Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Singapore" by Mary Oliver


In Singapore, in the airport,
A darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open.
A woman knelt there, washing something
in the white bowl.

Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.

A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings.
Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that’s not possible, a fountain
rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and
neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
Everybody needs a job.

Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor,
which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as
hubcaps, with a blue rag.
Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
She does not work slowly, nor quickly, like a river.
Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.

I don’t doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want to rise up from the crust and the slop
and fly down to the river.
This probably won’t happen.
But maybe it will.
If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it?

Of course, it isn’t.
Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only
the light that can shine out of a life. I mean
the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,
The way her smile was only for my sake; I mean
the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.

~ Mary Oliver ~

(House of Light)

"When Death Comes" A Poem by Mary Oliver

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

~ Mary Oliver ~

From New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press, 25 Beacon St, Boston, MA 02108-2892, ISBN 0 870 6819 5).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

When Bad News Comes....

What do we do when bad news comes? Some people will start asking 'why?' and struggle with the dilemma: "Why will a good God allow such bad things to happen to good people?" Others will try their best to empathize, but at some point, the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness discourages many empathizers themselves. When that happens, empathy can degenerate into either social sympathy or apathy. Both are not good. In 'sympathy', one takes a distant approach when addressing the hurt. Sometimes it may lead to adopting a behaviour that is part of social nice-ness, an act or a mask to put up to make sure that we are in touch, yet keeping a 'safe' distance away. Of course, not all sympathy is bad. Edmund Burke praised sympathy, saying
“Next to love, sympathy is the divinest passion of the human heart.”
'Sympathy' or social-sympathy is often interpreted as simply a feeling FOR the other person, a unilateral discharge of emotional concern towards another. If sympathy moves towards pity, that will be a shame.

In the same light, if empathy leads to 'apathy', it will be even more tragic, as it shows a complete lack of emotional concern for the other. This happens frequently when we become aware that no matter what we do, we cannot salvage the situation. Apathy leads to intellectual nonchalance, assuming that the problem at best will go away. It is like the demotivated worker who assumes that apathy is a solution to keep people from bugging them.

Both social-sympathy and apathy, though they are better than antipathy (opposite of sympathy), sucks the humanness out of us. If sympathy is caring FOR the person, I will suggest that true empathy is caring WITH the person. It is one thing to do something for another person, but it is quite another to do it WITH the other person. In working actively with the victim, we are helping to be a listening ear, to sense the underlying emotions of the pains. we are given opportunities to empower the victim to lift themselves above any temptation to become stymied in self-pity. We are also learning to be a better care-giver, as a peer not a superior.

In Mark 6:53-55, I am struck by the commitment of the people to bring the sick towards wherever Jesus went. The gospels record:
When they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized him, and ran about that whole country and began to carry here and there on their pallets those who were sick, to the place they heard He was. (Mark 6:54-55)
Such actions are no mere social-sympathy or distant apathy. It is empathy on the highest level. Having known Jesus's works in their hearts, they 'carried about diligently here and there' (periferein) which shares the same root word as 'always carrying about' the death of Jesus (2 Cor 4:10). In true Christian empathy, we have to adopt this habit of 'always carrying about' our cares and concern for others to Jesus.

Today I hear the news of a dear brother-in-Christ in constant pain, and another in dying pain. The former requires pain relievers while the latter is anticipating death. Both are dear brothers in Christ to me. "Take it to the Lord in prayer" is in my heart. I have my limits in empathizing with my two brothers in Christ. However, it is not up to me to say where and how the limits are. What I am called to do is to constantly 'carry here and there', prayers and love for them, to present them to Jesus. When bad news come, we ought to pray. We ought to be diligent in bringing our concerns before the Lord. We have to learn what it means to walk together with those in pain, in sickness and in health. Doing nice things is not enough. We need to learn to do nice things WITH them.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Loonie catching up with the US$ (2 more cents to go)

One CAD dollar now equals $0.98 US. I guess the general public will simply treat it as par. Highest in 30 years. Three years ago, the US$ can bring in 1.40 CAD. Border jams can only get worse as more Canadians go down south to buy stuff.

(I) For Thine is the Kingdom,

[For Thine is the kingdom]
"ki le-kha" attributes to God like presenting a whole bouquet of flowers as a mark of worship. "ki" stops all of our restless souls to center our thoughts completely on God. it is yours, O Lord. To what end do we labour? To what purpose are we motivated towards? To whom do we live for? It is God's kingdom. It is for the sake of the kingdom, and it is for the King who reigns throughout all the heavens and the earth.

Take a pause and ponder on the coming kingdom, and let the Spirit teach us to live within the paradox of the kingdom having come, and the kingdom that is yet to come. Today, Jennie McLaurin shared at a packed chapel about living in tension, in the interim times. We need to learn to live in a tension of the now-and-the-not-yet. We need to be able to rest between the times of what has happened and what has yet to happen. Reflecting on her impending one year interim period as a dean of students, she opened her heart to help us understand that all of us are interim in some special way. Isn't that so true in our pilgrimage of holiness? Being at Regent now is also an interim period for many students. We have started on a step of faith, moving along in hope and will end and remain in love. This picture shows us that life is essentially many interim moments joined together under the motivation of living kingdom lives. If at each point of our interim moments, we are able to look at our achievements and what we aim to achieve, we can say directly to God: Yours is the kingdom, that will be the best interim moment we can ever have. While waiting and working towards glorifying God in some future time, let the interim moment remind us that we can worship and glorify God in the present time. The time is now. Let not busyness detract us from seeing the kingdom come in our lives. Wrap our works, our gifts and ourselves in our interim moments and present them as an offering unto God. For in God, each interim moment will be made beautiful in his time. In these moments, let it be a time that while we work for the kingdom, we do not forget the Person of the Kingdom: God.

Ὅτι σοῦ ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mid-Day Prayer @ Regent

The chime sounds at 11.55am. It is a call to pause our various states of busyness. It is a call to come together at the chapel. It is a call to prayer.

Since the beginning of Fall 2007, Regent College has been having an unprecedented mid-day prayer everyday (except Tuesday) from Monday to Friday. This is one of the most significant community building events I have ever experienced. It lets God be the center of all our activities. I attended the session today and the chapel was packed with people praying for personal, community and world needs. "Take it to the Lord in prayer" is a common mantra. The 15 minutes of prayer time together bonds us together like no other. I think Regent College is sending an important message to all the students, staff and faculty that while Regent remains academically committed to the highest standards, our motivation is ultimately in God.

The chapel was filled with people of different nationalities. Regardless of years, and status, everyone prayed. A list of requests flashed on a Powerpoint slide is all it takes to start everyone praying. Faculty members turn out in force. By looking at God, our awareness of our various differences gives way to our recognition of our commonalities. Regent College has gotten off in a fresh new start, something every Christian will be proud of. I remember Henry Nouwen's observation of theological colleges losing their focus on the cultivation of spirituality in theological education. Today I am glad to say that Regent College has readjusted its sails towards God. That is something I am proud of. If you happen to be in UBC around 12pm everyday, come in for a 15 min prayer. Glory be to God.

By being attentive to this daily call of the bell, may we learn in our daily routine of hurried lives to be able to address our souls desire to be with God. May the people be ushered into the presence of the loving Father, in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For prayer is not so much about trying to get our needs met, but to meet the God of our Providence.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Jolt Quote XIV

Here are two quotes I find very fascinating, from the quotable Mark Twain.

(A) "Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. "

(B) "It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them."

I was jolted by the first quote to recognize how deep and wide acts of kindness can reach. One needs no University education or loads of experience to practice that.

The other quote tugged at my humourous rib on the folly of people's insistence of freedom defined according to their self-gratifying desires.


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