Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Symphony of life

I came across an Italian song called “Sinfonia” (Symphony) this morning which really struck me for its message and its simple manner of transmitting a complex message about life. In a few words it reflected  on the quality of our lives and what really matters. In its few words it touches on the doubts we often face and the  seemingly lack of response from Him who matters to our troubles.

It went something like this:

Sinfonia e’ dove parli Tu
Armonia e’ l’universo inter,
Nel Silenzio ami,
Nel Rumore ami,
Sei l’eterno Amor.

Guardo la natura e penso,
Come non crederti!
Passa per la mente un dubbio,
Ma vinci Tu, perche:

Sinfonia e’ dove parli Tu,
Armonia e’ l’universo inter,
Nel Silenzio ami,
Nel Rumore ami,
Tu esisti Signore.

A free translation would be something like this

A symphony – that’s where You speak. 
And Harmony is the entire universe. 
In the Silence (of life) You love,
and in its noisy side, You love too. 
You are the eternal Love. 

I look at nature and think,
how can I not believe in You.
A thought, a doubt, passes my mind,
but You win because
You are the symphony through which you speak,
the harmony of the entire universe. 
In the silence of my life, you speak to me,
as you do in the noisy, hectic life I lead….
You exist, my Lord.

I concluded that no matter how much we struggle in this life, it is only our faith and trust in the One Who Matters that will pull us through.  Because we are really not worthy for His love for us and all we can do is continue to struggle with ourselves and the busy unrelenting life we often find ourselves in - with His love as our only support.  Yes, Lord, you are our only hope.  Because You  really exist. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Walking on water?

One of the things I’ve never really mastered is floating on my back while swimming at the beach. Floating on my stomach is something I’ve learned to do from a youngish age through snorkelling but floating on my back…well that was a different story. Though I’ve tried to float many times, I never rally mastered it since it basically comes to letting go of logic, to relax and allow myself to…float! In other words, to be supported by the water. Since I’ve always wanted to be in control of my swimming (and my life, for that matter),  the concept of floating seemed to go against that completely.

But not yesterday. I was enjoying a leisurely afternoon swim at the beach and got this urge to again try and float on my back.  I have always enjoyed swimming on my back but I have to be moving, not lying still. So yesterday I pushed all my fears aside and lay on my back, opened my arms out wide, stretched my feet and ….relaxed. At first I felt my feet start to fall down as muscle power left them through relaxation. Then, to my surprise, I felt the water pushing them up again effortlessly….and I was floating freely, being totally supported and moved by the calm sea (as the woman in the photo here, because, to my knowoedge no one was taking my photo of this great moment in history!!).

I lay there on my back for a few moments enjoying the quietness and the peace it brought me.  The sky was a beautiful blue and completely cloudless. Then I suddenly got spiritual. I was reminded of the time when I had floated like this so effortlessly before, in the Dead Sea.  It also reminded me of how much I really needed to let myself go into God's arms and allow him to support me in my life, as the sea was now doing.  If the simple combination of salt and water could support me if I allowed it to, how much more would God support me if I allowed Him to. 

Then, I suddenly understood what it must have felt like for Peter to utter those famous words (as quoted in Matthew 14):  "Lord, if it is really you, order me to come out on the water to you."
"Come!" answered Jesus. Matthew tells us that Peter then got out of the boat and started doing what to him - and the others - was the impossible..... walking on the water to Jesus.  Like Peter, at times we too must get out of our boat, leaving what is comfortable in order to do God's work. Taking that first step is scary, but it leads to many blessings.  Once he stepped out in faith, Peter had an opportunity to walk on water, to be lifted up, to be taught, to be touched by the Master. Until he doubted.  And when I too started doubting during my swim, I also stated sinking.

Like Peter, when we step out in faith, when we let ourselves go to God's support, we open a door for Him to work in us. We may perform tasks we were not capable of doing before or that we don't understand. We are being offered opportunities to step out and walk toward Jesus all the time. Do we take them? Yet, once we take that first step, we will never be the same.

Happy swimming...on your backs!!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

How full (or empty) is your bottle?

Last week we discussed the concept of uselessness.  This is something work looking into deeper, especially from the spiritual point of view.  If we think positively then our life problems are perceived as being the training we need to be able to achieve God’s plan for us.  If we think negatively then we see them as being the problems that are really the shortcomings that keep us anchored to the ground and unable to achieve anything worthwhile.

Partly to combat this, the Church daily puts before us different saints who have proved that through their example we can aspire to a higher level of relationship with God.  Often enough we look at them though as very special people who have managed to achieve much, not like us poor, ordinary humans, destined to achieve little. And therefore, imitating them is perceived as a difficult – if not impossible – task. 

This viewpoint emphasises the fact that we can feel inferior, useless, inappropriate before God.  We look at our smallness before Him and allow that to control us.  Rather we should be looking at it all from the other viewpoint…with how much we have been graced with being able to achieve.

Talking of saints and uselessness must obviously bring us into contact with St. John Vianney, a Frenchman (1786-1859), he is more popularly known as the Cure d’Ars, i.e. the parish priest of Ars.   Born near Lyon practically on the outbreak of the French revolution, his early life was lived in the shadow of the reign of terror in Paris which was exiling or murdering the Catholic clergy and religious.  Yet in all this turmoil he found his calling to become a priest and though not a bright student (to say the least!) he managed to be ordained in 1815 aged 29. 

Vianney (left)  is unfortunately generally considered to have been a really stupid person academically and no one really expected him to complete his studies successfully to the priesthood.   The story goes that after somehow passing his exams he had to face an oral interview with his bishop and senior Church officials.  He was the last student of a long day of interviews and the board was tired.  Realising it was Vianney they decided to overlook him knowing well that he could offer very little.  You can say that he got in through the back door…because God will make a way when there seems to be no way, as the popular song goes!

Anyway, after Vianney was ordained the bishops decided to send him to Ars, a rather rebellious town where he would be of no use and do no damage either because of their strong anti-religious/clerical feelings.  Vianney’s first approach was to try and frighten the people (unsuccessfully) with his preaching, but later in life he overcame his preoccupation with damnation  and was able to manifest the sweetness of mercy and a simplicity that was nurtured by his constant practice of prayer.  He remained in the town for over 42 years because the people eventually loved him so much they wouldn’t let him go.  He literally wore himself out in serving the faithful and especially in being constantly available for confessions, sometimes up to 12 hours a day. 

This dedicated parish priest successfully overcame the religious indifference of the people of Ars.  He was also constantly occupied with the religious education of his parishioners, instructing them in plain language that they could understand.  They often commented that no other priest had ever preached as he did.  In 1843 he even received the medal of France’s distinguished Legion of Honour but he sold it to give the money to the poor.  In the end he died peacefully, of exhaustion, at the age of 74!  This was the guy who everyone thought was a hopeless case. Everyone believed it….except Vianney himself and God. 

Uselessness therefore is a state of the mind. If we believe it then it will rule our life.  If we don’t, then it is merely a moment we are passing through and tomorrow it will remain a shadow of a memory…because we’ll be applying ourselves to something positive. 

And then our bottle is more than half full!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Does God make rubbish?

When I started working in the newspaper business so many years ago, one of my first jobs was to look after the syndicated daily cartoon and make sure that it was always available for publication and in the right sequence. We might all take newspaper cartoons for granted and don’t look at the work that goes on behind the scenes…and for one thing, someone has to coordinate the work for publication!  That simple job gave me, the budding kid journalist, a sense responsibility that has remained with me.  Ironically, the cartoon was called “Useless Eustace”, a funny man with a big round head who has now long been put out to pasture by the newspaper I worked for. Perhaps he was a left over from British wartime influence on my country.  But Eustace (here seen in a wartime clipping) was always up to some stupidity or other and to some extent he was a reflection of ourselves.

How many times do we fall into humorous conversation with friends about the stupid things we get up to, which in themselves reflect how we may poorly perceive ourselves. A friend recently told me that after her first visit to her psychologist she came back with the comment that all she was suffering from was a sickness called “You don’t love herself enough!”  And if we stop to think about it I think we’ll find that we generally do under-rate ourselves tremendously. Especially in the way we go through life.

In marketing terms, we are all classified into two groups – leaders and followers. The vast majority of us are followers who are so easily influenced by those who are the first to do/try all the new things that come out on the market.  We tend to think of ourselves as unique yet we really aren’t all that different from each other. Because we continue to insist on seeing our faults and shortcomings rather than how good we really are.

So is your bottle half full or half empty?

This is what Eustace was all about. He was the harbinger of uselessness, and believed it. Hence the result of his daily mess ups.  So, believe you are useless and you will become one! This also applies to our spiritual life.  If we are seeing things from the Useless Eustace viewpoint, then God is too busy to bother with us, poor, stupid, ordinary humans.  And that is definitely incorrect. We should remember that we were created in His image and likeness. The fact that God is so great means that he cannot be in us completely in His image, since we were not made to contain Him completely. There are ample references in Scripture to the fact that we  are too finite to be able to even look Him in the face.  Yet in His creation of humanity God has willed it to give each and every one of us a drop of Himself which is enough to fill us completely ….for the moment, this lifetime.

If we agree to that concept, then we can never – should never – believe that we can possibly be useless, no matter the circumstances in our life.  God told Paul that “My grace is enough”  for him, and so it is for us too.  We are all made to achieve so if we think otherwise then we are probably going against God’s plan for us. Opening ourselves to be under-achievers, continuing the saga of Useless Eustace’s! 

I recently heard an Australian Christian song by Rev. Robert Galea called “God does not make Rubbish” in which even his diocese head participated, Bishop Joe Grech. This song was actually co-written by the Bishop who has made the phrase in the title of the song famous through his enthusiastic repetition of the theme and the actual words.  This song was written for the youth of Sandhurst,  Melbourne, Australia, and got over 1,000 downloads on the first week of release.  And the message was clear. We are all special.  Because God does not make mistakes in anything He does.  And creation is a direct reflection of His work.  As much as you and I are reflections of Him too.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

It's all a question of baggage

In psychological terms,we are what we are today because of what we were yesterday.  In other words, our lives are to some extent controlled by the experiences and incidents that happen to us in our life.  We therefore respond to life in the way these have shaped us to respond to situations.  It is said that the formation we had in our young and youth years are what control our reactions in adult life.  In other words if we have not been allowed independence of ideas or of actions in those formative years then we will find that in later years, when we have to stand on our two feet, alone, in society, then we will reason in the same way as the child in us would have.  To many this is now generally referred to as our baggage. And baggage is what we carry around with us throughout our life.
Often enough this is inherited from our parents too and the way they have brought us up.  It is the unconscious manner in which parents do this, while doing their utmost to give their children a good experience of life, is what makes or mars them forever.  Often enough too, parents are not even aware of the effect of their action on their children and this is, to some extent the tragedy of it all.  What was good for oure upbringing, of the times of our upbringing, may not be the right thing to emulate in the more modern times of what we call the present!

As a result we often carry repressed, guilt or insecurity feelings all our lives without really knowing why. And we would respond or react to the trigger situations in the same way we did as kids.  Feeling insecure often leads us to depend on no one but ourselves, so we store for the rainy days or generate financial strength for ourselves to retire on a good leg, so to speak.  Is this wrong?  Of course not but we may be overdoing it.

The Last Word?

Make yourself at home here, come back and read some of the older cappuccino posts too, relax, reflect.... and comment if you wish....there's a comment button at the end of each post!
I hope to see you again in a few days time. Enjoy.