Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Temporary Home

It was Alex who introduced this song to me, and listening to it reminded me why i chose the name 'The Sojourner Speaks' for this blog - the recognition that i am but a person on a journey and that Earth is not my permanent home. Of course, at the time i started this blog, i was indeed away from my earthly home of Malaysia, across the Causeway,starting a new chapter in my life.

In so many of my walks here, i reflected on where i had come from and where i was heading to, and another bout of homesickness led me to reflect on what heaven was like. The lack of concrete details about what it was like gave me pause, emptiness? God? Harps? Angels? Choirs? And then the great brightness...?
Heaven is real only in the light of God's love, i realised - and coming to know that He loved me first, loves me best and will love me til the end of time gives me the conviction and faith that Heaven, though my imagination fails me, is the singular place where i will encounter God and be with Him for eternity.

the Kingdom of Heaven is the Kingdom of love - i find that drawing closer to home, it is not as if i totally relinquish all my duties and obligations on earth, but i find it easier to put things in perspective, to detach myself from too much fretting about the future (although i still worry) and to concentrate on becoming truer to what He created me to be.

but then again, only if we go away can we experience the true joy of coming home - the experience is incomplete without the journey and the departure.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Journeying together as a Christian community

(pic taken from here - COMMUNITY)

In so many ways, we belong to different communities throughout our lives - neighbourhood, school, work among others. But today let's turn our attention to the Christian community.

Ideally, the Christian community has at its foundation: the reverence and praise of God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is shown in many different ways, from acts of service to the poor via the St Vincent de Paul and Blessed Frederic Ozanam societies to meditation or charismatic prayer together to singing in the church choir. There are so many different ways we can join up to serve, praise and worship Him.

Having said that, we each all have our own faith journeys: there are battles we need to fight alone and the darkness in our souls we need to confront by ourselves. There is an inner dimension to every human soul, but there is also an outer dimension which calls for belonging to a group to feed our need for social contact.

Therefore, we journey together as a Christian community via BEC groups or CGs (Cell/Care Groups). Yes, we can love and serve God together. Yet what do we make of it when everything is kept to a surface level and we know nothing beyond name and face? To journey together is to show another facet of God's love besides service, which is compassionate love and acceptance.

It begins with breaking out of our comfort zones to speak to others in our community and to get to know them better. You ask, isn't this being nosy? Well, if done as an act of outreach, i think that has no basis at all!
(On a personal note, I find it hard to talk to people sometimes, especially when I'm feeling introverted and vulnerable - but when I remember that there were kind souls who reached out, to me I'm inspired by His touch in my life and find it in me. We don't all need to be super extroverted, but a smile works wonders for a start.)
Inclusiveness is difficult - sometimes the blunt edge of rejection shows itself up in subtle ways, still, draw others in - as how Jesus drew Peter and the apostles in through His love and example.

The creation of a safe environment where listening to each other in a state of respect is also important. I know, you don't have to agree with what's being said, but give the others space to be who they are and what they say - it takes patience and a good dollop of charity, most of the time!

And above all, prayer and perseverance. No community is perfect, and at times, I struggle to accept my own weaknesses and those of others, particularly where I have been hurt, or where I have hurt others. It's easy to feel isolated and left out, but press on in a spirit of prayerful trust. The growth of a community is not dependent on everyone being the same, but each of us bringing to the table our different gifts and quirks.
In times when no one seems to care, and you're left all alone, or with only one person by your side, take heart in the words of Scripture:-

"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
Matt 18:20

Don't be daunted, for He is there - and with prayer, grace and effort on our parts, we can come to know and love our sisters and brothers more greatly and join them to pray with them and for them amidst the trials of daily life.

*Dedicated to Star of the Sea CG members especially and Lifeline SFX PJ- thank you all for showing me what it means to journey together as a Christian community, may we all continue to shine for Him!*

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is your life any different after believing in God?

Today was the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. Fortunately, the weather was kind, permitting me to attend mass at St Ignatius Church.

It was during the homily when i was struck by Fr Philip Heng's question:
Is your life any different after believing in God?
Belief in God, and especially in the triumph of the cross as overcoming death, darkness and sin is something which should change our lives radically.

But life is still humdrum, dry and filled with trivial issues and past pains and hurts - so what does this mean for all of us?
The outside world does not appear to change. Injustice, evil and the lingering stench of death are all about, you only need to open the papers to see so many examples.
But inside, the moment we choose to commit our lives fully to Him and believe in Him, something happens.
It is turning all our cherished grievances, resentments, jealousies and insecurities inside out and giving them over to Him. This is the starting point of a new life.

It will not be easy - and in coming closer to Him, you will be bound to see your own brokenness and it will hurt. There will be days when old wounds bleed afresh and you wonder why belief does not protect you from pain like this. And yet, those tears mark the beginning of a life founded in God - one where you pray to Him with the honesty of a child and not necessarily say your prayers by rote! The honesty is important if we are to create a relationship with God, sustained by belief which leads to faith.

A deepening belief in Him will lead us to questioning our current lifestyles and decisions to see if they are of God, a fuller integration of our lives into faith and spirituality. It's a long running process, which also runs together with Him pulling together the scattered bits of our being, some in our past, some in our future and some wandering about pulled here and there by the world's distractions i.e. the present moment.

Say this then with me : - I'm a Work In Progress - Be Patient, God's Not Done With Me Yet. :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

World Suicide Prevention Day

(pic taken from here -another well-written article)

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

There are a ton of excellent websites on suicide and its prevention, you can start here. It's easy reading, very approachable and friendly and it also has other resources re handling suicidal calls as well as various other online resources.

But in the simplest terms, what can you and i do to prevent suicide?

We can watch out for warning signs in the people around us :-
  • Death or terminal illness of relative or friend.
  • Divorce, separation, broken relationship, stress on family.
  • Loss of health (real or imaginary).
  • Loss of job, home, money, status, self-esteem, personal security.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Depression
and more importantly, take them seriously. It's very important not to dismiss them as a sign of weakness or worse, gloss them over just to make ourselves better. (because we don't know what to do or to say)
Real life is messy,and sometimes are no simple solutions and what seems something small to us may often be difficult for someone else. Let's not compare, but be compassionate, always.

And if we recognise that we are in over our head, there are many volunteer counselling services we can refer to our suffering friends and family - the Befrienders and the Samaritans are 2 fine examples. Perhaps what we can do is to encourage them and to reassure them they are not weak/stupid/foolish for asking for help as well as to help them with the actual mechanics of getting in touch with the counsellors.

(do read here for an expanded write up on what you can do to help someone who may be suicidal)

In summary, suicide is not courageous. It is choosing to reject the gift of life. But before we label people with suicidal tendencies as cowards who run away or sinners who are doomed to hell, at least let us try to understand where they are at and help them to move a little closer to the light.
The best way they can do that is if someone first cares and can see the pain they are going through and extends a loving hand towards them to pull them back from the brink.

“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure."

-Joseph Campbell-

For any of us out there suffering under the burdens life has placed on us to the point of crumbling, know that we can move ahead, we can find wonder and goodness and growth from that lowest point in our lives. Let us strive to choose life always!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Nourished by the Sacraments - Reconciliation

(as usual, pic credits here)

Living Stones Saturday Prayer Meet - Nourished by the Sacraments - Reconciliation

This Saturday's talk on Nourished by the Sacraments was delivered by Chris Aw and it was on Reconciliation.

Chris started off by asking us, What is the 'Stuff of Life'?
(ff John 9:6 - Having said this, he spat on the ground, made a paste with the spittle, put this over the eyes of the blind man)

He explained that the Sacraments relied on real stuff i.e. perceivable substance/real matter which is then made whole, holy and powerful by God in order to reach us (man).
Chris linked this to the incarnation of Christ (that He was God-made-man) and that Christ used real, everyday things in close contact to heal us.

The cry for healing has echoed throughout the Old and New Testament - Jeremiah Chapter 8 "looking for a physician and/or the balm of Gilead" and then in Luke 4:23 and Luke 5:31 "only the sick need healing"

Question: can you heal yourself when you are sick?
(Think about the story of the healed paralytic whose friends lowered him down to be healed by Jesus.)

Now, sin has a number of different dimensions:-
  • Self - it deforms the character - sowing the seeds of new evil habits
  • Neighbour - even sins committed in secret harms your neighbour as it changes the self's character and makes one more likely to interact with one's neighbour more sinfully
  • God - damages our relationship with God.
Sin = a refusal of God's love!

Coming now to the recognition of God as the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it is also a relationship of Lover, Beloved and Love and Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.
therefore : Holy Spirit = Sanctifier = the one who makes us Holy
and as Healing = to be made whole. And this is what true Holiness is, to be whole.

At the point of Creation, Man was originally whole. After giving way to temptation from the Evil One, Man fell and now had a Wounded Nature, prone to Personal Sin. This led to Fractured Communion with God.
The question is : What can restore our Communion with God and Original Wholeness?

Answer: the outpoured blood of Christ
ff Ephesians 1:7 in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins. Such is the richness of the grace)
Sin distorts our own image and likeness of God, alienating ourselves from our brothers and sisters and God.
In order to make us whole again, reconciliation with God and our sisters and brothers was made possible only through the supreme sacrifice of Christ - as all our sins are 'a cosmic injustice'

In summary:-
  1. it is easier to destroy than to build up
  2. it is also often pleasurable to watch other people tear each other apart -'a perverse pleasure'
  3. when trying to reconcile, we often need help from a 3rd party who will be a mirror to show what we've really done - else we'd still be trapped in our own way of seeing things.
  4. it is important to hear affirmation directly with a real human voice.
In this regard, the sacrament of Reconciliation addresses the Whole Person - spiritually, emotionally and sensually : body, mind, soul and spirit.
We all need to know we are totally forgiven from the depths of our being through Jesus' blood.
To know, hear and experience forgiveness is to overcome Fear, Shame and Guilt.
ref Jude 1:24-25


A Sacrament = Outward Expression of Inward Grace.
Reconciliation is easily one of the most misunderstood of all the Sacraments - it seems to be something we do only once in a while, over Easter or Advent and we often wonder what to say to the Priest in the Confessional.
Is he going to think any less of us after what we've done? Or is God going to love us any less?

Let's move away from thinking along the lines of guilt and punishment in the Confessional and view it instead as tapping into a spring of grace where we can wash ourselves clean of our sins and start again, with hope in our hearts.
In the end, that is what Reconciliation is really all about , reconciling ourselves with God, the Church, our brothers and sisters - and an opportunity to learn too where we have messed up and to take small steps in the right direction.

Courage to those who have abandoned this for a long time - God loves you and longs Himself to make you whole again, so come to Him and pour out your broken heart that He may refresh you.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Prayer : ACTS and Beyond

(picture taken from here)

It's Friday again - and today I managed to attend the NUS CSS Law CG meeting again(!) after finally finishing off with Comparative and International Competition Law.

Today we shared on prayer and what it means. Jon explained that prayer was our means of communication with God. He introduced the A-C-T-S formula of prayer as follow:-

A - Adoration
C - Contrition
T - Thanksgiving
S - Supplication

Adoration is basically the act of adoring God as one who loves Him.
Contrition is the act of confessing and feeling sorry for our sins which have hurt and offended Him.
Thanksgiving would be giving thanks to the giver of all good blessings in our life, God.
Supplication is offering everything to God - our petitions, requests, work : anything and everything.

I could not help but be reminded of the Church's ancient definition of prayer as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:-
2559 "Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God."

St Therese of Lisieux beautifully describes prayer :-

For me, prayer is a surge of the heart;
it is a simple look turned toward heaven,
it is a cry of recognition and of love,
embracing both trial and joy.

The ACTS formula, to me, is one which is underscored by love of God and neighbour. Because we love Him, we seek to not only adore Him and lay our supplications before Him, we are also sorry for our sins and faults and seek to thank Him for all good blessings in our life and even those trials which form us into becoming ever more like Him.

Prayer is, in the end, an invitation to a deeper and more authentic relationship with God - and it starts with allowing ourselves to be honest with Him and letting Him into our lives, at every stage and place and time. It is the means by which we unite our hearts, minds and souls with the Lord.

The setting aside of a time and place for a specific form of devotion or prayer in general is wonderful and goes a long way towards making us more prayerful people. However, never underestimate the need to engage God in all of our daily activities - no matter how trivial they seem, and this can be done in ways as simple as speaking to Him in the silence of our hearts while we wait for the bus, ride the MRT, shower, get fed up of reading etc etc (you get the drift!). And when we listen, we might be surprised at what He is telling us.

He who has loved us beyond all understanding will always allow us to find Him through prayer.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Introducing Ignatian Spirituality - Finding God in All Things

From where we left off earlier, Ignatian Spirituality is based on the idea that God is active and can be found in all things around and within us. Therefore, the challenge is for us to discern His presence and find Him in all things - as this is not always the easiest thing to do.

This is a video on Finding God in All Things - as narrated by Jesuit priests, students and teachers on their experiences in seeking God. It was first posted here(a site chockfull of resources on Ignatian Spirituality - i am inspired and educated by everything there!)

As you watch the video, it may be helpful to reflect on the following:-
  1. When has it been easiest for you to find God? Why do you think it was easy for you to find Him then? What did you do then?
  2. When was it most difficult for you to find God? What did you do when you were in this situation?
  3. Do you think your life would be different if you actually managed to find God in all things?
  4. What changes do you think you would need to make in your present life if you wanted to seek God in all things?
Happy watching!