Sometimes we have to let things be, or rather let the sacredness of the moment pass us by without having to capture it all with a camera. To be more specific, I am talking about photographing the sacred beauty of nature as you see it in the here and now.
I know, I know what you are going to say.
Perhaps for photography buffs like me — you’d disagree with my above statement because you believe each moment is fleeting and there’s nothing like capturing it in a photograph to help you remember it. True.
But hear me out. I’m also much like you who almost never let a beautiful scene of nature pass by without me clicking on my phone’s camera button.
Yet — my AHA moment regarding the importance of a silent appreciation of Nature’s wonder dawned on me recently as I was about to do that. As is my habit, I’ve been watchful of the sky especially in the early mornings, midday, and towards late afternoon until sunset.
As soon as I saw the stunning colors of twilight in the skies, I rushed to get my phone only to pause and ponder: wouldn’t it be better to appreciate this ephemeral moment, this beautiful scene just in the silence of my heart as my deep tribute to the Great Artist Himself, my Creator God?
Sometimes we need to break away from our tendency to just click away anytime at something that catches our fancy. Just like what most of us are doing at the start of a great — or even a simple — meal. Be at home or dining out, people tend to photograph every morsel of food before partaking of it. Some even forget to offer a blessing or prayer of thanks for the grace of food; they are busy shooting the laid out meal, dish by dish, to post the photos later on their Instagram, Facebook and other social media profiles. (More on this later in another post).
Photography’s vaunted capture of a moment in time is the seizure and freezing of presence. — Rosalind E. Krauss
Indeed –yet, photography need not be too trite that it cannot allow us to step back and gaze in Awe and silence at the wonder of Nature before us.
Photographing. Every. Scene. of Nature you see is like stealing a kiss or plucking a flower from its stem. Or to put it more bluntly, it is a sacrilege like photographing every moment in the Mass.
Not every wonderful scene need to be Instagrammable. God’s wonderful work of Nature cannot just be confined to mere photographs, but should be enshrined in our memories and in our hearts.
He doesn’t take a photo or a video because he wants to remember – by which he means he wants to misremember because the moment is made up of what the camera can’t capture. —Jeanette Winterson
How about you, my dear reader, what’s your take on this? Do you think every scene of nature should be photographed? When is it okay or not okay to do this?
I’ve always enjoyed looking at the sky and I especially find clouds fascinating whatever form they take. Now I’ve been noticing, perhaps from the start of the year, cloud shapes are becoming more and more dramatic or strange or weird.
And now for the past several evenings, I’ve been seeing this kind of night sky…a bright, shining opening amid an enveloping darkness. Stunning, isn’t it? How amazing God’s piece of creation!
With the pandemic still raging, on top of the mounting problems we are facing the world over, I believe this must be God’s message of hope and assurance all will be well, with God’s grace!
“Shall I open the womb and not deliver? says the Lord; shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb? says your God.” — Isaiah 66.9 (NRSV, Catholic edition)
Now, it strikes me that this Sunday Gospel and readings give the same message of hope and assurance from our Lord God.
From Zechariah 9:9-10, we read:
9 Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion! Shout for joy, daughter of Jerusalem! Look, your king is approaching, he is vindicated and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 He will banish chariots from Ephraim and horses from Jerusalem; the bow of warwill be banished. He will proclaim peace to the nations, his empire will stretch from sea to sea, from the River to the limits of the earth.
The second reading from Romans 8:9, 11-13sets the condition with which we ought to develop in ourselves, in our daily living, — the gateway to God’s Grace.
The Gospel taken from Matthew 11:25-30 speaks of Christ’s assurance, of His offer of rest from our daily struggles.
Indeed, God speaks to us through His words in the Scriptures, through the people He sends in our lives, and through His wonderful works in nature.
Each time I prune my few potted plants, I always think they may wilt and die because of limited space and soil. Yet, each time they seem to grow even faster than I could imagine.
New life. New growth. After pruning, my plants start sprouting. They indeed continue to grow.
It’s the same with us. We need pruning in our journey to self-growth.
We need to shed leaves of our old selves, cut off the branches of our failures and shortcomings, and unchain the weakest links in our lives.
What are those weakest links, you might ask. Well, these are our inordinate attachments, our obsessions to things or people that limit or destroy our capacity to grow and become our authentic selves.
Pruning ourselves propels us to grow into the better persons we can ever yet become. It drives us towards our goals, as we go on improving ourselves and helping others grow as well.
Our limited circumstances or resources are not hindrances to our goal of growing ourselves. All it takes is a growth mindset ready to overcome any obstacles or limitations. It needs sheer willpower, decisive action, and a bit of creativity too.
Pruning in the time of the Pandemic
In this time of the pandemic and lockdowns, perhaps you have done some pruning in your lives, just like the rest of us. In fact, one good effect of having to stay at home and keeping safe from COVID-19 is many people have been forced to give up their favorite leisure activities, such as window shopping, going to movie theaters, and eating out. And as money have become tight due to the effect of the crisis on the economy, people have become more budget-conscious and wiser in spending money.
To relieve boredom or the so-called cabin fever, many have tried coping with the restrictions creatively. Cooking, baking, urban gardening, yoga exercises with the family, attending online daily Masses and other religious events – are some of the activities many of us have taken up these past few months.
Others have also become more entrepreneurial by putting up small home businesses delivering essential goods to our homes.
Re-learning basic home skills and learning new ones – because we need to be more practical — that ‘s what most of us are busy with nowadays.
Families have bonded more strongly. Doing things together as a family has become the norm — especially eating meals together. Even those who live apart from one another have come to get in touch more often through family video chats using Zoom, Skype Chat and Facebook Messenger, to name a few.
At the same time, caring for those in need, including front-liners, extending help in any way is a common sight to behold. We have learned what is most essential in life, and who matters most in our lives.
Even the environment has benefited from the months-long lockdown and curfews, giving us cleaner air and clearer views of the horizon.
These are only some of the good many of us have experienced during the recent months. So while the pandemic has caught us all by surprise and changed life as we knew it then, it has given us time to look deeper into ourselves, prune away bad habits, cultivate good ones, and plant seeds of hope and love for a better humanity. Shedding our old selves to grow into our better, more authentic selves — may this be ‘new normal’ even long past this pandemic.
For us Christians, let us ponder more deeply this idea of pruning with these words from John 15: 1-6.
1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
2 Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more.
3 You are clean already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you.
4 Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.
5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing.
6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a branch — and withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire and are burnt.
This is so we can have some order and inner peace and a sense of balance. But how can we create a daily pattern and rhythm to bring about these?
Let us first look at these terms.
Pattern, according to Oxford dictionary, is “a regular and intelligible form or sequence discernible in certain actions or situations.” Rhythm, says Oxford, is “a regularly recurring sequence of events, actions, or processes.”
Through our daily routine and regular activities, we are able to build a system or order of conducting our lives, which lends a certain cadence or tempo into our days.
Hence, we talk of our regular eating/sleeping time and so forth. If we skip a beat, we might feel uneasy. We get sick, if we form the bad habits of sleeping too late or getting not enough sleep, and missing our meals. (I will be writing more on this in a later post.)
Again, using the fine example of contemplative religious communities, they start and end their day in worship and prayer, and interspersed in between are their hours of work and/or study, as well as time for their rest and recreation.
Such mindful use of their hours with nothing put to waste! So much so they have no time to focus too much on the bad and the ugly. Rather, they tend to set their sights on the good, their hearts on God.
Come to think of it, I’ve realized God himself has given us the perfect template for creating pattern and rhythm in our daily life: work and rest and worship.
“For six days, you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.[…] For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore, the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” — Exodus 20:8-11
Worship and Prayer
Wouldn’t it be good to also start your own day with a prayer of thanksgiving and praise to your God, the Creator of the Universe and of all beings? As well as end the day with a prayer or quiet time with Him?
For Christians, worshiping God is His first commandment to us, which He himself spoke to Moses and the people of Israel on Mount Sinai:
“I am the Lord your God […] you shall have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20: 1-3 (NRSV)
And Jesus too spoke of the same when He was tempted by Satan in the desert:
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.” – Matthew 4:10 (NRSV)
For the religious communities I mentioned above, in obedience to God’s divine law to worship Him, these are two verses from the Bible by which they design their daily life:
Psalm 119:164 “Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments.” (KJV)
Psalm 119:62 “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments.” (KJV)
As God himself commanded us, so be it, as it is good for our spiritual lives. Worshiping Him is God’s greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your might.” — Deuteronomy 6:5 (NRSV)
Non-Christians also do pray. They have their own special ways to commune with a Higher Being or Deity.
In other words, praying is as basic as the need to eat, sleep, and breathe — to ground oneself, be firm, and grow.
Surely you know how work and study are important for us to grow. Work is the means by which we can make use of our God-given talents, and enables us to provide for ourselves and those entrusted to our care, as well as be of help to the less fortunate.
But what I’m stressing more here is how to make your day more meaningful. How are you maximizing your time? What are you aiming for — being busy or being productive?
Aim to spend each hour of the day in producing results that can lead you closer to your goals. Avoid spending time on needless tasks or activities that will not help you grow — as in too much time on social media. Allot time for your continuous learning. “One hour per day of study in your chosen field is all it takes, “ as Earl Nightingale once said.
When we fill our days with meaningful work or activity, we glorify God. And we are safe from the temptation of the evil one, as the popular saying goes, “An idle mind/hands are the devil’s workshop.”
What better way to mark our daily pattern and rhythm with special sounds that can enhance our day than music? I like this definition of music from Wikipedia: “Music is an art form and cultural activity whose medium is sound organized in time.”
Music as a form of worship and prayer is uplifting, soul-refreshing, unifying our soul and spirit with God. It is indeed the highest form of prayer we can offer to God, to whom all Glory and Praise belong.
Outside the realm of religious rites, music is an invaluable part of our lives. It’s one of the most effective ways to express emotions and create mood. Isn’t it nice to have music playing in the background while you work (or do chores), study, or to simply relax?
Also, today more and more people are turning to music as a healing therapy, such as those offered by Breathe & Chill on YouTube: binaural beats, calming sounds of nature. They even have binaural beats for children.
So there, dear reader. If you are already getting fed up by the noise and pain in the world, or yearning to deepen your spirituality, or to gain clearer direction, it is time to re-arrange your daily life with these 3 important elements of worship, work and music. Let go and let God, too, if things are getting too much to bear!
God created the Universe and all in it according to His set design and pattern, so there may be ORDER in the natural word.
“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it, (he established it; he didn’t create it a chaos, formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the LORD and there is no other.” — Isaiah 45:18 (The NRSV Catholic Edition)
God gave us His commandments for our own good, that we may lead orderly lives and not lose our way.
“GOD is Light and in Him there is no darkness at all. ” — 1 John 5 (NRSV, Catholic Edition)
See this article too on “Why is Obedience to God Important?” by Mary Fairchild, Learn Religions, Feb. 11, 2020.
God’s perfect template for pattern and rhythm in our daily life: work and rest and worship.
Are you getting jaded, disheartened, or depressed by what is happening around the world?
Our world today is full of strife, noise, and excesses. These chaos around us can deplete us of our inner energy and peace, causing us to drift mindlessly or drown in a sea of confusion or meaninglessness. It is easy to lose ourselves.
So we need to retain or restore our sense of balance and of self. One way to do this is by establishing a daily pattern and rhythm.
Lately, I’ve been striving to build pattern and rhythm into my everyday life under the maxim, Ora et Labora: Prayer and work incorporated into each of my day. I also include listening to music into my routine: classical, instrumental, and healing music.
My inspiration for this is the monastic and convent life of religious orders and congregations of contemplative priests/monks and nuns, (those whose main life is devoted to prayer inside their monasteries or convents) such as, to name a few, the Benedictines, the Carmelites, and the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (Pink Sisters) of which my younger sister is a member.
Their daily life is marked by a routine of worship and prayer, work and study, rest and recreation.
Not to overlook that singing is also part of their worship and prayer. Music is very much interwoven into their daily pattern.
PATTERN and RHYTHM Brings ORDER into Our Lives
It will be good for us, if we can adopt the same principle into our own life in the secular world.
Establishing a daily pattern and rhythm brings order into our lives, both external and internal. Let me explain further.
Have you ever had some experience dealing with or interacting with contemplative monks/priests and nuns?
If so, you must have noticed how calm, quiet, and gentle they go about their day. Even their movement seems unhurried and fluid, their voice soft and angelic. Nothing harsh nor abrupt in the way they move or speak. The same is true with my own sister and her co-sisters in their convent.
It must be their disciplined, structured life. I also remember my professor in Pastoral Psychology and Counseling, a Jesuit priest, reminding us to “move slowly, speak slowly, eat slowly.” He stressed the importance of being in the moment, in the here-and-now.
Perhaps there is wisdom in that way of living, which we can adapt to our own individual environment, circumstances, and everyday living to:
Help us put up with the negative forces around us of which we have little control;
Enable us to tackle the challenges and problems of modern life, especially those brought about by technology, and still remain sane.
Among the downside of technology we are facing today are:
Disconnect between the real and the virtual world
Climate of negativity and superficiality on social media
Spread of fake news, lies, and hate-crimes
Depression and suicide among the young
So disheartening, huh? That is why, I state again, we need to have some form of defense against these negative forces in the external world, or call it crutch if you will, to help us maintain our inner composure and equilibrium. Something to pull us back to ourselves in case we get lost.
Now, some of you especially the young or those of you who are more free-spirited and dislike being hemmed in by a strict time regimen and routine, maybe you won’t agree with me. But it pays to have structure and regularity in our daily life.
In fact, studies show we are wired to follow certain patterns and rhythms – just like our heart beats, breathing, and sleep-wake cycle, for example. Even nature follows patterns and rhythms, like the rising and setting of the sun, the ebb and flow of tides, seasonal changes, and so on.
Just observe things around you. You will notice the presence of patterns and rhythms in your own life and in the natural world. Don’t you just feel safe and secure when you see daylight comes out after the dark hours of night? No matter the weather is, day is sure to follow night. That is the natural law, the natural order of things.
More than a disciplined, well-arranged daily pattern, these priests/monks and cloistered nuns seem to be possessed with quiet confidence that everything will be alright despite all the above-mentioned issues. They remain unperturbed like lotuses in a pond.
We can indeed re-arrange our days to help us weather the external chaos going on around us; that despite the turmoil of a superficial, hostile world, we can still live with inner peace and balance.
In my next post, I will show you how you can create pattern and rhythm in your own life through Worship, Work, and Musicinterwoven into each of your days.
* NOTE: This is my revised post. The original contains the 2nd part which I now have to make into a new post in itself.
I remember growing up with a daily structure to follow. I belonged to that generation when parents instilled a disciplined time management to their children. Whether on schooldays or vacation, we had to start our day early.
Do you know the saying, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise?” That was my parents’ motivation for us.
This is true for most parents that they want their children to be successful in life. They believe success starts with an early day.
Another parents’ favorite saying is, “The early bird catches the worm.” Thus, when my own children were growing up, I also instilled in them this good habit of waking up early.
Downside of Flexible Hours
But as years went by, long after my children had grown and started their own lives, I managed to establish my own flexible time routine as my needs demanded it. Like if I had a class, or appointment, or an errand late in the morning, I’d get up late too, beyond 7 am.
My days became more and more flexible, since I quit my teaching job at a pastoral institute and opted to work from home. Yet, the freedom flextime (flexible hours) gave me was both simultaneously good and overwhelming!
I realized I wasn’t as productive as I used to. Without a set time structure for my day, the hours seemed to fly by without me having accomplished as much as I wanted or needed to.
Besides, the feeling of cramming too many things in a few hours of the day was already creating a sense of mindless flow and needless stress.
It seems like Time and Temper run in short supply, as we get older.
The Beauty of Creating Sacred Time
Fast forward to the beginning of this year, I vowed to be more mindful of the hours I spend in a day.
I had to rediscover the joy of waking up much earlier again, at the crack of dawn when everything was still dark, cold, and dreary.
But, more than waking up early, something inside me was still yearning for more, for something deeper and far more meaningful for each of my day.
I realized then I needed to create a special time for prayer or quiet meditation, a time for communing with God.
And I can only do so by setting particular hours of my day for this Sacred Time, spread throughout my day, with intention; to pray not only when I feel like or have extra time.
So far, this has been helping me set the tone for my day.
The beauty of doing this? Waking up earlier than usual and creating Sacred Time for certain hours of the day, I can, among many other benefits:
Start my day with a prayer and conversation with God with no hurry
Enjoy watching the dark dawn turn light into a new day
Watch the first glow of the morning sun peeking through the mountains in the eastern side of the metropolis
Observe the pigeons in the neighborhood take flight for their morning exercise
Organize my day’s activities, including rest, more mindfully and meaningfully
Focus more on the present
Feel more calm and relaxed despite hardship and challenges knowing I am a prayer away from my Creator
Accomplish more by giving priority to the most urgent tasks and doing away with killing time
End my day with a healing prayer before bedtime
In short, I find it refreshing and energy boosting in starting and ending the day on a positive note, which can only come from having a time for prayer. My Sacred Time! It has helped deepen my prayer life.
Of course, I still feel challenged at times, and problems still take the better of me. Yet, growing closer to God through my Sacred Time, I can overcome the negatives, do more, and grow to be the best person I can ever be.
“Be still and know that I am God.” — Psalm 46:10
If you feel you need more calm, want to be more productive, and grow, you too can try this. You can also create your own sacred time or space. You may have your own version of it – your own quiet, solitary time, communing with your Higher Being, at an hour/or hours and place you choose. It brings the same effect. It will surely benefit you in many more ways than you’ll ever know.
Like most people, I ‘d like to believe a New Year signifies New Life, New Hope.
A new year inspires in us a new way of living.
Living more positively.
Resolving to overcome bad habits.
Creating new ones in the hope these will bring us much closer to our goals.
And this is what I’d also like to wish for my blog, too: time to head for a new direction, a fresh outlook, more inspiring posts and articles, and so forth. To rise again like a lotus.
There was a time I used to name this blog, Summr LotusPond. Why?
As I wrote then in my blog’s former About Page, I’d like to see my blog as somehow akin to a Pink Lotus flower — that despite my imperfections in writing, my blog can hopefully withstand these and continue being a garden for my creative inclinations where my dream of being a writer can flourish.
And though I still see my blog as ‘a garden for my creative inclinations,’ I will strive to post something more useful, more inspiring, for you dear reader, straight from my heart.
The Pink Lotus is considered to be the supreme lotus; though not a Buddhist myself, I like the symbolism attached to it — Rebirth. The Lotus thrives in dirty, muddy ponds — goes through a cycle of opening all its petals in the morning, then closes each in the late afternoon — yet, it emerges untainted and beautiful despite its mucky surroundings.
And just like the Pink Lotus that is said to symbolize a person’s spiritual journey: while still a bud, it represents a ‘closed’ person who is yet to move on to the next step in his/her spiritual journey; as the flower blooms, it represents an opening up of a person to all that is around.
Last year, my blog sort of went on a limbo, when I stopped posting in the second half of the year. And this year, I promise you, just like the Pink Lotus, English All You Can: TeachMarich Journal of Inspiration will have another of its Rebirth!
It’s been over two months since my first travel outside the Philippines, and here I am still reeling from this incredulous feeling of finally, “I made it!”
Everything about my travel – the places my son and I visited, the food, the people there, and all these that I narrate here – make my first travel abroad something I can never ever forget.
Thanks much to my son who invited me, my long time dream of going abroad has come true — and traveling SOLO at that! Of course, my son would be there to meet and fetch me after work, then take me around. You see, he often goes to Singapore as part of his job, so he wanted me to be able to visit the country while he was there.
Yet, the prospect of traveling abroad all by myself – getting to the airport and back (from the trip), and going through the long process from check-in to security check, and flying alone with strangers — was daunting enough for me because that meant getting out of my comfort zone. I’m used to being assisted especially in new situations.
Last year in fact — as I shared in a previous post — the chance to travel overseas already presented itself to me. Not your regular adventurer at heart, I found many excuses to back off.
But this time, I mustered the courage to embrace this golden opportunity, for such may no longer come my way. Besides, my son had already bought my plane tickets at short notice, too (so I’d no longer have any excuses to say no).
With little time to prepare my mind, my heart, and my things, “a drum of anxieties was revolving in my consciousness” (to quote Alain de Botton in his book, “The Art of Travel”) days prior to my scheduled flight.
Worrying about losing my way at the airports (here and at Changi), my hearing impairment, and my natural clumsiness even at my age, I was getting to be a big bundle of nerves as the time drew near.
Despite my own research on what to expect for a first-timer traveler, plus lots of pointers and encouragement from family, I still feared making mistakes. Which I had on several instances. After all, I wouldn’t be me without my bloopers!
My family and some close friends understand how I also hate taking a taxi on my own, or going home late, much less taking myself to the airport back and forth.
Yet, anticipation and thrill, together with my complete trust in God that He’d take care of me overtook me. An act of faith, as one good friend said.
Thus from my Grab ride to NAIA to my surprisingly pleasant experiences going through each step, and everywhere I went “already the confusion and jitters of the present moment were receding.” (Alain de Botton).
Today, I am still reliving the sights, sounds, and flavors of Singapore — as if it were only yesterday. Already I’m missing my first taste of authentic Hainanese Chicken rice and soup, the very first meal I ate right at Changi Airport. I want to go back to Singapore and explore more.
Ah traveling abroad – even for a short stay – does open a wider perspective and a great way to know myself more! I’m giving myself a BIG pat on the back as well for taking up the challenge.
Funny but the urge to travel again to a new place is creeping up on me now.
Most of all, I am overflowing with gratitude and I thank God for this blessing. Indeed, all these that I have overcome with grit and faith and my loved ones’ moral support make my first travel abroad an experience that will last forever in my heart.
NOTE: You can find two more related articles on my Singapore trip posted on another blog of mine:
Two weeks into the new year, and I’m still keeping up my good spirits, which I should be if I want to make 2019 a much kinder, brighter year than the last.
And I invite you all as well to start this year — 2019 — on a positive note.
Let’s do our best to be THANKFUL for every BLESSING, big or small, that comes our way. Something may or may not be what we truly want or hope for. Still, let’s be grateful for it because it’s the best way to keep negativity at bay.
We start with this — with GRATITUDE in our hearts — to create a positive mindset as we greet each new day.
Most of you I’m sure have your own resolutions to be and do better this year. So do I.
I hope I’ll be able to stick to them, for I’m making sure these are doable for me. I hope it’s going to be the same for you.
One of the things I keep reminding myself to do is: Prioritize and focus on the task at hand. ONE at a time. I should quiet my mind from distractions.
I find multi-tasking no longer as effective with me as in the past. I cannot segue from one task to another hurriedly lest I become absent-minded. My memory is starting to slow down. Ahhh, the travails of aging!
But sometimes, situations will arise where I still need to attend to several things at the same time. In which case, I must remind myself to pause a bit in between. And this works better for me now.
I end this post by sharing a Prayer for the New Year, which I came across online.