Sunday, May 9, 2010

Quiet Times in Noisy Places

When I was a new wife and mother, I often got frustrated at my inability to carve out time for personal meditations everyday. Worst, my heart weighed heavy with guilt the whole day whenever I fail to do this Christian duty. Ashamed of what I deemed to be my lack of spiritual vibrance, I approached a mentor. Expecting a sermon, I was surprised when she said, “Grace, you just have to learn to practice God’s presence.” That came to me as a profound statement at that time. Though I did not fully understand what she meant, I was content to bring home that piece of advice. But I constantly asked myself, “How do I practice God’s presence?”

Three years after that conversation, I find myself holding on to that spiritual maxim. Now, that I am in the mission field and still very much a wife and a mother, “practicing God’s presence” is what keeps me spiritually strong and fresh.

I must admit that my personality requires that I print out my detailed weekly schedule and post it on the wall near my study table. But the reality and the context where I am in just don’t allow me to follow it to the letter. There’s really no way to predict my day. We can never tell when the community would call for help. For instance, one Sunday my husband, Mang, and I agreed to set aside the whole day for our family. We were excited to attend a church in Davao for the first time. We’ve heard good reports about this church and since we’ve not found one where we can regularly attend since we arrived, we thought we just might finally find a home church away from home. After an inspiring worship and singing time, we were all set to listen to hear God’s message preached. That was until Mang’s mobile phone vibrated, indicating a message just came in.

“Sorry, I’ve got to go,” he whispered to my ear. Sensing my bewilderment, he further explained. “The waves in Bucana have suddenly gotten big. Our community center is flooded. I’ve got to go and help the guys out.”

Without hesitation, I got up and took our son, Lian Ed, from the toddlers’ room. We immediately went home. Mang hurriedly changed his Sunday clothes into jeans shorts and faded T-shirt, kissed us goodbye, hopped on his motorbike and sped away. He and other members of the team with some people from the community did “patch-up” carpentry and cement work at the center until the end of the day. As I stayed at home, cared for our son and prepared supper, I simply whispered prayer after prayer for them.

I’m used to having my quiet time in the morning. Now, I can’t say which time of the day I can have it. The most conducive time would be when Lian Ed has finally taken a nap. That would mean just a little over an hour.

I used to have a pattern, too. I pray for guidance. I read the Bible. I read a devotional book. I pray in relation to what I’ve read. Then, I write in my journal whatever insights I gleaned from my time with God. Now, with the very little time I have, I hardly have time to jot down my thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, I still read my Bible and occasionally, inspirational books but I have to say that I read with a different pair of eyes now. My eyes have been opened to the reality of the brevity of time and the pains of life. I now see a different facet of who God is in the life of urban poor Muslims, the homeless, the prostitutes, the gays and the street children and youth.

In some ways, I think I’ve learned what it means to practice God’s presence. It is being conscious of Emmanuel—God with us. Whether I’m locked up in my room in deep meditation or walking in the sandy alleys of Bucana or sitting with the transient residents of Osmena Park, God is with me. And if He is with me then I can commune with Him anytime and anywhere. After all, the purpose of my cherished spiritual disciplines like devotions and Sunday worship is to know God and hear from Him. Often, I “read” His Word through the lives of my teammates who live out Christ’s teachings on humility, unconditional love and selfless service. I participate in what the Prophet Isaiah calls true fasting and praying—feeding the poor and caring for the widows and orphans. I actually learn to walk in the steps of Jesus as our team does what He said, “Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Love your enemies.”

At the end of each day, I look back and see what it means to practice God’s presence. Though unconventional in light of my evangelical upbringing, this way of communing with God works for me in this unconventional context of serving Muslims and outcasts.

(Written in Davao City in 2006)

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