Monday, May 23, 2011

Willingdon Turns 50!

    In the process of thinking over things since my last post, I thought I'd write a little bit about Willingdon's 50th anniversary. To commemorate the event, Willingdon will be holding their Sunday service of June 12th at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. I hope to be following and covering the events leading up to this over the next couple of weeks or so. Until then, I would like to start off with this announcement video for the Pacific Coliseum service, that was played at one of the Sunday services about three weeks ago:

    I'm really looking forward to this celebration of God's work in the city of Vancouver for the sake of His gospel over the past 50 years through Willingdon's legacy and impact. If you are reading this blog and would like to attend, or bring a friend, please do so! It's going to be a great service, and I'm looking forward to writing about it as things get ready over the next 20 days. See you there!

- The Wisdom Seeker

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Precious Life, Precious Death

"Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints." (Ps. 116:15 , ESV)

    The few weeks since my last post have been eventful with a number of 'firsts' - I bought car insurance for my first car for the first time, drove it for the first time with my first full tank of gas, failed my first driving test in Canada, ordered flowers for one special woman for the first time and gave a rose to another (also the first time), had my laptop battery fail after two-and-a-half years of operation. But in the midst of all that, I have still been contemplating the train of thought that I began in 'One Life Blossoms, Another Departs'. I guess this is becoming a year where God is having me contemplate life, death, mortality, meaning and teaching me important lessons through all of it.

    Recollecting the above verse in the process of thinking, I went back to a sermon that I had listened to on the morning of the memorial service for Jamie's grandmother. Delivered at Willingdon in 2004 by John Neufeld, it was titled 'The Precious Event of A Believer's Death' and covered the death of Abraham's wife Sarah in Genesis 23, and his mourning for her. It was riveting right from the beginning, with these sentences among those of its opening paragraph:

"Whenever I do a marriage ceremony I always make sure the married couple understands the words 'until death do us part'. See, I want every married couple here to understand that if Jesus delays His coming, one of you will go on ahead of the other, and the other will be left behind. That is the way of this world...What should we do when a loved one dies?...Death is the great certainty of life."

    "Do you know, that the day of your death is a very precious day to God?" Pastor John's question stopped me in my tracks. I had never thought of it like that before. He continued: "The hour of your dying is precious to the Lord, because in that hour He will call you home for that which you have been created. The great inheritance for which God made you, is not on this earth, it's in glory, that great inheritance will be yours in the final day."

    At this point I have to stop and deal with the question that grows ever louder in my mind:

Why is it so important that the day of my passing matters to someone?

    Last year, during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, I had attended an art exhibition showcasing representative BC art at the Vancouver Art Gallery. A parallel exhibition occurring there at the same time used the human body as its subject. Among the displays were ones that used a complete skeleton, skulls of various sizes and x-ray images of the body's skeletal structure. I remember thinking about my own body as I looked at those exhibits, reflecting on how  one day it too would be placed in the ground, and reduced to what I saw in front of me.

    The thought that one's own family and friends will miss and think about us is sometimes of small consolation, for we are ever cognizant that they too will inevitably go down the same road we ourselves must take. As we contemplate mortality in such moments, there is an aching want that steals up upon the human heart, an insatiable plea that our life would be valued and the memory of our days would be known and preserved, in some manner that is not hamstrung by forgetfulness, inaccuracy, imprecision, confusion, corruption all the other failings of memory that plague the human cerebral cortex.

    We want someone to never forget us, in whose memory our image is indelibly and permanently etched. We long to be seen even after we have gone.
    In the light of this cry of the soul, I am reminded of the following unshakable promises of the Word of God, reflecting on the overarching presence of the self-existent, everlasting God who stands unfettered by age, and death and decay:

    "Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
      you hold my right hand.
    You guide me with your counsel,
      and afterward you will receive me to glory.
    Whom have I in heaven but you?
      And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
    My flesh and my heart may fail,
      but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
- Psalm 73:23-26, ESV
    It is inexpressable comfort to know that this great God calls Himself my Father, my friend, my Saviour; that He walks with me on my short sojourn through this life, sighing with me through the times when it seems wearisome to put one foot in front of the other, laughing at the moments of joy and wonder; that He does it all knowing that He will be waiting with open arms to welcome me home at the end of the sprint through the valley called Death, and that He has planned not only every day of my life with Him here, but also of every day of the eternity that we will spend together. But most of all there is security in knowing that in the same manner He said of His people, the memory of all that I am, of all my being, my image and all my days are permanently etched into His hands, His being:

    "Can a woman forget her nursing child,
      that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
    Even these may forget,
      yet I will not forget you.
    Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
      your walls are continaully before me."
- Isaiah 49:15-17, ESV

    God remembers the day of my passing long after I have faded from this world, for it is the day He welcomes me home. My life, my essence, my being is preserved even on the other side of death because of the sheer force of His will and power. See you in the next post after I've done some processing on what I've just written. And if you have lost hope, please take some of mine.

- The Wisdom Seeker

Monday, May 9, 2011

One Life Blossoms, Another Departs

    The three weeks since my last post have been quite eventful. As much as I have wanted to write, it seems there has been even more to think over. Just as the four-part series of posts last year on my childhood hurts and wounds that began with "Infliction: Childhood Wounds" forced me to wade into some of the painful memories of the past, the past three weeks have brought me once again to a point of facing some painful realities about life and myself. I think I'll start with the most recent, which was while attending a memorial service for Jamie's grandmother on Saturday.

    Jamie's grandmother had passed away last month, just a week or so short of Easter [1]. Although I've been to funerals before, this was the first time in my life I was attending a memorial service, so I didn't quite know what to expect. Nonetheless, it turned out to be quite a day for reflection, beginning with the trip there to the time I returned home.

    Dressed in a black suit and tie and clutching a boquet of flowers, I was headed out on the Skytrain (Vancouver's elevated rail transit system) to Commercial Drive station when a fellow passenger commented on the flowers and appreciated them. Asking if I was going to a special event, he expressed his sympathy when I mentioned that I was attending a memorial service. "We all have to face our mortality one day", I said with a sigh, voicing some of the thoughts in my head. He agreed, and I asked him if he had given it much thought. "Oh, yes", he replied. "I've been thinking about it for many years, and I'm comfortable with the idea of my mortality." Curious to hear more, I asked him what conclusion he had come to. "Well, we only go through this world once, so you've gotta value and take care of those around us, y'know? 'cos each time you see someone might be the last time you ever get to be with them." Somehow, this didn't seem terribly satisfactory to me, so I asked if he'd ever thought of life after death. "Well, I think there's a certain spirituality out there, kind of like this great circle of life, and we're all part of it. I could come back in another life, eh, maybe be return as a mosquito or something, y'know?"

    "That's it?", I thought to myself. That's it? After all the years of thiking he's devoted to it in contemplating his mortality, that's all he could come to? Take care of those around you. Be a "good" person to them, because you may not ever see them again. You're on a great circle of life, and there's no real way to tell, but there might be a possibility that you could come back as something else, though there's no way to tell what that "something" might be.

I hate listening to vague answers like that. I simply hate them.

    I suppose this revulsion stems in part from the kind of person that I am - I dislike vague directions and imprecise answers; I dislike half-sentences that hang in mid-air like a broken limb, with the assumption that I will somehow decrypt the message and put it all back together. I loathe being surprised with information at the last minute. I dislike them even more when they're camouflaged with bombastic words that have the appearance of intellectual sophistry. I hate them because they make me tense and leave people hanging. And I hate being left hanging.

There must be a better answer. There HAS TO BE. I refuse to accept anything less. I CAN'T.

    Catching a bus on the final leg of my journey to to the memorial home where the service was to be held, I saw a young Chinese couple tending to their little baby in a stroller. As the mother chatted with the child and the father tucked her in, I took in their shopping - a box of diapers, a watermelon stowed in the undercarriage of the stroller, and other things for a new family. The irony was not lost on me as I took it all in - watching the care and effort being poured into the blossoming of one life that had newly entered the world, while on my way to an event to remember another that had recently departed.

    I found myself thinking about parents and their children, and the transience of life. Looking at the little girl in the stroller, or any other infant for that matter, the last thing one usually thinks about is picturing that child at the end of its life - aged and dying, awaiting the inevitable coffin. But Jamie's grandmother was once a toddler like the one in front of me, just as my own parents and grandparents were. I looked at my hand and thought about myself and those of my own generation - what would happen when the time came for our own passing on? Would someone one day think the same thoughts on their way to my own funeral? Did it really matter if someone thought about me? Maybe not. I'm still processing these thoughts as I write this. The memorial service itself only gave me more to think about. As I sat down and looking around at everyone gathered there, I wondered who they were and what was going on in their heads. What were they thinking about? Were they contemplating the same things I was?

    At such times, eloquent discourses and the intellectual sophistry of philosophical postulation don't really offer much in terms of comfort. The acclaimed posits of the learned minds that dotted the textbook of the philosopical and political electives that I took during my undergraduate degree aren't very convincing. Deontologicalism, Teleologicalism, Utilitarianism, Kantianism, Epicurianism, Stoicism, Marxism, Capitalism, Communism - the 'isms' and schisms of the solemn supermen and self-styled imperial diplomatists offer very little to reflect upon. If anything, the questions only mushroom like the tell-tale aftermath of a nuclear detonation.

    I'm going to stop here for now and sort out some of the thoughts in my head. Before I go, I'd like to end with two sets verses from the Old Testament that have suddenly popped into my head. One is from the book of Job, the other from the book of Ecclesiastes:

    "Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshipped. And he said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb,m and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord'...Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips." (Job 1:20-21, 2:10, ESV)

    "Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword, from my by your hand, O Lord, from men of the world whose portion is this life. You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants. As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness." (Psalm 16:13-15, ESV)

    See you in the next post, after I've done some processing.
- The Wisdom Seeker

[1] Phan Wai Sun -