Sunday, March 31, 2024

Quiet contemplation on Easter Sunday


I enjoy the Holy Week to the same degree, if not more, as I do Christmas. These holidays, whose schedules are not explicitly mentioned in Scripture—a fact that dissuades other Christians from celebrating them at all—bookmark key events in the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Secular calendars designate them as national holidays. And rightly so. For who, in his right mind, would open cafés during this time, especially on Good Friday, when the inhabitants of the city are at home, recuperating from and avoiding the summer heat, or in church, deep in prayer and contemplation?

There is a season for every activity under heaven. So goes a line from Ecclesiastes, written by the wise King Solomon, who, when asked by God what gift he would like to receive, chose wisdom over riches and long life.

This rule, or reminder, if not fatherly wisdom, has encouraged my choice of quiet contemplation and prayer and the reading of books these past days. The harsher alternative would be to resume regular programming: going to work, busying myself with tasks and to-do lists. Honest work is a blessing from God. And so is rest. 


I could have chosen to extend my trip where it was nippy, sweater-weather and all, devoid of the discomfort of tropical humidity. But I could not quite pass the opportunity to enjoy my own room and my own thoughts and the thoughts of God. Rare are the moments when I can sit down with a book and a cup of coffee, my phone hardly ringing save for the reminder that my screen time is down by 25%, my presence hardly needed in hospitals (ah, what grace!). 

The ride from the airport early this week showed me roads that were almost empty, as in the pandemic lockdown. So hot was the weather that the grass by the road turned brown, and the trees looked thirsty. 

At home, the air conditioning is in full blast. Even Paul cannot stand the heat and would curl up in my mother’s bedroom, where it is cooler, and where he is conditionally allowed to stay as long as he remains a good boy.

I spent the greater part of Good Friday in church for prayer and fasting. Delighting in God’s Word was the theme of the congregational meditation, drawing from the riches of Psalm 119 and from the reminder that the Word is with God and the Word is God Himself (John 1:1)—beautiful theological and practical truths that animate my life and those in the household of faith. I was rewarded with a nourishing meal, the perfect arroz caldo, our local church’s tradition to break the short fast.

During this season I also enjoyed The Chosen (season 1) on Netflix. What I love about it is the tender portrayal of Jesus living a perfect life in an abject, sinful world, choosing to mingle with the demon-possessed, the lepers, the lowly.

I finished Marilynne Robinson’s Reading Genesis, her meditation on the first book of the Bible. Her close reading of Genesis has stirred in me a gratefulness for the priceless truths of Biblical Christianity, even if being a Christian has fallen out of flavor in the secular world. She writes about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, and Joseph; and compares and contrasts Genesis with the Enuma Elish and other similar accounts from surrounding cultures at the time. I read, but not wholeheartedly agree with, everything that Robinson writes. I do not find her particularly relaxing but always worthwhile. I often have to repeat myself and am rewarded by greater illumination after several rounds of rereading. I must have listened to all her podcast and YouTube interviews, and I love her novels and her essays. I am what you call a huge fan.


I finally got to finish The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, a gift from my friend Racquel Bruno in 2015, during our residency in internal medicine. I started reading it nine years ago. I got preoccupied with work. I was also bored by the first few chapters that I had to set it aside, hoping I would probably find the stamina and encouragement to complete it. In January this year, I took a brief survey of my book collection. Catton’s novel stood out like a sore thumb. I read it from the beginning—not from the middle where I had placed my bookmark, because so much time has passed that I’d already forgotten the plot. It is the longest book to win the Booker Prize with its 800-plus words. There was sweetness and deep joy in reading it the second time around, a reminder to myself not to give up too easily. My favorite part, ultimately, is the love story between the naïve but good-natured Emery Staines and the prostitute Anna Wetherell. Now I am itching to visit New Zealand and to read Catton’s Birnam Wood.


It is Easter Sunday today. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

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Thursday, March 28, 2024

Prague, for the first time


I took this in 2017, during winter. I rested my feet after hours of wandering aimlessly. I remember that all I wanted then was to experience the city. My budget was limited. I was in residency. That visit to Prague was largely unplanned, something I decided to do on a whim after a staying a few days in Vienna for a conference. 

When I travel, I have a vague sense of what to I want to do each day. I do not follow strict itineraries, as tour groups do. I remember visiting a bookstore near Vltava River before stopping to behold this view of ducks. Czech Republic was magical, the land of castles I'd normally see in films. 

I suppose these ducks would be dead by now, roasted or boiled or fried, dipped in gravy, with goulash on the side.

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Sunday, March 10, 2024

The rhythm of His grace

The Lent Project is a gift that keeps on giving. Alongside Scripture, the chosen author of the day chooses a poem, an artwork (painting or sculpture), and music to supplement and enrich the daily meditation. I had to take a pause from my daily Bible reading schedule to accommodate this enriching online devotional, which sends me email updates when new posts are available.

For March 7, Dr. Arianna Moloy writes about the ministry of love to the saints. The passages are Galatians 6:7-10 and Hebrews 6:10.
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

Allow me to share some quotable quotes from her meditation.
Exhaustion can cause mental overload and spiritual heaviness, resulting in a kind of chaotic weightiness making it hard to breathe.

Weariness skews perspective. Like a kind of emotional sunburn, any comment received in exhaustion lands in an overly tender and painful manner.

Dr. Moloy draws from the Bible's encouragement:
This is why Jesus’s invitation (e.g. Matthew 11:28-30) to draw near to him, receive comfort, and learn how to approach what’s before us with his guidance is such an incredible gift. The God of the universe offers to teach us the rhythm of his grace so that we might experience true rest in the very core of our being.

The "rhythm of his grace." I like that very much. In my moments of exhaustion—physical, spiritual, emotional—I should turn to Jesus' words (Matthew 11:28):

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

The song, Your Labor Is Not in Vain” from the album Work Songs: The Porter’s Gate Worship Project Volume 1, is just wonderful. 


Friday, March 8, 2024


Soon, if I improve my piano skills with more lessons and more practice, I'll be able to play the songs in The Genevan Psalter, compiled by Michael E. Owens.  The metrical psalter (also called The Huguenot Psalter) was originally created under the supervision of John Calvin. If you know me, you probably know I'm a huge fan of this Reformed hero. The Institutes of the Christian Religion is one of my favorite books of all time. I read the book in Kindle, during my long, humid, sweaty MRT commutes to the Philippine General Hospital from Mandaluyong.

The melodies were all composed between 1539 and 1562 in Geneva, Switzerland, at the request of John Calvin, for use with French metrical translations. No melodies have been added or removed since that time. Many have appeared in several forms, often rhythmically altered. They have been harmonized many times, in many ways, and have been often used without harmony. They have been sung with many different lyrics in several languages. Until the mid-1800s, they were widely used on the continent of Europe, the British Isles, and the New World. They are still used in some churches in Canada and Europe and Australia.

Currently, I'm working my way through Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (first movement). Ma'am Deb gave me two hymns to practice on: Holy Holy Holy and It Is Well With My Soul.

Rediscovering music has led me to appreciate all kinds of music. I'm now subscribed to the amazing podcast, The Open Ears Project, "in which people share the classical track that means the most to them and why." I particularly liked the episode in which musician Damien Sneed "reflects on how playing Liszt’s Étude No 3, 'Un Sospiro,' for both his biological and adoptive mothers allowed him to finally loosen his grip around ideas of adoption, rejection and acceptance."


Wednesday, March 6, 2024

The mornings were always ours

Dr. Lorgia García Peña's My Father’s Quiet Love Speaks Louder Than Words is moving. 
When I was younger, he’d show his care and complicity by bringing me toasted peanuts or fixing my toys. Later, he’d slip out at the crack of dawn to clean my filthy car and fill up the tank before every trip back to Boston. My favorite moments were Papi and me in the kitchen, eating roasted batata with warm café con leche, talking politics and history before the rest of the household stirred. The mornings were always ours.


Monday, March 4, 2024


Yesterday's Sunday preaching was on the spiritual riches of believers in Christ. Today's devotional takes me to Ephesians 3:14-21, in which Paul prays that the church be able to grasp the all-too wonderful concept of the love of Christ. My reading also includes a poem by Wendell Berry which evokes to me the incomparable feeling of contentment. 

All goes back to the earth,
and so I do not desire
pride of excess or power,
but the contentments made
by men who have had little:
the fisherman's silence
receiving the river's grace,
the gardener's musing on rows.

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Sunday, March 3, 2024

"In our most mundane experiences, the God for whom we yearn is the same who gives us the grace to seek Him"

Sunday morning reading:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2).

And an excerpt from a poem by Brett Foster (Longing, Lenten):
The restless energy finally settles
as I pass the mirror. I peer into it.
My nose touches glass. Not much left,
already effaced, not even a cross
to speak of. A smudge. A few black soot stains
like pin points on the forehead. The rest
of the blessed ash has vanished to a grey
amorphousness, to symbolize... not much.
Except a wish for those hallowed moments
to be followed by sustaining confidence.

Jonathan Diaz's meditation (emphasis mine):
Foster gives weight to our yearning, pitting it against the “listless weight” which the spirit rejects. This yearning requires us to approach God in full awareness of our lack and spiritual poverty. Our devotion is imperfect, awkward, and, perhaps as a result, more earnest. It is in this same attitude that we present our bodies—imperfect and awkward—as living sacrifices. Of course, we also present them as holy. But that holiness is not the result of our own righteousness, just as our prayer is not the result of our own enlightenment. Because of course, it is “by the mercies of God” that the Apostle commands us to offer our sacrifice. Even—maybe especially—in our most mundane experiences, the God for whom we yearn is the same who gives us the grace to seek Him.

Photo by Nanay, taken in Antique.


Saturday, March 2, 2024

Two-way learning

Learning is two-way. After lectures, I invite my students to ask questions. They signal a form of curiosity, if not comfort, that my students can come to me with things they're fascinated with or puzzled about. 

Yesterday, after my morning summary lecture on genomic technology and carcinogenesis inspired by Siddharta Mukherjee's All the Carcinogens We Cannot See in The New Yorker—an interesting title which plays around with Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See—my students asked questions. 

The first was about HeLa cells, a cell line derived from then-31-year old African American Henrietta Lacks who had cervical cancer. What is the specific mutation in HeLa? I said I didn't know exactly and I'd get back to them. (Active telomerase and aberrant chromosome structures are what I learned from my after-lecture readings.) I also told my students that there's a book (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot) and a movie.

The second was about whales and why they do not develop cancers more frequently than humans. The idea is that the more cells the organism has, the higher the chances of mutations to occur, and therefore the greater the chance of carcinogenesis. I heard about Peto's Paradox for the first time. It describes the "lack of correlation between body size and cancer risk." My first reaction to my student was, "Can you spell that out for me?" And my student, holding the microphone close to his mouth, spelled "Peto" for me. My second reaction: I said I loved whales. I'm truly fascinated by them. There's Hvaldimir, a beluga whale who escaped captivity and became a global celebrity. And there's the study on whale sounds using artificial intelligence. Those were totally unrelated responses, but my students seemed to like them. 

Preparing lectures is my excuse to unite my reading interests. Everything seems so connected.

After the plenary, I was tasked to stand as proctor as my students answered their problem set—a 30-item multiple choice exam. I roamed around the lecture hall. A hundred percent of the students I approached either blushed or smiled at me as I looked at their papers at the moment they were shading their answers.

(In the photo: Sir John and Ma'am Jean, staff members of the College of Medicine, helping me with my proctoring duties.)

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