Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Growing In Faith

    When I was a child my mind had always wandered off to many unthinkable places. With my playful imagination, I could transport myself into the world of make-believe in a blink of an eye. Needless to say, that my whimsical thoughts had also landed me in deep hole of troubles.  
   
    Like any other normal kid, I had my share of mischief. I was about five when I went a bit too far and put my butt on the line. I did something really mischievous. Perhaps ‘creative’ is a better word to describe it. But no matter what I call it now, it was the day when I found myself in a compromising predicament.



My childhood photo with my baby sister. 

  56 years ago and still vivid in my head, my two-year old sister had fallen asleep on the cement floor of our home. She looked dead. Her morbid appearance ignited the budding expressionist in me. I thought I could reposition her body in the form of the man crucified on the cross. With her back flat on the floor and body in perfect vertical position, I extended her arms outwards in line with her shoulders. I also had her palms facing up. Then, I placed her right foot on top of the other making it appear as if they were nailed together. And for the finishing touch, I tilted her head down to the side just like Jesus was on the cross.

  Why I did it, I still do not know. It was probably because as a child growing in a Catholic environment, I was exposed to the many images of the crucifixion that were mostly seen in churches and homes especially on Good Fridays.

   Back then, I was too young to understand the true meaning behind the cross. All I knew as I often heard that Jesus was a good man and all children should be like Him -- obedient and respectful of His parents.

   My mother was mystified as she stood over my sister who was still in the crucified form - sound asleep! With her right hand, she made the Catholic sign of the cross and muttered, “This is a miracle!”

   Realizing the gravity of what I had just done, I wanted to run for cover like a scared rabbit. Hell would break loose if she ever found out that the little boy next to her was the mastermind of the orchestrated “miracle.”  

  Not saying a word is presumably as bad as lying, but silence is also golden. To save my butt from getting whipped, I kept quiet and let my mother believe what she thought she saw. At least I thought it was the logical thing to do at the time.

   The following day, I was terrified when I overheard my mother in the adjacent room. She was sharing her “miraculous experience” with our neighbour who was so touched by the story. The neighbour reaffirmed my mother's belief. "Your daughter is blessed. It was a sign from Heaven!"

   God's sign or not, I knew I would be facing my mother's wrath once the secret was out. I remained tight-lipped. At the time, my artistic expression was better off sealed. In today’s language, it would translate to “untweetable” or something you wouldn't post on Facebook. I just hoped the whole thing would go away and be forgotten. 

   The regrettable incident would remain a well-kept secret for years until the day I told the story to my grown daughters. They all thought it was funny. They could not believe that their father was capable of doing such a silly thing if not sacrilegious.

   Looking back now, I realize how the image of the crucifixion of Jesus deeply affected me as a child and how it moulded me into what I am today. 

  The more I look at the cross, the more I understand Jesus. Through the cross, I see Him with His arms stretched out, coming to embrace me. I can almost hear Him say, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” 

  On the cross, Jesus is at the centre of the two intersecting axes, the X and the Y. He is at the core of the universe between east and west, north and south. He is the balance to my weakness and my strength.

  The cross also continually makes me understand my growing faith. The vertical bar points to the high and low of my life. The horizontal bar has its significance too. Just like a race, it has a starting line and a finish line. It reminds me of my journey from birth to the day I would finally get to meet Jesus.

  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Truly, He is all that. If I can live a Christ-centred life, there is nothing to fear. Every day will be worth living, from sunrise to sunset.

   And so . . . I pick up my cross and follow Him - with my camera.  



Friday, March 22, 2013

The Season to Believe


Summer is hot, autumn is mild and winter is cold. Of all the three, winter is the season that prepares the ground for the next creative process - the magic of spring!



Winter sprinkles the frozen earth with snowflakes, covering the landscape with a white blanket of snow. From a distance the snow-covered ground appears like a primed canvas, worthy of Da Vinci’s brush and Michelangelo’s touch.

Spring comes like an artist with a palette of paint, bringing life to a dead space. It thaws the frozen and restores life. It repairs the faded colors that were caused by the freezing winter. Spring revitalizes the spirit of nature. It gives birth to a new beginning.



It is amazing to witness the brown pasture gradually reverting to its original green. Soon, seeds will sprout and grow. A variety of beautiful perennials will awake from hibernation. New twigs will emerge. Lush of leaves will revive the trees. Tulips in vibrant colors will shoot up from the ground. Wild flowers will bloom to meet the visiting butterflies. And when God is smiling, a rainbow will appear, to bridge the clouds and the open meadow.

God is the Master Artist, the Lord of all seasons. He has chosen spring to show us the work of His artistic hand. Spring is the season when He unveils earth`s hidden beauty. From the fertile ground that hosts botanic life and animals - to the air that caters to the floating bees and butterflies - to the flowing rivers that reflect the magnificent sky, God connects them all and transforms them into one grandiose show-and-tell. A truly magnificent illustration!

Spring keeps us in touch. It makes us feel the energy of fulfilment. What we plant today is the fruit we harvest tomorrow. When we build a dream, we allow the dream to build us. When we practice what we love to do, we become what we love. Musicians are who they are because they play with music.  Likewise, a ballerina finds the rhythm of her motion by allowing her heart to dance with the music. The possibilities are endless as long as we believe in the spring that comes from within us.

Spring is about time. It is the time to believe in hope. It is the time to welcome a new beginning. It is the time to visualize what God has in store for us when He illustrated the most endearing beginning of all the beginnings – the resurrection of Christ.


It is not a coincidence that Easter Sunday falls on spring. Spring is truly the season to believe in the renewal of our Christian faith. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Alone With God


Rouge Beach looks abandoned in most winter days.


   Breaking a promise is not a good thing. Yet, last Friday, I did just that--without remorse or guilt. Truly, my action did not bother me. Not one bit!  How could I be so callous?

   The truth of the matter is, I was only postponing the promise I made to myself. Three days earlier, I said I would clean up the clutter in my basement man-cave. The chore is long overdue, but the blue sky outside told me otherwise. It was the perfect day to shoot winter scenes at the Rouge. It was also -6 Celsius out there by the river, not to mention the wind-chill coming from the lake. So, I donned my furry Russian hat, Arctic boots and snow suit  With my backpack, I looked like a soldier on a mission, ready to shoot!



In the midst of its serenity, not a single soul in sight.
  
The Rouge River was frozen. The snow was like an oversized carpet, matching the white clouds above. Except for the beautiful blue sky that accentuated the horizon, the landscape could have been in perfect sepia. The place was beautiful, and in the midst of its serenity, I was alone -- not a single soul in sight. The usual quacks from Canada geese were missing in the air and the flying seagulls were nowhere to be seen. The Rouge seemed like it was reserved only for me and my photography.



The cat-tails  seem to be posing for the shot.
   
  The  wind  was also  surprisingly  in  full  cooperation.  It  redirected  itself elsewhere, so the cat-tails wouldn't sway, making them appear like they were posed for the shots. The stillness of  the surroundings  made me see and hear clearly. Then it occurred to me that I was not completely alone. 
Like in a prayer -- I was alone with God!




The icicles look  like ornaments hanging on a princess ears.

    At the Rouge, I was like a student having a one-on-one learning session with the headmaster. God was leading me to the rarely seen face of winter and showing me the season’s underlying beauty.  Patches of ice on the ground glittered like diamonds. The icicles were like ornaments hanging on a princess ears. The snow looked like clouds on the ground. Winter certainly opened my eyes!  My appreciation for the warmth of my coat and the comfort of home had grown deeper. The lifeless ground made me look forward to the green grass, resurrected only by the coming of spring.



The rarely seen face of winter and its underlying beauty

The two-hour solitude at the Rouge was more than photography. It was a spiritual journey; a time to open up; a time to connect; a time to listen and the time to count the blessings.  

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Deciphering the Fear of 13


Of all the numerals, 13 is the only number that can spell out evil. It is often associated with bad omen and fearsome destruction. Its frightful significance is beyond any mathematical calculation and the negative energies that it perpetuates deep into our minds are never ending.


To the superstitious, number 13 is taboo, but to the skeptics it is just a number. I personally, have never paid much attention to the number 13 except for the fact that it is the count between 12 and 14. I have always looked at it that way --- until recently, something really odd happened that stirred up my curiosity in search for logical explanations to this so much feared number.


Is it a coincidence? A warning perhaps, or is it a sign? These were the questions I asked when I came upon a recurring number 13. It happened five times on the same day! What is the chance of that happening?

It all began on a Sunday afternoon at the Metro Convention Centre where a volleyball tournament was taking place.  I was there mainly to watch my daughter play, but the action-packed hall was also a great opportunity for sports photography. With balls flying back and forth between frog-like leaping players, the shots were just too hard to resist!   


During the elimination rounds, every time the game was moved to another court, the ambient light would also change.  This lighting fluctuation would also force me to adjust my shots accordingly, which also meant finding the right camera exposure settings with at least three test- shots. These tests were just random shots for my own analysis, but the resulting photos yielded the unexpected. All the three exposures captured thought-provoking pictures of number 13!

The first of the three was of a player sporting the dreaded number on the back of her uniform. The next photo was of another athlete also wearing the number 13. Hmmm. . . Coincidence? maybe. But how do you explain the third shot? It was a scoreboard of the game which read 2325. (23 in red for Team A and 25 in blue for Team B) The sum of these four digits is 12, but strangely enough, next to number 5 is a water bottle which can also be seen as number 1. The final total? A shocking 13!


In addition to this growing phenomenon, during a break in the game, a player from my daughter’s team whom I have never met before approached me to say hello. I would soon realize when the game resumed that she too was wearing the number 13! Bizarre? Whatever you want to call it, but this occurrence had me scratching my head in awe.
Finally, at the end of the tournament, I thought I had enough of 13's for one day. I was wrong! The spooky number was unrelenting and persistent. It seemed to have followed me, determined to give me more of what it started.

That evening, while relaxing at home, the mysterious number 13 unfolded once again. This time rather than staying visual, it chose to verbalize itself. The voice of number 13 manifested in the dialogue of the main character in the movie I was watching. It was about a convicted Roman soldier from the 13th Legion who was thrown into the arena of gladiators. He was tired of all the killings. He refused to fight and just wished to die. But the other gladiators provoked him by mocking the 13th Legion that he highly revered. Forced by the ignited anger, he unleashed his terror on all his aggressors, annihilating all of them as he yelled, “Thirteen!” numerous times, to bring honour to the 13th Legion.



Now, looking back to all five incidents, it was like a game of connecting the dots. Clearly, whether all these were just a mere coincidence or a meaningful message, there was definitely a strange pattern that had taken shape. Is there a need to be afraid from here on? What is the number 13 telling me? I wanted to know. The urgency to understand the underlying message had prompted me to do some research. Thanks to the internet. Google’s search engine has provided some substantial views on the subject. One of them is a Christian interpretation which also made perfect sense. Its spiritual value has been the key in unlocking the mystery of the number 13.

 It is quite liberating to know that the number 13 is of spiritual significance as opposed to what Satan had led us to believe. At the Passover Meal (better known today as The Last Supper) in the midst of the twelve disciples, Jesus was the 13th person in the room. He was also the One destined to be crucified and to triumph over death with His resurrection.
Jesus is also referred to as the Water of Life. Could this be the meaning of the bottled water standing next to the volleyball scoreboard? I would like to believe that. What about the player with the number 13 who came to me to say hello?  I see that as a sign of connection. As long as we keep our hearts wide open to Him, we will receive God’s whispers; we will not be in the dark; we will see the path to where He is leading us.  

It is mighty clear now why God chose the volleyball game to illustrate His message. The sport’s aspect of victory and defeat is a good analogy to Life and Death. Death as we know it represents loss. It signifies full surrender. Life on the other hand is about gain. It simply means winning. We live to learn from our failures as we strive to win.  As long as we can still breathe, the chance of winning will always be there.

God does not want us to lose. It breaks His heart to see us fail. But there are times when we are like that Roman soldier. We are tempted to think that putting everything to a halt is the easiest way to end our grief. We lose hope and we give up.

With God, we are winners. When we fail, He strengthens us with our own weakness just like what He did with the Roman soldier who could not resist defending his revered 13th Legion. We too have our own 13th Legion and that is Jesus, the 13th who led the 12 disciples. When we abide by His teachings, we become victorious.

And together we will say, “Thirteen! Thirteen! Thirteen!”

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Race


   In the second letter of Paul to Timothy, Paul wrote a concise yet powerful description of his faith in Christ. He compared it to a grueling race. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7 


Our Lord, Jesus also had an earthly race. It started from a manger in Bethlehem to a cross on the hill of Golgotha. With His resurrection, He completed the race.
    
   When we accept Jesus, we too, enter a race. It is a race where endurance matters more than speed. Through a gauntlet of temptations, the weak will fall and quit. Others will rest, but the faithful will remain undeterred by the devil’s deception.

    Fuelled by our faith, we push the limits to reach the finish line where God does not rate the fastest and the slowest. In God’s eyes, it is irrelevant who comes first and who comes last. In heaven, we are all victorious when we complete the race.

    Race Tracks come in many forms and lengths. When we find God’s purpose for us, we should commit ourselves to stay on track and go the distance. Mine started seven years ago during a pilgrimage to The Holy Land. I call it “Photography for Christ.”

   In Jerusalem, at the courtyard of the Church of The Holy Sepulchre, I captured the defining moment of my calling. There, before me was the collective silhouette of my fellow pilgrims highlighted by a bright wall lamp shining on them. Their radiating shadows seemed like a hand reaching out to me. The image was heartily engaging; it penetrated my soul. It made me stay still, listening in silence. It was speaking the words of Jesus, “Let your light shine before others so they can see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

   That evening, my race began. I would follow Jesus through the lens of my camera. In the Word, I would see the picture and in the picture, I would hear the Word. Through the art of photography I would spread the message of Christ.

   Proclaiming God’s Word is like running an uphill road. Along the way, the winds of rejection, dissuasion and other negative energies have pushed me back. They may have slowed me down, but I held my torch up and pressed to move on. Guided by the Holy Spirit, I produced compelling photo-illustrations of the Word that inspired many, brought hope to the discouraged and caused awareness of God’s love to those who are distant and lost.

   Today, the race is far from over. Each day is a continuation of the race. In every morning sun, I hear God’s Word, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”Jeremiah 29:11. With God’s reassuring words, how can anyone not stay on track and not complete the race?




Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Unshakable

  
   Just like a revolving door, people come and go in our lives. Some are easily forgotten; others we try to forget. But there are those who leave a sweet imprint in our hearts for a simple thing they have done. A seemingly insignificant act, yet beautiful and powerful.