In this special post, the three of us come together in a collaborative effort to weave our individual searches for Jesus together into a poem.
A/N: Blessed Wednesday everyone! To round off Odes to October month, Chris, Greg and I thought we would try writing a poem together. After giving it some thought, I struck upon the idea of modeling the poem after a Japanese collaborative style of poetry called “renga”.
You may notice that Greg’s first three lines take the form of the famous “haiku” – the three line, 17-syllable Japanese poem. A renga consists of a series of haikus linked together by a couplet – two lines of 7 syllables each. I thought the structured form of this poem would both impose healthy creative limitations (the challenge was to sum up the state of our current spiritual lives in a haiku), and aid some of us who had grave (and unfounded) doubts about our poetic abilities (*cough*Greg*cough*).
So over a long video call across various time zones, the three of us spent a light-hearted three hours listening to each others journeys and trying to fit our spiritual lives into 17 syllables, as well as finding ways to express where our spiritual lives overlapped, mainly in our combined desire to search for Jesus. Do let us know your thoughts on social media or if you ever wish to try a similar exercise with your community or loved ones. We hope you enjoy the read!
I walk the desert
Relishing in a mirage
More real than the rain
Truth reveals reality
Turning desert to summer;
Lazy summer’s day
Seeker puts his satchel down
To hear the Lord’s words:
“Why search for answers outside?
Can you find rest in me, child?”
New yet familiar
I cook a meal for Jesus
I am loved; He smiles.
My meal and His Eucharist
We dine together and live
© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Gregory Adrian Gunawan
© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Garrett Christopher Ng
© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Christopher Chok
Chris writes a response poem-prayer to Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings.
Dag Hammarskjold, Markings
A pure heart
That we may see Thee,
A humble heart
That we may hear Thee
A heart of Love
That we may serve Thee,
A heart of faith
That we may live Thee,
Whom I do not know
But Whose I am.
Whom I do not comprehend
But Who hast dedicated to me
To my fate.
Christopher Chok, Imprints
A still soul
That we may touch You,
A contrite soul
That we may feel You,
A soul of Peace
That we may see You,
A soul of Truth
That we may know You,
Whom I long to know
And Whose I’m loved.
Whom I search all day and night
Yet Who has loved me into being
To this world.
Chris writes a response to Tennyson’s poem, “In Memoriam”
Alfred Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam”
Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of being slow.
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.
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)
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.
Chris shares on the vital necessity of creating space for God in the midst of a busy world.
Chris reflects on what Our Lord has to teach us in seemingly trying and futile times.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:4-5)
In a season oft characterised by desolation, despondency and despair, Simon’s response to Jesus seems to encapsulate my current state of life. The words “We’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything” resonate deeply with me. These words are filled with so much fatigue and exhaustion! Furthermore, these words also point to a visceral sense of fruitlessness – a climate of barrenness disproportionate to the “work” and effort that one has made. Reading Simon’s words out loud, one can almost feel his palpable desperation.
Does Simon’s response to Jesus also speak to the depths of your heart? Are you also experiencing an extended season of emptiness and dryness – one that comes from endless (and needless) toiling? More importantly, however, how can one possibly find comfort, refuge and solace from the Living Word through Luke 5:4-5? What can we learn from Simon’s response to Jesus?
Luke 5:4-5 speaks to me on various levels. Firstly, I find it exceptionally intriguing that Simon’s response to Jesus was “Master, we’ve worked hard all night …” This phrase, “all night” captivates me. I am captivated, not because fishermen work especially hard at night, (possibly because fishes are easier to catch at night), but because “all night” is an important metaphor and points to a larger theme: toiling in the dark. How many of us work hard “all night” when most of us are already asleep? (Think of the many women and men who work ungodly hours just to keep our nations safe – security personnel, maintenance workers etc.) Indeed, who amongst us work behind the scenes continually and more often than not, without thanks and acknowledgement? How many of us work in silence, every single day? Haven’t we all considered throwing in the towel and raising our hands up in frustration and futility? I don’t know about you, but questions such as Why try so hard? Why strive so much? What’s the point? keep coming to me whenever I find myself in this desolated rut.
Perhaps, the key to this tangible sense of disappointment and futility stems from the second portion of Simon’s response to Jesus – “ … and haven’t caught anything.” Indeed, we live in a world of immediate gratifications; we are a quick-fix society. We are brought up to (falsely) assume that effort equates to results. We want to see (immediate) results because the results serve as a tangible affirmation for us; our end products seem to tell us that our processes are effective. That technique may have worked for us in schools and in our younger years, but in the working world, we come to realise that this mode of operation fails to deliver . There are times when effort just does not cut it; there are moments when sheer hard work does not produce results. Indeed, there are seasons in our lives where our toiling simply yields neither immediate nor long-lasting fruits.
To me, then, the larger lesson of Luke 5:4-5 seems to be the distinction between striving for and striving when. From a young age, I was conditioned to think that I had to strive – whether in school or at work – for Jesus. I underwent supposed hardships and pain for Him. My toil was for the Son of God. Such a mind-set, noble yet horrendously egoistic and erroneous as it may be, however, connotes a certain loss of freedom. Indeed, I was more a slave to Jesus than a child of God. Yet, John 15:15 clearly states, “No longer do I call you slaves … I have called you friends.” How, then, do we reconcile this supposed dissonance? My simple response: time. Indeed, it is very likely that Simon’s inability to catch any fish was because he was not yet called to do so. Timing is of the essence here. How many of us conduct our actions on impulse, on insecurities and on past hurts and wounds. How many of us fail to properly pray and discern before we act? Little wonder why we often feel like square pegs being forced into round holes. We bring unnecessary strain to ourselves simply because we have yet to (re)align our wills, our deepest hopes and desires with God’s.
Our God is a generous and loving God. I also have come to recognise that no experience of my life – both the good and especially the bad – has been wasted. In this pedagogy of life and in this ever invigorating (re)discovery of God’s will in prayer, silence and solitude, I have also come to the peaceful realisation that seasons of (needless) toiling and apparent fruitlessness can also be deeply formative for the self. Take Simon for an example. Even though there was no tangible “fish” that was caught during his labour of love, surely the very process of fishing would have yielded long-term benefits of discipline, rigour and grit – instrumental skills that prove to be especially helpful for a future Pope. Paradoxically, then, are we able to also see the hand of God amidst our daily toils and struggles and gradually come to the awareness that there is something larger at work here – that I am still in the midst of being formed, that my process of formation is far from complete? I find it most humbling to accept that God is not done with me.
Perhaps, it is only in this expansive perspective – this ownership of God’s love for all of us – that Simon could respond, “because you say so, I will let down my nets”. What amazing faith! What admirable obedience!
Indeed, because You say so, Lord, I am willing to try again, to pick myself up when I fall over and over again, and trudge further in this challenging journey of faith. Because You say so, Lord, I am willing to look stupid – in the eyes of the world, at least – and do exactly what I’ve done before in the past – actions that have seemingly yielded no apparent results. Indeed, because You say so, Lord, I will make the effort, one more time, to “let down the nets” because I know that You are with me and have called me to do so. I freely avail myself so that I may be used as Your instrument to spread the Good News to the world, regardless of the outcome, for Your greater glory.
© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Christopher Chok