Thursday, June 28, 2007

Why Christ Wasn’t Born a Gentile

If Christ had gone to the Greeks, they would have sat down with Him, asked Him questions until they believed Him and He would not have died on the cross.

If Christ had gone to the Egyptians, they would have made Him eternal Pharaoh, everlasting Priest and immortal Surgeon.

If Christ had gone to the Africans, they would have tied Him up and boiled Him in water and failing, end up serving Him a great feast instead.

If Christ had gone to the Chinese, they would have left Him alone to roam with His disciples to teach and to live forever on Earth.

If Christ had gone to the Indians, they would have venerated Him as a great guru, showered Him with flowers and erected a majestic shrine for Him.

If Christ had gone to the Aztecs, they would have worshipped Him above the sun and moon and built the greatest pyramid ever to honor Him.

If Christ had gone to the Japanese, they would have made Him eternal Emperor and Chief Executive Officer of all their corporations.

If Christ had gone to the Americans, they would have made Him the biggest celebrity ever in Hollywood and He’d be on CNN’s headline everyday.

If Christ had gone to the Filipinos, they would have required Him to register His own denomination, put up His own televangelism program and all His contenders would be agog trying to refute His teachings that the TV networks will be so happy with the ratings.
(Photo above: The fruit of the land: the grains are nearly ripe for harvest.)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

How to Move a Mountain

Many people dream of living on a mountain, others of climbing it, while a few dream of moving a mountain. Because of their mystical appeal, sheer size and grandeur, mountains represent the highest, the best and most enduring of human ideals. But why would people want to move mountains?

Unlike people who climb a mountain for the mere challenge or, as the cliché goes, “because it is there”, others aim to move mountains for more specific or meaningful reasons.

First, moving a mountain is a natural process. The Earth’s natural dynamics caused the folding of the continental and oceanic plates. Although we seldom see or feel this movement, Plate Tectonics have uplifted and continue to raise peaks to greater heights (as much as 4 mm yearly for Everest). Integrated in this geologic phenomenon is the process of mass movement. No matter how high a mountain is, it submits itself to the cycle of water and to gravitation. Hence, no ocean bed came into being without having been laid out there by materials coming from the mountains. And no mountain ever reached such height without having been once a part of the valley or the abyss. This cycle of nature whose by-product is soil has made it possible for life to survive on the face of our planet. The Japanese reforestation motto accurately expresses it: The ocean yearns for the mountain.

The proverbial story of the mustard seed having enough faith to move a mountain is a simple illustration of how nature effects change in the environment. A tiny crack in a gigantic boulder eventually grows to cause a major rock or land slide that will alter a mountain’s entire character and thus affect the land, the biodiversity and the people living around it.

Hence, moving a mountain does not simply mean moving rocks and soil; it means changing the environment and the life on it. So it is with one person who believes in the power of change. One focused and meaningful life can also cause an indelible mark on society.

Secondly, moving a mountain can also be a human-induced process. More precisely, people aim to conquer a mountain primarily for economic reasons. Miners scour, scrape and strip mountains to reach to the diamonds, the gold and the minerals required for progress and pleasure. Urban planners cut down forests, level mountains and decimate wild life to put up living communities. Such a practice we are only learning to reconfigure in order to save the ecosystem and ourselves.

While nature had been doing it for ages, we have only been at it for a short time. We certainly owe much of our modern progress from this human activity. Still we have much to learn. But where do we turn to at this crucial stage in human history? After having neglected nature for so long, do we think we will change now?

This brings us to the third and final principle: Moving a mountain through prayer. Or in short, we say that moving a mountain is essentially a divine process. The God Who designed the Universe and its indefatigable servant, Nature, allowed everything to work for the benefit of humans. His principles thus apply in nature as much as they do – or should -- in our lives as His workmanship. We are His heavenly heirs.

We think of mountains as the symbol of all that we can be as humans. God says we can attain it through prayer, and that means, through faith in Him. Mt. Zion pictures the glory of Jerusalem and its Architect and Builder who is God. In the Bible, we are told that the New Jerusalem – the spiritual City of God -- will one day be raised up to heaven. This is obviously a divine task and one requiring a certain amount of belief for any person to accept it as truth.

Everything that illustrates faith – the mustard seed, a mighty tree, the moving mountain – brings out the principle that not only applies and works effectively in nature and in human society but more so in the spiritual kingdom of God. A poet sees the Universe in a grain of sand or the mountain in a shiny pebble because humans have the capacity to see the oneness of nature. Cause and effect. Source and product. Creator and creation.

However, we do not always see the Hand that rocks the mountain. We fail to recognize the power given to us to allow that Hand to move for our own good. We refuse to accept the higher purposes that we physical beings and things were meant to achieve.

Not a few mountain climbers express awe and worship of God when they reach the mountain tops. Even astronomers who have observed the farthest reaches of space eventually find God. But in the silence of prayer, one can inescapably feel the touch of that Hand that shaped the mountains, the stars and the planets.

It takes single atoms and the electromagnetic forces they produce to form the elements and minerals that shape the mountains. It takes individual human spirits and the fervent faith they possess to form the kingdom of God on Earth. How that kingdom eventually becomes uplifted to heaven is determined by how the individuals participate in the process.

We don’t simply go to heaven by doing good. We become part of a kingdom that is ruled in and is destined for heaven. How one responds to the King now determines how one travels from the shore to the mountain, from Earth to Heaven and from now to eternity.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Jane Fonda: Feeling the Holy Spirit

I just read a rather unexpected and very interesting interview of Jane Fonda where she talked about the Holy Spirit. (“Jane Fonda on Lohan and Finding God”, Ruben V. Nepales, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2007 June 03) Almost 70 now, Fonda had married and divorced some of the most famous and richest men and now spends her time writing books (3 at the same time) alone in a private ranch (watch my eyes turn green!). And there she was talking openly about religion and her faith. Well, it’s not anything unusual. Just the other day, three former US presidents (Bush Sr., Carter and Clinton) shared the stage with Billy Graham on the inauguration of the latter’s library in North Carolina and took turns extolling God and the work that Graham did.

Not that popularity prevented anyone from having faith. Those former presidents most probably had faith before becoming popular. Besides, a former sex-symbol like Fonda curiously pursuing the influence of the Holy Spirit in her life has more news value. It is such a pity that that bit of news ironically came out in the entertainment section. (Where else could it be otherwise, silly me? How about, hmm, front page?) For me, it was good news; no, it IS great news!

She, the Barbarella who donned probably the very first spacesuit in Hollywood that showed a lot of flesh, became the fantasy for many young men in the late sixties. In the early ‘70’s, she came to UP College of Arts and Sciences one day wearing a t-shirt and denims and spoke against the Vietnam War. Unwittingly, I find myself pondering upon her transition from a glamorous celebrity to a political activist to a tycoon’s wife to an exercise guru to a book-writer and now to an aging, professing believer. As a former student-activist, as a writer and as a not-so-aging believer, I can relate with her personal journey.

Somehow (unless it is another Hollywood publicity trick, which I doubt), the role of such a unique and intelligent person as Fonda as a real person who does have genuine spiritual needs can inspire even the most cynical among us. Especially so when she spoke lovingly of Lindsay Lohan (who co-stars with Fonda in the latest movie “Georgia Rule” as if she were her mother. Well, alright, that last part might have been a carry-over of her film role as Lindsay’s mother. But, the Holy Spirit thing? I find that hard to turn away.

Whatever we might say about Jane Fonda and her morals (who will cast the first stone?), we must allow every person the chance to discover what the Holy Spirit can do in our lives. Unlike Socrates who only heard an “inner voice” or the conscience, anyone must feel blessed for the privilege of knowing and eventually receiving the Holy Spirit.

Many great and ancient civilizations had founded their cultures on their understanding of the secrets of the spirit and of the soul; yet, today more people spend more time securing their grasp on material possessions and political power. Perhaps we listen more to the call of the world and not the voice that speaks into our hearts.

People have many motivations for noticing what the Holy Spirit is doing. Age, with all the challenges attached to it such as sickness, loss of beauty and youth, acquired wisdom and the prospect of death, certainly can be a major factor. Religion -- the ceremonial practice, that is -- no longer matters at a certain age. Even for many of the young today, a relationship with a divine being is the primary consideration. Of course, family and traditions are the most natural but perhaps the least fail-safe way toward spiritual enlightenment. Theologians have a funny way of complicating matters of faith. Jesus knew that too well.

Fonda’s own confession came as sincere and open-ended. She said:

I was raised as an atheist. Sometimes it's in the presence of pain and chaos that you begin to heal. It was when I was in tremendous pain that I began to feel the presence of the spirit in me, the sacred. That was when I began the process of becoming whole. Maybe it's different when this happens to you when you're older because you're really aware of it. As I became aware of this part of me moving back inside, I sort of said, this is God.

When I began to feel whole, I really felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. I'm still in the beginning of a journey into what that means. And it's hard because I'm a feminist, especially in the way Christianity is viewed these days in this country. I'm a feminist Christian who is exploring what that means.

Historically, the Holy Spirit was poured out to humans at a time set by heaven’s itinerary. He had sent His son, allowed Him to die, raised Him and welcomed Him back in heaven. It was time for the Holy Spirit to do His part. 3000 Jews accepted the “gift of the Holy Spirit” on Pentecost Day. Was that a majority or a minority? Could it have been more? Who knows? God simply harvested on that day; or should we say He planted the Spirit generously for the first time in history? (Can you hear the angels shouting in heaven in jubilation?)

So, what value is there in one person seeking to know the Holy Spirit? Is it something to scoff at or rejoice about?

Often, I eagerly await the next Hollywood blockbuster. But now I wonder what the titles are to Jane Fonda’s three books.

We will know a tree by its fruits. For even now, heaven does not cease to plant His Holy Spirit within receptive hearts.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Worship Renewed and Unified

Formerly named Namacpacan (literally, “one who gave food”), Luna Town in La Union could very well be the epitome of Filipino hospitality of the Ilocano variety. The title had enshrined a trait that the Spanish colonizers recognized as expressed in return for a fee or as a form of service to visitors. Either way, the people are also an enterprising lot with many of them working as fishermen or farmers and several others diligently picking stones or pebbles under the searing sun to sell locally or abroad.

The new name of the town owes its origin from the nationalist heroes and brothers Antonio and Juan Luna whose mother came from the locality. Antonio Luna’s statue adorns the poblacion (public plaza) riding a horse beside a simple, diminutive Arch of Triumph which could barely accommodate a car through. For a small unassuming town, the structure fittingly gave the hero-general the honor of having once lived in France during the 19th-century Philippine Reform period.

Visiting Luna recently came like a refreshing whiff of morning wind on a hot day. Eager to spend a couple of days at the beach, our barkada motored into the coast of La Union facing the calm South China Sea. After seeing daily heavy afternoon rains in Baguio, a wind-caressed, sun-filled vacation by the stone-matted beach of Luna was nothing short of a precious treat. And thanks to a gracious friend of a friend, we stayed in a dreamy cottage with coral reefs for its walls and loose flat stones for its flooring.

A dip on the pleasantly warm sea came as a great surprise considering the total absence of sand. A sand-less beach! Never thought that was possible. No sand to clean off your ears or your pockets. The only minor problem came from those slippery stones under your feet, making it hard to walk straight. But the water was superbly clean and clear. Another thing that didn’t seem possible in this era of pollution.

Lying with your face over the edge of the water while the wave rocked you gently, you could hear the round pebbles clinking and clanking in a melodious percussive chorus as the wave receded. The rhythmic action of nature had smoothened and formed rocks into slightly bigger than quail-egg-sized pebbles of various colors and mineral composition: granite, siltstone, conglomerate, silica and quartz. A veritable harvest of thousands of years of geologic process brought together at the shoreline where the land meets the ocean – mountain rocks broken down, reduced and polished eventually by weathering and erosion through the unceasing cycle of life-giving water.

A few curious years of teaching college geology helped me truly appreciate that moment in Luna as a picture of the unified and encompassing physical forces that rule nature. And looking at the magnificently gold-painted sunset or rainbow-adorned morning skies, wrapped the continuing epiphany in a spiritual glow. Aside from creating the emotional high, the visit revived lost youthful imaginations of a pleasant and pristine Paradise -- a place in out hearts we know exists yet find so hard to keep in mind. Seeing it in its crude and fallen state allows us now and then to come close to its promise and certainty.

At night, we brought out our bed cushions and lay under a moonlit and cloudy sky. It was an impossible task to sleep for it made me feel like a tiny crab on the ground, facing heaven and knowing fully well that God looked down from His majestic throne. His glory and greatness He shared through creation; and who couldn’t respond with worship? Truly, “the fool has said in his heart: There is no God.”

Worship has not felt so great and complete for a long while until that time in Luna, La Union.