How do you deal with pandemic fatigue? Here are some suggestions.
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.
more details to follow
This is the best quote I have heard about growing old
When they asked her to reveal her beauty secrets, Audrey Hepburn wrote this beautiful text that was later read at her funeral.
To have attractive lips, speak kind words. To have a loving look, look for the good side of people. To look skinny, share your food with the hungry. To have beautiful hair, let a child cross it with his own fingers once a day. To have a beautiful poise, walk knowing you’re never alone, because those who love and loved you accompany you. People, even more than objects, need to be fixed, spoiled, awakened, wanted and saved: never give up on anyone. Remember, if you ever need a hand, you’ll find them at the end of both your arms.
When you become old, you will discover that you have two hands, one to help yourself, the second to help others. The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, in her face or in her way of fixing her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the door open to her heart, the source of her love. The beauty of a woman doesn’t lie in her makeup, but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the tenderness that gives love, the passion that it expresses. The beauty of a woman grows over the years ′′
As I meditate and think about growing old, here are four movements of the Holy Spirit that will help us.
Elijah, the imperfect broken superhero (part 2)
While Elijah reveals much of his humanity that we recognized that he is just like us, his life also reveals how God takes care of his servants. There is this interesting passage in 1 Kings 19 when Elijah went to Mount Horeb. This is a familiar passage to us.
1 Kings 19:9–14 (NKJV)
9 And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 So he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14 And he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
Our emphasis on reading this passage is often how God speaks to us. God speaks to us not in the wind, earthquake, fire or but in a still small voice. Yes, this is true. God can but does not usually uses the forces of nature to talk to use. He talks to us as one person to another.
What does God says? He asked Elijah what he is doing there (v.9). It is not as if God does not know, but God wants Elijah to articulate why he is there. And Elijah answered by pouring out his anguish.
“I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” (v.10).
Note that Elijah starts with “I” rather than your humble servant and this “I” is defined by what he did for the Lord. Then he said ‘the children of Israel’ as if he is not part of them. It is a distancing of himself and the people of God – your people broke the covenant, your altars and killed your prophets. Then it reverts back to “I” as being special and in danger. These are the words of a man who is having a meltdown in his ministry. Nowadays we call it burned-out.
God’s answer is revealing about him, not in the noisy and turmoil wind, earthquake or fire, but in a soft whisper. What did God whisper? Surely words of encouragement and healing.
God then asked Elijah the same question as in v.9, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v.12). Elijah answered with the exact words as in his earlier reply to God (v.10, 14)! What does this mean? It seems that between the first and second question with the divine encounter in between, Elijah was not aware of something miraculous have happened. He did not receive the proffered healing.
Instead of smiting him and throwing him aside as a failed prophet, God directed him to put into place his succession process. Elisha is to take over his ministry. God even sent a whirlwind to bring Elijah to him (2 Kings 2:11). This is a compassionate God who understands our frail human nature that breaks under strain. Instead of condemnation, he brings us to a place of rest in heaven. Psalm 23 is a wonderful metaphor of our final rest. God, who is the Lord of the Sabbath understands the rhythm of work and rest. Elijah was given rest so that he will be ready for his role in the Transfiguration.
Elijah, the imperfect broken superhero (part 1)
Of all the many prophets in the Old Testament, Elijah is the most likable. He is the one most like us. There are major feats of great power in his ministry – drought and power encounter on Mt. Carmel. There are also human failings – fear, depression, suicidal and self-centredness. Other prophets seem to be made of stronger stuff. Jeremiah is able to endure deprivations, humiliation, and sorrows. Isaiah deals with kings and their political lackeys. Ezekiel was high with his fantastic visions. Like the superheroes of our modern mythology (courtesy of Marvel and DC Comics), Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel is like Batman, Superman, and Dr. Strange respectively. Elijah like is the Peter Parker Spiderman- full of self-doubts and brought down by numerous domestic and social problems. In spite of his problems, Peter Parker still put on his superhero costume to battle super villains. Elijah dons his prophet mantle to face a corrupted political social regime and spiritual warfare. Imperfect people to the best of their ability to perfect a broken world.
Yet of all the prophets, only Elijah did not die. He was taken up to heaven by a whirlwind which is archetypical of Christ being taking upon to heaven on his ascension. And according to Jewish tradition, Elijah is their most beloved prophet and is expected to come back to earth again as a harbinger for the Christ’s coming. Why is Elijah so beloved? It is Elijah is so like us. We are also imperfect people. We are complicated. We are capable of great feats of human kindness, but we are also responsible for some of the most despicable feats that one human can do another. We are both light and darkness. Our hearts may be full of love and compassion yet there is darkness inside of us; darkness, if left unchecked, will consume us. We long for perfection and building a utopia but often end up building a hell either in our mind or out of our environment. In other words, we are imperfect.
Yet God seems to like imperfect people. Jesus love to dine with sinners and tax collectors to the consternation of pious law-abiding citizens and members of the religious establishment. He takes delight in bursting the bubble of self-righteous perfect people. Jesus realizes that imperfect people are the sick. And only the sick needs a doctor. So Jesus spent a lot of time in his three years ministry breaking down people, which think they are perfect to their basic state of imperfection. Awareness of our imperfections is the first step towards spiritual growth – a process of becoming perfect in Christ.
There are many ways of meditating on the words of God. One way is to take a bible verse and meditate over it. Asking the Holy Spirit for wisdom, we repeat the words of the verse or passage slowly until its spiritual truth and wisdom is revealed to us. Our God is a God of revelation and acts actively to reveal himself to us if we seek him.
Sometimes, I find it difficult to focus with my mind as there are too many distractions, worries and problems that yells for attention. I find that have a picture or photograph is useful because I can meditate with my eyes open. The picture or photograph helps me to focus on my meditation.
Two years ago, I took up photography as a form of spiritual discipline to help me to see. I found it to be extremely useful. Photography has helped me to focus and see the details and varieties of God’s creation, and through the visual images, God himself. Finding that helpful, I have combined my photographs with bible verses. These photographs are selected to enhance our meditation of the bible verses.
I have been posting these since the beginning of this year on a daily basis in my Facebook Page, Kairos Spiritual Formation. ‘Like’ the page and you will have the photos and verses appearing daily in your Facebook homepage.
Here are some examples of the images.
You may download these images from Proverbs my website for free.
May your meditation be blessed by these photographs.
Soli Deo Gloria.
like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it
receives; the reservoir retains the water till it is filled, then discharges
the overflow without loss to itself…
reservoirs are far too rare. So urgent is the charity of those through whom the
streams of heavenly doctrine flow to us, that they want to pour it forth before
they have been filled; they are more ready to speak than to listen, impatient
to teach what they have not grasped, and full of presumption to govern others
while they know not how to govern themselves.
on the Song of Songs, Sermon 18.3
Mr Holmes (2015)
In my opinion, Sherlock Holmes (a fictional character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) is the greatest detective in the world, second only to Batman (another fictional character). Using pure logic, Sherlock Holmes has solved numerous mind boggling mysteries in various medium of books, movies and fanzines. This movie poses the ultimate problem for Sherlock Holmes. Based on Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, the victim of the crime is Sherlock Holmes himself. The crime is senility or Alzheimer’s Disease. How will Holmes solve a crime that robs him of his logic and his memories and will ultimately his selfhood. This is an existential question that this movie attempts to answer. Who are we as a person when we begin to lose our mental faculties and our memories? Do we still remain ‘us’ or become something or someone else?
Ian McKellan gives a superb performance as an aging 93 years old Sherlock Holmes. The year is 1947. Holmes is living in retirement in a picturesque English country cottage, looked after by a war-widow, Mrs Munro and her son, Roger. Holmes has taken up bee keeping as a hobby. He is fragile, subjects to falls, and is plagued by his inability to remember significant parts of his past. Using his remarkable deductive skills which seems to be intact, Holmes try to remember the details of two cases from the past. One involved the suicide of a young wife and the other, the reason why a young man would abandon his family and disappear. This happens in an atmosphere of growing antagonist between his housekeeper and him as he becomes more and more dependent on her but resenting it, and his growing friendship with Roger, the housekeeper’s precocious son. He uses a technique of recovering memories by writing a fictional story involving himself and allows Roger read it. The story unfolds with numerous flashback showing a younger, smartly dressed Holmes, as the older Holmes recover the pieces of the puzzle that were missing from his memories.
Growing old is a common condition to everyone. Most of us fear growing old. Using the number of years to define old may be relative and cultural bound. Living to the 80s and 90s is relatively new to us Asians and we have yet come to terms with an aging population that live longer than our ancestors. In truth, most of us do not fear aging but what accompanies aging – loss of self-esteem, income and privileges after we retire, our bodies falling apart and we become host to aches and pain, chronic diseases, heart problems and cancers. What is more fearful is the onset of Alzheimer’s when we first begin to lose our recent memories, then logical thinking, emotional control until we became a chaotic mess of fearful uncontrolled emotions in an aged body. In the Gospel of John, Jesus made a rather cryptic statement to Peter about when Peter was young, he can go wherever he wants. When he became old, people will use his belt to tie his hand and lead him to where he does not want to go. The statement often reminds me of Alzheimer’s.
What happens to us when Alzheimer’s robs us of our memories, our emotional control, our reasoning and finally of our self-awareness. This is where I struggle with my evangelical theology. St. Paul advise us to grow spiritually by not conforming to the world but by renewing our minds. By that I assume using our cognitive abilities to choose a life of discipleship. What happens when we no longer have our minds such as in the late stages of Alzheimer’s? I have seen gracious compassionate pious Christian being transformed to sly nasty Gollum as Alzheimer’s take its toll. I wonder what St.Paul will say to that?
[spoiler alert!] The movie does have a happy ending, if we can call that a happy ending. In recovering his memories, Holmes come to understand is own life more. He even feels regrets for paths not taken. More significantly is that he comes to accept his fate and come to terms with his life situation. Winter is not only coming but is already here. In a symbolic gesture, Holmes writes the names of significant people in his life on stones and places them in a circle around them. He then pays homage to them. In typical Holmesian fashion, Sherlock Holmes, grandmaster detective, defeated his villain Alzheimer’s by escaping into his memories.
My other movie reviews and reflection are here
4 November 2015
St. John of the Cross is closely associated with the prayer concept of the dark night of the soul. Living in the 16th century, St. John was a reformer of the Carmelite order of which he was a member. He is regarded as one of the foremost Spanish Christian mystic. His well-known works include the Candicle of Love, the Dark Night of the Soul, Ascend of Mount Carmel and his poem Living Flame of Love. Actually all his works have only one theme and one book was often a commentary on the other. The theme is the contemplative movement of a soul to a unitive experience with God in prayer. The dark night of the soul must be understood in the context of prayer. In the last couple of decades, there has been a revival of usage of phrase ‘the dark night of the soul’ especially by evangelicals. Unfortunately it is often misunderstood as depression, spiritual dryness, or being patience in suffering.
To understand the concept of dark night, we have to aware of the context in which St. John of the Cross wrote. Firstly, he was a practicing mystic and a spiritual director. A mystic just meant a person who have experienced the closeness of God and is aware of the His loving presence. As a spiritual director, he was aware of the pitfalls and dangers of depending on experience alone. He described his works as spiritual theology. His focus was on prayer especially contemplative prayer.
Secondly, he was trained under the teaching of Thomas Aquinas. Thomas Aquinas divided a human soul into two parts: sense and spirit. By sense is meant our attachment to the things of this world which include human relationships. The spirit refers to the cognitive part of the mind which includes the will, memories, and thinking. When St. John refers to the dark night of the sense and of the spirit, he was assigning different meanings to the common modern words we use; sense and spirit.
Finally, St. John comes from the apophatic tradition. Christian spirituality basically may be divided into two categories. The kataphatic tradition, to which most Protestant and evangelicals belong, believe that God may be known and described by language. This tradition utilizes creeds, doctrines and lots of words. The apophatic tradition believe that God is too awesome to be described. No human language has words to describe God. God can only be describe by negatives. The only way to describe God is by what He is not. The apophatic tradition is known as via negativa because of its use of negatives. Examples of apophatic theology include God’s appearance to Moses in the Burning Bush; the Name of God which may not be pronounced; and the prophet Elijah’s experience, where God reveals Himself in a “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:11–13).
Prayer is human-God communion. Broadly prayer may be divided into linguistic or non-linguistic. Linguistic prayers which include verbal and meditative prayers are prayers that are practiced using our mind and language. Most Christians are familiar to this form of prayer. We ‘talk’ to God using words. The non-linguistic prayers include contemplative and unitive prayers. Here words are seldom used. It utilizes our other faculties to connect with God. St. John focused mainly on contemplative and unitive prayers. He observed that people who have are advancing in contemplative praying will eventually hit a brick wall on their way to unitive praying. Suddenly they will find their prayers dry, arid, or lose their sense of the presence of God. They may even feel that they have been abandoned by God. When these pray-ers have examined themselves and not find any hidden unconfessed sins, St. John described the stage they are in as the dark night of the soul.
St. John described two dark nights of the soul. One is the dark night of the sense and the other is the dark night of the spirit. Each in turn has a passive and active component. St. John suggested that God is teaching us to detach from our attachments to the world, and attach ourselves to Him personally. It is to teach us to let go and let God be God. According to St. John, the dark night of the sense and the dark night of the spirit do not occur sequentially but are both side of the same coin.
In the dark night of the sense, we are taught to detach ourselves from our worldly possessions, our loved ones and even ourselves. Most of the time, it is these worldly possessions that distract us from being fully present to God. In the dark night of the spirit, we are taught to detach ourselves from our pride in our cleverness, our memories (past), and our willfulness. We are also taught to let go of our past experiences of God as these experiences may bind us down. The passive component is letting God work on us and the active component is our willingness to submit and allow God to work. It must be noted that this is different from the Buddhist discipline of emptying of the mind and attaining the non-self. The goal here is not to empty the mind and self but to detach from all that bind us and distract us from God Himself. The aim of these dark nights is unitive prayer where one become fire.
Only when we have lost all our detachments can we stand close to God who is fire or ‘living flame’ as St. John noted. St. John also noted that not all pray-ers will achieve this unity. Many pray-ers perceive that during the dark nights, God has moved away. God has not moved away. Instead He has moved closer to us. So close that we are blinded by His light. Hence the darkness we perceive.
One metaphor which St. John like to use to describe the process of the dark nights was that of a burning log. When a fire was burning a log, first it dehumidified the log. Then it turned the wood black and charred. Finally “the fire brings to light and expels all those ugly and dark accidents which are contrary to fire” [Dark Night, Book II, Chapter 10]. When the fire of the Holy Spirit burns us, the initial effect is alarming and painful. As the damp log dries and become blacken, cracked and dry, in God’s refining fire, our real self is revealed – blackened, cracked and dry. It has always being there but the flame revealed the truth and the truth always set us free.
This progress of contemplative prayer to unitive prayer as illustrated by the dark nights of the sense and spirit is a useful guide for those who seek to deepen their prayer life. In the process, we are transformed. This process was not discovered by St. John. The early church tradition was very aware of God as refining flame and our purpose to be like God. Here is a short story from the Desert Fathers; Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’ If we will, pass through the dark nights, and become all flame.