Last weekend, my family took the time to watch the Tom Hanks’ movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The movie is about the encounters between the popular children’s show host Fred Rogers and the magazine journalist Lloyd Vogel, who was assigned to interview Mr. Rogers. Those encounters ended up being opportunities for Fred Rogers to help Lloyd heal an old wound. Prior to watching the movie, I did not have much expectation on the movie, and simply looked forward to a relaxing evening. However, I was pleasantly surprised at one scene in the movie. During the scene, Lloyd, troubled by his father’s hospitalization, looked for Fred Rogers. Fred took Lloyd to a diner and asked him to join him for a minute of silence, to think about the people in their lives who helped shape them to become who they are now. Mr. Rogers assured him that the faces of those people would come to mind.
Sure enough, I took the opportunity to try the exercise…and many unexpected faces floated into my mind. For sure, I saw the faces of many family members, teachers, and close friends. However, there were also faces of the odd acquaintances, whom I realized only at that moment, who had starring roles in my life. Some of them went through events of their own and I found their reactions to those events admirable. Others had randomly made a comment to me or asked me a question at some point that greatly impacted me. All those people in my mind cannot be more different from one another. They have different personalities, belong to a wide range of age groups, and they have different cultural backgrounds and beliefs. However, it was clear to me towards the end of the exercise that all of them played a role in shaping me.
We often read about seeing “the face of God” in the Bible as knowing God. We are often reminded to see the face of God in others when we serve them. However, it seems that God also seek us and shape us through others! There are no random happenings in life and Jeremiah reminded us of that. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…” (Jer 29:11) The people in our lives who shaped us, including acquaintances, are divine instruments, and their words and actions were sent our way as we need them.
Well, when do you think you last saw the face of God?
Just be silent for one minute and think about the people who came into your life and helped shape you. The many faces of God will float in your mind.
The Pandemic Social Isolation is an opportunity for us to define ourselves in the most authentic way.
Years ago, at my very first meeting with a spiritual advisor, I was asked to introduce myself. I was quick to tell him my current endeavours and my previous projects. My spiritual advisor was patient. After listening to me rambling on, he reminded me that projects and work do not define us, but relationships do. He was talking about my relationships with others and my relationship with God.
Due to the pandemic in recent weeks, many people in the world are either laid off or lost their job. In-person meetings, conferences, arts performances and projects are cancelled, rescheduled, or on hold. Suddenly, people’s occupation and project titles became meaningless. It is obvious that we can no longer define ourselves according to our projects and work. To practice social distancing, many grandparents cannot meet with their grandchildren. Good friends who used to hang out every day cannot meet for a drink to vent after cooping up in the house all day. For those who are inept in using technology to communicate with others, social distancing puts a damper on personal relationships. It seems that what is left to define oneself is simply our own relationship with God.
I wonder if this is the time that we are supposed to focus on our personal relationship with God. Perhaps, we can now spend the time to reflect on who God is for each of us personally, and get to know who we are to God. Surely, it’s Holy Week right now and that’s what we are supposed to do. With the fear and anxiety that accompanies the pandemic, I am sure many of us are also praying, communicating to God more often than usual. However, maybe we have forgotten our own identity and really need to introduce ourselves once more in the most authentic way, and not base our identities on something that will not last, like our work or projects, or relationship with mortals. We need to see ourselves through our own personal relationship with God. If you were asked of who God is for you, can you describe that at this very moment? If not, let just say that self-isolating and social distancing is perfect for a retreat and a reflection.
♪ “O rest in the Lord, wait patiently for him…” ♪
This aria by Handel has been ringing in my ears for over two weeks now. It started when a musician friend needed consolation and I was lost for words. At the time, the first piece of music that came to mind which I thought would bring him some peace was “O Rest in the Lord” from Handel’s oratorio Elijah, with the words from Psalm 37. So, I sent him a YouTube link as a reply to his misery. Instantly, the melody became my earworm. After that, in the days following, I kept receiving bad news of one thing or another, crisis after crisis. Many days, my heart was just grieving and feeling hopeless. Somehow, God showed his presence on two separate unrelated occasions within the last week, once at my voice teacher’s studio and once at a bi-monthly musicians’ get-together. “O rest in the Lord” is not a rare piece. Still, the coincidence of me hearing it sung live twice in a week is exceptional. (The last time I heard it live prior to this week must have been over 10 years ago!) Now, the music did not make the sadness or worries go away, but I do feel God’s presence and comfort in this difficult time.
I seek God in music. How do you seek God?
BTW, here is a link for one rendition of the piece on YouTube. https://youtu.be/BB3oyo0VEuc