Musing Over Galatians 5:16-25

To be frank, I am not a devout Catholic.  Yes, I go to Church almost every Sunday and attend every Day of Obligation that falls on a weekday if I can.  In between the weekly Masses, I seldom think about spirituality and divinity.  Sure, I say a little prayer of thanks before my meals.  Most of the time, I am distracted by so many things out there.  I do not even have time for self-reflection.  How then would I have time to listen to the divine whisper?  Like in this very moment, I would rather play some video games, or join my family and watch TV.  Where is my self-control?  Temptation is everywhere.

Last Sunday was the Pentecost Sunday.  It is a day of Solemnity according to my faith.  A celebration of the descend of the Holy Spirit upon the Disciples and over a hundred others thousands of years ago.  The same fire that spreads to all corners of the world today.  Some describe Pentecost as the birthday of the Church.  To my surprise, the second reading during last week’s Mass has left a deep impression upon me, as though the passage talks to me.  A Biblical passage that was written many years ago and yet, still relevant today.  Regardless of your tradition or faith, I urge you to take a look, with an open mind.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.  But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.

Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

If you read the above passage with an open mind, you would see a list of negative attributes alongside with another list of positive attributes.  It does not matter where you come from, you should – I hope – agree that our world can be a better place if more of us are on that positive list, rather than on the negative list.  Yet, if you look around, you may see people being selfish or in anger.  If you look inside and be totally honest, you may even see more of those negative attributes lying within.  Why is it so?

The answer lies in the desire of flesh.  Our body naturally desires to lean towards those negative states.  If we let our bodies go on an autopilot, we will be consumed by those desires.  Temptation as some may observe.  It seems so right, yet so wrong.  Opposition of such negative desires takes great effort and it has to come before our Spirit bears fruit.  We cannot love others if we do not first cast away selfishness.  We cannot attain the state of joy and peace if we are overwhelm by envy and jealousy.

Perhaps, the path to holiness is that the next time our bodies desire us to do something, we should pause and ask ourselves: Is this what the Spirit desires?  Fighting off our bodily desire is hard.  But the good news my friends is that the Holy Spirit dwells within us.

A Time For Thanksgiving

I am not an American.  My version of thanksgiving as such.

I am thankful for this country where I call home.  She may be tiny; her citizens may have plenty of complaints (myself included); but Singapore is still one of the few miracles in our modern world that continues to draw people of different origins to visit and to contribute.

I am thankful to still have a job, continue to be productive.  I am thankful that after 16 years of working, I have found a place whereby everyone around me – local and overseas – are friendly and professional.  Not a single one gets on my nerve, and certainly – to my best knowledge – no one wants me dead.  That is rare and can definitely be classified as a miracle in its own right.  I am thankful that my strengths are leveraged and recognized, and my weaknesses are known and played down.  There is no point asking me to mix a cocktail when I make the best instantly brewed coffee in the world.

I am thankful to have friends whom we are constantly in touch, doing things together.  Be it as dinner or movie, online gaming or simply catching up.  I am thankful that some place their trust in me and brainstorm with me how best to tackle their current situations.  I am thankful that when my car battery went flat, I can call upon someone to jump start my car engine, and when I feel hungry but lazy to drive out, someone would pick me up and let me decide where to eat.

I am thankful to have a group of friends who after all these years, still stick to each other and continue learning Spanish.  I confess that I dread Tuesdays because I sucks in Spanish.  And every lesson reminds that I should have studied more, making me feel more and more inadequate.  But two hours of solid laughter and fun reminds me that learning should be fun and we should learn at our own pace.  I am thankful to have a teacher who is extremely encouraging and motivating, despite – perhaps – knowing at heart that I am a gone case.

I am thankful that my family – in-law and out-law – loves me for who I am, without bothering too much on what I do.  I have two beautiful nieces and one commanding nephew.  They remind me the deep meaning of life and through their eyes, I sense a glimpse of what heavenly happiness is.

I am thankful of my wonderful wife.  She who makes breakfast for me every morning (except some weekends when I have to order McDonald’s breakfast online for the two of us while she is still sleeping), she who does our laundry and irons my casual clothes, she who never gives up on learning to cook better (and in return, I have to wash a mountain full of plates).  As I said to her time and time again: Don’t worry baby, I will eat whatever you cook.  And I will like almost anything that gets out of the kitchen (except that tomato and cheese snack).

I am thankful that some of you still read what I write here.  And I have a website to call my digital home.

Last by not the least, I am thankful of God’s blessing.  Through Him from whom all good things come.

What Does Corpus Christi Mean To Me?

Try this out the next time you and your partner have an argument: Hold his or her hands while you argue.  I first heard about this idea from Wedding Encounter years ago.  Holding someone’s hands or even hugging that someone while trying to be mad at him or her is, believe it or not, very hard to do.  There is something special about physical touches.  And that extends beyond the scenarios of confrontation.  Couples, siblings, parents and their children – those who are in constantly physical contact grow to be more like each other.  Yes, there is this ‘couple-look’ when two people from different family backgrounds become similar in gesture and look.  It is as though the regular act of touching someone facilitates an exchange of positive characteristics between the two.  I am not suggesting that you should all of a sudden go out and hug everyone you see.  We have to be mindful about something called cultural norm.  When I was working in Malaysia, I found that the people in general are a lot warmer.  Guys and girls, they like to hug each other.  Or perhaps I was blessed with warm people around me.  What I know is that I do enjoy getting hugged once in a while.

To me, this idea can be elevated to a spiritual level.  How so?  While it is easy to have physical contact with our loved ones, how do we have physical contact with God in today’s world?  We could say, God is everywhere and similar to love, we cannot see God but we know God exists.  Well and good.  But can we touch something we cannot see?

Catholics faith has quite a few mysteries.  The transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is one.  The bread would taste the same after the transubstantiation.  So would the wine.  But during the Eucharistic celebration, the bread and mine is made holy.  If we believe that the bread does become the Body of Christ, the act of consuming the bread – to me – is a powerful physical contact with divinity.  Now, what do I get out of this?  To be more like Jesus would be a good start.

Last weekend, Catholics around the world have celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi, or in English, the Body of Christ.  In our Church, we have a guest priest to deliver the sermon.  He seems old and he has a caring voice.  I wish he could speak louder because the kids at the back of the Church were yelling non-stop.  Once in a while, I come cross good sermons.  Recently, I have started this habit of writing down a good sermon for my future reference.  And for sharing too, because I reckon some of you may be able to benefit from it.

The story started with the priest being assigned to India.  In his spare time, he looked after the honey bees.  Every day, he took out the honeycombs, cleaned them up, and removed the moth eggs if any.  According to him, the honeycombs can be eaten away by the moths if left unattended.  One day, while he was meticulously cleaning the honeycombs, he felt something knocking at his knees.  Because bees do sting, he carefully put down the honeycomb before finding out what it was.  It was a lamb.  Since then, every day at the same hour, the lamb would come up to the priest and they would play with each other.  This went on for quite some time.  It was soon known to the community that our priest has a new friend – a lamb.

One Easter morning, the priest did a round of making sure that everything was in order.  Inside the kitchen and from a distance, he saw a meat dish with a decoration that resembled a sheep.  His heart sank.  As he approached the kitchen table, he saw balls of cottons surrounding the dish.  The priest smiled to the cook and said, “You nearly got me there.  I thought it was a mutton dish!”  The cook replied, “Father, it is your lamb.  We do not want to tell you because we know that you would not let us.”

It was meant to be a day of celebration but the priest could not help but feeling down.  The mutton dish was delicious, judging by how delighted the dinners looked.  The priest could not bring himself to eat that dish.  I can only speculate the conflicts on his mind back then.  Towards the end of the meal, the priest took the last piece of mutton.  He ate it with gratitude and reverence.  At that point, he realized that he would not have felt the same had he not had a special bonding with the lamb.  The relationship he had with the lamb has triggered this sense of gratitude and reverence.

The question back to us is: When we receive Holy Communion, are we filled with gratitude and reverence?  This is an important question because how we receive the Body of Christ says everything about our relationship with God.  Think about it.

On A Night Of Insomnia – A Little Diary

Every night, the moment my wife slips out of my embrace is the moment I am briefly woken up, if I am asleep by then.  That happens all the time because living beings do not stay still when sleeping.  Do they?  One time, I observed my dog back in Hong Kong.  I think he dreams.  He would snuggle into a heap of blankets mom and dad have put together, feeling all comfortable on his bed.  Another moment, he would sleepwalk to my dad’s bed, rest his body on the cold hard floor, and closed his eyes falling back to sleep.  Once in a while, he would wake up, walk to the front door, make some scratching sound, growl a bit (someone outside?), and then head back to his corner of the living room, sip some water before returning to his heap of blanket – just like I do.  Not the scratching and growling bit, but the drinking bit, and perhaps the peeing bit.

Cynthia often tells me that I do spring out of the bed at times, make some strange body motions, and speak some random words before heading back to bed.  I often deny such absurd behaviors of mine.  Like she often denies the fact that in extremely rare occasions especially after a long tiring day during our holiday, she is capable of  snoring, however light and gentle, barely inaudibly and certainly adorable her heavy breathing may seem.  Lucky for me, I have once recorded her dreamy symphony.  The next morning, I played the recording back to her.  And we had a good laugh.  She has yet to have caught me doing such weird stuffs on camera.  Hence, for now, such a claim is still a myth.

Fish do not stay still when sleeping.  When I was young, our family was used to have a huge water tank full of gold fish.  I cannot recall if fish sleep with their eyes closed.  I have this fascination with fish inside a fish tank.  Fish mating is one of the most beautiful things to see on earth.  I could stare at fish all day long.  I could trick my fish to kiss my fingers thinking that I was showering them with food.  And when I did shower them with food, some got so excited so much so that they would leap out of the water.  Heck.  My dad’s friend could trick my fish to surface and he would then exhale cigarette smoke onto the eagerly opened mouths of my gold fish.  Then inhaled his cigarette and let go a long slow stream of smoke into the sea of open fish mouths.  Rinse and repeat.  What does nicotine do to fish?  I do not want to know.  Cynthia does not have the same level of fascination.  People say that opposite attracts.  Since I am not a dog lover, I think that makes us even.

Turtles, on the other hand, sleep motionlessly, to my best knowledge.  So motionless that one of them died in my home because none of us remember to feed him with food and water, after his long hibernation.  We were used to keep birds too.  Birds are so active that I am unsure if they ever sleep.  I have seen them dosing off.  That was about it.  I could not tell if a caterpillar sleeps.  It either eats or stops eating.  When I was young, my dad would bring home some caterpillars found at the rooftop of the cinema he worked in.  He would then breed the butterflies using his Japanese doll glass container – a wedding gift of my parents (that Japanese doll to be precise).  It was magical to see a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.  My sister and I would hold the butterflies in our hands and we would release them from our seven-storey tall apartment.

Dogs, fish, turtles, birds, and caterpillars.  Some move during their sleep.  Some I do not know.

Last night, the moment my wife slipped out of my embrace was the moment I was woken up, quite permanently so, at least for that night.  I tried to go back to sleep but I could not.  The noise from the street seemed to have magically amplified, as the time entered deeper into the early morning.  Not a single moment of silence.   I thought of renovating my home with thick soundproof windows; I thought of renovating my home with new cabinets and a fresh layer of paint; I thought of the dust we have to deal with and I have to clean up; I thought of the what, when, how, and soon, it became more tiring trying to sleep.  I thought of moving to a new home that has complete serenity.  But where in Singapore do we have such serenity?  I got out of the bed, retreated to the living room, and now what?  I pictured myself inside a plane, like I was a week ago.  Now what?

I finished reading a book recommended by one of my blogger friends.  The book is about a Jew’s interpretation of the biblical story of Samson.  While as a Catholic, I do not disagree with the author on theological ground, I must say that his interpretation borders on being imaginative at best and far fetched at worst.  Maybe he is right, reading the scripture in his perspective.  Maybe the word ‘came’ in Hebrew does have a sexual connotation.  Hence when the angel came to Samson’s supposedly barren mother, his mother was in fact impregnated by a stranger.  Maybe the word ‘grind’ in Hebrew also has a sexual connotation. Hence when the blinded Samson was imprisoned, the locals offered their wives to him hoping that he could perform the miracle of getting them pregnant, treating Samson like a ‘stud bull’.  Maybe it is also true that when Samson was called to entertain the crowd in the temple, he was asked to perform sex acts.  Who am I to argue with a Jew who reads the bible in Hebrew?

After reading, I tried to sleep again.  But my mind was filled with a film staring Samson in a Eyes Wide Shut style, with my eyes wide opened.  To be honest, I spend more time reading the New Testament than the Old Testament.  To the Christians, Messiah has come.  Old Testament is there to foretell the coming of Christ and Christ is here to fulfill the scripture.  To the Jews, the Messiah has yet to come.  And our New Testament is not at all relevant.  Still, the Jewish author’s interpretation of the story of Samson has kept me awake.  I got out of the sofa, dragged my tired body to the bookshelf in another room, and dug out the Catholic Study Bible.  I read in depth the writing structure of the Old Testament and how the books were organized, the theological value of the Book of Judges (judges are heroes who were significant in the Israel history before the era of the kings), and in particular, the chapters on Samson.  I read the Bible slowly, and in greater detail, including the study notes.  Fortunately the story of Samson is not long . I sought peace in my faith and peace has fallen upon me by four in the morning.

Do you believe in spiritual food?  I felt so refreshed after meditating on the scripture.  One friend of mine once told me that he meditated one hour in the morning every day before going to work.  I used to think that such action would put any sane person to sleep, unless you are a saint.  Come to think of it, maybe spiritual refreshment for the soul works with the body too.  Not during wee hours, for sure. Perhaps during daybreak.

I still could not sleep so I pondered: What would I have done if I was on the plane?  I have got another book to finish.  But the topic is heavy.  It has something to do with psychology and how our brain works.  Cynthia would have switched on the in-flight entertainment.  I took out one of the Blu-ray discs that I have been wanted to watch.  It was a Cantonese movie, a two-hour show.  My reasoning was that I could get bored and tired watching a movie and however little the number of hours left before seven, I could at least catch some.  Besides, I have so many unwatched discs that are no longer funny.  Why do I keep buying when I am unable to consume them in time?

I was wrong.  The movie was engaging, heartwarming and wrenching at the same time.  The movie is called “Break Up Club”.  I bought it during my previous Hong Kong visit because Fiona Sit is staring in it.  It is extremely hard to find good and recent Cantonese movies in Singapore.  I miss my mother tongue immensely.  How the actors behave on screen, all the little quirky movements, the dramatic dialogs, and the facial expressions, they struck my inner core like no other languages do.  I laughed and cried with the actors.  I was more awake every passing minute.  Despite the fact that it is not a perfect film, it perfectly warmed my heart.  And it perfectly failed to put me to sleep.

By six, I retired to the bedroom, where Cynthia was fast asleep.  I might have caught half an hour of nap before the alarm clock rang.  Added to that half an hour of nap before my wife slipping out of my embrace, I had one hour of rest and a bunch of activities in between. Insomnia is a strange experience.  Some time during one to six, I felt as though my consciousness has left my body. Will I be rewarded with a solid eight hours of sleep tonight?  I will have to wait and see.

Merry Christmas, And A Brief Summary Of 2010

What a year 2010 has been!  By the time you read this, I am very much on my way leaving town, looking forward to meeting Cynthia’s family and enjoying the serenity of an Internet blackout.  Back to basic, somewhere in Indonesia.  I can imagine how I would hear the ringing in my ears at night, be greeted by the rather cool air in the morning, the prayers from a mosque nearby before the break of dawn.  I would have so much time to exercise, to read, to revise my Spanish, to take a walk in the neighborhood, and to taste the local food.

The official announcement was out yesterday.  My entry of “Sea Turtle” has won over the judges from the HP team, against some of the stiffest competitions.  I have read some of entries written by fellow bloggers showcased at the HP Singapore Facebook page, and they are good.  I am thrilled, very thrilled that the judges were won over by – quoting from the email – my creativity, relevance to the topic, and the originality of my story.  And I dedicate this little achievement of mine to you, my readers.  Especially those who think that I should take up writing more seriously, and the encouragement I receive when I venture outside my comfort zone – in terms of writing.  Also, thanks to Amelia from Waggener Edstrom who has been encouraging and reminding me to complete the entry.  Your positive energy is a blessing to those around you.  You should be my agent, should my writing career takes off.

I enjoy writing “Sea Turtle” a lot.  Because it took me a few good weeks to research on the subject matters down to how sea turtles hear and what sea turtles do.  And it took some good thinking in order to put together a folklore, as inspired by Italo Calvino and his lecture notes “Six Memos for the Next Millennium”.  I am not literature trained.  I wish I was.  Having said that, I would probably hate writing if it was so.

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This doodle of mine (on top of this post) is titled tentatively as “Rain of Heaven and Fire of Chaos”.  It started as a ginger bread man – Cynthia can vouch for it.  But I tossed the idea away and started afresh, with something more complex.  Because that ginger bread man and Christmas tree composition was going nowhere.  I am not sure if anyone would get what this drawing is trying to say.  It is a rather private piece of composition.  Hence the zipper.

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Instead of spending time to write a batch of posts to be released while I am away like I used to – which I suppose most readers would be busy celebrating the festive season and new year with family and friends – I dedicate my time going through all my year 2010 posts.  OK.  Retract a little.  Before I went through my posts this year, I tried to recall what I did in 2010.  Nothing significant came up.  The other day, I had lunch with my good friend Shauna.  We concluded that time flies, year 2010 has disappeared as quickly as it arrived.  Cynthia and I had dinner with our good friend Tong Kiat two evenings ago for his birthday celebration at Dempsey Road.  We also concluded the same.  Now, when I did take time to look through what I have done, here are some of my favorite entries that you may or may not have read.  Some, I have even forgotten that they were written.  Back to the first practical reason of why I blog.  Time does fly.  But not without leaving behind some of the fondest memories.

In no particular order, there is a brief summary of my year 2010.

  1. My niece Bethany was born in January!  When I look at my little sister, who is so full of heavenly joy, it is hard to believe that she now has a little daughter.  My photo is seldom featured here.  The one taken on Bethany’s 100th day birthday still melts my heart whenever I look at it.
  2. I do many silly things in life.  Regardless, these would have been my talking points if we are to meet face-to-face.  Like that toilet bowl incident.  Like that little operation I had on my toe and my buddy still thinks that it was not a piece of hair.  I should have kept the specimen, as what my doctor has suggested.  And like that hard sales incident that till today, whenever I am inside Thomson Plaza, I try to avoid that counter.  Cynthia would say: Don’t worry, you are with me and no one will touch you! Yep.  I feel so much protected with Cynthia around.
  3. If I have to pick one post I enjoy writing the most this year, besides that sea turtle post, that would be the koala post.  Or the one on Indonesian forest fire.  The style is similar.  It takes effort and tons of luck to chain up the stories.  What if I fail to chain them up?
  4. Well, the materials would turn into the “Snippet of My Life” series, which has been running for more than three years.  Snippet without a doubt holds a special place in my heart.  Of all that I have written this year, episode 27 is my favorite.
  5. Our band has performed live gigs in Bali Culture, which unfortunately the land that the restaurant sat on has been repossessed by our government.  Our band has not been doing much lately, due to a missing drummer, and subsequently, lost in momentum and motivation.  Sometimes in life, there are something that I wish.  And there are something that are out of reach.
  6. Writing travel journals takes so much time and sustained concentration.  However, I am glad that I do.  My favorite albums would be Gorges du Verdon in France and Lamma Island in Hong Kong.
  7. Counting how much time and money I have spent on learning Spanish is, scary.  From time to time, I use what I have learned from my Spanish class as an inspiration for my posts.  When I was 18 is one good example.
  8. What else?  Of course, for many years to come, Cynthia and I would still be laughing about how we spent our 10th wedding anniversary.

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Yesterday I was on leave.  Ever since I have been relocated to the east, hardly do I have the opportunity to meet my sister for business lunch.  Because she works at the west.  So I was thinking: Why not gang up with Bethany – my niece – (together with Benny of course) and  have a Surprise!! lunch with my sister?  The logistic turned out to be more tedious than I thought.  So instead of a Surprise!!, we have a “surprise”.  Lora was fully aware of our visit.  Still, it was a fun day.

Below is a photo taken with my niece Bethany possibly mouthing and gesturing “I am number one” or “My mama is the best” or “My papa is the coolest” or “Hey, pass me that camera of yours, would you?”  In the middle is my sister Lora, and by her sides, Benny and Bethany.  Now that I look closer at the photo, I am very much convinced that Bethany was mouthing MERRY CHRISTMAS!