"Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you,
I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life." -- Isaiah 43:4
HAD A GOOD RETREAT at Seven Fountains over the past week. While praying over Isaiah 43:1-7, was particularly struck by the words "precious in my sight". Very comforting, especially in light of past experiences of God's graces in many difficult situations.
At the same time, was reminded of something Gollum said almost constantly in The Lord of the Rings movies, "My Precious!" How he would stare at the ring and whisper obsessively, and how that obsession eventually led him to his death!
Providential that the readings for last Sunday (the day of our departure from the centre) were: 1 Kings 3:5, 7-12 (where Solomon chose to ask the Lord for wisdom instead of "a long life", "riches", or "the life of his enemies"), Psalm 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130 ("Lord, I love your commands.") and Matthew 13:44-46 (where a man sold all that he had to buy something he treasured).
What indeed is/are "my precious"? May it always be you, Lord, and your holy will!
THE WEATHER at Chiangmai was better than expected. According to the July 20 - 24 weather forecast on the Net, "Thunderstorm" was expected every day -- some in the mornings, some in the afternoons. In reality, surprise! S. and i were not caught in any thunderstorm at all throughout the entire 5-day trip.
First day (Wednesday): Reached the airport around 6pm. Took a limousine to the retreat centre. 90 bahts (less than S$4). Went for a massage near the River Ping. 200 bahts. A delicious three-course dinner for two at the Monkey Club. 415 bahts. Walked back to the centre. 10.30pm? Light drizzle. Back in our rooms. Washed up. Feeling warm and humid. "If only it'd rain." And it poured! Cats and dogs, non-stop until around 6am the next day.
Second day (Thursday): (John 20:19-23) Good weather. Thanks to tips from Fr. D., walked to the waterfall near the Chiangmai Zoo. My feet hurt. Took a songtaew to the reservoir in Chiangmai University. Onwards to Kad Suan Kaew shopping centre. Bought a pair of shoes and some other stuff for myself and my colleagues. 3pm. Must leave and start praying. Some rain. Took a songtaew to the centre. Right up to the doorstep. Not a drop on us. Shortly after, the rain stopped and we were free to walk around the centre. Bedtime, heavy rain, cool again.
Third day (Friday): (John 1:35-39) Good weather again. Walked around the centre. Prayed in different chapels. 6pm mass in Building 2. Some rain. No problem. Many umbrellas near the door. So easy to move from building to building, even in rain. After dinner, no rain. Not even throughout the night this time. "Will it rain the next day?"
Fourth day (Saturday): (Isaiah 43:1-7) Good weather. Walked to Chiangmai U. Only about 150m from the centre. Beautiful flowers. Ah, a lotus pond outside the Dhamma Hall. Cute 'elephant' bushes. Followed a family of four and strolled to the shady side of the reservoir. Getting better and better! "I'll be back!" Returned to centre to pray. After 6pm mass, invited our spiritual director out for dinner. Fr. D. brought an umbrella, expecting some rain. Light-hearted and serious chit-chat. How to use Avantgo, the plight of refugees in Thailand, how some charities mismanaged funds. Tsk, tsk! Dinner ended around 9pm. 500-plus bahts only, after a 20 percent discount, thanks to Fr D.! And no rain at all. More than 24 hours. Collected some photocopied books. Back in our rooms. Soon, raining heavily again. Couldn't really sleep. Prayed in our building chapel till around midnight.
Fifth day (Sunday): Near dawn, had a series of strange dreams. Was laughing almost the way during each dream. Upon waking, couldn't remember any of them. 9.30am mass. Ah, felt like Solomon, being given that chance to make that very special wish. Moved bags to the porch. The airport limousine, the same one that brought us to the centre, arrived. Went up the mountains in Mae Rim. Reached the Mae Sa Valley Resort in half an hour. Light drizzle. Better than expected. Serene, beautiful, fun -- painting on umbrellas, fans, cloth (table runners?), clay mugs... Undulating terrain, flowers, a river (or brook) and a small waterfall! Massage facilities, thatched chalets dotting the slopes, a restaurant on top of it all! A humorous lady captain (Thai "yang gui fei"!). A small Singapore flag, longans, pad thai, and triple chocolate ice cream on our table. Would be lovely to stay a night or two. Next trip? Next, Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens. Less than 1 km away? Light drizzle again. Onwards to the Sacred Heart Church near the River Ping. Huge space and beautiful stained glass windows within. But the doors were locked. 7.30pm mass daily. Next trip? Onwards to the airport. Indoors around 3.40pm. After half an hour or so, it poured "cats and dogs"! Wow!
Interesting: Our trip began and ended with light drizzles -- as i was once told, "showers of blessings" from God. Both times, we also narrowly escaped thunderstorms. How kindly the Lord must have been smiling upon the two of us throughout the trip -- perhaps blessing us for having changed an organic farm visit into a retreat with the Lord!
Actually, the best months to visit Chiangmai are from November to February. According to a Chiangmai Weather site, April and May are the hottest months. August and September are the wettest months. July is not too bad, but it's warm and humid most times. Lots of monsoon rains and mosquitos.
Didn't have much good sleep most nights because i'm such a light sleeper. Noises (such as heavy rain pouring on the rooftops, weird insect (or animal) calls, whirling fans...) woke me up ever so easily. Also collected lots of mosquito bites. Still, can't complain much. It was a great retreat spiritually.
Looking forward to the next one now. ;-)
31st July. St Ignatius' feastday.
Took a cab to attend 12pm mass at the Church of St Ignatius in King's Road. A wonderful surprise. The readings were Isaiah 43:1-7 (my prayer on the fourth day last week), Psalm 1 (just prayed over last night), Ephesians 3:14-21 and John 1:35-39 (my prayer passage on the third day).
If i had attended mass at St Ig. yesterday (after LRSS) or gone to my own parish for mass this morning, the readings would have been totally unrelated (though still inspiring): Isaiah 55:1-3, Psalm 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-18, Romans 8:35,37-39 and Matthew 14:13-21. The Lord seems to be reassuring me over and over again!
"Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine..."
My precious, my delight, my love, my strength, my teacher and my Lord!