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Contemplative prayer

Diary of a silent retreat 1

Just some notes for readers to get an idea of what a silent retreat looks and feel like. Nothing matches the experience though. Of course what happens in the interior life remains private in my own journal. However, brief diary notes over the next few days may give readers an idea of what it was like. Hopefully  they may want to have a retreat themselves.

Thursday, 11th November:

third floor corner room

air con 100 sq feet room with a view n balcony

Here I am. The common response when God beckons His own. Here I am. Half a day of travel, with an hour’s transit in Bangkok. Half a day to settle into the Seven Fountains retreat house in Chiangmai. Mine was a little room with a view and a balcony on the corner of the third floor of Block 2.

Here I am Lord.

Japanese food at Tsunami

Had a cheap and good Japanese meal before the retreat proper began. Tsunami is just three minutes walk to the left as you walked out the entrance gate of the retreat house.

To view videos clips of the Seven fountains grounds see below:


Friday, 12th November:

It was good to begin. House rules and orientation. Shown the different blocks, chapels and dining area and other spaces.  Simon and Rinda brought us out to the Chiang Mai University lake area just fifteen minutes away.

Chiang Mai University lake jetty

serene mountains in the background

Watched the “Bucket List” movie, which gave new meaning to the scripture catchphrase, Watch and pray. Hmmm….what would my bucket list look like?

The dining hall was still crowded with animated conversations.

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Contemplative prayer

Meditation: good to embrace

Mr Ng Kok Song in meditationInterest in meditation increased with a New York Times interview with Lee Kuan Yew, where he opened a small window into his soul: he was an agnostic, but he had learned meditation from a Christian friend whom he admired. With eyes closed and body relaxed, he now repeated in his “innermost heart” a “mantra”. He used “ma-ra-na-tha”, an Aramaic word from the new testament, which in English meant, “Come Lord Jesus”. He did it to help him sleep when he felt helpless and pained with his wife’s discomfort in the room next door. His late wife, Mrs Lee (Mdm Kwa Geok Choo) had suffered several strokes and had been bedridden and speechless.

The NYT interview was followed up with an appropriate and illuminating interview with the Christian friend who has been meditating for 22 years and who taught Mr Lee how to meditate. His name is Mr Ng Kok Song, 62, and he spent 40 years investing Singapore’s reserves as group chief investment officer of Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC).

He was interviewed by senior writer Lee Siew Hua, of the Straits Times, who also gave us the Glitz and the Gospel, a  weekend feature on the megachurch scene several weeks back. Drawing from excerpts from the chat with Mr Ng (ST, pg A 10, 22 Sep 2010), you could see what he thought of meditation and its benefits to all (headings in bold are mine).

What is meditation?

“You can practise meditation with a secular mindset for relaxation and serenity. These are laudable objectives. But it could be a self-centred motivation. Or you can practise with a spiritual mindset. If you go deeper, and your are nourished by reading the scriptures or by your religion, this takes you into the dimension of relationship and prayer. Prayer is relationship with God. Christian meditation is a form of prayer. That opens you up to the dimension of transcendence. You move from self-centredness to other-centredness. In the Christian tradition, this is love.”

On the benefits of meditation, Mr Ng has much to say:

Discernment and clarity

“I think it gives you greater clarity of mind, which helps in times of chaos and great stress, to see what’s the cause of things, what’s passing, what’s enduring and what’s really important.”

Serenity

“It helps you not to be kan cheong(anxious, panicky). After doing your work to the best of your ability, you take a step back and go home, with some detachment from the results of your action.”

Activates whole brain thinking

Mr Ng quoted scientific studies that indicate meditation benefits the right brain, which is linked to intuition and the big picture. Most executives are left brained which is linked mainly to logic and linear thought. “To be a whole person you need to tap into the untapped.”

Shapes the way you lead

“The will to lead cannot be an ego trip or domination. I would call it acceptance of responsibility. With meditation, your mind is remade. The way you see leadership becomes quite different. You see it as serving. You see it as the ability to admit that you don’t know everything and can make mistakes. Otherwise, you can lead your folks into disaster. In the silence of your meditation, in a very mysterious way, you come to understand yourself better. You come to a state where you see your limitations and also your potential…..and gradually you learn to love yourself as you are.”

Contentment and joy

“”The problem in Singapore is the consumerist tendency to measure our well-being too much in terms of lifestyle and material possessions, so much so that you don’t have time for expansion of the spirit. But the human being is not created for the self, but for others too. The way to experience joy in everything is not to seek to possess. This is in contrast to our material life.”

Christian meditation, in particular, those ancient forms of prayer, mainly preserved and maintained by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox streams, have seen a revival among evangelicals for over two decades. Conservatives and fundamentalists have generally been wary and suspicious of these as they have thrown away all things Roman with the Reformation. However, with our foundation soundly established in who Christ is and what He has done, we should wisely embrace some of these practices into the mainstream of evangelical respectability.

Having been exposed to the writings of Eugene Peterson, Richard Foster and others has helped me personally. More importantly I had colleagues like Rev Simon and Rinda Tan, who were thrilled by the retreat ministry during their theological training in New Zealand Bible College. Open to these ancient forms of prayer our church staff became the guinea pigs of “experimental prayer”. We were privileged to enjoy the Spirit’s breeze through the open windows of our minds and hearts.

We tried many ancient practices of prayer and meditation like lectio divina, examen, centering prayer, meditation, silent retreats, having spiritual direction and journaling. Certain practices have stayed with me over the years.Practices like journaling, lectio divina, examen and what Mr Ng does. Meditation is a form of prayer all Christians should feel comfortable with. Sitting in outer and inner silence, relaxed and breathing slowly and deeply. Repeating silently some love or scripture word or phrase in the inmost heart is edifying. My favourite is “Papa” or  “speaking in tongues” in my inmost heart. Another practice I love to do is going on regular several day retreats with others or in solitude. If you are interested you may want to sign up for a retreat with Simon and Rinda Tan who are now full-time spiritual directors and lead the ministry called Listening Inn.

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Contemplative prayer

Speculating on water crystals

The comment about the video says, “Research from Dr. Masaru Emoto, says that when human thoughts are directed at water before it is frozen, images of the resulting water crystals will be beautiful or ugly depending upon whether the thoughts were positive or negative. Emoto claims this can be achieved through prayer, music or by attaching written words to a container of water. Since 1999 Emoto has published several volumes of a work titled Messages from Water, which contains photographs of water crystals next to essays and “words of intent”. My son Matthew showed this video and it set me thinking.

I would like to know your opinion if this is science or science fiction or new age stuff?

IF the above videos are real science, then it is fascinating giddy stuff.

Just think of our human body. It is largely water: 70%.

Let’s engage in adventurous speculation and extrapolation.

Will the harbouring of negatives like bitterness, anger, prolonged stress and hate cause malformation at cellular level that consequentially become a disease?

On the other hand, would grateful and joyful praise all day perk the body’s performance and resistance to disease?

What is the impact of our attitudes on our water laden body? What is happening at a cellular level? Are beautiful and ugly water crystals formed and if so are they precursors and indicators of health or disease?

What are the implications on meditation? Meditation is translated from Hebrew “ hagah” which means ponder, mutter, speak, muse, and imagine. When we meditate on the gospel and the promises of God thinking on it, speaking it under our breath, muttering it – what is happening to us psychologically and physiologically? What is being birthed in us?

We keep muttering verses like, “God is my refuge and strength”, or “The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?” or “The Lord is my righteousness” or “The Lord will supply all my needs” or “He himself took my sickness and diseases”. We say them over and over. What happens as we do that?

What happens below our skin when we sing praises in the congregation or in the home? When we listen to different kinds of music?

Is speculating on water, instead of gold, the next best investment of the century?
Watch this second video with a spoonful of salt:

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Contemplative prayer

A quiet place for prayer

In crowded Singapore, there are places of prayer, where solitude, silence and stillness can still be found. These are places where the soul can delight in God and his creation in half days of quiet.

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Contemplative prayer

A Christian review in the Lord of a busy day by David Keith Townsend

Ignatius of Loyola“Let me give you an article I wrote which shows how to pray while busy in the Lord’s work. This is what I practice,” said David Townsend, dressed in a Hawaiian bright blue shirt, and looking about 60 . He was my spiritual director for a silent retreat at the Seven Fountains, Chiangmai, Thailand. He gave me  permission to reprint and share it online. This ancient practice of reflective prayer called the “examen” is invaluable for all Christians living on the fast lane, not just pastors. It was originated by St Ignatius of Loyola(see pic on left)  for his Jesuit priests. It is a practical and spiritual practice that cultivates a grateful heart and a greater awareness of God’s activity in our daily lives.

My day is the place where I meet God moment to moment. My day is also the place where I fail to meet God moment to moment. My God is continually revealing himself to me in the places, events and people of my day. So it would seem rather important to look at this day in which my commitment to God finds, or fails to find, its expression. My day is the place where I respond, or don’t, to the moment to moment calls to love and service of those around me. My day is where God is moment to moment exercising his loving providence over me. My day is where I allow, or don’t, God to work his will for me. How can I grow in an awarenesss of and sensitivity to God working in my own life? The simple way is to look back over the day at some time when I have leisure to do so. Not just to look back in general terms, but to look back seeking to find where God has been active for me in my life today.

Prayerful reflection is an important aspect of Ignatian spirituality. St Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, was especially keen on this prayer of reflection on the day. For the Jesuits he founded, he insists on two 15-minute periods of such prayer each day. This prayer has variously been called the Examen, the Examination of Conscience, and, more recently, the Examen of Consciousness, or the Review of the Day. It is almost as if Ignatius were saying, “How can you say you are living a Christian life if you never reflect on it? How can you say you are doing God’s will if you never look to see what you are really doing? You want to serve Christ and live a more Christlike life, well then, reflect on how your day has been, and let the experience of the day teach you what it will.”

Most Christians believe God is working through his Spirit in their lives – unfortunately few reflect on this crucial fact of their lives. The Examen is a short prayer exercise which can help develop in me a greater awareness and sensitivity to the concrete ways God has been working in my day for me. This greater sense of God with me leads me to a more accurate and spontaneous response to the initiatives of his presence. Traditionally there are five aspects or moments to the prayer of Examen, and on any one occasion perhaps one or more aspects will predominate. So these five aspects are not a syllabus to be got through. I give any one of these aspects the time I desire and need.

The First aspect is the fostering of an attitude of thanksgiving or gratitude. There is nothing that has not been given me. I am always on the receiving end of gift. I myself am God’s greatest gift to me- I am the gift by which I can know every other gift. I am the gift in which I can know my own giftedness. So I spend what time I need to become aware of my need to be grateful, to see the giftedness of my own life and living. As this gratitude touches me I express it how I will to Father, Son and Spirit.

The Second aspect is to ask for light. I beg the Spirit to enlighten me to see what the Spirit wants me to see. In other words, it is not my analysis of the day which is important. Nor is it my judgement of what is fine or fitting that is central. Nor has this enlightenment anything to do with my own leanings towards a morbid introspection. I ask the Spirit to show me in the everyday events and people of my life where and how God was present and working for me. I am seeking to find God. The Examen is positive. Without this prayer for light I could all too easily poke around within myself in such a way that scabs are knocked off wounds that would heal very well if only I left them will alone.

The Third aspect of the Examen is to play back the day in such a way as to find God in all of that day of mine. I remember the places I have been in; I recall the activities I undertook; I see the people I was with. In other words: places, occupations, people. I ask the Lord to show me where he was present, in me and in others. To say that God is everywhere may be very true, but it is not very helpful here. It is probably more helpful to remember that God has been acting for me wherever I notice the traces of the Spirit in those places, in those occupations, and among those people of my day. So where have I been aware of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control?(Galatians 5:22,23). I notice each place and express my gratitude. Where I was able to open myself to the work of the Spirit I give deeper thanks. Where I closed myself to those gifts, I ask for sorrow and express my repentance, in some appropriate way seeking reconciliation.

The Third aspect of the Examen automatically flows into the Fourth aspect, which is the deepening of the gifts of sorrow and gratitude. I beg the Lord to deepen my awareness of not allowing him to work for me in his gifts, or of not allowing him to work through me for another, or through another for me. I praise the Lord for those times I did let him work for me, when I co-operated with his gifts.

On any one occasion of praying the Examen I may just wish to take one gift of the Spirit, for example joy. I see where I noticed joy in my day, and give thanks; the places where I entered into the joy of another, or allowed another to enter into my joy; the times joy was shared. These were the concrete moments when God was acting and working in his gift of joy for me and for others. Conversely, I become aware of the times and places when I prevented God acting for me in his gift of joy; when I would not enter into the joy of another, or when I was a kill-joy. I see this now and express my sorrow. And so similarly with the other gifts of the Spirit which are being continuously poured out on my life moment to moment.

The Fifth and final aspect of the Examen is to take a look ahead and to ask for what help and guidance I will need. I can foresee fairly clearly the next day, or half-day: what places will I be in? what people will be with me? what occupations will I take on? or be involved in? With this person I will need the gift of patience; in this place, perseverence; with this occupation, the gift of gentleness, if someone is not to be unduly hurt, etc. I ask for what I see I need very simply and humbly with trust in the loving providence of Father, Son and Spirit – God-with-me.

The practice of the Examen will help foster a growing sensitivity to God, the Trinity, moment to moment at work with me and for me, and through me for others, and through others for me. My life becomes one of greater ease in ’seeking and finding God in all things’, as St Ignatius would put it.

David Keith Townsend, SJ

Sunday, 17th April 1983

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Contemplative prayer

Prayer is ears too!

help me to listen LordPrayer includes listening.

Jesus listened in prayer

Many miracles will require more time than the raising of Lazarus.

Even in Lazarus’ case, Jesus was listening to the Father when someone told him that Lazarus was sick. He waited a further two days before he headed for Lazarus home. He waited on God. He listened. Morning by morning, like a disciple, he listened to his Father.

We cry,  we listen

It is wise to listen whenever we pray for impossible situations like the salvation of a loved one, a debt, an addiction, a relationship fracture, a colleague or fellow believer who is a thorn in the flesh, a terminal illness, or a rebellious child. We make our request known. We cry out to God.Then we listen, and continue to listen even as we go about our day. God may speak to us about what we prayed for through something we read, hear or see, or even touch. He could simply drop an idea in our mind, or move us to feel, or steel our will to take a certain path.

Respond to God’s invitation. And pray again with faith………….and listen.

Many miracles unfold stage by stage.

Prayer is ears too. Not just mouth.

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Contemplative prayer

Escape to Tioman

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Off the east coast of peninsula Malaysia, are several beautiful islands, the largest of which is Pulau Tioman. I was blessed to be hosted by Roland Ng, and my daughter accompanied me on this escape from  Singapore. Sorry, did I make it sound like Singapore is a penal colony. The long weekend was a continuation of my vacation of lounging at home, wherever that happens to be:  sleeping, eating, idling, reading, watching, strolling,  reflecting, chatting and journaling.

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Roland had a few of his friends around, other owners of apartments in the Berjaya condotel: Eng Lock(whom my daughter observed a resemblance to Lee Kun Yew) and his brother James; Ron (ex SJI boy who remarkably still meets up with his classmates once a month), and Alan.

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It was a joy to be with my daughter, Elaine. In the bus, on the beach, in the apartment, eating or talking or just being there. One evening   we conversed and walked down the whole 1.5km stretch of fine sand and surf to the restaurant just outside the gate of the resort where we had dinner. Come to think of it, it was good to get closer with my daughter, who has grown up more quickly than I wished, as in a matter of time we may not see her so often.

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The men went out on a boat to fish in the evening and returned at nine with fresh fish which Alan and Roland cooked and we had fish and rice, not fish and chips. We had so much fresh fish for two nights, I wonder if the Lord is trying to tell me something.

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The apartment we stayed in had a beautiful view of the sea and a tiny island. Alan, a real estate friend of Roland said it was better than the $4 million view of SC Global’s Sentosa apartments. I liked just looking out that balcony, standing and gazing, or sitting there with a cup of hot tea, eye on the distant horizon or sky or sea, hearing the sound of the rolling waves dashing against the rocks below, and feel the energetic and playful  breeze caress and massage me. I took in the sights and sounds and savoured it all greedily. Cool sea breeze, an enchanting view, and a good book was all I needed to feel relaxed.