Monday, June 1, 2015

As one vision weakens, another sharpens and captivates.

I had my eyes checked at the optician last week.  It had been almost two years since I last had them examined, and lately, I have come to realise that my prescription glasses were not giving me the sharpness that I was used to.  I seemed to have to strain a little more in bringing things into focus, and the examination proved true – I needed to increase the power of my lenses and had to have a new pair made.

But this decrease in the power of my physical eyes seemed to be inversely related to another kind of vision of mine – I would describe it as my sensitivity to a keen awareness of God’s presence in my life.  It has been given a tremendous boost, and I daresay it is directly related to my being given a renewed and recharged life of getting a life-saving transplant almost two years ago.

Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Emil Frankl had researched and written extensively about NDE (Near Death Experience), and in the holocaust experience, had his entire perspective of life become enriched and enlivened.  He was known to have said that everything suddenly became very rich, and even the simplest things like flora and fauna took on a new beauty that he never saw before. 

It seems to be that somehow, adversity, tribulations and setbacks in life can be things that usher in a new appreciation of God’s presence.  Certainly, they in no way cause God to be preset, as he is omnipresent.  But when one experiences these crosses, especially when seen and accepted in the light of faith, one can be graced with a very much heightened sense of God’s overwhelming presence in the world.  I have had many such experiences in my journey toward recovery, and it never fails to set my heart soaring with new dimensions of gratitude and inner joy.

I think this is what people like Viktor Frankl tried so hard to convey.  When one almost comes close to the brink of death, and experiences what is known sometimes as post mortem life, everything does take on a new preciousness and one sees things that one may have easily by-passed in life. 

There are a couple Chempaka trees just outside my residence in the parish, and it was only lately that I had come to notice the amazing perfume that is emitted from their lovely yellow-orange flowers.  Apparently, the essential oil used in the making of perfume called Ylang Ylang comes from this tree.  Each morning, I stop by the tree and take in deep whiffs of its redolent bouquet before I head into the Church to preside at Mass.  It’s not a new tree, but its presence has become new to me, and it is just one of the few examples of how my senses have been keenly sharpened with the advent of a renewed chance at life.  There are many things that happen to one whose life has been either recalibrated or come through some kind of adversity and trial, and when it is immersed in the light of faith, one cannot but be awed and surprised by even the most insignificant of experiences.

The task of the spiritual life is not so much to find God, as some may erroneously think.  The actual and sometimes rather hidden task is to realise that we are already in God, and spiritual peak moments are those that bring to us the reality that we have all been in God all the while, and that all we needed to do was to shift our perspective from which we viewed life and the world around us.  It’s much like what Kabir, an Indian mystic wrote when he said, “I laughed when I heard the fish in the water say that it is thirsty.  How can the fish in the water be thirsty?”  He continued, “but it is easier to understand fish in the water being thirsty than a human being not experiencing God.  Isn’t God closer to a human than water is to the fish?”

God is and has never been ‘out there’ for us to have to peer through the universe to search for him.  That is fallen man’s attempt in trying to give Theodicy a raison d’etre.  God is comfortable in his own skin and doesn’t need to be ‘found’.  We are the ones who seem to be on a constant need to be found in God.  Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote of God so eruditely that the Divine is poured into everything and that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.”  The acknowledgement of this truth indeed changes for us so many things and gives us a deep confidence to live through many of life’s uncertainties and challenges because if this is so, everything is alright despite there being hardships and sufferings.  The God of love and life is not far from us.  The fish doesn’t need to look for the ocean.  It is in the ocean.


  1. So nice and heartening to see you still posting despite your bout of infection. Yeah, I had a similar experience too after undergoing a double cataract operation. One eye after another, I began to see everything much more clearly,brilliantly and with a wider, far reaching vision. And I began to appreciate in quantum leaps, the blessings God surrounds us with, wonderful sights that I did not care to admire before. Take good care, Fr Luke. Ignatius

  2. “But when one experiences these crosses, especially when seen and accepted in the light of faith, one can be graced with a very much heightened sense of God’s overwhelming presence in the world.”

    I like the scent of the Chempaka. It has a sweet freshness reminiscent of dewdrops and lilies (?) and something else......a lingering whiff of childhood - for these trees were common in the kampong, interspersed with the more ‘gregarious’ Frangipani with its cloyingly sweet perfume. But the small flowers of the Chempaka were preferred - often harvested to be stringed into fragrant necklaces to perfume the rooms or family altars. Seen from afar, the flowers and tree don’t amount to much – a very ordinary tree but each bloom is exquisitely formed and the scent exhilarating. Such is how we know “the Divine is poured into everything and that ‘the world is charged with the grandeur of God.” - as you have said. Definitely, these little flowers also heightened the sense of God’s overwhelming presence in the world.

    At mass today, the homilist used a beautifully apt word- that summarized the first reading of the Book of Tobit – Abandonment (to God)...............that both Tobit and Sarah, in their grief, gave themselves over, totally to God in an act of loving acceptance. Though it was not explicitly expressed, somehow, I felt that in giving-over-of-self to God, especially in these dark moments of pain, weariness and grief, it speaks of a deeper and steadfast faith. Perhaps we too- need not try too hard to pray in rich verse or engage in lengthy prayers, but just be like Tobit who “groaned and wept aloud” and the Lord heard him and sent the Angel Raphael to minister to him.........for the groans are prayers from the heart.

    God bless you, Fr