My Writer's Journey
"The Spirit of truth will testify to me, says the Lord, and you also will testify."
- John 15:26b, 27a -
- John 15:26b, 27a -
What A Writer's Conference, Editorial Feedback and Critique Taught Me That Books on Writing/Editing Could Not
It's been a week since I got home from the American Christian Fiction Writers' (ACFW) Conference yet it seemed just like yesterday.
My husband said when I entered the kitchen, "So how was the conference?"
"Like Grand Rounds!" (Note for non-medical readers: This is a medical conference held when a patient's case becomes too problematic for one doctor and needs the input of other medical experts).
And I had every reason to say that. Three weeks ago, the first 50 pages of my manuscript came back to me splattered with blue and red inks, bruised and bleeding. I could barely touch it.
My editor, Julie Marx warned me that I had to be thick-skinned for editorial feedback and critique.
I am Titanium, right? I can handle this. I've had lots of practice in medical school. But no, my skin peeled like onions bringing tears to my eyes (weeks after the shock). It was like an encounter of the third-kind, (with my family and friends as the two other kinds who'd dare read my drafts).
My manuscript required major catastrophic revision. And she said things that shook the very foundation of my story. When I quoted the book of Revelation as a spring board for my dystopic fantasy world, she warned me against it. She suggested making it purely fantasy so no one will accuse me of being heretical. That really bothered me and it fed on my doubt whether I should heed her advice or not.
"You prayed that I would use her to speak My message and I have spoken," the Lord said.
"But how can I be sure that it is You and not the enemy trying to deceive me? I mean, look at Peter. You told him that he is the rock and upon him you will build your church and yet, the next minute he opened his mouth, you rebuked him and said, `Get away from me Satan, your thoughts are not God's thoughts. Anyone can be your mouthpiece and the devil's mouthpiece at the same time! How will I know?"
"Because I will speak in the silence and peace of your heart where love, faith and hope reside."
Argh. "My mind and spirit are anything but silent right now. You shook the very foundation of my book," I said.
"So now, it is Your book. I thought it was to be My book and you'd only take dictation. Didn't C.S. Lewis teach you that?"
"I know, I know."
"And what did he say?"
I sighed and mouthed verbatim… "Quote, I never exactly made a book. It's rather like taking dictation. I was given things to say. End of quote."
And I relented and knew that fighting the Lord would just put me in Jacob's position. Even if I win, I will end up with a limp and would be begging for His blessing.
"So how can I create a pure fantasy world out of this manuscript that have quotes and quotes from the Bible?" I asked my angel. "It's impossible! And she also said I should remove the Prologue. But I love that Prologue. It's a very beautiful Prologue. God dictated that to me, remember? I could not have come up with that Prologue on my own!"
"That Prologue is for you, not for your readers," my angel said.
"It's your synopsis, a guide, map, whatever you wish to call it."
"But the Abbot of the Abbey, writing a love story... it's both ridiculous and brilliant! It's a great hook."
My angel allowed the reading of the day to speak to me, as though he had grown tired of my whining: Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
"Didn't you ask what God thinks of your manuscript and use the editor as His mouthpiece? And now He's telling you-- go back to the drawing board," my angel added.
I sighed. When I heard the editor say that, I just stared at her. Literally, I could feel nothing. Was I angry? No. Was I sad? No. Numb. That was how I felt. Wrapped in God's grace, I didn't feel the sting.
But when I got home that day and my husband asked me, "So what did she say?"
"She shredded my manuscript to pieces," I joked.
"But did she say anything good about it?"
I scanned my brain and all I could think of were all the things I needed to improve on. She may have said something but my disappointment at not having floored her with my "wonderful" writing blared like a horn that would have drowned any positive remarks. Doubt settled in the pit of my stomach like a demon and I served it with coffee, tea and biscuits.
I wanted to dig the soil and bury what little talent I thought I had.
"You do know what the Master said to that servant with that one talent?" my angel said.
Yes, I sighed. The gospel reading that Sunday shouted at me:You worthless and lazy servant, you could have deposited it in a bank for an interest.
In my writer's mind, it translated:
"If you're too lazy to revise your manuscript and do the hard work required of traditional publishing, instead of burying your work in the hard drive of the computer to see no light of day, you could at least go indie and publish it in kindle. Someone could stumble upon it, through some mysterious designs which only I would know, and read the message I planted in those pages."
I sighed. I don't want to self-publish another rough draft. "Yes, Lord. I will try to revise it."
So I tried to rewrite the first line and chapter, in vain. For 21 days I struggled to get out of my titanium cell of self-doubt. I had high hopes. The idea of not being able to pitch my work at ACFW and miss the only chance I have this year to speak with an agent disheartened me.
Yet I had prayed that God would use my editor to tell me exactly what to do and I'd obey it.
"I'm really getting conflicting signals here," I complained to my angel. "He said, the time has come. So why this? Is this like Moses going to Pharaoh and then getting denied multiple times?"
Humility and obedience. The words hammered in my head. Okay. Okay. I will not pitch. I tried to convince myself. My flicker of hope dimmed every minute as I repeated the words.
"But you need to prepare your one-sheet and synopsis," my angel said.
"What? But the manuscript is not ready. I don't have the first five chapters."
"The bridegroom comes like a thief in the night. You don't want to be caught sleeping without oil in your lamp."
"Alright, alright. I will do it."
In the conference, the first friendly face I saw was that of my editor.
She hugged me and said, "How's your manuscript going?"
"Nowhere." I laughed. "It's still in the ICU needing resuscitation."
She looked me in the eye and said, "You have a story to tell. Believe you can do it."
Her words sent 200 joules of shock that brought my pulse of hope in fibrillation.
Validation. For one week, this word evaded me yet it sat at the tip of my tongue. What was that word The I desperately needed to bring back my inspired creativity? Affirmation? confirmation? Assurance? No. Validation-- the knowledge that I'm pursuing God's Purpose, that my dreams are aligned with His plans.
I had hoped that He would send me signs, signals and people. For weeks, words of inspirations from the Bible could not get me out of my pit of despair. The promise of wonderful things to happen at ACFW hung like flimsy thread that I could not grasp. I didn't have what it takes to be a writer: these words roped around my neck. But with Julie's validation, the coil loosened.
"Pray for me," I said.
And she did. Right there in the middle of the lobby. I saw the silver lining in my dark clouds. She pulled me and introduced me to the other writers who lifted me with their warm smiles.
Sarah-Meg Seese approached me and said, "In 2015, I came at a conference like this for the first time. Now, I'm a published author."
Is that another dangling carrot for me, Lord? I thought.
"Learn what you can from the masters. Rub elbows with published authors. This is your reality. It is not a dream anymore," my angel whispered.
In the large banquet hall, I watched with awe when the emcee called out those who've signed their first contract and published their first books after last year's conference. Sarah was among them.
I could be that person next year. My pulse steadied but still fluttered on occasions .
Come CEU time, I entered a smaller room. Best selling author James Rubart spoke. My eyes fixed on him. I understood his language, I thought in amazement. He spoke of my hearts' desires in the light of God's designs and my destiny. He also happened to write in my genre, speculative fiction. I held on to each word that came out of his mouth. "Write from your heart. The best story you can write is your own story. The movies that you watch, books that you read all have a common theme. You are drawn to it because of God's design and purpose written in your heart."
I approached him after the conference and talked to him about my book. When he nodded and said he liked the idea, adrenaline rushed through my veins. A best-selling author actually thinks the story is good! My heart pumped with vigor and oxygen entered my shriveled brain.
The more I connected with authors and writers, the more I saw my inadequacy. I looked at my syllabus and realized, in my lofty pride, I signed up for the upperclassmen courses when I was just a freshman. I thought I had bought and read every writing and editing book out in the market and had no need of the workshops. I failed to grasp that theoretical knowledge does not make one a writer.
My angel laughed and said, "Remember how annoyed you were with patients who consulted Dr. Google and think they already know their diagnosis and treatment?"
I shook my head. Even after I graduated from my internship, I was not confident of my ability to treat a patient. It took years of residency and clinical practice before I sharpened my clinical eye and learned my craft.
"It's the same with the writing craft," my angel said. "You may not kill a patient physically but you can kill a soul for eternity with your written words. Learn and master the craft."
"You are writing into someone's eternity." These words had been repeatedly spoken throughout the conference, from the emcee's lips Colleen Coble, the keynote speaker Randy Alcorn and the worship minister Rachel Hauck.
That brought me to my senses. I joined the freshmen workshops like Crafting the First Line by Rachel Hauck and the first chapter revealed itself to me--paragraphs I've struggled with for six versions. The workshop on Creating Settings That Become Characters by Liz Johnson made me see, smell, taste, and touch my world of fantasy.
When I shared my idea for my first line and first chapter to another editor Kathy Ide, during the 15-minute consult, she said, "I like it. That's so much better than what you submitted for critique." She discussed other techniques that I could use to improve my first five chapters.
Another 200 joules of shock catapulted my manuscript.
Finally, I sat in a roomful of people waiting for my agent's appointment. Some looked fidgety and nervous. My seat mate asked me, "Are You pitching?" I smiled and said, "No, my manuscript is not yet ready. I just want get up close and personal with an agent to remove that notion that they would bite and devour me."
And so I approached Julie Gwinn and asked her to critique my one-sheet because I had no idea what a one-sheet was until that conference. She started asking questions about my characters and I started revealing my plot and the three book ideas I had in mind. We had a lively exchange with each plot twists.
"I love it," she said.
I thought I saw her eyes lit up which made me blurt with disbelief, "You do?"
"If you can write it the way you said it and send me the proposal."
That delivered the final 200 joules that stabilized my patient.
"I wish I had a videocamera here that recorded all that I told you," I said and joined in her laughter.
The Lord in His mysterious ways had molded me to act, think and speak in a manner that brought about His purpose, and brought me back on my writing track. I received the validations I had sought for, from chance encounters in restrooms with strangers-turned-friends (Kristen Joy Wilks), seat mates who'd manifest God's leadings in my life (yes, Andrea Michelle Wood, feel free to ask me about medical stuff), fellow writers who sat on my dining table, sharing their journeys, struggles and triumphs (Bruce and Joyce Hammack, you're one inspiring power couple), generous souls who'd offer to sign up in my Newsletter to increase the number of my subscribers (yes, Janine Rosche, your 30 is an incomparable feat to my 3, which includes my ever-supportive mother-in-law), push books through their reviews (Zan Marie Steadham, I salute you for what you do), and give so much of themselves to support organizational endeavors (Jessica White, you could run an LLC with all the things that you do as a support staff). It was like I had come home to my pack, where I felt safe, comfortable and at peace.
This morning, while running on the trail with these events in my head I realized that the Lord gave the most difficult task to my first editor, AJ Marx. She spoke as a prophet with words that are not easy to embrace. And I have to say unless an author learns to accept critique with humility and obedience, she will never grow as a writer.
Had Julie "played it safe" and encouraged me to go for it, I would have pitched a raw manuscript that anyone would spit out. I would have left that conference comatose. It took a lot of courage on her part to be the bearer of bad news but her loving prayers gave me the grace to accept the harsh reality in humility and obedience. So when I got the critique from Kathy, I had been embraced in grace. I no longer needed the titanium shield to hear that my first few pages did not do my story justice at all.
Because I had no intention of pitching, I approached agent Julie G. calm and relaxed. I spoke to her the way I would speak with a friend-- animated and full of humor. I avoided what every newbie would suffer when pitching their first baby--high tension nerves--and the common result that would go with it, a glazed look of disinterest from the agent that could peel a fragile onion skin apart.
The scriptural reading for that day could not stress it more:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.
I never thought a single ACFW Conference could propel my writing into a crucial momentum. All the experts in one venue were used as the Lord's channel of revelation. It was not coincidence but synchronicity that the event was just a short drive from my house.
Truly, the Lord provides for His beloved as they slumber.
Now I can say, my manuscript is ready… to be taken to the operating room for major reconstructive surgery.
This morning, on the drive to school, after we had prayed the rosary, my daughter said, "I'm concerned about the five Advanced Placement (AP) courses I'm taking next school year."
At that moment, I knew I needed God to speak through me. I didn't want to give the wrong advice. I prayed in my mind, "Lord, use me as your mouthpiece."
And the first thing that came out of my mouth was, "What made you say that?"
She heaved out a sigh and said, "Right now, with just these two regular non-AP summer classes, I feel so tired and demotivated already. What more with the 5 AP classes?"
And I surprised myself with my answer and knew it to be divinely-inspired.
"To compare these two summer classes with your 5 AP subjects, you need to compare your reactions to these. Didn't you tell me that you hated these two subjects... that you dozed off in class out of boredom? And yet, the five AP subjects that you're about to take next school year made you so excited. You actually look forward to it. Realize that there are things that just flow easily from you, like your singing. Didn't you find it easier to present your research paper by using the Bohemian Rhapsody as your melody for your research summary and incorporated it in your powerpoint slide presentation because you hated public speaking? And you got an A for that. Some things flow naturally from you with less effort because that is your natural talent and gift. Just like a boat, when you do something that's not of your own interest, it's like sailing against the wind. But like your musical paper presentation, it was like you captured the wind with your sail and your boat traveled faster. It's like active transport in biochemistry when you do things that do not flow naturally from you. But when you use your talents and gifts, it's passive diffusion. It does not require much energy."
She nodded so I went on. "That's why we never forced any course on you for college. We always tell you to find a course that would develop your natural inclination and your passion so you don't end up with a job that you need to drag your feet on Manic Mondays and would always Thank God on Fridays. We want you to have a work that every day seems like a weekend."
She laughed, and I knew it made sense her. "So don't feel afraid and overwhelmed with your AP classes. He will give you the grace necessary to do these. But you have to offer all these to God and lift it up to Him. Allow Him to intervene. Tell Him, 'Lord, if I'm doing too much, please block or remove any AP subject that is not Your will.' Like I told you, He never imposes His will on people. You need to allow Him so He can intervene. Informed consent, that's what He obtains from us," I said and spoke like a research nurse that I once was.
"He will show you all the options before you. If you choose option A, this is the consequence. If B, then this and so and so forth. Sometimes, we think God is punishing us when bad things happen because of a wrong decision. Well, in the first place, He already gave an indication that that bad thing would happen if you do it and yet you still choose to do it. So the consequence shouldn't come as a surprise to you. Then there are options that He would present as more difficult, but He will also show you a better outcome from that. If you choose that, you need to brace yourself for the hard work, but He will assure you of a more glorious outcome. Remember Jesus--even He sweated and cried tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and had said, 'Lord take this cup away from me.' He was not really excited about His crucifixion. He saw what was about to happen, but the Father also showed Him the glory that would come out of that severe suffering. So in the end, He chose the difficult option and said, 'But not My will but Yours be done.' And see what glorious victory the resurrection gave Him. So do the same. Don't be afraid. Offer it all to God, and you will find the courage to do His will."
I pulled over to the curb. My daughter smiled and said, "Thanks, mommy," and got out of the car. As she took out her stuff from my backseat, she said, "Love you."
I smiled and said, "Love you, and God bless your day."
I sighed as I pulled away from the curb. Amazement and awe filled me as I reflected on what God had said to her through me. I smiled when I recalled how she once said, "How do you do it? I ask one simple question, and you talk and simply slip into a homily seamlessly."
I said, "I guess this is God's call for me, to preach and spread the good news to you on my driver's seat. This," I tapped on the steering wheel, "is to be my pulpit."
And yes, God did it again. I chuckled.
And I thought about the "informed consent process" God did with me concerning my manuscript. He also presented me with two scenarios when I debated whether to self-publish or to publish traditionally.
I chanced upon Rachelle Gardner's ebook last March, How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing (A Field Guide for Authors). God used it to speak to me. Before reading this book, I had considered self-publishing in Amazon Kindle for ebook and Amazon Scout for print and prayed to God about this. Both will not cost me anything, and I can have my book published without the rigorous process of querying, pitching and sending my manuscript to agents and editors and risk rejections.
After reading the book, I remembered what happened to my first self-published book, Running the Millionaire Lane. The Claretian Publications printed 1,000 copies, and most of these just gathered dust. After going through the Longridge Writer's Course, I realized I had published a rough draft. It was sheer vanity that pushed me to self-publish. No wonder people called it Vanity Press. Although my book had inspired some to start running, the book did not succeed as I hoped and dreamt it would.
Now, I feel the call to undergo the rigorous process of traditional publication for my novel. A book I deemed to help build God's kingdom deserved no less. I will avoid Cain's path; he presented the Lord with ordinary crops and did not make Him happy. I will imitate Abel who presented God with the best of his flock, thereby garnering God's favor. This would mean hard work, sacrifice, and patient waiting for the perfect time. God will get the book published in due season but not until He had purified my skill and my intentions, like gold tested in fire.
Prayer and discernment had revealed to me that if I choose to self-publish the trilogy, I would be so busy marketing the first book, I will not have the time to write the second one and the third. My impatience and haste will only lead to greater delay. And the risk of failure is higher because my book would not be refined, and not marketed professionally. I know there are those who've succeeded tremendously in self-publication, but they are more talented both in writing and marketing than I am. I know my weaknesses in both areas, and the only way to combat these is through traditional publication. This decision had given me peace.
It's the same decision-making process God did with my writer's life. He made me see what I enjoyed doing most, and it was blogging and novel writing. So I streamlined my efforts and let go of all the others. I felt more centered, focused and at peace with my writing career and ministry. It was a slow progress, but less chance of stumbling and falling on my butt.
I entered the garage and parked the car. The drizzle this morning had become a downpour, so I went straight to the treadmill for my 30-minute daily run.
The Youtube video, Supernatural Secrets of Destiny Dreams by Dr. Michelle Corral caught my eye. I had a weird dream this morning; and actually, not just today but for several weeks now. Perhaps she can shed some light into those dreams.
For instance, last week, I dreamt of two surgeons, fully scrubbed with masks, caps and gloved hands holding surgical knives. But I noticed that from waist down, they didn't have legs. Instead, their lower halves looked like trunks of trees with branches and some leaves. They looked odd and queer. They both addressed a patient (or was it me?) and said, "We need to operate on you and take out your trunk because it looks weird. You need to have real legs." And I thought, geez, why don't you operate on yourselves first. When I mentioned this to my aunt, she had said, "Wasn't that the same message that you wrote in your blog about taking out the plank in your own eye first before taking out the dust from the other's eye?" She was right. It was a call to humility and avoid a judgmental attitude.
The video only affirmed all of God's messages for me on discernment, humility, and the works of the Holy Spirit. He had used Dr. Michelle Corral as His mouthpiece and had spoken through her. He had addressed my concerns as He had addressed those of my daughter's this morning.
He also cast a light on why I had more dreams lately. I didn't realized until now the value and significance of night prayers. I thought saying my morning prayers were more important and missing my night prayers did not matter much. How wrong I was!
He truly speaks in many ways—through dreams, people, events, books, and videos. I only need to listen so I’d recognize His voice, choose from the many options, and decide well according to His will.
Amazing grace. Amazing God.
Three Days of Heat: When the Going Gets Tough, How the Crucified Christ Gets the Writer in Me Going
"Thank You for the clouds," I told my Lord the other day. The sun would have toasted me the way it did the day before that; for despite my cap and sunscreen, I got sunburnt.
Yesterday, the 100-degree Fahrenheit (more like Freakingheat) weather hit me. At first, I thought I could offer the heat for the poor souls in purgatory but decided to run on the treadmill instead. Prudence dissuaded me from sun exposure and the risk of fainting in the middle of the trail.
Today, I woke up early, to avoid running under desert conditions.
I ate a toast for my carb fix and a small amount of black coffee. Anything more within 2 hours would be bladder disaster.
The right piece of my wireless earphone refused to stay put and I had to use a bigger right bud. So much ceremony just for a run, I thought. Had I donned my running shoes and headed out without all these gadgets, I would have gone at 7:30 am and not at 8 o'clock.
But after 15 minutes on the trail, I delighted in the music; the random mix from the Don't You Worry Radio station in Pandora beckoned me to move and keep on going.
Lately, God's messages had preventive themes: protecting me from heat, shielding me from harsh criticisms, pulling me out of situations where I am most vulnerable and fragile and prone to fall, and delaying my success, so I don't get drunk and go tipsy from it.
"But just because He protected you from all these, that doesn’t mean He'll roll the red carpet for you," my angel blurted.
I winced and remembered the email query I had submitted to an agent. My countdown had started--and from the sound of my angel—I guess, to another rejection?
"You knew that God's favored ones did not live a life of pleasure, ease, and luxury."
Yes, I knew. David had to do the lowly task of being a shepherd in a brood of eight. Abraham had to endure the endless battle among his sons and descendants to this day. Joseph was sold into slavery. Peter, Paul and most of the apostles and disciples were killed. Even Jesus, the Begotten, the Christ and the Chosen One was tortured, whipped, crowned with thorns, treated like a vile criminal, made to carry a cross fitted for a bigger man (Barabbas), crucified and hanged until He died of asphyxia. His lungs swelled that water and blood came out from His pierced side.
God did not treat His favored ones lightly.
Now, the waiting was killing me…waiting to hear a reply from the literary agent. In the middle of the wait, I seesawed from high to low. One moment I'd be dreaming of a `yes', and the next of a `no'. I swung from one end of my emotional pendulum to another.
I had tried to dispel all my doubts with prayer and reading, but I'd often succumb to my fears and insecurities. Even with networking and a supportive community, I heard the voices within me the loudest, and they fought and disagreed about my destiny as a writer: these three voices, the evil, the good and my own voice (which tends to shift based on my spiritual predicament).
And I thought, what a beggar I was. Even in my writing, I was like that woman in the Gospel who would be grateful for the crumbs that would fall from the table, the morsel meant for the dogs. Something, anything that would encourage me to continue with this endeavor would do.
Like this pilgrim in the desert, I'd settle for a drop of water because I had been drinking from the sweat of my brow to quench my thirst.
I wished I resembled the saints who would be satisfied with knowing that they had done what they needed to do, and need not hear the praise of the Master for they merely did their duties as servants. But I didn't have that spirit of detachment. I'd often find myself peeking at my social media posts and counting the likes or hoping to read a comment only to be disappointed.
Then I'd plunge into self-pity and think, “It's maybe because the words are not from You, my Lord, so it's not touching the hearts of men. You have not inspired it with your Holy Spirit. It's just me and my delusion of being Your inspired writer.”
At one point, I cried to God and said, "I feel like a voice in the wilderness. I don't think anyone is reading all these stuff I'm writing." Then I cringed from my insolence. How full of self-love and attachment from my work those words had sounded! Those words obviously came from a typical middle child with attention-seeking behavior, or what I'd loosely and jokingly self-diagnose as the Middle Child Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder subtype.
But kind and tender that You are, my Lord, that's when You sent Your little angels here on earth to encourage me with a simple word, an email from a friend, a comment, a like/love on the blog post. These boosted my dampened spirit. The loving tolerance of my family for allowing me to stay at home and live the writer's life should be more than enough. Even my busy junior high schooler took time to edit some of my posts. Their unending support should have made me very grateful.
Forgive me for lacking this gratitude when my mind is plunged into the darkness of desolation.
As I ran, I thought I had come so far with my running. I ran just because I loved to run. I didn't need anyone to encourage me.
I should feel the same with my writing.
I must simply write because I love to write but the waiting had paralyzed me and for the past days; I had not touched the book. And I felt dead.
I realized novel writing had become like oxygen for me in the same manner that music was for my oldest daughter. She would not and could not stop singing. When we left the house of my sister-in-law, where we stayed temporarily in transition for the move last year, the one thing my brother-in-law noticed when we were gone, was the house was quieter. Even with their small boys running about and shouting inside their house, the voice of my daughter singing every day and every moment of the day had filled the house with another dimension of sound.
Yes, that was my daughter. She can't stop singing. She'd rather be dead than not sing. So when we left, my brother-in-law noticed the difference.
That was passion.
And I felt the same way with novel writing. And I knew it was not just writing per se because this would be my third blog for the week. The Lord had inspired me to cut my blogs shorter (yet I still ended up with more than 1,000 words) into more manageable chunks as the inspirations just kept on pouring whenever I ran. I knew copywriters tend to go on and on and were known for the "But-wait…here's-more" kind of writing, but I felt people nowadays tend to be busier too. With long copies, they skim through most of the materials and inadvertently miss the more important ones.
Anyway, despite these three blogs, I still felt I had not done my writing. It was the novel. The books had been calling me to work on them. With the waiting, I realized I needed to start on something: the second book of the trilogy. This will keep me going, knowing that there was more at stake for me.
"Let love alone push you for it was love that pushed me to the Cross."
The voice startled me. It's my Lord!
"Let your righteousness surpass that of the Pharisees."
This gospel reading the previous day called me to write, not just out of discipline, routine, and habit, the same manner that these Pharisees performed their works out of tradition, ceremony, and even showmanship. That amounted to writing for the sake of getting likes and shares in FB and driving traffic to my website.
"Go beyond the practice. Live the spirit of what of you do, the spirit of love," the priest had said. I must have love. The priest said these Pharisees had become so picky with all their rituals in their rigid interpretation of the law that it had almost become impossible to perform all of it. It had become a severe burden too heavy to carry. The Catholic Church would suffer the same criticism. And time and again, You would remind us, Lord of the very essence of why we do the things that we do.
You did not want to take out all these customs and traditions for these are what binds us to our Apostolic heritage. You have come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill. The sacrificial lamb had become You. The blood offered for the atonement of sins had become Your blood. Truly, as You have said, "Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place." And You have fulfilled the Messianic promises and prophecies. We are physical beings and need to hold onto something tangible. And Your Incarnation is the very essence of Your physical presence. You who used to be intangible and out of reach came down from heaven and lived among us so we may touch You and hold You.
And should You deprive us of Your Physical Presence when You've promised that You shall be with us until the end of time? No, You did not. You continue to be physically present among us.
And this is what we are celebrating tomorrow, Corpus Christi Sunday: the Feast of the Body of Christ. Your body remains with us. Now in an even humbler form, in the form of the bread.
And what is this bread, my Lord?
On the night that You were betrayed, You took this bread, gave thanks to the Father and told Your disciples, "Take this, all of You and eat of it. For this is my body which will be given up for You. Do this in remembrance of Me." And You've done the same with the wine. And it shall become Your blood, the blood of the New and Everlasting Covenant so that sins may be forgiven. And again, You wanted us to do it in remembrance of You.
You've instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist on the night of Your betrayal and the eve of Your Passion and Death. At this point, Your disciples have not known and come to a full appreciation of this most blessed mystery of the Holy Eucharist.
But when You resurrected and made Your presence known in the breaking of the bread, Your disciples remembered this night and realized why their hearts were burning with Your presence.
It is You, broken and eaten by Your people so we can have that Physical Intimacy which You so longed to have with us.
But what had become of my heart, my Lord? Why does it not constantly burn when I look at the bread. Why does it wax and wane in its fervor and belief, sometimes cold, tepid and lukewarm and at other times full of love and desire for You? It's as though a veil is before my eyes, sometimes lifted and at other times covered my face.
The priest in the Miracle of Lanciano, who had raised the bread, had the same cold and tepid heart and doubted Your existence in the Eucharist, my Lord. But what did You do? You proved Your Presence once and for all and erased all his doubts. And to this day, these species of Your real presence still exists-- the bread that had turned into flesh, and not just any flesh but the flesh of Your heart, the very muscles of your Sacred Heart! No wonder many loved and devote themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We eat the flesh of Your Heart so our hearts will transform and burn with the same love as Yours. And Your blood, type AB, was just as fresh as it was before. Science had proven that these are real flesh and real blood without traces of preservatives.
Extract and peel the cataracts and scales off my eyes as You've done to Tobit, and to Paul for I am still blind. Let me see You, my Lord, in the Most Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Sacrament. Let my heart burn for Your heart constantly. Let me eat and drink You with a fervor and faith that can move mountains and change this cold and tepid heart so it may burn with love for You.
"Saul became blind because of the fierce bright light from heaven," my angel said.
I gasped at what my angel said. Saul was blinded by the light because God is like the sun that our eyes cannot behold. He was too bright but hidden in the most Blessed Host, I could stare at Him in loving adoration for hours without going blind!
I remembered that one day while driving, I noticed the sun hiding behind the thick clouds and I stared at it; but the light did not hurt my eyes. It glowed like a round host of the Blessed Sacrament. I realized at that moment how much You loved us! You keep on stooping down to our level so we could reach You, stare at You and even consume You.
Humility. This is something I need to learn more in this steep climb toward publication.
As though to show me the meaning of this, I approached an uphill terrain in my run. I took a shorter and lower stride (where my feet barely lifted from the ground) and clipped my hands to my side. I discovered this stance made the climb easier.
"When the going gets tough, remain grounded in Christ. Humility and obedience will make it easier for you to swallow words of criticism and turn it into points for improvement," my angel said. "Fix your eyes on the Crucified Christ as you struggle with your writing. Each rejection is akin to the nails on your hands and feet, the scourging on your tired back. Each turn-downs would be like the crown of thorns and the lance on your side."
I winced from the image—me in the place of my Crucified Lord?
"Don't think you can avoid the Cross. You must embrace it. Unless you die with Him, you will not rise with Him. Patience, persistence, and passion—these three will lead you to success."
I sighed and prayed for more detachment. I prayed that love alone would suffice to move me to write, not the praises of men because I also wither from false praises or empty encouragements. I'd rather have none and be grounded in the work of the Lord.
I will do what it takes to get His work published. I will train like a soldier so that I can worthily deliver His message in the service of my King.
The song, Don't You Worry, Child played, as if on cue. And I almost cried in the middle of the street. Trust God to send His tender whispers when I just braced and prepared myself for the whiplash. God would be like that. Now I wanted to bawl like His little child.
I finished my run on high spirits.
Thank You, Lord for the endogenous endorphins; just what I needed today.
Cupcakes are muffins that believed in miracles.
I laughed at these very simple but profound statement printed on the box that housed delicious cupcakes, cakes, and biscuits from the Silos Baking Co.
We were on our way to San Antonio, TX from Dallas and we thought it would be nice to have breakfast at this much-much-celebrated place in Waco called Magnolia Market. Apart from this bakery with a long queue, food trucks flanked the market complex and a playground with tables and benches in the open ground.
Who would have thought that a simple idea bred out of a woman's passion would give birth to this success slowly evolving into a tradition?
And that's God's promise to those who pursue one's passion and purpose: a life of fullness and abundance. The closer you get to your purpose, the happier you become.
And I thought about writing—my passion and purpose. I've never been happier with my work until now. I know I am drawing closer to my purpose, each day I write.
Last Wednesday, it was 88F outside, but I abandoned the treadmill and headed for the park. I was glad to be home. The three-day break rejuvenated me, but I longed for my routine once again—pray, run, read and write.
I ran in silence, enjoying the warm air. I had the park to myself. Suddenly, I saw in my mind a funnel.
What was that?
"God wants you to be a funnel."
It was my angel.
"He gave you a gift—the ability to devour books and understand the complicated."
He was right. It was a gift. "Why did He give me that gift?"
"He wants you to distil all the things that you've read and come up with the essentials. Like a funnel, open and wide at the top, you shall only pour out in digestible amounts the things He wants to your narrow bottom. Make the complicated simple."
I understood. I was once a research nurse. I rewrote many informed consents to readable level—7th grade. To do this, I employed the Flesch-Kincaid and Fry readability formulas.
I also gave a talk on how to create readable informed consents at the Health Care Education Association Conference. I didn't expect to find educators having trouble making this paragraph simple during the workshop portion:
This is a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial that aims to test the hypothesis that the investigational drug XYZ100 can alter the course of disease ABC by delaying progression of myocardial fibrosis and reducing ambulatory deterioration.
I was surprised when they clapped at my simplified version.
This is a study that will test whether study drug XYZ100 will reduce heart scarring and delay loss of ability to walk. You will be assigned to two groups in a random manner. This is like drawing lots or flipping a coin. One group will receive the study drug and another group will receive the placebo. Placebo is not a drug but it looks and tastes like a real drug. It is sometimes called a sugar pill or starch pill. This is a double-blind study. This means that neither you nor your study doctor will know what drug you are receiving.
"Don't think your past experiences were for nothing. God uses all your existing skills and abilities to build His kingdom."
I was excited. "So what am I to do?"
"Speak about the kingdom in the language of a child for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
"Remember St Therese of Lisieux?
"Yes, she made sanctity simple and easy. She wrote The Story of a Soul as a simple testimony, her story. That's why it became a best-seller," I said.
This way of writing is also what attracted me to copywriting. Copywriters write to push people to action. It's direct response marketing and not mere advertising. And the power of this type of writing lies on the credibility of the testimony.
And I realized, the Scripture writers were the greatest copywriters in the world. With their testimonies, billions had come to believe in Jesus. And as a Christian copywriter, this was part of my call, to testify to the Lord's work in my life. My message can only evoke a response from the reader when it is personal, simple and credible. Readers can smell a fake from afar. And if not, they'd do when they come near.
"How did St. Therese surmount the steep summit of perfection?" my angel broke into my reverie.
"A lift." That was how she described it.
"How different, Lord, are the paths along which You guide souls!" she had written in The Story of a Soul. "In the lives of the saints, we find many who left nothing behind them… but there are others, like our Mother St. Teresa, who have enriched the Church by their teaching. They were not afraid to reveal "the secrets of the King," so that souls, by knowing Him better, would love Him more… Unfortunately, when I have compared myself with the saints, I have always found that there is the same difference between the saints and me as there is between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and a humble grain of sand trodden underfoot by passers-by."
"Instead of being discouraged, I told myself: God would not make me wish for something impossible, and so, in spite of my littleness, I can aim at being a saint," she wrote. "It is impossible for me to grow bigger, so I put up with myself as I am, with all my countless faults. But I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight, a little way that is quite new. We live in an age of invention. We need no longer climb laboriously up flights of stairs; in well-to-do houses there are lifts. And I was determined to find a lift to carry me to Jesus, for I was far too small to climb the steep stairs of perfection. So I sought in Holy Scripture some idea of what this lift I wanted would be, and I read these words from the very mouth of eternal Wisdom: "Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me." I drew nearer to God fully realizing that I had found what I was looking for. I also wanted to know how God would deal with a "little one," so I continued my search and found this: "You shall be carried at the breasts and upon the knees; as one whom the mother caresseth, so I will comfort you."
And this was the core of St. Therese of the Child Jesus' simple spirituality, and why she was embraced by all, this little flower. She would add, "Never before had I been gladdened by such sweet and tender words. It is Your arms, Jesus, which are the lift to carry me to heaven. And so there is no need for me to grow up. In fact, just the opposite: I must stay little and become less and less."
"This is hard," I told my guardian angel. "But probably the only way to pass through the eye of the needle, to be little."
"With man, it is impossible. But anything and everything is possible with God," he said.
He was right. I remembered just the other day when I dropped off my daughter at school, the traffic officer blew his whistle vigorously at me for trying to make a right pass (which was normally allowed during regular school days, but apparently not during summer classes). My blood boiled, and I was tempted to ignore him. At the same time, I felt the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit calming my nerves. And the Spirit won and fanned down the angry flames in my eyes. I felt something die within me as I maneuvered the car to obey the traffic enforcer's bidding.
"You just chipped off a piece of your mortal shell," my angel had said.
"So is this how I am to kill the old man?"
"Yes. Each time you swallow your pride, bite your tongue from saying hurtful and angry words, overcome your weakness, you break off a piece of your sinful mortal shell, and the light within you is able to pierce out into the darkness of your earthly existence."
An antiviral, my antidote, I thought.
"Among the many," he had said.
"The Body and Blood of Jesus I took this morning, it healed me. The words 'Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, (this house that is mostly in disarray and dirty), but only say the word, and my soul will be healed,' did its purpose.”
Yes, those were the very same words the centurion told Jesus when he asked the Lord to heal his servant. His words amazed Jesus because the Roman soldier manifested a faith in Jesus’ authority over the spirits even from afar. It was Paulo Coelho who brought this to my attention in his book, The Alchemist.
"That is the most potent antidote to your viral illness. When He enters your body, He melts the mortal shell and thins it out," my angel said.
I envisioned His resurrection, and how the severe light pierced through His dead and mortal body, burning it into dust, leaving only the wounds that He bore as evidence of His former human body and how He assumed His Divine body that even Mary Magdalene did not recognize Him and thought He was the gardener.
"But why do some people remain wicked despite the fact that they receive His body and blood regularly?" I asked, and added to myself, just like me.
"Because venial and mortal sins thicken the mortal shell. As soon as He melts the shell away, these foolish men and women run out and cover their body with the filth of slander, malice, deceit, lies and these loathsome clothing as though they could not do without it for just a single day. So they lose the grace that His mystical presence provides. Because as I told you, it is by man's cooperative will that he is to be saved. God already opened the door for him, but he needs to make a move to enter the door of salvation and stay inside. More often than not, he ignores the open door. Worst for some, they enter and then decide to go out, lured by their former lives like the Israelites who clamored to Moses to go back to Egypt and eat the food of slaves rather than be in the desert of purification and eat the manna from heaven that the Lord provided freely. The foolishness of man…" I could sense my angel shaking his head in frustration.
So this is the reason why I also need to be cleaned regularly through the Sacrament of Confession.
I remembered Fr. Dom Gueranger's writing in the Liturgical Year, "It is the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts for the sole purpose of forming Christ, the New Man, within us, to the end that we may be united with Him forever as His members."
I imagine Him building Himself within me piece by piece, cell by cell, and the Holy Spirit gluing His pieces together until one day He will completely possess me. But each time I sin, the glue weakens. So I must strive to be loving to strengthen the glue. With the grace of the Holy Spirit, this love is infused with much warmth and fire.
"The Holy Spirit unceasingly shows His disciple the Great Original Whom he is to copy, namely Jesus, in Whom are all the virtues in all perfection." These words from Fr. Gueranger's book struck me.
It spurred me to deeper reflection. As we are a cell in God's most Holy Body, we embody a piece of God's perfection. When we perfect ourselves, we glorify God because we manifest a piece of His perfection on earth. We must encourage each other to be perfect because it makes God's image clearer to us, like putting pieces of the puzzle together to make a whole picture—God's Holy Image.
To imprint the message deeper in my soul, the priest in his homily gave a fresh take on the gospel reading about paying taxes, when Jesus had asked whose image was on the coin. And the reply was Caesar's and He had said, "Give to Caesars what is Caesars and to God what belongs to God." The priest then asked, "if the coin held Caesar's image, what holds God's image that should be given back to God?"
After a brief pause, he said, "WE hold God's image… Therefore, we must give our entire being back to God."
I was deeply moved to the core of my being.
God does not just want a piece of me or just a part of my life. He wants all of me; Everything that I am, I owe it back to God.
And St Therese did just that, as a child, she surrendered herself and entrusted her whole being to God.
Do with me as you please.
"You are a muffin right now. But God dreams that you shall become a beautiful cupcake—"
"Someday…" I sighed.
"He wants you to see that dream, share that dream and even live that dream now, not someday, when you're no longer living this earthly life, but now, so people will see that Jesus can truly bring the dead back to life, can perform wondrous miracles in the here and now—"
"—can turn muffins into cupcakes now," I added with a smile. If He can multiply the fish and bread, He can definitely turn this muffin into a cupcake.
I sighed and took a bite off the delectable cupcake. And I sighed with pleasure.
"God's pleasure will be immense when He sees your transformation from a muffin to a cupcake."
My heart dilated with joy because I believed.
And that's all it takes for a miracle to happen.
Last Wednesday morning, the Feast of the Ascension, I joined the mini-retreat for moms. Fr. Nathan Cromly of the Eagle Eye Ministries talked about Eagle Moms. And I thought, what a powerful image—a mom with an eye of an eagle, looking out for her eaglet even from afar. This image stuck with me because I have an eaglet who'd soon be flying out of my nest and going to college.
That evening, at Galleria Mall, five much-sought-after schools sent out their admission representatives to talk about college applications and admission: Harvard, Standford, Georgetown, Duke and Penn State.
My daughter, who is a Junior, is looking at these schools. I always tell her, in an echo of what my college teacher had once told us, “Aim for the moon, so when you fall, you will land on the trees. Don’t just aim for the trees, for you may land on the ground.”
And so there we were. My daughter sat beside me, listening.
Come Q&A and here was my little eaglet, the second who would raise her hand amidst hundreds of students and parents in a huge ballroom of the Westin Hotel. And she asked, "What are you looking for in an applicant?"
I smiled and thought, that was a very simple question, but probably the one question that hounded all these students and parents who attended the event, and it drew the whole panel to give their thorough and comprehensive answers. And these were the answers (not verbatim because I did not transcribe, but as how it was ingrained in my mind):
“No, we don't look at just the SAT and ACT scores, although these are part of the criteria, and would ensure that the student would be able to handle the rigor of our academic load.”
“And no, we don't look at just the transcripts either, but these too would also reveal their historical performance, their consistency, and discipline with which they would handle academic responsibility.”
“The above two are just quantitative and objective measurements that we look at the bare minimum.”
“We are looking for something more because many students would be able to meet the above criteria. But what would set a student apart from the others?”
“We look at the student as a whole person.”
“No, we're not just looking at the well-rounded student, the student who is involved in many different and varied extra-curricular activities. We want to see the quality of the involvement of these students, not jut mere memberships and attendance to multitudes of clubs.”
“We also look at the well-angled student, the one who would own her passion and purpose, the one who would have the drive to go beyond what is expected of the norm, and push herself to be good at what she is doing and even not be afraid to explore and expand her own capabilities.”
“In short, we want to see a student who is deeply in touch with his identity and uniqueness--
...one who would embrace his voice that would show up in his essay,
...one who is deeply authentic to excel in his field of interest and endeavor,
...one who is true to himself,
because this student will make the greatest good and impact in the society.”
And I guess, for all of these schools, that's one thing that they hope to be their legacy, to send out men and women who can make a difference to the society as a whole.
Quoting Oscar Wilde, one of the speakers said, “Be yourself, because everyone else is already taken."
And I admire these institutions of excellence. I perceive that they see themselves as fertile soils for seeds to grow. But first, the seeds (these students) must know what kind of plant they are and will turn out to be and seek the right kind of soil where they will thrive, flourish and bloom.
This is the same message God had been telling me this week.
When the Lord had not spoken through my angel, He spoke through events, through people around me, through books and through the priest in his homily, when he told the graduating students, "This is not the end; it is just the beginning of another phase in your life. You will be sent out there to fly."
I thought of my daughter, my eaglet, who will soon be set free from my nest, to be trained to become an eagle, out there in college.
What can I give her?
Have I given enough?
She still has many questions left unanswered. The eagle mom in me longs to protect her from the strong wind of the world that may confuse her, from the predators that may harm her, and from the vicious hunters that may kill her spirit and identity. But she must fly if she is to become an eagle herself. I cannot clip her wings and tie her to my nest. I can only equip her and send her out to face the necessary elements that will make her strong and soar the sky with confidence.
And even if, someday, she does not become an eagle mom in the metaphoric sense of the word, she will certainly become a spiritual mother to someone, for all women are called to be that at every stage in our journeys. Spiritual nurturing is part of our call because eaglets—male and female alike cannot soar the sky without the eagle moms who would nurture them.
In my writing, I too have learned to embrace my identity. I found my niche.
In my spiritual journey, I have searched for my faith, and it led me to many places…
My faith has expanded and yet has remained deeply grounded in my heritage and my identity. And I have learned to embrace my faith.
I am a Catholic.
And I love my religion…
Because I also have seen people who are deeply faithful and pious. I’ve seen the devoted, the profound, the mystics, the Desert Fathers, the wise, the happy, the joyful, loving, and the humble… these small and great saints alike who would be salt and light to the world.
I love the mysteries of this religion… because it makes me more in touch with my humanity and limitations. It makes me accept that there will always be things in this world that I cannot fathom and answer…
Like how the Bread and Wine would turn into the real Body and Blood of Christ, that would heal my spiritual disease and transform my body into His body, the viral antidote to my weakness and sinfulness...
His Body in me, His Blood in me, and His Cells in me,
Because what I eat, I become.
Him in me,
I go to Church not for the music, because even without the uplifting effect of this, there is something more that uplifts me.
Not for the preacher, because even when this fail,
there is something more that will speak in and to me,
Not just for the community and fellowship,
because even when this too shall fail,
there is something more that binds me to Him.
I go because of His real and physical presence in the Eucharist, He, Who nourishes me, no matter where I am, no matter the language with which the Mass is spoken and celebrated, no matter who the priest who celebrates it.
The Eucharist is the same in form and substance,
One Baptism in Christ.
Because He had promised and He fulfilled His promise: "I shall be with You until the End of time."
And for me as a Catholic, it is in the Blessed Sacrament, the tabernacle where He assumes the form of the bread so my humanity could be united with His Divinity in the most physical sense.
And I know this is hard to accept and He had said so. In fact, many of His disciples deserted Him when He started talking about `eating His flesh and drinking His blood.' It’s something that logic and reasoning cannot comprehend.
But isn't that what faith is all about? When you no longer go by what logic and reason would tell you?
And as soon as I have embraced this identity, I found my niche—a Christian Catholic writer.
Catholicism is where I’m fed and nurtured. This is what I understand and what makes the greatest sense for me. This is where I thrive. This is where I give back.
But just when I thought I understood it all, my angel spoke, "You have not fully understood what it is to be Catholic."
And he surprised me. "You've not spoken much lately," I said.
I sensed his smile, and he said, "Because you've been doing much of the talking."
"Don't be. It is to be. Now that you’ve found your voice use it for God's greater glory and honor. Do not stifle your spirit anymore. Speak with freedom and liberty. As long as you’re confident of God's love burning in your mouth. All the words—whether praise or rebuke, whether words of encouragement or enlightenment—it shall fulfill its purpose, for the love that wraps around each word would be like a balm. Even though the words may be like a sharp sword that would cut through the heart, the healing balm of kindness, mercy, forgiveness and love shall instantly dress the wound and make it whole again. Nothing that comes from the mouth of the Lord will cause chaos and disunity but only to those hearts who are not yet ready. So discern the proper time when you shall speak in the name of the Lord because there is a proper time and there is necessary preparation for it, the way Queen Esther prayed and fasted for three days before she took upon herself to speak to the King on the people's behalf. You must also assume that same spirit of humility and submission to the Holy Spirit within you, to only go when summoned by the Lord and to speak only when prompted. With freedom comes restraint and prudence so you may know that what you do, you do for the glory of the Lord and not to satisfy yourself."
I turned to him and asked him. "So what is it that I have not yet understood about my religion?"
"It is all Universal and All-embracing."
I sat astounded, and the words of the Lord came upon me. "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God."
It came to me that as a Catholic, I must be all-embracing of all faiths. To embrace people of different faiths and seek to understand their faith is part of my Catholic identity.
“You must look for what unites and not what separates,” my angel said.
Then I came to understand, and my eyes were opened.
I saw how the people of other faith religions are in quest of the same thing—they are all in search of their identity, their purpose, the meaning of their lives, how to express their passion, to live for something bigger than themselves. They are all in search for God.
Even the pagans and the unlearned who have no knowledge of God would manifest this inner desire and this search by worshiping the sun or nature for lack of knowledge of whom to worship.
"They just have this inner instinct to worship something bigger than themselves. And how apt that they should find the sun to represent You, my Lord," I whispered in awe. "For aren't You like the sun, my Lord? Planets, the stars, the moon and other celestial bodies have their places in our milky way and revolve around the sun in such an orderly fashion. And as long as they stay where they should be and rotate in the manner that they are to rotate, everything is in order and harmony. But when one stays out of their own orbit then they collide with the others and cause harm and damage. Aren't we like those planets and celestial bodies, my Lord? We have our own place in this vast universe. It is so big that we should not even worry about using someone else's space. Yet when we stay out of our own orbit, that's when chaos happens and when we hurt ourselves and others. If only we are more mindful of the sun, that is You, our God, as the center of our existence, to revolve and rotate around You in a focused way, we would all live in unity, harmony, and peace."
"Truly, oh Lord, in our differences and uniqueness we can only come to unity with You and in You, because we are all made in your image and likeness. Only in You shall we achieve that oneness of body, mind, and spirit.
But to those who refuse your Lordship, who refuse to acknowledge their identity as Your mirror image, who refuse to surrender to Your love, who considers themselves or the world as their masters, you shall become like a sword that would divide—divide the father from the son, the mother from the daughter, the siblings from each other, for they shall not be of one mind and purpose. They shall be pursuing their own purposes and interests.
Only under Your Lordship shall we all be united—You, being the vine and us your branches. Apart from You, we separate ourselves from the body that is the Church. And You do not want to scatter but rather gather your people so we may all be one just as You and the Father are one. In humility, obedience, and self-knowledge we will all come together in peace, unity, and harmony."
Today, the Sunday of the Ascension, we remember the great event of Jesus gloriously embracing and claiming His full identity as Son of God and Son of Man—True God and True Man.
By assuming His throne in Heaven, He opened the gates of heaven to mankind again and gave him back his full stature of being a child of God. Jesus had united mankind once again to the Father. He had undone the separation that happened at the Garden of Eden when man rejected God and disobeyed His command, and in turn, God had rejected man and cast him out of the Garden. The Feast of the Ascension is the turnaround of the casting out of mankind from heaven. Today celebrates the opening of the Gate of Eden to mankind, and anyone who believes in this mystery will be welcomed.
And it is our duty as Christians to spread this good news to everyone. We are not to close the gates of heaven to people because Jesus had opened it to everyone. Who are we to do that? Our role on this earth is to invite as many people to enter heaven and come to eternal life. For what is eternal life?
"This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ (John 17:1-11)."
That is eternal life—full knowledge of God.
And that is our duty according to the Lord before He ascended, "to go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."
This was His specific command…
To make disciples of our children, of our family, of our friends and relatives, of everyone by making sure they are baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—no matter what Christian denomination.
We have received One Baptism.
That is the source of unity of all Christians that we are all baptized in the same manner, with water, in the name of the Holy Trinity.
But we do not stop there, we are to teach them to observe what Jesus had commanded … and what is His greatest commandment?
“Jesus had replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
“Yes, this is how you are to teach men,” my angel said, “because love is the universal language that crosses all borders and barriers of dialect, race, culture, age, gender and all your differences. Love is the one that would unite mankind. It is your common identity because God is love. You must mirror His image, that is love. Let there be love and there shall be peace, unity and harmony. And that is your identity and the one thing you should seek to achieve in self-knowledge—to know how to be love in the middle of everything, how to express your love.”
“Your identity and purpose mix and intermingle with the means that you use to express love to God and to His children,” he continued. “You can express it in various ways—your work, your everyday activities, your writing, the songs that you sing, and so on and so forth, but it only becomes the perfect way of expression when done in the light of God, when done for His greater glory, purpose and in accordance to His will. Knowledge of God as the Perfect Image is a prerequisite for the knowledge of you as His mirror image.”
As though to reinforce the message, I hear in my mind St. Catherine of Siena again, saying, "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire."
And St. Francis de Sales, "Do not wish to be anything but what you are and try to be that perfectly."
And St. Therese of Lisieux, “Perfection consists in doing His will, in being that which He wants us to be.
And finally, St. Peter, the first Pope as he spoke in 1Peter 4:8-11, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen."
And my angel finally said, “To be a saint is simply to be true to yourself, to your identity as a child of God.”
To heed to Jesus' prayer that all may be one as the He and Father is one.
To dispel the spirit that separates us and embrace the spirit that unites us
For in the end we are all in this same journey
Seeking our purpose
Seeking the meaning of our life here on earth
Seeking for fulfilment
Seeking for real happiness, peace, joy, love, belongingness
Wanting to live a life of purpose, of leaving a true and lasting legacy to the world
Seeking for the power bigger than ourselves
These are the things that unite us
And I as a Catholic will strive to live as one,
To embrace all faith without losing my own
To embrace all tradition without losing my own
To embrace all race, gender, beliefs without losing my own sense of identity and giving up my own beliefs.
"It is a tight rope to tread," I said.
"That's why you need the power of the Holy Spirit because it is that power that will make people believe, through the signs and wonders manifested through His power. It is the only way that people will come to believe in what you believe in."
The power of the Holy Spirit.
Forty days ago, I found my voice and came out a new man through the power of His Resurrection.
Today, I embrace my true identity as an heir through His Ascension. Now, I look forward to Pentecost, to be empowered to live out this call and identity, so I can fulfill that part of my call.
I have received, now I must give.
It is not enough to enbrace Him as my personal Lord and Savior. I am called to embrace everyone as He embraced them all in His love.
I can only love in the same way through the power of His Spirit.
The Paraclete is coming that He may unite all men into one family. Let us put an end to our dissensions and prove ourselves to be members of the brotherhood established by the preaching of the Gospel.
"Be prudent and watch in prayer so the Holy Spirit may come upon you in His fullness," my angel said. "Remember what Jesus had said, "'When the spirit comes, the spirit of truth, He will give testimony of me and you shall give testimony'."
"He is the power of the Most High so you too will have power and not rely in your own strength and own wisdom. Everything shall come from the Spirit."
My heart swelled in excitement and I thought, "The Spirit will help us become Soldiers of Light to combat against three enemies -- the devil, the world and ourselves (our vile weaknesses and earthly passions and inclinations)."
Let us therefore desire to receive Him and we who have already received Him in the Sacrament of Confirmation must prepare ourselves to be imbued with the grace to release His power within us so He may no longer be stifled by fear, ignorance and concupiscence.
Now I understand when you say, my Lord:
“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12)
I woke up from my dream.
I was in a running race, and when a lot of runners had slowed down to a walk, I was still running. The song Titanium played in the background. It kept me going and drove my feet on the pavement, up and down the road. God had used that song a million times to inspire me to go on.
I am Titanium. You shoot me down, but I won't fall. I am Titanium.
And in my dream, I had gained distance and ran with the leaders of the race. And I woke up.
God had spoken in my dream, through the song.
Yesterday I was filled with self-doubt about my writing. I had gotten feedbacks, and I had to rewrite the first few chapters, again, for the nth time; I could no longer remember.
The dream reminded me. I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose. Fire away, fire away.
He wanted me to keep on writing, keep on standing even when bullets of criticisms shoot me and machine guns of editorial comments about the draft barrage me. He wanted me to be bulletproof from these, to harden myself from the blows. He reminded me that for as long as I still feel sensitive about my work, I had not arrived at the detachment that was required of me. I still considered it to be my work. Yet, I knew even though I wrote it, the message was not mine. I was just a `hand piece'. But I was an imperfect one. So the message was delivered in an imperfect style that still needed to be perfected. And it was that style that was being targeted, skinned and tested in the fire so the message can shine. That was why it hurt because it was my style in the line of fire. I had to keep on trying until I achieved that perfect style, rewrite and edit relentlessly.
And at one point, I just wanted to cry and give up. This draft was rejected early last year. And I took the blow so hard that I hibernated and shoved the work in the shelves. It gathered dust for a long time. I only picked it up after a year. Why? Because it kept on beckoning me. And I will never be able to rest until I heeded that voice that kept telling me I need to write that book.
Clarity. Another song that hit me when I was running. I didn’t know why that song pierced my heart when I had no relationship of that sort, tragic or insane, that would make me relate to that song. And yet the lyrics nagged and my eyes watered. And then it hit me.
You are a piece of me, I wish I didn't need
Chasing relentlessly, still fight and I don't know why.
If our love is tragedy why are you my remedy
If our love's insanity why are you my clarity.
It was my writing dream, that piece of me that I wished I didn't need, that I've been chasing relentlessly and still fought, and I didn't know why. Yes, my writing dream had remained to be my remedy for this soul that ached to express itself in this world of noise. My writing dream was my insanity and yet also my clarity.
And when I realized it, I cried. I cried my heart out. There was no escaping my writing dream. It will continue to nag and bug until I heeded its voice, my writing dream.
And then the next song played, Don't You Worry, Child, the song that my Lord would use to comfort me.
Don't you worry child, heaven has a plan for you. Don't you worry now.
Three songs spoke to me. And now, it was speaking again to comfort me, encourage and tell me not to give up, that this road will have a lot of challenges and hurdles, the road to my writer's life. And just like running, my body will ache, my muscles will turn sore, my breath will run out but I only need to put one foot in front of the other and continue running, and I will reach my goal of 30 minutes every day.
One word at a time, and I shall achieve my goal, that too.
I remembered the book, The Artful Edit. It used Gatsby as an example. Fitzgerald, the author, edited his book for probably a million times, who knows, until he thought it was perfect and it was published and had become a classic. So successful was it that it had become a must-read book in high school, part of the curriculum for English composition and literature. And yet now, editors would still find many things in it that still could be edited to make it better, because the rules had changed, the styles had changed. And the two other books I had read on editing would speak about these changes in styles: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and The First Five Pages.
Then my daughter pointed out that these books may have run out of style too. They were published in 2007, 2004 and 2000 respectively. And I cringed because I had depended so much on these three books when I edited the entire manuscript the third time since I picked it up early this year.
Too fast pace, lacking the main character's voice, too much information—these were my daughter's observations of my first chapter of the manuscript. All these required another rewrite. And with the last one, I discarded the entire first chapter and started with a blank page. I realized, the voice of my character in chapter 25 was so different from the one in chapter 1. He had opened himself like a rose, and started as a bud that slowly and silently bloomed before my eyes.
I shoved my hands into my hair and cradled my head. When will this editing stop?
“You're pulling your hair again.”
I jolted. He was back, my angel. "You weren't around to hold my hands," I told him.
Yes, these past few days, I've been running on my own. Inspirations came in glimpses and were like flashes of light. I felt like my angel of inspiration deserted me. "You said you would not, but you did."
The tone of my voice challenged him. I realized I was wrestling with my guardian angel again, just like Jacob. He wrestled and wrestled until the break of day.Then the angel struck his hip, when it was apparent that Jacob would prevail over him. But in the end, Jacob sought the angel's blessing, for he was God's face in human form. Yes, I can wrestle with my angel and even with God, but in the end, I knew I needed God's blessings, and I know He'd bestow it through His angel.
"I never left you. I just did not talk," he said.
"Because you didn't want me to. If there's one command the Lord had stressed more than the others, it's to respect your will. I was to watch and guard your every step and protect you, but I must respect your will."
“My will?” And then I realized I had doubted his identity, his presence, and existence. And I thought I was better off without listening to his voice because I may be led astray and be deceived if I discerned him wrong. So he remained silent. He respected my will.
"Forgive me. I doubted you." I'm amazed he had not struck me like the angel who struck Zechariah dumb when he doubted the angel's message.
"If it had been Gabriel the Archangel, yes, he would have struck you dumb," my angel said. "But no, you're not Zechariah, and I'm not an archangel. I am your guardian angel."
Zechariah. He mentioned it as though to remind me of another Zechariah.
"I read the book of Zechariah, and I realized I had not given you the respect that you deserve, my lord," I said. Yes, that was how Zechariah addressed his angel—my lord, with small letters, not capitalized one, to distinguish him from the Lord.
"You are my angel," I said, "but you're also a mighty being created by the Lord to be His hands to guide me and protect me. I have not treated you accordingly, according to your stature. Forgive me for my insolence, my lord. You’re His divine representative here on earth. You’re His emissary. You do as He says. My mind cannot fathom the mysteries, and I will not delve into it unless you enlighten me. You have knowledge of good and evil. You chose to obey the Lord and remained in Him and with Him. Therefore you’re an extension of Him, like His hands that will not move of its own accord, unless willed by the Lord, its owner. I, therefore, submit to your counsel and guidance as I submit to the Lord."
"Your repentance is your forgiveness," he said. "I do not condemn you. Neither will the Lord. In the end, the words that you speak, all the words, will be the ones that will condemn you at the end of your life. So be careful and choose to be silent unless heeded and summoned to speak. And speak only what you deem to be true, for there is no guilt in innocence."
"And what if I speak something that is not true without meaning to, when I make a mistake?”
"Truth seeks the light, so falsehood is exposed. And truth thrives in humility. Admit your mistake, make amends and recompense and move on."
"And how do I know when it's truth and not a lie that I speak?"
"A tree is known by the fruit it bears. Truth bears the fruits of peace and joy."
"Peace and joy," I whispered.
"And humility, most importantly,” he said. “So why were you pulling your hair again?
“I had to rewrite Chapter 1 of my manuscript.”
He knew. "I'm tired of editing and rewriting. When will it ever be good enough? I have gone through it so many times. It has been ingrained in my mind, the characters lived and breathed with me. I used these three books on editing—"
"Three, that is a good sign," he said.
The Power of Three, I thought and smiled.
“But will I ever be good enough?”
“You offend the Lord when you say that!”
I shuddered at the ominous tone in my angel's voice. It was a grave warning.
“Everything that the Lord had created was good. He declared it to be good. It is false humility, a lie to say you can never be good enough, to say that you are not good enough. You are the mirror image of the Lord. Understand that? A mirror... of His Divine Image.”
I shook and trembled as I nodded my head. My angel sounded terrible to my spirit's ears.
“And like a mirror, you are nothing when you do not behold His image. Did you hear me? Nothing. But when you behold His image you are everything. You shall reflect all His goodness, His kindness, His greatness, and His love. Understand? You can be everything in Him.”
“Yes, yes, I can be everything in Him. But without Him I am nothing.” I cried and trembled.
My angel relented and said in a softer voice that comforted me, “You are His masterpiece. He, the Author of your life will not grow tired of editing you, His grand masterpiece. Each time you make a mistake, He will pick up the eraser and wipe away your mistakes. Each time you write a crooked line, He will straighten it. Each time. Each time. You are His masterpiece. You understand, dear child? He wants you to be perfect just as He is perfect.”
Tears streamed down my face. “He will not grow tired of editing me?”
“Remember your three songs,” he said. “Play it whenever you feel discouraged. And the three books, read and reread until your work had become a masterpiece. Do not grow tired and weary because He did not grow tired and weary with you, His masterpiece in the making.”
I nodded and wiped away my tears. My heart dilated from the breath of God's fresh air. Don't you worry, child, heaven has a plan for you. My weakened muscles started to move. I am Titanium. Shoot me down, and I won't fall. I will chase relentlessly because writing is my clarity.
“Did you know that that song is also Jesus' song for you?”
“Clarity. You are a piece of Him that He’s been chasing relentlessly.”
I cried at the thought. It shook me to the bones because in my mind I imagined and saw Jesus, heard Him as though He spoke the words of the song, `If our love is tragedy why are you my remedy?’ He thirsted for me and my love. And this thirst, I had the power to quench. I was His remedy for His thirst.
Jesus, on the cross, mangled and bleeding was a great tragedy. He had cried `I thirst,’ and in my mind, He seemed to speak, `If our love's insanity, why are you my clarity.’ Insanity, indeed that this Lord of heaven and earth should come down and take the form of man, the all-powerful and Almighty God to become the all-helpless baby. That only proved how much He loved me, His clarity, that He loved me tremendously, enough to leave Heaven and live on earth so I can live in heaven when I leave earth. And He did it all for me because I was His masterpiece in the making. He laid down His life for me. I was His clarity. I showed Him what He was willing to do to save me, the immensity of His love. He laid down His life for me.
I picked up my pen and started rewriting.
I will also not grow tired of editing and revising until this masterpiece was good enough. No, not just good enough. Until it was perfect before His eyes because He will make it perfect when I could not.
I did not want to make a disposable trinket. I wanted a diamond that would glitter in the sunlight, a masterpiece. Right now I still see gold wrapped in ore. I was the ore, and God's message the gold. Fire needed to burn the ore and it will hurt because I was the ore. I will have to die, so the Lord's message will emerge pure… pure gold, to die to myself as He died for me.
No longer will I ask how long still or how much more edits still? My Lord will declare the time, and I shall wait.
In the meantime, I will continue to edit, edit and edit and I will not give up until this piece had become a true masterpiece, worthy to be called the Lord's masterpiece. In the process, I too will grow to be God's masterpiece, the Lord's hand piece for His message.
"I never realized until now that the Bible would have so many signs and symbols. It's like a treasure buried by the inspired authors," I told my angel. "The frankincense, myrrh, and gold—it's amazing that these symbolize Christ's role as priest, prophet, and king."
"And mirrors your call as priest, prophet, and king."
I thought that was right.
I had a call to pray and worship -- priestly role,
to preach, teach and spread the Good News-- prophetic role,
and the call to serve and minister through my work-- kingly role.
"The Power of Three," he said, and I laughed.
Indeed, there it was again.
"You know why the use of signs and symbols?" he said.
I raised my eyebrows. Why, indeed?
"Because you don't want to throw pearls to the pigs who would merely trample on these treasures. Some truths are hard to swallow, so you hide it in symbols. The graver the truth, the more powerful the symbol. But be careful with symbols because some meanings of symbols change through time and events."
“The cross used to be a symbol of shame,” he continued. “Death through the cross used to be very demeaning and associated with heinous crimes. But Jesus changed its meaning. Now the symbol of the cross means salvation and freedom from our crimes and sins. The cross is honored and glorified in memory of Him who allowed himself to be hanged on such a demeaning wood, a tree so that those who embrace this tree, this cross will have life. It is the antidote for the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil which gave us death. This is the tree of life, the cross, and its fruit is Jesus, our source of eternal life. Just like the symbol of the serpent, which used to denote evil and the cause of our death. But when Moses took a serpent and mounted it on a pole, it denoted healing for those who believed.”
“But there are times when something becomes both a symbol and a sign, like the cross. The symbol of the cross had become the Sign of the Cross. Why do you make the sign of the Cross? Remember the door post that the Israelites had to mark with the blood of the lamb, so the angel of death will pass over them and spare their firstborn child from death? In the same manner, the Sign of the Cross marks you as a child who had been saved by the shedding of the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus.”
“It is a sign of salvation. So do not be ashamed to make the Sign of the Cross. By it, you mark yourself as a child of God. Early Christians signaled to other Christians their belief through the Sign of the Cross. It was a sign that they are to gather together at some catacomb and celebrate the breaking of the bread, away from the eyes of Roman soldiers who were ordered to kill them. It was a powerful sign of unity and community, of fellowship that they belonged to a church that believed in one faith—that Jesus Christ had risen and is alive, among them, with them and in them through the breaking of the bread. So make the Sign of the Cross with as much reverence as you have in your heart for by the Cross you have been saved.”
“Don't make the Sign of the Cross in haste like you are swatting and shooing away flies, mosquitoes, and gnats.”
I lowered my head, ashamed and nodded.
"So do you know the difference between a sign and a symbol?"
I sat in silence. No, I didn’t. "That is a good question," I said.
"Funny how you compliment me to hide your ignorance."
I turned red—a sign of my pretentiousness. "Alright, I don't know. That is really a good question because I don't know how to answer that. My best guess is that a symbol is a subjective representation of a belief. It can change. When it has transformed into an objective representation of truth and reality, it becomes a sign."
"So bury the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God through signs and symbols,” he said, “just like the parables. So they will look but not see, and they will hear but not understand."
I marveled at this. "And it is through the Holy Spirit that I'm able to decode the hidden message, to unearth a parable within a parable, within a parable."
I remembered the Russian doll. You pry open one and inside you find the same doll but smaller. And when you open it, you find another smaller one, and so on and so forth.
And it came to me, another hidden meaning for the Parable of the Sower for a writer like me.
His words of inspirations would fall on many aspiring writers. But the words would fall on different paths—the unbelieving hearts, the rocky ground where the word will be received with joy but they have no root, so they fall away in the time of trial, and then there are those writers who hear but as they go along, they are choked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life, and they fail to produce mature fruit.
"I don't want to be those kinds of writers," I told my angel. "I want to be a rich soil where His words of inspiration will bear fruit and nourish my readers. I want to be a moist and fertile soil."
"And you shall be, for as long as you continue to drink the water of prayer, bodily disciplines, and spiritual reading,” he said. “God will nurture the word with His living water, air and light."
I smiled in my musings. There it was again, water. Leitmotiv.
"And symbolism," my angel added, reading my thoughts. "If He is the living water, you shall be like a mikvah."
"What?" Then I remembered Anne Rice's book. She described mikvah as a pool that the Jews used for purification where water flows and drains continuously.
So if I am to inspire as a writer, I need to be like a vessel that captures the water and has a hole that allows the water to flow freely so it does not stagnate. To become like a mikvah—a vessel of God's living water that purifies—I shuddered at the immensity of the call.
And I cried.
"Why do you cry?"
"Because I am not a mikvah. I am more like a broken vessel… a leaking clay pot."
"But don't you see, it is because of your leakiness and brokenness that makes the water flow freely—the living water. Remember, the water that drenches the soil will fulfill its purpose and does not come back to the heavens without having done what it had been sent to do… to moisten the dry soil of men. You just need to listen."
"In the silence of your heart. In the prayer of the quiet, where you do not speak, but you merely sit and wait for Him to speak. To say, `Speak Lord, your servant is listening.' To be ready to obey when He speaks, because the antidotes of pride and disobedience are humility and obedience."
I was struck. I remembered St. Bernard's writing regarding the ear, of how it was the instrument of our fall. It was through the ears that the words of temptations were whispered. Therefore, God had to keep the ears intact. We may not see Him, but we shall hear Him. It will be through the ears that we shall be brought back to Him. 'Hear o sinner so that you will see.' Everyone was blinded, but the ear was left intact. Therefore those who hear need to believe before they will see. To believe is to see, and not, to see is to believe. Faith. That is faith. And it will be conferred by hearing. And to hear, someone needs to proclaim… a prophet…
My thoughts ran like a train on mag lev. My angel had to pull it back to a screeching halt.
"Did you not wonder that when you read, the ear hears? There's a voice that speaks in the mind when the eye does its function."
So I paused and turned back my attention to him. Read and hear a voice. So I did. And yes, there it was. I heard it! My voice, my real voice. Deep in my mind. It is beautiful. It is the divine voice that speaks to my Divine Lord, his mirror voice image within my soul. Created in His image and likeness. My soul. Light for light. Love for love.
Once again, my angel pulled me back to a halt.
"Conform your natural voice to that divine voice. A voice lesson of sorts. Make it as your standard. Soon you shall speak your divine voice in the natural way. Then the ears of the called ones will hear," he said.
I nodded. I remembered the lecture on Death and Dying. My teacher said the ear is the last sense that goes away when one is dying and dies. So whisper to the ear of your beloved. Tell the departing soul your prayer intentions that you want to raise to heaven.
"Listen to the silence," my angel blurted through my thoughts. I was running a commentary again. I smiled sheepishly and fixed my attention on him. "That is where God is. Listen to the white noise. That is where you can speak to Him. Ignore all the other noise. Seek that static sound. It's like a radio frequency to the spiritual realm. It's a frequency where you and God can communicate apart from this world. It's a frequency where He can impart truth to you. It's a frequency where you feel relaxed and calm and joyful and happy. It's the frequency of prayer and meditation."
"You're right,” I said. “In the morning I feel like my mind's molecules have scattered everywhere and I had to draw them all back into me and unite them to God's Spirit so I can hear Him well. Otherwise, it just collects all these noises from around me and feeds me with all sorts of worthless and useless information. But when I gather them together and unite them with my body and spirit then my soul hears God clearly. It's like it had filtered out all the noise around and only feeds me with God's voice. Then I start hearing Him talk to me through people around me, events around me, books I read and just a silent knowing of what He wants of me."
"It signifies that all your bosons had gathered together,” he said, “and all your senses are recollected and waiting for Him to speak. Go to that frequency as often as you can throughout the day, and He shall lead you and I can guide you."
"Look it up," he said and I googled.
"It's some subatomic particle that's too technical for my dull brain to understand," I said.
"To listen in God's radiofrequency, a frequency where you can discern His will, is to gather these particles together."
"Gather—oh, you mean, when I come to His presence before I pray and after I read His words…"
"Yes, what do you do?"
"I collect my scattered thoughts and put them on a leash then I let silence settle in my mind. Wipe it blank. I listen to the sound of silence. It's like collecting back my thoughts when I wake up to remind myself of who I am, where I came from, where I'm going, like what you said…. Oh, it's recollection! I collect my scattered bosons."
"That's how you shall put yourself in God's presence. Stay in that SRF throughout the day and you shall be calm and at peace at all times, well disposed to hear His voice and commands, and obey His will."
"Just a code for you, a symbol of sorts: Spiritual Radiofrequency."
"The white noise…"
"Listen to it."
I did, and I noticed that when I was anxious and worried, I didn't hear the white noise. Or when I had negative thoughts about other people. I had to ask pardon for those thoughts before I could hear the white noise again.
So that's why Jesus first greeting to his anxious and fearful disciples was "Peace be with you," because without peace they cannot hear Him. It was imperative that the apostles and disciples let go of anxiety, fear and worry for them to hear Him, to forgive and be at peace with one another, to hear His voice. It was even more crucial when He would ascend to heaven because they would no longer see Him but would depend on their spiritual ears to hear His voice from within, the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Peace be with you. Be at peace with yourself and with one another because unrest and absence of peace will block the SRF.
A sort of tampering of the Spiritual Radiofrequency.
So I started to listen for the white noise during my runs. I noted that it was easier to hear and dwell on the SRF when I was outside because it resembled the sound of the gentle wind constantly blowing and rustling through the leaves-- swoooosh, the merging sound of cicadas-- chhhchhhchhh, the sound of flowing water chshchshchsh.
The sound of silence.
My angel seemed pleased.
Search for that SRF. It's like looking at 3D illusions. Once you break through it, you see a different realm and dimension. You'll see that the waves and patterns that you encounter in this world have a deeper meaning. You find a parable within a parable within a parable. The more you look deeper into it, the more your eyes open to a different image and reality, to different signs and symbols.
I vowed never to underestimate the power of signs and symbols again.
"Help me thank the Lord," I told my guardian angel.
"For what?" he asked.
I smiled and presented him the full draft of my manuscript, the first book of a trilogy.
"I wouldn't have made it this far. I know I have more distance to cover but there's no stopping now. I have come a long way—from the stressed-out, multi-tasking, work-from-home mom, to a disciplined writing disciple.”
“You've evolved,” he said.
"The power of three," I said. "I wouldn't have accomplished this much in my writing had I not heeded your call to discipline myself during the 40 days of Lent. Three things you required of me on those sorrowful days—PRAY, READ and RUN—led to this glory. I didn’t know how powerful those 40 days of mortification could be.”
"The power of forty," he said.
"Leitmotiv," I said and laughed.
“So have you done your homework?” he said.
“I did. I realized that the Bible had a lot of recurring themes, leitmotivs, but these two numbers tend to recur more— 40 and 3.”
“Forty years in the desert,” I said, “for the Israelites to journey and reach the Promised Land; but for Jesus, it was just forty days in the desert of temptation, and He was purified of all earthly motives before He started His ministry. That was my forty days of Lent, it purified my motives for my writing ministry. Forty days as well, from His Resurrection until His Ascension to heaven. And I am living and celebrating these glorious days of the Easter season until the Feast of the Ascension on May 28, 2017. The Power of Forty.”
“And the Power of Three?” he asked.
“The Trinity. The Mystery of the One God in Three Persons—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And using another leitmotiv,” I said, my eyes dilated with excitement, “WATER, which I discovered to be the one that would be mentioned from Genesis to Revelation in a recurring way—I discovered the mystery of the Trinity.”
“Water… H20,” I said. “One molecular structure, two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen, yet can exist in three forms: liquid, solid and gas, and remains the same—just like God.”
My angel nodded. This spurred me to continue, encouraged. “All three existed in the beginning, the Wind, the Word but it was the Water that covered the earth. Water that would be essential—that would compose a huge part of our human body, 55-60%. Water that would flood the earth, water that would part into two to free the Israelites from Egypt and slavery, water that they would cross to go to the Promised Land, water that would baptize, wash away our sins and make things new, water that would give us rebirth— to be born again, because our first birth was with water and blood, out of our mother’s womb; so to be born again is to be baptized with water, water that would come out from the pierced wound of Jesus together with the blood. Liquid water.”
My angel nodded. “And the solid part?”
“The Son, who came in a solid form, who was touched by mankind, who touched mankind. He allowed Himself to be touched, held, embraced, kissed, cuddled. Who ate and drank with mankind. The one who came down and allowed Himself to be trapped in the same mortal shell that I am entrapped. To feel the weakness and temptations of the body, and showed me that it can be overcome. The one who pierced this same mortal shell with His light and broke out of it forever. The One who assumed a new body and showed us that it can be done, and opened the path and the way for mankind to do the same— in the same manner that He did, following His way, following His footsteps.”
“Very good,” he nodded. “And then gas?”
“The Holy Spirit, of course. The one who will bestow me with supernatural gifts, to remind me that though I am a Divine Being trapped in this temporary, mortal shell, the body, He can exercise His power and perform signs and wonders through me, that this mortal shell shall no longer be able to stifle my spirit. It’s the same Spirit that turned the coward apostles into fearless and courageous disciples, who would heal the sick, raise the dead, and shed their blood to spread this Good News—that Jesus, once and for all, has freed us from this slavery of the body, saved us from the slavery of the mind, and has the capacity to release the potentials of the spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit that I anticipate to reveal more and more of Himself in the Feast of the Pentecost.”
I sensed my angel's pleasure at my answers. My spirit lifted.
"If you did not push me to discipline myself,” I added, “I wouldn't have been able to do it. Yes, during that Lenten season, you showed me how to enforce discipline on myself to nurture my body, mind and spirit. To change my habits.”
“Another three— body, mind and spirit,” he said.
“It was hard… to nurture my spirit,” I continued, “to wake up early in the morning to pray. I had to drag this mortal shell out of bed and pry open my droopy eyes. Yet these became my antidote to the viral symptom of spiritual amnesia. It’s like I had to remind myself each day of who I am, of my divine nature. The spiritual amnesia seemed to reboot my system when I sleep, so I had to reload the program at the start of the day, to remind me of my identity, where I came from, what’s my purpose and where I'm going. And I have to do it through prayer, at the start of the day, with the Word—to ponder on it and let it soak my spirit.”
“So now you know why Jesus had to wake up at dawn to pray to the Father,” my angel said. “Shackled with the same mortal shell, He was fully human, trapped with your human weaknesses. He was not born with the full knowledge that He was God. Just like you, He had to discover His identity and learn from His parents who were bestowed with the gift through the Angelic Revelation, nurtured by reading the scriptures and learned from men, and when the time came, confirmed by the Father and the Spirit at His baptism at the Jordan River."
I was silenced. God, in the form of a human, the God-Man, the Son of God and Son of Man… what a divine mystery. Unfathomable.
“Go on,” my angel interrupted my reverie.
I jolted back to my reality. Where was I? Oh… the mind.
“It was hard… to nurture my mind,” I continued. “To give up social media and blogging. Yet, these became my antidote to the viral symptom of distraction, lack of focus and noise. And I recovered a significant chunk of time for reading and learned so much from spiritual books, books on writing and editing; learned from those who've made it—the spiritual giants and the experts on writing.”
“And you realized how far still you had to go, and that you needed endurance and perseverance, which required the discipline of the body,” my angel prompted.
“Yes.” I sighed and grimaced. “It was hard… to nurture my body.”
“Was it more like... to torture your body?” my angel joked and I laughed.
“Yes,” I said, “hard to run everyday for 30 minutes. Perhaps this was the most difficult exercise of all. I realized it was my body that needed a lot of beating and mortification. It was prone to eating unhealthy food and prone to laziness, which made it hard to drag it to move and run. Yes, this mortal shell, my shackle. I had to trim down the excess weight, the flab that bears it down, trim it down with abstinence and fasting.”
“Yet, as you learned to tame it, you realized something,” he reminded me.
I smiled. That was true. “I soon realized it became my ally as it grew stronger. Nurtured by my spirit and mind at first, it eventually nurtured my mind and spirit. For when I ran, there I found silence, solitude, serenity, calm, focus, creativity, and inspiration. Much so that it would now complain and become painful when I don't push it to exercise… when I don't run. It seemed, even the body which I thought was my enemy, my shackle, had become my friend—the temple of my spirit, and the Holy Spirit.”
“Don’t forget the perks you got from the torture.”
I smiled. Perks, indeed. I’d rather call it unexpected and welcome side effects—trimmed belly, less flabby abs, and stronger core that warded off my chronic back pain.
“Now you know why you needed to undergo the 40 days of Lent.”
“Yes, I realized that Lent would prepare my body, mind, and spirit for His next spiritual gift—the gift of the Holy Spirit—the Pentecost. Now, I look forward to this most glorious event. Even with the gifts He had bestowed upon me, He still wants to give me more. Oh, how generous is my Lord. I only have to do my part, to make sure that my house is in order, ready and prepared for His coming.”
My angel nodded. “Like a thief in the night, like the bridegroom who arrived at dawn, He can come anytime to visit you. Your house, that is, your body, mind, and spirit must always be prepared and ready.”
I bowed in thanksgiving.
"That is how you can thank the Lord. Make sure His abode is always in order. So He will come to you and dwell in you. And you shall experience the mystery of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of the Father and the Son in you."
The Power of Three in me.
It sounded heavenly.
Unseat Adverbs and Adjectives with Similes, Metaphors and Leitmotifs, and Unearth Writing Treasures from the Bible
"Pulling your hair again?" My angel said.
I looked at him in despair.
"You'd be bald by the time you finish writing the book."
"I know. " I sighed. "There are too many rules on writing that I am not even sure why the Lord chose me as His messenger: I, who am not well adept at grammar and syntax."
"The Lord chooses the weak to shame the strong," my angel said. "So what is your problem?"
"Editors hate adverbs and loath imprecise and non-specific adjectives. They say the use of such weakens writing."
He nodded and said, "We wouldn't want lame writing, do we? Excise the unwanted fat and tighten the sagging skin."
He was right. Lean and trim writing, armed with muscles and 6-pack abs that punch the readers and cajole them back-- that was my dream form.
"Have you studied the Bible?"
I stared at him. He knew the answer to that question, but…. maybe I didn't.
"Not read, meditate or contemplate," he said like I was slow of hearing or understanding, "but have you looked at its structure and style? What makes it easy to read for both young and old alike, easy to translate in more languages you could imagine, and yet, interpreted and discerned in more ways than millions, making each word living and kicking?"
My eyes widened. The pages ran through my mind. Similes, metaphors, symbolism, personification, foreshadowing--
"Leitmotiv," he said.
"I could sense his disbelief that I hadn't heard of the word. As though something dawned on him, he said, "Leitmotif, perhaps?" like I would understand it with just a change in one letter. Really.
Coming to a realization and acceptance that he had a rough diamond to work with, my angel sighed and sat beside me. "Look it up," he said.
I already did, just before he spoke. "Google says leitmotiv is a recurrent theme in a literary composition," I said. "This German word became leitmotif in the late 19th century."
He nodded and said, "Weave all these styles and forms into your writing and you'd have less need of adverbs and adjectives."
"Just like that?"
"Come, I'll show you something." He brought me to the Garden of Eden again. He must had sensed my thoughts because he said, "Why do I keep on bringing you here?"
I lowered my gaze and dared not speak.
"Because this is where it all began," he said. "And unless you understand you will never understand."
He smiled and shook his head at the look on my face. "I'm not speaking in tongues," he said, "yet you fail to grasp my language. Perhaps I should speak in yours."
He pointed at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and said, "The devil is like a virus that infected that tree. When Eve and Adam ate of the fruit, they got the disease and passed it on to their children, including you. The primary manifestation of this viral malady is amnesia of your true identity. Babies are conceived with memories wiped slate clean, ready for the imprint of truth or lie. Good or evil is known and written in memory from womb to tomb.
I shook at the analogy. The scientific part of my brain whirred as I thought about the property and characteristic of a virus.
"If the devil is a virus then it cannot live without a host." I gasped when reality struck me. "The devil was created as an extension of God, just like you."
"And he thought he was God and could live apart from Him. But when he removed himself from God, he realized his impending doom. He had become like a virus separated from his life source, his host, so he must have possessed the tree, a living organism," I said.
"And was trapped in the tree that became the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil."
"Because he mutated from good to evil with his severance from God. Then he must have possessed the serpent that went near the tree and enticed Eve to eat of its fruit, thereby multiplying himself in his new hosts, mankind."
It made a lot of sense now: why Legion begged Jesus to allow them to possess the pigs after being cast out of the demoniac. They needed a host.
"There is some truth to what you said, but your knowledge is not perfect. Seek not to discover beyond your capability. That was the devil's downfall. Your next task," my angel's voice broke into my epiphany, "is to search for the leitmotifs in the Bible. It shall lead you to your anti-virals, some more potent than the others. These antidotes will help you regain your divine identity. Your memory will come back. Until then, one question will hound you for the rest of your life -- 'Who Am I?' But once you arrive at the answer, you shall cease to struggle with your writing."
Leitmotif will provide the clue to the anti-viral... the cure, I thought. What recurrent theme or symbol appears in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation?
He looked at me and his eyes softened. "Don't pull your hair with this task. You only need to call on me, you know. I don't understand why you always like to do it the hard way-- relying on your own understanding."
He shook his head and added, "Another symptom of the virus."
I gripped my pen instead of my hair. My angel gripped my hand in return, reminding me of his presence, of who he was.
I smiled and hope welled within me.
One day my angel found me slumped on my desk. He asked me why.
"Show don't tell. Show don't tell. I'm sick and tired of this rule, yet I can't seem to master it," I said.
He looked at me and sighed.
I looked back and begged him, "Please help me. Tell me what to do."
"I will not tell you. "
Tears welled in my eyes. Despair crept in my soul.
"I will show you," my angel said.
He led me to the Garden of Eden and showed me the Fall of Mankind.
"You know the story. It's been told millions of times. I want you to show me what happened. I want to see it in your eyes, in your own words," my angel said.
"Show don't tell?" I said.
He nodded. “Eve took the fruit, bit into it, and gave it to Adam,” my angel prompted.
I took a deep breath.
"Why did you do it?" Adam said. His eyes had widened. "God said not to eat of that fruit."
"Look," Eve said, "I did not die. You must have heard Him wrong. He told you you'd die as soon as you eat of it and you told me I'd die, too. But the serpent said I won’t. And now," she said spreading her arms, "I'm still alive!"
Adam squinted, his mouth pinched. Eve shrugged her shoulders then offered the half-eaten fruit. He hesitated then took it. As soon as he bit into the flesh, the tree of life burst into flames. The fire drew and sucked the light out of their bodies. When the light of life had left them, they were skinned with the mortal bodies, encased in a shell of imperfection.
Adam saw Eve with new eyes. “You are naked.”
“So are you.”
Everything around them darkened.
"What have we done?" Adam cried. He turned at Eve. "You did this. We should not have eaten of the fruit--"
"I'm sorry. I did not know."
"I told you but you did not believe me."
Eve shuddered and hugged herself, shaking.
“And God cursed them and sent one of the angels to banish them away from Eden,” my angel said. “Go on.”
Each day as Adam toiled the soil, his blood boiled. He'd scorn Eve. "If you did not trick me, we'd still be in paradise, and I didn't have to work."
"Look, the serpent tricked me. He told me we won't die. How was I to know that we'd die a slow death."
Adam sneered. "Of course, you fell for it. And you'd have to drag me along with you."
"You don't have to be so bitter. I'm the one who needs to take care of these little ones," Eve cried, drawing the baby in her arms as the other child gripped her elbow.
"Well, it's your fault. Damn this soil, and damn you." He pounded the wood, threw it on the ground and walked away, leaving Eve in tears with two bawling children.
What had she done? He was right. This was all her fault. If only she had listened. Then a voice called out to her.
"Yes, Lord," she said with bowed head.
"You know this would happen. I told Adam, but you did not believe him." The gentle voice pierced her heart.
"Yes, Lord." Eve wept.
"But you heard when I said, someday a woman just like you will undo this curse," God said.
Eve looked up at the bright light.
"Yes, her obedience will undo your disobedience."
Tears streamed down her face at His words.
"Her offspring shall crush the head of the serpent who tricked you. But until then, you and your offspring will endure the punishment of your action."
The words tore her heart apart. She winced and covered her face.
"Embrace the consequences of your deeds. Bear it with resignation, but you shall be gifted with tenacity and endurance like no other man, able to withstand the pain that goes beyond child-bearing. But the day will come when you will raise your head and look up to her who will do the right thing— who will listen to the new Adam, her offspring, who will undo everything and bring the light back to your soul. When this is all fulfilled, you will regain your dignity, your inner light, and eternal life."
She raised her eyes, hope shimmering.
It sounded so real in my ears, it's surreal. I felt like I was eavesdropping in someone else’s kitchen.
But my angel only said, “It can be better, but you’re learning. It will take time to build the muscle memory for this writing rule. Show, don't tell. Because people don't like to be told. People learn better by showing them what to do, not telling them. Even children will mimic what you show them and disobey what you tell them.”
“And God, Himself, knew it was better to show than tell,” my angel added.
“What do you mean?”
“Come, I’ll show you something,” he said.
He took me on top of the mountain. There I saw Moses holding the stone tablets.
"The Ten Commandments,” I said.
“God told the people how to love. He told them to obey what’s written on the tablets. But the people did not understand the law. They misinterpreted it. God had to show them instead,” my angel said.
“How?” I asked.
He took me to another mountain. And there I saw Jesus crucified and dead. Blood covered his mangled face and body. I trembled at the sight.
“He showed them love, humility, obedience…” my angel said. “And it worked. The blood of the martyrs could attest to this. You want a book that shows and does not tell? Read the Bible. Learn from it. That is why it is the Living Word. By showing, it allows man to listen and the Spirit to speak.”
Show don’t tell. Then they will understand.
Remember, a teacher is more effective than a preacher, because a teacher shows while a preacher tells.
Someday, I will master it, I vowed to myself. Someday. And until then, I will not grow tired of trying because Jesus showed me how.
Show don’t tell.
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