Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Gallery, Chiang Mai

This was a photo I took with my iPhone 4 that turned out better than I had expected. I initially took a photo of only the building, which I found uninteresting. It was then that I thought having a motorcycle whizzing pass in the photo would give it some movement. It wasn't hard, there were many of them anyway, motorcycles.

Wish I fished out my DSLR though...


Friday, December 16, 2011

Retelling the Christmas Story

In my recent silent retreat, I was given the Jesus birth narrative to do a contemplative prayer on, which I did and it was an amazing experience and encounter with God. I wanted to record it down, and when I began to do that, I ended up re-telling the story of Joseph and Mary, and the birth of Jesus, found in Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-20.

Since it is the advent and soon Christmas season, I have posted it here, and I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing and learning from it. I would not have believed that I could learn so much, both spiritually and theologically, by re-telling a biblical narrative.

I have tried to keep it as close as I can to geographical and cultural setting. If you find any misrepresentation in there, I would appreciate if you would let me know.

Merry Christmas!
And They Laid Him in a Manger
The story of Joseph and Mary, and the birth of Jesus
Dramatized and retold by Pearlie Ng
Painting: His Name Shall Be Called Wonderful by Simon Dewey

Joseph ran into the house looking harried and said to his wife, now heavy with child, "Mary, we need to be going now. Caesar came out with a decree that we should all be registered."

It was only about eight months ago that Mary was found to be with child, and Joseph's world was turned upside down. Mary was betrothed to him when that happened. He had begun to love Mary and her gentle soul. He didn't know what happened, or how Mary could have done that to him, or whose baby that was. But he had decided that he will not put her to shame but to divorce her quietly.

That was when the most unexpected happened. An angel of God appeared to him in a dream and said to him, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

When Joseph was awakened, he was shaken. It was too clear and distinct to be just another dream.

Conceived by the Holy Spirit? Save his people from their sins?

Joseph could not fully understand what that meant but the rest of it was as clear as day. And as he pondered on those words, do not fear, take Mary as your wife, call his name Jesus, he decided to do as told.

He knew he will be laughed at, for marrying an impregnated girl. But he decided that he will trust in God and do his bidding, come what may.

That was more than eight months ago.

"Slow down, honey. Where do we need to go? We need to be what, registered?"

"Bethlehem. We need to go to Bethlehem to be registered, since I am of the house and lineage of David."

"Oh Joseph dear, do we have to? I don't think I travel at all in this state. The baby is about to come."

"Yes, we have to go. I realize that it will be difficult for you to travel so far, which is why we must start off now. We will go in a slow and steady pace and hopefully arrive on time. What do you think?"

"Alright, but I think that place will be packed with people returning for the census. I'm afraid there might no longer be any place for us to stay when we get there."

"Don't you worry about that for now, dear. Let's just get you to Bethlehem," Joseph said as he smiled and planted a kiss on Mary's forehead.

So they got themselves ready, donkey and all.

"At least we still have that donkey. I can’t imagine how you would have to walk the distance," Joseph said as the tied the remaining bundle to the saddle.

They did not bring much, just enough for the trip. But Mary had reminded him to pack enough cloth and some swaddling cloths for the baby, just in case.

The journey was arduous. They had to stop more than usual to give Mary some needed respite. Joseph was glad that they started the journey way ahead of time. It would normally take them four days to get to Bethlehem. And it is already the seventh day, but they were almost there.

"Are you feeling alright, dear?"

"Oh, I'm fine. It is just that baby must be having a ball in here with all the movement I am giving him. He keeps kicking me!"

"I think he wants to come out to see what's happening," Joseph laughed, "anyway, we will be there real soon. There, I can see wisps of smoke. We should arrive this evening. And I guess you are right, it will be a challenge for us to find a place. But let's trust in God."

They arrived in Bethlehem at dusk. The place was still quite alive at that hour. Many people were already there. They were out and about setting up their place and getting ready to settle for the night. Joseph gingerly led the donkey with Mary along, trying not to bump into anyone.

"Mary, there's the inn there. Looks like it is the only place in this town for us to get a room. Let's go find out."

They headed towards the inn. A couple of children running whizzed passed them as they came to the door.

"Hello! Any rooms for rent? Hello! Anybody there?"

"Oh hi! I'm the innkeeper here and it has been crazy these few days, you know, getting these people all settled down. And their demands! Oh! They do think they can get anything they want as long as they shove money in my face! Thank goodness, this census thing doesn't happen so often! Oh I'm sorry! Pardon me. What can I do for you? If it's a room you want, I'm sorry I'm out. I've ran out of rooms since Day One, and I have to tell you that this is the only inn here. Which is why most people arrived way ahead of time and I have been at their beck and call ever since. Will there ever be rest for me? No!"

"There are no more rooms?"

"No! No more rooms. Even the few good souls that offered their spare rooms in their houses around here are all taken up. I'm so sorry I can't help you. I got to go, I have this family who keeps asking for new sheets as if I am not already washing enough."

"Wait! You need to help us. Look, my wife here is heavy with child and she will deliver anytime. We need a place, any place."


"Please, help us. Don't you have any place left?"

"Well, I would not want to do this to anyone, seriously—but you are desperate now, aren't you?"

"Yes, any place will do as long as there is a roof above our heads and a place for us to rest."

"Alright, you asked for it. I have the stable there. I know, it is not ideal, but it is still a place you can use, if you want. Sorry, I have to go now. Did you hear that? They are yelling for me. They need to be taught some manners!"

As the innkeeper rushed off leaving them at the door, Joseph looked dejectedly at Mary.

Mary smiled.

"Alright, alright, I can hear your I-told-you-so. But let's go check this place out, shall we? I don't think we have a choice."

The stable turned out to be quite decent viewing the situation that they were in. It was not big but enough for three sheep and their lambs. For now, there was just one, with her two lambs, lying by one side of the stable. Their heads bobbed up with inquiring eyes as Mary and Joseph walked in.

"I think this will do," Mary said.

"You sure, sweetheart? Well, we can clean up this side of stable and lay it with some fodder here, cover it with the cloths you made me bring, God bless you," Joseph smiled at his wife.

"We should put these wooden blocks around it to hold it all up."

"Good idea! It will also tell the sheep there—Shoo! No offense but this is our place now. There you go, how's that?"

"It looks good."

"Okay then, we're set. The sun has gone down. Let's light a candle and get settled in, and have our dinner. We have not eaten will all the excitement, or frustration should I say...Oh! What's wrong? Are you okay? Tell me. Oh! You mean the baby is coming? Oh! Oh! Baby is coming! Baby is coming! What should I do? What should I do?"

Mary heaved and breathed hard. She felt the spasms and contractions acutely. Hours passed and soon she really felt the urge to push. She yelled and moaned in pain. Joseph looked worriedly at her, praying and hoping. Finally, with the last push and wail, the baby was born.

Joseph laid him on the tired mother, cleaned him carefully and wrapped him in swaddling cloths. Joseph watched his wife and son in awe, he has become a father. He remembered the words of the angel.

That which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their his people from their sins…save his people from their his people...

"Joseph! Joseph!"

"Oh! Sorry, I sort of zoned out. Do you need anything?"

"I am wondering where we should lay the baby tonight. This bed of fodder does not seem safe enough for him. It's too flimsy for a newborn, and I can't put him on the ground."


"And I can't stay awake the whole night carrying him, I am just too tired..."

The baby whimpered as if in agreement.

"I know. Let's see...Hey, how about this thing over here?"

"What thing? The manger?"

"It is sturdy. It is made of stone after all. We can clear out all the grass. I'll go get some water, wash it and clean it a bit. Dry it and layer it with cloth, the whole lot we brought along. We'll make it comfortable, and I think he will just fit in nicely. What do you think?"

"Yes, I think it will work. Let's try it."

And so they did, and they laid him in a manger.

Mary let out a deep breath. It was done. The baby Jesus was born. 

She has been keeping it all to herself throughout the ordeal. Mary was one who treasured and mulled things in her heart, unlike her husband who preferred to talk about it. They had been discussing about his dream many times already, but she has yet to say much about Gabriel's visit. Joseph did know of it. She just has not said much about it yet.

Now with the baby here, she remembered Gabriel appearing to her and the fear she had when he did, and the shame she suffered in consequence.

Gabriel had said to her, "you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

All she could think of then was the impossibility of it, since she was, and still was, a virgin. The angel had told her that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and the power of the Most High will overshadow her. The child will be called holy—the Son of God.

It is still quite mind-boggling but she had submitted to God. She knew she will be the talk of town, but it was worse than she had thought. She could not walk in the street without being sneered at. The men will usher their families away from her, the women would not even look at her and the children would point and laugh at her.

This was why she felt so thankful for Joseph. He had every right to divorce and leave her, but he did not. He had protected her the whole time, encouraging and reminding her time and again of his dream and her encounter with Gabriel. He often brought her to visit Elizabeth, her relative, which made her feel better when she was in her company.

She gazed lovingly at her husband who was at that moment, baby-talking to his son, to God's son.

But as she began to look at the place around her, she felt a sudden pang of sadness. Tears began to well up in her eyes, and before she could help it, she was weeping.

"Mary? What's wrong? Are you in pain?"

"No, no. I'm alright. It's just that..."

"Yes, tell me. What's wrong?"

"Joseph, look at this place! From what you've told me and what the angel has told me, this is the Son of God. And look what have we here to receive him? A stable? A manger?"


"I know we don't have a princely bed to lay him in. I know we don't have much to give him. But we don't even have a bed, for crying out loud. A stable! A manger, Joseph! We have nothing but the worst place for him!"

Mary crumpled down, sobbing and shaking in tears.

Joseph held her close, trying his best to comfort her.

Minutes passed and Joseph said quietly, "You know back home when we were getting ready and you were worried about getting a room, and I said to trust in God? I think that's just it. There is nothing we can do but to trust in Him. Think about it, we planned nothing of this. Not the conception, not the census, not the fact that there is simply no room available, and definitely not the birth. As you have told me Gabriel has said that this is the Son of God, and as such, God is definitely in control, no question about it. He could wait till we are back home, but he did not. The baby came. So he must have planned this. Don't worry. God knows what he is doing."

"I suppose so. But still…a manger? Who puts a baby in a manger?"

"I don't know, honey, I don't know," he sighed.

Suddenly, they heard footsteps outside the stable, and someone talking hurriedly in whispers.

Mary looked alarmed.

"You stay put. Let me go check."

Joseph peered out the door and found three men, looking very excited. One of them saw Joseph and asked hurriedly, "You have a baby in there?"


"A baby! Do you have a baby in the stable?"

"Yes, but..."

"And is the baby lying in a manger?"

"Yes, and..."

With that he began to exclaim, "We found him, Eythan, we found him! We found him, Tomer! Praise be to God, we found him! I was right, didn't I tell you? We are looking for a manger and where else would it be if not in the stable here?"

"Excuse me, but may I know what is happening here?"

"May we come in? May we come in? I will tell you all that we have seen. You wouldn't believe it!"

"Well, alright. Do come in. But I see that you have brought others with you."

"What? No, there is only the three of us. We were watching the sheep and...Oh, I see. Looks like we have awakened the neighborhood and they are all here. Look what you've done, Tomer. Anyway, may we come in?"

"Of course, of course, come in. Take a...a seat."

The three shepherds scuttled into the stable. There wasn't much room for them, but nothing would have stopped them. The people who were attracted by the commotion came as well and curiously watched from the door.

"Look, Eythan! Look, Tomer! The baby! In a manger! Just as the angel said. Look!"

"What angel? Could you tell us what you saw?" Mary inquired.

"It is not only what we saw, but what we heard! It was amazing! Alright, let me start from the beginning. We were out in the field, Eythan, Tomer and I, keeping watch over the flock as we do every night. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared before us. We were so afraid. He was glowing, shining! He told us not to be afraid. He said that he has brought us good news. You could have seen our faces, we were stunned. Eythan was shaking, wasn't he, Tomer? Good news? What good news, I had wanted to ask, but I was frozen, speechless. He said that today a Saviour is born, who is Christ the Lord. Christ the Lord! Imagine that! We've just been told that the Messiah has come! And he said there is a sign. He said we will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Yes! A baby! In a manger! Then you wouldn't believe what happened next. Just when we were trying to figure out what the angel had just said, there was suddenly a whole lot of them, the angels. They were blazing, it was almost like daytime! And they burst out in the most glorious sounds I have ever heard in my entire life! There was music! They were singing! It was spectacular! Then they were gone. Whoosh! Just like that. We were lost for a moment but I immediately told Eythan and Tomer that we must come to Bethlehem and see for ourselves this thing that has happened. We've been practically running for an hour until we came to your door wondering if indeed we will find an infant in a manger. And we did! Would you believe it? We did! And here he is, here he is...Christ the Lord...Messiah."

The air was still. It was suspended. The shepherd's account has mesmerised everyone there: Mary, Joseph and those by the stable.

After awhile, the shepherd said that they had better get back to the field where they left their sheep and hopefully still find them there. As they left, they were in high spirits, praising and glorying God for what they have heard, found, and experienced.

Joseph found themselves alone again and said, "Do you know what just happened, Mary?"

Mary looked at Joseph and slowly nodded her head.

"Did you hear what the shepherd has said? The angel told him that they will find a sign, a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger. Think about it. Would they have found him if we had laid him in a bed? There will be countless babies in their beds in this town. And even if the Son of God would be laid in a crib in the palace, would the shepherds be allowed in to see him? Now I'm thinking about what was said to me in my dream. The angel said that he will save his people from their sins. His people include the lowly people like us, like the shepherds. He has to be found in the worst place, like you said, the most lowly place, or he wouldn't be found by us at all."

"Yes, Joseph. I do see it too. We did not give him the worst. He chose it himself to be in a place of the worst."

Mary treasured up all these and continued to ponder in her heart.

What will the future days be for my child, Jesus? How much worse will he be choosing for himself?

Little did Mary know at that point that Jesus in the manger will soon be Jesus on the cross.

© 2011 Pearlie Ng
All rights reserved

Saturday, December 10, 2011

This is My Body, This is My Blood

One of the interesting experience I had during this silent retreat was the mass services that I have been attending. First, I must highlight that all the silent retreats that I have attended, four so far, were ran by Catholics. It is only because I only know of silent retreats organized by them. I don't seem to find any details about the ones ran by Reconre, and I have not encountered any other people who do them in Malaysia.

Anyway, about the Catholic mass, I recognise the sensitivity of the Catholics with regards to non-Catholics who attend mass, and I know that it is common practice that most priests do not allow non-Catholic to partake in the bread and wine. I accept that - because I do not subscribe to the doctrine of transubstantiation and therefore I am okay not taking it, which has been the case for the first two retreats.

During the third retreat, the father commented to the non-Catholics that if we would choose to receive it, we are invited to do so. He said the choice was ours. I did not and the reason was theological. I felt that if I choose to take it, then I will be subscribing to the dogma of transubstantiation because it will be given to me as such, based on the belief of the attending priest.

But during the this retreat however, things turned out very differently. During mass on the first night of the retreat, I automatically remained in my seat when the retreatants proceed to received the bread and wine.  Nobody said anything, the priest was silent about it, and I let it be, as being the common practice of non-Catholics in a mass. 

The next morning however, when I had my reflective session with a Catholic sister, she asked me very inquiringly, "Don't you take Holy Communion together with people in your church?" 

"Of course! I do! I do not take it in a Catholic mass because..." 

"Because you are sensitive to the feelings of the Catholics." she finished for me. 

I just nodded. She continued saying that she has spoken to the father about it and that it was okay if I desire to join them in receiving the sacrament. I thanked her for it and left the matter at that.

But I found myself in a dilemma. I had not tell her that though one of the reasons why I did not partake with them was because I respected them, the bigger reason was because of my theological stand. Like I mentioned, I felt that if I were to take it, it would seem like I am subscribing to the doctrine of transubstantiation. But she had approached it from the perspective of the body of Christ, that we come together to partake in the holy meal as a family in the Lord. 

I never felt so torn between. It felt wrong taking it and it felt wrong not taking it. As the time for mass drew closer and closer, I began to feel quite panicky. What should I do? Should I take it, or should I not take it? Or should I just not attend mass? 

I started writing my thoughts down. I write for therapeutic reasons. I write to feel better, I write to still my thoughts, I write to manage and to put in place my one million and one thoughts. 

And as I do so, the body of Christ begin to win over theology. But as I walked to the chapel, I was still undecided. As mass proceeded on, and as I begin to pay closer attention to the words uttered, I finally set my mind and stepped forward to partake in the holy meal together.

And that in itself is a very refreshing experience. I still do not believe or subscribe to the doctrine of transubstantiation, and it did not matter. What was special was that it has brought me to look at the Holy Communion anew. For the Methodists, we see it as the Holy Mystery of the Real Presence. Whilst it has not literally turned into the body and blood of Jesus, it is more than a symbol, more than a remembrance.  It is a Means of Grace. It is a holy sacrament that brings us into the holy presence of God through his grace and mercy.

I will not partake it anymore as before, I was serious about it but yet I can't help it but to say that it was in a sense of nonchalance in comparison to how the Catholics do it.

I will now partake it with more seriousness, more awe, more wonder, and in worship to my Lord Jesus Christ.

We will have the last mass service for the retreat later today. This may be the last mass I am permitted to partake in and as such, I will savor it and savor in the special and holy presence of my Lord.

Thanks be to God.


Friday, December 09, 2011

Holding the Moment Still

Time really have no mercy. It simply does not travel at the rate you want it to. I have been in the mountains of Chiang Mai for the past few days, and just when I was relishing the fact that I have a long 5-day silent retreat for myself, I am already in the last day.

It is still morning and I just had a very good session with my spiritual director, and I look forward for the day today.

I want to try to hold every moment still, to suspend it.

Impossible, I know, and yet I hope that the more mindful I am of it, the longer the moment will stay. This last day of retreat may just feel like it lasted a really long time.