PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Sunday, February 17, 2013

 

Lenten retreat reflection: Day 6 - Civilization of service

Note to Stef: I had to limit this reflection to just this two-page section because the succeeding section talks about a new topic: pp. 24-25 http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=EOg19fGyNyoC&pg=PA24&lpg=PP1&output=html_text

This brief consideration on the literary artistry of God is too mindblowing for me to let pass. It's not because I also consider myself an artist or writer with pretense for literature, but that I have my own conversion story to tell when it comes to Bible readings/passages that are deemed to be the best that literature can be. And the passage happens to be the one where Jesus washed His apostles' feet, to the consternation of the apostles:

I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet. So you also should wash one another’s feet. I have given you an example. You should do as I have done for you. - John 13:14-15

I was already deep into charismatic community work at the time, serving the YA (young adults) or youth ministry of the community, when something in the day's gospel reading touched me during mass. I was also deep in the middle of office life back then in the secular world, my job being an 'abstractor,' a technical writer writing summaries of engineering magazines and journal articles. These two hats I wore in life seemed to be always in conflict with each other. They had their own demands, and so I always heard two divergent voices at the back of my mind. One said, "Follow Me or My own agenda, serve others even against your own preferences." The other said, "Follow your own ambition, carve a path for your own success in the world. Be the best you can, so you rise up in the corporate ladder."

Sometimes, the demand of the office to work far beyond the eight hours was directly at loggerheads with the demand of the ministry to be all-out especially during Saturdays and Sundays when everybody was free. Even though we community members were taught to offer or view our work in the secular world in terms of Christian service, treating our bosses as though we were serving God and His people, the corporate setup was generally disheartening to me. I was turned off by the superhuman demand of turning in the day's work quota, with me at the end of the day panting from so much mental exhaustion, but with only such a minimal pay to show for it, or so I perceived. There's always a surfeit of work and the dearth of compensation, or maybe it's the relatively sky-high cost of living in Manila that's the problem. Besides the temptation to always complain in terms of work burden and seemingly unjust compensation and inadequate benefits was the inherent eat-or-be-eaten culture of the corporate workplace.

At work I felt like I always had to be on the lookout for potential threats. I felt like I had to protect my job and defend my position in the pecking order. I needed to keep my eyes open for opportunities to grab, for my own advancement. (Actually, my real hidden agenda was to be the savior of my family, who was at the time depending on me as the sole breadwinner -- another story worth recalling, for I perceived it as a separate story of abuse, unintended though it might be.) The corporate law of the jungle was so pervasive, that I felt working life to be so nauseating. Every coworker was a competitor, a potential frenemy. There's this 'toxic should' of looking at everyone as a threat, whom I should keep distance from with a healthy suspicion. I couldn't rely on just anybody to share what he or she knew, for any given person surely had the same fear of losing his job to another, to 'someone better.' I, too, was perceived as a potential threat, a competitor.

Note that being a member of a covenant community didn't make me immune from the temptations of what came off as an unending episode of the TV show Survivor, with its deceptive games of outwit-outsmart-outlast. What happened was I got swallowed in it from time to time, but in case I succeeded in getting to the top and acquiring what I wanted, I always ended up asking, "For what?" It was a question, I found, that always drew a blank for an answer. That ("For what") and the other latent question "At whose expense?"

I knew in my heart that success in the world (achievement, recognition, prestige, comfort) and material satisfaction wouldn't make me happy for long, because I would tend to want for more and more of the same, because come to think of it, nothing satisfied me enough after I got what I wanted.I was some sort of a drug addict.

Given this highly toxic background in the real world, which ran in stark contrast to my parallel universe of selfless service in community, I was torn internally. I wanted out, as far as the world is concerned.

It was, therefore, such a great 'coincidence' that I would encounter that Gospel reading in which Jesus Christ deigned to wash His tired apostles' feet after a long dusty journey to somewhere. The passage was so simple, yet it touched me so profoundly. It was probably my first encounter with Jesus' divinely crazy illogic, my first encounter with paradox, for why would someone (who claimed to be God, no less) preach about downward mobility in action, unless he was a stupid sadomasochist? But deep in my heart, Jesus made so much sense; it was the voice of reason I was so harkening for, no matter how much it seemed irrational. I didn't expect it, but I shed a lot of tears when I realized how much, given the choice, I would prefer the civilization of love that Jesus was proposing to the world over the tempting options which the world offered. "I want this, Lord," I remember praying through a vision clouded over by tears but enlightened by unexpected clarity. "I prefer a life lived in love and in service of one another."

"You are always surprising in Your ways, but what a lovely, loving, lovable God you are!" continued my train of thought.

I try to keep this distant memory alive whenever life confronts me with the dilemma of choosing between self-interest and selflessness.

Comments:
late as usual: Scripture, Beauty, Art, Chesterton
 
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