Diary of a silent retreat 4

Thursday, 18th November:

squirrel just a stone's throw away

Squirrels- bushy tailed ones. There seemed to be several families, including little tots, sliding, waltzing and jetting rapidly without brakes nor care from branch to branch and tree to tree. They were amazing to watch. I found it so relaxing to just sit at the balcony and be entertained by their delightful dances in the trees.
 

Today I looked through the whole gospel of Luke and picked up the emotions of Jesus. His frustration, anger, sadness, tears, sorrow, rejoicing, happiness, rebuke, and distress. I thought David told me to relax but he directed me to do something that required a few hours scan through the gospel.

Obedience yielded treasures,  I found out.

Friday, 19th November:

birthday energizersMy birthday. Fifty five, and since 5 is the number of grace, I am expecting grace upon grace this year. The church members quietly wished me well. There were eight from WRPF including Simon and Rinda.The Shins and the Chongs gave me some energizing stuff to make this day celebrated away from home a comfort and a wee special. Others, who found out later gave me some well wishes on notes and candy.

Entered into the gospel story of the man with the withered hand healed by Jesus in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus was very angry. Englightening time.

sharper than a two edged sword- his word

As I celebrated the final communion, I enjoyed feeding on Christ – His body and blood. What a beautiful mystery – this fellowship meal with the Triune God.  Hidden nutrition.

Saturday, 20th November:

early morning meditation before silence is broken

a return to reckless childlike abandon and joybefore silence is broken

Six days of complete silence ceased at breakfast. I’ve been hearing mini-explosions from firecrackers fired two nights before a festival called Loi Krathrong. At breakfast, there were explosions of joy, and laughter and conversations. The retreat concluded with sessions where they summarized and shared and each one were prayed for in the afternoon.

After saying thanks and goodbye to David, my morning was spent going deeper into the story and exploring further what insights the Lord had for me from the story. By afternoon, I was done and concluded my retreat by myself in praise and song.

the men garlanded with the "fragrance of Christ" at bft

Jenny n Irene

retreat celebration at Tsunami

The evening was a celebration at Tsunami. The pastors were all honoured and well cared for with a Japanese meal. As we headed to the Night Bazaar, we found ourselves caught in this jam along the river.

sunny and annie

hot air lanterns launched

As it turned out, the local folks were celebrating Loi Krathrong, a festival where they released decorated boats or 4 feet tall lanterns with light into the river or sky, to symbolize the release of bad luck, sin, sorrow or wishes, prayers and dreams. Firecrackers exploded and the night sky occasionally lighted up with fireworks. Hundreds of lighted lanterns slowly and silently rising up, drifting with the winds and the lights disappearing from sight made the night festive and nostalgic.

I felt like a newly serviced car, a computer that just went through a lengthy de-fragmentation process. A lantern just lighted up. A heart of flesh. Freshened. Enlightened. Encouraged.

the retreatants and sds

(Standing: Francis, Lee Hong, Siew Gin, Kenny, Theresa, Lisa, Irene, Deena, Ethel, Simon. Stooping: Sunny, John, Lye, Bernie, Jenny, Annie, Wendy, Rinda.)

Further information about retreats of different kinds conducted by Simon and Rinda Tan are available through their ministry Listening Inn.

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.

“Spirituality” and “Intimacy with God”: screwed up?

eugene petersenWhat is the most misunderstood aspect of spirituality?

That it’s a kind of specialized form of being a Christian, that you have to have some kind of in. It’s elitist. Many people are attracted to it for the wrong reasons. Others are put off by it: I’m not spiritual. I like to go to football games or parties or pursue my career. In fact, I try to avoid the word.

Many people assume that spirituality is about becoming emotionally intimate with God.

That’s a naïve view of spirituality. What we’re talking about is the Christian life. It’s following Jesus. Spirituality is no different from what we’ve been doing for two thousand years just by going to church and receiving the sacraments, being baptized, learning to pray, and reading Scriptures rightly. It’s just ordinary stuff.

This promise of intimacy is both right and wrong. There is an intimacy with God, but it’s like any other intimacy; it’s part of the fabric of your life. In marriage you don’t feel intimate most of the time. Nor with a friend. Intimacy isn’t primarily a mystical emotion. It’s a way of life, a life of openness, honesty, a certain transparency.

Doesn’t the mystical tradition suggest otherwise?

One of my favorite stories is of Teresa of Avila. She’s sitting in the kitchen with a roasted chicken. And she’s got it with both hands, and she’s gnawing on it, just devouring this chicken. One of the nuns comes in shocked that she’s doing this, behaving this way. She said, “When I eat chicken, I eat chicken; when I pray, I pray.”

If you read the saints, they’re pretty ordinary people. There are moments of rapture and ecstasy, but once every 10 years. And even then it’s a surprise to them. They didn’t do anything. We’ve got to disabuse people of these illusions of what the Christian life is. It’s a wonderful life, but it’s not wonderful in the way a lot of people want it to be.

Yet evangelicals rightly tell people they can have a “personal relationship with God.” That suggests a certain type of spiritual intimacy.

All these words get so screwed up in our society. If intimacy means being open and honest and authentic, so I don’t have veils, or I don’t have to be defensive or in denial of who I am, that’s wonderful. But in our culture, intimacy usually has sexual connotations, with some kind of completion. So I want intimacy because I want more out of life. Very seldom does it have the sense of sacrifice or giving or being vulnerable. Those are two different ways of being intimate. And in our American vocabulary intimacy usually has to do with getting something from the other. That just screws the whole thing up.

It’s very dangerous to use the language of the culture to interpret the gospel. Our vocabulary has to be chastened and tested by revelation, by the Scriptures. We’ve got a pretty good vocabulary and syntax, and we’d better start paying attention to it because the way we grab words here and there to appeal to unbelievers is not very good.

Looks like Eugene Peterson, pastor and lecturer, and famous author of Bible paraphrase “The Message” and other notable books, is passionate when talking about how the church’s language has been held captivity by the culture it finds itself in. He has even more to say in the full interview with him done by Mark Galli for Christianity Today(30th June 2010) titled, “Spirituality for all the Wrong Reasons”

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.

A slow down at Bukit Timah hill

 

Out of decay of hurry can come new life

hurried living cuts us off from His life

On Monday, a friend told me that we need to learn to be fully present and learn to savor life. Singapore is all rush and no hush. We do not savor our food; we gulp it down. The same with people. We are  not fully present with them. Our minds wander. We think we know what they want to say before they have finished. We are even assessing various solutions in our minds while nodding our heads. Children and their surprising spurts of growth and spasms of emotional turmoil are glossed over while we check on their school assignments. We are well off, yet poor. We have a high standard of living but a low quality of life.

 

This morning I decided to trek Bukit Timah hill alone and slow down and taste fully the sights and sounds of the forest. When I began walking I said to myself, “Slowly…..slowly.” Ever so often I paused to look around. When I see a good angle or the play of light on forest trees or floor, I take the mobile and shoot. I stopped at different points to drink and rest. Several times, I stood still and muttered the Lord’s prayer with heart and soul. It helped bring my frisky mind to rest. I would like to do this again…..and alone. Solitude with the Lord amongst trees and open skies heals and fills me. (put your cursor over pics and pray)

spring water for the thirst...and the brave

journeying with Christ is never without color

if love is not the greatest, then what is

Restless in Cameron Highlands

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I began my annual leave with a week’s vacation in the OMF Bungalow, nestled just off the road that passes by the Strawberry Park hotel in the Cameron Highlands. This was not the first time I had stayed in this bungalow run for weary missionaries and pastors by the Overseas Missionary Fellowship. I had used it for prayer, silent and staff retreats, alone and with others, and it was the first time I was there supposedly to rest. I say supposedly.

my room for six nightsTo be honest I found it a struggle to rest. I had left Singapore, but Singapore had not left me. The restless engine of mind and heart, though emptied of energy, was still running and the hood warm, for even as I settled into my room, the spirit of productivity, raised its insistent voice and demanded an answer, “What are you going to accomplish during this time of rest?” ‘Do’, ‘accomplish’, ‘achieve’, ‘goals’, ‘results’ were words that reverberated in my mind. Even vacation contorted into a task, a performance, a work with benchmarks to attain. My weak reply was, “I am here to rest, not to follow a schedule or plan. Why can’t I idle, do whatever I felt like, or just waste time, you know, just waste time and vegetate?”

As the slow lazy days passed, I realized how futile a reply it was, for into the third day and near the end of the week , I again found myself pulling the emergency handbrake to stop businesslike cost-benefit questions. Surely I am not the only Singaporean who have had to wrestle down guilt and the Protestant work ethic during a vacation. Time is precious, and we are to maximize it even on vacation! So Singaporeans cram as much activity as possible into their already packed plans. I was determined to rebel; I wanted to do whatever I please and let spontaneity reign. And so I did, or at least tried to do.

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I slept whenever I felt like it, and it was more than usual. I read stuff on design, storytelling, manhood, and started on a novel, The Shack, providentially given by James Tan, another pastor from Singapore who was there with his wife, Kim Eng. I picked up a book titled Travel Mercies from the OMF Reading Room and sauntered through its pages over two cold evenings. I napped on most afternoons. I finished two Japanese TV serials on DVD, Kurosagi, a manga-adapted character who is a swindler of swindlers in eleven predictable plots; and Arifureta Kisaki, a slow-cooker of a love drama about secrets and openness, solidarity and community. I also squeezed in the riveting Frost/Nixon movie, a gem by Ron Howard. I feasted on the mountain views, and sat out in the spacious garden, to stroll, reflect, read, idle, pray and journal. I listened to Kevin Kern, Rod Stewart, Norah Jones and worship instrumentals. I enjoyed two inspiring messages of Bill Johnson.

Robinson's Fallstrekking at track 5

On a Sunday morning, we went down to Tanah Rata, and spontaneously took a three hours detour to view the Robinson Falls and trek farther into the forest, till tiredness and good sense bid us to return without completing the route. Good sense because one of us was Malaysian front page news thirty years ago when he got lost while trekking in the forest with a missionary family, and was found by orang asli, after soldiers and Gurkhas failed to find them. We then returned to the Bungalow for lunch without even walking the main street of probably the most touristy of the Cameron hamlets.

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My red letter moments were many. There were no burning bushes of audible voice nor great wonder. But there were those moments when my heart burned with his loving thoughts, and I just knew the Lord was planting faith in my heart. These happened in conversations with my new acquaintances and friends. Certain insights, phrases, testimonies that were shared, were divinely alighted with the Father’s loving touch.

dining areaI was game and went along with pastor James on a low-salt, low-oil menu and surprisingly I cruised along without regret or withdrawal symptoms, largely because of the life-giving and interesting conversations over fresh vegetables and steaming hot coffee and crunchy home-baked cookies, and good company, which included, Rod Lam, a South African OMF missionary based in Hong Kong. Our meals often stretched into two, three hours affairs and we ranged from missions, living by faith, pastoring, spirituality, and theology to African coffee and cookie cornerpolitics, psychology, culture, books, counselling, health, dying well and family. I was also blessed by the visit of a church friend, Chua, who is an oil palm smallholder in Gua Musang, a growing town in the heart of Kelantan, where Nik Aziz the PAS spiritual leader resides. He drove about two hours and stayed two nights in Tanah Rata and we had many hours of faith-inspiring sharing of what God is doing in our lives, families and churches. It was in conversations like what we had that the Lord underlined certain insights and thoughts for further reflection and listening. Like the confirmation of what God had been saying to me through a providential conversation with Therese, the owner of The Lord’s Cafe at Tanah Rata. Its a spirituality of community: the Lord came alongside, like he did with the two on the road to Emmaus, and used something said to burn my heart with holy faith.

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The still and quiet times beside “still waters” when I listened to the Father’s song over me were unforgettable. To have seen how he saw me in His love was very affirming and liberating. He used a huge tree in the large compound to show me how he viewed me. Even more than Jesus, I needed to hear the Father’s song again and again all throughout my life journey,”You are my son, whom I love, and with whom I am well pleased.” It was a song of comfort, freedom, affirmation, passion and grace.

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Am I more rested now? I suppose so.

However my sense is that I probably need a sabbatical, not just a vacation. 🙂