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.

Open Doors, A 2016 Playlist

View from my window seat, on one of the many beautiful flights of the year.
Cheers, 2016! Thank you for your big skies and open doors!

I’ve prepared a taste of my past year through the music that has moved me through an adventure-filled 2016.

This is a little annual tradition that has swung me into the past four new years: making a playlist to tie up the stories of my year. 2016 has added up to a generous helping of 31 songs. (My longest end-of-the-year playlist so far!)

You can also check out the playlist here: “Open Doors // SpeakSoon’s 2016 in Music”. A list of songs/artists also at the end of this post.

This year, I’ve added a new challenge. As a final piece and creative writing exercise, I borrowed words from all the songs of my 2016 and built a poem. You’ll find lines from all the different songs strung together with a bit of play from me. Does my year sound a lot like yours?

Open Doors

In these moments, I lose focus.
I don’t remember when we decided we could fly.
Put your head on my shoulders,
If you’re lost and you’re lonely, go and figure out why.

How do we mend a million pieces
strung out across the ground?
Hear the healing in your bones,
Sit in stillness for the silence of this sound.

Cry, my friend, no more,
you’ve seen your stars aligning I’m sure.
We all fear the sound of a closing door,
only your faith will prove to bring a cure.

All these vultures that surround you,
with cowardice speak their lies out loud.
Take my hand, I’ll give you strength,
just when you think all the streets have emptied out.

La soledad viene sin patria, have you missed the lonely call?
Leave what’s heavy.
Leave what’s heavy behind,
but I keep running for a soft place to fall.

A light against a darkened sky,
your truth must outshine all the lies,
You let your feet run wild and try
to tell the world that fiction is falling from up high.

The cross we bear is all we’ve got
para você vem dançar,
It’s like a bit of light in a touch of dark,
do you dare to look your losses right in the eyes?

While you were sleeping, I thought of you.
We might make it further if we learned to stay.
We’re here, eyes open, catching and releasing
what builds up throughout the day.

Live to dance in a hurricane,
find your heart standing in the eye,
I just hope you’ll stop me
before I build a world around me.

We are waiting on their sunshine and the morning dew,
for we live where the war is raging and where we miss the moon,
We’re all lonely together, no matter what we choose to do.
We can tell each other secrets, til we remember how to love.

I was listening to the ocean. I was dancing in the rain.
Words are so easy to say, we speak as though nothing could fall,
Slow down when you can, we’re not exempt from all pain,
This story’s a long one, take a deep breath, then five more. Stand tall.

Throw your arms in the air tonight. I won’t be no runaway.
I’ll go braving everything through the shine of the sun.
Darling, don’t be afraid when it’s time to stay,
but the doors are open. Run!

Playlists from previous years:

I’ve also just realized that I never shared 2015’s playlist, now also public on Spotify: SpeakSoon: 2015 in Music

Here are links to posts on past year’s playlists: 2014, 2013 and 2012.

And finally, a simple rundown of my 2016’s lovely playlist:

  1. Run – Lost Frequencies Radio Edit // Emma Bale
  2. On Our Knees (Feat. R.O) // Konoba
  3. I’ll Move Mountains // Roo Panes
  4. Tomorrow’s Song // Olafur Arnalds
  5. Tightropes // Robyn Sherwell
  6. Gorgeous // X Ambassadors
  7. Falling Faster // Andrew Ripp
  8. Moments – Acoustic Live // Kidnap Kid
  9. Spaceship – Popvilla Sessions // Comet Blue
  10. You’re Mine – Radio Edit // Raving George
  11. Deep End // Birdy
  12. No Angel // Birdy
  13. We Can Be Heroes // Ozark Henry
  14. The Eye // Brandi Carlie
  15. I Need a Forest Fire – feat Justin Vernon // James Blake
  16. Friends feat Bon Iver // Francis and the Lights
  17. Summer’s Almost Gone // The Temper Trap
  18. Lost // The Temper Trap
  19. New Afro Spanish Generation // Buika
  20. Light it Up (feat Nyla & Fuse ODG) // Major Lazer
  21. Dark Necessities // Red Hot Chili Peppers
  22. Sunset Lover // Petit Biscuit
  23. Way Down We Go – Recorded at Spotify Studios NYC // Kaleo
  24. Para Voce // Gregor Salto
  25. Forever With You // Nathan Roberts
  26. Heavy // Birdtalker
  27. Good Together // HONNE
  28. Catch & Release – Deepend Mix // Matt Simons
  29. Show Me Love // Sam Feldt
  30. Runaway // AURORA
  31. Runaway // The National

2017, I’ll be listening for you!

The day after Christmas and the urgent gift we must offer our world

My books from my childhood and adolescence now boast the smell I love so much — the toasty, musty scent of old books. On Christmas day, standing in the bedroom I grew up in, I scanned my shelf looking for a good book to re-read as a Christmas treat. I pulled out Lois Lowry’s The Giver, which I hadn’t opened in over ten years.

Even as a young reader, I already knew this book was one I would have to revisit as an adult. When the movie came out not too long ago, I purposefully missed it, remembering the promise I had made when my copy of the book still smelled clean and bookstore-fresh.

So on this Christmas Day, to satisfy the hope of my younger self, I opened up the pages, already browning and spotted with a bit of age. This hope was that as I grew up and grew older, I would continue to open my heart to precious stories like these; that I would revisit their chapters and let their wisdom reveal something new with each reading.

The incredible thing is that the moment I finished the book this time, soon after waking this morning, I ached to read it over. It is a perfectly-timed read, as I continue to wrestle with the polarizing impressions of the daily news — safety and violence, injustice and the eager Christmas spirit.

In The Giver, Lois Lowry brings us to a version of our world that lives in Sameness. It is a safer, more organized world where people feel no pain, where everyone has their duty and place in society at any given time. Those that do not, due to weakness at birth or old age, or because of disobedience of the rules, were released from the community.

It was a secure society, where people shared their feelings, offered and accepted verbal apologies when wrong was committed, and never found themselves wanting.

While all of that made for a peaceful “life,” these people could not see colors, had never heard music, and more painfully to consider, had never known love. Could we still call this living? They had no knowledge of sunshine, of snow, of flowers or of birds. They had unknowingly traded the splendor of these simple, lovely things, for the absence of any discomfort, ache or inadequacy.

Only one member of their community held all memory and history — really he was the only one that knew of and lived with the beauty, pleasure, sorrow and pain that ever existed. That person was the Receiver of Memory. Jonas, our twelve-year old protagonist, was selected to be the new Receiver, by the former one, now known as the Giver.

And right in the pages of this book sits a beautiful memory of Christmas:

“Jonas felt the joy of it as soon as the memory began. Sometimes it took a while for him to get his bearings, to find his place. But this time he fit right in and felt the happiness that pervaded the memory.

He was in a room filled with people, and it was warm, with firelight glowing on a hearth. He could see through a window that outside it was night, and snowing. There were colored lights: red and green and yellow, twinkling from a tree which was, oddly, inside the room. On a table, lighted candles stood in a polished golden holder and cast a soft, flickering glow. He could smell things cooking, and he heard soft laughter. A golden-haired dog lay sleeping on the floor.

On the floor there were packages wrapped in brightly colored paper and tied with gleaming ribbons. As Jonas watched, a small child began to pick up the packages and pass them around the room…. While Jonas watched, the people began one by one to untie the ribbons on the packages, to unwrap the bright papers, open the boxes and reveal toys and clothing and books. There were cries of delight. They hugged one another….

Jonas opened his eyes and lay contentedly on the bed, still luxuriating in the warm and comforting memory. It had all been there, all the things he had learned to treasure.

“What did you perceive,” The Giver asked.

“Warmth,” Jonas replied, “and happiness. And — let me think. Family.”*

Christmas Tree 2016.jpg

On this stormy day after Christmas, I think of all those around the world who are not surrounded by the ideal Christmas or holiday. There are many among us who sit in evacuation centers, crowd in refugee camps, cower in the fear or aftermath of violence, run breathless in search for peace, shrink in hunger, or face their grief alone. Even as many of us have joyfully celebrated in the company of loved ones this Christmas, safe by a glowing fire, bathed in sweet sunlight, or in the embrace of joy, there are too many in the world that live the exact opposite of this story.

Though we raise our banners of generosity and cheer this holiday season, there is no denying the hatred, suffering, and overwhelming grief that runs in the bloodstream of humanity. It seems our love is not enough to heal the wounds, to ease the torment, or to undo the wrongs that have been committed in our generation alone. I fear our own hypocrisy.

And yet, I find myself still clinging to hope, even with the deafening noise and discouragement of reality. I cling to the true Gift of this season — the Love that heals, the Love that saves. The Hope in Whom Christmas began.

Because we are human, we will continue to carry the weight of anguish and heartache, but with it, the lightness of love and compassion. In a time when justice can feel like a sad, mocking idea to the suffering multitudes around the world, I insist that there is still a fighting army of us who can love, forgive and heal. Help me prove that this is true. These are the days when we must courageously show up in defense, in solidarity, out of love for others.

“… Jonas, the community will be left with no one to help them. They’ll be thrown into chaos. They’ll destroy themselves. I can’t go.

“Giver,” Jonas suggested, “you and I don’t need to care about the rest of them.”

The Giver looked at him with a questioning smile. Jonas hung his head. Of course they needed to care. It was the meaning of everything.”*

As I closed the pages of The Giver, I held on to these words. It is simple, but far from easy place to begin.

We start by caring. Truly caring for one another. We may not live in the Sameness of Jonas’ community, but the need for us to care is even greater today. It is so important that we reflect on how we are tangibly called to do this today and that we act on it with purpose and urgency.

May we never let our colors mute to gray, our music unravel into silence, our dancing slow down to stillness, our love disfigure into hatred, or our sense of justice crumble into indifference.

Merry Christmas!

[*Quotes in italics are from the novel, The Giver, by Lois Lowry, published in 1993, by Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers in New York.]

Do not forget when you were little.

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Dad and me by Lake Tahoe. Brothers playing in the background. It was dad’s birthday yesterday – happy birthday, Dad!

 

Do not forget when you were little; a lifetime shorter than all the rest. 

Today we hold our egos high, stuck out like scrunched-up chins set on stone-cold jaws, taunting the world to hit us with something good. There’s a pride in us, webbed into our very bones, our childhood growth spurts dictating how much of the pride is faulty, how much of it is made of honor.

Do not forget when you were little; tiny hand reaching out for direction, for love. 

As children, we held out our hands for guidance and just knew that someone would hold it. We trusted that we would be led to something good. Doubt was still a game then; not yet the crutch,  nightmare, or dirty secret that it later morphs into.

As children, we didn’t second guess our need for someone else to be there for us. It was fully part of our flesh, this affection. We didn’t resist the arm of a loved one reaching out to hold us. For a loved one to turn away simply confused us. There was yet no shame in reaching out first.

Today, we hide in reflection and conclude that perhaps to reach out is to be needy, or worse, to reach out is to be selfish. When did love dress up as weakness? Deconstruct what strength and worth you have in this life, and you’ll find that there is no you without love, whether a trace or a flood of it.

Do not forget when you were little; because everyone says this life goes by in the blink of an eye. 

When we were young, we hurried to grow up. We held precious moments with a clumsy, absent-mindedness, interest always lost to the next distraction. Thankfully we were born with memory. It was not a switch we needed to turn on, a skill we had to learn or a trophy to deserve. If it were, we’d be scavenging for our history. Our biology keeps record of who we are, where we’ve been – in the tangles of our mind or in tracks left on skin. In adult life, we salvage what snapshots our memory can bring to mind, but at that point we can no longer choose what moments endure as milestones. What kind of story does our memory preserve for us?

Do not forget when you were little, because no matter how old we are, we are still and always not yet fully grown.

To be human is to be flawed, to be small in the universe, to be complex and never fully unmistakably understood. We are little beings in this grand world. Little beings not meant to be alone.

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This post is in response to our #CreativeNeighbor prompt by Art in the Neighborhood: a photo from your past. Join us as we make room for creativity and community. 
If you’re like us and need a push to get those creative wheels turning again, join our weekly art challenge! Here’s how it works:

 

Every SUNDAY, we’ll post a creative prompt.
Take the week to respond in your own medium and style. Write, paint, sing, dance, shoot.

There are no rules, but we challenge you to slow down your creative process. Think less digital and more analog.

On SATURDAY, share your work.
Post your response online along with the hashtags #creativeneighbor and#neighborhoodph. Read, watch and listen to what others have shared. Then look out for the next prompt on following Sunday!