Monday, November 28, 2016

When our ground quivers and quakes, what is our reaction?

I have just returned from a 12-day hiatus where I took a trip to visit with a brother priest in New Zealand.  It was my first ever trip to the land of the Kiwis and many surprises awaited me.  Many of them were very pleasant and some even had the ability to raise my otherwise regular and placid heart rate.  No, I am not referring to anything close to whitewater rafting or the craziness of bungee jumping.  I refer rather to the jolt and startle of a 7.7 magnitude earthquake that struck unceremoniously around midnight on the day I was in the city of Wellington, New Zealand.

I only felt about 5 seconds of the quake though some felt a significantly longer shake.  In some places, it had enough power to cause the authorities to issue a Tsunami alert to those who lived along the south coast of the North Island to seek refuge on high ground.  I was in such a place, and doing as we were told, moved to a safer higher altitude at 1am and stayed there till dawn.

Looking back at the whole event, I cannot help but view it through the lens of spirituality and how God speaks to us in and through the circumstances of our lives.  The spiritual writer and muser in me has a constant prompting to delve deeper at the things that affect us at the surface, opening up to the underlying truths and movements of that part of us which oftentimes are hidden even from ourselves. 

After about ten minutes after the quake, Fr Marcus my friend came rapping on my door to ask if I was fine.  I was very conscious of the fact that I was not in a state of panic nor perturbed.   It was only later on, upon reflection, that I compared it with receiving the news about three years ago from my doctor that I had cancer and that I was a Leukemia patient facing my mortality. 

When I shared this with some of my friends back home, they showed surprise that I could be phlegmatic about something so alarming.  While I must say that those who were in the same house were just as nonplussed, it could well be that being New Zealanders themselves, experiencing such jolts is not something novel.  But it came to me later on that our spiritual lives are really about a call to be ready for events and news that can cause the ground beneath our feet to move, albeit sometimes in a literal sense.  While it is not possible to prevent these from happening in our lives, the fact that we have built our houses on rock will put us in good stead when they show up on the horizon of our lives.
What makes the best firmest of foundations that one can have in life?  The Christian answer has to be one that is steeped in the belief that God loves unconditionally.  What’s God’s love got to do with it? I can almost hear a silent collective response to what I just wrote.  It has everything to do with it.

A big part of most peoples’ struggle with God and spirituality comes when something terrible and anxious occurs in life.  All of a sudden, the fact of our Christian belief that God is love is abandoned and forgotten, and the doubts begin to loom large in the minds of many.  The unspoken (and erroneous) thinking is that if God is love, there should not be any anxieties and adversities in our lives.  But if we are clear about God being our paramount lover, it has to also mean that nothing can happen in life that will displace nor dilute this redoubtable truth.  Faith is, after all, the belief that nothing is beyond the ken of God.  Prayer isn’t giving God a report of what has happened in life (as if he had been clueless all along), and prayer certainly is not about telling God what needs to be done in and to our lives.  Faith is about handing our lives in confidence into the hands of God over and over again, and giving God our greatest deference – not because he needs it, but because we need to. 

It was largely because I had already consciously done this with my life way before the leukemia came along, that I was so at peace when my doctors told me I was facing possible death.  I am certain that it was also because of this right ordering that allowed me to experience the earthquake with such composure. 

The reason I am sharing this with my readers is not as a boast of my faith, but to encourage every one of you to place just as much emphasis and priority in God if you want a similar unshakeable foundation in life.  Sure, insurance companies also offer us security when our world is shaken, but those types of assurances are limited and limiting.  Because God is infinite, so are his assurances.  Both assurances have premiums, but in the latter case, the only premium we pay is to align and orientate our lives toward him and his love.  Redemption is the premium that had been paid by God himself on Calvary.  The converted lives making up our ‘premium’ may be considered too high because we are overly concerned with what we think will limit our loves, our freedom and our ego-needs. 

It was surely no coincidence that only a few days later in another town in New Zealand that I went to the restroom and facing me on a wall above the toilet was a poster that said “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”.  Apparently, it is attributed to Franklin D Roosevelt.  As far as our faith life is concerned, neither does a life free of adversities and sufferings make us deep people of faith.  It is faith that allows us to welcome and live with the challenges of life. 

1 comment:

  1. "…………how God speaks to us in and through the circumstances of our lives."

    At a retreat recently, the spiritual director chided us with gentle humor that most of us would never be aware of God's presence, or believe that he's speaking to us in our daily ordinary lives - unless we see 'signs and wonders' ! I recalled his words when I read what you wrote above.

    Sometimes, we think that we are seeking God when we are 'introspective' but in reality we are 'too full of ourselves' -such that there's not enough room for God! One of his delightful sharings was how as a young priest, he was an eager beaver in his ministering of the parish and he was exacting and punctual....commendable virtues, surely. One day, when the bus he usually took for home visits to the sick, was late, he worked himself into such a feverish state of impatience and rage......he must have been a sight to behold!

    It was then that he felt a delicate brushing of something light against his arm. Looking down he beheld a huge colorful butterfly -one of the most exquisite he had ever laid eyes on (in his own words) - alighting softly on his arm, its bejeweled wings quivering.....Because he's a nature-lover he was captivated by this beauty and instantly all thoughts about the bus and his own impatience left him.

    However, it was at the end of the quietude and pensive mood......whilst doing his reflections that he realized the Lord had loved him so much, he had sent a beautiful butterfly to abate his anger, (thus stopping him from sinning some more) and gave him much joy by sharing one of his lovely creations with him. What an indulgent Father!

    Such a simple and brief sharing made us more conscious of God's love and care , more aware of his presence in our lives.....and now at the end of each day, I too, take much joy and excitement to look into the events of the day and make them into 'experiences' of His love and care.

    God bless u, Fr.