Week 45 (Day 4): Force of Life

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“As a father has compassion on his children,

so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

for he knows how we are formed,

he remembers that we are dust.

The life of mortals is like grass,

they flourish like a flower of the field;

the wind blows over it and it is gone,

and its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting

the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,

and his righteousness with their children’s children—

with those who keep his covenant

and remember to obey his precepts.” – Psalm 103:13-18

How does one become a force of life?

A Force of Life sings a song of hope in the darkest of nights.

The first mention of the word flower, one immediately associates with it the ideas of beauty, freshness, youth, and hope. In poetry and song, flowers had been used to evoke a feeling of nostalgia, speak of a coming renaissance, or symbolize the transience of life. Culturally, the Japanese ethos is represented by a beautiful yet ephemeral flower, the sakura or the cherry blossom, which speak of the importance of living life in every breath. Jose Rizal himself wrote the beautiful poem To the Flowers of Heidelberg through which he reminisced the time he spent in Germany and the moments of deep reflection he had on his love for is motherland while he is in a foreign land.

The imagination of countless children of the 20th century was captured by the music and the narrative of the film The Sound of Music. For most kids, the movie is a succession of wonderful songs that express the vibrancy and energy of being young and adventurous. Do-Re-Mi, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, and So Long, Farewell were just some of the songs that are until today being sung by children of all ages across cultures and countries. One of the most memorable songs and perhaps the most important song of the film is a song about an Austrian flower called Edelweiss. The edelweiss can be found at altitudes 1,800-3,000 meters above sea level where the air is cold and the atmosphere is dry. It is a delicate short-lived flower that grows where limestone can be most found. In folklore, the edelweiss is a flower given as a gift if one is to make a promise of dedication to someone they love.

“Edelweiss, Edelweiss

Every morning you greet me

Small and white, clean and bright

You look happy to meet me

Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow

Bloom and grow forever

Edelweiss, Edelweiss

Bless my homeland forever”

Captain von Trapp, the head of the von Trapp family, sings the song Edelweiss in two occasions in the movie. The first instance was with his children in one of the many rooms in their mansion. It was the first time that the captain ever sang again with his children after the death of his wife. It was a beautiful moment when a father sings a song of love for one’s motherland to his seven young children. He was teaching them through music what it means to be Austrian. The second time was during a singing competition held in Nazi-ruled Austria. He and his family was about to flee Austria upon learning from a telegram that he is being commissioned to serve in the German Navy. Their plan to leave in the dark of night was discovered by the Nazi officers. This event led him and his wife Maria had to come up with an alibi which led the entire family to perform in the singing competition. His love for his homeland Austria caused him to sing the song Edelweiss as a way of bidding farewell to his motherland and as a way to remind his countrymen that they are supposed to fight for the integrity and glory of Austria amidst Nazi rule. He could not be coerced to serve in the German Navy because he believed that Germany had not right to invade his country. At that time, he thought that the only way for him to be a true son of Austria is by leaving Austria. He sang a song of hope in a time of great personal and national crises. There could not have been a better song to sing during that time of darkness and uncertainty. After all, edelweiss is a flower that is given as a gift when someone makes a promise of dedication to the people or country he holds closest to his heart.

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Week 45 (Day 3): Force of Life

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“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16

How does one become a force of life?
Not far removed from reality, a Force of Life is one with the heartbeat of the people.

The 2008 Bollywood film Jodhaa Akbar is a love story between the Mughal Emperor, Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar, and Rajput Princess, Jodhaa. Their epic romance happened at a time when the unity of the subcontinent of Hindustan (now India) under the Mughal Empire is being challenged by treachery, rebellion and political manoeuvrings from within the family of the emperor as well as from kingdoms that refused to pay homage to the Mughal emperor. It was a pivotal time in the history of India as the empire of Hindustan stretched as far as Afghanistan in the northwest to the Bay of Bengal in the east, and from the Himalayas in the north to the Godavari River in the south. In fact, Emperor Akbar is remembered in history as the most illustrious ruler of the Mughal Empire.
The film may be about the greatest among the Mughal emperors but it is also about the Rajput princess who was able to influence the emperor to become a great leader beyond the battlefield. In the film, Jodhaa’s marriage to Emperor Akbar was that of political convenience as her father King Bharmal of Amer presented her to the Mughal emperor to strengthen the alliance of Amer and the Mughal Empire. She refused to be a mere pawn in the political game among rulers. She used whatever influence that she had at that time to reveal to her husband the plight of the common man. She used her marriage to the greatest Mughal emperor as a platform to raise the issues of the world outside the royal court. She believed that for her husband to be a truly great emperor, he must first win the hearts of his subjects but first and foremost becoming one with them in spirit.
In this dialogue, Jodhaa challenges her husband, the emperor, to become a man whose heart beats with the hearts of the people of Hindustan. In essence, she was telling her husband that being married to her means being married to the simple folk of their empire.
Jodhaa: “You know how to wage war and conquer. But do not know how to rule.”
Akbar: “What did you say?”
Jodhaa: “That you have only conquered me but not won my heart yet.”
Akbar: “This is unfair. I have fulfilled your every wish. I have respected every demand of yours. I have carried out my duties as a husband!”
Jodhaa: “If that were true you’d never have sent me away without hearing my side.
Akbar: “But try to understand that considering the circumstances, a misunderstanding was inevitable.”
Jodhaa: “But you should have at least tried to know what really happened. But the truth is that you are far removed from reality. You do not know how to win hearts. To do that, you need to look into their minds, discover their little pleasures and sorrows, and win their trust. Be one with their heartbeat! And the day that you will succeed in doing that, you will rule my heart!”

Asking for her forgiveness, Akbar eventually embarked on a journey to discover what it was like to be a simple man in Hindustan. He went incognito in the marketplace to understand the daily needs of his subjects and, in the process, he discovered the unjust Pilgrim Tax that his empire had for the longest time collected from his Hindu subjects. He immediately abolished the Pilgrim Tax and his people began to see that he is indeed a great leader, a leader of all people in Hindustan regardless of culture or religion.
“Akbar” is a word that literally means “great”. But Akbar only became truly great when he finally became one with the heartbeat of his people. Jodhaa was once a Rajput princess who was used as a pawn in a marriage of alliance but she only became worthy to be called “Empress of Hindustan” when she fought for the simple and oftentimes forgotten people of her empire. Their marriage transcended its original purpose which was only to build an alliance between Amer and the Mughal Empire. Instead, they created an empire founded in truth, justice, and benevolence.

Week 45 (Tuesday): Force of Life

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“Then after Moses grew up, his faith made him refuse to be called Pharaoh’s grandson. He chose to be mistreated with God’s people instead of having the good time that sin could bring for a little while. Moses knew that the treasures of Egypt were not as wonderful as what he would receive from suffering for the Messiah, and he looked forward to his reward.” Hebrews 11:24-26

How does one become a force of life?

A Force of Life does not feel inferior.

It can be said that Lee Kuan Yew is a man of his time. He lived in a time when colonialism and imperialism were the factors that determined the trajectory of countries and territories. He lived during the time when Singapore was a British colony. And at the age of 19, he witnessed first-hand the cruelty of Japanese imperialism during the Second World War. He lived in a time when being Chinese and Singaporean meant being perceived to be inferior to the colonial masters and subordinate to the imperial invaders.

Lee Kuan Yew once recalled that he himself should have been killed by the Japanese imperial soldiers as a huge number of taller and larger built Chinese Singaporeans were ordered to dig their own graves and were then killed by being shot from behind. He was about to board the lorry that would have brought him to his death when he was allowed to board the next day instead. This proved to be a game-changer for him when a sudden change of Japanese imperial officers the next day ultimately led to his life being spared.

The death and destruction brought about by war almost stole his future away from him. The toxicity of pessimism and doubt that pervaded during his youth seemed to have the power to define his destiny. Lee Kuan Yew, after the war, had the opportunity to study in London and there he thought that even the greatest of empires can come to an end. Post-war London was a place that allowed Lee Kuan Yew to reflect on freedom and what it means to take a stand for one’s homeland. As a Chinese Singaporean, he felt unwelcomed in London as he experienced first-hand how the Westerners perceived themselves as superior over the people from the Orient. Lee Kuan Yew said that in the midst of a different culture, he did not see himself as being inferior in any way. He fought bigotry with pride over his own Oriental roots and unmatched diligence as a student. He was never ashamed for being a man of Eastern heritage in a period when his country has not proven anything yet to the world.

He eventually returned to Singapore. As a passionate young man who had gained wisdom from his first-hand experience of the Second World War as well as his time as a student in London, he found himself becoming the leader of a country without natural resources and a post-colonial people without a common identity. Fast forward today, Singapore is now a nation of the future where what were once impossibilities have become the norm. It is a city-state that represents the future aspirations of mankind. All that Singapore achieved over five decades would not have happened if the man who was called to lead the “against all odds” journey of his country was a man who saw himself inferior to everyone else around him. There is dignity and nobility that comes with being able to stand by one’s people especially during the worst of times.

Moses was a prince of one of the most powerful kingdoms in the history of mankind but by faith he refused to be called Pharaoh’s grandson and instead chose to be mistreated with his the people of his own race. Moses was not lured by the accoutrements of Egyptian royal life. He saw that to journey with the God of his forebears Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was a much greater reward. Such is a Force of Life. He is an individual who does not allow his fear and the societal notions of power and prestige to define what he is and what he can do. He is driven by a heavenly fire. He is led by an understanding the world around his can never define him and, on the contrary, the world within him is what will transform the world around him no matter the darkness and the destruction.

Week 45 (Monday): Force of Life

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“So I ask you to make full use of the gift that God gave you when I placed my hands on you. Use it well. God’s Spirit doesn’t make cowards out of us. The Spirit gives us power, love, and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:6-7

How does one become a force of life?

When one looks at the pages of history books, one finds that dates, places, events, and other details seem to be largely meaningless apart from the biographies that ultimately define an age or a moment in history. These characters did not come from the same region or country nor did they belong to the same race or social status. They certainly did not speak the same language nor did they subscribe to the same cultural mores. They did not live during the same period in history. We, in fact, discover that some of them are separated by thousands of years while some of them are contemporaries of one another. The movers who shaped the world are scattered across time and space. They may not be the majority but they certainly defined their respective generations. When talking about these history-defining characters, we also realize that not all are cut from the same mold. Some were heroes, some were villains, some were antiheroes, some were heroes who were initially mistaken as villains, some were villains who for the longest time were considered to be heroes, and some were, for the longest time, relegated into the sidelines of history and their voices have only recently come to fore.

History has quite a number of movers and shakers but when we sift through these characters whose stories stood out across space and time, we discover a special group of individuals and groups who we can call forces of life. And by force of life we mean individuals or groups who saw the silver lining amidst the worst of cultural, social, climatic, or personal storms. They were people who were not defined by the world around them but, on the contrary, chose to define the world that surrounds them. They were people who were able to turn the vestiges of war into brilliant and riveting masterpieces, people who made divine music out of the devastation that surrounds them, people who sang songs of eternal hope during the worst of nights, and people whose eyes were set onto an invisible city whose architect and builder is the God of hope and new beginnings. They were a people who stared death in the face and realized that they have lost their fear of it. They were a people who discovered that faith and courage are intertwined in the same way that grace and truth are inseparable.

This week, we will answer the question “How can one become a force of life?” by looking into biographies of men and women whose legacies across different cultures and societies made their respective communities and the world at large a better place.

WEEK 44: Friday — Force of Life

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DAY 5

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

– William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar


But as it is written in the Scriptures:

“No one has ever seen this,
and no one has ever heard about it.
No one has ever imagined
what God has prepared for those who love him.”

1 Corinthians 2:9

Game Changer: noun. A newly introduced element or factor that changes an existing situation or activity in a significant way.

There once was a King who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The King looked at all the pictures, but there were only two he really liked and he had to choose between them.

One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror, for peaceful towering mountains were all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.

The other picture had mountains, too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky from which rain fell and in which lightening played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all. But when the King looked, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest in perfect peace.

Which picture do you think won the prize? The King chose the second picture. Do you know why?

‘Because’ explained the King, ‘peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.’

Author Unknown

What makes this story so different? It is the fact that many of us, when we assess life and look around us, we react in exactly the same way as the people who saw the first picture. We think that for something to happen, everything must be perfect. For there to be improvement, literally EVERYTHING has to be going right. What we don’t realize is that it doesn’t necessarily mean that. Life is more like the second painting. What happens outside should not really affect us. Like what Shakespeare said when he wrote Julius Caesar, it is not in the stars to make of life what it should be. It is up to us to make it what it should be. If we’re placed in the middle of a raging waterfall, it is up to us to make a nest. Not a bare nest that is pushed around in the middle of the waterfall, but a nest filled with promise of new life. Let’s build our nests. Let’s create a promise of better things. Not because things are perfect, but because that is how God wants it to be, and we are His hands and feet in this world.

WEEK 44: Thursday — Force of Life

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DAY 4

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.

– Amelia Earhart


See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Deuteronomy 1:21

Tenacious: not easily stopped or pulled apart; firm or strong; continuing for a long time.

Do you remember that “Last Samurai” clip? Yes, that clip. If you forgot what clip that was, it’s this one.

Why did Nathan Algren think these people were such an extraordinary people? It’s this one observation: that from the moment they wake up, they devote themselves to the perfection of what they do.

They simply did not accept things as half-baked! What made them such excellent people? Boye Lafayette De Mente, in his interviews with several experts on samurai culture, came upon this conclusion.

“Only incredible mental, physical, intellectual and spiritual self-discipline can explain how Musashi was able to become the finest swordsman in the country while still in his teens. Although records of Musashi’s childhood are scarce, it is obvious that he was strong-willed and extraordinarily self-disciplined from an early age.

The fighting skills that Miyamoto Musashi and other samurai developed, like those of Olympic champions, did not come easily. Although Musashi claimed to have been self-trained, we can assume that he based his training on the models provided by the most accomplished samurai instructors of the day.

Their programs were based on a regime of training that began in early childhood; was engaged in for several hours a day, generally six days a week; and continued for many years.

 

The formal training began when boys reached the age of six or seven. Around the age of fifteen, at which time they became full-fledged warriors, one of the common rites of passage was beheading several men who were either condemned convicts or captured enemies—to get the “feel” of cutting off a head.

Once the samurai had mastered the different weapons in their arsenal, particularly the sword, their training was reduced to a few hours a day several times a week.—and continued until they died or retired.

It was a never ending quest for perfection. From the time they were young till the time they died, they devoted themselves to their craft. They believed that what they dedicated their life for is worth perfecting. They believed that it was something that they can die for. Isn’t that something that we as Christians wish for? Don’t we wish for that tenacity that allows us to withstand anything and face each day fully confident that what we do will one day be used by God to weave a majestic tapestry?

WEEK 44: Wednesday — Force of Life

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DAY 3

The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.

– G. K. Chesterton


 “Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?”

Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’  All the law and the writings of the prophets depend on these two commands.”

Matthew 22:36-40

In today’s increasingly intelligence-biased culture, more and more people take stock in whatever the next greatest invention or innovation is. There is a great influx of people who continue to get smarter, who continue to believe that the best thing to do in life is to learn more, know more, and prove to other people that they know better.

What happened to us? We have “advanced” faster in the last 10-20 years than what was seen in the last 100 years, and yet there seems to be bigger and bigger problems than ever before. Seemingly in our quest for the advancement of humanity, we in turn have slowly been losing our humanity. We have forgotten the most basic commandment of all. It’s not about what we’re able to accrue in this life that we’re living. The better question is, for what did we accrue these things?

A lot of people tend to surmise, “If doing things for other people is the way to go, then why don’t I get recognized when I do it?” Why is it that it seems to be that this is the path of least returns? Why continue? Loren Eiseley wrote an interesting story about this scenario.

A man walking on the beach saw a child reaching down to pick up small objects and then throwing them into the ocean. He called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”  The child looked up and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” To this, the child replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the man commented, “But do you not realize that there are thousands of starfish? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the child bent down, picked up a starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “IT MADE A DIFFERENCE FOR THAT ONE.”

Don’t lose faith. Don’t lose courage. There is good work to be done.