Invited to Song of Songs

Song of Songs. That prompting is so slight, so silk, I could have ignored it. But I did not and am thankful for following it. I figured that perhaps it may be the means through which my main prayer for my sabbatical, a deeper love for Jesus,  may get answered. I personally find this  Old Testament book forbidding. I am very much left-brained, and appreciating the Song of Songs is a right-brained activity. It’s like appreciating the poetic lyrics of a popular love song. This is outside my comfort zone. Which is good because at the later part of life we should be moving towards wholeness and wellness, and taking on new frontiers in learning.

I began listening to YouTube videos on appreciating poems and writing and interpreting poems. I listened to David Pawson give an overview of the book. I saved Mike Bickle’s talks on the book. I listened to audio readings of the book. I bought a book titled Love of Loves by Philip Riken, and this week I started to savour the text and talk to the Lord from it. I am excited because the Lord is making the song come alive. I hope it is awakening my love for the Lord. It is making me aware of God’s loving action towards me, His many kisses of love through the many gifts He showered on me. Yes Lord kiss me again and again, till passionate love is awakened in me again, and joy overflows from receiving Your love.

Colonoscopy peace

I had a colonoscopy done. I entered the hospital with peace of mind. I had occasional reminders to not take things for granted even though both my parents were cancer-free. After all, cancer can happen to anyone. So the “what if they find tumours?” question surfaced a few times. And routine medical procedures can get messy through a surgeon’s mistakes. Each time such anxious thoughts surface, I had to commit the matter into the Lord’s loving care.

Life is unpredictable but we who trust in the Lord can walk around with a serene and smiling face because we are secure in God’s love.

I did not like the idea of colonscopy. Why allow intrusion into your body when all is fine? As they say, Do not trouble trouble lest trouble troubles you! My wife had done the colonscopy and kept encouraging me to do so.  Since I am almost 64, it is a good time to do a check up.

Ng Teng Fong General Hospital is 5 minutes from home so I had the examination done there. Everything went smoothly and painlessly. I remembered feeling a slight embarassment as female nurses in businesslike voices and brisk movements prompted me into a fetal (not fatal, thank God) posture. This is very awkward, being introduced to strangers from the backside. “Your name and i.c. number?” I answered the question, and soon I lost consiousness (and embarassment) in the examination theatre.

The next thing I knew was gently regaining consciousness in the preparation room, feeling that I want to sleep there forever because I felt so drowsy and it felt so comfortable.

The results were later given to me in an envelope with photographs of a clean colon. Praise the Lord.

Sabbatical reflection

It has been a month since my sabbatical began. I feel better rested physically and psychologically. Longer hours of sleep, exercise, and disengagement from pastoral duties does wonders. Being overseas helped too because you became unavailable physically.

I also feel thankful for the many blessings of God. Never thought of touring Spain, never was interested. But in pursuing the kingdom, in seeking rest and restoration, I ended up in Spain, beginning in San Sebastian and ending in Barcelona, staying at many towns and cities along the way, in Basque and Catalonia regions, often walking in the streets and countryside. I love silent retreats, silence and solitude. I love hiking. And I was blessed by Ignatius Spiritual Exercises and spirituality. All these three elements that nourishes me were present in this sabbatical program. What a blessed trinity!

This was followed by a vacation and catch up time with Mike and Amy in Bolton. They were very gracious and availed themselves to us for five days. We had significant time catching up usually over meals – restaurant, home-cooked and takeaways. It was around 7 to 18 degree centigrade with gloomy clouds and rain on quite a few days. This restricted our plans but it meant more rest, early to bed and late to rise. It was a contrast to the Camino Ignaciano– late to bed, early to rise.

Now I am glad to be back home. I feel relieved. Spanish and English food and weather are good – for a while, usually tolerable for two weeks or so, in my experience. I like Singapore. I like the smells, tastes, sights of home.

I don’t like the haze though. This morning, I saw the haze and told my wife, “Thank God that in the last three weeks, we were away overseas breathing fresh mountain and countryside air”.

I had an inspired thought this morning as I reflected on how to use the rest of my sabbatical wisely: treat each day as you would a sabbath day with an eye on REMEMBRANCE (spiritual nourishment), REST (physical and emotional self-care), RELISH (life-giving engagement and activities).

“Lord, help me do this and experience more of your love.”

 

Blogging with a mobile

I am used to blogging on a laptop. Then two years ago, I started blogging with my iPad when I travelled, which I found cumbersome because photo transfers from my phone to iPad was ponderous.

This time round, due to restrictions on luggage weight, I tried using my Galaxy Note 9. It was not as difficult as I had thought. I only had to install an image resizing app. My pics are already in the phone gallery;  the story is ready in my mind; and I am used to typing with my index finger. Everything else is the same. In fact the the process was smooth and  convenient and required less steps!

It means I can write on the go, or while waiting I could redeem the time with blogging.

I do not have to go home and transfer and resize photos with the laptop.

I will also write with brevity and conciseness.

All the previous posts beginning with the camino were posted via my mobile. Its too early to tell yet, but I am liking this method of blogging thus far! I do hope the ease of writing will encourage more posts. However, with longer posts I would still prefer using a laptop.

Canal Boat Cruise of Riley Green

I am now in Bolton in my wife’s sister’s home. I am feeling blessed and well cared for. I have returned from a well planned day trip to near Blackburn. It was a boat cruise along a stretch of the Liverpool to Leeds waterway – a gift from the Blyths. My wife and I enjoyed it thoroughly and we felt blessed for what was a misty, gloomy morning suddenly became a bright, sunny day as we drove 30 minutes along the highway!

Getting ready to board the “Romance”
Jenny all excited to get in

The canal used to be the transport arteries for coal, agricultural and industrial products but are now more for leisure and pleasure trips.

The front view of the boat
Ready for lunch

The  slow cruise took three hours and included a tasty three course meal – starters, main meal, and dessert. The service was good, and so was the food and of course the company.

My choice of starters: melon and strawberry
My choice of mains: mushroom pie

 

My choice of dessert: apple pie with custard cream
Alternative starters: shrimp salad

Alternative mains: beef
Alternate dessert: strawberry with sherry custard and cream
Sides: potatoes, carrots, green peas

Barcelona: ending our Camino Ignaciano

It took an hour by bus from Manresa to Barcelona. We stayed in Denit Hotel near the Plaza Catalunya, where protests were taking place. We were there to trace St Ignatius presence there during his grammar studies and labour of love.

We were reviewing and remembering and sharing to conclude the retreat and camino.

Tireless Fr Jose steadfastly diligently conducts his final pilgrimage sharing about St Ignatius
A wefie with St Ignatius
Barcelona has its quirky art in many public places
Graffiti can also be found in side streets and alleys

We had visited various places where Ignatius gave help and received help and hospitality while in Barcelona. Nothing has remained after nearly 500 years.  They could locate the sites, but other buildings have been built over them.

Wefie with the Sagrada Familia in the background
The Passion facade was stark yet striking
The inside of the Sagrada Familia is a fit dwelling place for God and worshippers to meet

We also visited the world famous Catholic minor basilica called Sagrada Familia. It had been under construction since 1882 and is estimated to be completed in 2026- 100 years after Gaudi, the chief architects death. The tour kept me in awe throughout the hour and was worth every cent.

The last supper…this is starters only!

On the final day, we sat outside a cafe in lovely weather, ordered our drinks, and shared where we were and what God has been doing and saying during the retreat before closing in prayer.

Last faith sharing session over coffee (photo by Lance)

After the camino officially ended, we walked around on Sunday afternoon. Over the two days I have witnessed three peaceful demonstrations: one by catalans protesting the jailing of their “independence” leaders; one that supported a unified Spain, and one near the cruise center with Lebanese protesting against mismanagement by their nation’s elected government.

Our hotel was located near Plaza Catalyuna so we had to skirt the protestors on our way home from dinner(photo by Juliana)

Peter Claver patron saint of slaves…and retirees

I have never heard of Fr Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest-missionary,  until we passed by the town he was born and grew up in during the Camino Ignaciano. Born in Verdu, Spain into a rich farming family, he was well educated and intelligent. He later joined the Jesuits and was sent as a missionary to Colombia, at that time a newly established colony called Kingdom of New Granada.

Statue of Peter Claver with African slave child

There he became a priest and served the slaves who were cruelly brought in by shiploads from Africa and sold to landowners and mineowners who needed labourers.

Peter Claver humbly served among them offering care for the sick, speaking up for them to the owners, and catechizing them in the faith. Through his hard work, compassion and solidarity with the slaves, it is estimated that 300,000 were baptized during his 40 years of ministry in Cartegena. To me this is amazing, even if you factor in the pressure on slaves to comply because of their fear of their owners.

A simple minimalist chapel at his family home, now a shrine

The irony is that after years of faithful service, in his 70s, he fell ill, and while assigned an ex-slave to care for him, Fr Peter Claver was sadly neglected and largely forgotten till the day he died. Only at his funeral was there a deeper gratitude and appreciation for his years of service, as “a slave of slaves forever”.

This story stirred in my soul feelings of sadness, and the fear of being forgotten and neglected after I retire from my position as senior pastor.

It made me recall now, with some regret, that I had somewhat forgotten and neglected my predecessor pastor P.J. Johney, after he retired. In my immaturity and obsession of trying to fix the church and move it (as though this could be done by human effort and wisdom- what audacity and stupidity!), I had not taken as much time to honour, love and listen to him as I could. I was too into growing the church, when I should be growing myself in love and compassion.

I wonder what it would be like when I step down. Probably the same: forgotten and neglected. I had better prepare myself emotionally and mentally for this. There will obviously be dimunition of one’s power and role in decision making, as well as status and honour. Its the same for retirees in the working world. During this retreat I could with the help of the spiritual director, attend to these emotions and let it sink, and process them by talking about them to the Lord and receive His peace and joy, which surpasses all logic and human manufacture.

Thank you Fr Peter Claver! Perhaps you should not only be “the patron saint of all slaves”, but also of all retirees!!