Dear Friend:
As summer draws to an end, I am reminded of the Irish tune The Last Rose of Summer, learnt in Jesuit High School in Hong Kong decades ago, that carries an air of sadness and loneliness, the poet’s lament as a sole survivor of the loss of loved ones.
This is Part Four of the summer series on the Third World Poor. In the process of writing, I bask in God’s sunlit love, bathe in the compassion stirred within, flow with the mystery of his transformative activity, face my ego death and weep once more for the suffering poor I serve in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Sri Lanka. There you have it in this fifth and final reflection - Soul Musings - on variations of the same theme, the touchstone of contemplation.
Nothing would have happened, neither service nor reflection, had I been disconnected from the experience of a deep love from God, the Fountainhead of all. Sustained by Jesus’ fragrance, the Rose of all seasons, my soul is graced to love God and the world, as a hymn praises. “Crucified, laid behind the stone / You lived to die rejected and alone / Like a rose trampled on the ground / You took the fall and thought of me above all.” And especially of the poor.

Passion     If deepest human desire and God’s desire live at the same address, why are they strangers in paradise? In spite of feeble or noble attempts, we are obsessed with a xerox copy or translation of the Original, settling for an imitation or intimation of the Ultimate Love. We are confused with what the soul truly desires. “Purity of heart is to will one thing (Soren Kierkegaard).” God, desire me to desire you.

A contemplative heart falls in love with Jesus, the Soul Lover, again and again as Spirit reignites the fire within. First a quiet passion for God, then a loud compassion for the world - the sequence in divine economy. To be loved deeply infuses the soul to love greatly, setting divine love free and alive.

Contemplation is the practice of naked intent to encounter God in Jesus, much of the time in silence and solitude, awash by Love that God is. “The understanding of the many comes through the contemplation of the few whose hearts have been attuned to the Lord (Everett Harrison).”

Contemplative prayer greases compassionate action which in turn eases into contemplative prayer, one feeding off the other, turning the wheel of sacred love.

Compassion     Graced with extended and expanded human capacity, the enlarged, vibrant spirit soars with the Spirit like winds beneath the wings, showing a beyond-ordinary strength, reasoning and kindness that is not one’s own. Almost supernatural. As if Spirit has just made a huge deposit into the bank account, the soul is empowered to give, especially giving away oneself, not out of scarcity but of inner fullness.
The Presence is fullest and deepest in the present but thins out when drifting into past review or shifting into future preview. It is in the moment the great “I AM” meets the tiny “I am” in oneness. In feeding a disabled child, youth or aged, one spoonful at a time, I am aware that there is no better place to be than here and no better time than now. Like Jesus looking lovingly at the young, rich ruler (Mark 10), I gaze upon each soul beyond the body being fed.

When the flutist announces the music she is about to play, I am keenly aware of the nothingness of the flute until it is played. God, play me like an instrument as I serve. Take the steering wheel of my compassion, so there is more you and less me.

Mystery    Each home of the cities I serve is more than a destination, it is also the destiny in my soul journey. In the invisible space, God’s Big Narrative and my small story are interwoven, written and told, hardly incidental or accidental, with Spirit as Primary Author and I, co-author, together co-participating in the human-divine experience.
More than something nice to do, contemplation has a price tag, carries a risk and may even be harmful. The dangerous and subversive prayer has wreaked havoc in my life – disrupting perspectives, interrupting priorities, corrupting prejudices, even a new worldview erupting over time. The transformation is mystical. Without trying to riddle out the mystery, I nest in the Spirit who flows and overflows the soul.

If mystery is an endangered species, how then do we hold it once it shows up? Powerlessness and vulnerability is one currency in its economy. As we lean into the unknowing, grace helps us face, brace and embrace the unsayable and unexplainable. Resting in contemplative silence, we increasingly fall into the un-self-conscious state of the soul, a sense of something is taking over in the deeper and larger space, with effect on the soul-ular and cellular level beyond human mind and will.

When leftovers such as pizza-flavored cracker trickle down from the airline into the Missionaries of Charity home, it feels uncanny and weird. First I am an airline passenger and then a volunteer in a home for the poor where I serve what I have been served. My two worlds, very far apart, momentarily crash, only to be pulled and put all together through, by and in Jesus who broke into human history two millennia ago. Like you, Jesus, let me be the cracker among the poor.

The Self     In Pokhara of Nepal, the gateway city for mountaineers to scale the Himalayas height, I am jarred by the quote: To be found, you have first to be lost. To admit to the state of lost-ness requires seeing - to be awakened from soul slumber to the reality for what is, one’s spiritual poverty. To see the reality of God the Love is sheer grace and having been found, the soul is coming home.

The paradox of the Gospel confuses the soul: One lives by dying, gains by losing and is found by being lost. Having gone to the Lost & Found, we are invited and welcomed into the Kingdom of God, living under his rule of good governance and finding an answer to the reason for human existence - to be light to bring out the God-colors in the world (Matthew 5). Radiating and reflecting the Light and Love is a call to all followers of Jesus. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).” Brutal honesty and costly love.

Suffering     Home for the poor is always located right in the smack of poverty, deeply penetrating into where humanity bleeds, making a loud statement. The sacred and mundane clap hands and the sublime and profane tap feet together. No segregation.

To really see the poor is painful. For the disabled children, life for years to come is gloomy in the Dhaka orphanage.  Born in the wrong matrix of longitude and latitude in the world, their lot in life is sealed like a dice cast. I grieve the good fortune life never grants them and I weep for the extreme poverty - no longer faceless and nameless. Yet I am awakened to the immediate reality of children living in the clean home provided by the loving caregivers. Human spirit sings major and minor keys. The mystery of life holds the paradox of both suffering and redemption, pain and grace, despair and hope, darkness and light, poverty and abundance, even ultimately death and birth.

Holding a big picture of God and his activity in this world heals compassion fatigue. It is like playing a part on the stage for a divinely appointed time, bookended by those who serve before and after me. Having finished, I exit to the wings quietly until another invitation to participate in the ongoing project of the Beneficent One who has already and always taken the initiative on the poor’s behalf. Letting Big God and small me be makes the yoke easy and burden light (Matthew 12), with Jesus and I on the tandem bike, dispensing grace on tap to the thirsty world. Being plugged in with the Source, I attend to my soul care in contemplation, just like adults putting on their own oxygen masks in airline emergency before caring for their dependents.

Ernest C. Yau                                                           
September 2, 2017                                                                     
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