The story of my life and how I wanted it to be, in one amazing poem.
CS Lewis and I: An IndioHistorian Tribute to the man
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
My first encounter with the British writer C.S. Lewis was when I was in high school. I used to go to a Christian school in Quezon City and so all the Evangelical stuff was nothing new to me, until Lewis. I was given an opportunity to watch a play by the Filipino theater group Trumpets entitled “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” It was about this icy witch, who ruled a once beautiful fantasy world called Narnia, whom the Witch turned into a winter land where “it’s always winter, and never Christmas.” I literally cried like a baby that day, and I have resolved to read all the seven Narnia books (LWW was the 2nd of 7). Everything I am: my incessant love for cats, the names of my gadgets, my journey in the world of Speculative Fiction that has never stopped, my love for Science Fiction and Fantasy, of history and philosophy, was all because of C.S. Lewis. Narnia was just a tip of the iceberg for me.
I learned later on through his biographies (I have three in my library) that he was a Medieval Literature professor, a poet, a friend of JRR Tolkien (his best friend in fact), a very prolific writer and pioneer of the genre of Modern Fantasy, and yes, a sore thumb among all the famous writers of the 20th century—for he was also a good theologian. It was he who inspired me to want to pursue a career in the academe, to immerse myself in good literature, in philosophy, and in the depths of theology. He was so good at it to me that he indeed went past my ‘watchful dragons.’ Here’s the complete quote of the reference:
“I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.”
I have not only read his Narnia books, I went “further in.” I read of his character (inspired by Tolkien) named Ransom in Lewis’ Sci-Fi work The Space Trilogy, the unraveling of what the Silent Planet’s identity really was. I went further, through Screwtape Letters, a disturbing correspondence of two demons, to Lewis’ Problem of Pain. When I was depressed, I would read his A Grief Observed, that Lewis wrote after his wife died. It begins with his famous line that still makes me teary-eyed:
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.”
It’s his “map of sorrow” and every time I read the lines I feel that across time and distance, someone, (aside from God, of course) really, REALLY understands me. I read his Mere Christianity, and that, though not perfect (perceiving it as a Calvinist), it nevertheless introduced me to a robust Christianity that welcomes intellectual discourse and is not afraid of questions of faith. Lewis argues in the book:
“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”
Lewis later exclaimed:
"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
His commentaries on The Weight of Glory, and Abolition of Man, is a critique on modernism and the joy one should have. Lewis taught me a German word with no English equivalent, that I would feel in my own life and in his writings—Sehnsucht—that “inconsolable longing” for “you know not what,” that hole in your being that only God can fill.
Just as my college life was coming to a close, nothing would prepare me for the Lewis book that I would read, that many friends of mine would always say was his masterpiece. Indeed it was! It was his book entitled Till We Have Faces. It’s Lewis’ version of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche through the eyes of Psyche’s sister, Lewis would name Orual. Orual would speak in the book in ways that I never thought a character would.
"I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?"
Lewis’ Psyche would also do the same.
"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”
After finishing that book one afternoon, I was dazed and in tears until evening. I couldn’t get over it.
Lewis is something to most people but to me, he was an inspiration. I always marvel at how God would invent such a person as C.S. Lewis. He once said “Reason is the order of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning.” That remains true to me as it was when I first read that line from him.
There have been many changes in my life since I held my first CSL book. And one thing is for sure. I guess as you mature, it is not the brains that is stuffed with knowledge, but more of the heart that is pricked and bashed but still beating, and depending on the Power that makes it beat. Intellect-wise, Lewis taught me to feel, to experience, to be teary-eyed at the expanse of a starry sky, to have wonder even in the mundane.
So to ‘Jack,’ or Clive Staples (he hated his real name), thank you for the hidden attics, mysterious worlds, glimmering Truths and the life that was you.
Lewis was not perfect, but his was a life that’s an arrow pointing to that inconsolable longing, our fount of joy and supreme completeness: Jesus Himself.
Celebrating CS Lewis’ 50th anniversary of his “entry” into the Real Narnia on November 22, 1963, “where every chapter is better than the one before.” The awe and the wonder. A childlike faith.
Jack, thank you.
Listening to the male voices of San Miguel Master Chorale—still for me the most beautiful chorale/choir music the Philippines has ever produced (even after the choir was disbanded in 2007). The song is entitled “Iniibig Kita" (I Love You) by the famous Filipino composer Ryan Cayabyab. I’m proud to say that one of my music teachers from long ago hails from the said choir. :)
Source: SoundCloud / kyotoman
A Blog Sabbatical: Not a Goodbye
It has been a joy just posting stuff on Philippine history here. It’s also a joy to just see how people have took it upon themselves to post Philippine history and culture stuff here on tumblr. And I’m so glad I’m not alone in this venture. However, I am in that point in my life where I’m rethinking a lot of things. There are a lot of uncontrollable changes happening in my personal life these past few weeks that I’m struggling to keep up with, a lot of things I hold dear that I’m learning to let go. I have been trying to just stand on anything that is stable, but it seems that Divine Providence would still rock my boat and push me to do things that He thinks I needed to do. I am a mess. And what do people do with mess? You pick up the pieces and rebuild. You see that what matters most are those things that cannot be taken away from you.
And so I have resolved to prioritize my life first, my walk with God, and from there, realign my dreams and ambitions. My blog will temporarily be put aside on my personal radar. But this Blog Sabbatical is just temporary. I just need to think things through, and by God’s grace, my heart will follow.
We historians, sometimes get engrossed with the past, but we live in the present and set our hopes toward the future. In God’s eyes, our lives (past, present and future) are just whiffs of air. If not for Him, this life will mean nothing.
So, paano ba ‘yan? I expect to see you again soon after this virtual leave of absence.
See you on the other side! Soon. :)
*Here’s a photo of Roxas Boulevard in Manila in the late 1930s. I’m blogging near here.
It’s amazing how Pentatonix can create an out-of-this-world acapella music with only five vocalists. Ever since I heard them sing and win at The Sing-Off, I have become a fan. Posting another of their renderings, this time a mish-mash of songs through the years. “Evolution of Music,” or shall I say, Western History set to music (from the Middle Ages to Reformation/Renaissance towards the Modern Age). Enjoy listening!
I got strangely reminded of Jacques Barzun’s book: From Dawn to Decadence. Lol. Pentatonix is awesome!
*Could someone make a Philippine history musical score?
Spurgeon (1834-1892), the late 19th century English Baptist preacher, is one of my heroes. I began to read his writing in the lowest point of my life while going through a furnace last 2010. It is when I read these lines from his book “Beside Still Waters” :
“The Lord gets his best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction."
"You need not even appeal to friends for consolation. What do they know about your inner sorrow? There are seas of suffering that the sufferer must navigate alone. No other sail is in sight. Scan the horizon and nothing is seen but wave after wave. Now is your hour for faith in the great Lord, who holds even lonely seas in the hollow of His hand (Is. 40:12).”
"We have great demands, but Christ has great supplies. Between here and heaven, we may have greater wants than we have yet known. But all along the journey, every resting place is ready; provisions are laid up, good cheer is stored, and nothing has been overlooked. The commissary of the Eternal is absolutely perfect."
"In the worst of times our great consolation is God. All His wisdom, all His foresight, all His power, all His immutability—all of Him is yours. Let us rejoice in our possession. Poor as we are, we are infinitely rich in having God. Weak as we are, there is no limit to our strength since the Almighty Jehovah is ours.”
He has brought you to a sandy desert. Now begin to seek the treasures that are hid in the sand. Believe that the deepest afflictions are always neighbors to the highest joys. The greatest possible privileges lie close to the darkest trials. The more bitter your sorrow, the louder your song at the end. There is a reason, and that reason faith may discover and experience may live on. Our afflictions are the highway that leads us closer to God. Our troubles are a fiery chariot to bring us to God. Our afflictions, wave upon wave, will drive our souls nearer heaven. It is a blessed thing when God‘s judgments bring us closer to Him.
I wouldn’t trade those fiery furnace to anything in the world. And look where I am. I’m unscathed. Breathing. And with tears in my eyes, thankful to God. Thank you, Spurgeon, for writing those comforting words in the turn of the century.
Hoping for the success of this documentary.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the National Museum of the Philippines does a feature video like this?
A Conversation with a Postmodernist
"Indeed nothing makes a man more unpopular in the controversies of the present day than an insistence upon a definition of terms."— J. Gresham Machen
As I write this blog, I’m at atop the highest point of an island that had once been the bulwark of Philippine and American forces against a common enemy. This island had endured artillery bombardment and ruthless shelling… One of the bloodiest battles in history. I’m at Corregidor, known in the 1930s as the impregnable island, The Rock.
It was the last stand of the Philippine and American forces against the Japanese. The fall of Corregidor on May 6, 1942 consequently formalized the Fall of the Philippine Commonwealth, 5 years short of the Philippines’ intended independence from the United States. Many were shocked at the utter defeat of the USAFFE and the Philippine constabulary, as was recorded in thousands of diaries of men and women who lived through the ordeal.
As i see the tail end of the island from the viewing deck of the Pacific War Memorial, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend two days ago. He proclaimed himself a postmodernist, one who refuses to be bound by the ‘so-called universal’ and ‘absolute’ reality. For him, everything is interpretation. How we perceive things may be right for us but not right for others. The notion of ‘rightness’ is like shifting sand, dictated to us by society, agreed upon by the powerful and/or the majority. He further explained that each of us is in a meaningless void. We are dots in that void. In order to create meaning in that void, each of us create systems that work for us and also work within a larger system that may have been imposed on us but accepted as our own. These systems can be our religion, our faith, our concepts of love, hate, justice, freedom, etc. These systems have become our ‘reality’. He thereby remarked that postmodernism is humble because it believes that it does not know that its system is not a system but is a system. Its only basis is the maybe and the ifs of thoughts and events. I asked him curiously, what is love? He said it is an explosion of hormones which is interpreted by concepts imposed on us by society. What is injustice? He said, what may be injustice for you maybe justice for others. In chaos, he said we may see it as chaos, but there is order in that chaos. But we can also see chaos in order. A square wheel is valid in postmodernism. The sound of one hand clapping (rather than two) is also valid. In short, the definitions for him have become indefinite definitions (oxymoron?). Everything is relative. The point is, there’s no point.
Even in the language we use, he said, we are forever imprisoned in the words that we intend to mean a certain way but would always be interpreted by other hearers in another way. As we were sort of arguing and discussing, he asked me if I was disturbed. And I honestly weren’t. How do we establish common ground when that term ‘common’ may mean differently for each of us?
I remarked how sad a philosophy that is. For in that utter inability to communicate exactly how we mean it, we have become isolated in our own subjectivity. He said, no we’re not. Yes we live in our subjective realities but we can agree on something and that is common ground. Then I said, we are worlds apart in our philosophy. Even in the words ‘sad’ or ‘common’—if I accept his worldview, I can never be too sure if we mean the same thing. I as a Christian stand on a static ‘absolute’ ground. He as a postmodernist stand on a ground that always shifts. The conversation has therefore become cyclical. Absurd. The point is it is pointless.
He went on and on about I living in my reality and he in his reality. We created the system within our accepted realities to bring ourselves happiness. But then again, what does he mean by happiness? Is there an absolute happiness where he is deriving it from? In postmodernism, I can never know because I ‘interpret’ his version of happiness according to my lens, my worldview. Is it possible that he is deriving happiness from a meaningless goo? For a postmodernist, that’s possible.
As I touch with my bare hands the crater marks of the Battery Way at Corregidor, the pictures of thousands of men and women who died on this island, the Bataan Death March, the Filipino comfort women victimized by the Japanese, the bloody liberation of Manila, I am reminded of my postmodernist friend. Something in me refuses to accept that these people in 1942 died believing whiffs of principles in a meaningless void trying to create their own meanings and realities. These soldiers died in real time. One moment they were alive, then afterwards, gone. And yes, those deaths were deliberate. They were aware of what they would face.
In Bataan there were two Filipino soldiers running towards Mt. Samat as the Japanese closed in on them. The ‘Japs’ have already broken through the second defense line. “Retreat!” shouted the American soldier. One of the soldiers said to his friend, “Tara na!” “Sandali lang!” he said, as he scrambled to point the gun at the enemy. Then suddenly an explosion. And then silence.
He is gone.
Will I have a stomach to believe myself when I say that the emotions I feel, the pain of losing a dear friend, was just my constructed ‘reality’? That all that was just my perception? How about that soldier who, hoping to gain time, tried to fix the gun to target the Japanese? Was all that whiffs of subjectivity?
My postmodernist friend remarked that the greatest injustice was that we exist. Because in that, we become aware of the prison of having a system/interpretation be drummed to our throats rather than we choosing whether to choose at all. But I think the greatest injustice is when we make simple things complicated so that we can conveniently be the sole captain of our own soul. An Ozymandias. When we disregard that the principles fought by these people who died in Corregidor were sealed in blood, that it happened in a reality we all share…that the sacrifice, the loss… IT is real…not at all debatable. We can debate about the motivations of these men. Nationalism? Family? Faith? Freedom? But we dare not play around with the very essence, or the reality these people live through and died in.
Perhaps that is the reason why most historians simply dismiss postmodernism as pointless.
Pardon to postmodernists if you were offended by my ‘reality.’ But wait, your being offended may be in another reality, the complete opposite.
PS. The soldier in my story who died at Mt. Samat was the brother of my granmother, Lolo Urbano Rufo.
Among the upcoming films to be released in 2013, I just can’t wait for this one. Having been read by Rizal, having been portrayed on stage, and after finishing reading a myriad of film reviews that unanimously praise the all-star cast, I’m excited for its Philippine release.
A timeless story of redemption amidst the outbreak of a revolution. Reminiscent of El Filibusterrismo. Every Pinoy should watch it.
2010 was a year of hell for me, but as it turned out, it was not quite so bad after all, given the things that happened after that. 2011 was a year of healing, when I unlearned so much in myself and in others while trying to gather the broken pieces and start over. 2012, a year or renewal and new beginnings. What is in store for 2013?
I had this promise from God last New Year 2010 that I hope would be your strength and hope in the year ahead.
"Do not call to mind the former things, Or ponder things of the past. "Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:18, 19 NASB)
I could not imagine what I am now last 2010. Ito pala yun! Let us raise our glasses and embrace the new year with full-blast courage and hope.
Source: SoundCloud / Jordan Simpson