Poem Dialogue: “Thermopylae” by C.P. Cavafy

Garrett attempts a response to the poem ‘Thermopylae’

A/N: Continuing on from Chris’ post last week, I’ve also tried my hand at writing a response poem. The poem I’ve chosen is C.P. Cavafy’s poem ‘Thermopylae’. Thermopylae is the place where the 300 Spartans held their ground against an invading Persian force until they were slaughtered to a man. As you can imagine, it’s a poem about heroism and sacrifice, the best of humanity. I thought it would be interesting to try (badly) to emulate that style while talking about another place – Gethsemane, where the disciples fell asleep while Jesus was praying before the Passion. Oftentimes, we’re a lot less noble or amazing than we think we are, but we are still loved nonetheless. Hope you enjoy it! 

Thermopylae
Honor to those who in the life they lead
define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do
but showing pity also, and compassion;
generous when they’re rich, and when they’re poor,
still generous in small ways,
still helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hating those who lie.
And even more honor is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee)
that Ephialtis will turn up in the end,
that the Medes will break through after all.
Constantine P. Cavafy

Gethsemane

Have mercy on we who for an hour
fall asleep on their watch at Gethsemane.
Blissfully unaware of the trials of our Lord,
the dripping of his blood upon the ground
but still trying to serve Him, despite it all;
despite the petty failures, trusting in His grace,
to break through our weakness,
and bring the Gospel to others;
with awareness of our sins,
showing mercy to others as well.
And have mercy on especially,
when we realise (as we have already been told),
that the cock had crowed three times,
but our betrayal is already forgiven.

Garrett Ng

The Ebb and Flow of Spirituality

Chris reflects on the wisdom that he has learnt from Richard Rohr’s books and talks about the movements of one’s spiritual journey

“Sooner or later, if you are on any classic ‘spiritual schedule,’ some event, person, death, idea, or relationship will enter your life that you simply cannot deal with, using your present skill set, your acquired knowledge, or your strong willpower. Spiritually speaking, you will be, you must be, led to the edge of your own private resources. At that point you will stumble over a necessary stumbling stone, as Isaiah calls it; or to state it in our language here, you will and you must ‘lose’ at something. This is the only way that Life-Fate-God-Grace-Mystery can get you to change, let go of your egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and larger journey. I wish I could say this was no true, but it is darn near absolute in the spiritual literature of the world.”
– Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.
Recently, Richard Rohr has been a blessed companion on my walk with Jesus and my journey onwards towards Emmaus. Most, if not all, of Rohr’s ideas and issues raised in his various books have struck numerous chords in my heart. As of now, I’ve read “Falling Upwards”, “Immortal Diamond” and “Breathing Underwater” and all three books were so enlightening and filled with wisdom.

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Distance, Detachment and Inner Freedom

Chris reflects on how important it is to hold on to our identity as children of God in the midst of a world of distractions.

Simon and his companions set out in search of him, and when they found him they said, ‘Everybody is looking for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came’ … (Excerpt from the Gospel of the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time; Mark 1:29-39)
“Everybody is looking for you.”
Hearing this verse at Mass the other day and pondering about it in prayer has allowed me to better introspect and in turn, gain a deeper awareness and appreciation of the importance of distance, detachment and inner freedom. To me, the implicit notion of this poignant phrase is one of expectation. Expectation not in the anticipatory Advent “Christmasy” manner but rather, other people’s expectations of Jesus.

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Reflections from the Genesee Diary

Chris reflects on how prayer and solitude helps us live as the unique individuals God created us to be.

For the past few nights, I have been really grateful for The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery by Henri Nouwen. This book has been a lovely reflection-companion for my daily night prayer. Nouwen’s writings (from my experience, that is) have always been so hearfelt and brutually honest, and it is precisely in his disarming honesty that one experiences the vulnerability and authenticity of his personality.

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September 11 Reflection – A Singaporean Viewpoint

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times” – Matthew 18:21 – 22.

I can still remember that fateful day: Waking up to go to school in the wee hours of the morning, everything seemed to be abuzz. Everyone seemed to be talking about one common thing and every television set seemed to be focused on one main image: the World Trade Centre Twin Towers in New York City. George Bush mentioned that it was “a day of infamy” and while I had little knowledge of what that meant or what was happening around me (cocooned in the comforts of childhood innocence, I was 11 years old), there seemed to be an undeniable atmosphere of immense sadness and ambivalence. Terrorism, hysteria and paranoia took centre stage. Yet at the same time, news of heroic emergency response teams and strangers supporting each other became evident as well. And all of these made me wonder: How can there ever be forgiveness and reconciliation in this scene of chaos and grief?

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Creating Space for God

Chris shares on the vital necessity of creating space for God in the midst of a busy world.

Lately, I’m noticing an invitation to actively create space and make myself available for God in my life. The availability that I actively consent to, the willingness to sit with my inner restlessness and resist the constant (and inordinate) desire to do something (for God, for the church, for ministry-related activities etc. in a knee-jerk and sporadic manner), better allows me to cooperate with God’s divine grace and trust in His perfect timing.

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