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.”

 

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)

Falling in love with Jesus

I feel very privileged and grateful. This camino experience had been made possible because my leadership wanted my sabbatical to be in the last quarter, and Lance Ng my spiritual director invited me to this spiritual exercise cum pilgrimage. I originally had signed up for an Olleh Kyushu hike but had to withdraw from it in order to give this priority. I received a kind of additional divine confirmation that I made a good choice to do this.

Gathering in front of the Basalica of Loyola
My retreat room for two nights

The sabbatical graces that I have been asking of God are threefold: 1) to have good physical and soul rest, 2) to be present and attentive to life-giving and delightful things, 3) to fall more deeply in love with Jesus.

Interestingly, in the notes handed to us, I read this insightful saying of Arrupe, a prominent leader of the Jesuits. It filled me with joy and amazement! I took a picture so its in my phone and I can reflect on it more.

Saying of Arrupe in notes given for the Camino Ignaciano

It expresses my desire during this sabbatical. I ask the Lord to light a fire of love for Jesus in my soul. This is what I desire and pray for.

It will decide everything.

Relish and rest

Today I felt happy taking a long leisurely morning walking by the sea front. The smell of the sea breeze and its caress is invigorating. I savored the moment. I am in Spain. Never thought of visiting Spain, but here I am because of God’s blessing and invitation to the camino.

Beautiful bay of San Sebastian

We also walked to the old town with its charming, beautiful old buldings, churches and food streets. I saw many tapas restaurants, cafes and shops. We visited one St Vincent church but could only peep inside as I was unwilling to pay three euros to enter. However I had a reminder that I am in God’s hands.

There were many shops and restaurants but they were scattered all over
In God’s hands at St Vincent’s, San Sebastian

Another of God’s surprises was how we unkowingly stumbled into  michelin tapas restaurant and enjoyed an inexpensive late lunch.

Micelin starred tapas restaurant

We followed this up with a hike up a steep hill to where the huge statue of Jesus of the Sacred Heart stood. There I took some time to be in silence and prayed the Jesus Prayer.

Jesus of the Sacred Heart atop the peak

After the walk back to the apartment I was tired and had a few hours siesta. I needed this so much. More siestas please!

 

Beautiful apartment at San Sebastian

We landed in Barcelona in the morning and after breakfast eight of us drove in two cars for about 8 hours to San Sebastian in Spain’s northeastern shores, stopping for a tapas lunch midway through.

There we would stay for two nights before we head down to Loyola where we begin our Camino Ignaciano.

The aparment looked old from the outside, but is well renovated and spacious inside.

The airbnb apartment had four bedrooms and a gorgeous seafront. We had our breakfast the next morning to the sound of waves rushing to the shore, and the smell of the sea wafted into our breakfast experience. Very refreshing.

Lance (spiritual director), Kae, Jenny and I.

Thankful for blessings of a pleasant and safe flight and car ride and fellowship with wonderful people who love the Lord.

Sabbatical tiredness and struggles

church bulletin

It should not be surprising that I am slow to realise how physically tired I really am. After all, this is the third time in 39 years of pastoral ministry that I am having a sabbatical. This first was for three months. The second was six months. I remembered how in that second sabbatical it took me about a month to get into a rhythm of rest and play and pray and be fully rested.

Now I am on the threshold of my third sabbatical of three months. I have been clearing my leave before my sabbatical officially begins on 1 October.

It is dawning on me that I don’t have to do anything, that my schedule is no longer dictated by ministry routines, demands and expectations. I must admit it to be rather awkward, but pleasant.

I must also admit that trying to rest my body is a struggle. I become aware I am tired, so I lie in bed in the afternoon but cannot sleep. I keep resisting sleep, surfing Carousell for a bargain hybrid bike I do not really need, and scanning mostly negative news about Arsenal football club, and watching Netflix movies.

This is made worse by the haze outside. I am an outdoors person. To stay indoors is to rot. I would prefer to cycle or hike. But I have no choice. Fortunately, I have an aquarium (I built for my grandkids) to maintain.

I have been listening to Tom Wright’s YouTube video lectures and find them brilliant and thought-provoking. Find myself drawn to theological reflection. I have also been waiting on God in silence…actually more of trying to slow down in his presence.

Yesterday, I visited Bukit Batok Presbyterian Church’s Sunday service. I have some Swiss Cottage secondary school classmates who attend that church and I wanted to catch up with them. So we had breakfast at 9.45am before the service started at 10.30am. Then after the service ended at about 12.15pm we went for a long, long lunch – about 4 hours!! It was a good thing that parking was free on Sunday.

Almost two months into the sabbatical

trekking the Bukit Timah hillListening to my body

Almost two months have passed. Physically, I have rested well. This April and May has been months when I listened closely to my body. Whenever I felt tired, I laid in bed and napped or slept. Most mornings I do not force myself to wake up. So it has been usually 8.30am or 9am when I have my breakfast. They say this is the best way to know how much sleep you need. My tentative conclusion is that I need about 8-9 hours of sleep each day.

Though I began with walking and jogging at the Chinese Garden, my preferred form of exercise and recreation is still trekking. So I have revived my Saturday trek with friends, and above that, during the weekdays I try to trek once or twice at Bukit Timah Hill or MacRitchie.  Such treks are gentle on the knees and on the heart. The air is great and the forest sounds and sights perk me up. Over the several weeks, I have been gradually trimming down and firming up.

Outside enrichment

The AGST MTh(Ed) modules were fun and the subjects and readings, lectures and interactions have been fruitful learning experiences for me. Forcing myself to research, reflect and write my papers have also been pleasantly smooth riding, despite my early anxiety.

Helping out as a facilitator once a month with the Focused Leaders Network (Church Resource Ministry Singapore) together with James Creasman, Bishop Moses Tay, and Rev. Walter Lim has been enjoyable. This is a platform for me to journey with pastors, in this instance, pastors from the Foursquare denomination in Singapore.

Spiritual refreshment

More time also meant more time for meditation, reading, reflection, prayer and journaling, and listening to sermons with my wife, mostly Paul White and Andrew Wommack. This last month I have been slowly nourishing my soul on Psalms 42 and taking time to pour out my heart or be quiet before Him.

Visiting churches as a layman is so nice, so nice. To be free from having to preach or minister and to fuss over program or people problems is like one prolonged sigh of relief. It was plain good, a cosy and relaxing change. It was pure indulgence: like peering into the horizon with sunglasses, and sipping watermelon juice at a beach, as white clouds quietly tiptoed by. And then being able to indulge my spiritual palate in different church services and sermons, like a wandering charismatic, has become a prolonged epicurean feast I hope I do not become addicted to.

Anxiety squashed by word

Even as the days passed, colourful as they were, with a Kuala Lumpur jaunt and a chest thumping week of witnessing the Singapore election, anxiety about whether the days were productively spent bugged me for a while. For a Singaporean, even resting and restoration is an objective to strain for. So as the days passed quickly you wondered if God will get everything done that I wanted Him to get done in me. Mercifully, some peace prevailed after the Lord gave me a status update, “Enjoy each day as a gift and trust Me to accomplish in you all that needs to be accomplished by the end of the sabbatical”. That is so assuring and going forward, I will rest on that word.

Google reader

Recently, I have also learned how to use the Google Reader. Transferred all the blogs and websites I usually read from my blogroll and Favourites and moved them all there for efficient access and pleasure. This has been available for some time, but I am usually a late adopter when it comes to such things. I am still not on Twitter.