rain, rain, rain

As I write this post the rain continues to fall. For a week now it has been raining. We are in the midst of a typhoon, or perhaps we are encountering several, one after another. Streets are flooded. Schools have been closed. Even where we live, which is relatively high up in Quezon City (above sea level), several streets are flooding with the rain and drainage back up. It’s the first time I have experienced such consistent rain and I can’t help thinking of a song I learned when I was young:

 

Light in the city

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For nearly a year now I have been captivated by the words Pope Francis spoke when he visited New York City last September. I have gone back to them time and again, and held them in my heart, especially this year in Manila. During the Mass he celebrated at Madison Square Garden he said:

“In every age, the People of God are called to contemplate this light [referring to the words of the prophet Isaiah]. A light for the nations, as the elderly Simeon joyfully expressed it. A light meant to shine on every corner of this city, on our fellow citizens, on every part of our lives.”

“God’s faithful people can see, discern and contemplate his living presence in the midst of life, in the midst of the city. Together with the prophet Isaiah, we can say: The people who walk, breathe and live in the midst of smog, have seen a great light, have experienced a breath of fresh air.”

As I walk the streets of Manila, I often struggle to see the light of God in the midst of the city. I walk to the supermarket and I choke on the fumes of the traffic, sometimes so much that I have to hold my handkerchief against my nose and mouth. A month ago, I walked home from the LRT station and was splattered with urine by a man living on the street. I’ve been spat on by careless passersby several times. I’ve come home during a heavy rain and discovered that my feet and legs stink of excrement from wading through puddles. My heart aches when I pass by a polluted river or stream, so full of garbage and waste that it cannot support life. Many times I have caught myself judging this city. Why is it so foul? Why is there so much filth everywhere? It’s disgusting! In Canada…

“In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath “the rapid pace of change”, so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no “right” to be there, no right to be part of the city. They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly. These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity. They become part of an urban landscape which is more and more taken for granted, in our eyes, and especially in our hearts.”

I walk to church and I pass men and women sitting on the side of the road or next to a pile of rubbish. I see children, skin blackened with dirt and grime, begging for change. I see hordes of young men standing on the street corner unable to find work or engaged in work without meaning or outlet for their gifts. I see young people with passion and potential shining in their eyes who are unable to express their creativity and talent. And, I’m embarrassed to admit, the more that I see these people, day in and day out, the less I really see them. Like Pope Francis says, they become part of the urban landscape. They blend in with the broken walls I pass and the crumbling pavement I step through each day.

Where is the light of God in all of this? Where is the hope?

“Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope. A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city. A hope which frees us from empty “connections”, from abstract analyses, or sensationalist routines. A hope which is unafraid of involvement, which acts as a leaven wherever we happen to live and work. A hope which makes us see, even in the midst of smog, the presence of God as he continues to walk the streets of our city. Because God is in the city.”

When I feel overwhelmed by what I find outside my door (which is often), I call upon God in prayer. Usually I talk to Jesus and I tell him that I feel repulsed and angered by what I see outside, by the injustice done to his people. I tell him that I want to help. I want to do more than pass by. I want to engage with his people. I tell him that I feel fed up that this year of novitiate is focused more on prayer than on ministry. I ask, why am I here, in a place that is screaming for assistance on every street corner, and I cannot go out and spend my energy there? I tell him that what I do is not enough. Let me do more.

In my prayer, Jesus basically agrees with me. It’s not enough. I could never do enough to fix all of the problems I see. But I can do what I am called to do. I can engage deeply where I am called to be engaged. I can consciously bring Jesus with me wherever I go, walk the streets of Manila with him, and ask him to show me the light in the city, where hope is to be found. Because there is hope. There is always hope. In my very limited humanity, I can’t always see where hope lies. The details overwhelm me and make me feel powerless and angry. But regardless of my limitations, there is hope.

On Wednesday mornings I volunteer as a caregiver at an organization that looks after street children and youth. I work with babies and toddlers, playing with them, reading to them, cuddling them, giving them as much love as I can for the 2.5 hours that I have with them each week. It’s not enough. The neglect they have experienced in their young lives is evident and they need much more than I can give. But I am present to them for those 2.5 hours and the love I give them is all I have to give. It takes the same amount of time to travel to and from the organization – a train, a taxi, and a jeepney ride each way – and most days it’s a real slog. But reaching the children’s home and seeing their beautiful faces makes it absolutely worth it. It is in the faces of these children that I see the hope of Jesus. In this tiny way that I contribute to the enormous problems of the world, in the concrete way that I am with them, playing with them, and loving them, and in the way that they are loving me too, God is present in the city.

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La Mesa Eco Park

This past Thursday we had the opportunity to visit an oasis in Quezon City. La Mesa Eco Park is a public park in the middle of the La Mesa Watershed Reservation and is the largest remaining rainforest in Metro Manila. The lush greenery and vegetation were a welcome sight. The air was fresh and clean and the temperature felt at least 5 degrees cooler than where we live in Quezon City. It was a real paradise to wander through and relax in. Enjoy the photos!

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So much to see and do at the Eco Park!

CIMG4373A cat in the tropical jungle

CIMG4376Terraced flower garden

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Sparkling clean water of the fishing pond.

CIMG4381Lily pads

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Amphitheater

CIMG4389A gorgeous array of plant life

CIMG4394Interesting waxy corkscrew leaves

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CIMG4397Another variation of corkscrew leaves

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My favourite plant – I don’t know the name but I love the shocking pink

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Beautiful dramatic flowers

CIMG4405Bright, almost fluorescent green leaves, not caught very well by my camera

CIMG4407After some time of exploration we sought refuge under a cabana

CIMG4408The view from the cabana

CIMG4415It’s a hard life – napping in the rainforest

 

Discovering Noviciate Life

Hello again!

I’m returning to my blog after a little hiatus and a very long journey. It is now going on 6 weeks since I arrived in the Philippines and I began the first year of my noviciate. The past 6 weeks of relative disconnection from the outside world have been a great blessing. The time has allowed me space to transition to the noviciate and to be present to new experiences.

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As I think back on these past weeks, a major theme stands out for me: discovery and adaptation.

Discovery

Each day holds something new to discover. On the first day I arrived (January 1st, which was auspicious, I think) I was confronted with a whole lot of new at once: new country, new culture, new climate, new environment, new community, and new way of life. Since then I’ve been slowly unpacking all of the newness.

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St. Michael’s House, IBVM Formation House in the Philippines

Prayer. The most beautiful and life-giving discovery I am making is in my prayer life. The time and dedication to prayer during this part of formation gives me the opportunity to pray without interruptions (not to say that I don’t get distracted in prayer!), but also to take time to pray in the ways that I know give me life and help me relate to God. In particular, I have been able to return to a daily practice of Ignatian contemplation (scriptural contemplation) and it has been so beautiful and grace-filled. The first time I sat down to pray using the method of Ignatian contemplation, I felt like I received the most loving welcome back from God. Already in this short time, I can feel my relationship with Jesus (because it is Jesus I speak with during my prayer) flourishing and deepening.

Community. Another life-giving discovery I am making is within the community here. I am living with 3 other novices – 1 from Australia and 2 from Vietnam. Our novice director is also Australian and our assistant novice director is Indian. We are a truly an international community and I am learning so much from everyone. We share our respective cultures through meals and celebrations together, and we share our life stories and vocation journeys during times of reflection. I am discovering a world far beyond the world I knew in Canada and my heart and mind are expanding.

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A gathering of members of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Congregation of Jesus for our Mary Ward Week celebration

Spirituality and Religious Life. I am also discovering the person of our foundress Mary Ward through reading and reflecting on her prayer life and at the same time discovering the heart and soul of the IBVM. I am learning more about discernment in the Ignatian tradition, and experiencing the First Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I am learning about the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience and discovering their beauty.

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The garden outside our chapel doors

I’m also discovering things that create challenge.

Poverty. I’m discovering that poverty is everywhere. There are many homeless men, women, and children in Quezon City. There’s a slum a short distance away from our house. The causes of poverty are varied and complex. It often feels overwhelming because the poverty is on such a large scale. And yet, the spirit and generosity I have witnessed among the very poor takes my breath away. My heart yearns to find some way to contribute to reducing their poverty and to stand in solidarity with them.

Environmental Pollution. I’m also discovering that Quezon City is very dirty. Pollution is widespread. The air is polluted from the exhaust from the cars, buses, and jeepneys. The waterways and streams are polluted from garbage and sewage. The ground is littered with piles of rubbish. Again, the causes of the rampant pollution are varied and complex, and it will take a lot to create change. I am concerned for the current generation and future generations of Filipinos.

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Painting of Our Lady of the Philippines, Manila Cathedral

Adaptation

I could come up with a list of ways I have had to adapt that would potentially be as long as my list of discoveries, but when it comes down to it, I have one main method of adaptation: surrender. I am learning to surrender to the newness. To surrender my expectations and my biases (which is proving challenging!), to surrender my need to always be physically comfortable (on the hot days I find it impossible to be completely comfortable), to surrender my desire to have control (over knowing the schedule of the day, over what I eat, over relationships with friends and family that are now long-distance relationships, over being able to fix the problems I encounter, etc.), and to surrender to experiencing whatever it is that God wants me to experience in the here and now of the day. This quote from Mary Ward’s spiritual journal summarizes well what my experience has been like so far: God is with me, and I have freedom to speak to Him, and to ask of Him all I would have or know.

All in all, the past 6 weeks have been fruitful and full of the grace of God. I am happy to be here, open to learning new things and to deepening my relationship with God. I hope to post more regularly now and will delve into some of these issues in more detail in the future.

Malcolm Guite

Blog for poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite

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