Feb 11, 2017

redemption

seal up. arms to your chest, guarded. you are a princess. don't prostitute your words; they are jewels; don't give them out any old how. don't use 'love': it means too much. you cheapen it by offering it like a door gift. you don't mean it. what you mean is the blank around the word, utterly empty, like outer space devoid of atmosphere. reach out and seize the word, save it from the vacuum. keep it in a box under lock and key, to be revisited only when one is true. let the Lord cradle it, put your precious in His arms. and you, return to your chamber.

Feb 5, 2017

a violin's screech

"sometimes the devil can seem so close to you, like your very own thoughts"
"what if the devil is right?"

"he's only a liar."


there are demons in me, i think. not literally - that would be too easy. they say things about myself that i don't mean, but that ring true. the demon is me.

i am a fucktard / i wish i could disappear 

this is the start of my descent. my existence is shameful, foolish. and i can't even hide it like others can. if hands could wrap around my face and smother me into unthinking liminality. i don't have the time to drink.

dear Lord Jesus, i am so done

Feb 3, 2017

wild iris

i have three letters stuck on my wall, "HNH", for my baptism name. one of the letters fell off last week. another fell today. all the post-its are becoming unsticky, fluttering to the floor.

if only we could save ourselves, things would be so much easier. we humans need a little breaking to remember.

i heard the snake was baffled by his sin / he shed his scales to find the snake within

i looked away for an instant, and my heart ran itself full again: crush, crush, crush it, until it is a crumpled writhing cockroach on the floor. until it has no more air in itself, until the last shred of hope has expired like a breath.

i am uniquely
suited to praise you. then why
torment me?

a word makes me tremble. a thought makes me cry. i think my current levels of instability warrant me a break but the looming numbers barrel towards me and i must not leave my seat; yet my mind flies away, dives into itself-

you only give it when it doesn't matter. when it mattered you pushed my hand away. remember? i did know, right from the start, what it was not. i was just selfish. the sky is friendly when it has nothing to offer; when an unsearchable, heart-wrenching Glory hides behind it it becomes a dividing and indifferent blue.

is pain
your gift to make me
conscious in my need of you, as though
i must need you to worship you,
or have you abandoned me in favor of the field, the stoic lambs turning
silver in twilight;

late spring passed too soon, gave way to summer, the undeniable glare of glory in your face; but now the little flower is dead, sticky, rank, the petals have dropped off; now it's only a greenish-brown stalk and it sticks out like an awkward growth spurt that came before it was due-

i dread eating, fear the night, lament the long afternoon hours, despise my face. a cog in my machine is missing; i cling on to whatever will keep me functioning; the awkward silences through the day give away the fact that something is broken and i am simply desperate to cling on to whatever will help me survive. any human presence. any thing to do. anything to stop my mind from the songs and the spiral of inward-looking anger.

i worked against me. did i kill it? now, forever? is faith valid when you screw up the plan?


--
i am a dull seed buried in the soil. i must die, die, but somehow he has the mercy to preserve a tiny pocket of air. i curl up in the husk to make space. it sits with me. i open my eyes to darkness, to solid damp weight. i must push against the earth, find the strength for god knows how long, until my head comes to the light heavens.

Jan 23, 2017

song of songs II

This is a song of springtime, of a heart in bloom, of a face kissed by God. The darkness has seen the light, and it flees. The light reigns supreme. The glory of day has come down and shone on me, and it has sent me to proclaim it. Yesterday morning I knelt on the floor and laughed and cried and was late for church. This morning I haven't stopped smiling.

"arise, my love,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come..."

Look at what the Lord does to a soul. Look at how the wretch rejoices; look at how the flaccid heart has become full, full, overflowing with the eternal substance. It is a love song, a miracle, heaven touching earth. The beloved is never the same again.

He will restore sevenfold. He has restored. My God, my God, why did I ever doubt. Look at the radiance that flows from his heart. In God there is purpose, there is healing, there is love, and His river will not relent. He knows best. His timing is just right, and we only see it when it is done.

Only God can save. Only God can save. He has saved, and He will. What the devil meant for evil, the Lord has meant for good.

"This song testifies to the divine presence and God's overwhelming effect in the saint's life. Moreover, the poet makes no connection to the anguished songs...the ecstasy of the present moment stands on its own." - F. X. Clooney

Jan 19, 2017

song of songs

there is a song of grief,
of revelation, of awakening to what is true.
it is sung on your bed, curled up. a song of remorse, the child coming back to the Father. it is sung on your knees.
it cannot be learnt. you will know it when it comes.


God, give me a heart of steel,
eyes like eagles, fixed on the sun.
give me feathers,
warm, so i will not fear the loneliness.
i wrap myself with a shawl.

help me find home,
home in your people who share your heart, or help me be okay with empty.
home in the grass, home in solitude, home in my own heart, pour into me.

Dec 16, 2016

i pray you come home

may flowers bloom where you tread. may your voice be a healing balm to those who need it; may your hugs seal tears. may you be mother and sister and friend and as you soothe their hearts with porridge and song may it warm yours too. above all i pray you come back home.

once somebody mused about the beauty of cathedrals to a friend, and she replied, "if it feels like home, go home." i pray that in those stained glass windows and white carved walls you find again your greatest love. that you will remember the locket with the saints you used to wear, and that you will ache to finger it again. i remember the days where you glowed with a pure, peaceful love, amidst all the brokenness on either side of you. you showed me your book of prayers and taught me to say them together with you. love radiated from your soul and you were the mother of the world, of all the broken and poor. He gave you that grace, that anointing, over people and animals alike.

i pray that tonight you remember those days. that He will open the door to His heart and invite you in, that He will lead you into his rose garden and dance with you there. that as you hold His hands and fall in step with Him, you will taste again of His sweetness. dear child, beloved daughter, come home to His arms; find yourself again in Him.

Dec 8, 2016

prone to wander

I.

a high achiever, everything you ever wanted to be. sporty, pretty, slim, intelligent, kind-hearted, humble. a steady woman of faith. she reads and reads. prays up a storm. but her light has dimmed lately. she went for meetings about revival, about the work of God, but she cannot get herself excited about it. things are happening around her but her heart has been dulled. people mistake it for complacency, nonchalance, that she cannot be bothered with the things of God, but it's not her fault, she cannot help the fact that her sponge has become a weight. grey stale water. try as she might she cannot swim out of the murkiness. but she clings to the lifebuoy that will keep her afloat. she will hold on with all her strength.

II.

it was all steady until the pillar of faith came crashing down. distrust: i didn't think you would do that to me. backed out, whimpering. if the journey of faith were a journey at sea, on her boat some dark fugitives have taken refuge: anger, disappointment, envy, hurt, and fear, an insurmountable mass of fear. she flees. she wants to do all that will disregard God. she toys with the desires in her mind. but try as she might she cannot shake off her conscience. she knows that ultimately she must make a choice: to believe in eternity, and therefore put on holiness, or to believe in nothing, and therefore that life is as meaningless as death, and oh, how she would like to die, but with death there are no second chances. but she hates it all. she wants to run. run, dear, just run. every daughter has her tantrums. be secure that you are safe in the knowledge that you are still His child.

(but i am still a good child, yes? i have not given up the faith. look, i still pray to overcome sin. i still do the work of God when He calls me, minister to people. i still live as His messenger. i am still not giving in to my own desires, even in my rebellion. i am not beyond saving. i haven't lost it. i'm not lukewarm. right?)

the point is that even without all of this, He still loves you with an everlasting love, as he loves the next sinner.

III.

"For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too."

"I saw that post-it on your wall just now, you know, and for a split second I thought oh that's pretty, I should take a picture of it and put it on Instagram. And then the sourness came back, no, I'm running away. And instantly the thought vanished. And it all happened so quickly. It was such a trivial thing. I forgot it happened until you brought up the verse again.

I want to have nothing to do with God. All these God things I want to avoid it. Just now when I was on my way here a fleeting thought came to mind, 'don't talk about God at all ah. Stay away from the topic.' And here I am now, crying. You know, I used to be a cell group leader in my previous place. I would read all these books and pray with all the girls and always talk about God. I would get all these visions. I was always talking about God. They called me the God girl. And then now, because of all this, look at where I am. I just cannot shake off my conscience. I know I'm not going to stop dating her, I feel like I have to choose between her and God."

but you have heard before that the worst thing you can do is to stop talking to your Father. you know that He has known your whole life, and any debt has been paid in full. He will wait for you. soak in that love again, and the love will show you where you need to go. you do not need to repent on thorns, resentful and bitter, hating God for being a tyrant against your happiness. let Love carry you. He will only accept a willing offering after all, one given in the knowledge of joy and assurance of hope.

Dec 6, 2016

海阔天空

i still don’t get how he is dead; in every picture and in every video and memory he is so alive, so very very alive.

i was watching old videos on facebook again. carissa and janel summoning an army of singers and filling the corridors of rc4 with christmas carols; open mics; the wondergirls singing 'nobody' with master chun at our orientation in yale with evan banging out a brilliant accompaniment on the piano; bursting into MRTs with NDP songs on singapore's 50th birthday. i am reminded of the wallets' exhilarating chandler's wife performance, mahjong cny parties, sleepovers at the common lounge. man, we were so full of life in our earlier college years. remember our weekly meetups even before college started? winning third place at our first trivia night at brewerkz? watching les mis together? there was so much love. and remember when josh was annoyed that someone stole his cup noodles and he posted on our facebook page and he came back to four cups of noodles left by classmates at his door. even in the difficult times our community worked through the issues together. these are the best days. those were the best days. one of my favourite memories is of y'all uncles dressed like absolute toots and performing 对面的女孩看过来, complete with props: a fly swatter, a harmonica, a flower. after that we all went crazy over the photo of carissa and abel holding hands when they were kids.

following your death a little over two months ago we were jolted out of our studious hermitage. we were reminded that this community is a family and we needed to stick together. we had some fun even during finals week. we studied together, senior study party. we had a steamboat at sau's, which was fun. after the elm formal, in which none of the friends i was intending to go with had ended up going, i was restless and grabbed a few friends and we all just hung out in dylan's room and had a great time just chatting. i miss us, and i will miss us. i wonder, had our community remembered to keep tight and have fun in these later years, if you would have been more in joy than in loneliness.

Dec 3, 2016

words?

I love words. Words strung beautifully carry a sort of weight, a flavour-enhancer, that helps you say the ordinary thing in a way that makes the heart stir. I wish I could write the way you do, midnight blue glass beads, compact words sealed tight that lead me to pause and cup my face in my hands and cry. I wish my words could do that. To you. To anyone. Lead people into that secret world, golden hues, still veiled but not too cautiously. To have words so beautiful they make a heart bleed.


I wonder what you get out of writing. I wonder what writers get out of writing. For me, it's what I need to express myself. It untangles the grey rainy mess of emotions into coherent threads, turns it into something pretty, and when I see it as such my burden is lifted. All the weight in my heart has become that pretty thing, a colourful little bird with a melody, and I can click "Publish" and see it fly off into cyberspace, and it brings closure to the pain of the moment. That's why I need to write.

Why do you write?

Nov 27, 2016

when you're gone

whenever i walk past the place, i always look up and imagine you falling, falling, stopped. once i counted the floors. today i remembered your mum saying that the wind carried you, that God was merciful, because you'd have landed on the concrete otherwise. sarah told me that a few days ago mannie left a flower where you died. i miss you. and i hope you are well, that a heaven exists so that it can exist for you.

Nov 12, 2016

天冷就回来



i push open the window.
the wind plays at my ankles, it tickles my feet
as i behold the world below.

a breath. a leap. i go
i fall, i fall, i fall
and then i soar, i soar,
flying towards the arms of my Father
my fate sealed forevermore.

my gaze transfixed on the glorious heaven, it requires strength to look away
but i steal a gaze backward, back on the once-me lying in a bush.
people are gathered over the body. they are crying, one's hand is over his mouth and my mother is wailing but i don't understand,
don't they know, can't they see, how happy i am now?
look, ma, look! look i'm soaring, my body is made new. no grazes, no cuts.
the dishevelled me you are sobbing over, the hand unnaturally twisted and the eyes rolled back,
that is not me. that you once knew, but now i am here, i am flying to the Father, ma.
I am safe now. I am loved. In this place there is freedom and joy.



Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow'd in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done;
I fear no more.

- A Hymn to God the Father, John Donne

Nov 3, 2016

washed ashore

"if I take the wings of the morning / and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, / even there Your hand shall lead me, / and Your right hand shall hold me"


they say life is either the greatest curse, or the greatest gift


the love of my life invites me to walk on the beach. the sun is a gentle kiss and the sky is bluer than the bluest eyes and there is only delight in my heart, a sparkly summer fizz the colour of strawberries. i laugh as i hold his hand and he tightens his grip, warm. he urges us to walk towards the waves. i am hesitant - you never know what the waves might bring - the blue-green water contains all sorts of strange and prickly things. but he wants to go. he happily urges me on. my heart gives way, fizzy bubbly, our path goes a little diagonal and our feet criss cross and the waves are lapping nearer, nearer, the white foamy bubbles tickle my toes i dip my left foot in

a flash of a sting, lightning it bites burns

shock

i stand still for a second, the pain cutting off all thought and processing abilities

he doesn't move he only stands there with his hand over his mouth but his eyes spell sadness and not surprise

"did you know this was going to happen?"

"i-"

"YOU KNEW"

"it was not my intention"

"YOU KNEW." i whimper, fear creeping over like a black slimy monster. i let go. i cannot touch his hand anymore, it is poison, i cannot trust him. i back away - further into the water - his hand remains where it was but i cannot reach out any longer -

a mighty wave rushes in and sweeps me off my feet. i stumble, my butt is on the floor, i am being dragged away by the blue-green tide i cannot feel my legs and everything is a foamy rush but i think his hand is holding on to my arm i can't be sure? i don't want his hand i don't want it

but the alternative is floating out at sea, alive but worse than death-

hold on to me


i am choking, sputtering, a flat sprawling mess on the ground. the waves still wash ashore, they slow down and they halt at the level of my nostrils, and they recede again. everything is numb but there is a different numb somewhere on my right arm. He will not leave me abandoned, He will not let me go.

Oct 8, 2016

rage

she says a thing. a casual flippant comment. she probably didn’t even realise it. but something in your heart flares up. an explosive burst in the left side of your chest. it physically hurts. more than an ache. a punch from the inside. alarm bells, overheating. this red-hot energy extends into your throat, your fingers, it compels you like a vengeful puppeteer, it will only grow unless you make that scathing remark in reply

drops of bright-green acid

in an instant the rage disappears. vanishes as instantly as mist, as an eliminated fighter in the virtual ring, as a person who is alive and then isn’t.

temperature starts drastically falling

she heats up "why are you being such a bitch" it comes back an iron burn

"gee idk maybe a friend just died"

successive punches against the wall the plaster falls until a kind word breaks the fever

thermometer goes back to normal. 36.4

oh

oh i am so so sorry

back away

what did i do

now you only want to cry

Aug 14, 2016

liking vs loving?

this came out of a ten-minute whatsapp conversation with a friend, so i'm just putting it out here

Jacey Chin (Today 10:32PM):
Karen
Wads ur definition of liking n loving someone
Karen (Today 10:34PM):
Context? What do you mean?
Love is a very big word
Jacey Chin (Today 10:35PM):
Like hw do u know if u like a guy 
Or if u love a guy
Karen (Today 10:35PM):
Firstly, love is selfless even though you have your own self-love
Liking someone is selfish. You want him for yourself
You want to make out with him
Loving someone is...
Wholesome, pure
Liking someone might involve obsessing over someone
And turning reality into a warped fantasy
Because that's not really him
It's what you want him to be
Love can come only through knowing someone really well
In my opinion, love can only sprout from a good strong friendship
You can't love someone you don't know (although you can love the idea of someone)
Love is patient and kind
It doesn't seek its own way
It doesn't look for faults
Jacey Chin (Today 10:37PM): 
That's my most fave words from the bible
Love is patient, love is kind
Karen (Today 10:37PM):
Liking someone comes with a lot of judging. How good does he look? Does he look this good all the time? Is it his voice? His eyes?
Liking has reasons
Love doesn't

Jacey Chin (Today 10:37PM): 
And more... which i can't rmb

Karen (Today 10:38PM):
When you ask yourself why you like someone
If there are reasons
If it starts with reasons*
It's probably not love
If you just... love who he is as a person... love him... want to journey in life with him... maybe it's more than liking
I love you as a friend although I have no reason to - we're so different and we fight
There are friends I don't care that much for even though we're a lot more similar - but of course, love is also a decision
I can decide to love someone even when it's tough
To forgive, to bless when they hurt you, to desire their well-being above all even if at a cost

Jacey Chin (Today 10:40PM):
Agree

Karen (Today 10:41PM)
Yeah. In conclusion, liking is easy, love sticks through
Oh I have this BEAUTIFUL THING
let me find it

captain corelli's mandolin
"Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being 'in love', which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two."



* about the reasons thing - i actually don't know. i mean i'm thinking more of like 'his eyes' / 'he's cute and we click really well' / 'the way he looks at me' sort.. and even 'because he makes me a better me' / 'because i see myself in him' - because that's still sorta self-centered, and this / your perception of this could possibly change over time, too? but what about 'because when i look at him i see Christ' / 'because i know i can count on him to...something something..'... 'because we fit each other like perfect complementary parts and we are each other's better halves...' idk i'm having a hard time coming up with test examples. but i think this has to come with a lot deeper exploration and it really goes even right down to what you consider the purpose of marriage / whether God has a part to play in this. but i mean, this conversation wasn't so much in the context of a godly relationship - that's a whole different ball game, and also considers love much more in the sense of a duty than an emotion / a state of heart??... aiya it's hard, the word 'love' is so huge. anyway, if you have thoughts about this, lmk 

Jul 22, 2016

like lady liberty

Train doors open and loud brash slippers clamber towards the seat across me. I look up at once, on guard. The first thing I notice is the giant white paper cone; long, thick, dark green stems with fresh slender leaves peek out from the slit. The middle-aged, incredibly tanned woman struggles with the metre-long cone and plops down, her two bulky red plastic bags carelessly dropped on the adjacent seat. Bottles of fresh milk, packets of salt or sugar. "谢谢光临," the plastic bags say in serif font. Two seconds of silence. The woman tries to set the clumsy cone in a more comfortable position - between her legs, beside her thighs.  Paper crinkling. Her left hand takes it from her right, and she decides to hold it upright, almost austere if you ignored her slouch and her legs spread comfortably apart. You almost can't see her denim shorts. She doesn't give a shit what you think. Silence, save the humming of the train. A weird bulge hidden underneath her loose sleeveless top, it can't be her tummy, it can't be the way she's sitting - I'm perplexed, until she gets out a wad of five-dollar notes from her pocket. Ah. A fanny pack. Of course. She counts them with one hand and then puts them back. Silence. Her feet slide outwards and then in again, a little slipper-stomp, restless, as the train hums on. Watching her makes me feel restless, too - I've been on the train for half an hour without a book; my phone is dead; I'm half-considering getting out three stops early to walk home just so I don't need to be sitting still for another five minutes.

The train comes to a sleepy halt at Clementi, pauses, takes off again as it announces its next stop. She gets up abruptly, plastic bags and paper cone. Gets to the train doors on my left in three large climbing strides, as if she's tackling a mountain. Her legs actually look like they could belong to a high school netballer. They're slim and toned, even more tanned than the rest of her, not a golden glow but a somewhat dull dark tint, sun-charred. Her feet, though, are scarred with an undefined number of little discoloured irregular spots, bearing testament to hard things dropped or hot liquid accidentally spilt through the years. Metallic silver polish on neatly cut toenails. Suddenly she turns and hastes towards the train door on my right instead. The train zooms into Jurong East then slows, slows, comes to a complete stop; half the people in my carriage get out of their seats and wait at the doors. As soon as they open the crowd runs in hurried streams to the train on the opposite platform - it's probably the last one for the night. I still catch sight of that stark white cone. It floats past the barrier and the woman finds a seat right at the centre of my line of vision, her back facing me, her cone still being held upright like the torch of Lady Liberty.

Jul 20, 2016

unsafe



Cecilia runs over in a grey crop top, tight knee-length skirt and shiny black flats. I should have told her that I was planning to take her to the seaside. When she gets into the car I'm surprised: glittery eyeshadow, beautifully done eyeliner, lipstick that looks really good on her. All dolled up at 11.30pm. "Looking good!" I marvel. "My roommate was like, why are you so dressed up at this time of night, I was like, it's my birthday, indulge me, okay?"

In the car she plays Like A G6 and Justin Bieber's Sorry and we both sing along, unashamed. She's never been to Labrador Park, but she told me she wanted to go somewhere with water. (I was confused: "a water cooler? A vending machine?") We get out of the car and the salty wind greets us, caresses our faces, tousles our hair. Bright lights from the oil refinery island beyond. Songs are still blasting from her phone; we sit facing the sea. "Oh my gosh, I'm spending midnight of my eighteenth with you!!! I don't think I've ever celebrated at midnight outside before. I'm usually just sleeping." I open a bag of potato wheels but when I attempt to reach for my laptop the entire packet falls on the floor and it's all gone. "Should we let the fish eat them?" she asks, and throws a cupped handful of wheels into the water, white dots being carried by the wind. "oh no, it's still too close to the shore, I think we should stop." "It's at night, they can't see them!!" Bending over guffawing at the ridiculousness of it all.

We bin the rest of it and take a walk eastward, pop music announcing our arrival to the lizards and trees. "No fishing" signs, but the old men clearly don't care. "Which part of 'No Fishing' don't they understand," she grumbles. We stop at a lookout point. "Please don't let there be people," but there is, a middle-aged man with a rod. "Ugh." We occupy the space anyway. She's having a hard time finding a comfortable position with her skirt, so she lies down. "Oh my God can you help me take a Tumblr picture!!! HA. Forgive me, I'm being such a teenager." I open the camera app on her phone; no more music now, just the sound of iPhone camera snaps. She peruses the pictures - "I look like I'm dead!! Okay take me sitting up instead." "Your label is showing." She adjusts her skirt, but allows the small of her back to show. More photos in landscape, up close, in monochrome. I play with the camera angle so that the fishing uncle at the back doesn't get in the picture. "Oh the clouds behind you look really good," I notice, and snap a few candid shots of her with the sky. "Oi! Stop it! Stop taking! Unglam!" She laughs, snatches the phone from me.

Three boys come over with fishing rods. I notice that she isn't talking anymore. She keeps her gaze low, sits up straight, adjusts and readjusts her skirt from the back. She doesn't want anything to show anymore. I don't pay any attention to our intruders at first, but when I notice her discomfort I take a better look at them. Spectacles, caps, a kopitiam cup. Their fishing rods are still in their cases; they look out to the sea and assess the waves in soft, casual conversation. They look younger than me, and harmless. I realise how trusting I am of Singapore, how I project my own innocence and my narrow perception of Singaporean society on the strangers around me. But Cecilia hasn't been saying a word. She's still adjusting her skirt, keeping her gaze down. "Wanna go?" I ask. "Yeah." Her strides are long and quick, even in her tight skirt, even with her blistered foot.

Jun 21, 2016

adoption

These few weeks in Rome, my mind has been on three things in particular, none of which are related to the Rome trip at all: the guitar, resuming work at Koi when I'm back, and the prospect of adopting a child in the future. (Walao Karen, no boyfriend alr thinking about kids?? Lol) Well, regarding #1, I really miss playing the guitar even though I'm not great at it but the church I've been with is actually letting me play the guitar for service on Sunday! This is a huge deal for me because I've never played or sung at worship at my own church or cell group in Singapore, so... hooray! Hopefully I can play all the chords?

(plug for Rome Baptist Church, if ever any Rome tourists-to-be chance upon my site: yes, there are Protestant churches in Rome! And RBC made me feel so welcome right away. I felt more welcome at this church, more immediately assimilated into a bunch of friends, than I ever have at any other church in my life (and I've visited a good number of them, in a number of countries). My first day there I started talking to the person sitting beside me, Joseph from India, and some other guy who introduced me to the group of young adults and we all (Joseph included) went for lunch at a park, and had gelato after, and two of them accompanied me to the Pantheon. And every week there are new faces and the bunch of us go for lunch together and people are immediately friends and it's lovely :) such immediate, warm fellowship. New people just come up to the group all the time. And then there's a Bible Study thing on Fridays that some of the young adults in that group go for, and I just asked one of the guys if the church would let me play on Sunday, and he was like yes we'd be glad to have you!!! And I was like wow really, I should have asked earlier LOL I've been ITCHING to play the guitar - although I'm not good at all, only know the few essential chords - hopefully that's enough)

But this post isn't about #1, it's about #3. Adoption has always been at the back of my mind, and for some reason I've been thinking about it a fair bit here. Why do we still give birth and have our own kids when there are so many kids out there who don't have parents? I think every married couple that is willing and able to raise / nurture a child well (the prerequisites for any couple to have kids imo) should think about why they aren't adopting instead, just like how every hopeful pet-owner should consider the option of adopting an animal instead of buying one from the pet store. Why make more babies when there already exist so many children who need the care of parents? Yet it's a part of our humanity, perhaps, to want a baby that's our own flesh and blood. There's something special about having this life created by you, knowing that it's completely yours, a product of you and your spouse, the testament to and manifestation of your love that is unique and wholly special to the both of you. There's something very incredible about creating life. Yet aren't these selfish reasons, and the option of adoption far more reasonable and selfless?

Perhaps, if I have the money and tolerance (...and a husband...lol), I might have three or four children, two of whom are adopted. The fears lie in how one might reveal the fact of adoption to their children, how they might receive it, and whether their lives would indeed turn out for the better because of it. I envision that someday, when the little one asks where children come from, I might along with the technicalities of sex explain the fact of their adoption, along with the concept of how we are adopted children of God. God, in His love for us, reconciled our imperfect selves to Himself through the sacrifice of Jesus who paid the price for all our shortcomings, so that there was no sin left that could separate us from God. Being humans, we are still sinful, but through faith we call ourselves the adopted children of a perfect Father.

You received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. - Rom 8:15-17

Does this fact of adoption make our relationship with God any less? Of course not; in fact, it shows even more greatly how much God loves us, that He would go the lengths to be our Father.

Jun 16, 2016

Saint Peter's Basilica / Irreverent Tourists

I stand in line waiting for the bag check, Memoirs of Hadrian in my hand. A short distance ahead of me, three girls are dressed in bustiers and skirts, midriffs entirely exposed. One has a jacket draped around her that I'm assuming she'll put on once she's inside; another has a glossy translucent wrapper around her shoulders that looks more like a classy wrapping paper or a huge roll of tracing paper than a shawl. It covers nothing. I can still see her bra strap beneath her bandeau.

On the way in, a small crowd is gathered around a little opening in the wall, taking pictures...it's a Vatican guard! The tourists are raising their arms, tiptoeing, clamoring to click the shutter; the sole lanky young man dressed in pompous red yellow and blue stands upright and unperturbed, his left arm outstretched to grasp a long metal pole.

In the basilica I see so many tourists with cheap translucent shawls carelessly wrapped around their waists as a makeshift skirt in an attempt to cover up. Cheap shawls, shawls that you can still see through, shawls that aren't tied properly so their shorts and bare legs still show - please can they not? If they don't have the respect to bring a skirt or just dress appropriately when they know they're going to St. Peter's Basilica of all churches - how would they feel if they knew they were in the presence of the King of Kings? Is this the way we respect royalty, let alone divinity? Sure, you might not believe in the religion; but at least respect the place by dressing right. Would you tie a "ROME" shawl around your waist as a makeshift skirt if you were going to a nice place for dinner? Why does a church warrant even less respect?

People walking around in berms and sandals, in a jumper and hobo pants, tour guides walking around with a raised umbrella or a small scarf tied on a stick. I mean, would you just look at the grandeur of this place for a second, spoiled by humans. The church adopted the architectural layout of the basilica, which in ancient times was a marketplace full of shops, because it was spacious and covered and it fit the needs of the church. Perhaps the St. Peter's Basilica of today feels more like an ancient basilica than the planners might have expected, with all that noise.

"EXCLUSIVELY FOR PRAYER AND ADORATION" - the chapel behind thick pale green curtains brings relief. Silence. People are kneeling, praying. Sitting there in prayer, when I run out words to say I still feel the presence and peace of God inviting me to stay, to simply be with him and let His presence fill my heart, in a quiet place undisturbed by visitors wandering and cameras snapping and people calling out to one another. I just sit in the little sanctuary enjoying the presence of God. Perhaps this is what adoration is about.

I also spend a long time in front of Michelangelo's Pieta. Tour groups float by me; I simply stand with my elbows on the barrier, taking in the emotion of the piece... I have never had a sculpture speak to my heart like that before, never spent so long staring at a statue before. Were you there when they nailed Him to the cross?
A few days ago in the Vatican museum, a painting by Caravaggio made me think about how the apostles and Jesus' loved ones must have felt the night he died... betrayed, foolish, resigned, despondent. We gave our lives to follow Him... and He turned out only to be man. Dead. Scourged. Humiliated in every way. We thought there might be more and we banked our lives on it. Now He has left us, abandoned orphans, stupid to have believed something so impossible.
 

Beside me, a mother snaps a photo of her daughter with the Pieta. A pause; she doesn't move away. "Did you get it?" "Yes," the mother replies. "I just want to look at it." That's right. That's the way to be a tourist. Many people just snap a photo and go.

Near the entrance, a monk? - dark grey robe and a rope belt, no priest's collar - takes a rest on the floor, massages his leg. He's got a bright green earpiece in one ear, characteristic of those tour groups. A man comes over, tells him he can't sit there... he looks up with a friendly chuckle, massaging his leg.

At the painting of the transfiguration of Jesus by Raphael, the body of Pope Innocent XI lies below the altar, his face and hands encased in silver. A frail and withered picture, yet quite intriguing. Many simply snap a photo and go; tour groups crowd around for a minute, and then leave; I stay for quite a while. Another woman beside me, too, lingers. Eventually she comments "That's gross" and walks away. A Chinese tour group - ah maybe I'll understand something - unfortunately not. But they're nice, quiet and respectful. They come and leave silently. The tour guide speaks softly into her mouthpiece. Another tour group comes by, brushing past me, carrying musical instruments, orange bandannas tied around their collars.

At the tomb of the popes: the first thing I see is the tomb of Pope Boniface VIII - HURHUR alarm bells go off in my head. Dante hated Boniface. In Inferno, in the circle of hell for bad popes, a condemned soul mistakes Dante the sojourner for Boniface: "Dost thou stand there already, Dost thou stand there already, Boniface?" - he can't put Boniface in hell yet because Boniface is still alive. Talk about sick burns. The description at his tomb says that he "convened the first Jubilee Year in the history of the Church (in 1300) which saw the participation of famous personalities as the poet Dante Alighieri." LOL. Well. Dante would be rolling over in his grave right now. I guess we tell the stories we want to tell, eh?


At the tomb of Saint Peter:
"Who is Saint Peter though?"
"Saint... Peter...Apostle"
"You can take photos, as long as you don't get caught," said a mother to her child. (really? In the church of St. Peter's? In Vatican City???)
(note: this picture is taken from Wikipedia - we weren't allowed to take photos)
Lots of gasps. I too gasped inwardly when I saw it. Didn't realise we could still see the original spot. Saint Peter was believed to have been buried here because Nero's circus was here, where Peter was believed to have been martyred in the 1st century. His tomb was found in a complex of tombs - people wanted to be buried close to the Apostle. Then Constantine built a church over this spot in the 3rd century, the original St. Peter's Basilica, before it was rebuilt in 1506.

(What we see today isn't the original church, but bits of the old church still remains. The obelisk, actually, makes for a great story. The obelisk, was originally quarried around 1314-1197 BC (!!!) and stood in Heliopolis, then was moved to Alexandria by Augustus, and then to Rome by Caligula in 37AD. The obelisk then stood in Nero's circus, where Peter was crucified, and where Constantine's church was eventually built. Today it stands in a slightly different spot from where it originally was - Pope Sixtus V had it moved a little in the late 16th century together with the rebuilding of the basilica. Source)

We can't take photos - some people are snapping pictures but I decide to be a good and honest tourist instead - so I sketch. A tap on my shoulder: "It's beautiful!" Haha, no, not at all; I just got over the fear of being terrible at drawing. I can't sketch, but the sketch is only for me, so that I can remember it, and one doesn't actually need much to be able to sketch.

People walk by the tomb, not realising what's on their right... a guy in a blue polo tee calls his friends back. "That's Saint Peter's tomb." Their eyes open, mildly impressed. "Ooh."


--abrupt ending...wtv--

Jun 13, 2016

Men of Rome



The Church of St. Augustine reopens in fifteen minutes, so I take a short walk towards the Pantheon, to the café where Russell works. Last week I had a macchiato there while waiting for Carmen and Amanda, and we struck up a conversation - turns out he's been to Singapore before, because his brother works there. "Do you know Eunos Avenue 7?" In his delight at meeting a Singaporean he gave me a free gelato and said I should come by again, so I guess now's a good time.

He's serving a couple of people at the counter but the moment I walk up to the counter he gives a happy "Hey! I saw you walk by in the morning!" Over cappuccino I tell him the places I've visited, and he says he could take me around someday after his work shift ends. Russell charges me one euro less for the coffee, so it goes to the man with polio in the piazza.

At the Church of Saint Augustine I linger at the souvenir counter, deciding on a postcard. "Hello," the man at the counter smiles. "Are you from the Philippines?" I shake my head, ask him to try again. "Hmm... Korea? China? Malaysia?" "Close!" "Indonesia?" "Close! It's in the middle." He still struggles for a while, so I give him the answer. He tells me he's from India. "Where in India?" "The north, Punjab. You know it?" "Ah, yes." "You do?" he asks, pleasantly surprised. "Yes, there are a lot of Indians in Singapore." "Ah, Singapore. It's a beautiful city." He tells me that he came from a Hindu family, but converted to Catholicism, and has been working for churches in Rome for five years. We both marvel at the beauty of this city, and the effort the country puts into preserving its history. After a while I go off to look around the church a little more, but I return to the counter to ask him for his name. "Sandeep," he says. "And this is a brochure for you, so you can know more about the church." "Oh, thank you, that's so useful! How much is it?" "No, it's for you. Actually I wanted to give it to you earlier, but you walked off so fast!" He refuses to let me pay for my postcard of the Caravaggio painting, either. I tell him that this is actually my second time in this church, because I want to write about it for this week's assignment - upon hearing that he reaches into a drawer and presents me with a bigger book that contains detailed descriptions of every painting and chapel. Again he lets me refuse to pay the €5: "I don't take money from students!"

Armed with the book that has all the information I need, I'm wandering around the church when he taps on my shoulder: "come, let me show you this." He unlocks the gate to the chapel of Saints Augustine and William; fifteen minutes later I'm still there, taking in the massive paintings of Saint William being healed by Mary, majestically dressed in blue and orange, and of Saint Augustine contemplating the Trinity. "Oh, you're still here. Let me show you something even better, before Mass starts." He walks towards the high altar, up the platform - I stand at the threshold, but he motions for me to come in - leads me behind the main altar through the curtain. "We don't usually allow visitors in here..." - this is where the choir stands? The apse and the paintings behind the high altar tower over me; I cannot take it all in. I let myself marvel at the sheer size of the space, and at the privilege I had of meeting someone so eager to share the beauty of this church with me.

The rosary is being said as I leave; I stop by the souvenir stand again on my way out, to get one more postcard of the same Caravaggio painting - for Sam, perhaps. The stand is swarmed with tourists now, and Sandeep is attending to multiple people at once; I try to make him take the mere 50 cents that it's being sold for. He keeps refusing, and motions for me to come to the front of the counter. I reach out to give him the money; instead he gets out a bracelet from his drawer and slips it around my wrist - "this is for your friendship." A man beside me at the counter who witnesses this looks at Sandeep and says, "You are a Gentleman." I'm so touched - "you keep giving me stuff!!" - we shake hands again, my heart full of the grace of people I have met in Rome. On Day 1, half an hour after I left the airport, my valuables were stolen by a pair of men. Even now my guard is usually still up, and I've been wary to the point of being a little rude to a few people - not without reason, though. But since then I have had the privilege of meeting so many kind people who have given without asking in return, and they have really helped to to redeem my perception of Rome and its people. Thank you, Roma :)