I was caught in a roadblock on Sunday (see my Instagram). At first I thought it was an accident or some roadworks ahead but the wait was so long and drivers started coming out of their cars and so did I. Later we found out that President Kim Jong Un and a large security entourage with many traffic policemen in escort was passing by on the way to the St Regis Hotel in Orchard Road. I think it was at least 30 minutes from the start to the time we were cleared and the traffic flowed smoothly and quickly.
The historic summit between President Kim and President Trump will be held tomorrow at a hotel in Sentosa. Two powerful but unpredictable leaders meet with hopes of denuclearisation of North Korea, and a cash injection of American dollars to bring economic aid to a nearly broke country.
I feel far removed from all the concerns of US security and North Korean poverty. I am sceptical of any deal made for the North Koreans have a track record of renegading on agreements. Yet I cannot help but pray that some good will come out of the summit, and pray with hope I will. My hope is President Kim will open up the country to direct foreign investment in its economy, which will alleviate poverty, and bring modernity as well as the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ. My prayer is for the Spirit that broke down the bamboo and iron curtains to break down this last fortress of isolation and let God’s people go in to serve and bless the North Korean people.
This simple message was preached at New Horizon Church. It expresses my conviction about the great need for a more contemplative approach to prayer in the church. If we want to live a life that pleases God, we need to learn to silence the inner noise and listen to God. We need to learn spiritual discernment. This contemplative spirituality is akin to the old Pentecostal tradition of waiting on God. We Pentecostals should not be overly cautious about wading into the waters of contemplative spirituality.
It had been six years since I last had my silent retreat at Seven Fountains Spirituality Centre under Fr David Townsend. Church friends who have gone there recently have told me of changes in the center, as well as outside. Like the newly tarred roads and new animal residents in the center; the gentrification of the surrounding areas; the barring of Chiangmai University and its lake to outsiders; and the new shopping malls and cafes that have opened.
Eng Hwa, a pastor from Praise Evangelical Free Church kindly did all the bookings. The week we wanted was fully booked. We asked if there were available dates earlier or later and praise be to God we took the five days available the week before. We also booked a hotel room nearby for a few days, so we could extend our prayer retreat, as we were graciously permitted to use the retreat facilities and grounds, during the extended stay outside the center. Both of us were assigned a local Thai spiritual director, a Fr Saichon. When the dates were finalised we booked the Scoot tickets at SGD$233 each.
We arrived at the center around one plus on a hot afternoon and after settling in our rooms went out to look for food at the BOAT restaurant. During the light leisurely late lunch we decided to start silence from dinner onwards. After unpacking, I needed a bath and a nap. It had been a long day.
The next day spiritual director saw me and he got to know my background and experience in prayer retreats. Then he handed me the prayer and meditation for the day. I was asked to do a “faith history” for the first day, and on the second and third day, a “vocational history” with several passages of scripture each. Over the several days I set aside time to pause, pray and ponder, and allow the Lord to lay on my heart what He had for me. I had no major decisions to make nor much processing to do, so I was more relaxed and open. Suffice it to say that at the end of the retreat, I felt very grateful, enlightened, reassured, strengthened, and left the retreat with a sense of assurance, anticipation and excitement about what laid ahead for me.
I had to tackle some emergency work from the church though. The retreat center does not allow for retreatants to use the wireless (though they have wireless equipment installed). So I had to retreat to a Art Cafe nearby, buy a cup of coffee for 60-80 Thai baht to access free wireless to complete two pieces of urgent work. Thank God this did not affect the rhythm of the retreat.
The Art Cafe is a unique cafe. It looked like a glasshouse and it housed the owner’s pet merbuk, a lovely songbird. Initially I was taken aback but later I got used to this energetic friendly bird.
I was glad that the local Jesuit priest was my spiritual director. It is good that Asian spiritual directors have been trained so that there is less dependency on the Caucasian priests. We have this bias that prefer the Caucasian as we think they are superior. I think we need to break that mentality, and learn to trust the Lord to use the locals to give good direction. How else can they improve unless they have more and more experience? I was blessed by Fr Saichon and I could sense the Lord was using him to direct my meditation and prayer times. “Some trust in horses and some in chariots, but we will trust in the Lord”. Praise God.
I could not sleep well the first night due to an overdose of caffeine. So the next day it was only one cup a day and an hour of brisk walking in the evening at the park at the Chiangmai University entrance. All apprehension about not being allowed into the university disappeared, and so I got bolder and went farther to the Angkaew lake. No security officer stopped me. The lake was such a peaceful place for exercise and relaxation.
After the retreat we moved to the BED hotel and spent mornings in prayer at the retreat center and the afternoons and evenings in long walks, and having our meals at the Maya Shopping Mall about 15 minutes walk away. We caught some movies too: “Walk With Me” a documentary about mindfulness; “Kingsmen” – an action comedy that ends up being good at neither; and “American Assassin” that feels as fast-moving and exciting as Bourne Identity. I saw more movies at Maya Mall in those few days than in two years in Singapore. I returned home refreshed, recharged and reassured.