Friday, June 30, 2006
Miss Shanti's gift to me and Li-Shia, for winning the essay competition and clearing the prelims respectively. I'm holding the draft and completed essay, and Li-Shia's holding the Tanah Pusaka score which I transcribed. Thank God for all the music theory classes!
This morning at quiet time, I was led to a famous passage in 2 Corinthians by Petra's song 'Life as We Know It'.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
--2 Corinthians 4:7-10 (NIV)
And as I read it, a thought came to me. Perhaps my 'better' essays didn't win, in order that a weaker essay may reveal the power of God, and prevent me from taking pride in an essay of which I have a high opinion. I suppose a writer must never let his writing get to his head. I am reminded also of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians, which Mum quoted to me when the team won the State Debate two years ago:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain...
--1 Corinthians 15:10 (NKJV)
A conversation with a friend echoed in my head even after I returned from school. I took a sheet of paper from my stack of spare photocopied Donut Man lyrics, and wrote this:
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus [Romans 8:1]. But we tend to forget that this freedom also compels us not to condemn others. "Judge not, lest ye be judged" and "Forgive us as we forgive others" [Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in the 5th and 6th chapters of Matthew's Gospel].
John 8:1-11 paints a picture that we must not forget: only God has the right to condemn. And just as Lewis wrote that 'God will do all the excusing' [in his essay, 'Forgiveness'], we can say that He will also do all the real condemning. And His punishment will be far more severe than anything we can imagine; even hell itself fears God.
But on the other hand, let us not be resentful. In the story of the Prodigal Son [Luke 15], we are in danger of being like the older brother. Unlike the situation of John 8:1-11, in which Jesus reminds us of our own flaws, the brother is here depicted as having none. So it is that even if we are 'sinless', we ought not to question the grace of God, which he offers even to the 'swine' of the earth. The dying thief experienced this [Luke 23:39-43].
None of us are perfect, but perfection is what God calls us to. Philippians 1:6 echoes the words of creation [in Genesis]: "And He made man in His image." We will someday be made perfect, but until that day, His grace is sufficient, and Jesus Christ is our helper and friend (Philippians 4:13).
Psalm 121 reminds us that our help comes from God. For only with God's help can we bless those who curse us, and turn the other cheek when one is slapped [further teachings of Jesus found in the Gospels], and (as Jesus did) forgive others even when they hurt us [Luke 23:34]. For that is what forgiveness is about -- seeing the sin in all its ugliness, and yet letting the sinner go.
At the end of this day, I recall a song I listened to this morning, also by Petra.
Till Everything I Do
I could never hide away in a place that You won't see
Caught between the way I am and the way I want to be
You can take away the mask that hides the man inside
You illuminate the ways of darkness I denied
And even though You see
You keep on lifting me...
Till everything I do I do for You
Through every test of faith You take me through
Till every path I take is straight and true
Till everything I do I do for You
One by one You chip away at the edges of my heart
Till You see the hardness and the willfulness depart
You let me see my pride
Then pull me to Your side...
Though I grow closer to the image You intend for me
I won't be all I'm meant to be
Till face to face I see
It was inspired by Colossians, in which Paul writes:
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
I suppose many things in life will be difficult, not the least of which are our relationships with various people. But we must not forget that every step we take either leads us closer to, or further from, the image of God, and we are slowly becoming the people we will remain for eternity. As such, life is like a practice session; it's alright to make mistakes, but we should pick ourselves up and move on in pursuing God's righteousness, which is His best for us.
Six months into the year, and already so many of my relationships are tangled: not that they're all bad, just... complicated, I suppose.
Yesterday's poem from the Poetry Speaks Calendar reminds me very much of Li-Shia and myself. It's full of words that could describe us... ;-)
By Elizabeth Spires
The sundrenched beetle with a rainbow on its back
splayed and luxuriating on the wide white petal--
is that what our life could be?
Us, arms outstretched, prone
and petaled on a pillowed world?
Starved and drowning, I kneel to gather
White petals the wind has scattered.
Miss Perfume, I've said it once and I'll say it again (and again if necessary!): I still believe in you. Friends will say to one other, "Some journeys can, and sometimes must, be undertaken alone; for everything else, we have each other." So much of you inspires me. I just hope I can do the same for you.
I've just begun Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down. Trying to explore 'conversational fiction' to see if this technique can be used for the MPH Essay-Writing competition in July. It's been a long time since I wrote fiction/narrative; the last was in Form 4, the year I wrote 'The Bonang', which was then shortlisted for the IMPAC-Dublin Literary Award.
Then there's also the VEB Essay-Writing competition. Tinesh suggested I write something on my years in the V.I. Sounds good; the only challenge is that I'll have to condense seven years into some four or five pages (to make space for other pieces in the magazine), unless Denise is serious about offering me a minimum of 10.
Well it's some five minutes to the first World Cup Quarter-Finals match. Germany vs. Argentina... wait for me!
Thursday, June 29, 2006
The First Day
By Christina Rossetti
I wish I could remember the first day,
First hour, first moment of your meeting me,
If bright or dim the season, it might be
Summer or Winter for aught I can say.
So unrecorded did it slip away,
So blind was I to see and foresee,
So dull to mark the budding of my tree
That would not blossom yet for many a May.
If only I could recollect it, such
A day of days! I let it come and go
As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;
It seemed to mean so little, meant so much;
If only now I could recall that touch,
First touch of hand in hand--Did one but know!
The choir emerged among the top five schools in the State Prelims today, which means they're moving on to the Finals in about one or two weeks' time. Congrats Li-Shia and company; you were all really inspirational today! Unfortunately, the walls did not crumble, nor did the ceiling cave in. Let's hope you can make amends at the Finals, heheheheh...
Also, I found out via an SMS from Eu Jin that I did well in an essay competition I took part in a few months ago. Read the story here. It's just a little ironic that I wasn't very happy with this essay, and it won. Yet my better (in my opinion) essays this year got nowhere. Oh well, beggars can't be choosers. ;-)
Monday, June 26, 2006
From the Poetry Speaks Calendar, 26 June.
"[T]he ear is a prime judge of what I've accomplished or have not accomplished. I wouldn't even know whether a poem was finished or not unless my ear told me. I think music must be in the poem somewhere. Poetry is traditionally a musical structure... people who don't hear the poems are missing a good deal, and a poet who doesn't hear his own poems is missing everything. He's got to hear his own voice saying it. It's got to come off the page."
I suppose a poet must hear his own poems because if he doesn't, he wouldn't believe in them. All poems that come from the heart--and all the best ones do--will naturally resonate with the poet. Someone who then hears such a poem will be more likely to say, "The poem spoke to me."
And in every type of art it is the same, be it music or literature or painting or sculpture or dance or drama. There is a chasm between the artist and the audience which must be bridged by a mutual resonance: only through this can an artistic experience be shared and appreciated in full.
This Thursday is the Preliminary Round of the State Choir Competition. Some thirty schools will be taking part at SMK Taman Melati, including the V.I. For the first time in six years (if I'm not mistaken), the V.I. isn't hosting the prelims. I suppose the only problem with this is that transport to Taman Melati will be tricky, as there isn't a train station near the school.
Nonetheless, I will try my very best to be there. No doubt, many schools are likely to cause me much ear damage, and if they butcher their songs, probably heart damage as well. But I look forward to the few schools (there are always a few) whose voices will take me to a faraway place, where man touches eternity, where words echo long after they're spoken, where spirits of heaven and earth are one.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
The past week has been very eventful, and it seems the Great God Experiment is giving way to God himself. This is one entry I don't know how to begin, simply because so many thoughts are going through my head.
I think I'll divide this entry into seven sections: Fathers' Day, Pierre Dulaine, Sermon, Victorian Editorial Board (VEB), Letting Go, Moving On and Growing Up, and The Call. Some ideas may thread their way through several sections, but on the whole I think this is the most organised way to express the lessons learnt over the last seven days.
It struck me last Sunday, that someday I will carry on the legacy of my father and grandfathers. I pray that I will be as faithful in my duty as they are in theirs; not many thoughts here, but the idea of legacy got me thinking a little.
Sitting in church on Fathers' Day, a thought came to me. It goes something like this: Marriage is not about finding the 'love of my life' so much as it is a statement that I'm ready to be a father. And I realised that I can't be one until I've learnt to honour my 'fathers'.
The fifth commandment says, "Honour your father and mother." St Paul comments on it in Ephesians 6:1-3, which I quote here from The Message:
Children, do what your parents tell you. This is only right. "Honor your father and mother" is the first commandment that has a promise attached to it, namely, "so you will live well and have a long life."
'So that you will live well...' Does it sound selfish? Well, considering that Jesus Himself came to give us abundant, everlasting life, I don't think so. From the very creation of the universe, life has always been God's theme.
Honouring my father (my mother too, for that matter) involves coming to terms with my stubbornness, for indeed, I'm one heck of a stubborn nut! Yet I find that a greater challenge lies in honouring my non-biological 'fathers'. In primary school, the teachers used to call themselves the students' 'parents' in school. Which is quite true; teachers looked after us as their own children.
In the V.I., I grew disillusioned with the way things were run. This year, I thought of all kinds of malign ways to hurt the school admin, which is as much a useless body as anything I know. Yet this is the challenge: to honour them in spite of all the stupid things they do.
But in all I have done, I've always chosen to honour them. I have a photo of the debate team with our current principal on my piano. He was new at that time, two years ago. The State Finals was probably the first competitive event he attended as the Principal of the V.I. We won the debate, though I daresay he doesn't remember me now. No matter; I choose to honour.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells a parable of a rich man who forgives and welcomes back a totally wretched son who squandered his share of the family inheritance. The story has been called 'The Parable of the Prodigal Son', but I recall Uncle David Tan (of Phases) once saying that it was the father who was the prodigal. Mad as the son was to live in absolute hedonism, the father was even madder to treat the son like a king.
If a human told me God was like this, I would probably have laughed him in the face. But these are the words of Jesus, God incarnate. And God has always been the prodigal, giving grace to the scum of the earth, of which I am among the worst.
I watched the movie Take the Lead with Dad and Kevin yesterday. Antonio Banderas stars as Pierre Dulaine, a ballroom dancing teacher who changes the lives of a number of delinquent students in a multi-ethnic American high school by teaching them to dance with grace. It's based on a true story, and is full of great dance moves.
While the plot and dialogue were relatively thin, there's this one part where Dulaine says to the teens, "It's funny. I look around this room and all I see are choices to be made. No rejects. Maybe a punk-ass or two."
As I think of it, I find that Jesus might've said this to his disciples. I can certainly imagine the Pharisees going, "Why does your master dine with punk-asses?"
Today at church, Pastor Stanley spoke on the 'Success of the Heart', contrasting mere competence and competence seasoned with compassion. He mentioned Jeremiah 17:9-10, here quoted from the NIV:
The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
"I the LORD search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward a man according to his conduct,
according to what his deeds deserve."
God searches the heart. There is nothing we can hide from him. Pastor asked, "Are we hiding behind our roles, which often become our masks? What about those in the Bible who did not hide their imperfections, but came out to be exposed, and in so doing were able to move on? Will the real Christians please stand up?"
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
Quoting from John 3:16, he commented that God put redemption above the destruction of evil. Wouldn't life be much easier if Satan were defeated first? Yet God valued free will so much that He tied His hands by giving us the freedom of choice. God does it still, and our power is such that if we choose to say 'No' to Him, He will not force his way into our lives.
At the end of the sermon, Pastor Stanley defined integrity as a oneness of what we are, what we do, and what we believe. It is about being salt and light. He provided an illustration: imagine if the penalty for stealing five sen were the same as that for a million ringgit. Would we say, "Both ways also we get whipped. Steal a million lah!"?
God's revolution is this: that we may do the right thing, and make the right choices. I thank God for bringing me closer to this, for over the past week I have been progressively stripped of my pride, and in the coming weeks I am likely to be subjected to humiliation and shame in varying degrees. But if being broken will bring me closer to my Master, let it be so.
A few people in school, say, about three, know the whole story. I will not detail the circumstances here, but these friends of mine are reliable, and should I ever forget these events, I am sure they will ably recollect them for me.
The long and short of it is that I am no longer the Editor-in-Chief of the Victorian Editorial Board. I was dismissed from my position a week ago, on Monday. Presently, I feel very free, especially since my piano studies have also officially ended. As I mentioned in my previous entry, I'm looking for ways to fill up my time.
I do, however, have some questions for God, for I know no human can answer me at this time: "Why was I sent to the board? Why was I made an editor, and the chief at that, only to fail? Is this, along with the difficulties I faced as Editor-in-Chief of the Seladang Editorial Board two years ago, to show that I can never be a good editor, or simply preparatory steps that I may someday be one? Or is there some other reason?"
One of the most significant events in the life of David happened in 1 Samuel 24:
Saul went in [to the cave] to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave. The men said, "This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said to you, 'I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.'" Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul's robe.
Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, "The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD's anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD." With these words David rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way.
No wonder David was called a 'man after God's own heart.'
When I consider four teachers in the school, I ask myself if I would do to them as David did to Saul. If ever we end up in a situation where I have the upper hand, will I spare them or end them? As Li-Shia was my witness last night, I swear I will not raise my hand against the anointed of the Lord, even if they are as corrupt as Saul.
I used to think I understood forgiveness. Miss Shanti thinks of me as a very forgiving person. But lately I am beginning to see that I seem forgiving only because I never had a chance to take revenge. But the measure of a man is tested when he is given every opportunity to disobey and get away with it, yet chooses obedience. I pray that God will give me the grace and strength to forgive whenever it is required of me.
And here I shall say, in the presence of the witnesses who read this, that I now forgive four teachers for all they have done against me: Tn Hj Khailani Abdul Jalil (Principal), En Othman Abdul Samad (Senior Assistant, Student Affairs), Tn Hj Nik Anuay Abdullah (Senior Assistant, Co-Curricular) and Pn Vasantha Mallar (Guru Cemerlang and V.E.B. Advisor).
The Lord forbid that I should do evil to my teachers. I let go. With all that is in me, and the strength God gives me, I am now letting go. I forgive all of you.
Moving On and Growing Up
It has been said (in some way related to James Bond, I think) that the first time is happenstance; the second, coincidence; and the third, enemy action. So what if there are four signs?
Number one: There was baby dedication during service this morning. Somehow it struck the father chord within me.
Number two: Last night, Li-Shia and I talked about growing up and becoming adults. What a scary thought!
Number three: Denise mentioned on her blog, that the V.I. is where boys become men.
Number four: The FES Marriage Conspiracy is materialising even more with every passing moment.
Bottom-line: we're growing up and I'm turning 20 in a year! The worst part is, my departure from the board feels like early retirement. Is this a subtle hint that I may indeed be 57 as Denise suspects?
Yet, truly, the last thing I can do is hide from God. Peter thought he was heading for early retirement when Jesus died. Next thing he knew, Jesus was alive and cooking breakfast on the shore of Galilee. Moses thought he was heading for early retirement when he was exiled from Egypt. Next thing he knew, he was shaping Israel's history. Their lives were never the same again.
David expressed God's omnipresence in Psalm 139:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
With God, every end is a new beginning. I won't be a student and a teenager much longer, and though I know I will miss these carefree days, I look forward to what God will do with the rest of my life!
In wrapping up, I have these words to say: Congratulations on making it so far, and not giving up halfway through the entry!
The message of the NSCF Leaders' Camp last year still challenges me afresh each day. It is this: to be an apprentice of Jesus Christ. It is a straightforward call, but one which, in T.S. Eliot's words, costs no less than everything. As Jesus said in Luke 9:23-25, here quoted from the NIV:
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?"
I can still recall Uncle Jason's question: "Is it easier to die for Christ, or live for Christ?" And my answer is the same as before: to die. To be an apprentice who takes the teachings of Christ seriously is to be the most radical kind of revolutionary in the world. After all, what school of thought teaches a person to turn the other cheek, give two cloaks to the one who asks for one, and bless those who spit on you?
In that quiz I took several days ago, I scored over 90% as Batman. Yet, as much as I like Batman, I desire to be 100% Disciple more than any sort of hero. And I am so grateful to my friends who give me courage and counsel in making decisions, and to my parents who tell me the truth especially when I don't want to hear it, because that's precisely when I must hear it.
On the penultimate day of the NSCF Leaders' Camp, we were told to read and paraphrase Psalm 139. I want to make the last words of this psalm my prayer for the next few weeks or months... or until the next shift in the Great God Experiment.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
When I won the Gold Medal as the Forensics earlier this year, I recalled Eliot's words in 'Little Gidding'. To me, I ended where I began, in Extemporaneous Speaking. I attempted to extend this philosophy when I stepped down from the Editor-in-Chief post, by asking to remain a normal member of the board, that I may last days in the board may mirror my first.
But now, in being 'reduced' to a normal student, no different from those in Form 1 save for my age and experience, I find that Li-Shia is right: I am truly ending as I began. Sometimes I feel a twinge of regret, for I had hoped so much to end my secondary school days on a high note. But I am reminded of Job's words:
"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked I shall return there
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD."
--Job 1:21 (NASB)
Naked I entered into the V.I., and naked shall I depart. Nevertheless, the place where I began is not the same. When the hobbits returned to the Shire after their epic adventure, the 'ended' where they began, but it was never the same Shire, and they were never the same hobbits. Perhaps this is what Eliot meant when he said,
"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."
Blessed be the name of the Lord. Amen!
Friday, June 23, 2006
Where do I go from here, having been released from the ship, or rather, thrown overboard? Shall I swim to shore that I may escape the sharks and fatigue, or shall I explore the ocean for what it's worth, even if I die?
Valerie says the Science & Mathematics society could use some help with the Science & Maths Week and the inter-school ExxonMobil Science Quiz. She's also extended an invitation to join her and some other classmates for badminton after school once a week. Sounds tempting, although I know next to nothing about playing badminton!
Then there are the two essay competitions. I've less than a week to begin and complete the INTI College one, whose subject is the role of inter-racial friendship in bringing about peace and understanding in the nation. The second looks equally promising: a short story competition organised by MPH. Plus points include the 1,800-word limit (very generous!) and the fact that the topic echoes ideas on the relativity of time. Deadline is 31 July, and since I haven't written fiction in ages, this looks like a good time to return!
I'm beginning to wonder why God led me through some 15 years of association with Mrs Chang, my piano teacher. Does he have further plans for me, along musical lines? I'm inclined to think not, as I'm neither particularly gifted in playing the piano, nor do I have a knack for composing. The only thing I can actually do relatively well is analyse music. Indeed I am considering the theory diplomas offered by London's Trinity College, and perhaps I shall look into some scores and brush up on my music history and form.
It seems that the next few months will be no less eventful than the ones before. Regardless, I shall remember David's advice:
"By a roadway in the wilderness he leads me. Rivers in the desert will I see. [Lyrics from Don Moen's song 'God Will Make a Way'] Life without anything to do may seem like the wilderness, but it often is a time of preparation for a new thing. Use this time as such."
I also find that this poem from the Poetry Speaks Calendar, 20 June, applies itself quite effectively to where I am.
By C.P. Cavafy
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
angry Poseidon -- don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
wild Poseidon -- you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Though I walk in the wilderness, my assurance and hope is in God, and I would be wise to remember the words of Brother Lawrence:
Sufferings will be sweet and pleasant to us while we are with Him; and the greatest pleasures will be, without him, a cruel punishment to us. May He be blessed for all. Amen.
I found Philip Yancey's words in the chapter, 'Progress', in his book Disappointment with God just as enlightening and encouraging:
... the young theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer scribbled on a note in a Nazi prison camp, "Only the Suffering God can help." Because of Jesus, we have such a God. [The book of] Hebrews reports that God can now sympathise with our weaknesses. The very word expresses how it was done: "sympathy" comes from two Greek words, sym pathos, meaning "suffer with."
He goes on about the refining qualities of hardships:
A person can only learn obedience when tempted to disobey, can only learn courage when tempted to flee.
A couple of months ago, I reproduced Eamon Grennan's poem, After Rain, on this blog. In light of recent circumstances, I think it warrants another reading.
See how our big world turns tiny and upside down
in raindrops on thorns of gorse: along the lane
to the small harbour the hedges are empty of leaves
and everything has a flayed, scrubbed look, antique
and about to be new, the brusque wind flailing branches,
declaring change, a change in the weather
that must unsettle us, too, who persist inside its loops
and mazes, unable to see straight, unable to forecast
tomorrow or the day after, only able to remember
what happened: the air scenting to freshness, a sense
of calm coming down, of getting to the other side
of turbulence, of things being touched for once
to wholeness; that somehow nothing bad could happen.
In the rain today, on the pavilion, I cried out to God. After getting soaked for some 15 minutes, I made my way into the hall to watch the choir practise. Sitting on the side steps leading up to the stage, I wrote this. Ideas came in short phrases and lines, which may explain the poem's disjointedness.
Rain, fall and pour over me.
Lord, let your river cleanse and set me free.
Take my life, for I cannot go on,
Won't laugh again, or sing a new song.
But spare me if my journey's not done
And save for another day my "Welcome home."
Drown me in tears, wash me in showers,
Send holy fire; baptise me in pain
That buried I may be raised again,
Born not of man, but the Spirit's power.
Give me strength for the journey
While I'm here at your throne;
Grace for each step, and for the slips, mercy.
Remember me, O God; Father, Spirit and Son.
This morning, I learned from Li Ling the Mandarin translation of "But for the grace of God that leads me, I would have given up." Transliterated, it goes thus; "Ro pu she zhu de rong yau ling dau zhe wo, wo yeh shu hui fang qi." Well, the path of the next few months will literally take me into the heart of terra nova!
(The picture above is the view from where I sit in class, framed by the door frame. I think the tree with the pink flowers is one of the most beautiful in the school.)
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
"Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord."
--Jonathan to David
Two identical apples? No!
Do red apples from green apple trees grow?
Nay, I do not think it so.
Valerie says, "Light green and red don't match.
Under the skin, they look the same,
But taste different.
Perfect balance of raging red fire
And soothing greens of nature,
Or the favoured colours of Malays and Chinese."
Like a Gala's red, we wear our hearts on our sleeves;
Losing and finding ourselves without reprieve.
Like a scent that lingers in the room;
A symbol of health,
Or just to keep the doctor away
(Even in sickness).
Greens and reds do not from the same tree grow,
Yet an orchard may have both.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Peel away the layers. See the flesh that is not flesh,
Only sprayed to keep it fresh.
Upon the tree I lay no claim
Nor the grass or the barn or the well-worn lane,
But that I walked here once before,
Removed from my home, and wheeled to the store.
Shall I enjoy the beauty of a fleeting flower along the way:
Pulchritude gone tomorrow, only here today?
Halcyon days, teeming with more life than May,
Emerald fields fade to dark, dull grey.
Lonely hearts, each a gift of grace and light --
Fruit of the mercy of God on high.
Two identical apples know!
I began writing this poem some two weeks ago when I was inspired by the apples Soo Tian and I took home from the al-Marjan Restaurant in KLCC. I finished it today.
Various influences found their way into the poem along the way. Among these were ideas from Valerie, U2's 'Like a Song', Li-Shia's perfume, the INTI College essay competition on peace and understanding in Malaysia, the tree with pink flowers opposite the Form Six block, sunlight on a bright morning, dandelions, summer, Ireland (home of U2 and the poet William Butler Yeats), and Chinese names.
The significance of the number of lines in each stanza will be readily discernible to anyone who enumerates these: The Godhead, Akouo, the camps Soo Tian and I attended together, TMsquared, the number of reunions Soo Tian and I attended, d'NA Stage 1, the number of times a group of people travelled half of the country to visit one person.
Monday, June 19, 2006
Well, after some fourteen years, my piano lessons are over! I suppose I'll never miss scales (good riddance!), but no one else I know has spent nearly every year from Kindergarten till Upper Six with the same music teacher, and this, by far, has been the best part of all these lessons.
A chorus of cheers for Mrs Chang, a good teacher and a great friend (in the words of one of her students some years ago)! I did my Grade 8 Theory with Su Lin (pic above, right) and now we end our Practical together. So after our exam, we had lunch with Mrs Chang and Su Lin's mother. Thanks Aunty for lunch!
Looking back, this was by far my most confident performance. Perhaps Mrs Chang is right about maturity: it really does come with age. I cannot imagine enjoying preparing for Grade 8 the way I did, had I done so five years ago (according to original schedule). In fact, I stopped piano at ten, only to resume at twelve, and skipped many years of exams in between, thus delaying this final grade.
But what I have lost in time, I've gained in experience. This 'delay' has afforded me many trips to the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas to watch the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra in action, and in the last few years, I've been able to expand my musical horizons and develop a solid understanding of music theory.
In many ways, it was good that I finished Grade 8 Theory before embarking on Practical, and also good that I did theory under Trinity College rather than the ABRSM, for it was via this syllabus that I learnt so much about music history and rudiments of form.
By the way, the examiner's name is Anthony Digger, a rather elderly man with lots of experience training advanced pianists, playing the organ and leading choirs. Definitely NOT the easily satisfied sort!
On another note, I met with another end today. And no, I'm not writing this from heaven, so it's not that kind of end. ;-)
Yet as I think about it, I have only the words of Job to echo:
"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked I shall return there
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD."
While reading Philip Yancey's Disappointment with God just now (a book with a very refreshing discussion of the book of Job), I came across these words: "The real battle ended when Job refused to give up on God..." So it is that the battle between God and Satan did not end when God appeared to Job, or when Job's fortunes were restored, but when Job time and time again refused to give up on God.
Consider verses like:
Though [God should] slay me, yet will I hope in him;
I will surely defend my ways to his face.
I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
When I conveyed what had happened to my mother, she shared with me one of the insights she gained over the past few days. She learnt (from Institute in Basic Life Principles founder Bill Gothard) that sometimes God allows irritations to come our way; not calamity, but irritation. Stuff that incessantly bug us, but which can either distract us from, or drive us to, God. And she said that she realised last night that the purpose of some recent irritations was to make her seek God.
And as I consider it, I have also come to know that when God restores, he doesn't reverse time as if trouble did not happen. Rather, he leads us on to higher ground. When God gave Job more children after the whole ordeal, he did not resurrect those who had earlier died, simply because that wasn't the point. The point was that Job should see God and turn to him.
Mum reminded me of Jesus' words, as expressed in a famous song: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you." To seek God first, and let him worry about all the odds and ends of our lives. I know that God has led me into this, and he will see me through. And by 'this', I mean the entire Form Six experience. I shall not worry about tomorrow, for although I don't know what it holds, I know who holds tomorrow.
Somehow I now see Romans 8:28 (one of my all-time favourite Bible verses) in a new light:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
For a long time I struggled with the phrase 'those who love him', simply because I always had doubts about whether or not I truly love God. But now I'm beginning to understand that loving God is similar to continuously trusting and believing him. It reflects the Job experience, and perhaps it can be said that Job loved God, or else he would have given up on God long ago. For if we humans do not give up easily on those we love, how much more is it with God!
I pray that God will give me grace and strength to continue to love him, for I know I have been called according to his purpose. And I pray that I may serve him faithfully in whatever he may call me to do. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Finally, here's today's poem from the Poetry Speaks calendar. I enjoyed it very much, and it resonated with the poet/writer in me.
from "Dream On"
By James Tate
Some people go their whole lives
without ever writing a single poem.
Extraordinary people who don't hesitate
to cut somebody's heart or skull open.
They go to baseball games with the greatest of ease
and play a few rounds of golf as if it were nothing.
These same people stroll into a church
as if that were a natural part of life.
Investing money is second nature to them.
They contribute to political campaigns
that have absolutely no poetry in them
and promise none for the future.
They sit around the dinner table at night
and pretend as though nothing is missing.
Their children get caught shoplifting at the mall
and no one admits that it is poetry they are missing.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Li-Shia, here's evidence!
| You scored as Batman, the Dark Knight. As the Dark Knight of Gotham, Batman is a vigilante who deals out his own brand of justice to the criminals and corrupt of the city. He follows his own code and is often misunderstood. He has few friends or allies, but finds comfort in his cause.|
Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with QuizFarm.com
Friday, June 16, 2006
A few days ago (I can't remember exactly whether it was Tuesday or Wednesday), I scanned the book of Hebrews for the verse on 'approaching the throne of grace with confidence', and found it in the fourth chapter. Reading from my pocket New American Standard Bible, I was struck by the preceding verses, linked in groups by the word 'therefore'.
I shall first quote Hebrews 4:7-16 from the NASB (paragraphing mine).
He again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before,
"TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE,
DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS."
For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.
Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.
Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The New International Version begins the passage with:
"Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today..."
Today if we hear his voice, let us not harden our hearts. To me, it's like what C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, that the Present is the only place where we are given grace and can make decisions and choices. The Past is frozen and the Future is unknown, but our problems and circumstances impinge upon us in the Present.
Petra wrote, in their song 'Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda':
"Tomorrow is a chance that may not come
Today is still the day God gives us to see things done."
Since God has given us this gift of the Present which no power in earth, heaven or hell can take away, how are we to respond? Verses 11 to 13 indicate that we are to be diligent to enter God's rest, persevering that none should fall by disobedience.
But what is this 'rest' that we are to enter? Surely it is not that we are to sleep all day, or desire permanent rest in death. Instead, I think St Augustine gave us a hint when he said, "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee." And I think it is echoed in the life of Brother Lawrence, who found himself at all times living in the tangible presence of God.
Sometimes, this rest is peace; sometimes, it is assurance; at others, it may be conviction; at all times it involves constantly obeying God's Word and pursuing righteousness, desiring the company and presence of God.
The 'Word of God' in this passage has often been taken to refer to the Bible, but it works equally well in context when applied to Jesus Christ himself. Brian McLaren in his New Kind of Christian trilogy, again and again stresses that we will be judged, in the end, not by a set of rules or a court system, but by the character of Christ himself. The question is, how much have we been conformed to the image of Christ?
Nothing is hidden from God, and we will not be able to defend ourself against our Judge, for he already knows everything, and far more than we ever will. A human judge can only consider actions, but God pierces through to the secret thoughts and intentions of the heart, as the account of the woman at the well (John 4) shows. Thus the NIV translates verse 13:
"Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."
Would that the Christian walk were that simple! Yet these verses are a stumbling block to many (if not most or all) Christians, for we have all fallen short of the grace of God through our sin, and sometimes we even try to hide from him. This is not new, for even Adam, Eve and Cain attempted to conceal their shame. And in the account of John 8:1-11, Jesus himself told the bloodthirsty mob, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone [at the adulterous woman]." One by one the mob disbanded.
But our hope is greater than anything we can ever fear. For Jesus, who is our Judge, is also our Great High Priest, the mediator between man and God. He experienced everything we experience, from temptation and thirst to depression and drudgery; indeed, the entire plethora of human emotions are found embodied in the character of Jesus Christ, and there is no shortage of them upon the rich pages of the Gospels.
Jesus can, and does, sympathise with our weaknesses. And he intends that we share in his victory, that in our temptation we may not fall, and in our moments of weakness we shall not be crushed. Indeed, he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. So the NIV exhorts us:
"...let us hold firmly to the faith we profess."
Having considered God's calling, our rightful response and the way God has prepared for us, the passage concludes with the verse I sought in the beginning, which I now quote from The Message, along with verse 15:
"We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all —- all but the sin. So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help."
The chorus of the song 'As David Did' goes:
"We can come before Him, and worship Him today
We can now adore Him, Jesus made a way."
Maybe we've tried bringing our problems to Jesus. And maybe they didn't disappear as we thought they would. Is that any reason for not continuing to do so? For seated on the throne of grace is not a genie, but God Almighty, and it is not our duty to make sure the genie obeys, but that God is obeyed. And he asks us to bring all that we are before him: our good days as well as our bad days, our devilish side as much as our angelic side.
Indeed, as Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce, we are to make no mistake about it. There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "Thy will be done." For God will not force himself upon those who refuse to obey him, any more than the ears of the deaf pick up sound waves.
As I typed the above, I realise I have described an ideal which I am still far from achieving. Lewis said with a candid graveness in The Four Loves, that "Those like myself whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty."
Nevertheless, this entry testifies that so long as God gives me breath, I will seek him, and I will commit myself to living for Him in every area of my life, doing things His way. If I fail, I will seek His forgiveness; and if I should succeed, I will give thanks and move on. As for the penalty for my imagination, I will trust my Lord's judgement, for He is Master, not me.
To God be the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Dandelion picture taken along Jalan Stadium, between the police station and Stadium Merdeka, at the end of the third day of the Lower Six Orientation. It was drizzling when we walked there, but stopped by the time we began walking back to school. Why are third days always controversial, be it in 21st Century V.I. or 1st Century Israel?)
Sunday, June 11, 2006
"[Poetry] aims... at the reformation of the poet, as prayer does. In the grand cases -- as in our century, Yeats and Eliot -- it enables the poet gradually, again and again, to become almost another man; but something of the sort happens, on a small scale, a freeing, with the creation of every real poem."
Friday, June 09, 2006
So after a brief stopover at Tee Ming's, Soo Tian and I left PJ from the Taman Paramount LRT station. We were somewhat late, and managed to reach KLCC just in time to pick up tickets for the Contemporary Chamber Concert and get ourselves into the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas; by God's grace, the Putra (which is slow enough) did not suffer any unnecessary delays, and took an average of two minutes to travel between stations.
After the concert (at which the MPO's Principal Conductor Matthias Bamert was present), we decided to try something unusual for dinner. So we went Arabian at the al-Marjan Restaurant on the top floor. After some deliberation, we settled on the buffet, which cost us about RM40 each. Nevertheless, it was certainly money well spent as the buffet was superb!
Soo Tian tucks into lebanese bread and salad. The many yoghurt-based dips were excellent, and certainly one of the things I like most about Middle Eastern cuisine.
Soo Tian, grape cordial and main course. Lift the chalice!
Dessert was no less special. We had Earl Grey tea and some fruits and cookies, after two kinds of rice-based pudding; one was with milk, the other saffron.
All in all, a most fulfilling day. Many thanks to our kind Iranian host at al-Marjan. Perhaps we will support Iran in the World Cup!
And for the one thing I did not get to do, I have this to say: my prayers go out to you, dear Jon. Hang in there; God is merciful.
The floor has been carpeted at last (above) and Vincent just fixed the cabinets for the reading room (below).
Here's a view of the place from another angle. The food counter is on my left, the door right ahead, and the rest of the area (presently empty) hidden on the right. That's Tee Ming vacuuming in the distance.
We successfully cleaned the new fridge. Keat Lim said, "I never knew cleaning a fridge could be so difficult!" We tried at first to rinse and wipe the plastic racks in the fridge, but they still had an odd smell about them, and it simply wouldn't do for the ice trays to hold smelly ice cubes!
So Soo Tian and I went to a nearby mini-mart to get dishwashing liquid and sponges. Tee Ming taught me to clean the interior of the fridge without running water, only using a wet cloth to 'wipe' away the soap. It actually worked!
As usual, what's an encounter with Keat Lim without the customary 'enlightened' photo? ;-)
Thursday, June 08, 2006
I found out during the MPO Contemporary Chamber Concert yesterday that the pianist Liberace liked reciting this poem during his concerts.
How Do I Love Thee?
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,--I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!--and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Monday, June 05, 2006
Let your mercy cover me
Over and over
Let your river run through me
O Holy Spirit
Pour down like rain
Over and over again
Rev. Luis Cabral was yesterday's guest speaker at church. He is also speaking at the church camp in Penang this week.
If anyone embodies Pentacostalism, it is this man. Yet I have thoroughly enjoyed all of his sermons; the first time I heard him was (I think) at a Glad Tidings (GT) Christmas service (or some other event) in a hotel some years back. Then the second time was at GT Jalan Gasing. When he first came to our new premises in Section 13, I think I was sick and could not make it to church. So Mum bought the sermon VCD and one of his books for me. Yesteday was my fourth 'encounter' with Luis Cabral.
One of his signature 'phrases' is "I tell you what," which frequently pops up whenever he preaches.
He preached from Acts 8:4 onwards, but never concluded as he went off on several tangents (actually, that's one of the things I like about him; it reminds me of myself!), and the following are excerpts from my sermon notes. Apart from my comments in square brackets, the rest are generally to be read as his words.
Please pray that Portugal will win the World Cup...
Now Philip went preaching the Word... proclaiming Christ (vv. 4-5)
There was much joy in the city (v. 8). It's better than Prozac! Imagine, city-wide joy; start smiling!
Even Simon the Sorcerer believed (v. 13). If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. There is no power greater than the power of the Holy Spirit.
There is a battle for the souls of people, a conflict of powers. What will determine the outcome, is which power is greater.
Simon called himself great (Greek 'Mega'), but he was no match for the O-mega!
Americans spend 56 billion US dollars on psychic hotlines every year. There is a sense of emptiness/powerlessness that can only be filled by Jesus. ["Life without Jesus is like a donut" -- Robert C. Evans]
People ask me why I don't seem to worry. Well, I've got this peace that surpasseth understanding. Bible says God neither slumbers nor sleeps. There's no point we both stay awake, as if my peanut brain can help Jesus!
[At some point, he went off into a fit of laughter, punctuated with interjections of 'Wooh!' and 'Praise God!' rather like Pastor Donald Anamalai when he preached several months ago. Having finally recovered (after freaking out the church!), he said, "Jesus was anointed with the oil of gladness."]
I live in a country [New Zealand, but Cabral is actually Portuguese] which has the highest youth suicide rate in the world... But there's no high like the Most High, and if you want to get stoned, Jesus is the rock!
Today there are many self-help books, which tell you how to master your destiny. But that is the wrong place to search, because it's not about positive thinking or Anthony Robbins or looking within for personal power. It's about looking to God.
When the Holy Spirit comes, we will be filled with rivers of joy. I wasn't baptised in lemon juice!
As I think about Pentecost (which was yesterday), I am reminded of the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, quoted in Philip Yancey's Reaching for the Invisible God:
"Christ was himself but one and lived and died but once; but the Holy Ghost makes of every Christian another Christ, an AfterChrist; lives a million lives in every age..."
Perhaps that is what Pentecost is about. And if it is so, I am under no pressure to leave the Pentecostal faith. I was raised Pentecostal, and lived a very interdenominational teenage life because of the Christian Union in school and my involvement with SU/FES. I have, now and then, entertained thoughts of becoming an Anglican or Catholic, but lately I see no reason to remove this Pentecostal 'label.'
I don't speak in tongues, so what? I don't agree with all their doctrines, so what? I think it was during the Church History sessions at d'NA last year, when our lecturer Aunty Gaik Kim mentioned that the church has been consistent with only one thing over two thousand years: splitting.
Prior to the sermon, a friend of Cabral's (also Portuguese) performed the song 'Everytime I Pray' on the oboe. The chorus goes like this:
And everytime I pray
I move the hands of God
My prayer does the things
My hands cannot do
And everytime I pray
Mountains are removed
The paths are made straight
And nations turn to you
It was during this song that I recalled something Tee Ming always tells me: Pray, pray, pray! I was reminded then, that real friends will tell you what is right and what you ought to hear, not necessarily (and sometimes even rarely) what you want to hear. Lately I have taken the easy way out of things, but I must get back to praying, to actually talking with God.
There are many views on the Pentecost, including profound insights from C.S. Lewis in his essay, 'Transposition.' The full account can be found in Acts Chapter 2, so I need not describe it here. But I think it is important to be reminded of Jesus' words regarding this indwelling of the Holy Spirit:
He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
I know there are many who are sceptical of this 'power,' and many non-Pentecostals continue to downplay signs of the miraculous and incredible, not the least of which is the gift of speaking in tongues. In fact, even many in the Pentecostal camp are divided on this matter.
As for me, my stand is this: if God wishes to employ the unbelievable and miraculous, who's to stop him? Yes, there is danger in power, for power can corrupt; there is also danger because power can come from both good and evil sources. But are we then to say that Jesus could not have been a carpenter, because carpenters are not Messiahs? I suppose this was the gist of Lewis' arguments in 'Transposition.'
At the risk of sounding a little too self-conscious, I must say that although I enjoy Lewis' writings very much, this is ultimately my own opinion. I do not know the extent to which I have been influenced by him (which may be much greater than I realise), but I have attempted to search myself as thoroughly as I could before arriving at this place where I now stand.
Perhaps my only guide in this is Jesus Christ. The second Person of the Trinity makes the first (the Father) known to us, and operates through the third (the Holy Spirit). I am no theologian, but I have read enough of the Bible (the whole of it, and twice through) to know that Jesus Christ is the embodiment of the Almighty God (El-Shaddai) of the Old Testament, as well as the Spirit who indwells each believer from the Twelve Apostles till now.
And I don't think Jesus would make such a big fuss over denominations, let alone over churches. His message then is his message now, and maybe even more important today than ever before.
I suppose the long and short of it is this: I'm proud to be called a Pentecostal. Never mind what people say. It is not the so-called defining signs of Pentecostalism that make me a Pentecostal, but my desire to be made an 'AfterChrist': to have the power of the Holy Spirit that I may be an effective witness for Jesus.
How shall I translate that? I want to be more and more like Jesus, to be an apprentice of the Maestro, to synchronise my heartbeat with the heartbeat of God, to play music that will cause others to listen. But I pray that I may never play so badly as to dishonour my Lord, but also never so well that I forget my position as merely an apprentice.
"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)
The truth is probably that it is this desire that unites Christians of all denominations, despite the outward appearances and practices that often distract us from our Master. I find myself agreeing with Bono when he said, "I don't see denomination. I feel equally at home at the back of a large, dark cathedral as I do under the bright lights of a revival tent."
And if we ever ask our Master, or if any dissension should ever arise, his answer will probably be the same as the one he gave his forerunner, John the Baptist:
The blind see,
The lame walk,
Lepers are cleansed,
The deaf hear,
The dead are raised,
The wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side.
--Matthew 11:4-6 (The Message)
In recalling the events that led to his AIDS and Africa activism, Bono said, "[Someone] once told me: don't ask God to bless what you're doing. Find out what God's doing, and do it, for it is already blessed."
What is the Messiah doing? What music is the Maestro making? For that I wish to be doing also.
Before his performance, Cabral's friend quoted Psalm 118:23. The entire psalm is worth reading, and I daresay, remembering.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Let Israel say:
"His love endures forever."
Let the house of Aaron say:
"His love endures forever."
Let those who fear the LORD say:
"His love endures forever."
In my anguish I cried to the LORD,
and he answered by setting me free.
The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
The LORD is with me; he is my helper.
I will look in triumph on my enemies.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.
All the nations surrounded me,
but in the name of the LORD I cut them off.
They surrounded me on every side,
but in the name of the LORD I cut them off.
They swarmed around me like bees,
but they died out as quickly as burning thorns;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off.
I was pushed back and about to fall,
but the LORD helped me.
The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
Shouts of joy and victory
resound in the tents of the righteous:
"The LORD's right hand has done mighty things!
The LORD's right hand is lifted high;
the LORD's right hand has done mighty things!"
I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the LORD has done.
The LORD has chastened me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD
through which the righteous may enter.
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;
the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
O LORD, save us;
O LORD, grant us success.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you.
The LORD is God,
and he has made his light shine upon us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will give you thanks;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Is it getting better
Or do you feel the same?
Will it make it easier on you
Now you got someone to blame?
You say one love, one life
When it's one need in the night.
One love, we get to share it
Leaves you baby if you don't care for it.
Did I disappoint you
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without.
Well, it's too late tonight
To drag the past out into the light.
We're one, but we're not the same.
We get to carry each other, carry each other
Have you come here for forgiveness,
Have you come to raise the dead
Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head
Did I ask too much, more than a lot
You gave me nothing, now it's all I got.
We're one, but we're not the same.
Well, we hurt each other, then we do it again.
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law.
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can't be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt.
One love, one blood
One life, you got to do what you should.
One life with each other:
One life, but we're not the same.
We get to carry each other, carry each other.
Just finished Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms yesterday. I bought it in April last year and even brought it along with me to NS, but never actually got past the first few chapters. Inspired by my success in finishing Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda within a day last week, I picked Hemingway up again on 31 May and finished on 3 June.
I don't suppose I enjoy fiction much, but there were some great moments, most of them subtly humorous and candidly disarming (no pun intended), hitting notes of profundity in some places. The story follows (and is narrated by) an American serving as an ambulance driver in the Italian army in World War I. Here are some of my favourite excerpts.
A conversation between the protagonist, Lieutenant Henry, and Passini, another soldier:
"I know it is bad but we must finish it."
"It doesn't finish. There is no finish to a war."
"Yes there is."
Passini shook his head.
"War is not won by victory... One side must stop fighting."
Henry observes the three doctors who have come to see his injured leg:
I have noticed that doctors who fail in the practice of medicine have a tendency to seek one another's company and aid in consultation. A doctor who cannot take out your appendix properly will recommend to you a doctor who will be unable to remove your tonsils with success. These were three such doctors.
A nurse believes Henry deliberately overdosed on alcohol in order to induce jaundice, so that he may be exempted from the front. Henry replies:
"Miss Van Campen," I said, "did you ever know a man who tried to disable himself by kicking himself in the scrotum?"
Rinaldi, a doctor in the army and one of Henry's best friends, comments on Henry's tooth-brushing glass, which he has kept:
"...I kept this to remind me of you trying to brush away the Villa Rossa from your teeth in the morning, swearing and eating aspirin and cursing harlots. Every time I see that glass I think of you trying to clean your conscience with a toothbrush."
The Italians are at war with the Austrians, and Gino (another member of the ambulance unit) and Henry talk about food:
"Yes, they give the battalions in the front line as much as they can but the ones in back are very short. They have eaten all the Austrians' potatoes and chestnuts from the woods. They ought to feed them better. We are big eaters. I am sure there is plenty of food. It is very bad for the soldiers to be short of food. Have you ever noticed the difference it makes in the way you think?"
"Yes," I said. "It can't win a war but it can lose one."
Chapter 31 began with this line (I like it for what it is, not because of the significance of '31'):
You do not know how long you are in a river when the current moves swiftly. It seems a long time and it may be very short.
Henry thinks of his knee, which was operated on by a doctor called Valentini (as the other three doctors mentioned earlier were incompetent) after it was severely injured by a mortar explosion. At this point in the story, he is trying to run away from the front:
Valentini had done a fine job. I had done half the retreat on foot and swum part of the Tagliamento with his knee. It was his knee all right. The other knee was mine. Doctors did things to you and then it was not your body any more.
My favourite part, and what seems to be a statement of the theme or underlying pulse of the story, occurs exactly three-quarters into the novel, on page 249 of 332:
If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.
Having arrived safely in Milan, Henry spends one of his days playing billiards with Count Greffi, a ninety-four-year-old who played excellent billiards in spite of his age, and whose birthdays were the main social event of the city. After the game, they talk about growing old, among other things:
"You never seem old."
"It is the body that is old. Sometimes I am afraid I will break off a finger as one breaks a stick of chalk. And the spirit is no older and not much wiser."
"You are wise."
"No, that is the great fallacy; the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful."
"Perhaps that is wisdom."
"It is a very unattractive wisdom. What do you value most?"
"Some one I love."
"With me it is the same. That is not wisdom. Do you value life?"
"So do I. Because it is all I have. And to give birthday parties," he laughed. "You are probably wiser that I am. You do not give birthday parties."
"Do younger nations always win wars?"
"They are apt to for a time."
"Then what happens?"
"They become older nations."
"You said you were not wise."
"Dear boy, that is not wisdom. That is cynicism."
"It sounds very wise to me."
In order to escape the army police in Milan, Henry and his 'wife' Catherine (they were never officially married) row all night into Switzerland, on a boat loaned to them by the hotel barman, who is a friend of Henry's:
"I think we're in Switzerland, Cat," I said.
"There's no way to know until we see Swiss troops."
"Or the Swiss navy."
"The Swiss navy's no joke for us. That last motor boat we heard was probably the Swiss navy."
"If we're in Switzerland let's have a big breakfast. They have wonderful rolls and butter and jam in Switzerland."
Loyalty and desertion are among the themes of the novel, and it struck me at the end of the novel, that all the doctors in it (for there were many) were men of great devotion to their duty. In contrast, Lieutenant Henry eventually deserted the army just to be with the love of his life, Catherine Barkley, an English nurse.
Although the novel is centred on the romance between Henry and Catherine, the story of the doctors (none so significant as Rinaldi's) weaves itself like a countermelody into this primary framework, for it is the doctors who keep Henry alive, and it is the doctors who indirectly bring the tale to its painful and heartbreaking conclusion.
Friday, June 02, 2006
There is a song that is often sung at Praise & Worship gatherings, church services and Christian Fellowship meetings. Written by Reuben Morgan in 1998 for Hillsong Music, it is called 'My Redeemer Lives.'
I know He rescued my soul,
His blood has covered my sin,
I believe, I believe;
My shame He's taken away,
My pain is healed in His name,
I believe, I believe.
I'll raise a banner;
My Lord has conquered the grave.
My Redeemer lives, my Redeemer lives;
My Redeemer lives, my Redeemer lives.
You lift my burden, I'll rise with You;
I'm dancing on this mountaintop
to see Your kingdom come.
But yesterday, as I was going through the book of Job, I came across the following verses from Chapter 19;
I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
The words 'My Redeemer lives' were not born of joy bubbling over, but from the midst of the deepest despair, the anguish and suffering of Job. It is not the hope of a triumphant army of believers, but of those who have nothing left but God.
Maybe the picture above says something. My camera's battery died while Li-Shia and I were in Times Square yesterday. When we returned to school, she pointed out a ray of light shining through the clouds. The battery came back to life (as it sometimes does), but only long enough for me to take one shot.
The picture wasn't really great, but in the lower right corner, I saw something worth keeping, and it is this part of the photo that has been reproduced above.
Perhaps, like the camera, like Job, we may be on our very last legs, just about to die. And maybe this is what 'My redeemer lives' really means: that God promises us a glimpse of himself, even as the clouds recede for his glory to shine through, as he calls us to his side... to return home.
There is no hour so dark that the Light of the World cannot overcome it. My Redeemer lives, indeed.