Sleeping as Prayer

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I have this strange notion that we are closest to God when we are asleep.
When we are awake, so many things demand our attention.
When we are asleep, our senses are at rest and so is our consciousness.
But our subconscious and unconscious are active.
Undistracted by our senses and consciousness,
that is when we can be most open to God.
It is no wonder that in many of the readings during the Christmas season,
there were many instances God spoke his message to people in their sleep.
Joseph was told of his role in our Salvation History through his dreams.
The Magi were instructed to go another route in their dreams.

When I am asleep, I may be “dead” to the world;
but I am fully alive: I breathe, my body functions are active
cleansing my body of toxins, my brain clears my mind of all the clutter.
And in the process, cleaning my mind of its cluttering.
There have been many times, I go to bed mulling a problem
and when I wake up in the morning, I usually have the makings of a solution.
My night prayer is always, “Lord be with me in my sleep.”
I am actually saying, “See you in my dreams, Lord.”
Indeed, I often dream of the last things on my mind the moment I fall asleep.
Yes, my sleep is a prayer.
I feel that God is most present to me when I am asleep.

Just wondering if this makes sense.
Just wondering if this is the real thing.

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The Faith of Filipinos

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Photo from the net. CTTO

Today is the Feast of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo. Thousands will gather to join the annual procession of the statue of a black Christ carrying his cross. Because of the huge crowd, the traslacion from the Luneta to the Quiapo Church will take hours to complete, starting from early morning till the early evening.

On Sunday, we will be going of a pilgrimage to Antipolo, the most popular Maria shrine in the Philippines. During the month of May, specially the First day, and during Holy Week, thousands of Marian devotees walk up to the mountains of Antipolo to the shrine in fulfillment of a panata (a vow) or as  sign of their devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Many decry these practices of popular religiosity and piety as bordering on fanaticism, idolatry, and even occultism. Some would even condemn these practices as being downright heretical. Yet seeing the sincerity and persistence of the devotions, I am often humbled by the simple, and even simplistic, piety  and spirituality of these devotees. Their faith is probably stronger and more real than my own struggling belief.

Even the pastors in the Quiapo Church are amazed by the phenomenon. Some have dismissed it, saying “Oh, it’s just popular religiosity.” expecting it to just fade away. But it has not. It has persisted for centuries now. With some devotees, it is a family tradition that goes back several generations. And the devotion and the number of devotees increase noticeably during time of difficulties and hardships.

We Filipinos are an emotional sensory people. We need to see, feel, touch and taste things to truly experience and understand things. This is perhaps why God chose to be incarnated in Jesus Christ. Through our popular devotions, we feel and know that God is with us.

Indeed, looking at our history and natural experience, we are a nation that has been most disaster-prone and afflicted. Yearly, devastating typhoons hit the country. There are the occasional, but certain to happen, earthquakes. There are the man-made disasters like fires and marine disasters. We have been plagues with rapacious leaders who only serve their personal interests, rather than the common good – a plague worse than any of the natural calamities that have befell us.

Yet through it all, we Filipinos have ket that welcoming smile on our faces. We still love to play the hospitable host to all our visitors. We still love to feast and to fiesta. It takes the smallest excuse for us to go out and celebrate. In spite of all the misfortunes and calamities, we keep out enthusiasm and joy for living, sometimes even to a fault. And at the end of the day, we can always sing ourselves to sleep. And through it all, there is our faith – often expressed in simple, popular acts of religiosity and piety like our devotion to the Nazareno or the Santo Niño or the Birhen Maria.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus walked the sea and calmed the tempest. The apostles on the boat were not impressed. Nor did they understand.

He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. 
They were completely astounded. 
They had not understood the incident of the loaves. 
On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.
On the contrary, Filipinos have taken to heart the words of the Lord as he approached the boat in the midst of the tempest and squall.
They had all seen him and were terrified. 
But at once he spoke with them,
“Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” 

 

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Questions and Life

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Man lives his life asking questions, getting answers which only give rise to even more questions. He starts out life as a child with interminable “what’s” and “why’s”. In the end, he is an old man in the evening of life asking even more unanswered questions of  “who”, “what”, “why”, “when” “how”, “where”.

The Bible, which some have said stand for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, is told through an endless series of questions. From God’s “Adam. what have you done?” through the Israelites’ “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness?” to Jesus’ “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” till the end at the Ascension “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?”

Indeed, in his longing and searching in life, man seeks for answers but often ends up with questions. Answer may make him smart and knowledgeable but tend to also make him smug and complacent, even proud and arrogant. Questions make his wise and human for they make him realize that life is a mystery that has been given to us as a gift.

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Seeing the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

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As the Christmas season draws to a close, we come to the routine of ordinary everyday life. We leave behind the joy, excitement and celebrations and return to our daily normal schedules of earning a living, keeping house, running errands, attending meetings, sending off children to school, or even going to school ourselves.

Today’s Gospel describes what I would imagine to be an ordinary and routine day in the public life of Jesus:

He went around all of Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness among the people. 

We spend most of our days doing the routine and the ordinary. Dramatic conversions like that of St. Paul on the road to Damascus are few and rare. Even the conversion of St. Augustine was preceded by the many years his mother, Monica, spent in daily prayers for her son. Or, the conversion of St. Ignatius was after many days spent convalescing from his battle injuries.

In fact, this is what the Incarnation is about – God becoming man and sharing in the humdrum of our daily existence. The birth of any child is always welcomed with great joy and excitement. Then, in the ordinariness of our daily lives, we discover, define, carve out our personhood and humanity. Yet, there is something in today’s culture that eschews the ordinary. We want constant excitement and to be constantly high.

In this world of the routine and ordinary, we realize that the world is a mixed bag of people and experiences. There are definitely many good persons but there are surely bad ones too. There are experiences and events that uplift and elate but there are also those that depress and deflate. The constant message of the Christmas season has been that there are more reasons for joy rather than for sadness; that big things can come out of small and humble beginnings; that in the overall scheme of things, things do work out for the better in the end.

In the ordinary run of my life then, I will do acts of love and kindness; and let not my acts of love and kindness be random but deliberate as my contribution to helping bring to birth a better world. This is seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary.

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Magi And Epiphanies

Today is the Feast of the Magi, officially ending the Christmas Season

Spirit Moments

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Today is the Feast of the Epiphany. Traditionally, this is the Christmas celebration in the Eastern Orthodox Church. In many countries in the West, this is the Feast of the Three Kings, when children, specially in Spain, get to receive their Christmas presents. All of these are honored traditions. Based on the Gospels, there were no kings but wise men. They were not three but they did bring three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The Wise Men were known as Magi, Magus in the singular. They were seekers of knowledge and wisdom. In ages past, they would have been philosophers. Today, they would be like our researchers, scientists, engineers and inventors. In their searching for truth, knowledge and wisdom, they would come upon some ‘AHA’ moments, when some things would all of a sudden, or finally, make sense and they understand. An Epiphany.

There have been several wise men…

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Life Questions

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The new year is but the continuation of our searchings and our journey.
It also evokes questions on where we are going,
how we will get there,
why do we even want to go.
We yearn for certainty and answers to our many questions in our searchings.
And the obvious answer is usually the wrong answer.

Can a helpless baby born in simple circumstances be indeed the long awaited Messiah? Obvious answer: No, because the Messiah was supposed to come in glory.
Real answer: Yes, the shepherds (insignificant people) and the Magi (foreigners, outcasts) came offering him gifts.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
Obvious answer: No; it is a hick town in the backwater parts of the country.
Real answer: Yes, it was where Christ grew up in age, wisdom and grace before God and men.

Can there be anything but a bitter ending in Calvary?
Obvious answer: No, this was the end, a shameful ending to a quixotic adventure.
Real answer: Yes, this is the prelude to the greatest event of all, the Resurrection.

Can I amount to anything at all?
Obvious answer: Come on you are but one in billions.
What makes you think you are special?
Real answer: I am a child of the Universe no less than than the trees and the stars . . . .
That Baby in the Manger?
He came just for me.

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The Lord of the Gaps

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“What are you looking for?”
Jesus asked the two followers of John.

What I am looking has many and different names:
happiness, success, eternal life, salvation,
meaning, significance, contribution, fulfillment.
I realize is there are a lot of gaps in me,
a lot missing in my life,
an emptiness that cries for fulfillment,
a shortage that hungers for fullness,
an absence that earnestly yearns for a certain presence.

There are many things I don’t understand.
There are many things I think I need.
There are many dreams I long for.
Whoever brought me here must have kept a vital part of me
that keeps me looking and searching until I come upon him
who has this missing part.
Saint Augustine, the great Father of the Church and also a big-time sinner,
expressed this angst that he also felt,
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord,
and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Then and only then, can I become complete and fulfilled.
And so I am restless until I fully encounter the Lord of the Gaps
and he gives me back my missing part to fill in the gaping emptiness in me.

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