Touch and be touched to experience healing

There is tremendous power in a touch, many people will attest to that, hence the ritual of hand-shaking and the significance of body massage. The Eastern rituals of bowing or clasped hands in greeting are a spiritual form of the hand-shake, conveying connection between two people.

In the Epistle Reading for this Sunday – The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – Paul urges the Corinthian believers to be intentional “not only to do something but even to desire to do something…now finish doing it” (2 Corinthians 8:1-15). In other words, match desire with action.

Paul was encouraging the Corinthians to make a physical – monetary – contribution to help the poor church inJerusalem. The significance of this contribution was not the money, but the resultant spiritual  connection between the Gentile Christians and their Jewish brethren inJerusalem.

There is an equally powerful demonstration of the significance of a touch in the Gospel Reading  from Mark 5:21-43.  By touching Jesus’ garment, the woman suffering from unending hemorrhages found healing. Similarly, Jesus touched the dead synagogue leader’s daughter by the hand and she came to life.

Think of the joy (a sign of healing) on the faces of those in a nursing home or hospital when they are visited and touched. The healing is on both the visitor and the visited; in fact many who do such visits believe they get healed even more than those they visit.

Be intentional about touching someone and being touched this week-end.

 

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Don’t second guess yourself

This appears as number five on Brad’s list of 10 Commandments of Happiness, but the order is only arbitrary. Here too, I will give an illustration.

Recently, a friend recounted his experience when he stood in front of people and told of his own story of transformation. He is a young man rebuilding his life after years of addiction. In the process of recovery he has achieved some milestones, even in the eyes of those who know him.

He trained for and participated in this year’s Flying Pig Marathon, something he would not have been able to accomplish before the recovery process. He has reconnected and now has relationship with his daughter. Furthermore, he is already taking steps to go back to school and finish his education.

Standing in front of people to tell this story was almost scary to him, but he managed to do it and he was quite happy afterwards.

Ironically, after ballet classes, his six year old daughter performed, for the first time, in front of 200 people. This was the same week he gave his testimony. She told him that she was a little afraid, but not scared.

Children don’t second guess themselves and they are happier. We sometimes allow the past to haunt us.. We allow other people – and society in general –  to impose limits on our abilities. None is these will bring one happiness.

 

Place Importance on the Things that Matter

 We live in a society and a culture of materialism and consumerism which value possessions and more possessions. There is therefore a cycle of wanting more and more resulting in dissatisfaction. Appreciating what one has, rather than lusting for what one does not have, is an essential element of what is truly important and what matters.

 Here is an illustration.

 There was a church group that visited a partner church in the Lake Victoria region of Tanzania. Even by Tanzanian standards, the area is poor. There is no running water – women and children walk a mile or more to water wells. They use firewood to cook on the floor. Most people walk barefoot, a few have shoes for church on Sunday!

 The two represented two different worlds.

 During the visitors two week stay, what struck them most was not their hosts’ poverty but the happiness and joy that filled them. Everywhere they went and every activity they shared, there was just joy and happiness. It was the opposite of what one would expect, given their material condition.

 They were puzzled because there was no explanation for the mood.

 At the end of their visit, the group’s first stop on their way home was Amsterdam. As soon as they landed, the feeling of joy and happiness they carried evaporated; they were filled with sadness. They wanted to go back to the people of the Lake Victoria region.

 What are your comments or suggestions? May be you have had a similar experience – or different! You are welcome to share them here.

 Next on our list’s discussion will be: Don’t Second Guess Yourself.

 

 

Ten Commandments of Happiness

 In his blog InspiredConsciousLiving, Brad lists 10 Commandments of Happiness. Perhaps there are not many people who agree with the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) that happiness “is not an ideal of reason but of imagination”. Certainly, it is not imagination!

 Richard Whately (1787-1863) Archbishop of Dublin, noted that happiness “is no laughing matter”. Even more famously, Thomas Jefferson penned down that happiness is an inalienable right – it’s pursuit, that is. There is a movie too, of that title, The Pursuit of Happyness.

 Happiness is the goal of life – not pleasure as the English poet, dramatist and critic John Dryden (1631-1700) correctly remarked that “all the happiness mankind can gain is not in pleasure, but in rest from pain”. Ironically, Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) would later ask: “Doesn’t happiness issue from pain?”

 What we see here – and when you take a deep breath and think about it – is that happiness is indeed an ideal, but it is also elusive. In the course of pursuing happiness, what is found is often misery. There are numerous examples from relationships, occupations and careers, and lifestyles.

 It is worthwhile looking at Brad’s 10 Commandments of Happiness and the first one we’ll examine is: Place Importance on the Things that Matter – number 2 on his list.

 Please join in, comment or make suggestions.

 

 

Sometimes transformation and legacy can only be understood in retrospect

 During a bible study session, the words in the Collect for The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost prompted some reflection. “…for You never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of Your loving-kindness …” The puzzle is: How does this prayer reflect on the Jews and the holocaust?

 Actually this invites reflection on the entire history of the Jewish people – a history punctuated with suffering and persecution throughout the centuries.

 What kind of transformation and what kind of legacy can be seen in this experience? I suggest a look at the whole Judeo-Christian tradition, and by extension, western civilization. Ironically they are the very source and instrument of Jewish persecution and suffering.

 Is Judeo-Christian culture or western civilization superior?

 Not at all; lest we succumb to the temptation of labels of “us” against “them”.

 However, there is a lot of good in Judeo-Christian heritage and western civilization which is a source of pride for some and even envy by others. This explains why the late Pope John Paul II was so dismayed that the European Union constitution did not explicitly acknowledge Europe’s Christian heritage. It would similarly explain some politicians’ misguided desire to forcibly impose those values on others.

 In this reflection, Paul’s words in the Epistle Reading for this Sunday, elucidate on how this legacy is forged ahead: “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited….in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distress; in beatings, imprisonments and riots, in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness…” (2 Corinthians 6:3-13).

 That, to me, is the process of transformation and the legacy of centuries of suffering: It can only be understood in hindsight.

 

Through it all

 

The story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 – this coming Sunday’s First Reading – is without doubt one of the most familiar – and famous – of all the biblical stories. It is immortalized in art, music and inspirational tales because of its audacity – whether you look at it from David’s or Goliath’s or third party perspective.

 

There is no match whatsoever, between the giant, heavily armored Goliath and the boyish, handsome David.

 

Yet, that is the real-life picture for everyone of us. There is a Goliath, or many of them, that must be faced every day or at some point in life. They come in the form of debilitating health problems or terminal diseases, if not in one’s life, in a relative, family member, friend or loved one. They come in the form of financial, business or career threats or even ruin; and in relationships too. The list is endless.

 

The reason this story has been immortalized is because Goliath is not all that formidable. Yes, those Goliaths we face in life can be vanquished and we need to be anchored in that affirmation.

 

In the Second Reading from 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Paul looks back at some Goliaths encountered and subdued: hunger, persecution, jail, scorn, ridicule and rejection, and, again, the list goes on. Many can identify with this, even at this time.

 

Another way of looking at all this is the calming of the storm in the Gospel Reading from Mark 4:35-41. Life tosses us face to face with Goliaths and storms. Life also promises a sure foundation to conquer them. Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “If there is a wall there is a door”. And Andrae Crouch wrote, “Through it all, I learned to trust in God”.

How the world is transformed one individual at a time

 When a pebble drops into a water pond, it produces a ripple effect. A small ring forms where it falls, then widens and spreads out into wider and wider rings. That is the picture Christine Kloser portrays in her new book, Pebbles in the Pond, published by Transformation Books, May 20, 2012.

 What Christine Kloser has done in this book is to compile real life-changing stories from 46 contributors, among them, best selling authors and simply visionaries who faced and even embraced some formidable challenges and moments of trial and uncertainty in their lives.

 As a result, they discovered their calling in life, a discovery they would not have found without the life experience. At times it is in hindsight that blessing is seen in those situations which may have even terrified us.

 The contributors in the book are telling their stories because transformation extends far beyond the individual. When one life is transformed, it can lead to transformation of another life. That is the ripple effect of a pebble.

 Every single story in this book is inspiring and uplifting. The diversity of the contributors and the range of their experiences make Pebbles in the Pond a mirror of how the world can be transformed one individual at a time.

“First woman”, “first American woman”, “first Chinese woman”

The first time it was simply a woman, without qualification by nationality. In order to retain the distinction of  “a first” all subsequent achievements would have to be on the basis of nationality or something equally qualifying.  Hence, “first American”, “first Chinese”, “first Japanese”, “first German”, and so on.

Here, it is space; and the milestone is almost 20 years to the date: The first time a woman went into space was June 16, 1963 – a Russian named Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova. Almost 20 years later to the day, on June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. 29 years later, Liu Yang, on June 16, 2012 became the first Chinese woman in space.

One needs only look back over these almost 50 years to appreciate the transformational process. Today, space travel seems almost routine. Indeed, it is fast moving into private commercial enterprise. Fifty years ago, it was still in the dream stage.

That “first woman”, the pioneer, had a passion for sky-diving. It is that desire we all have, to do something – gardening, photography, hiking, cooking, reading, writing, and so forth. In her passion for sky-diving, Valentina Tereshkova could not have foreseen or even imagined what space travel is today.

This is precisely what transformation is all about. If only we could grasp the larger picture that emerges from our small, and sometimes routine, daily experiences. Look beyond this lifetime, beyond the tombstone.

Does it matter? That is the ultimate meaning of this life.

Life experience and beyond is a transformational journey

I wonder how often we get to experience what the prophet Isaiah saw in the temple as narrated in Is.6. He “saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple”. He also witnessed seraphim chanting what has become in Jewish prayer, the Kedusha, and in Christian liturgy, the Sanctus: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory”.

Ezekiel’s experience in chapter 1 is even more awesome.

Actually, Ezekiel was not even in the temple, that center of worship. He was in a foreign land. Not in comfortable circumstances either. He was one among the exiles in Babylon. In spite of his situation and circumstances, he saw the manifestation of the Lord.

Imagine for a moment that you woke up one day to discover you are homeless. Suppose you realized that you were stateless – like Ezekiel – or what is commonly referred to as “an uncategorized alien” – not only “an alien” but undefined. These are real visions for many.

There was the husband who was mourning his wife, when, in the midst of his grief, found himself being accused of her murder.

Isaiah embraced his experience. He was overwhelmed, no doubt about that. “Woe to me, for I am a sinner”, he cried.

Following his self-awareness and reassurance – call it anointing, cleansing, forgiveness – he accepted the challenge that the encounter entailed. There was a purpose in what he experienced. “Here I am, send me” is the same as saying, “I embrace the purpose of this experience”.

Ezekiel too came to self-awareness after the experience. “When I saw it, I fell face down…”

Think, for a moment, about Moses’ experience in Exodus 3.

He saw something that was out of the ordinary. He saw flames on a bush but the bush was not burnt. As with everyone of us, this extraordinary phenomenon aroused his curiosity and prompted him to investigate.

The investigation led to a discovery. That is precisely what happens in life. If we investigate those things that happen in life, we will discover deeper truths, perhaps deeper than we can fathom.

When Moses discovered the meaning of what he experienced, that he would have to go to Pharaoh, from whom he had fled some years earlier, he must have been scared. Because he was scared or afraid, he remembered all his “weaknesses” or deficiencies.

The same thing can be said of the prophet Jeremiah who said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child” (Jer.1:6).

Many times we feel we are not qualified for a task: “I am not trained for it”, “there is somebody better than me”, “you don’t know what I have done”, and so on.

There are also instances of running away from experiences.

Jonah is a good example. His encounter with God required him to go to Nineveh. He not only resisted the idea but planned his own counter measures. Instead of going east, he would flee west.

Because we have classified certain experiences as good and others as bad, naturally we like or embrace the good ones and resist and even run away from the bad. In hindsight the purposes for the experiences, even the “bad” ones, have been good.

A small gesture but enormous consequences

It was a gesture of conciliation, albeit a small one, but with enormous consequences, when South African president Pieter W. Botha chose to meet with Desmond Tutu on June 13, 1986. Attempts to quell ongoing social unrest by force were unsuccessful and so too were attempts at nominal reforms.

What prospects did a small gesture of conciliation hold? Only in hindsight, for at the time it was deemed to have failed.

Jesus, in this Sunday’s Gospel Reading from Mark 4:26-34 tells a parable about a mustard seed, “which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade”.

In hindsight, indeed, that meeting was a mustard seed. Gradually apartheid was dismantled, South Africa became independent and the tremendous work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Archbishop Tutu, facilitated healing of the bitterness and hatred of so many decades.

Everyone can be or grow that mustard seed in one’s respective community. That is all we are called to be and do.