The camino led us through shop streets and apartments. People have yet awakened. We began our walk at 7.30am in silence after a meditation on scriptures that evokes awareness of sins, but from God’s eyes of love.
We walked past factories, past offices, markets, onto a railway track converted to new uses. Some locals cycled past, some jogged and most were brisk walking. We were immersed in forests and meadows, the tunnels and factories and farms, the bridges and streams, the darkness and sunshine, the birdsong and hum of machines. These comprised the sanctuary in which we pondered over our life’s journey, over scriptures and what we have been moved by thus far as we walked. And all this in silence and peace.
I was pondering over a scripture from Psalms 51, “let the bones you have crushed dance”. My bones have been crushed on the altar of ministry and his promise to me is a redemptive dance and rejoicing, something I have experienced, and still do today, and will in future. He never fails.
It ended up being a 5 hours walk covering 19km, before the bus picked us up and brought us to a charming, rustic, beautiful, family farm home converted into a hotel catering to pilgrims. Gorgeous rooms, dining areas, great food and family hospitality.
The evening ended with eucharist, a siesta, dinner and a session titled, “Loved Sinner” to prepare us for the next day’s walk.
I had been preparing the messages and workshops for a Methodist church retreat in June. It is a preached retreat to introduce fervent evangelicals to a few spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation. The topics include Slowing down, Silence, The six stages of the life of faith, Journey through he wall, The review of the day (examen), Devotional reading (lectio divina). I was preparing the talks, the Powerpoint and collecting material. Then I chanced upon this beautiful poem in Chee Soo Lian’s Facebook entry. As is often the case, the Lord has his way of bringing suitable materials to help me teach. This is a poem by Pablo Neruda, Nobel prize winning poet and writer. In one of the sessions in the preached retreat I will lead the people into a great silence or grand silence – a lengthy period of keeping quiet usually practised in the monastery. Imagine young people doing this! I will use this poem as a summons to launch the grand silence.
by Pablo Neruda
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
Singaporeans walk faster than any other people in the world, this data from a study of 32 cities of the world done in 2007. Next in rank is Copenhagen, Madrid, and Guangzhou. Compared to a similar study done in the 1990s, Singaporeans speed increased by 30%. This reflects the hurry and pressure of the day. It points to a physical and social health that needs to be monitored with concern. Christians are not exempted from this. We live in a social system that traps us with patterns of behaviour that is difficult for us to extricate from.
As Christians we can make a difference. We have Christ who dwells in us who is greater than the world outside. We can start by realizing our hurrying does not achieve the purposes of God. Jesus was busy but was never hurried. He lived in another realm called shalom. He abided in an awareness of God and the divine activity around him.
We can imitate Jesus and learn to press the pause button in our daily life: a pause pregnant with silence and a fresh awareness of God’s presence. Be still and silent for two or more minutes at some points in the day. Breathe deeply and slowly and be aware of His loving presence. Imagine Christ smiling before you. Slow down to the rhythms of God’s grace.
Do this as a fun experiment for a start and see if it heals you of the pandemic called hurry.