Spring Cleaning on Ash Wednesday

It is a tradition to do a thorough “Spring Cleaning” prior to Chinese New Year. It is most auspicious to have a clean and organized house so as to have a great start for a New Year.   I am thinking that, perhaps, Ash Wednesday will be a perfect day for Spring cleaning! I just read that Lent is an opportunity to put my spiritual house in order.    If so, we begin to tidy up God’s dwelling place on Ash Wednesday.  Spring Cleaning on Ash Wednesday will mean that we start the process of tidying up both externally and internally. With hope, the visible sign of the state of each room in our house will give us our reality check on each spiritual focus of Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Happy Spring Cleaning!

What would you put in the stocking for Jesus?

 

Jesus' stocking

 

I have been feeling particularly rushed in all the regular Christmas preparation this year.  For this short Advent season, it seems difficult to focus on what is really important.  As always, songs have a way to speak to me and make me pause.  As I was singing along to the Christmas piece “In the Bleak Midwinter”, I found myself in a sudden pause at the fourth verse:

Presentation1

 

The words made me think of my relationship with the Christ Child. The words made me think about what I would give him if I were meeting him by his crib.  For those of us who are parents, as we go about helping Santa putting smiles on the children’s faces on Christmas morning, how would you help Santa decide on what to put in the stocking for Jesus?

 

May the remaining time of Advent of yours be one filled with hope, and that your Christmas season be one filled with joy and peace!

 

“One Bread, One Body” – where did the bread come from?

According to St. Augustine, where did the bread come from?

From St. Augustine’s Sermon 272: (http://www.earlychurchtexts.com/public/augustine_sermon_272_eucharist.htm)

Remember: bread doesn’t come from a single grain, but from many. When you received exorcism, you were “ground.” When you were baptized, you were “leavened.” When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, you were “baked.” 

That is, we, the baptized, are baked into one big loaf of bread!

bread-306914_640

Truth and Unity

Truth & Unity

When I was at the University of Waterloo studying Mathematics, there were students and professors of all different nationalities, different skin colours, speaking different languages. No one seemed to notice that, however. It was the usual scene in the hallways and classrooms of the Mathematics and Computer building.  I only started noticing more of the diversity among the university population when I moved off campus as a graduate student.  In my building, I would meet neighbours in the elevator. They would see this Asian girl and assumed that I might not know English. I didn’t blame them.  Back then, the Oriental population in town was not that big, especially when we excluded those on the university campus.  Of course, the scene has changed drastically in the last few decades, first with the expansion of RIM (now Blackberry) and recently as the hub for startups and software companies.

The point is that, at the university, we were studying Mathematics, which to a lot of people, translated to “truths”. In Mathematics, one logical conclusion leads to another logical conclusion, no expression of personal interpretation is involved. Therefore, there is no chance of offending anyone’s cultural background or tradition, and there is no chance of breaking expectations as there were no expectations other than telling the truth! The language that all mathematicians use in their discussions on any mathematical topic is unified by a set of symbols and numbers. Mathematicians know that the relationships among mathematical structures are there to be “discovered”,  and not “created.” We may make use of properties of certain mathematical structures to create systems that we may use for our advantage in our daily lives, but we do not actually create these basic relationships. We put labels on them with our numbers and symbols and we describe them with operations like addition and subtraction. This studying of the truth, the seeking of the truth, allows the mathematics community to embrace diversity among themselves.

Now, the question that we ought to ask ourselves as Christians is:  If we all believe in the same God whom we call the “Truth”, and that our churches all help us to seek God and build our relationships in “The Truth”, why would it be difficult for some of us and our churches to embrace our diversity?

An Insight of God’s love in Math

Whenever I mentioned that I see God in Mathematics, people always shrugged and commented that one shouldn’t define God with Mathematics, or reduce God to numbers. That’s like saying one shouldn’t talk about God in their language, or describe God in words!

Mathematics is a language itself. If we believe that we are born in the image of God, then our logic that leads to the development of all languages or subjects came from the same source.  Therefore, while it is only logical that some prefers writing about God in traditional languages, I enjoy connecting our concepts of God to what I learn in Mathematics.

 

So, this morning I read a blogpost http://tywkiwdbi.blogspot.ca/2017/04/099999999-is-equal-to-1000000.html that explains that 0.99999999…is equal to 1.

 

As the article suggests, thinking of subtracting 0.99999……..from 1 gives us 0.  That is, 0.00000…….   is  0.

Intuitively, our minds, however,  think of the “1” at the end of a very, very long string of “0”s in 0.000000000……

Here is the neat little insight: We can never pin point where that “1” is anymore at the end of the string of 0’s. Is there an end to the string at all? If you look at the “0”s as God’s infinite love for us that push away our sins, or how He forgives us of our sins, you will understand that the “1” sin you committed only carries in your mind, but not God’s. He forgives you when you ask for it, so why can’t you let it go yourself?

How g(x) = 1/x expresses Matthew 16:24?

In Matthew 16:24, we have

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me…

This actually explains Peter’s problem when he denied Jesus three times in the high priest’s courtyard following the arrest of Jesus. He was a righteous person all along, the first one to answer Jesus as the Son of God at Caesarea Philippi, the one that Jesus handed the keys of the kingdom of heaven. However, Peter was so sure of himself that he did not believe what Jesus said he would do.  Peter trusted his own wisdom too much and had trouble denying himself.  Denying oneself is the key to be in union with Christ!

Recently, I came across a painting by Emily Carr, titled “Scorned as Timber, Beloved by the Sky”. It’s part of the Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery and can be viewed on its website. I know nothing about art and nothing in particular about this painting. However, it makes me think of how one denies his own wishes and all interruptions and just reaches out to God. As I ponder on the message of Matthew 16:24 and this painting, the mathematician in me led me to think of my kind of art, a simple functiongcomp.jpg.

The interesting fact about this function is that

the greater the x, the less is g(x).

The more proud we are of ourselves, the more we act on our own wishes and collect our gains in this world, the further we move away from God!

Now, if we were able to deny ourselves completely, setting x to 0, then we would achieve the impossible g(0). It is common for mathematicians to denote a value that one cannot fathom as infinity infinity .

As one can never divide 1 by 0, the general notation of expression of  is

g0.

The infinity seems to point at the infinite power of God, our God Almighty!

So, here it is, a simple elegant function g

that reminds me of Matthew 16:24!

Several Minutes of Silence

I felt privileged and blessed to have the opportunity to attend a sacred music concert at the newly rededicated St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in Toronto on September 30th, 2016.

 

Articles about the restoration project of the Cathedral have been featured on all major newspapers. Reports on this beautiful sacred place in Toronto have been shown on local TV news channel. Praises and positive commentaries on the concert were all over social media. There are very few words that I can actually use to describe how beautiful is the building and how glorious were the sound of the choristers from the St. Michael’s Choir School and the tones from the beautiful Casavant organ played by organist William O’Meara that have not been used in all those reports yet.

True. I was blown away by how they managed to restore a Cathedral to its present glorious state. The statues, the detailing of every archway, the ceilings, every ornamental design on the beams, the light fixtures, the stained glass,… that was truly a feast for my eyes. Seriously, when my eyes could see so much more details than my digital camera could capture, I thanked God for his creation of our human eyes. I wonder what is the capacity of our eyes in terms of megapixels?!!

The choral music performed by the 275 members of the St. Michael’s Choir School was magnificent! Together with the organist and a brass ensemble, the choristers performed works across time, from Palestrina to Haydn, Bruckner to modern composers. They were really well done! Most important of all, the program was well chosen, showing reverence to the space and letting the glorious music showed the power of God.

All the above would be worthy for one to dwell on and to write a touching article. However, I want to talk about a magical moment that happened at 7 PM! As the booklet for the concert says,

booklet-t

The Cathedral’s capacity, I was told, would be around 1200.   Prior to 7 PM, people were entering the Cathedral, claiming their favorite spot to sit, walking around, taking pictures, or chatting with friends. The choristers had walked in 5 minutes earlier and were standing in place. The place was bustling with people and sounds. I was reading the program booklet when I noticed a sudden dead silence. At first, I thought someone important walked in but I did not see anything out of the ordinary from my spot in the choir loft with an unobstructed view. I looked at my watch and it was 7 PM. The silence was so pronounced that one usher walked up an aisle with a stack of program booklets in her hand and I could hear her every footstep clearly. The silence went on for about 7 minutes until Cardinal Collins, the Rector of the Basilica and the Director of the Choir School walked in and approached the ambo. During those 7 minutes or so of silence, the atmosphere was stunning.

Why would so many people in the Cathedral collectively willingly participating in this moment of silence? I really cannot explain the phenomenon. I did not hear an announcement asking for silence. I did not see anyone signaling people to quiet down. Except for the choristers standing at the edge of the Sanctuary, there was no movement by the altar in front of us. The only explanation that I can think of would be that our good old Catholic training, attending mass and learning to be silently praying in church trained us all to this stillness, but that still wouldn’t explain the “sudden” silence at 7 PM for so many minutes! We are talking about over 1000 people in the Cathedral here!

I remembered that after the first puzzling minute of silence, I found myself willingly staying quiet and sitting there by the pew. Personally, I just felt that I could use that time to clear out the noise and the chatter in my mind and in my heart.  I was anticipating a sacred music concert and needed that time of silence to properly prepare myself for the coming of the glorious sounds. Looking up at the ceiling of the Cathedral, there was a dove suspending from a light fixture.

dove

It seemed to symbolize the coming of the Holy Spirit among us, weaving through the music, reaching deep into our souls. Mother Teresa had said that

“In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself.”

Of course, there is also the famous line from St. Augustine saying that “he who sings prays twice.” Such is the power of music!

I would say that evening, in the St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica, everyone faced God in prayer and in silence. I knew I went home after the concert with my heart enlightened and my spirit renewed. The Divine communicated with me in a very personal way and, more importantly, I experienced that power of silence.