Sunday, April 5, 2009

Reflections on Lent

About one week before Ash Wednesday (February 25), my friend Cora Ang emailed me exploring my interest to attend a series of Lenten talks to be held in our office for 6 weeks, culminating a few days before Holy Week.

Fortunately in our office, respect for one's culture and religious belief is, at all times, observed. Being a United Nations specialized agency, staff are repeatedly reminded that a UN staff is expected to work harmoniously in a multicultural setup, that includes respect for one's religious inclinations. It is no surprise for supervisors to accept the fact that his/her staff disappears for a longer time than usual especially during first Fridays and Roman Catholic church's holidays of obligation. But then, they also are happy to see that the same staff is very much willing to stay an additional hour or two beyond office hours, to make up for the lost time. This is a very much accepted but unspoken arrangement for many many years now.

Perhaps 99% (if not 100%) of the Filipino staff in our office are Christians. A group of staff regularly holds Bible studies in the office. Everyone, regardless of religious affinity, is welcome to attend. This year, when the Lenten season set in, a group of friends also organized a series of Lenten talks, which culminated last Thursday, 2 April. During the last day, Brother Eng summarized to us the lessons he shared with us for the past 6 weeks. Part of his talk was to discuss the three kinds of prayers: active, quiet and constant. In our everyday lives, most of us, if not all, resort to one, if not all of these kinds of prayers. He repeated to us the usual routine when praying: A(adoration); C(contrition); T(thanksgiving); S(supplication). In the past, when I was still ignorant of this routine, I usually head on to thanksgiving and supplication, often foregoing adoration and contrition. But our Father, whose mercy and goodness is unbounded, still answers my prayers, either a yes or no, which I readily accept.

The past six weeks had been very enriching for those of us who attended the Lenten talks. Most days, our time and attention are focused on our families and our work, often forgetting that our souls also need to eat, to be nourished and taken cared of. The Lenten talks proved to be the "vitamins" that most of us need to boost our spiritual lives, to prepare ourselves for the Holy Week during which we commemorate the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Lent makes us remember the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made to cleanse us all from sin, which He paid by giving up His life. Sacrifice - to give up, to forgo, to surrender. One easy word, and yet very difficult to make for many of us.

Which brings to my mind an article I read many years ago about two brothers who lived in the 15th century and both dreamt of becoming famous artists. They were eighteen siblings and their parents couldn't send all of them to school. One night, the two brothers tossed a coin - the winner goes to college, the loser goes to work in the mines, after which the winner comes back and the loser goes to college. For four years, the winning brother studied in college while the loser toiled for days on end just so his brother could continue schooling. In no time at all, the winning brother was recognized for his genuine talent - in his etchings and oil paintings. He came back home and the family had a celebration to welcome him back. During the feast, he requested everybody to give a toast not to him but to his brother who worked in the mines for four years just to support him. And he proudly announced that his brother could now go to college. His brother declined the offer, and at last showed him his gnarled hands, which have been broken a lot of times and now suffers from arthritis due to the nature of his work in the mines. The winning brother paid homage to his brother by painting his hands while in the act of praying - and this masterpiece is now known as "The Praying Hands". The painter? Albrecht Durer.

And now, as we commemorate Holy Week, I pray that each one of us find time to reflect on the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made more than two thousand years ago. As Brother Eng said, let us find our language of prayer. God understands all of us no matter how we express ourselves while praying. Each word is heard and understood. He hears the beat of our hearts, and He sees our wish to repent for our sins and our wish to renew ourselves in His eyes. Relax and let God soothe our soul, read His word each day, and be at peace with ourselves.

Prayer is the peace of our spirit, the stillness of our thoughts, the eveness of our recollection, the seat of of meditation, the rest of our cares, and the calm of our tempest. (Anonymous).

1 comment:

Seasons said...

Aren't you glad we have a God who still accepts us no matter how much we have sinned, sometimes going thru the cycle of sinning-asking forgiveness-sinning the same sin-asking forgiveness and on and on and on. Aren't you glad we have a God who can always see through our hearts and tell if we are genuine in our repentance or not? Aren't you glad we have a God who, even though He knows we'll commit the same sin again after asking for forgiveness, restores us to a sinless state? Aren't you glad we have a God who first loved us even though we were still in sin?