An adapted and abridged extract from an inspiring poster designed by an Australian jesuit:
"THE MEDIEVAL Christian labyrinth, also called "The Way to Jerusalem", has its own geography of faith. It is about striving and journey. It invites the pilgrim to walk the Way of Jesus towards the heavenly Jerusalem. But this 'Way' is not simple. At first it seems to take one straight to the goal -- the place of one's desire. Then it turns unexpectedly away -- only to return to the centre again. After this, just when the pilgrim anticipates arriving at the centre, the path spins right out to the edges in great curves, further and further from the centre. Finally, tired of ever reaching the goal, the pilgrim is suddenly brought to the last turns and the opening to the centre. These movements of first grace and hope; then faith, trust and endurance, symbolizes the deepening journey of the pilgrim's personal relationship with his or her God. Thus the end is the centre, the centre is the beginning, and the humbled pilgrim...
"The autobiography of Ignatius traces the path of this labyrinth. At the start, Ignatius' outer goal was "to travel to Jerusalem with much discipline and fasting". His inner goal was to find God and to serve him. In his outer journey, Ignatius walked in great circles across half of Europe. In his inner journey, he began with an all-night vigil before the Black Madonna of Montserrat, offering his sword to Mary as her knight and taking instead a pilgrim's staff. As in a labyrinth, Ignatius found himself being turned around in new directions again and again. Each time, he was clear about where he wanted to go and what he desired, but events invariably differed. With each change of direction, Ignatius learnt to let go of his own will and came to depend on the will of God. Slowly, he learnt a new way of 'seeing' the winding ways of his desires -- the movements of his heart (or spirit). Near journey's end, Ignatius experienced a deeply confirming vision in which God the Father placed him with His son, Jesus, who was carrying His cross. He knew then that he was on the right path -- leaning into the Way of Christ. In the journey was found the gift. Ignatius finally accepted that he would not get to Jerusalem. He turned instead to Rome with his companions. They began to carry the "centre" within themselves. Ignatius cried, "Now the whole world will be my Jerusalem!" "
After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." -- Mark 1:14-20
IF THERE'S A pervasive theme for my third "retreat" at the Seven Fountains last week, it must be "Metanoia". On Sunday (Jan 22) morning, Fr David gave a great sermon on the gospel reading (Mark 1:14-20, as above), on how "repentance" requires one to turn around to face God, regardless of the direction that one could be heading. Just how I've been realising recently: I need to keep turning towards God over and over again (disrailed continually by distractions, addictions and ambitions, possibly), letting go of my own will and depending on God's will more and more in the process.
For example, before the trip, spent lots of time planning the details of "when" and "where" I would do "what". Supposed to be "half pray" and "half play", or perhaps more "play" than "pray", with just two or three quick software demos in between. However, some time planned for playing became time for praying. And lots of time meant for praying and playing turned into time for "Technical Support" instead -- installing software, showing and writing tips on how WordPress, Firefox, Picassa, Skype, Photofiltre can be used; taking photos of the gardens, chapels, dining room, entrances, exits... helping to clean a virus-infected Windows, upgrade to XP, recover email messages, install anti-virus and anti-spyware software... right up to my very last morning there.
Not that i minded at all. More than happy to be of service. Anyway, the entire place was permeated with such a serene sacred air. Silence is golden indeed! The newly expanded dining room had at least three sunlight tables, placed right next to large windows that overlooked a garden (instead of the corridors, in my earlier trip). It was especially charming at lunch times when soft beautiful music was played. Ah yes, there were two new posters too -- the eager, leaning figure of St Ignatius was almost ubiquitous and especially haunting. The gardens seemed more spacious than ever, full of charming vistas, nooks and crannies; perhaps sanctified all the more by the presence of around 30 religious sisters discerning their vocations before final vows. With so many causes for praise and contemplation, one could almost easily slip into unceasing prayer.
Amidst all that "serene hustle and bustle" (an oxymoron ;-)), i managed to find time to visit the Tha Pae Gate walking street on Sunday night, shop a little at Kad Suan Kaew on Tuesday afternoon and learn how to cook traditional Thai dishes from a humorous woman (named "Ruin"!) on the last day. The walking street was particularly surprising and impressive. The happenings in the middle of the street, they were truly "Wow!" An old woman singing acapella a traditional lament so sorrowfully, a blind man playing an instrument so mutedly, two girls performing northern Thai dances so daintily, two young men singing modern Thai songs so melodiously, a young man playing on a violin some Western classical tunes so vivaciously... What a show of talent! If only I had brought my iPod and digital camera to record the sights and sounds...
By Wednesday (Jan 25) evening, i was at the Chiang Mai airport waiting to check in for my return flight to Singapore. Pleasantly surprised to find six missed calls and one calleralert. Some long-awaited good news. FINALLY. It had been such a long and winding journey, begun in mid June last year, almost like the labyrinthian pilgrimage. One moment, this; the next, that. One moment, one thing; the next, another. One moment... Just what's certain in life besides death and taxes? Must be Romans 8:18, 28, 38. ;-)