12 August 2005

A shared home

The words 'You are not your own, you were bought at a price' - is both convicting and liberating.

It condemns the runaway arrogance of absolute self-rule. My life is not for me to run as I wish and to do with any way I so please. I am not my own. I belong also to someone else.

On the other hand, the success and outcome of my life isn't squarely on my shoulders either. I am not solely responsible. The burden isn't all mine. I am not my own. I belong also to someone else.

What joy to be called a temple. A tabernacle. A home. To be a heart/body that is a shared space with the One who transforms it, enlivens it and nurtures it together with me. I want to be a space always full of love, warmth and truth, and a space always available to others.

Whose earth is it?

Everyone has strong feelings about the shroud we are under. Take away our blue skies and majestic skyline and fires begin to burn in the hearts of Malaysians.

Only until recently did the government end its secrecy on the API - by which time, undeniable and unconcealable hazardous levels has already been superceded. But API or no API, we are all choked, and we are panicking. Like smoking rats in a cage, with nowhere to run, the frenzy is palpable. It's not just a haze in the sky, it's confusion on the ground as well.

How long will this last? How is it affecting my health? Should I stay home or go to work? Is it safe? Will there be an emergency? Should I think of moving out of the city?

We can blame Indonesia and demand for compensation. Lame apologies are useless right now - we want action! Then we find out that Malaysian plantations are partly responsible for raging flames across the Straits.

This morning my wife and I drove through thick smog. The sky was slate gray. The majestic twin towers, usually sparkling with glory were reduced to ghostly shadows. And there were hardly any cars on the road - (a glad thanks to PM for his quick call for an emergency in some parts, and the closure of schools throughout Klang Valley). This is what a nuclear winter would look like - if we survived to see it, that is - I remarked to my wife.

If this was a sign, a wake-up call, it is to tell us that our environment is frail and extremely vulnerable. The carrying capacity of our air is so exhausted that the slightest disturbance will tip us into this gray winter. It is also to tell us that when it comes to caring for planet earth, political boundaries have no meaning. We are responsible, and all of us are responsible. If we never appreciated it enough to protect it - we must now.

04 August 2005

To Be Alive Again

A short lectio divina of Jeremiah 33:3 today brought these most-quoted words pounding through my brick-walled heart.

'Call to me and I will answer...'

'Call to me... you do not know.'

These words sank deeply through my callouses and brought out a throbbing cry for help. Buried alive beneath layers of rubble I do not even have words for, is this cry: 'God I need you, I need to feel, and know, and see you again. I want to be alive again, with your life flowing through mine. I am so dead. So cold. Dry bones and lukewarm spit hardly describes how frozen and encased I feel. My spiritual ECG is a flatline.'

I have been like the walking dead for so long.

I do not want to spend my life reading news, combing blogs, raking forums. I don't want my life to be about the patients I've seen, the books I've read or movies I've analysed. I don't want to think great thoughts and have deep insights or grand visions. I don't want do more work, or find more rest. No. None of these things make me alive or means I'm living.

I need and only want one thing. God. To have God, to have a vibrant, throbbing, flesh-and-blood real-life journey with God. I audibly groan. I want to break free. Make war against all the false substitutes and self-imposed deceptions about what life is. And put my whole self into the one pursuit I am made for - the pursuit of God.

'Call to me and I will answer you, and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.'

Whatever it takes, God. Whatever the price. Anything.. to be alive in Your life again. Swim in your stream, flowing in Your spirit, dying in Your cause. But let it be all about You and me.

Ultimate triumph

Psalm 18 can sound triumphalist and melodramatic. The use of metaphors from nature (images of thunderstorms and volcano eruptions comes to mind) to dramatize God's intervention seems like an indulgence in hyperbole.

But when seen in the light of David's desperation and depression in other passages, one can't help but share in his moment of ecstatic joy. If the preceding psalms (15-17) were immediate predecessors of this one, in real, historical time, then it is a moment of triumph to truly savor. David's agonizing patience has paid off. His tongue-biting trust and gritty refusal to succumb has been rewarded.

How many long, dark nights have I been through? How often have I been betrayed by the very people I serve? Depression and desperation seem to be the norm, trouble-free days the exception. But I have good reason, David reminds me, to smile at the storm. Joy need not be postponed to a time that may never come - it can be a present reality because 'The Lord lives!.. He is the God who saves me' and 'turns my darkness into light.'

David testifies: 'He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.'

02 August 2005

Starting again and again

Writing on The Tent again after a long hiatus is like starting a conversation with a friend you haven't met in years. Not knowing where to begin. Umming and aahhing. Trying to cut beyond the small talk to the stuff of the heart. Parrying one another, playing the game of disclosure vs. evasion.

What IS the stuff of my heart? What condition am I really in? If I were to answer a 'how are you?' honestly, what would I say?

I badly need purpose.

And passion.

I thoroughly enjoy my clinics. There are few experiences gratify like seeing patients does. I love surgery. Every time I have an opportunity to explore new frontiers, try new manouvres, put my knife to a difficult situation - I have the all time adrenaline rush. And students.. ahh, students. They are the joy of my life. Nothing beats being able to impart something of worth to a young, passionate medical student. To draw out the questioning mind and to guide them in applying truth to reality, theory to practice, their hearts & minds to the service of others - what could be more rewarding?

Yet, yet... I am restless. I seek more. Or is it less? What is this all-elusive thing, this balance, this thrust that I am looking for?

Stop whining

I had lunch with a good friend today. She met me in one of the wards at the hospital and we walked out to a nearby Nasi Kandar shop. We talked about our lives and our jobs. But soon she got on the topic of my research and somehow, I just slipped into this mode of negativity. I talked endlessly about the politics and the deeply entrenched strangleholds in the system that work against researchers. I knew I was going down the slippery road of whining but I just couldn't stop myself.

I wouldn't blame her if she left our lunch meeting demoralised and disillusioned. I felt lousy. Both for ruining our lunch meeting, and for reopening my old wounds.

So, it was a blast of fresh air when I read (and sang aloud) Psalm 17 in the evening.

Pushed to the wall by injustices and surrounding corruption, David's voice is one that rises above the hegemony. Singing a new melody, a pure note against a world deafened by groans of despair. For him there is a God who is just and who will do justice - always. He prays:'May my vindication come from You; may your eyes see what is right.' God is the final court of appeal, the defender of the right and vindicator of all.

David's prayer moulds for me a worldview that is far beyond this world when he utters: 'save me... from men of this world whose reward is in this life.' For our ultimate reward cannot be found here in a fallen and degraded world. We await a new heaven and earth. And even so our vindication. Justice may not be done this side of heaven, but it will be done, for 'when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.'

God sees and God acts. It is the most powerful hope there is. I need to stop whining, and get busy living.

Choked out

Joan has joined me in working at HKL. Probably the busiest hospital in all of Malaysia. She gets off at 730pm every day, so what is a specialist with a cushy job like me to do between 5 to 730? I thought I'd go running today at Tmn Tasik Titwangsa. The place of great serenity and calm, a shroud of lush trees overhanging a mirror-flat lake.

But when I got there, to my horror - I realised I was shrouded by more than trees, we were practically being gassed by smog! I looked up and the pinnacles of Malaysia's achievements, the twin towers, were swallowed by haze. There were only two turrets barely peeping out of the haze. What in the world?

Taking a look at MEASAT's satellite imagery superimposed with Google Earth's mapping system (earth.google.com), it seems like a cloud of smoke is being blown over from Sumatra. Again? We'll find out soon enough. I'm sure there's going to be a flood of choking, gasping, wheezing asthmatics in the emergency rooms all over town tonight! What are we doing to ourselves - the human race - choking ourselves to death?

Anyway, I never ran quite so fast and for so short a time. Got back gasping from the bad air and saw a few ladies pull up, get out of the car, cover their noses and stare skeptically into the air. I smiled at them and remarked wryly, 'It isn't safe to be outdoors anymore!' To which they wrinkled their noses and disappeared into the haze.