Sunday, August 27, 2006
I can remember my own nervousness at holding for the first time an M-16 Armalite rifle with live bullets at the Fort Bonifacio Firing Range in the early '70s. Like dogs, our squad leaders barked at us awkward cadets as we lay there, aiming our guns at the target. Occasionally, one of us would feel a sudden kick on his feet as the order to "spread your legs" echoed. It may have been far from the terror one would feel during a real battle but it certainly kept you alert and alive at every moment.
Your mind went into focus and even fantasized (more like deceived itself) at hitting the bull's eye on your one and only shot for the ROTC Scout Ranger Training course for the entire semester. One bullet -- I guess it was all our tuition fee could afford to cover then. (Or I may have been absent during other firing lessons.) So, it was all you might ever have in shooting training in case a real war came about. Some of us did get to apply that miniscule practice when ROTC cadets were deployed as security troops during a National Elections period.
My father had a more amusing experience right before the war. He had just graduated from UP Los Banos and had also gone through basic military training just before WW II broke out in 1941. Departing from Negros Oriental, he and other soldiers had their only shooting practice on board a boat bound for Manila. They shot at party balloons in the air! If we didn't know the failures of Gen. MacArthur in implementing the Defense Plan for the Philippines then (and, in particular, the War Plan Orange) that eventually led to the Fall of Bataan, we would have easily blamed this lack of combat preparation of our veterans as the main reason that caused our defeat to the Japanese.
Be alert. It's one good advice to keep at all times. A very simple one but one that entails a ton of preparation in whatever field you may apply it. The student, who must go to school to face tricky math and chemistry exam questions as well as drug pushers and cellphone snatchers, needs it as a constant companion. The father or mother, who must deal with emotional or business decisions in the process of raising a family, needs it as a defense against many kinds of failures. The politician, who must address multifarious issues that will affect the future of a town, a province or an entire country, needs it to stay effective and useful.
Preparation starts with the first bullet fired in focused practice, the first assignment read or done well, the first law followed with a good conscience or even the first prayer uttered earnestly in the morning. Victory comes to those who never forget the first good lessons but practice them to perfection.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
All of us have been to picnics where ants and other insects gate-crashed. These insects invented picnics. And they’re still at it. This photo of grasshopper nymphs shows how they have turned their picnic mat into their food. The best part of it all is that they picnic all their life through!
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
In last May's Pahiyas Festival in Lucban, Quezon Province, these young family members (above photo) nonchalantly posed for curious visitors as they are framed by their home’s colorful decorations made up of stranded vegetables and fancy flowers. The large flower and "chandeliers" were formed out of "kipping", crispy rice wafers. As part of the yearly celebration of a bountiful harvest, families vied for the honor of having the most creative design using indigenous materials. Some displays used mechanized robots that depicted the harvesting of palay (rice). In the photo below, the "woman" shakes the bilao to winnow the grains and the "man" pounds the asung or bayu (mortar) in the alung (pestle, not shown) to grind the rice.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Not that you have nothing to do; important correspondences starved of attention, the laundry teeming with microorganisms for days now, a patent application that has become impotent for years and stacks of a new book whose launching has no better chances than a Pinoy-made rocket . I sometimes wonder if our desire for multi-tasking is merely a way of outrunning boredom or that we are people innately bored and merely trying to look for ways to prevent total self-annihilation. That apart from the fact that we really enjoy plugging in those iPods or solving Soduko puzzles, we are constantly avoiding that uneasy moment when we find ourselves asking, “What now? What else is there to do in life?” And so we work like ants and somehow feel good that we can do so, forgetting that work itself – much like boredom -- is a curse upon humanity.
I and my college friends once made a pact that we will not get married before we reached 25. We all fulfilled that promise, except for one who has remained single. After living through marriage and experiencing its glory and its humbling lessons, what came after? When all the kids have begun their own lives – or even the wife, for that matter -- what do you do? I also remember my one great dream to live someday on a mountain. After having lived for twelve years in
But that’s boredom talking. Even the onset of symptoms arising from spending too much time in the Internet (blurred eyes, sallow complexion, muscle atrophy and metacarpal pains, etc.) no longer bothers one who has sweetly surrendered to boredom. After all, it has a calming effect much like a sedative drug that leads you to happily give up all resistance to boredom’s sinister consequences.
And to complicate matters, one encounters some people who feel or behave exactly the same way. And even though you try to pretend that you are not as bored as they are, you go home and realize you’ve been fooling yourself too long.
In truth, some people may appear more busy than we are but that doesn’t mean they are less bored. We party as much as we can but end up feeling half empty because we took more than we should have given. We go watch a funny movie and while the characters bust their wits out delivering the punch lines we cannot even reciprocate with one good belly laugh. And neither do the people around us. Movies are just another expensive though shared way to forestall boredom. Those who make money out of boredom-killers only have much more money which they can spend to kill their own boredom.
Boredom can suck out all enthusiasm from our bones. It can make us cynical and lead us to write articles like this.
Going on a trip might be a good idea, as a friend suggested. But it will not really make us forget what we carry inside or what is missing inside us. As the word implies, boredom describes a gaping hole within a person’s being which can only be filled with something easily within reach.
Yes, I’ve been through this a lot of times before. It is like the calm before the storm. It is like the waiting for that moment when a volcano erupts and belches out tons and tons of the Earth’s innards into the sky and back down over hapless creatures. It is the sigh before the fear. It is the bated breath before the big leap of faith and courage. Most of all, it is the sign before the sign; the great preparation stage for the revelation of some blinding truth we may have been waiting for.
Boredom may serve a good purpose if it leads to a commitment to change. Elijah felt the same way as he hid in a cave, wishing to die because of loneliness and uselessness. He felt he had given everything he could give and yet he gained nothing out of it. But that emptiness we feel after giving up so much and not feeling appreciated, is not selfishness in itself. It is merely a lack of awareness of the overall plan God has for each one of us. I saved you; why not many others, too, Elijah?
Rebuke boredom we must, for it will lead to despair. Consider it an enemy we must, for it can steal one’s hope in God. But how do we remove it from our lives?
By taking small and simple steps: First, loving yourself as God loves you and then loving others as you love yourself. Many get bored because they feel unloved or unfulfilled. Convince yourself how much you love yourself (hey, God really does love you and cares for you!) and everything else will follow. When tears start to fall from the realization of how much that love that God allows you to have for yourself can be liberating, you will know how useless and senseless it is to feel bored.
In the end, it is not the primary thing that God loves others and that we should also do so, but that He loves you enough and that you must not deny it from yourself. Be whole before you can be holy.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
He made him master of his household,
ruler over all he possessed,
to instruct his princes as he pleased
and teach his elders wisdom.
The Pharaoh of Egypt found in Joseph not just a humble and able administrator over the entire land, he had a man who possessed God’s wisdom. Joseph’s two-pronged task involved training the ministers in taking the proper steps in assuaging the effects of the seven-year famine and to create among the counselors the necessary values that will strengthen the backbone of the nation especially during that time of crisis. His own lessons in rejection by his brothers and in suffering imprisonment taught him the patience and fortitude to face problems with faith and with dependence on God’s strength and grace.
As virtual prime minister and second only in power and influence to Pharaoh, he harnessed all that he had learned as a child of Yahweh much like David the shepherd who would also became ruler of Israel. The prophetic abilities he had served him well in his gradual ascent into the halls of power in
God chose Joseph from among his brothers even as a small boy. He trained him early on by giving him the ability to interpret dreams. But even that gift was not enough to qualify him for the great task he was to do in
When we go through great suffering, we often miss the whole point of the matter. Unlike Job, many of us do not gain the experience of discovering the “joy in unrelenting pain”. We do not plod through wind, rain and mud long enough to discover the golden treasure of “indestructible life”.
…but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Job and Joseph learned to eventually comprehend life as something they did not merely receive from their parents but ultimately from God. And this they did after they had unraveled the role of suffering in perfecting that priceless wisdom that the Holy Spirit instilled in their hearts.
Joy in pain or hope in suffering -- now that is something worth having in life.
Friday, August 11, 2006
Imagine yourself standing on the peak, seeing only clouds at your feet and all the way to where the faint sunlight begins to conquer the horizon. As the King of Lights slowly heats up the atmosphere, the clouds crawl away from you as if somebody is pulling a carpet from where you stand. And what that gradually reveals are the varying verdant and chocolate-colored hills and purple mounts of the Cordilleras surrounding
Temperatures on Pulag during the months of January and February could go down to minus 4 degrees Celsius. Enough to freeze mineral water, soup or wet laundry left outside the tents. The socks I had left on the tent ropes to dry were mistaken for boomerangs by my students! Another student showed me how his frozen pair of pants could stand by itself.
So many other stories await to be told about the couple of times some of us UP
(Photo above was taken with an analog 35mm Canon SLR exposed for three minutes at full opening. Stars produced streaks of light during that long exposure under a full-moonlight condition.)
Trekkers, like ants following a trail in the photo above, find their way back to the campsite after fetching water from the spring located in a glen where the shot was taken.
No bathing or washing is allowed right at the spring to prevent pollution. The water is so cool, clean and clear that one's idea of "fresh mountain spring water" attains a sublime and ethereal meaning.
Trekkers take a last look at the peak of Mt. Pulag on their way down. Ah, it's actually the camera they're looking at. (That's me at the extreme right beside Weng Narcelles, a good friend and dear brother in faith.)
the dust of your past blinds the weary trekker
ere he walks in the mist of your glorious baldness.
to the island of grandeur spread at your feet
you stand crowned with ancient serenity.
who does not yearn for a whisk of your pure rarified breath?
or a glimpse of your vision of half of the universe?
only the lame of mind,
only the blind of faith.
a thousand nights of city-lights fade in your evening caress;
sub-zero mornings cover the grass with eerie frosted silence
and i cling to your warm embrace -
a trembling worm on the ground.
you pull down your blanket of cloud as you greet the sun
and i awaken to your emerald life, a new creation.
as noontime sizzles in the brisk thin atmosphere,
dry toasted brown hills bulge like waves on a voiceless sea.
the waters of heaven cascade and creep under your skin
to nourish the plains below, yes, to bless thirsty creatures.
yet you leave just enough to quench me in my wanderings
for you get enough without asking and give enough without murmuring.
life springs faithfully and eternally from your bosom!
like a child at play I visit your secret places
looking for traces of those who call you mother.
sacred altar of an ageless generation,
balm of many a burdened heart,
i soar once more to be with you
in my dreams!
The very title “Manariwa” is actually a title of a song I wrote eight years ago in
The lyric of the song goes like this:
Ako’y isang awit, likha mula sa puso (I am a song, conceived/created from the heart)
Taglay ko’y pag-asa sa kalul’wang aba. (Bearing hope for the humble soul)
Ako ay salita, diwa’y mula sa langit (I am a word, an idea coming from heaven)
Kahit na sino ka man (Whoever you are)
Kahit na saan pa man (Wherever you are)
Kung ako’y inyong kasama (If I am with you)
Buhay mo ay kay payapa. (You will have complete peace in life)
Ang tinig ko’y ilaw sa iyong landas (My voice is a light on your path)
Himig na kay tamis aliw sa isipan (It’s sweet melody a comfort for the mind)
Hangarin ko’y bigyan ng lunas ang damdamin (My desire is to grant you healing for your soul)
At buhay mong gapi sa kahirapan. (And for your forlorn life)
Manariwa sa isip mo (Be refreshed/Be renewed in your mind)
Manariwa sa puso mo (Be refreshed/Be renewed in our heart)
Ang mundo’y iyong lupigin (Overcome the world)
Maniwala at manalig (Believe and trust)
(Ulitin nang dalawang beses) (Repeat twice)
Manariwa sa Diyos na May-likha (Be refreshed in God Who is the Creator)
Siyang May-likha. (He is the Creator)
There is nothing more powerful in this world than faith and music. King David still conquers so many souls today with his psalms whose melodies may have been lost but keep resurrecting in fresh forms through various composers. Even in heaven, faith and music will declare the victory of life in Jesus Christ.
(For those who are interested to hear an mp3 of the song, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com, where else?)
Saturday, August 05, 2006
When I lived in
At the edge of the forest stood two horses tied to the trees, silently munching the grass. Upon hearing my weird recital of notes and a hymn I was rehearsing, the two beasts got startled, backing from me with raised heads and grunting their protests. Looking at their big, bulging eyes, I could sense they had never heard anything of that sort before. One of them settled back to the tasty grass while the other couldn’t get enough of my voice. It moved closer and closer and joined me with its horrible moaning, eyes filled with wonder and longing. I’m sure it wasn’t my voice but the idea of music and its discovery by one of God’s magnificent creatures. Of course, it must have heard music before but not praise music during a breakfast of fresh, dewy green salad. The beast must have felt a hungry spirit’s exultation to God and tried to join in the jubilation. That was the only time I ever did a duet with a dumb being; but I felt triumphant.
Tonight, feeling the pangs of loneliness I went out to the gazebo with my flute and sat there in the dark on a wicker chair set between two bird cages. In one cage was a myna; in the other was a parrot. The moment I sat down, the myna went berserk and fluttered back and forth in its cage. This myna was the same one that couldn’t stop talking all day long, muttering ugly words taught by equally ugly characters. It had come to be so good at “mynaing” (parroting would not be proper) that it could imitate a smoker’s cough and even a cell-phone’s high-tech ring tone. But this myna had no appreciation for the mellifluous tones of the flute. Or the petitions of a soul seeking solace from heaven. Or perhaps, it just didn’t like the interruption of its roost by my presence. As I drew grace from the music that came to me, the myna grew more restless.
The parrot, on the other hand, simply perched there in silence, listening unobstrusively. It didn’t join in the growing celebration. It didn’t feel violated by human idiosyncrasy. It paid respect to the silence of God at that moment of yearning and prayer. It simply lifted up its head in awareness of something beyond its comprehension. Perhaps it had joined other birds before in giving tribute to the Creator. But tonight, like a music lover enthralled by the melody playing, it gave way to the performance and lost its own sense of being in the presence of a greater being. In that regard, I was one with the parrot.
Friday, August 04, 2006
6 Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and glory are in his sanctuary.
7 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come into his courts.
9 Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.
Psalm 96 speaks of the Lord’s Splendor, Majesty, Glory and Strength. The Hebrew word hadar which translates into splendor, majesty and glory derives from clothing that provides honor and beauty to the wearer. Picture the military officers of old with their brilliant plumes on their hats and shiny decorations on their breasts and that exhibits their strength as well. One’s outer appearance naturally reflects and affects one’s inner character.
In the Lord’s case, words are simply not enough to ascribe the real nature of His holiness. It is not something that merely causes us to stand in respect or plain awe but in humbling fear – in worshipful trembling – similar to what we often feel when we stand before people of authority and power.
However, this is not the final intention of the psalmist or of God – that is, to cause us to cower with fright before Him – but to lead us to the saving and healing benefits of worship. Hence, the psalm begins with these verses:
1 Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Sing to the LORD, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
4 For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
Who made the heavens? Only one who has all the power and the rightful claim to honor and praise from humans – the Lord our Creator. Only one who truly cares for us and loves us by giving us the treasures of the Earth.
The psalm then gives that line we often sing, “The Lord Reigns”. Who can sit on the throne of glory? Only one who has put law, order and certainty in the Universe. For this, the Heavens and the Earth and all of nature rejoice and sing for joy.
10 Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns."
The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.
11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
12 let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
Finally, the psalmist presents the reason for this celebration: “The Lord comes to judge the earth.” Who can judge in righteousness and in truth? Only one who has the power to destroy those who do not recognize His Splendor, Majesty, Glory and do not live according to His compassionate Strength.
13 they will sing before the LORD, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his truth.
What a great privilege we have to sing and to praise God! He reigns and He comes.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
(Restive Mayon Volcano suddenly reminded me of a poem I wrote a couple of years back. This majestic product of geologic design never ceases to amaze me. During times of her fiery fury, I long to be near her to see how she gives us a glimpse of what she is really made of -- superheated, red, molten magma and not dry, grey, cold rock gloriously crowned with white clouds. She is the closest thing we have for a vision of a real dragon. My closeness to her comes from the fact that I was born in Polangui, a small town in Albay not far from Mayon, in 1952. Born in the Year of the Dragon at the feet of a "living dragon" is one awesome thought for me.)
To know you
one has to be
born with you;
hence no one
ever will --
except the One
who formed you
from the furious
depths of the Earth.
Your deep blue mantle rises
gently from the lush fields.
Puffs of cloudy breath send forth
a welcome signal: PEACE!
Alone you stand
in the restful expanse
guarding the skies,
the land and
You mask your own fury
with perfect bearing
or do you speak
the wrath of others?
We stand in awe
at the sight of you
for we know how many
have tasted your judgment.
Alas, the call to duty
awakens your senses
and the rumblings
deafen as magma rises.
You must SHOUT
with the voice of heaven:
a danger knell
to those who sleep in death.
Fiery red veins
glow wildly in the night,
torrents of molten rocks
charge down blindly,
smoke, thunder and lightning explode in the air:
if this is a show, what more should we see?
To know you
one has to be
born with you:
now I know
what you mean --
the things you show us
from the heart of the Earth
reveal the birth of
Born into this world with faculties far beyond the limitations of insentient creatures, humans start out as clueless as the next so-called mammal as far as awareness of the world is concerned. Better the foal which can stand on its four legs as soon as it comes out of its mother. Better the puppy which can crawl to its mother’s teats though blindly. And yet, even at 20 or 30, many people – unfortunately, males in general – remain in their mother’s nest, incapable of emotional or financial independence – in short, unmarried and at times irresponsible. Many would have probably had much experience already in sex without having acquired the requisite self-control expected even of animals at certain stages in their short lives.
Which brings us now to the issue of whether a secondary school sex education would free our society of the lack of continence that we all presume is the root of social and moral decadence, if not simply of overpopulation. But to tie up the lack of formal sex education with the population boom seems unfair for it puts the sole responsibility of dwindling resources on the sheer number of consumers and not on the corrupt ways of the few or the many. Do we think that fewer people would necessarily mean an equitable production and distribution of resources? Even if they were all perfectly educated humans, a million people in the entire world not be any different from what was prevailing then when people were segregated into small communities and exercising completely distinct and yet generally self-sustaining cultures. Constant factions that arose and the wars waged by growing civilized societies reinforce the myth of equitable wealth distribution. That’s how the world grew historically in spite of the presence or the absence of proper sexual education. People were meant to grow in number but not always in wisdom.
True, what we have at present is an unprecedented condition where legions and their presumably utter lack of moral control have wreaked havoc on our social and economic stability. The burden placed upon society by such aberrant behavior as teenage sex, premarital (sic) sex, adultery, homosexuality and the ensuing social diseases can no longer be swept under the rug. In fact, no decent society ever did any such cover-up. The Jews did capital stone-throwing to exorcize some of these offenses in society. Today, we tolerate actors or politicians who jump from bed to bed or change spouses from church to church.
Did these social offenders gain any advantage from their applied sex education? Do people acquire mature responsibility by violating age-old norms? In truth, we beg the question for these people had not really acquired self-control in the first place even before they handled such red-hot issues in their personal lives. More than knowing how to do it and how not to do it is why and when not to do it. Social miscreants and even every ordinary warm-bloodied person will always be subject to the call of the flesh. But teaching the youth the principles and methods of sex at that age when they are most curious, vulnerable and lacking moral control is like showing a child how to light a match in a house littered with papers soaked in gasoline.
This is not to demean the abilities of children or adolescents. Media and society at large have progressed (or more accurately, degraded) to a point where sex has become not just a product for sale but the package itself that contains nothing of value within. It has been reduced by profitable business and respectable leaders into an ordinary vice no different from smoking. Will presenting it as a serious subject matter counteract the prevalent nonchalance that media parades it for the young to salivate on? Mind you, with their minds unleashed from the sacred darkness of youthful innocence into the lustful brightness of premature adult freedom, what will stop them from buying the product right there within their reach? And this is exactly what is happening now.
Ancient cultures had it so right when they instituted marriages as early as in adolescence (13 up to 16) for that is when physical transformation and sexual desire are most rapid and intense among the youth. It was the only reasonable cure against immorality and dissipation. But through the centuries, social and economic changes have produced a late-marriage or even no-marriage syndrome. We said late-marriage and no-marriage, not late-sex or no-sex syndrome.
In short, without society doing a concerted effort to bring back sexual maturity and control, a sex education for the young will only hasten the fall of morality in our midst. Bring down first those billboards which forcibly educate us with “sexiness” even if all they try to sell are perfume, magazines or jeans. Cover up first those lewd dancers on TV with more clothes or, better still, give us more palatable entertainment minus the wanton display of “free sex”. Show us first that the so-called idols of showbiz adhere to our unwritten rules of courtship and to our civil laws on marriage. Only then can we justifiably say that our children deserve to learn from us so-called mature adults.
Why should we expect the young to have self-control when society does not have enough of it? Why should we try to mold them into something many of us are not? Why should we expect them to build a morally improved society if what we have bequeathed them is far from what we ourselves deserve?
The issue is not whether parents or teachers should teach sex. The issue is not whether the young are ready or not to have sex education in high school. The issue is whether they know the role of sex in marriage and the role of love in strengthening marriages. Do we teach love in school or in the homes? Of course, we do by the way we behave. Is love taught by the media? Perhaps, if the
Teach first self-control by teaching the spirit and the mind of the child to recognize the source of authority and truth in all of life and sex education will come naturally right at or before the moment of union. Isaac and Rebekah never had a wedding or a pre-wedding sex-lecture but they knew how to do it. Perhaps, we are like animals which instinctively learn how to express love physically. Or perhaps, we should instead conduct refresher courses on sex and marriage encounters for the newlyweds instead. They all deserve more help from government before or after their first child is born. Just because they are less likely to abort a second child than unwed couples doesn’t mean they need no help. It is precisely at that stage that they should learn more about sex and self-control. How many marriages have broken because a spouse applies fleshly-acquired carnal knowledge or even ancient Indian sex-tricks (magazines and website have loads of these, as any curious person – including teenagers -- knows) with another partner?
How can you teach someone something he or she is not expected to use or apply immediately? More often than not, the youth will go ahead and apply what they know. Unfortunately, they and most adults fail to realize that the moment they enter into the sexual act, they have entered into the covenant of marriage. Isn’t this how God designed marriage to be? He made them male and female and the moment they express their distinctive nature at that moment of union, they bind themselves to that sacred pact with God as husband and wife. Or so they must. For thus it was for Isaac and Rebekah. And for Rizal and Bracken. Yet, so many fail to realize the inseparability of sex and marriage. In our own selfish devices, we have become as unthinking as animals. But that is really insulting animals for they are guided by instincts which they seldom violate. We who should be guided by wisdom from our Creator wantonly dismiss Him.
Sex is not a mere act of humans. It is ultimately an act of God. A divinely-inspired process coming as it is from His grand universal design beautified by His love for humanity. For people therefore to play with it as if it were a toy is the greatest insult to God. Justifiably, adulterers and immoral people have their part in hellfire.
The main ingredients in marriage and sex, as well as in life in general, are love and self-control. Without them, everything else and everyone will surely fail – and that means the individual, the family and society.
Vincent M. Ragay