Black Saturday. Reflections on sorrow and joy, gratitude and grief.

On this Black Saturday, allow me to share an excerpt from one of my favorite lent reflections, one that has since my first reading of it last year, transformed my experience of this season and the Cross.

The excerpt is followed by a personal prayer that I began to write earlier today as I experienced the Prayer Labyrinth at my church for the first time. This prayer was also inspired by yesterday’s Good Friday Service of Darkness, featuring the Seven Last Words of Christ by Theodore Dubois, and reflections by members of our congregation.

“The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can’t stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance, and of endurance into character, and of character into hope – and the hope that has become our joy does not (as happiness must for those who depend upon it) disappoint us.

… For the moment, lay yourselves aside. Become one of the first disciples. And in that skin, consider: what makes the appearance of the resurrected Lord such a transport of joy for you? Consider this in every fiber of your created being … What causes joy? What transfigures you, you flaming disciple, you burning witness, with such a fusion of joy in the encounter? 

This: not just that the Lord was dead, but that you grieved his death. That, for three days, you yourself did suffer his absence, and then the whole world was for you a hollow horror. That, despite his promises, this last Sabbath lasted forever and was, to your sorrowing heart, the last of the world after all. You experienced, you actually believed, that the end of Jesus was the end of everything.

Death reigned everywhere. 

Death alone. 

But in the economy of God, what seems the end is but a preparation. For it is, now, to that attitude and into that experience that the dear Lord Jesus Christ appears – not only an astonishment, gladness and affirmation, but joy indeed! 

It is the experience of genuine grief that prepares for joy. 

You see? The disciples approached the Resurrection from their bereavement. For them the death was first, and the death was all. Easter, then, was an explosion of Newness, a marvelous splitting of heaven indeed. But for us, who return backward into the past, the Resurrection comes first, and through it we view a death which is, therefore, less consuming, less horrible, even less real. We miss the disciples’ terrible, wonderful preparation. 

Unless, as now, we attend to the suffering first, to the cross with sincerest pity and vigilant love, to the dying with most faithful care – and thus prepare for joy.” 

-from Walter Wangerin Jr.’s book, Reliving the Passion, Meditations on the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark.

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The Prayer Labyrinth experience at Union Church of Manila

 

A prayer of thanksgiving and of grieving:

Dear Jesus,

Thank You for the Cross. Thank You for the death You conquered and the agony of separation that You endured. Thank You for Your gift – of Breath, of Presence, of Love, of Life eternal in Shalom.

Thank You for Your love that You continue to lavish on me – for the Light that you continuously pour into my life; light that I now feel overflowing, not only reflecting, but pouring out of me. This Light is You. This is Your heart, Your grace, Your embrace – always more than enough, always perfect, always with me.

Thank You for who You are, what You’ve done. Thank You for how You love – truly unconditionally, having proven it generously and courageously on the Cross, even before I lived out my own sin in time or accepted any faith in You in life. With full knowledge of my future and recurring betrayal, You carried my sin, my shame, my guilt, my stubbornness, my resistance, and my darkness with You to the Cross.

Thank You – for even before I could understand the significance, Love was made whole in Your surrender. In Your sacrifice I am saved. All death was conquered and all evil overthrown. You finished it with love, absolutely and completely. But first, the Cross.

On this Black Saturday, I grieve Your death, Your separation from the Father, the weight that I put on Your shoulders, the wounds that I tore open with my sin, the brokenness of my life that broke Your heart. I grieve this death. And for a day, I try to sit in the posture of Your first followers. Is it anguish, desperation, loss, fear, or deep deep sadness that I try to carry and somehow treasure?  I grieve and yearn like the apostles did for You, for Your presence, so tragically and quickly stripped away. You are not with us in these moments, but suffering and bearing all our darkness on our behalf. You are bearing us.

I grieve Your death. I long for Your presence, for the heavy veil to be lifted off this darkness – opaque and consuming. Today, I can only imagine this agonizing weight, this loss of Light and Leader. I consider what it might have been like to meet this day of grief without the knowledge of Easter morning, without the full understanding of the completion of Your sacrifice, not having yet experienced the rise of joy and the truth of resurrection.

Tonight we sit in longing.

Thank You for what You have done, an act that You so graciously have never regretted, a gift you have never taken back and never withheld from the least of us – dirty and filthy as we are.

Grace and grace and grace so sweet, covers this grief; grief from a heart to whom your renewal is yet be revealed in the dawn, but a heart that clings dearly to all that You have said. For having known Your presence, as Your first and faithful followers had, how could one, how could I, sit in a sorrow that does not hope for You? Here again, another advent season.

Thank You for this moment, for this suffering, for this sacrifice born in absolute, unparalleled love.

Tonight we grieve and wait for morning, and oh what an unexpected morning we long for it to be.

In Your Courageous Name,

Amen.

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Salud, 2017! A playlist.

These songs embraced me in the quiet moments, lifted my chin to face the trying times, compelled me to silly-dance around my apartment, coaxed a smile onto my face on my walks around my neighborhood and wandered around with me on my travels.

This year’s playlist feels a little all over the place – up and down, and random to everyone but me  – in the same manner that my 2017 was its own crazy maze. This was a year full of wonderful moments, some steep, uphill climbs, a good amount of searching, and a great deal of awe and wonder.

2017 was a year of seeking balance, testing my determination, realigning my lifestyle with my values, packing and unpacking, and practicing the joy (and challenge) of being fully present at every point of the journey.

Get a taste of the trek by listening in here:

 

Putting together my playlist is one of my favorite year-end traditions. Every song helps me relive special moments and seasons in the past year. It was extra hard to keep this playlist short – this one clocks up 2 hours and 41 minutes worth of music, the longest of my year-end playlists with 40 songs! If you do have a listen, I hope you will find at least one song that embraces you, gets you dancing or puts a smile on your face as we enter the new year.

What a special companion music is to life.

Happy listening, and of course – salud, 2017!

2018, I’m coming for ya!

 

Listen to previous playlists here: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012.

Happy UWC Day!

I was seventeen years old when I left my parent’s home in the Philippines and moved to Costa Rica to share life, learning and boarding school with over a hundred teenagers from roughly seventy different countries. It was a life changing, mind stretching, and heart strengthening experience – my first solo adventure that began as a two year education but evolved into a way of living and being.

The school was called the United World College Costa Rica. It was 2006 and I was joining the pioneer class of the school. Our school was but one new piece, a part of an international movement of many schools all across the world that were using education to change the world in a very special way.

 

Last night, I fell into the vacuum of looking through old photos from that special season of life. My intention was just to find one photo to share in celebration of UWC Day, but that intention turned into a couple of hours of flipping through the digital albums. The experiences felt like they happened so long ago, but as the photo flipping went on, I felt like I was living in those moments all over again.

Because so much time has passed since, I struggle to write about the experience with balance.  I don’t want to downplay the impact nor exaggerate it, but it was truly beyond and beautiful – the intensity of which remains unparalleled in my adult life, mostly because it all happened when I was so young and had at that time I had still experienced so little.
There are years worth of storytelling that I can share from my time at UWC. Even as I write this, I don’t know where to start or how to bottle it up and express it. I look back with joy, wonder, amazement, nostalgia, pride and love.

I was a shy teenager on her first trip away from her family. I can’t believe I had the privilege to go the distance that I did, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t.

At UWC I discovered what I believe in. Every day, my ideas and ideals were challenged, questioned, nurtured, tested, strengthened or broken down – in the classrooms, yes, but more significantly in the regular day to day life on a UWC campus. From the moment you woke up, you were immersed in diversity. I shared a room with two other girls, the three of us representing three distinct continents. On our floor of twelve girls, we could collectively  speak about seven or eight different languages. In our literature class where we discussed colonialism or the slave trade, romance or family ties, we had a room of fifteen students speaking up for fifteen different cultures and ideas. Every meal in the dining hall (which was basically every single meal you had) was a meal with the world.

We were all young humans, only half-molded into the adults we would later become. Living the way we did would leave a mark on us, even on those that didn’t want to be changed.

It is still so magical to me – the simple method of bringing young people together the way that UWC does. The idea has not grown old, not in the eleven years since I first stepped on campus, not since the fifty five years when the movement first began. And if you’ve been watching the news, you know we still need more of these experiences that build friendships and understanding between differences.

Even after so many years, I hold on to many memories. As I looked through my photos last night, trains of recollections ran through my imagination. Here are but a few: Meeting one of my best friends while brushing our teeth on our first night in the dorm, mouths foaming and toothbrushes poking out of our smiles. My first informal salsa lesson. Lining up at the outdoor pay phone so I could call home with a phone card (Yes, a pay phone. Yes, a phone card with the scratch out code!) Shedding tears because the cafeteria food was so bad one night. And then the surprise of friends bringing a cheeseburger to you late at night to make up for the bad meal.Tequila shots for 500 colones each (roughly $1). Sleeping outside on the beach with your friends. Holding somebody’s hand. Learning to speak up when you don’t feel like it. Being a Spice Girl. Joining late night impromptu worship sessions in the music room. Dancing in the ampitheatre to let out steam. Learning how to read another language using the packaging of instant noodles as you wait for the water to boil. Learning how to make pre-columbian style pottery from scratch. Learning the tinikling from online videos (was it YouTube already back then?) and then teaching it to your friends. Going into the neighboring “forest” area with the college gardener and his machete, to gather bamboo for the tinkling performance. Getting a scorpion in my hair. Carrying my country’s flag around town during the independence day parade. Performing for Queen Noor of Jordan, talking to her about my art. Walking in the rain forest looking for tiny frogs with funky patterns on their backs. Late night conversations on the hammock. Late night conversations after watching strange movies. Impromptu dance parties in the dorm room. More late night conversations. Going out for pizza to celebrate my roommate’s country finally being internationally recognized as a country! Weeping at graduation – from the joy of having made it to the finish line and for the despair of life apart from some of your favorite people in the world. 

You will later gratefully discover that life allows you to keep those precious friendships – for this I am incredibly grateful.

As for keeping the UWC spirit alive, as an adult it becomes a choice you have to make – to continuously draw near to the heart of the movement or to snuff out whatever spark of it was left in you. After all these years do we only hold on to memories and ideals – or have we also transformed these into action and impact?

Thank you, UWC, for the ounces of courage and compassion in my heart that were a gift from you.

If you know someone young who could use a grand adventure to mold, stretch, challenge life – consider inviting them to apply to UWC through the UWC Philippines National Committee here: www.ph.uwc.org.

If you would like to contribute to the movement and help send more Filipino scholars to UWC campuses around the world – consider donating to the UWC Ph National Committee. You may also visit www.baa-ul.com where you can benefit the UWC cause just by shopping for gifts – use the discount code UNITEDWORLDCOLLEGEPH when you check out. The code will give your FREE SHIPPING* and 5% of your purchase will donated to UWC Ph.  

Today there are 17 UWC campuses in 17 different countries. Students from 150 countries are sent to those campuses every year, with a growing alumni of over 60,000 people, after about 55 years of the movement.
*Free shipping to Philippine addresses only

There is story after story after story about this place

There is story after story after story about this place, even from way before I was born. And every story reminds us of how God never abandoned our family, not even in the darkest and most trying days, not ever. It’s these stories that laid a map down for my faith in God and that shaped my capacity to hope – for they are stories that are my history, not fairy tales or make believe. You have stories like these in your life. Do not tire of recalling or retelling them. They are the stories that will lead you home, stories that will help you put one foot in front of the other, in front of the other, in front of the other, even when the last thing you think you are able to do is stand.