s) old", we will arrive at the conviction that our trust is absolutely safe when it is placed in God. While this conviction cannot be forced upon ourselves, it arises because our hearts have been sufficiently opened to acknowledge the wonders God has done for us in our lives, even amidst our down and out moments, our hurts and sufferings. 

When we can see and humbly admit that we deserve eternal condemnation by our sins, when we neither deny nor discount the terrible effects our sins have caused our victims. But yet, in our sinfulness, God continues to love us through the many blessings He still showers upon us. When we discipline our hearts to recognise with gratitude the hand of God in our lives, and not take for granted what we have. 

When we contemplate on the Gospels and realise how God continually refuses to let us, His people, go. How He steps over every boundary to call us home to our heavenly Father. Then we will grow. Grow in intimate knowledge, a deep knowledge in our hearts, of who God truly is. And faith grows out of this growing familiarity with Him who loves the imperfect us with His perfect love. Faith grows when we grow to trust in this love, and to surrender our insecurities to this love. 

Then, we need no longer be that little sparrow that has to flap its wings so vigorously and incessantly just to get from one point to another. We can trust the wind to take us. We can be free to allow ourselves to be taken. We need not try so hard, too hard. And when we are held up high in the air without having to fuss over the tiresome flapping of our wings, we can enjoy the beautiful scenery around us. Such freedom. When we need not focus all our energy on the endless doings in our everyday life, when we can let go to make space in our hearts for faith. When we need not be so guarded all the time from the uncertainties of the next moment. We are liberated. Life becomes a journey to savour and enjoy. No longer tiresome and burdensome. 

Just as Jesus said in this Sunday's Gospel (14th Sunday in ordinary time), "Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and i will give you rest."

Since God's love will give us all that is good, we need only to keep in touch with Him, wait patiently, listen attentively and respond positively when He shows the way. And when He shows the way, it may not be the way we had in mind or desire to take. It need not be smooth and painless. Scary as this is, the path will nonetheless be laid out with every grace we need for the journey, which will ensure our own salvation because our salvation, our coming home to our Father, is what God desires for us. And the Spirit of God will accompany us. 

Stretching out our hands, making ourselves totally vulnerable to the evil that surrounds us in this world. Getting hurt, coming to Jesus for healing, and then choosing again to continue forgiving and loving. This is the death to which Jesus invites us. "Follow me," He said to Peter and now to us. Our martyrdom. Our discipleship. Making real our commitment to follow Christ. Death to ourselves - our gateway into the everlasting glory of God.  

We can only be vulnerable when our hearts are opened and filled with the life and love of God.

How has God loved you in small and big ways?

Imagine for a moment that you are that eagle soaring high. No agenda. No cages. 
Freely soaring. Freely be-ing. Allowing the wind to hold you up.

How do you feel?

What is preventing you from feeling this way in the reality of your life?

How is God inviting you to rest in His love?
Where in your life is He asking you to stretch open your arms and let Him take you?