I participated in a medical and dental mission last 13 September 2008 in Isla Gegantes, Carles, Iloilo, Philippines. Isla Gegantes is an electricity-deprived [read poor] island which was one of the most devastated areas in the fifth district of Iloilo when typhoon Frank made a gigantic show of brutality last June here in my country. I took a picture of a cloud formation while we crossed the sea going to the island. And it was through such dramatic scenery that my "Panganod Spirituality" (for a reflection paper requirement in my theological studies) was conceived. Panganod is the Cebuano term for cloud or clouds. The following is an excerpt of it.
I grew up in a barrio. It was technologically backward then. Hence, life was simple and beautiful. As a child, my native place's natural environment was my playground. I was blessed to experience its richness. Nothing would ever compare the simple joys I felt as I climbed trees, rode on our neighbor's horse and carabao, swam in rivers, trekked some hills looking for fruits, bathed under the rain even amidst roaring thunder and striking lightning, and, on fine afternoons, leisurely laid myself down under the shade of a tree and watched the beautiful clouds up in the sky.
Clouds. Oh, they never fail to fascinate me. They are like big comfy pillows ready to provide me a relaxing siesta in a quiet afternoon or a restful sleep at night after some energy-draining activities during the day.
Watching clouds always brings me to my childhood concept of heaven – that it's up there, a place so comfy and happy.
Another fascinating thing I recognized in the clouds is their ability to project before my eyes different shapes that would even sometimes form figures like that of animals and humans. They are so creative. Beautiful! And mind you, they always do that, though, I guess, they also require some similarly creative eyes so that what they are creating can be noticed and appreciated. So I think they are happy with me, hehehe!
Now, let me dissect my "Panganod Spirituality" through Michael Downey's seven focal points of Christian Spirituality.
Within a Culture
*A cloud is a visible mass of droplets or frozen crystals floating in the atmosphere above the surface of the Earth or another planetary body. On Earth the hunter condensing substance is typically water vapor, which forms small droplets of ice crystals. When surrounded by billions of other droplets or crystals they become visible as clouds.*
Like a cloud, my spirituality - the "Panganod Spirituality" - is shaped by various droplets or frozen crystals in my life. One of them, which I consider very important to me, is my family and the culture of love it continuously provides for me.
Sure, my family is not perfect but there is one thing that I would certainly vouch until the end of my life - that they are my perfect blessing.
Before I became aware of the existing personal relationship I have with God - the initiator of the culture of love - the relationship I had with my family while growing up made me aware of the concreteness of such culture of love.
My parents exemplified to me the true meaning of love. They manifest these in the way they show me their faith and hope in the mysteries of life. And they carry these out with their own versions of patience, respect, understanding, openness, acceptance, perseverance, care and affection that they exhibited in the dealings of our family life. I love them for that.
If I appear simplistic in my views in life, it is primarily because my family is a haven of simplicity. What matters to us, above everything else and everybody else, are the love and the deep relationship we have for each other which sustain our connection - the droplets which humanize us. As we strengthen our bond, we believe that we are also becoming strong in sharing our love for others.
In Relation to a Tradition
*The color of a cloud, as seen from the Earth, tells much about what is going on inside the cloud. Clouds form when relatively warm air containing water vapor is lighter than its surrounding air and this causes it to rise. As it rises it cools and the vapor condenses out of the air as micro-droplets. These tiny particles of water are relatively densely packed and sunlight cannot penetrate far into the cloud before it is reflected out, giving a cloud its characteristic white color.*
With the scientific explanation above, we are able learn the reason why a cloud is white in color. Well, it says that it is because of the densely packed tiny particles of water.
If I would say that my family's culture of love is densely packed, undoubtedly, the main reason for this is the family tradition that we live by.
My family has this tradition of open communication. While growing up, my parents always encouraged my two elder sisters and me to be open to them. They believe that as a family, this would facilitate our better understanding and support for each other.
And so we did. Our parents knew the stories of our first loves and the other significant experiences my sisters and I had as kids, adolescents, and now as young adults. They willingly and attentively listened to our life stories and gave us their pieces of advice if necessary. They would never force their ideas to us. They respected our capacity to discern for the good of ourselves.
My parents also shared to us their stories. Hence, my sisters and I likewise knew the romantic relationships that Mama and Papa had before they finally found themselves in each other's arms. It was fun hearing those stories from them.
More so, if major decisions are to be done in our home, my parents would consult us their children. Of course, they always have the final say but it's good to know that as family members, we are also consulted. Or at least, it is good enough that they are also considering our ideas for their discernment.
Do you know where our hearty conversation, consultation or decision-making usually take place? Well, during meal times especially dinner. We can endure hours talking about ourselves and our colorful experiences before the table. Thus, I really treasure this kind of family tradition of ours. As I feel God's blessings through the food that our parents were able to provide on our table, I feel much more blest by God for the graces of feelings and ideas that He gave us which therefore make my family a human family.
In the Light of Contemporary Events, Hopes, Sufferings and Promises
*As a cloud matures, the droplets may combine to produce larger droplets, which may combine to form droplets large enough to fall as rain.*
But like any other family, along with our summers, we also had our share of rainy seasons.
I was still in elementary when my parents were nearing the verge of separation. The financial instability in our family that time was one of the various factors involved. I cried a lot watching them engaging themselves in their sharp verbal conflict (thanks God they never reached to a point of physical confrontation) for fear of the thought that I might soon lose either one of them. After all, who would want to grow up in a broken family? As a child, it had always been my desire to graduate in college with both my parents present to share my success. Yes, I fervently prayed for it and I thanked God for granting it.
As everything is grace, the misunderstandings that sometimes occurred in our family (either between my parents, or between them and us their children, or between my two sisters, or between me and one of my sisters) became occasions where we were also led to purify ourselves in connection to our commitment and love for each other. Through those events, we came to know ourselves and each other better. Thus, looking back at those turbulent moments we encountered in our family life, had it not because of our culture of love preserved in our family tradition, I'm sure, at this very day, I have nothing to call a real human family of my own. And I might have then become a broken person that is beyond repair.
Hence, I never became resentful of the pains, trials and challenges that God had posted before my family. Indeed, I am much more grateful to Him now for immersing us once in a while in the deep water. From there I realized that, ultimately, he would never use the deep water (caused by the rain formed in the clouds!) to drown my family, but to cleanse us. A promise of a more loving family relationship was what He conveyed to us.
In Remembrance of Jesus Christ
*In this process of accumulation, the space between droplets becomes larger and larger, permitting light to penetrate much farther into the cloud. If the cloud is sufficiently large and the droplets within are spaced far enough apart, it may be that a percentage of the light which enters the cloud is not reflected back out before it is absorbed (Think of how much farther one can see in a heavy rain as opposed to how far one can see in a heavy fog). This process of reflection/absorption is what leads to the range of cloud color from white through grey through black. For the same reason, the undersides of large clouds and heavy overcasts appear various degrees of grey; little light is being reflected or transmitted back to the observer.*
I could say that like a cloud, my family experiences, which characterized my "Panganod Spirituality," likewise possessed the colors white, grey and black. With these colors, I cannot help but reflect on the joyful, glorious, luminous and sorrowful mysteries of the life of Jesus.
As a believer of the historical human Jesus of Nazareth, I was able to absorb the enlightenment that in fact, in reality, the interplay of both the painful and blissful experiences my family and I had is not far from the remembrance we have on the life of Jesus the Christ.
Jesus was hurt like us, cried like us, laughed like us, enjoyed life like us and loved Himself, His family and his neighbors like us.
So there is no way of complaining here for indeed, in all of my life’s endeavors, may it be restless or calm, bad or good, negative or positive, Jesus is always there as my light, ever ready to penetrate the spaces I prepared for Him.
Nevertheless, like a cloud, the color of my spirituality eventually depends upon how far have I reflected and absorbed Jesus’ light shining on me.
In Efforts to Combine Elements of Action and Contemplation
*Thin clouds may appear to have acquired the color of their environment or background, and clouds illuminated by non-white light, such as during sunrise or sunset, may be colored accordingly. In the near-infrared range, clouds would appear darker because the water that constitutes the cloud droplets strongly absorbs solar radiation at those wavelengths.*
The only road that I could tread to manifest myself as a follower of Jesus is through my action and prayer.
Hence, the challenge which I am responding right now is the call for me to be able to read the "writings on the wall," the "signs of the times."
I cannot expect myself, most definitely, to levitate like a cloud suspended in the air during my prayer times. That's stupid, I know. And for me, that's not the real essence of prayer. Nor does God require me to achieve that.
One sure way for me to reach the equilibrium of my action and prayer is again assuming a quality that is like that of a cloud – to acquire the color of my environment or background. Inculturation, as they say.
To put it simply, being raised in a loving family, I am constantly challenged to likewise be a loving person as much as I can – be it in my works or in relating with my neighbor and, of course, with myself. This is the action which I am sure most pleasing to God.
And so this has become the content of my prayer now: "Thank you very much for all the love, Lord. Please grant me the grace to always love like that of the love shown to us by Jesus of Nazareth."
With Respect to Charism and Community
*Red, orange and pink clouds occur almost entirely at sunrise/sunset and are the result of the scattering of sunlight by the atmosphere. The clouds are not that color; they are reflecting the long (and unscattered) rays of sunlight which are predominant at those hours. The effect is much the same as if one were to shine a red spotlight on a white sheet. In combination with large, mature thunderheads this can produce blood-red clouds.*
In line with my congregation's charism - to serve the sick even at the risk of life, I have had the opportunity to wash and bathe paraplegic and quadriplegic patients in our Home of Charity. I have brushed their teeth, wiped off their mess, changed their diapers, cleaned up their catheters and urine containers, dressed their sores and skin infections, dressed them up, swept their rooms, fixed their beds, helped them eat - all of which I never did for my loving family.
In our visitations to hospitals, patients and their watchers were grateful even just for my simple presence and the time I spent listening to them and talking to them - the things many sick people miss and seem not to have enough. And it is so amazing how, after each simple apostolate, I feel a deep joy and fulfillment in my heart that I am sure dollars or euros cannot give. From my little experience with them and because I know that there are many others like them who strongly believe in God and need spiritual healing, guidance and understanding along with physical healing, I am more and more inspired to press on to practice "Faith in Action."
How's that for a cloud reflecting the marvelous colors of a sunrise or a sunset?
As Expressed in Authentic Praxis
*A cloud field is simply a group of clouds but sometimes cloud fields can take on certain shapes that have their own characteristics and are specially classified.*
Jesus became effective in His ministry mainly because of His being a loving person. Thus, like a cloud which takes a certain shape and characteristics, I am taking on the shape and characteristics of the loving Jesus of Nazareth, my model in loving - a lover beyond compare. It is not easy an endeavor, but I am trying my very best that despite my very limited capacity to achieve things that are truly worthwhile in this world, I would make happen the desire of my heart that in my own simple and special way and with dedication and compassion, I will be able to share my life with others and have some positive impact on their lives through the Church, my vocation and my "Panganod Spirituality" - like a cloud that once gave joy to a simple barrio boy who leisurely laid himself down under the shade of a tree and watched the sky above him and felt how beautiful life is.
P.S.: The definition/description of a cloud I used in this paper was taken from Wikipedia.
BRO. JOHN JAY C. MAGPUSAO, MI
St. Camillus Scholasticate
Order of the Ministers of the Infirm (Camillians)
18 Nicanor Reyes St., Loyola Heights, Quezon City, Philippines