It was a dream come true as I finally get to prayer walk at Seminari Theologi Malaysia (STM). The busyness of life and the recent COVID-19 lockdowns prevented me from going to the seminary in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan in Malaysia. It was thus a great joy when I was invited to conduct a retreat there recently. This was a hybrid retreat with on-campus and online participants.
The labyrinth is the legacy of the late Bishop Wong Lik Wah. His writeup on the STM website is as follows
“Prayer labyrinth is not a maze. It has no dead ends, no crossing points, no high walls, bushes, or false passages. It is an ancient spiritual tool with a single path of prayer, reflection, and meditation weaving to the centre and returning back again to the entrance which is also the exit. We will not get lost in the prayer labyrinth just as when we journey with Christ.
The winding path of the Labyrinth reflects our life and spiritual pilgrimage which involves discovery, transition, uncertainty, pauses, changes of direction, and achievement. From the entrance, we move prayerfully towards the centre where we be still in God’s presence. From the centre, we exit with thanksgiving through the same path and back to our daily life in His presence. This journey signifies that our life is a journey continuing return to our ultimate Centre: The Triune God, to our own within, and back out again into the world.
The walk helps to quiet our mind to focus in God’s presence and moves our soul toward wholeness in God. If we are attentive, it could be a means of grace which brings healing, renewal and transformation.
The first prayer labyrinth at STM was completed on May 6th, 2017 which is the World Labyrinth Day (1st Saturday of May).
The new prayer labyrinth was completed on Dec 21, 2020.”
It was a privilege to use this spiritual tool in the seminary.
I am designing a course on the biblical imagination and spirituality of Eugene Peterson.
Eugene Peterson’s lifelong focus is on soul care, especially on spiritual formation and pastoral nurturing. This course will be a dialogue with his thoughts, teaching, and applications using his Eerdmans spiritual theology series: Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (2005);Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (2006); The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus Is the Way (2007); Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers (2008); and Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (2010).
The expected major outcome of this course is that students will have reflected on where they are in their spiritual journey, understand the dynamics of formative and transformative aspects of their spiritual lives, and be equipped to nurture their and communal spiritual growth both physically and in Cyberspace. The focus on this course is on spiritual formation and spiritual theology.
The virus, when it came, came like a thief in the night. It was unexpected, and we were unprepared. Though there was some news about a viral outbreak in China in November 2019, nobody paid it much heed. After all, there were always sporadic outbreaks of chicken and swine flu. The last worrisome outbreaks were Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012, and Ebola in 2018. SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003. The illness spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before the SARS global outbreak of 2003 was contained. Closer to home, SARS was limited to Singapore and, for some unknown reason, did not cross the causeway. With MERS, we in Malaysia were on alert because of the large number of people going to the Middle East. Fortunately, no cases were reported here. Ebola and Africa seemed far away.
In December 2019, when I was at Disneyland with my grandchildren, I came across a more “teenage” Mickey Mouse than I am used to. Disney as a company is well aware of the necessity to reinvent itself for each generation, hence the need for an updated and cool Mickey with his coffee. Again, I am reminded of the need for the Church to reinvent itself for each generation in order to remain relevant.
I am not talking about core doctrines here. These should not change. I refer more to how we do church and are the church for the present generation. I remember reading somewhere about how the church is only one generation away from extinction. Steve Rabey, in his book on Authentic Faith, said, “This generation is falling through the cracks of Christendom and the modern church is sleepwalking their way through oblivion.” There is an urgency to review and revise how we do and are to be the church in this interconnected, digital citizen generation with the Internet of Everything.
Little did I know how my thinking would be brought to the test in the subsequent months when the storm warnings were sounded in Wuhan China about a new coronavirus, initially named novel SARS-CoV-2, because of its close resemblance to the SARS virus. Alarming news started coming in rapidly. The infected and death tolls started rising. Different countries were reporting cases, and the global spread was impressive. Then countries started reacting by placing their populations under lockdown. We were told of the need to “flatten the curve,” meaning to contain the spread by lockdown while allowing time for our healthcare facilities to be expanded. We observed healthcare facilities being overwhelmed in Italy and Spain as the virus spread.
Since COVID-19 is caused by an RNA virus, I expected it to mutate. I expected that, like its cousin, the SARS virus, it would mutate and become non-lethal in a few months; in fact, I was optimistic that it would be over by July 2020. Little did I know that, by limiting its spread, we were also limiting its mutation. By the end of 2020 we have gone through a roller coaster ride revealing the brokenness of our society, removing the delusions we have been living with, and resetting the way we shall live in this future.
This book chronicles some of my reflections as I struggle to find love, faith, and hope in this fateful year. It started with apprehension as I watched nation after nation fall under the onslaught of this pandemic. What is worrisome is that these countries are developed countries, with superb healthcare infrastructures. At home, we were celebrating the auspicious Chinese New Year of the metal rat. Then came the lockdowns and the orders restricting movement. It was sobering, because this is the first time I have experienced travel restrictions. With the lockdowns and the closing of onsite church services, I am forced to rethink who we are as a church and how we do church. I had more opportunities to explore cyberspace as the churches went online. I also try to understand the digital church in its various manifestations and how it will work with the physical churches.
For those Christians working in the marketplace or other places, do you feel that your work is second-rate compared to those work that carries the name ‘Full Time’ workers (such as pastors, pastoral staff etc)? Do you feel that in your innermost being, if all things being equal, you should give up your job and go ‘full time’? I shall address this in this webinar on discernment in vocational calling and holiness.
This webinar is also for those in ‘full time’ work especially if the bulk of your service is carried out by laypeople. Fulltime worker such as pastors have a day off (often Monday). Laypeople who help in the church do not have any time off. They work 5-6 days a week and give the weekends and some weekday evenings to the functioning of the churches. Are pastors aware of the strain they are placing on their members?
We shall try to unpack this can of worms in this webinar. Please register and join me.
Spiritual formation inventory is a spiritual assessment tool to obtain a snapshot of our spiritual life at a certain moment in our spiritual journey. This tool will help us to discover what areas in our spiritual practices are strong and what the weaknesses are. For effective spiritual formation or spiritual growth, balanced spiritual life and practices is essential. Too much emphasis on one aspect of our spiritual practices at the expense of others may lead to an unhealthy spirituality.
The essential elements or components of the spiritual formation may be summarized by the acronym SHALOM
Story-telling is the living our lives in communion with God
Heart is to abide in Christ or growing into Christlikeness
Action is in ministry to others or service
Learning is living in the Word or spiritual learning
Opening to the community as in fellowship and community building
Missional is living as a witness to the world
Shalom is a Hebrew word often translated as peace. However shalom means more than peace (as the absence of strive) as it also denotes perfection– as in perfection of God’s original creation, Jesus as the perfector of our faith and himself, and as the perfection of man’s reconciliation with God.
You are invited to join me for this Zoom session. Even though it is for Medical and Dental professionals and students, you are welcome to join us even if you are not a healthcare worker. It is open to all who are interested in Christian spiritualities in this pandemic period.
Webinar Lecture “Discerning the Call in the Marketplace”
Date: Tuesday, 15 September 2020
Time: 8.00pm – 9:30 pm
Committed Christians are often concerned about discovering God’s calling – to be and become; how they are to live and have their being in their workplace and marketplace. Central to this is how to maintain the vitality of their spiritual life and growth in the modern lifestyle that is extremely hectic and exhausting especially in this phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. They struggle with the theology of God’s calling and vocation. This webinar will examine the issue of hectic and busy lifestyles, discerning God’s callings, and how to nurture the spiritual life in the marketplace.
About the Speaker:
Dr Alex Tang MD PhD is a consultant paediatrician in a private hospital in Johor Bahru. He is an associate professor of paediatrics in Monash University Clinical School Johor Bahru. Alex is a practical theologian and biomedical ethicist and teaches in several seminaries in Asia and elsewhere. He is a spiritual and retreat director. Alex has authored numerous books, book chapters, monographs, and articles. His research interests are in Christian spiritualities, spiritual formation, and biomedical ethics. Alex is an elder in a Presbyterian church, is married with grown children and growing grandchildren.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted all of society including the church. Uncertainty about the future, economic hardship and a sense of loss has affected many members of the church. As we grapple with this crisis it is important to ask relevant questions about the future and look at this pandemic from a spiritual perspective.
While the COVID-19 pandemic poses a great challenge it also offers us a vital opportunity to reflect deeply on our lives, the church, our community and the direction we have been heading. We have an opportunity to let go of what distracts us from Christ and deepen and broaden our individual relationship with Him. It also allows for the transformation of the church by God. The church is the people, the body of Christ and not a physical building. Few of us are able to recognise that many of our current church systems and structures are traditions grown over years. What started as good ideas and a response to needs, became traditions and later fixed structures. We should be careful not to become dependent on our church systems but rather on the living God. This crisis allows for us to refocus on the needs of the people and a reformation of the church and ministry environments.
With this in view a number of us have attempted to spiritually discern what God is saying and have put together a document that tries to offer practical guidance for the church and individuals on how to move forward and support their congregation and community. At the same time it explores ideas on how the body of Christ can move from being ‘recipients’ to active followers of Jesus. Personal spiritual formation and ideas on church transformation are considered with a view to produce a vibrant and meaningful body of Christ, one that is immersed in the community.
The document covers many areas including:
The expected immediate future with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Changing ministry environments and the response of the church.
Establishing an effective digital church.
Adjusting physical services to make them safer to attend.
Key prevention safety measures to implement.
Restructuring the church office environment.
Supporting the congregation to grow spiritually as individuals.
Supporting our pastors, church workers, their families and smaller churches.
Supporting rural, indigenous church communities and the poor.
Checklists are offered for specific areas to aid planning.
The COVID-19 pandemic will probably be with us for the next 1-2 years and we must guard from slipping back to ‘business as usual’ once the threat is passed. It offers the church of our time to have a ‘great awakening’ – a time to live church rather than ‘go to church’. A time to discover God, not just our Saviour and Father, but also as Friend and Beloved, awaits us.