Friday, December 27, 2013

A Beautiful Year

With the One Tree Hill obelisk behind me (Auckland)
This was a beautiful year for me. Imperfect, but beautiful. Take, for example, this photo of my smiling face in Auckland, New Zealand. This would not have been shot if I had not opened myself to new opportunities, or had I not walked into open doors, leaving all my inhibitions and worries behind. (Well, not all of them.)

You know what I mean.

I would probably write more about my travels in my other blog. This blog right here is about my faith journey, and I what I share here (mostly) are my discoveries in my interior life.

When I decided to follow my heart and take a year off, I did not have the whole year mapped out. I was not sure if things would work out. I did not know if I had the endurance to pull it off. I was sure I lacked faith. I just took the leap anyway.

I climbed Jacob's Ladder! (Auckland, NZ)

Looking back now, I am grateful that I went through this journey. I climbed new mountains and built new dreams in the process. I saw clearly that the Lord was working completely in my life. It was not so much that I was assured that everything would be all right. In fact, I had more tears than cheers the past few months. I had, however, the certainty and conviction that I was not alone,and  that God had my back.

Embracing life at somebody's shipwreck island, Great Ocean Road, Victoria

During this beautiful year, I saw many beautiful places and met many beautiful people. They welcomed me with open arms and I embraced them, sometimes happily, other times tearfully. It was amazing how much blessings and grace (so much grace) poured in when I surrendered myself to the Lord's provision. When it ceased to be about what I could accomplish with my skills, wit, or charm, and more about reaching a point of helplessness and despair so that I would pray for a miracle, the miracle happened.

Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia

Along the way, I made many mistakes. It was inevitable as I am human. But when (or if) I grow old, I will look back at those mistakes as the spices that made the year even more colorful and eventful. I have no regrets.

The next year is not certain. Where I shall live, or work, or stay - all these are under reconsideration. I am full of fear as usual. But there is courage. And strength. And hope. My heart has expanded. My faith, many times tested, has grown. I walk on no longer asking the Lord if He will be there, for now I know. He is with me everywhere. He is my home.

At last I can say that for me there is God, and God alone. Do you know this song?

God Alone
by John Keating

God alone, God alone
In Your courts, O my Lord, is my home
You are my treasure, my portion delight of my soul
My life, my salvation, my fortress, my God, and my all
O my soul, claim nothing as Your own
For You there is God and God alone

I started singing "God Alone" in 1993. It took me 20 years to fulfill it. Incidentally, I only realized it now (!), last October 2013, I had been following the Lord in a personal way for 20 years.

I am right now a soul claiming nothing as my own. It was a beautiful year. It has been a beautiful 20 years.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reflections After Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda)

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours. - Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) 
Not many Filipinos are getting proper sleep these days, wherever they are in the world, after super typhoon Haiyan (local name: Yolanda)  flattened entire cities and towns, claimed lives, and destroyed property in unprecedented levels. Most are doing everything to actually help the victims. The rest of us who are abroad are bothered and depressed.

The Philippines is used to typhoons. Filipinos are, as a result, no stranger to weathering storms and rebuilding lives. But this is the worst disaster to have hit us, which resulted to what eyewitnesses have described as apocalyptic scenes. Almost every Filipino is either anxious to hear from his/her relatives who are cut off from all communication lines in the islands, or know someone who is in that difficult state.

Since I was not there physically, and I had been glued to Twitter/Facebook/CNN almost 24/7 to catch every bit of useful information I could find and pass on, I was left with two choices: tear my hair in frustration, or Do Something. But what could I do? I was too far away and in another time zone at that, to pack relief goods or to help clean up debris. I could not fly a plane, or simply fly, no matter how much I wanted to. But I could pray.

I realized what I should be doing more of: interceding in prayer, instead of being an armchair critic of the government. I could pray for the media personalities, that their reporting may be helpful; for the government officials, that they be up to the challenge on their shoulders; and for the international community, that they find where their help is needed most.

I went to mass last Sunday and the parish priest in that Sydney suburb talked about the Gospel in ways that soothed me even as thousands of innocent people had just died in central Philippines.

I sat there in church, helpless, questioning God, and He answered me by showing me the eternal perspective, and that reminding me that earth is not the final destination of the typhoon victims. They have a Heaven to come home to, where their sufferings shall come to an end. And Jesus is waiting for them there.

As the outpouring of help flooded from all over the world, I saw on social media how Filipinos did what they did best. They volunteered their time and resources for the relief operations, with the bayanihan spirit. Still, the search and rescue operations were hampered by another tropical depression and the sheer difficulty of moving through a virtual wasteland.

I stared at photographs of my dead countrymen and cried silent tears of helplessness. Yes we have poor people, weak infrastructure, and a corrupt system. But it is my hope that the desolation brought by typhoon Haiyan will give birth to a new Philippines.

When I opened my Bible readings for 12 November, the words went straight into my heart. I had been praying for those who perished and those who were still suffering as aid was slow in coming. After reading these words, I knew that our God is with them.
But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace.
When the just cry out, the Lord hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
First Reading and Psalm for 12 November 2013:
Wisdom 2:23-3:9
23 God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him. 24 But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are in his possession experience it. 3: 1 But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. 2 They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction 3 and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. 4 For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; 5 chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. 6 As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. 7 In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble; 8 they shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord shall be their King forever. 9 Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with the elect.
Psalm 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19
R: I will bless the Lord at all times. 
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth. Let my soul glory in the Lord; the lowly will hear me and be glad. (R)
The Lord has eyes for the just, and ears for their cry. The Lord confronts the evildoers, to destroy remembrance of them from the earth. (R)
When the just cry out, the Lord hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves. (R) 
Before going to bed last night, I worried about the people who were still going without food and water after five days. And I remembered when our Lord Jesus fed the multitudes. He asked first the disciples what they had. I reflected on this, and saw that Jesus was asking us, what can we offer, and after we lift our offerings to Him, He can see to it that there is more than enough supply for every need. What is impossible becomes possible. Still, we need a system to distribute the food properly.

Corinne May wrote a beautiful song, Five Loaves and Two Fishes, and I wrote about it here. It is what I pray,
Take my five loaves and two fishes  
Do with it as you will
I surrender
Take my fears and my inhibitions
All my burdens, my ambitions
You can use it all to feed them all
I often think about that boy when I'm feeling small
And I worry that the work I do means nothing at all
But every single tear I cry is a diamond in His hands
And every door that slams in my face, I will offer up in prayer
So I'll give you every breath that I have
Oh Lord, you can work miracles
All that you need is my "Amen."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Now Showing: Spirit of Life Interviews

I have the privilege to share with you the insights of my personal coach, Corey Payton.

Last year, I wrote about Life After Life Coaching, and the deep impact it has made in my life. Recognizing my goals and identifying the hindrances from reaching those goals have been a major part of my decision to take a year off from full-time work to be more in touch with who I want to become. Yes, my Gap Year discernment started with the coaching sessions.  I went through formal spiritual direction/counseling with a priest a few months after that (see New Stop in the Journey) but I was greatly helped by my personal coach.

Corey was interviewed on Melbourne TV recently. It aired on two episodes of Spirit of Life. He talks about his faith journey since childhood in the first episode.

The second interview is more about coaching and the topics he is going to discuss when he speaks before the Christian Singles Conference this November.

I was blessed by his sharing and his insights, and I am sure many people will be when they watch this video and attend this conference.

Corey is behind Life Horizons Coaching and is an active part of Evergreen

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Guest Post: The Fresh Wind of the Spirit of God

(Blogger's Note: The Catholic faithful are asking questions about the Pope's recent interviews. Here is an analysis of the nuances behind the Pope's answers and clarifies how, even as he brings a breath of fresh air, Pope Francis and his message are consistent with Church doctrine.)
The Fresh Wind of the Spirit of God

Fr Steven Tynan, MGL

Pope Francis is certainly causing a bit of a stir in the press. There are many applauding what he has to say and also many expressing consternation with positions that he seems to be taking, or that people claim that they can read or discern in his statements and interviews. There are those in the media painting the new pope as a ‘breath of fresh air’ and a liberal based upon some of his comments to media and peripheral statements made in interviews.

Is Pope Francis about to challenge or even change the Church’s position on various moral or doctrinal issues? Is he going to open the way for the liberalization of theology and morality? I think not! If one reads the more in depth interviews that he has made over the years, and I speak here particularly of his extensive dialogue with the then Chief Rabbi of Argentina, Abraham Skorka, available to us all under the title of “On Heaven and Earth,” New York: Image, 2013 [trans.]), one will see that Pope Francis is about as orthodox as they come in his views on morality and doctrine. Those who suggest he has a liberal streak or are drawing conclusions that he is about to change the Church’s teachings in these areas have either not read this discussion or choose to ignore it and grasp at phrases taken out of context in the more widely available statements and interviews of and with the pope.

My attention has been called to the recently published interview with Antonio Spadaro, S.J. that appeared in a number of journals including America (Sept 30, 2013), where some are suggesting that they read a radical repositioning of the Church under the watch of Pope Francis. Is this true? Let us briefly look at this interview and see what the pope has to say in it.

For me the first major point Pope Francis makes is that he wants to enter into dialogue and discernment concerning first and foremost the things that really matter. He mentions this in the context of one of the mottos of John XXIII concerning good governance in that one should “see everything; turn a blind eye to much; correct a little." This he argues is derived from the vision of Ignatius, “not to be limited by the greatness and yet to be contained in the tiniest – this is the divine.” (Non coerceri a maximo, sed contineri a minimo divinum est.) The Pope is not advocating blissful ignorance of the problems facing the Church but saying that through careful and patient dialogue we must identify the right way(s) in which to lay the foundations for moving forward in the work of the Church. Many would suggest that the idea of spiritual discernment is at the heart of what Ignatian spirituality offers the Church, and thus it is not a surprise if it will be at the centre of Pope Francis’ papacy. Pope Francis notes that this will require patience and commitment.

The second point that really drew my attention was the pope’s use of the image of the Church as a Field Hospital. The pope is calling for a Church that has to the ability to heal wounds and minister mercy. It is the duty of the pastors of the Church to walk with and attend to the needs of their flock and see that no one gets left behind. Bishops should be in their dioceses and priests in their parishes and ministries so that the first priority of the Church, preaching the Gospel on every street corner is a living reality. This call to conversion of heart to the point that the hearts of the faithful ‘burn’ with faith and love like the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24), needs to be the Church’s first concern.

Its second concern needs to be a comprehensive catechesis that forms the faithful in the ways of the Holy Spirit. Only when the faithful’s hearts are converted to Christ and formed in his mind and heart will it be possible to successfully address the third concern, namely the issues that confront the faithful in their moral lives and their relationship with a secular society. If we make the first focus the issues, which some might argue has been a tendency of late, then the danger will be that the Church spends all its energies trying to convince people of Church teaching without any common understanding or foundation. I believe the pope is of the opinion, and it is something that I would agree with, that if we can foster living relationships with God as the general experience of the faithful then there will be a desire for formation and catechesis that will lead to a situation where the issues, particularly the moral ones, will ‘work themselves out of their own accord’ within the context of a lived experience of faith. Why? If the work of true conversion is ongoing in our lives then we will not be focused on the ‘issues’ but on deepening our relationship with Jesus Christ! This is what truly matters; conversion gives a person a totally new perspective and means by which to approach any moral or doctrinal issue. So, Pope Francis wants the Church to rediscover its identity as ‘proclaimer of the Kingdom of God’ and ‘the community of the faithful,’ as this is at the heart of the way forward as he sees it.

For Pope Francis the life of discipleship is a journey, an adventure to be undertaken with passion and patience. We must make room for God in our lives and not just expect him to fit in where it is convenient to us. We will make mistakes, all people do, but if these mistakes are made within the context of our seeking God above all things, they will be learning experiences as well as mistakes. The dogmatic certainty that Pope Francis wants us to have first and foremost is the belief and trust that God is working in every person’s life. We are all in search of our identity as sons and daughters of God and as we embrace this journey of seeking and discovering God in the midst of our daily lives, we cannot afford to lose sight of either our humanity or God’s compassion – his desire to be with us as Immanuel.

In summary, we as members of the Church or the Church as a whole cannot reconstruct our lives or the institution of the Church with the starting point of doctrinal purity. Faith is a lived relationship and so our focus and that of the Church must first and foremost be evangelization whereby that relationship is established. It is pastoral concerns, proclaiming and witnessing to the truth that God wants to draw near to us, and our drawing close to him, that have the highest priority. Secondly, the relationship must be nourished through thorough catechesis. And finally the issues, moral and doctrinal, can be addressed.

It is imperative that the Church gets the emphasis right and continually focusing on the issues that only result in division will not build a healthy and loving community. Our faith community is built on the common element of God’s love for all mean and women and this has to be the starting point of both evangelization and pastoral practice. Once our relationships have been thoroughly nourished in God’s Word and the life of the Holy Spirit, we will be ready to address the various doctrinal and moral issues in detail.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Victorian Adventure and The Strange Feeling of Happiness

There was one night recently when I suddenly thought that I was being prepared to die. I could not sleep, so I prayed, i.e., talked to God. I said if my time here on earth was up, then I would embrace it wholeheartedly. I was ready to see Him. I would not cling on to the what-ifs and should-have-beens.

No, I was not diagnosed with a fatal disease; at least, not yet. In fact, I seemed to have become healthier than ever. No, the morbid but slightly appealing thought of impending death crossed my mind because I felt I was deliriously, and undeservedly, happy.

Yes, you read that right.  I was happy, blessed, treated royally, served lavishly, loved unabashedly. Ergo, I thought I was going to die. Because it was such a strange circumstance and I did not know how to deal with it.  I could not make sense why people were being good to me.  I could not understand what I had done to deserve such treatment! I was a little bit deranged probably, but that was another story.

These thoughts about my life and how it surely was coming to an end occurred while I was staying in a charming bedroom in a friend's house in Melbourne.  It was the third house I had been welcomed to in the same number of days.  A couple of days before, I had flown to the state of Victoria, to a city named Avalon, a beautiful name for a place that could considered to be the middle of nowhere.  A friend, a different one, fetched me and instead of bringing me directly to her family's farm, offered to give me one night's rest in their holiday home.  On the beach.

The beach?! I gave in to momentary panic, regretting why I did not bring my Speedo gear and flattering black swimsuit. She calmed me when she said that it was a Victorian beach, and we were in the middle of winter, so instead of balmy weather, I should expect a Wuthering Heights scene, and I should be covered up.  Not long after that, I found myself in the middle of a setting for one of my favorite novels as a teenager.  Heathcliff could most likely have been born in such a place where waves splashed harshly on unstable cliffs and the chilly wind bit faces and fingers.  I was awash with emotions I did not have time to process.  They were within the vicinity of happiness.

And then, this First Friend asked if I liked fish and chips. I said I did not - because I loved it! Due to my enthusiasm, she decided to cook it instead of buying. So she left me to rest my tired feet in their warm holiday home and went to buy provisions - the necessities of life: salmon, shrimps, scallops, ice cream, chocolates, and wine. The conversation that flowed out of this abundant feast for two was life-changing. First Friend had pastoral gifts among many other things, and ministered to me spiritually aside from seeing to it that I was nourished physically. I was blown away.  The fact that the house had Italian tiles in its bathroom was just a bonus for me, a girl who liked bathrooms.  I also saw black swans while I was there, and I hummed the Tchaikovsky ballet, which was quite perceptive of me apparently, as the place she took me to was actually called Swan Lake. Oh, that house. The bedroom was exquisite. The view was marvelous. The garden was lush and majestic. I am not exaggerating.

The next day, I had a prior appointment in the city with Second Friend.  He took time off from his busy schedule to show me around Melbourne. We started with the Monet exhibit, which I suffered through because of a migraine attack. I lost him as I tried to manage the multimedia effect of the Impressionist colors, the audio narration, the exhibit texts, amid waves of nausea. The last part of the beautiful exhibit was a glimpse of the artist's actual garden through actual footage displayed on huge surround screens.  People prone to motion sickness were warned not to continue.  I was determined not to let any migraine mar my experience so I sat at the very back, leaned my head against the choicest seats in the room, and let Monet's vision for his garden, his lilies, his roses, and his house surround me.  I felt opened up to my own art and gifting, and an idea rested in me - that I, like Monet, should not be afraid of being overtaken by what I needed to share with the world. My canvas was my paper.  My brush was the pen.  My lilies were words. I was meant to write, and who knows, my voice could be preserved, just like Monet's work.

I know, I could be labeled as deranged and delusional, but I was not fully myself that day. I made it to the museum shop and splurged on the master's work in the form of key rings, book marks, playing cards, and a single reprint of "Taking a walk in Argenteuil," to inspire me when I went back to my ordinary life. As I was paying, I massaged my aching forehead. The cashier had to ask if I was all right, and I confessed that I was having a migraine attack and could pass out any minute. An old lady who was next in line quietly offered Panadol Osteo.  My mother had warned me not to accept medicines from strangers, but desperate times called for desperate measures. I accepted the drugs and let the cashier lead me to where I could drink water and sit down. It took Second Friend a few minutes to find me, and I saw a stricken look on his face when he finally did.

And so I walked the streets of Melbourne's Arts Centre with Second Friend constantly asking if I needed to be taken to the hospital. I kept saying no but could not shake my head - too dizzy. I still managed to smile in front of the camera whenever we were near famous spots like the National Gallery of Victoria, the Flinders Street train station, and the old and charming laneways. A Third Friend rang me up to ask if I wanted to have coffee, and I said yes because I was looking forward to experiencing Melbourne's famous coffee culture.

The coffee did not disappoint and so did the sticky date pudding that I hungrily chowed down, and I instantly felt better. Third Friend took over being my tour guide, and we waited for a brief hail shower to end - that was Melbourne's Four Seasons in a Day for me - before he showed me to some of the best malls in the city.  We also had a restful stop at the St. Francis Church, and I felt at home with Francesco and Clara of Assisi, two of my favorite saints. I lit some candles and said a prayer of thanksgiving for all the blessings for this magnificent year.  And then we had to make our way to the bus that would take me to the farm, and Third Friend masterfully led me through trams and trains to make it just in time for boarding.  Before that, he insisted on buying a gift for me: T2 tea, something I had always wanted to taste, as their shops were very colorful and inviting. I said it was my birthday earlier that week so I was allowing such expenditure.  No, I didn't say that. I just thanked him for giving me chamomile and lavender - and giving me some rest.

I made it to the farm in the dark, thanks to my iTunes music, mobile phones, a very vigilant bus driver, and First Friend who still had many surprises up her sleeve. It consisted of steak for dinner, medium rare; some red wine that tasted like golden liquid through my throat; lively conversation with her and her brilliant father whom I called Tito (Uncle in Tagalog); and a quaint little attic bedroom that had floral pink bedsheets. It was winter but I was warmed not just by the fireplace, but by the hospitality of the people around me. I was dangerously falling into happiness.

I woke up to the sounds of a Victorian farm. I had a rich prayer time and I told God how excited I was for that day ahead, as I was going to see some old friends who were going to the farm for lunch. First Friend prepared a banquet of food. Old Friends hugged me and reminded me of our bond even with the distance and time that separated us. After lunch, we took a walk around the farm. It was the coldest day of my life and my nose proved it. Yet, I enjoyed the walk. Young Friend accompanied me, making sure I did not slip and slide, taking my photos, entertaining me with his stories. Back to the farm house (which looked nothing like the farm houses of my imagination, for it was much more beautiful, straight out of a Donna Hay cookbook, actually); my friends sang a Happy Birthday song. I protested in my head but outwardly expressed giggly thanks. I was only protesting because it was too much already. Like icing on the cake! First Friend baked that cake, and some quince which I had never tried before, which we ate with ice cream and pure cream, not counting calories. At last, it was time to leave the farm, and I was very sad. But the thought of the friends waiting for me in the city allowed me to be cheerful, and on the road I enjoyed my catch up with my Small Big Brother, and we were each convinced of what to pray for the other.

I was treated like a princess, imagine that, me, the servant, by the MGL brothers, my old friends. Their tribe should really increase. That night I was dropped off at Fourth Friend's house by my adamant Young Friend, who already knew how to drive it made me tear up! I knew him when he was still an awkward, lanky teenager. He was maturing before my eyes. Fourth Friend had the central heating ready, and we shared a glass of wine before going to bed. She spruced up the guest room even if I said I only needed a bed. Clearly, that friend was an artist and her home was surrounded by her work and the inspiration that went behind it.

It was that night, on that lovely bed, that I wondered if I was about to die, for surely I was not meant to experience such happiness on this earth. It had a heavenly quality to it, like angels were planning my trip and I was just meant to receive everything with open arms. What a struggle!

The rest of my stay in Melbourne was equally magical: breakfast with Filipino brothers in an Italian cafe, lunch with Fourth Friend and her mom ("Tita"), afternoon tea and catch-up with another friend in a Jane Austen-level cafe (she knew how to pick them, and this was easily the prettiest cafe of all that I had visited on that trip), dinner with friends and a movie screening of "Of Gods and Men," which again made me remember heaven and earth and all that we are meant to do while preparing our hearts for God's kingdom.

On my last day, my hosts took time off again from work to show me around. I had brunch at yet another Italian cafe with Second Friend, with whom I never seemed to run out of things to share and process; and then Fourth Friend and Tita drove me to St. Patrick's Cathedral, where I paused again to pray and be grateful.  Third Friend came around (Melbourne was like my hometown, where everybody knew everybody), and we met up with more friends at yet another Italian coffee shop. Afterwards, we went home and Tita cooked her special spaghetti Bolognese! Then it was time to drive me to the Avalon airport. Fourth Friend had become like a younger sister, and she and Tita convinced me that I had to go back to Melbourne, for there was so much to see. I told them that what was important for that trip, rather than sightseeing, was catching up with old friends. I had that, and also made new friends.

To make this long story short, I did not die immediately after the Victorian Adventure, for I still had things to do on earth. But I surely had a taste of heaven, my friends. Enough to sustain me and let me deal with the ordinariness of life.

Okay, my life in Sydney is not ordinary at all, but you know what I mean.  A holiday is still a holiday, even if it feels like too much generosity and hospitality was showered on me. I am learning to deal with it comfortably, and without a trace of guilt.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Displaced, But Not Discouraged

This morning, I spent a good two hours staring through the glass windows in the living room that led to the gardens belonging to this house and its neighbors.  I stared and stared but could almost see nothing, as the autumn was giving way to winter and the trees were almost fully covered with a white mist.  Some leaves peeked through the fog, reminding me of their presence.

I wasted away the hours, partly because I needed time to finish my bowl of barley and oats with some honey and a serving of banana, the healthiest breakfast I had ever known, and partly because I needed time to reflect on my own displacement.

Like the garden, my life was before me but I could not see it clearly.  Everything was shrouded in mystery and suspense.  True, I had known better than to pin all my hopes to Sydney and My Gap Year, but still, there were times when I wish I could see the future, both immediate and faraway.

This displacement was self-imposed, planned, long-considered, and welcomed.  And yet, as I had not been fully transformed into perfection, I continued to be gripped by fear on seemingly futile nights of empty pages and silent inboxes, and visited by doubt on mornings that could have been beautiful had I been wearing my rose-colored spectacles.

I blamed God.  I questioned God. I begged of God to speak through my doubt and make me a happier, more hopeful person.  He who had carried me through all my unpreparedness in life, all my dependence, all my little indiscretions of the mind and heart - He always got the blame.

Someone told me that in this time alone, I should not expect all my life's questions to be answered.  Perhaps, he said, it was time to face the questions.

But the questions could be dark and depressing.  Certainly, they were not pleasant to the eye and warm to the touch.  They were cold and lifeless and unyielding.  I wanted everything to be handed to me on a silver platter, with a silver fork to consume it with.  I did not want to go through isolation and uncertainty.

There were days, not many, when I would grow tired of reflecting, and I would get restless.  I would look up options not really consistent with my life's direction.  I would make plans that had no signs of my passion.

Another wise fellow shared withe me that when he and his wife left the city for a while and tried provincial life, they got to know themselves better.  What he said was already familiar to me; however, the confirmation was real and reassuring. It was going to be worth it.  Jumping, leaping, to stay hungry and foolish, leaving behind all self-judgment at the lateness of the choice, closing my eyes to the doors that could lead to alternate lives where I could pretend to be another version of myself: happy enough, comfortable enough, and still asking questions; the words of those who had journeyed with me would be the silent force that would sustain me.

Something happened, both expected and unexpected, that displaced me once more.  That's why I had to sit, stop the aimless fluttering, and regain my bearings.  Where was I? Why did I go here again? Who did I want to become? What was being asked of me to do? What was the point of pursuing myself, when I could never be whole, when parts of me would always be scattered to the four corners of the earth?

I knew I needed faith, more than I had been used to.  No surprise there.  It was the grace which I needed all along.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Experiencing the Mass in Sydney

Among the things I left behind in the Philippines is my service to my parish, which I had gradually detached from.  I wondered, though, what kind of spiritual life I would lead during my gap year, having been so used to a country that was historically and culturally programmed to be religious, and being active either in my community or the parish for the past twenty (20) years.

What should not come as news to me is that: 1) God is omnipresent and omnipotent, so of course He is here in Australia; and 2) I belong to the Roman Catholic church, and I can go to mass wherever and know the responses and be able to participate fully, even with a different community, and absent the guitar music that the choirs back home favored.

I am blessed indeed for in my Sydney family's parish resides a priest who delivers the most interesting, animated, and informative homilies using presentations that feature, among others, movies, songs, and books to bring the Gospel message to the people.  I look forward to Fr. Geoffrey Plant's homilies every Sunday.  I have subscribed to his YouTube channel.

One Sunday, however, a friend of mine invited me to hear mass at St. Mary's Cathedral in the city.  I had been to the cathedral but not to its solemn mass featuring the full choir.  It. Was. Amazing.  I was enveloped in the most beautiful music - from the organ to the choir -  that became prayers that were lifted up to the heavens. I was happy to sit and not sing - for some songs were in Latin - praying instead with the choir because I knew of what they were singing.  It was the mass, after all.  I do not know how to describe the experience.  Perhaps it is like sipping hot tea with honey on a cold, lonely afternoon, its warmth quietly enveloping you and taking you to a happier place.  Multiply that by a million times, that's how it felt to listen to the cathedral choir during solemn mass.

The priest then said words that became my theme for the week.

"To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often." - Cardinal Newman

There are so many changes I am living with right now, and if they lead me to perfection, then I happily embrace them all.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

OPM Medley About Love and Farewell

I just wanted to share this beautiful song rendered by my young friends.  It's a medley of my favorite OPM songs, originally performed by the GSIS Chorale.  Featuring BNP Choir. Venue: UP Diliman Campus

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Gap Year

It seems ungrateful of me not to write about all the blessings I have been receiving since 2012.  And knowing my selective short-term memory, I might even forget some of them.

Let me start from the ending: I am now in Sydney, Australia, relaxing in a beautiful bedroom, inside a beautiful house.  How I got here from a stressful life in Metro Manila is actually a very long story.  My brain is not on full functioning mode at the moment as I've been taking a lot of medications for the flu, but I will try to recall some highlights.  I will forgive myself for this lousy writing because the point is in the message, and not the delivery.  For now.

My sister calls this my Gap Year.  It is a concept alien to us Filipinos, at least, to the circles I interacted with all throughout my thirtysomething years.  Mr. Wikipedia explains a gap year as follows:

gap year is time out to travel between life stages. It is also known as a sabbaticaltime offtime out and a year out, referring to a period of time (not necessarily 12 months) in which people disengage from curricular education and/or work and undertake activities such as traveling, volunteering or working abroad.
Usually, around 2% of Australians take a year off prior to attending tertiary education and choose to travel abroad (usually South East Asia or Europe) or within Australia backpacking. (Emphasis mine.)

So usually, in this country, teenagers go through this prior to attending university.  They would be around 18 years old.  So my gap year came 20 years too late.

I am on official time out from life as I knew it.  My life in Manila was good - I had a stable job, a loving family, a supportive circle of friends, and a venue for all my talents/interests.  It was also very stressful because of my tendency to be pressured easily by the littlest things.

The best doctor I had met in my life told me that my health condition required that my life be stress-free.  I sort of asked him if he wanted me to quit being a lawyer.  It just did not seem possible to live without stress at that time.  That was in 2010.

Around that time, my older sister and I also started seriously talking about my living in Australia.  She wanted me to experience a bigger life, and to witness her lovely daughter's growing up.  I was a restless soul - single and unattached, with no mortgage or children to think of. Together we saw an opportunity for a win-win situation.

It was hard for me to let go, however.  It would mean starting over in life.  It would mean quitting a job I had been good at;  four jobs actually, by the end of 2012, for I had become a teacher in two campuses and a lecturer in two companies, aside from being a senior court attorney.

It would mean leaving my parents who are both not getting any younger.  It would mean being the last bird to fly out of the nest.  It would mean leaving my nephews and the rest of the family in the Philippines.  This was the hardest part.

It would mean living without my several sets of friends, from grade school to the Supreme Court.  I was used to going to concerts, ballets, restaurants, and movies with my friends.  They were all within reach. I was the life of the party most of the time, wherever I was.

It would mean moving to another parish.  But I loved my parish.  It was my second home.  I had a routine.  I had my services.  I had my brothers and sisters in the Church.

It would mean letting go of the familiar - like supermarkets, roads, hideaways, beaches, mangoes, and unlimited rice.

But I wanted to try.  In me there was a clear invitation to move.  So I consulted a life coach.  I was able to confirm that I wanted more out of life, more freedom to be creative.  And then a spiritual director.   He was able to walk me through my most difficult and buried issues.  He was able to help me discern the desires of my heart, and where God was leading me, which was healing.  I was already content with carrying an emotional walking stick for my issues, but God invited me to a life where I could fly.

Since 2010, however, I tried many things.  I applied for different jobs, but for one reason or another, I did not get them.  I also looked up scholarships, but felt it was not what I wanted.  I also met people whom I thought would ask me to move to Australia, but in the end, nothing worked out.

Yet I still wanted to go.  It just meant nothing would be according to plan.  It meant saying YES, Lord, I want to try to explore a new life, but I do not know how to go about it.  I surrender to Your will.

It worked like Mary's yes, my version.  I put my trust in the one and true God.  He blessed me, and confirmed my decision many times.

It turned out that I was not only meant to go to one country, but to several, in the course of my sabbatical year.  And then, I got projects that could sustain these travel plans.  It was too good to be true.

I did not have to worry about my then existing job because they were all good and ready to hire new faces and give the older ones bigger roles.  I saw some of my good friends enter the Supreme Court and felt it could not be in better hands.  I did not have to worry about my Legal Research and Writing lectures because the MCLE compliance period had just ended and I would not be needed much for the next two years.  As for my classes, I would miss them but I would contribute to legal education by writing my own textbook. (I am still praying for this.)

My friends, in almost one voice, said they were happy for me.  They would miss me, some more than others, but they knew it was a great opportunity, just what I needed.  And I received gifts in different forms - despedidas flowing with food and wine, trips to beautiful farms and special restaurants, prayer journals, even makeup, things that could fit my limited baggage allowance.  I saw friends I had not seen in years, who fixed their schedules so they could say goodbye.  I was overwhelmed by the collective sendoff I received.  It was like I was being carried to my next destination.  The bayanihan spirit was alive!

And my family, I could not ask for more from them.  My parents took it well, and even encouraged me when I was doubting my decision.  They assured me that they would be alright, that there were enough people to look after their needs, and that they were still strong and healthy to enjoy their empty nest.  My siblings, in between jokes and laughter, shared in my dreams in many ways, like the family garage sale we put up to get rid of my stuff and create some space for new things.

I was able to spend quality time with my loved ones, as if I was leaving for good and not just a year.  I was told to write, to pursue my passions, to play music, to travel, to dance, to dream, to swim to new horizons.

All these happened during Lent, when I felt I was supposed to be sacrificing my happiness.  My SD pointed out that for me, the invitation from Jesus was perhaps to receive the gifts - whether it was caviar cake, truffle chips, envelopes of money, job offers, or date proposals.  I learned to say "Thank you" and not wonder what was being asked of me in return.  I learned to sit and watch and be grateful.  I was reminded of Philip Yancey's book, "What's So Amazing About Grace?"  One of his best works, the author wrote about how grace is precisely unearned.  Like in the movie "Babette's Feast", the giver would give, and the receiver is meant to receive, and savour the gift.  My words fail to describe both the book and the movie, let alone grace.  But all these is grace.

I went on retreat: the ultimate icing on the cake, to one of my favorite spots in the Philippines, Tagaytay.  There, for several days, I recalled the goodness of the Lord and the people around me.  There I looked at the sky and searched for God and said my thanks.

During my flight to my first stop, Sydney, I looked out the plane's window.  I saw stars scattered on the nighttime sky.  I saw real stars, and I was very close to them.  I spoke to the stars.  I cried and cried, not knowing it was possible to be happy, to be free, to start over.

There are many expectations, mostly mine, out of my gap year.  But even if all I accomplish this year is just to find peace, health, and happiness, it shall be worth it.

I was told that I had so much courage to do this.  Well if courage meant sleepless nights filled with worry then they are right who said I was courageous.

I call it faith.  I have entrusted an unknown future to a known God.   Though I still have plans and expectations, I have let them be guided by Him, and I have let Him show me how much there is in store for me.  And that makes me happy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Forty Days: Day One

With Ash Wednesday comes the Lenten season. Aside from the usual fasting from coffee, chocolates, or Facebook, I have decided to also do more of prayer, pondering, and preparation.  It is a good time to do so because I am once more standing on the precipice, about to jump, to follow my heart, and start a new life.

I began the practical aspects of my journey a long time ago - planning for two years, working on it for the last two months.  But my inner journey is also ongoing, and I have a good spiritual director to walk with me.

Yesterday I was only supposed to give an update from our last session and also go to confession.  But perhaps to prepare for this season of grace, I was asked to open up for more, with kindness, compassion, and gentleness.

I have been asked to ponder on God's goodness and love for me.

For He has been good to me, even when I was unfaithful.  He never left my side.  He guided my steps.  He protected me from harm.  He answered my prayers.  He provided for all my needs, and more.

I have been asked to pick a Psalm to pray with.  I choose Psalm 43:5 this afternoon.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (ESV)

Another version reads:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. (RSV)
And so goes the first day of the next 40 days.