It’s been quite a difficult few days. It’s been stressful along a multitude of fronts.
With the number 8 figuring prominently in a lot of things. And yes, I’m being cryptic. Mostly because I don’t necessarily want to say much at all. I’m still gathering thoughts and processing emotions (and sorting out the spaghetti bowl of emotions is never a straightforward exercise).
Last week, I received a resounding yes in answer to something that I’ve been praying for for a while (there were a lot of tears and storming the gates of heaven). Then I had to pray for guidance about how to go about having the difficult conversations that would come following the answered prayer. Whilst I don’t think it went the way I wanted because they were never going to be painless, the difficult conversations were had and I feel relieved to have had them and now I can move forward.
I am thankful for my faith. Because I can focus on the knowledge that yes, things are bad, yes things are challenging, but my God has me in the palm of His hand. My God has the perfect plan for me, with the perfect timeline, and all I have to do is trust Him.
“I realized that the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able to honestly to pray what He taught His disciples to pray: Thy will be done.” ― Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control
I’ve not very been very vocal about my faith or my spirituality. Maybe because in this very secular world I didn’t want to tread on people’s toes or sensitivities. I know that we are all allowed to say what we feel, what we think and our faith is one of the most important testaments we can make. However, that being said, I think I’ve allowed myself to be more PC than I thought I would ever be. Because of that, allowed myself to not talk about how my faith gets me through each day. I’m reminded of Psalty the Singing Songbook from the Kids’ Praise series of music albums I used to listen to when I was little. I can still hear Psalty saying “God wouldn’t want you to hide your light under a bushel!” And that’s exactly what I allowed myself to do.
I am truly a church kid. I grew up getting up early on a Sunday morning, getting dressed in my Sunday best and going to church and Sunday school. I sang in the children’s choir and Christmas was always busy with children’s choir rehearsals. My summers were spent attending daily vacation church school, attending summer church camps and other church-based activities. It didn’t stop there. As I got older, i graduated to joining the chancel choir, acting as bible study leader, children’s choir conductor and summer camp cell group leader. If I were still in the Philippines, I would probably still be in church most weekends, happily involved in the various things church-related. Most of my oldest and most enduring friendships are with people I grew up with, in church. I am quite thankful that I grew up in church because I know that this has founded my faith and it is my faith that carries me through the dark days.
It is because I grew up in church that I learned to take solace in prayer and meditation. I find that the quiet times that I spend alone with my thoughts, tears, prayers and meditations ground me and steady me. It allows me to surrender everything to the higher power taking care of us. It is also because of that faith that the word surrender doesn’t feature negatively in my vocabulary. Surrender is sometimes the bravest thing to do.
Quite recently, I started listening to Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Conversations podcast. She had a conversation with Rev Ed Bacon about spirituality. It was such an ecumenical discussion about faith that it gave me a lightbulb moment. I had to look back on conversations about faith that I had with the friends I have here. I found that I had discussions about faith and prayer with friends who were Christian, Muslim, and others who didn’t necessarily ascribe to a particular religious doctrine. Spirituality and faith is universal. So talking about it is universal. It is funny that it’s taken me so long to realise this!
And today, as with all the most difficult days, my mantra is “In His perfect time, according to His perfect will.”
Easter brings a 4-day weekend with Bank Holiday Friday (aka Good Friday when I lived in Manila) and Easter Monday (which, thank you God, is also a bank holiday!). Easter also brings a lot of chocolate and it’s been a tradition at the firm that I work in for the shareholders of the firm to give us Easter eggs before the office closes for the long weekend. Easter also brings a time for me to rest. I’ve not been a 100% per cent for a while, so I am thankful for the statutory time off!
Easter was quite different for me when I lived in the Philippines. If you didn’t already know, the Philippines is a predominantly Christian country, where approximately 86% of the population are Roman Catholic (I belong to the 2% of the population, I think, who are protestant – I am a proud card-carrying Methodist!). So Easter is a big thing in the Philippines – almost as big as Christmas. But I think, whilst Christmas is a celebration of blessings (both spiritual and fiscal), Easter is more solemn…more devotional.
The country begins it’s slow down on Palm Sunday and all but shuts down in the afternoon of Holy Wednesday. The proceedings begin on Maundy Tuesday, the evening when the ritual of the Last Supper is celebrated and everyone goes into a collective retrospective, spiritually contemplative and prayerful mood. When I was younger, before the introduction of the mainstream cable TV subscription, local TV stations would cease their usual telecasts and it would only be “religious” films on TV (mostly about the last days of Christ, and Father Peyton TV specials). Children weren’t allowed to play and we were all told to be quiet when we did laugh out loud.
When I started participating in my local church activities, the weeks leading up to Easter Sunday were very busy. There were choir practices for the services that would be held for the evening of the Last Supper (Maundy Thursday evening) where we would have the ceremonial washing of the feet, the Last Supper and the service would end by the congregation stripping the altar of all its adornments in preparation for the afternoon service during Good Friday. On Good Friday, there is a service in church where the focus of reflection is Jesus’ seven last statements whilst he was crucified on the cross. I have been privileged to offer a reflection before. There is a lot of hymn singing and the whole week is prayerful.
On Easter Sunday, most of the Catholic population celebrate Christ’s resurrection in an early morning (usually at around 4 or 5AM) ritual called Salubong (sah-loo-bong). It is, most probably, the imagined reenactment of Jesus and Mary’s first meeting after Jesus has risen from the dead. I’ve always known the Methodists (and other protestant congregations) to have an ecumenical (all are welcome) Easter sunrise service that usually starts at 5AM. There is much singing and celebrating and then we all go back to our local churches to have our Easter Sunday services. There is more celebrating via a church lunch following the requisite Easter egg hunt for the children.
The season of Lent is slightly different for me these days. Since moving to the UK, because I’ve never really properly attached myself to a church, I don’t have the same Christian fellowship during these times. I don’t have a choir to practice songs with, or a service to attend, during most times. I know I should try to find a church, to regularly attend a Sunday service, to find Christian fellowship. I find that whilst Easter still means a lot to me, because it represents the day Christ offered Himself to die for my sins, the day I became free from the shackles of death, it has become less contemplative.
I find that the life I live is more socially secular and more personally spiritual. But I think that because of this lack of Christian fellowship, something is missing in my life. I miss talking to people about my faith. I miss sharing how little things in my life represent God’s goodness. I miss talking about the instantness of God’s answers to my prayers. I miss talking about how blessed I am to have certain people in my life because they represent God’s unconditional and illimitable love for me. I miss talking about how amazing it is when I see God’s hand in the turn of events in my life.
While I lament the lack of opportunity to shout my faith from the mountaintops, I am also thankful for this personal stillness in my life. I am reminded of the time when, in church, our youth group decided to focus on the internal spiritual growth of the church youth. We decided that we needed to establish our fellowship first, before reaching out to other churches. Because we felt the need for the bonds to be strengthened internally first before we reached out. I think my move to the UK symbolised that as well. Because after years of serving in church, after years of sharing myself, I needed to look inwardly and reassess my faith. I needed to tend to my own relationship with my God and my Saviour Jesus Christ. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never felt removed from God, there wasn’t a sense that I wasn’t connected to God. It was just I was letting Him do all the carrying (I don’t think He minded, but I know He would have loved it if I reached out to Him and carried my end of the yoke). It is a relationship I have with my God.
I mean, ultimately, it is a commensalist relationship we have with our God. Because whilst God can be without me (I am thankful that God loves me, and that this has never been a factor in His great plans for me), I am completely nothing without Him. I benefit because I am with Him. I am blessed because I am with Him. Life would be a lot less if I existed without Him.
But I want to continue building my relationship with my God. I stopped for a while. I focused on myself but wanting to establish myself without His guidance is an exercise in futility. Having my own way is what He has given us, we are free to make our own choices. But ultimately, if we are not guided by Him and if we do not surrender to His will, we might as well walk our life journeys in circles. When you do not have your internal compass you won’t get to where you need to go.
God has been waiting for me to properly come back, to pay attention to my relationship with Him. He has been a constant presence in my life, in the people He has put in my life to remind me that I’ve not been walking the walk. I am truly thankful that we have these Christian rituals during the year. Because they serve as good reminders – of God’s love for us, and our responsibilities to Him.