The Dragon

There is a death that lurks in this life;
a dragon, quiet asleep.
Yet who knows when he shall awaken?
Smoke ascends from his nostrils:
he is made drowsy from the medicine of love;
he is enchanted by the great mist of life.
May he never awaken.

As long as there is love and life,
may he never awaken.


Getting Back to Life

(First published on my Facebook Notes on 19 July 2017)
I’m not exactly certain why I need to put this on the public sphere, but my hope in throwing this into this space already inundated with thousands of other stuff (hopefully your timeline) is of this sort – a hope at getting back to life. Life – whatever it is going to look like. Life, which for the first time in a long time, looks foggy and unconquerable.
I was told that I had papillary thyroid cancer two weeks into April this year, following a perplexing time of experiencing and interpreting symptoms. Although thyroid cancer patients hate this being told to them, I have to concur with the cliché that papillary thyroid cancer is the best cancer to have, if one could ever choose a cancer (no one would). Why? No chemotherapy, no radiotherapy. Yes surgery, yes lifelong hormone replacement pills which need adjustments every 3 to 6 months, yes steady diet and steady lifestyle, yes having regular blood tests. Still yes, higher chances of other sorts of cancers and still yes, smaller chance of recurrence. But overall, all doctors including those on YouTube have told me these: “prognosis is very good” and it is “highly curable”. Yes, mitigated bad news, but bad news all the same.
Ever since the thought of the possibility of such a diagnosis, the eventual diagnosis, the actual surgery and coming to terms with a missing thyroid and its implications, I’ve been vacillating between a silver lining view and a cloud view. I’m not sure that I’ve stopped vacillating, but cloud views have been a dominating theme recently. I hold together well because, for a strange reason pointed out to me by an older friend, I have a Stoic disposition to life. I would venture to say that I am trying to move out of this subconscious Stoicism. (Why I have a less welcoming view of Stoicism is another story.)
There are a few things I moan about now. Firstly, my world has become mostly about me for the past few months. As if my life hasn’t been self-centred enough, this experience caps it, and there is no escaping it because it is quite a valid thing to be thinking about – my health, my recovery, my weakness, my inability. And most of these thoughts end with a question mark.
Secondly, I’ve become increasingly morbid in my thoughts. In my readings I clutch on to the calamities that protagonists go through – I think of Mother Teresa’s dark thoughts (which I haven’t read, but presume happened because I’ve heard so much about them), I think of Francis Bacon’s loss of estate at the age of 18 and his resilience despite it, I think of John Stuart Mill’s nervous breakdown in his youth, the Apostle Paul’s imprisonment, the Cross of Christ. And then I squirm to realise that unlike them, I am nothing and I might come up to be nothing.
Thirdly, I’ve become allergic to anybody. Not everybody. But Anybody. Especially unscheduled, spontaneous, on the street Anybody. I am afraid of presumptuous advice, pity, unmeditated positivity, mechanical positivity, being misunderstood, being lumped into a category of some-kind-of-people, not being heard or listened; that could stir up a little storm inside me. So I’ve become rather appreciative of silence and apprehensive of connections with Anybody. When such connections happen I wonder what I should say, or be expected to say. In the beginning, my PR training has given me some key points to regurgitate to assure others that there’s little to worry about, but recently, I just wing it. Whatever it is I’m feeling. I just wing it. In those moments even I find myself incomprehensible.
But there are a few things to be (grudgingly) thankful for. And I’m not writing it to be all Stoic about it, there’s really no pretending about the good things that have happened. If anything, this event has been an attack on my ego, exposing it (which is, a good thing). The truth is, I’ve never wanted this cancer (nobody ever does). I’ve never wanted it to improve my diet or my lifestyle. I’ve never wanted it to make my priorities clearer. I’ve never wanted it to help me simplify my life and focus on what matters. I’ve never wanted it to force me to pray through my life and discern what matters. I’ve never wanted it to give me a forced timeout, to consider the matters of the heart that I’ve swept under the carpet.
I’ve never wanted my life to be led by my limitations. I want to operate – i.e. do all the above – from strength, from abundance, from well-intentioned, well-calculated choice, from a place of liberty and freedom – not from lack thereof. I want to be fully capable and cognisant of the good choices I make about my life (and receive credit and acknowledgement I deserve). (Except then, I might never have started on them in the first place.)
For the first time, I beheld the cross and salvation or redemption in a light that now appears blindingly clear. On one hand, we want our means of redemption to be good-enough for our participation – that we have subscribed to a beautifully systematic religion superior in many ways to the philosophies being contested during first century Rome*.
Yet it is said, our redemption is won by the shockingly ridiculous and preposterous notion** that Jesus’ death on a cross (the most humiliating and punishment made for a criminal) paved the way to an exhilarating new life, reconciled to God. An object of scorn and humiliation = conduit for redemption. Preposterous, in the standard of those days. Plain tak masuk akal. “Foolishness”. It is therefore understandable that such a suggestion would be immediately mocked by the many, and breathtaking when many buy in to it.
An object of scorn and humiliation = conduit for redemption.
A setback that results in loss = conduit for a new lease of life.
Not cool trajectory. But it’s pretty Good News for someone in my position, if you ask me.
I’ve not mentioned God until this point. God is Immanuel. The unspoken Present, the quiet Being. I’ve vacillated in His presence more than anyone else I could dare to trust. I’ve moved from questioning myself to questioning God (finally got the guts and the free time to do it). I’ve been jaded and cynical about Him in my prayers to Him (ironically). I’ve also demanded answers from Him too during this time. But I’ve also experienced the comfort and assurance of being heard, of not having to know the answers, of knowing that God is in charge whether I feel like it or not. I guess that’s what God has been doing, sitting with me, caring for what’s left of impetuous, impulsive, free-as-a-bird me.
Where I’m getting at right now is this… I’m taking some time now to get back to life, whatever that’s going to look like. I’ve been stuck in a hermitage of sorts. I’ve been apprehensive, unsure of myself. I’ve been learning and relearning new habits. I’ve been meditating and trying to figure stuff out. I’ve been in and out of down times. I’ve been trying to get into things again and seeing how I do after. It’s been a stretch.
Last time I checked, there’s life in me still, and a life is to be lived, isn’t it? (Although staying in bed watching movies and series is a tempting option). I still very much want to connect, revisit our connection and get back into things again. So, here’s me reaching out to you (and feeling terribly awkward about this terribly awkward way), and saying, “Let’s be in touch again and pick things up where we left off. Soon, real soon.”
*1 Corinthians 1:17-31
**Lesslie Newbigin says this is like making the Gospel accommodate to rational and humanistic assumptions, and projecting it as superior within those assumptions.

Are you a true worshipper?

I’m a hopeless romantic when it comes God. How would I describe my relationship with God? Or how I relate to him and how I see myself with Him?

Here’s an old and old-fashioned mushy song:

“I just want to be where You are dwelling daily in Your presence. I don’t want to worship from afar, draw me near to where You are.”

As the mystery of God unravels for me, when I realise He is at work, He is out there, in the trenches, fighting, saving, loving, restoring, giving, serving, this song has profound implications. When I realise He is dwelling in me, that I am His dwelling place, transforming and changing me with His love and that He lives in me and others, this song has profound implications in how I see God in me and God in the world.

I just want to be where You are is no longer a protected, sheltered compound they call church. It is out there, in the world, that grace that preserves the world and keeps it amidst all that threatens to tear everything to pieces. God is in His world, making things new. I just want to be where You are is no longer just serving a cloistered cluster of people and making it my life’s greatest goal and satisfaction. I just want to be where You are is stepping out into the dark world, walking with the Light, being part of the company of little lights to the world together with that big light.

What do I do to be where He His? Oh, more than I could ever imagine. And yet far lesser than the clumsy ambitions my poor imagination can conjure.

Being a worshipper, singing those romantic, self-defying, self-denying things. That’s dangerous guys. Very dangerous.

But that also brings us straight to the ever-present Help that is our God, that mighty arm that saves, that face that as image bearers we see.

As it becomes evident that the one we call God is not sitting in His throne at a distance soaking in the Hallelujahs of elders for strength and power (like a megalomaniac), as it becomes more evident that He is more like a Captain Kirk sitting on His seat at work with His friends, as it becomes evident even that He is in His planet earth working and being with people through His Spirit, we become transformed as to what “being with God” and “drawing near” means.

Being with Him is a serene, peaceful existence that surpasses all understanding: you keep having to give up the tyrannous anxiety of the distant future, for the lighter yoke that Jesus gives. And yet it is also means a lot of hard work keeping up with the Ultimate Worker, the Servant of All, the King of Kings. It means we see His pain, anguish, joy and love, and we share it with Him.

Being with Him, you learn to live in paradoxes like that. 

Thankful for…

The gentle, peaceful soul who invades my days with gentleness and peace.

The rich bustle of voices who hear each other and me, a weekly table of joyful, faithful communion.

The little storm of anxiety that brews at every wind of bad news, building up in intensity when devising solutions and resting only when the problems have gone away.

My quiet and still haven, broken only by voices I wish to hear, by thoughts I count as precious, more precious than gold.

a perplexing question

A perplexing question took me off guard today in my waking hours. 

“Now that you have known and experienced God’s love (and I have, over and over again), how have you experienced loving God? How do you love God?”

It was a devotion based on John 14:21-26, on an app called Pray as you Go.

How do I love God. I rummaged through my recent life, my collection of behaviours and attitudes, almost frantically, like a treasure hunt. Which one? You must remember I just woke up not long. I searched that sack of days and events of the past week, yanked around for patterns of loving God.

Wait, to love God is to obey His commands. Have I been obeying His commands? Not the broad-based overarching principle ones (like loving neighbour too), but in the specific ways He has led me and continues to lead me. Is my life one of obedience, or performance?

Not just that. How am I experiencing loving God? Am I basking, delighting and revelling in this mutual exchange of love? Or is it a job with a to-do list. Is it a life-giving friendship, or does it resemble more of a business meeting?

Damm this question is good.

Love can save even the darkest souls

Love can save even the darkest souls.
– Snow, Ep 14 Season 6, Once Upon a Time

It’s episodes like these that I know why I watch Once Upon a Time. It reinforces and nails this repeated lesson into my heart. This, that love transforms us, it makes us new, makes us more fully ourselves. It doesn’t let us go scot free when we have messed up, letting us go our own way again the moment it meets us. It doesn’t leave us when we fail, and come back when we are fine. Love is very much in our dark nights as He is in our days. Love sits with us, and dines with us, and we with Him, if we lets Him. And He changes us, with love, in time. And that this is the resurrected (or as Elevation Worship aptly puts it, “resurrecting“) life. God is resurrecting us. Love itself, Grace itself, resurrects us.

Continue reading “Love can save even the darkest souls”

Christianity is much more about living and doing than thinking. As Thomas Aquinas, no Catholic lightweight, put it, Prius vita quam doctrina (“Life is prior to doctrines”).

Perfect spirituality is just to imitate God.

Excerpt From: “Immortal Diamond: The search for our true self” by Richard Rohr. Scribd.

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