Tuesday, July 31, 2007

a short break

To all my faithful blog readers,

I will be taking a short 1 week break from blogging as I am currently attending a Summer school course conducted by Lauren Winner. There are lots of reading, lots of writing and of course, lots of thinking.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Why English Language is Hard to Learn.

I am taking a break from the biblical exposition. I find this rather interesting. It has been so widely published that I do not know who to give credit to.

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce.

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) After a number of injections my jaw got number.

19) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

20) 1 had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

21) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?

If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth teeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices?

Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend, that you comb through annals of history but not a single annal?

If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it? If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?

If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

Have you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown? Met a sung hero or experienced requited love? Have you ever run into someone who was combobulated, gruntled, ruly or peccable? And where are all those people who are spring chickens or who would actually hurt a fly?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn't a race at all). That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

(G) And Lead Us Not Into Temptation

[and Lead Us Not Into Temptation] The 'and' bridges this statement with the previous. After asking for forgiveness, the next thing is to desire to 'sin no more.' It is no use to apologize today, and continue to sin the same ways tomorrow. It mocks the very confession in the first place. It embarasses the one who forgives. It is like dirtying our clothes today in the same patch of mud, when we have been told by our parents not to play with mud again. This is a prayer of confession. Adam & Eve failed miserably. The mighty Samson was defeated because of being victimized by the antics of a cunning Delilah. King David yielded to temptation and suffered dire consequences. Even Jesus was not spared, having led to the dangerous wildernous for forty days and forty nights. Scriptures warn us against temptations. Timothy was urged to flee from temptations. This is a cry for mercy. If God wills, let us not be tempted in any way. We are confessing that we are not strong enough to withstand the full onslaught of temptations. This is a prayer of wisdom. Winning against temptations is not something that we want to trumpet and announce to the world. When we flash out our achievements, we are opening ourselves to other more sinister and insidious forms of temptations. This is a prayer for God's grace. It is a prayer that God will not test our love for him through the channel of temptations. We want to be motivated to love God and be faithful to God on the basis of love, not on the tough path of temptations, like what Job encountered. Let us be ever more eager to love God, and to define a 'temptation' as any attempt to shift our attention from gazing at the cross. The word 'massah' is often translated as temptation. This is a state in which the person fall into moments of discouragement and despair leading to negative heart attitudes like bitterness, scorn and dejection.

The word 'massah' comes from the root word fire, which is used to purify and to refine an object. Like producing pure gold after passing it through a fiery furnace, it tests and it purifies. The Israelites went through waters and fire for the Lord desires to bring their hearts back to him. It was never meant to be something to put them on the road to despair. This prayer is a moment to declare to God, that we do not want to behave like a disobedient Israel of old, but to willingly love and be faithful. God does not need to test us for the purpose of examining our desire to be faithful. Let our life speak. We do not need to rely on temptations to test our faithfulness.

This is a prayer of acknowledgement. All things are under God. God is sovereign. Whatever comes before us, we learn to accept, on the basis that God loves us. It is a statement of faith. It is like telling God, Do whatever it takes to accomplish your purposes of the kingdom, even if it means temptation. But in your mercies, do not choose to let me be tempted for I have already loved you. Spare me.

Remember, Simon Peter who were asked three times whether he loved Jesus. Peter was driven to tears on the third time, even hurt when he feels his love is questioned. Likewise, we do not want the Lord to doubt our desire to love and to be faithful to God. Lord, let us not be tempted in this aspect. Let our love for you be pure and steadfast. Lead us not into temptation.

"Create in me a clean heart, O LORD. And renew a right spirit within me." (Ps 51:10)

καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν,

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

(F) And Forgive Us Our Trespasses As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

[And Forgive Us Our Trespasses ] As far as relationships are concerned, this is paramount. A common question is: "Should we forgive first, or seek forgiveness first?" A possible interpretation is that one must already have forgiven others before seeking forgiveness. Others indicate that it is first a forgiveness from the Lord. Yet it is also possible that this is a concurrent action. My interpretation is that we can only forgive as much as we are able to. What we are not able to forgive, we ask the Lord for help, willingly seeking God to empower us to forgive. This attitude of weakness, of willingness to forgive is a major attribute in prayer. A prayerful person is a forgiving person. A prayerless person often have problems forgiving others.

The word 'forgive' is a consistent verb in many English translations of Matthew 6:12. This verb (ἄφες) points to forgive, while the predicate nouns are translated in many different ways (our sins, our debts, our trespasses). It can be understood, that whatever offence we have done, whether intentional or unintentional, whether by thought, word or deed, we need to acknowledge we are in need of God's mercy. "In Your Mercies, Hear Our Prayers" ought to be a regular liturgical statement. In other words, whether they be sins others did against us, we forgive. Whether they be 'debts', we forgive them. Whether they be trespasses, an intrusion on our goodwill, we must be ready to forgive. The offences can be multidimensional, but the liberation via forgiveness is universal. Many problems, one solution. The complexities of many difficult relationships can be simplified with a simple act of forgiveness.

I believe that this prayer is best prayed by those who have already tried their best to forgive others, and still recognize that their best efforts are below God's standards. There is thus a two dimensional nature of forgiveness. If we have not forgiven others, how will we expect God to do likewise to us? In Matthew 6:13-14, the forgiveness theme is reiterated. Interestingly, this forgiveness is emphasized in both positive and negative terms after Matthew's rendition of the Lord's Prayer. This to me is an indication that any forgiveness or act of forgiveness must be done thoroughly, in mind, in word and in deed.

καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν,

[As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us] Our desire to want to receive forgiveness must be in step with our acts of forgiveness. To excuse, to pardon, to absolve, to free others from their bonds are all various forms of setting others free from any selfish grip. I remember a story of a monkey, who saw a jar of ripe berries. On reaching the jar, the primate soon learn that the only way to the berries was by opening the closed cap and stretching its hand through it. Suddenly, upon hearing footsteps, the monkey grabs a large handful of berries and with its fingers clenched together tries to pull its hand out. Alas, the neck of the jar was too narrow for a clenched fist to go through. Can the monkey have the berries and escape? Or should the monkey free itself by letting go of the berries? Deciding that the berries were too good to miss out, the monkey continues its futile effort to pull its clenched fist out. Eventually, the monkey was caught, trapped in its own greed. The only way out is to let go of the berries. This letting go of berries is like a person letting go of his debtors. How can anyone rightfully ask for forgiveness, if he himself is not forgiving of others? Isn't it hypocritical?

This analogy is typical of a person wanting to receive mercy from others and is trapped by his own lack of mercy towards others, like the story of the ungrateful servant. The words 'even as' is a good rendition, that implies a connectedness between the two acts. There are at least three characteristics of forgiveness. First, this connection shows us that forgiveness is three-ways: God, ourselves and others. Secondly, forgiveness, as far as we are concerned is not contingent on others forgiving us. We are not responsible for others to forgive us. We can forgive ourselves, and we can ask God to forgive us. However, whether others will forgive us or not, we do not have to be accountable for that. It is their prerogative, it is their initiative. It is their choice and we should not be held responsible if others refuse to forgive us. What we are responsible for, is to clear away the leaves of our own bitterness that camouflages the path to true authentic, forgiven paths of relationships. We must sweep away any pretenses that we are always right. If there is a slightest chance that we can forgive others, we must pounce on it. We should not feel encaged by people who insist on trapping us by not forgiving us. Once we have forgiven others, it is up to them, not us, to reciprocate. Thirdly, forgiveness is to be done daily, as often as we ask for our daily bread. God withholds our knowledge of all our sins so that we are given adequate time to recover from our earlier confessions. Like a person rowing a canoe upstream, the moment we stop praying is like the moment in which we stop paddling. When that happens, the waters of sin will wash our canoe and ourselves plunging down towards the valley of destruction. If on the other hand, we pray daily, not only will the canoe overcome the waters, it will progress a good distance up the river. The arms of the paddler will get strengthened from frequent exercise, the virtuous character of goodness is developed further. Finally, God gets glorified.

Forgiveness Is the mightiest sword
Forgiveness of those you fear, Is the highest reward
When they bruise you with words
When they make you feel small
When it's hardest to take
You must do nothing at all...
-- Jane Eyre.

"Forgiveness is God's invention for coming to terms with a world in which, despite their best intentions, people are unfair to each other and hurt each other deeply. He began by forgiving us. And he invites us all to forgive each other." (Lewis Smedes)

"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." (Philip Yancey)

We all need forgiveness, and it is God's grace to us, that we are not fully aware of all the forgiveness that we need at any one time. It can become so utterly humbling that we may feel too discouraged to live on. If we see all of our sins appearing before our eyes at the same time, we may throw up. Mercifully, God allows us to be aware of our sins, according to his mercies, and according to what we can tolerate at any one time. Like peeling an onion, as we peel off layer after layer of our manifold sins and weaknesses, (which we from time to time most greviously have committed,) let our tears of remembrance of our past acts, grieve us to repentance. With tears of beseeching others to forgive us, may we readily do the same. Let our lips be quick to apologize, our hearts be inclined to allow others the benefit of the doubt, and our knees to ask the Lord for mercy. Indeed, contrary to worldly ideas of strong, forgiveness is an act of strength, not weakness. Both the forgiving and being forgiven are to be asserted together, always.

ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφίεμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν•

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

(E) Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

[Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread] 'lehem' is also translated as food, but we often read it as bread. This is not surprising as bread is a universal staple for many different ethnic communities worldwide. It sustains life. The Sustainer provides these food to keep us alive. We cannot manufacture such food. Farmers are all aware that they can do all the seeding, all the planting and all the watering. One thing they cannot do is to force the growth. Growth is an expression of grace from God to all creation. When we ask God for grace, we ask with a thankful heart that our God is not a vengeful God, but a constantly forgiving God. Imagine a divine God who faithfully supplies our needs despite the massive idolatry going on in all the world, where people worship other gods and created things rather than the Creator. It amazes me how patient and loving God is.

This prayer is a prayer of a personal need. We recognize we are not all powerful to provide for our own. Even our jobs is an act of grace from others. Think back on those times when we are awaiting our first interview, our first job appointment. In desperate times, when one is prepared to 'do anything' just to get a job, they are fully aware that they are in need of grace. What a contrast, after working for a few years, employees start to exert their 'rights', and become complacent about what they have and they ask for more. They start to design their ideal jobs, and sometimes put their employers at a dilemma by going on strike. It is true that sometimes, employees need to speak out against injustice in the workplace. Likewise, it is unfortunate that some employees tend to take advantage of their jobs, without sufficient regard for changing business conditions and the needs of the company. Our daily bread can also be understood as daily providence for our other needs, not only physical. There is a subtle difference between personal and individual. In prayer, one never enters God's presence as an 'individual' because the angels, the cloud of witnesses are always with him/her. It is personal in the sense that one is allowing his/her personhood to make that request, within the context of a community. This means that one allows his/her unique self and special circumstances to ask, not only for his/her own needs but how by receiving such needs, can one bless the community around. Since God makes everyone personally special, one comes to God in that personal capacity, and be blessed together. A true person has meaning only within an identified community, rather than a hermit lifestyle all the time.

This prayer is a prayer of a corporate kind. We ask for bread, not an individual bun. A loaf of bread is to be shared. We slice bread from a common dough. It is something that is best eaten together as a body. It is an opportunity to eat together so that we can build up relationships around. God is pleased to use food as a channel to bless communities. I am part of a bread pickup community, to collect bread from a bakery on weekends and to help distribute it to the needy on certain weekends for charitable purposes. It is a labour of love, and gratifying to see it as a means to bring some form of joy and happiness to the recipients. Bread has a universal appeal. Interestingly, the range of bread we have makes one feel spoilt for choice.

This prayer is a daily request. It is not simply a one sided request. It is an opportunity for God to hear our needs. It is one thing to give things regularly. It is yet another to hear a request. Imagine giving money to a third world country and receiving no news from them about how they are doing. It is always important to keep in touch as the giving is to people, not machines. It is one thing to throw in a quarter or a dime into a charity box, a faceless entity. It is yet another to give money to a human person. We cannot restrict donations, giving and receiving to merely a transaction. It will render things very impersonal. Relationships are never formed through a one-shot, one time event. It is by regular communion and constant keepingn in touch can it be built up. This prayer reminds us that it must be done regularly.

This prayer refers to 'this day', implying a limited request to a day only (yom). We should not worry too much about the future. Live a day at a time for tomorrow will have their set of worries and problems to take care of. The Lord understands our limitations. In this era of planning and time management techniques, we teach each other that those who fail to plan, plan to fail. Or those who aim at nothing will surely hit at nothing. We may become too paranoid that the planning for the future becomes worrying about the future. This prayer teaches us humility to trust the Lord to provide for us a day at a time, just like how he provides for the Israelites daily manna during their times in the wilderness.

τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον•

Monday, July 23, 2007

(D) Thy Will Be Done, On Earth as it is in Heaven

[Thy Will Be Done] This is a parallel to the earlier verse, Thy Kingdom Come. Sometimes interpreters treat them interchangeably. This is correct. Both means the same thing. That God be glorified through his kingdom and the working out of his will. The coming of the kingdom is his will. In an amazing translation from the Aramaic, Saadi Neil Douglas-Klotz translates into English this verse as,
Create your reign of unity now
Your one desire then acts with ours,
As in all light,
So in all forms.
This prayer is a yearning of desiring to conform one's will with God. It spells willingness on the part of the person offering prayers. It pronounces a readiness of heart to accept whatever comes along the way. It speaks a language of openness the all things of God, forsaking everything else save for God alone. Like two hearts beating as one, two persons in a warm embrace, two hands in a firm hand grasp of unity all differences and all disputes are laid aside for the sake of that one will - God's will. When all the earth, and all the heavens and all the earth, kneel before the Lord in submission and obedience, there will be peace as the waters cover the sea. God's will be done, is an affirmation that whether past, present or future, the Lord's purposes will always prevail. Our delight is not in meeting our own needs but in gazing at the fulfilling of God's will both on earth as well as in heaven.

γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου

[On Earth as it is in Heaven] God's authority, domain, jurisdiction extends throughout the heavens and all the earth. This is a prayer that acknowledges God the Creator has sovereignty over all creation, over time and space. Some say that we must not become so heavenly-minded that we have no earthly good. Others say we should not be too earthly-focused that we have no heavenly use. This prayer brings both extremes together under the Lordship of Christ. Whether we are heavenly-minded or earthly-focused, all comes under the authority of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Too often, we humans have given one another the ultimatum in terms of Either this or that, choose either/or heaven or earth. Some early Christian pilgrims get so disillusioned with the world, that they constantly sing "This world is not my home, I'm just passing through". The existentialists will choose instead to focus on the present reality rather than an invisible future. This prayer brings all of these perspectives together and render them incomplete statements of faith. If our God is sovereign over all, it does not matter whether we are on earth or in heaven. We do not need to wait for the future in order to praise and worship God. We do not need to fret that this present world is so full of imperfections that we refuse to rally our symphony of praise. We can do it now. We will do it in future. For worship of God is not bound by time. In our prayer for God's will to be done, we have proclaimed, that now and forever, God's will is continuing and will be perfectly done both now and in the future.

ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς•

Saturday, July 21, 2007

(C) Thy Kingdom Come

[Thy Kingdom Come]. The kingdom is a recurrent theme in the gospels. It is a statement of people in the present, looking towards the future in hope, an eschatological outlook. The things of the present are nothing compared to the things that is to come. "More good days" say some. What is good? Nothing is 'good' if it is not accompanied by the presence of God. In the last days, doomsayers predict a gloom and doom ending. Prophecy in the Bible is interpreted with a pessimistic slant, mostly due to the contextual perception of events that is seen to be turning out for the worse. That is not the point in this prayer.

Instead, this is a prayer of anticipation. We look forward to the future because we know we have a heavenly father who loves us. Remember the first statement, Our Father? It is a recognition that a good loving Father will be with us through thick and thin. What excites believers is not whether good/bad things are going to happen. What keeps us watching out in faith and hope is the knowledge that the end comes with the presence of God, manifested by the coming of the Kingdom in all its glory. Heaven come down to earth. We will have a new heaven and new earth. It is a prayer of expectation, that the kingdom comes with angels and believers will be glad to present the church as a bridegroom in all its spiritual gifts exercised to be ready for Christ. It is a prayer of illumination, for we look to the future, not focused on the things we want, but a heart fully yielded to kingdom goals. Servants loyal to the Lord will be ready for the coming of the kingdom. We pray this prayer with that attitude of readiness that speaks, We are ready to serve and obey. We have done our best. It is what we ought to do. When we pray this prayer, we uproot ourselves from being too involved in worldly affairs, and to transplant our hearts and minds to kingdom values. Nothing earthly can ever match up to kingdom virtues. We pray for the coming of the kingdom in all that we do. We are essentially asking that the kingdom values be present in every part of our lives. We become willing vessels, ready conduits of grace and love to fly the flag of Christ in the castle of our hearts.

We must remember that it is not 'my' but 'thy' kingdom come. Beware of bringing in the church or bringing in the personal desires and goals. We must bring in the kingdom of God, and that is not to be confused with a worldly definition of kingdom. It is a kingdom that the world cannot understand, as long as it does not acknowledge Christ. On the other side, I think God the Father, is like the father figure in the parable of the prodigal son, wanting to run to us to give us a welcome hug, for us to return. The problem is not that God is not ready. We are too busy with trying to satisfy our own gratifications. God is granting us the grace of time to be ready. Hence we pray this line with an eye on one objective: TO BE READY. TO BE PREPARED. When we pray this, we are telling God that we are ready and prepared to do God's will.

ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου•

Friday, July 20, 2007

(B) Hallowed Be Thy Name

[Hallowed] This is a hitpael verb to proclaim holiness as God's very nature. There is none holy as the Lord, and we proclaim that truth, by hallowing that name. The very mention of the name of God should send shivers of holy fear down our spine. The type of fear that does not recognize our works but our very being as we come before God. That kind of attitude that acknowledges we cannot come on our own merits but utterly dependent upon God's manifold mercies, which he has absolute power to give or to withheld, WITHOUT implications on his purity. Whether he gives or does not give, is not for us to judge, but to accept. That is the essence of holy fear. In hallowing the Lord, we put to rest our inner temptations to put our interests before God. Our own personal issues become a distant secondary concern when all that is before and over us, is a primary atmosphere of the presence of God. The ground is so hallowed that we must remove our own shoes of good works, no matter how righteous they are. All our good works pale in comparison when we approach the hallowed name of God.

[be your name] We direct our attention to God. The one hallowed in the name of God. The I AM who have revealed his name to us. The Christ who comes to us incarnated as a human being, a second adam. The name of God, given to us through the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit who teaches us all things. In the Holy Spirit, we are gently ushered in to the presence of the Triune Godhead, who welcomes us into his holy presence. When we pray Hallowed be your name, we are submitting to God's holy presence and we need to lay aside all our unholy being, and put on Christ. It is in the name of Christ, we can come forth to pray to God. For only in Christ, can we approach God's throne in holiness. Only in Christ can we be shielded from the burning bush which consumes but is never consumed. Only in Christ, can we pray the manner we are praying. Christ humbles himself to pray to God, we should do likewise.

ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου•

Thursday, July 19, 2007

(A) [Our Father Who Art in Heaven]

(Our Father) [Our] indicates that this prayer is a community prayer. It is a common address by people who are aspiring to do the activity together. By starting with 'Our', we are making a statement of purpose in which requests to God is made not from an 'I' but from a 'we'. No reference to private prayers but a corporate prayer. Perhaps it is a result of Jesus answering the question of his disciples who said, Teach US to pray. Perhaps, Jesus wanted the disciples to be united when they come before God to pray. That should not surprise us. If our prayer is to be seen as an offering to God, it has to be an offering that is given with a right attitude. This attitude is the first ticket to God, a first call for God's ear to incline towards us, to be heard. A squabbling family versus a united family. Which will any parent want to hear most?

[Father] represents our common God who is our dear Creator, from whom we all have our being. If there is no father, there is no son. As we are sons and daughters of God, so we acknowledge a loving father who created our beings. Taken together, when we say 'our Father', we are doing so with reference to a relationship that exists before time. God is often introduced as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of David. All of them are fathers! God is the father of fathers.

(Who Art in Heaven) Not simply any of the pagan gods, or gods that mankind created after the Fall. This is THE God of all creation, the uncreated God. It is our Creator God. There is only one God and He is in heaven.

Being in heaven is a declaration that God is over all creation, over the seas and skies, over the heavenly realms, over all nations, that there is no powers higher than God. Ontologically (its very being)) and positionally high. Nothing comes close, for God did not win a battle to be where he is right now, past, present and future. God is already there in the first place. He did not earn it, nor did he inherit it. How can God earn or inherit what is his? This is our father who are in heaven.

Imagine addressing a God who is in control of everything in life. As we direct our attention, we are casting our focus on a Sovereign God. In a world where things seem to be running out on control, where matters are getting more confusing and hopeless, God is the anchor of our souls at all times. Why settle for the rest, when we have the best? Why should man worship other gods when there is only one God in heaven? Praying this verse, Our Father who are in heaven ought to immediately put us in awe that we are asking to be ushered into the presence of an awesome God, who is our loving Father, who yearns to give us good things. More importantly, we are asking for an audience with our heavenly king, from whom all blessings flow.

This is a statement exemplified by a united body, represented by brothers and sisters in Christ, holding hands together and looking in the same direction with a long obedience.
This is a statement of heartfelt willingness, to be united in our hearts in a common address to God.
This is a statement of mindful intent, that we are directing our focus to the one and true God in heaven.
This is a statement of faith, that we trust no other but God alone, that current struggles on earth are nothing when we come into the presence of God who overcomes all things, including our earthly concerns, thus our hearts should be at ease.
This is a statement of hope, that we look to God for our bright future.
This is a statement of love, that we are willing to confess our status as children of a loving Father who desires to give us all good things.

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς

The Lord's Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
They will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
Forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom
And the power
And the glory
Forever and ever. Amen.

I shall be writing on the Lord's prayer in my next few blogs.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"Finding Direction in Spiritual Direction"

My wife and I attended a free Public Lecture on Monday (July 16th, 2007) at Regent College. It was given by Dr Susan Phillips on spiritual direction.

Phillips begins by stating her wariness of calling oneself a 'spiritual director' for God is the ultimate spiritual director. In her work, she experiences firsthand that people find it easier to talk about their sexual lives, working lives etc than their spiritual lives. Her work then is to help people to find their spiritual bearings in order to determine how to walk their spiritual journey. Metaphors and images are widely used in spiritual direction. Quoting Eugene Peterson's Tell it Slant, truth is to be told in a way that registers with the audience, not simply a literal statement. Some other ways in which this can be done is via stories, symbols, analogies and metaphors. She uses Billy Collins's poem to help us have a glimpse of the power of poems to help us tell it slant. Following this line of thought, Phillips goes on to describe two common objects in spiritual direction: Candle and Staff. These two objects are the 'viewing lens' from which a spiritual director guides another person along in their spiritual journey.

The purpose of the candle is a reminder to all of God's presence with them. Christ is the light of the world, and the candle evokes memories of Christ, to help the persons to REmember, to RElax, to REmind, to REturn... It also brings warmth for the gospel is warmth-hearted. The candle is also a circle of light which brings in a complete circle of Christ's love, like a carona of starlight, God being the warmth of grace and presence. The spiritual director is 'directive', whose purpose is to help direct attention to God, his presence, his warmth and his circle of love.

Phillips brings in the metaphor of a Shepherd, whose guiding care and skillful hands clear away the grass to make clear the path for the sheep to go. It is not a big stick of power but of care. It is a practice of constancy, of individual attention, kindess and caring. She then quotes Buber's Believe that the world can be redeemed as a way to encourage a stance of faith. Other functions of a staff includes:

  1. Setting Pace: Different pace is possible within a spiritual direction session. The pacing can also be done by meeting regularly, whether one has an agenda or not. This regularity has the benefit of improving one's ability to notice any differences. It encourages one another to be accountable on a regular basis, to pull oneself out of privacy towards trusting another person to help. [I think this is especially helpful in a world where people seeks more time for themselves than any other, when what is most needed is confession of sins and weakenesses to one another]
  2. Protection
  3. Directive: Not what to do but the how and where.

In the question and answer time, one question relates to the pitfalls of Spiritual Direction. Phillips lists the following:
  • Dangers of inflation and deflation
  • Becoming too isolated, implying that all spiritual directors ought to have supervision and consultation themselves
  • The need to attend to one's own care

On the Calling to do Spiritual Direction:
  • Main feature of spiritual direction is to help discern one's calling
  • There is a danger of turning spiritual direction into an 'industry', a professional career, in which Phillips advises prospective spiritaul directors not to give up their full-time job!

Regarding fees, and charging for services:
  • There is an association called the Spiritual Directors International in which one can get some guidelines. It is not a governing body, but basically a resource and a multi-religious forum for spiritual direction.
  • Fees depend on the local market but is usually lower than typical psychotherapy sessions.
  • Depends on one's own training and experience

The session is helpful for me as I ponder and pray over my call towards spiritual direction.

Directions (by Billy Collins)
[from: http://www.poetseers.org/contemporary_poets/poet_laureates/billy_collins/directions]
You know the brick path in back of the house,
the one you see from the kitchen window,
the one that bends around the far end of the garden
where all the yellow primroses are?
And you know how if you leave the path
and walk up into the woods you come
to a heap of rocks, probably pushed
down during the horrors of the Ice Age,
and a grove of tall hemlocks, dark green now
against the light-brown fallen leaves?
And farther on, you know
the small footbridge with the broken railing
and if you go beyond that you arrive
at the bottom of that sheep's head hill?
Well, if you start climbing, and you
might have to grab hold of a sapling
when the going gets steep,
you will eventually come to a long stone
ridge with a border of pine trees
which is as high as you can go
and a good enough place to stop.

The best time is late afternoon
when the sun strobes through
the columns of trees as you are hiking up,
and when you find an agreeable rock
to sit on, you will be able to see
the light pouring down into the woods
and breaking into the shapes and tones
of things and you will hear nothing
but a sprig of birdsong or the leafy
falling of a cone or nut through the trees,
and if this is your day you might even
spot a hare or feel the wing-beats of geese
driving overhead toward some destination.

But it is hard to speak of these things
how the voices of light enter the body
and begin to recite their stories
how the earth holds us painfully against
its breast made of humus and brambles
how we who will soon be gone regard
the entities that continue to return
greener than ever, spring water flowing
through a meadow and the shadows of clouds
passing over the hills and the ground
where we stand in the tremble of thought
taking the vast outside into ourselves.

Still, let me know before you set out.
Come knock on my door
and I will walk with you as far as the garden
with one hand on your shoulder.
I will even watch after you and not turn back
to the house until you disappear
into the crowd of maple and ash,
heading up toward the hill,
piercing the ground with your stick

Matthew the Poor

"Whenever physical hunger turned cruel against me, I found my gratification in prayer. Whenever the biting cold of winter was unkind to me, I found my warmth in prayer. Whenever people were harsh to me (and their harshness was severe indeed) I found my comfort in prayer. In short, prayer became my food and my drink, my outfit and my armor, whether by night or by day."

"It is no joy for the church to have many active members of varied services who lack the spiritual proficiency for renewing souls and regenerating them in a genuine spiritual rebirth to win them for the Kingdom of Heaven. The true joy of the Church lies in leaders who possess spiritual insight, who walk ahead of their flocks so that the flocks can follow a sure path. It is not possible to obtain spiritual insight by action or study, spiritual insight is attained by silence, retreat and long prayers in their various stages."

"I felt I was late to come to the knowledge of Christ; studying the Bible appeared such a daunting task. In desperation, I asked the Lord to give me either a long life to have enough time to study the Bible well, or enough wisdom to grasp its hidden meanings. In His everlasting generosity, God gave me both."
I am currently an avid fan of Matta El-Meskeen (aka Matthew the Poor). His writings are sharply distinct from modern writers. His words are written simply, but they carry profound meaning and implications. Personally, I find his writings surpass Henri Nouwen's in terms of depth. The words literally pops out of the pages and made me yearn for more. The main key behind El-Meskeen's life is the consistent yearning to let God be the center of his life. Born in Egypt in 1919, he graduated in Pharmacy but left the successful pharmacy practice in 1948 to enter the monastery of St Samuel the confessor. He then lived 20 years as a hermit and became the spiritual advisor of many people seeking spiritual guidance. He died on 8 June 2006.

Personal Reflections on the Spiritual Life
Reading his writings really makes me more willing to let go of the temptation to want to go back to a rich wealthy lifestyle (not that I am very rich in the first place!). What good is an expensive car compared the the immense gratification of becoming a channel to transport spiritual blessings to our fellow pilgrims? What good is owning a top-end condominium when what is more beneficial is to house hospitality in our hearts for neighbours and loved ones? What good is a well-paying job when compared to a well-prayed vocation of helping fellow people attain their purposes in life? What good is an expensive holiday abroad when compared with the simple retreat to the woods, the mountains and the sea. If one can afford a car, it does not mean one cannot be spiritual. If one can buy a big house, it does not mean one cannot live a proper Christian life. If one have a good job that pays well, it does not mean throwing it all away in order to live a meaningful life of providing for oneself and loved one. The key question is, can any of the above nudge us a step closer to the heart of God? Can a car put us on a highway to heaven? Can a house be used to store up treasures of earth in heaven? Can a good job be the purpose of life? Instead, ASK our Father God, for grace to be able to transport God's love into the lives of people. SEEK the Son Jesus, for mercy to store up treasures in heaven by true hospitality of the heart. FIND the spiritual gifts we have, as given by the Spirit, that the works that we do, is for the edification of the Body of Christ and to be the spiritual channel of blessings to the world around us. For when we ask in God's will, the ways of God will be given unto us. When we seek the Lord's blessings to bless others, both the blessor and the blessee will be found blessed. When we knock on the door of heaven in prayer, heaven will be opened to us. This is the promise of God.

I think the fact that many monks give up wealth in the world is not due to the wealth itself. It is basically the monks' awareness that they are not able to handle such wealth on one hand, and live a simple life on the other. It is simply too difficult for them, a recognition of their own weaknesses. I concur.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dream & Discover by "Doing, Being, Becoming"

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than the ones you did do. So throw away the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Dream. Discover." (Mark Twain)
Before theological education, I was much of a doer, defining myself in terms of the works I do. During theological school, I was reminded time and again not to fall too much into that work-driven passion of self-definition, to move from merely DOing to BEing. So, as I approach the end of my current phase of theological learning, I am faced with the temptation to speak the common cliché, "Life needs a balance of both." Absolutely not. Whether it is DOing or BEing, or both, or none, the main thrust of a Christian life is to discern where and what and how the Holy Spirit is leading us. Not mere doing for it may make us to define self based on works. Not mere BEing for it may lead us towards passive admiration of self. Neither is it a 'balance' of DOing and BEing for it makes us more like a manager. Instead, I think BECOMING is a better word, for in it there are elements of growing as a Christian, taking on a journey and most importantly, a life that is dependent on the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit. Like Mark Twain, we need to dream and discover courageously. Only in the Holy Spirit can we say, "I am not afraid, for God is with us."

Mark Twain's statement is a call for us to fulfill our dreams, and not to wait until it is too late. We must learn to dream and to discover life. It is a quiet prompting that we do not know how long we are going to live. I have always been disturbed when people become so busy that they forget the essential stuff of life. Coffee time has to be scheduled. Meeting with a friend has to be jotted down in an appointment calendar. Time to enjoy one another's company has to be confirmed. Busyness is increasingly a synonym for business. It will be sad that one day when a person breathes his last few breaths, and regret not spending more time doing what he/she has always wanted to do. No one on the death bed ever wished he/she had spent more time at work. Hardly any regretted not completing more business deals. Most will tend to bemoan the lack of effort to bond in their closest relationships.


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