Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Charity and Chastity

Blame it on the calendar; Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday fall on consecutive Wednesdays this year.

The two occasions could not be more unlike each other. One is an extravagant celebration of love (often more extravagance than love), while the other is an austere commemoration of sacrifice. The one a no-holds-barred romp through commercialisation, and the other a much calculated preparation for the most solemn event in history.

And now to link the two in a single blog entry...

* * * * *

We were supposed to have dinner at Madam Kwan's, KLCC. But due to some unforeseen circumstances, we ended up at Kinrara mamak in Sri Petaling.

Just a week prior to Valentine's Day, we visited the place for the first (and only) time and ordered a bandung suam. When we returned on Valentine's, one of the mamak approached me and asked, "Bandung panas, boss?"

Either they have photographic memory or my peculiar dining habits seem to leave an impression.

Away from classy dining and everything else Valentine's Day stands for, it was nonetheless a memorable night out and one that fostered culinary bonds between Cheras and Sri Petaling!

Just for fun, we asked if they could make ghee tosai in the shape of a heart. The mamak laughed and said it would be difficult as the tosai would stick to the pan, and there wouldn't be enough time to sculpt/mould it. So they prepared normal tosai for us to cut ourselves.

Seeing that our efforts were in vain, a number of mamak congregated around the pan in an attempt to do what they claimed they couldn't. After several failed batches of wasted batter, they decided to use roti canai dough instead. Preparing a mould using newspaper, they finally succeeded in producing this:

The next night, when we walked past the same shop, one of the mamak waved at me.

It is final: the dinosaur's footprint remains in Sri Petaling.

* * * * *

Lent begins today. Sucker for symbolism that I am, this picture reminds me of the Incarnation, of the Word made flesh. Yes, I know sirap limau ais isn't exactly wine, but it's close enough.

I wonder if the Lord's Supper might've been different if Jesus and the Disciples ate at a 24-hour mamak joint.

And is there a connection between the generally secular celebration of human love and the sacred remembrance of divine love?

* * * * *

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.

--Psalm 130:5 (NIV)

[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

--1 Corinthians 13:7 (NIV)

Thanks, Miss Shanti.

* * * * *

There is an account in the Bible (Mark chapter 10) of a rich young man, often referred to as the 'rich young ruler', who asks Jesus what he must do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus quotes to him the commandments of the Mosaic Law.

"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

When in the Bangsar Shopping Centre (BSC) yesterday, I saw a poster in The Body Shop that said all profits from sale of the new Rougeberry eau de toilette would go to the fight against AIDS.

It reminded me of something I read about charity some time ago, about how charity has become commercialised. About how all kinds of companies pledge to give amounts like 10% or 20% when that kind of amount actually makes no difference to the company.

I'm not criticising The Body Shop; in fact, I think quite a number of their ideals are indeed commendable. I'm just wondering, what's the point of giving to a cause when the gift is only a small portion of a great excess? Why only profits from the 'special edition' Rougeberry (I bought it before this campaign was launched, so profits from my purchase will not go to it) and not profits from all sales?

Granted, The Body Shop is not a philanthropic NGO, but perhaps multinational, multimillion-dollar companies could set a better example. Microsoft can give 90% of all that it owns away, and Bill Gates would still have enough to support his offspring for several generations.

On the way out of BSC, there was a lady asking for donations on behalf of an organisation--I cannot remember what. I was in a hurry and declined. Yet I've given on so many occasions; as long as I have something to give and there are people in need, this will not end.

All this about giving. And giving. And giving. To what limit?

Jesus is unequivocal: everything. Or at least, enough to actually make you realise that security is not to be found in what you have, but Who has you.

And I fall short.

(By the way, the Rougeberry e.d.t. is probably one of the best Body Shop products I've encountered in some time.)

* * * * *

What then of Lent?

What of that perennial talk of balance between passion and purity?

Or, in my immediate context, of charity and chastity?

Today's Lent Meditation is on Hebrews 12:1-14, and this is the epic chapter of exhortation that follows the epic discourse of faith in Hebrews 11, and it begins like this:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

--Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)

But I ask, what if the great cloud is only one witness? And I'm not talking about the One witness, for He is always there. But what if there is only one witness? Is it reason enough to keep running? Reason enough to throw everything away and follow the One Voice?

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

--Hebrews 12:12-13 (NIV)

Strengthen your weak knees. Heal the lame. Too close for comfort.

Too good to be true.

Or as Max Lucado would say, too good... it has to be true.

* * * * *

At this time of the year especially, I never fail to be reminded of T.S. Eliot's poem 'Ash Wednesday'. Not just because of the title, but also because it is one of his best (and one of my favourites), parallelling his work in Four Quartets in terms of structure and substance.

Some excerpts that seem surprisingly real and relevant this year:

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.


Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

There is something of love in both the experience of Valentine's Day and Lent. And love is not cheap.

Only in Mark's Gospel is it written that Jesus loved the rich young man. Matthew and Luke do not record such words, and John does not record the account at all. Why did Mark include how Jesus felt about the man?

And then Eliot's poem. There's something painful in it, something that is echoed also in U2's 'One'.

This doesn't sound like it's about love. But it is. The hands of love that made things as they are, that are making things as they should be. The hands that bring us together, the same ones that drive us apart. Moulding, making, shaping... like the mamak, only so much more. The hands that work till they bleed.

In a ring of never-ending hope incarnate in never-ending drudgery, the ones who are our Valentines and the ones for whom we wait... one and the same.

Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.


Anonymous said...

from what i've heard, i actually think that bill gates is donating 90% of his money earned when he dies and leave 10% for his kids to share =)

SimianD said...

Wow! Not bad Bill!

WeiYun said...

Okay, even though I'm not very religious, I really like the poem... Is there a place where I could read more of his poetry?

Oh yes, link me!

Anonymous said...

Poetry is but the words of a preson who is emotionally overexagerating. Or is it that my eyes are blind to the true beauty within?