Out of Hiding: Reflections on SOW and on four recent movies

(Note to readers: I have inserted many links to my SOW private journal. These journal entries are inaccessible to the public.)

On the second day of SOW, I crystallised four issues1 that I wanted to and thought that I would grapple with, and maybe resolve,2 during SOW. This is my post-SOW reflection; I’ll traverse each issue in turn.


On Issue 1 & La La Land

another-day-of-sun-dance-sequence-la-la-land

I think about that day / I left him at a Greyhound station / West of Santa Fé / We were seventeen / But he was sweet and it was true / Still I did what I had to do / ‘Cause I just knew

These few mornings, I wake up feeling that my bed3 is too big and too empty. Queen-sized beds, after all, are intended for two people.

For the longest time, I have yearned for the intimacy of “grow[ing] old with one person.” I still do.4 So when Fr Jude spoke about the black squares on our lives’ checkerboard that we had not yet surrendered, two squares came to mind. The first was my hope for a Relationship: even after committing my life to God in SOW, and after being sold by the beauty and sense of TOB, I had still left the door open.5

That week, I confessed my black squares to Fr Jude;6 God’s grace had reached a tipping point in my life I guess. So I closed this door – a last remnant of my pre-SOW-2010 disintegration.7

And when one door closes, others open. I have already begun exploring humanitarian work. But throughout SOW, I became more open to other doorways, and in particular, consecrated life. Missionary work is also possible.

This is what La La Land proposes at the end and foreshadows right from the opening: while romance may be sweet, the dream might be even sweeter.


On Issue 2 & Silence

Silence-03694-960x0-c-default

“I pray but I am lost. Am I just praying to silence?”

The second square I confessed was my resentment towards God for His silence in the Two Accidents. I have written about this at length. I even shared about it in a session that I did on the last week of SOW. The session was titled ‘On Solitude and Loneliness (and everything in between)’. I prepared 10,000 words of script, spoke for 100 minutes,8 and poured half a lifetime of stories into that session. And to hit home my final point, I shared about the alienation from God that I felt after the 2014 Accident as my deepest experience of loneliness.

But I did not share about my deepest reason for loneliness: the Difference9 that I have felt and longed for since young.

I felt this Difference so keenly at the end of Skit Night (which was fantastic). While everyone was still chatting and taking photos, I left the Mount, took a walk, and ended up on B’s bench at Morning Star.

I stayed there for long moments. I would never belong, I told myself.10 I caught myself then, and asked myself whether this was a lie. But I do not think so; I think it is a vocation.11

On Day 3 of this SOW, I read an article about an interview with Andrew Garfield. The way that Garfield spoke about Jesus’ Hidden Life captured me: “Where I’m tempted constantly to be producing, to be seen, to be appreciated, etc., I was shown the beauty of living a hidden life, of retreating in order to offer myself in a deeper way to my art, to my life, to the world.”

From then on, I reflected on Jesus’ Hidden Life throughout SOW. And when I did, I felt consoled, compelled, convicted even. He must have felt different while growing up in those 30 years. He must have felt called to more amidst the mundanity of carpentry. He must have felt the tension between His mission and His obscurity. He must have felt lonely.

And I was so drawn to that loneliness and that hiddenness.

So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that I was quite comfortable being (relatively) irrelevant in SOW. Especially in the early weeks, save for playing keys, I was behind-the-scenes: I set up for Mass and led DO, I carried stuff out for meals, and I led games (sometimes). At the end of Week 1, K pointed out to me the disjunct between how big a personality I was in SFX and how unseen I was in SOW. I laughed and felt warm.

I also felt free to be able to serve without expectations and pressure, to serve just as a person rather than a lawyer, a speaker, or a leader.


On Issue 3 & Logan

logan-trailer-2-01

Laura: “I have nightmares. People hurt me.” Logan: “I have nightmares too. I hurt people.”

Logan is a tour de force of the superhero genre. It is gritty, entirely human, and it is redolent of loss, pain, and a faint but undying hope. It is the end of an era.

I admit that loss and pain had also contributed to this theme of unbelonging.

In the throes of my self-pity, it was easy, and even tempting, to justify my fear of vulnerability by being hidden and guarded. After all, as Henri Nouwen says, there is a “false form of honesty that suggests that nothing should remain hidden and that everything should be said, expressed and communicated… Just as words lose their power when they are not born out of silence, so openness loses its meaning when there is no ability to be closed.”12

I sought escape in this. I had been honest and I had asked for honesty, I thought to myself, and look where that has gotten me.13

But there is a line to be drawn between solitude and withdrawal: “One criterion of discernment that can be used to distinguish a healthy solitude from an unhealthy withdrawal is that healthy solitude leads a person to greater empathy, concerns for others, and greater involvement in the world, whereas unhealthy withdrawal leads to greater self-centeredness, apathy, and fantasizing.”14

Back in 2013, when the lead roles of our law school batch musical were announced, my co-lead assumed that ‘Melvyn Foo’ was the name of my character. I felt myself slipping into that same reclusiveness in these past months. I was present, at least, physically. And I shared, at least, superficially. But I had withdrawn within myself.

When I finally shared with U, I told him that I could bare my soul in ministry, to the SOWers, for the sake of charity; but I broke down when I told him that I could not share for the sake of making friends.

Even so, I had shared with him. And that is my first step.


On Issue 4 & Moana

Moana-HD-Images-7-1

I know, everybody on this island has a role on this island / So maybe I can roll with mine / I can lead with pride, I can make us strong / I’ll be satisfied if I play along / But the voice inside sings a different song / What is wrong with me?

And so things culminate here – the sacrifice in La La Land, the obscurity of Silence, the withdrawal of Logan – in the call of Moana.

Before I watched this film, Jes had coloured my lenses by telling me that the film was about discernment. Fr Jude would counsel against such feeling-centric inward-esque approach to discernment.

In this regard, I had doubted, and still doubt, myself sometimes. Is this Difference that I feel and desire merely self-aggrandisement?

But then I remember how young I was since I felt and longed to be Different, how acute these sensations were, and how persistent they are. And I am convinced that, in this at least, my heart is not adulterous. In fact, I have come full circle from my own SOW.

During my own SOW in 2010, I saw Two Paths stretch out in front of me: an Orthodox Path and a Bohemian Path. In the Orthodox Path, I would remain in Singapore, settle down in a family, and climb the socio-economic ladder to support my loved ones. I would live for them. Whereas in the Bohemian Path,15 I would travel the world, probably remain single, and do what I love and earn just enough to get by. I would live for myself. And when I was alone in the chapel one night, I told God that I would give Him a shot, commit my life to Him, and choose the Orthodox Path. I am where I am today because of that choice.

For years after that, I gave up on being Different. I told myself that my desire to be and my experience of being Different stemmed from pride. (And I’m sure they did initially.)

But in 2015, as I began to grapple more honestly with my vocation and my career, I re-discovered this unbelonging.

Coming to this SOW in 2017, I thus saw the Two Paths stretch out again in front of me. But there was a difference this time: in the Bohemian Path, I would not live for myself, but for others. And this time, I saw my Struggle as a gift – it freed me to walk the Bohemian Path.16 It seemed as if God was vindicating my heart by letting me choose again.

I chose the Bohemian Path this time. I was alone again when I made my choice, when I wandered to Morning Star after Skit Night. The night was cooler; my choice was gentler. I imagined walking each of the Two Paths, and I felt the Difference and the restlessness in each path. And I decided then, if I was going to feel Different regardless of which path I chose, that I would rather live the Difference on the Bohemian Path than on the Orthodox Path.

I hasten to clarify: despite having chosen one of the Two, the road ahead is neither straight nor narrow. I still have to wander.

Fr Jude has openly expressed his disapproval for me to go overseas for further studies. I do not resent that; I was always more sure of leaving the road behind than I was of my next step. So speak, Lord, your servant is listening.

But if He does speak, He has to be unequivocal. My 2016 Lenten Discernment, together with any successful application result, will crystallise a presumption in favour of the trajectory that I have already begun on. God’s voice will have to be loud and clear to rebut that presumption.

In the meantime, I will wander along – to Myanmar first for an internship from April to early June, then for the Tran-Siberian Railway Trip for a month, and if I get in, to Geneva for a year from September onwards. I will also explore the routes to consecrated life that come my way.

I am excited. After all, like Tolkien and Chris (for she has made this saying her own) say, “Not all who wander are lost.”


Coda

I had initially titled this post ‘Hidden’.

But nine minutes before Mass began yesterday, while I was next in line for Confession, I received a text. C had linked me a song. I opened the link – it was Steffany Gretzinger’s Out of Hiding. I felt my tears well up as I stepped into the confessional.

Like the article about Garfield’s interview said, “the most critical exercise for Garfield was not about the hidden life, and not about his own woundedness, but rather about something sacred being revealed, about the vulnerability of God.”

As I read the lyrics of Out of Hiding, and later listened to it in adoration, I dwelt in moments of grace. I had composed narrative arcs about being hidden in this post. But Jesus17 revealed Himself and spoke straight to my heart, so directly, so personally, so lovingly. Shame, comfort, wonder – these are inexpressible things that I felt.

And so the article concludes: “The possibility of love, or its impossibility, paralyzes us. But the personification of love, the vulnerable, wounded, beaten love that I saw in the heart of Andrew Garfield, the personification of love that he experienced as a midwife to Mary, the love he guards in his “hidden life,” the love that lives in his longing to be seen deeply and appreciated fully, the falling in love that he continues to struggle with in his own relationships to God and others—that personification of love is what redeems us all in the end. If the impossibility of love leaves us longing, it is in the personification of love that we will find our satisfaction. It is in the personification of love where we will discover our enoughness.”

Come out of hiding
You’re safe here with Me
There’s no need to cover
What I already see

You’ve got your reasons
But I hold your peace
You’ve been on lockdown
And I hold the key

‘Cause I loved you before you knew it was love
And I saw it all, still I chose the cross
And you were the one that I was thinking of
When I rose from the grave

Now rid of the shackles, My victory’s yours
I tore the veil for you to come close
There’s no reason to stand at a distance anymore
You’re not far from home

I’ll be your lighthouse
When you’re lost at sea
And I will illuminate
Everything

No need to be frightened
By intimacy
No, just throw off your fear
And come running to Me

‘Cause I loved you before you knew it was love
And I saw it all, still I chose the cross
And you were the one that I was thinking of
When I rose from the grave
Now rid of the shackles, My victory’s yours
I tore the veil for you to come close
There’s no reason to stand at a distance anymore
You’re not far from home
Keep on coming

And oh as you run
What hindered love
Will only become
Part of the story

Baby, you’re almost home now
Please don’t quit now
You’re almost home to Me

DSC_8148

“What He reveals, He heals.”


1.I surprised myself by articulating the four issues so clearly at so early a stage. It was grace.
2.But I guess struggles like these are lifelong. We cycle through them again and again, entering deeper into them and leaving in a deeper communion with God each time.
3.I love my bed. Before moving into Simon Lane, my dad brought us to buy new beds. I arrived late that day, and after everyone had bought theirs, my dad told me to pick mine. So I went around trying different beds, and chose the one that I thought was the most comfortable. It also turned out to be the most expensive. I should have named my bed, but I never got around to doing so, and it is now too late. I will probably spend less nights in it this year than in other beds.
6.That was quite a turning point in my relationship with Fr Jude lol.
8.Before this, I had only planned for 30-minute inputs, and even after overrunning, I’ve only spoken for a maximum of 45 minutes at a go. I’ve never had such time to explore my topic of choice. The depth that I could go into was a luxury.
9.I keep coming back to this post. I (must) believe that this was inspired.
10.In SOW’s context specifically, I don’t belong with the staff because they don’t know me well, and I don’t belong with the participants because I am a staff.
11.And I laughed in a bittersweet way to myself.
12.Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out.
13.I don’t regret what has happened though. But I am sorry that it did.
14.Ronald Rolheiser, The Restless Heart.
15.I sometimes call this the Hedonistic Path, or the Decadent Path, because of how intensely self-centred I had had conceived this path to be initially. But honestly, what drew me, and continues to draw me, is its bohemian-ness.
17.I know the song is also called Father’s Song; but the lyrics suggest that Jesus is the one singing.

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About Mel

I dreamt I was a whale. https://melvynfoo.wordpress.com/about-mel/