PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Sunday, August 25, 2013

 

Nouwen: Love and the Pain of Leaving



Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain.   The greatest pain comes from leaving.  When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies ... the pain of the leaving can tear us apart.  

Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving.  And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair.  We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

 

Losing people



How fast people come and go in our life! It was in kinder grade when I first encountered new faces outside of the family -- , maybe around 25 to 30 little people my age. Of that crowd, I only had someone I could consider a close friend, and that was J., who was, unsurprisingly, a next-door neighbor back home. J. would become a classmate in elementary and high school as well, and of course we would remain close friends, but I eventually ‘lost’ this guy in college and thereafter due to sheer distance. Today, it doesn’t look right that I wasn’t there when he got married and had one son after another. I knew I had somewhat 'lost' him. I would go through so many of such losses through time, and not one of them is not sad.

In elementary school, I would have more close friendships. Other than J., there was D., B., and G. among the boys and J. and B. among the girls (the latter tomboyish). These are people I thought would be my friends for life, but I was proven wrong. Though we communicate now and then via Facebook, high school rivalry would put us asunder somewhat, for we went to two different high schools in town which are fierce competitors (I'm sure up to this day). This is just a perception, I know, but I feel like they were no longer the same persons I once knew.

High school was a lot different in terms of the number of friends I was close to. Almost everyone was a close friend. I am not sure what’s with high school, but everyone was special to me, although there were J., J., B., and R. to count on when there must be a subgroup within the group. The thing is, I really enjoyed everyone’s company and honored by everyone’s acquaintance despite our stark, mainly socioeconomic differences. To this day, I count my high school classmates as friends, but even this has limits: time and distance could take their toll, too, reinforcing their ability to make differences more pronounced and therefore divisive. I still do get excited by announcements of reunions now and then, but I can distinctly sense that something was lost through the years. Only a handful can be relied upon to show up, and the reason for the absence is too predictable: kids, wife/husband, ailing parents. Gone is the original innocence, the purity of comradeship in high school, or maybe just the carefree-ness of it, when at the drop of a hat, everyone would be there 99.9%.

College proved to be the reversal of high school. I met an excess of new, even more wonderful people, but among these, I would only count my roommate G. and perhaps blockmate R. as the closest friends I had. Even though I got close to a few roommates now and then (there was J. and perhaps R.), my rapport with them was not the same I had with G. and R. Today, however, G. wouldn’t even respond to my emails and my friend requests on Facebook. I don’t know why – maybe it must be something I said to him the last time we met over coffee in Glorietta before he and his family moved to New York City for good. R. is still a friend, but I couldn’t find the time for his repeated invites for a little reunion with other college friends, due to health and other reasons. The problem is more of me, surely; I'm quite uncomfortable with his high stature (because apparently, I feel insecure).

In my first job, at Innodata, I met my first boss, first supervisors/editors, and first officemates. It was another wonderful moment in my life. But I only gravitated to one person, M., an Atenean and former resident of Chicago, Illinois. I don’t know why or how we clicked, but we did. Naturally, I lost her instantly when I was suddenly fired from my job. There were no cell phones then, and no social media to retrieve the friendship.

My second job, at Quorum Litigation Services, was like a repeat of high school. I was blessed to meet new people who, though they were not of the same background as the ones in Innodata, had far more warmth and roughly shared my own background. I felt like I didn’t have to try or attempt anything to be accepted. I was particularly close to A., J., M., and a dozen more. But as in all good things, these close alliances had to end. These fond relationships at work, which was second home to everyone, ceased one by one for various reasons: change of jobs, resignation, termination, going abroad for good, altercation, even death in one case. Though we can still organize a reunion now and then, we can’t count on everybody’s presence and enthusiasm, unlike before.

When I transferred to the Ei project, I made new friends, particularly E., R., and R. I was in friendly terms with the other guys and with the girls in the office, but nothing as close to the three guys. We were always together especially since we shared one major interest: new life in Catholic charismatic community. In this life, we could talk about or share everything under the sun. So where is everybody now? Well, God took R. away prematurely from us in a horrible incident in the sea off Palawan. The other R. is now happily married with two daughters and working for a rival firm, while E. has long been working abroad, now also officially married but one that's a long-distance affair. In short, I ‘lost’ all of them as well.

My membership in the Catholic charismatic community I was talking about, the Risen Christ Catholic Community, is one episode in my life that was totally unexpected. It changed me profoundly, not the least because of the people from all walks of life that I met there: senior-age mentors, peers who shared the same passion for God and His work, and the members' children. It was such a joy to serve God in community with people I called brothers and sisters. Most specially, we in the Youth Ministry hit it off in no time, when we served God by teaching young people about the Christian way of life. I thought these guys would be my closest friends for life and that we would be working together for a very long time. Well, I was mistaken. What happened after about three or four years into my "underway membership" was a total dismay. This community I loved so much and in which I devoted my youth to God and His people suddenly divided after an ugly spat among its leaders. It was a traumatizing experience, especially since I was one of the newer members and I was all alone in the side I took. All the closest friends I had were on the other side of the fence. Even though I stuck with my decision out of principle, and it was not a very easy decision to make, it was one big loss. Through I felt at peace with my choice, I found the pain of sudden separation very hard to go through. Though each one of us must have moved on, such a seemingly schismatic division must have some lingering effects, especially since the quarrel had no closure.

Moreover, in community life, there are people who stay and there are people who leave. I have had pastoral leaders who quit for various reasons, and fellow small-group members who became inactive until they vanished without so much as a by your leave. These leavings are always a sad part of community life. My thinking is you join a community to stay for long, but maybe it is precisely because of this expectation that I am left reeling in pain.

From Ei, I jumped to the PsycInfo project out of my desire to try new tasks. I was back in the welcoming arms of the original pack at Quorum. But it was also a time to create new alliances. The infusion of fresh blood, particularly new writers, meant new friendships on top of the old one. I became close to a number of them: E., M., C., J., A., A., A., H.... I must have missed someone or other on this list. But why should this one be any different? It wouldn’t take long before I’d lose everybody again one by one, again thanks to change of employers mostly. If we shared one thing, it was the desire to seek better opportunities because we saw none of it in our cul-de-sac of a job.

When the negotiations for the PsycInfo project among the higher-ups fell through the cracks, I again found myself in another project and another set of new people. At AITInc, I became chummy with my immediate superior, T. I also met J., J., M., among others, plus an entire section of officemates whose job was to encode. J. and the rest were a crazy bunch, turning our workplace into a sitcom every workday. They’re totally unforgettable, even though they tend to humor themselves with the grosser things in life. We would eventually part ways after deciding to resign en masse due to disagreement with our current crop of managers led by T. It was an acrimonious end, again with no closure. But at least bitter endings always felt necessary, even urgent, with no heavy regrets of the parting to deal with. Nevertheless, it was never enjoyable.

In the Embase project, I would meet the medical indexers, but the workplace situation, the supervisor-staff relationship, made me keep professional distance from most everyone. I learned that, emotional distance, though it led to the land of non-connection, also resulted in zero risks for bitter and painful partings. But despite that, I managed to have affable friendships with the likes of M., L., et al. We keep contact to this day via Facebook, but of course, the past is long past; we are content just to see each other in pictures. Even attempts at a reunion in a karaoke joint are historically unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, I had been trying my hand at freelance-writing in between full-time jobs. In those days, I met people in the mainstream publishing world, particularly an editor (R.) and a regular contributor (C) in Inquirer, another editor at a magazine in a rival paper, et al. These are all mostly professional relationships, so the goodbyes do not have much sting. What hurt more was the loss of work because of opportunities ceasing to be, outfits folding up, and people quitting their day jobs in favor of advancement or retirement.

When I discovered the thrills of blogging in the middle of all that, I was again blessed to have met several personalities, at least online: fellow bloggers and commenters. But because of the anonymity, no matter how hard I poured my heart out in my posts/writings, I found that nothing replaces face-to-face interaction. Here, people come and go without much ill feelings. Admittedly, I did not relish the experience when I lost almost everyone after I made my position known on the Reproductive Health bill, but I continued to blog; I realized I was no longer writing to win approval or applause, although those things are welcome.

However, the death of Cathy Black, one US-based blogger with whom I communicated with several times via email, left me feeling sad and musing about my own mortality. She was among the very few who connected with me more personally than the rest, although we never met in the flesh.

After Risen Christ, my spiritual life regained its vigor in The Risen Lord’s Vineyard community. It is here where I continue to nourish my hidden life up to this day. There are, however, two terrible losses I would experience in this newly forged community, and it is not just about those who come and go, but about two important people who have gone ahead of us to claim their eternal reward: A., our founder and everybody’s mentor, and M., the closest friend I had in this community. I dread losing people this way in a community I have invested so much in, emotionally speaking, such that each and every member is special and almost a family to me.

A short stint at Netsourcephil as on-and-off part-time and full-time online essay-writing tutor is a reunion of sorts. My boss was A., ironically my trainee from PsychInfo days, and my immediate superior was T., who is one of my colleagues back in Quorum and AITInc. I was pretty close to both, especially to A., but my desire for a less intellectually demanding job led me to leave. For a change, I was the one leaving and being ‘lost,’ by choice, not the other way around.

One day, running into R. from Ei days at the MRT was providential because I had been wanting to quit doing essay tutorials as full-time work. R. told me to try Data Gateway instead, where he worked as an "indexer." It was another reunion of sorts to me because who would I find there, but other people from Ei as well, especially A.? I also met wonderful new officemates, the smart but simple types. In no time, however, I found the job here just as draining in a different way: the workload, I found, was too tough for me. After a few months, I clearly had to leave and lose people again in the process (or that they would lose me).

Fortuitously, I would receive a call from A., my Netsource boss, asking whether I wanted to transfer to EMCI as copyeditor. Of course I had to grab at the chance. EMCI, being the big company formerly named Innodata, gave me a better deal at almost every respect. Here, I would meet, N., C., T., and much later, Dr. A. and four more doctors. Too bad, my stay at EMCI couldn’t last for very long. However, it was long enough to get close to N. and C. By this time, I had fully accepted that earthly relationships and human associations are highly temporary, so it’s not too painful to lose N. to another job (a better one) and the rest due to project dissolution. I am happy to know they have moved on.

Meanwhile, afraid that I was losing my essay writing ability, I prayed hard for a real writing job. To my surprise, it was answered with an assignment after writing assignment from Asian Traveler magazine, thanks to C., my former colleague/fellow contributor at Inquirer and Netsource (small world!). It meant another office and another set of new coworkers. My stay in this part-time job saw me through several resignations by newbies and four editors, with the last one being somebody I don’t share politics with. The assignment dwindled until they became zero. It was sad, but what could I do?

While I was in Netsource, I found myself joining a separate group of people with various emotional problems seeking wholeness. Here I would meet a most important mentor outside the spiritual circle I moved in. It hurt to lose him prematurely to lung cancer. It was also quite painful to lose scores of new friends I made who came and went due to differences in beliefs and a host of other factors. Sadly, these are people who knew me on a deeper level. But that’s life, I guess. If people no longer like you, you just have to accept it and move on. This group, little as it is, would split too, complicating the loss. Thankfully, I am still in contact with a few, A., I., J., M., et al., although our meet-ups have become more and more scarce through the days.

In 2012, I would be invited to become a member of a Facebook group called Filipinos for Life because of my prolife position in the public debates around the ‘Reproductive Health’ bill. I have met a gargantuan number of friends here, which is both a boon and a bane. It is a boon because my work was home-based by now and I needed to stay largely at home for health reasons. It is also a boon because I have never been more honest than in this forum, due to the Internet’s “disinhibition effect.” On the other hand, it is a bane because online interaction cannot replace face-to-face interaction. People, or their real selves, can easily hide and assume other personalities under the cover of anonymity. However, it is also a lot easier to disappear and let go in this case, as people, with just one click, unsubscribe from the group or are deleted by the admin without fanfare.

In 2012, I was involved in a 'sideline' in TRLV. I facilitated a Bible study in Smart Tower, Ayala Ave., attended by about 20 young people, mostly employees of Smart Telecommunications. I had a hard time memorizing the new names and faces. After several months, however, their enthusiasm dwindled, and so it's yet another loss, and quite a massive one.

I am now busy building my clientele as a home-based writer and editor. I am not into losing nowadays, but more into the business of adding contacts -- contacts that I know I stand to lose sooner or later.

With all these losses, I am readily convinced how family is the only constant I can rely on through the years. Family is top priority, I have learned, when it comes to people and relationships. I am frightened at the mere thought of losing any member of my family, but I have experienced loss just like everybody else: a baby brother (stillborn), two uncles, two aunts, and a grandmother whom we lived with. Losing an immediate family member like my paternal grandmother is the ‘unkindest cut’ of all among such losses. I certainly don’t relish a repeat, now or in the future, and most especially frequent repeats.

What I felt toward my elementary classmates -- they being no longer the same persons as before -- was basically the same toward all the others outside the family. There is always a need to start all over again, start from scratch, if we are to renew any connection. We need to dig up the past. Not so with family -- there is no need to renewing the ties, because blood is enough to seal the ties that bind us together.

But even our family members are only human. We stand to lose them in various different ways, too: moving out of the house, marriage, settling down to a place far from home, and worst of all, altercation, resentment, deep-seated differences. Family, in this case, is no better than "other people"; "other people" may turn out to be one's "real family." It is tragic but it happens to some people -- I hope and pray that it will never happen to mine.

As to the closest people outside family that I lost... well, they belong to another category altogether. They are my potential "real family" apart from my biological/genetic family. In the days after they passed on, I could feel their presence, but as time went by, I sometimes wondered if they who I lost for good still cared about me up to now. I'd like to believe they do, that "they are even more alive today than before," to quote one of them (my latter mentor J.). I guess, regarded this way, permanent losses like this are the most significant of all, as they turn out to be permanent gain.

But our memories of good people in our lives are too flawed to ever rely on their good graces in heaven. There might be times we hesitate to ask them, for fear they would disapprove, for one reason or another, according to how we interacted with them while they were still alive.

Thankfully, there is still one person left that we can hold on to, and he is the only one who, in the end, matters. Everyone may forsake us, but He. If we believe in the kind of God he is touted to be, then we can rely on that knowledge. But more than knowledge, or faith, we can empty ourselves out to experience God or His brand of love, to experience how He never allows us to be lost. He, in fact, hounds us, and we -- people who are so used at losing other people -- are the ones who tend to 'lose' God.



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

 

Wisdom in hiddenness



Hiddenness, a Place of Purification

One of the reasons that hiddenness is such an important aspect of the spiritual life is that it keeps us focused on God.  In hiddenness we do not receive human  acclamation, admiration, support, or encouragement.  In hiddenness we have to go to God with our sorrows and joys and trust that God will give us what we most need.

In our society we are inclined to avoid hiddenness.  We want to be seen and acknowledged.  We want to be useful to others and influence the course of events.  But as we become visible and popular, we quickly grow dependent on people and their responses and easily lose touch with God, the true source of our being.   Hiddenness is the place of purification.  In hiddenness we find our true selves.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

 

Nouwen on fruitfulness

Trusting in the Fruits

We belong to a generation that wants to see the results of our work.  We want to be productive and see with our own eyes what we have made.  But that is not the way of God's Kingdom.  Often our witness for God does not lead to tangible results.  Jesus himself died as a failure on a cross.  There was no success there to be proud of.  Still, the fruitfulness of Jesus' life is beyond any human measure.  As faithful witnesses of Jesus we have to trust that our lives too will be fruitful, even though we cannot see their fruit.  The fruit of our lives may be visible only to those who live after us.

What is important is how well we love.  God will make our love fruitful, whether we see that fruitfulness or not.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

 

God's economy

"Everything that belongs to God is ours when we desire to share it with others. This is the primary economic principle of the kingdom of God. The Body of Christ thrives only when there's a continual exchange of goods. We call this the communion of saints."

- Terry Modica

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