I had an odd sensation when I read the second 'angel' experience a couple of weeks ago. Was it disappointment that I wouldn't know whether the family member welcoming me into the (possible) after-life was real or an 'angel in disguise'? Or was it that, because it wasn't from Bapak, it resonated in a strange way? Either way, it was a busy morning and didn't think about it unduly. Later on, coming into work and focused on what I was doing, not on anything Subud or spiritual, the words suddenly came into my head: 'You are in Subud. You will know the difference. (between an angel and a family member)' So there it is: I should know an angel when I see one – if ever! I hope that's so.
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I often struggled when I was about to return to Kalimantan - even after so many years of living there. This was my prayer for strength one night before returning after a month away.
Kalimantan; so many blessings, so many challenges, so many visions,
Unimaginable exchanges between her and the Creator; who could ever believe her?
Facing them all so alone,
So many times wanting to leave whatever the price,
Burnt out, broken and hopelessly exhausted.
O Beloved, was it Your intention that ‘alone’ also spells ‘Al-One’?
Did you mean that in her aloneness she faces your All-one-ness?
Each time this unworthy vessel was on the verge of breakdown, where the line was drawn and she was leaving,
You showered her with the greatest gift: renewing latihan to breathe life giving confirmation to her weary soul.
And yet today, her fear of returning to that eternal battleground of light and darkness is greater than ever;
Needing strength to help with the journey home, but so many people everywhere, she’s breaking.
O my Beloved, if it is Your Will, please give her the strength and courage to face her return to Kalimantan, for she is frightened.
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The sailing ship I live on is immensely beautiful. Tall ironwood masts reach infinitely into the skies of God, the sails billow with the whiteness of a thousand angel wings heralding the currents of the winds and clouds. The timber hull of magnificent proportion and ancient strength gleams in the brightest rays of sunshine.
The SS Rungan Sari sails through an ocean unbounded by land; the invisible shores are just a distant dream, a memory out there of somewhere that is never seen. The condition of travel on this ship is to embark on an unknown voyage to an unknown destination, without the certainty of knowing where or when and without the luxury of planning or knowing the future. The destination is shrouded to force total submission, to remove all semblance of the security of what I know as normal.
Pre-departure nerves are a normal part of the course – the insecurities of having no security rise and fall like waves within my chest. The vastness of the surrounding ocean is like its counterpart, the desert: seemingly empty, yet abundant with the unseen. The expedition provides no free lunch, no perfection of crew members, and to arrive with expectations of a comfortable cruise will only set one up for disappointments that crash on submerged rocks. Danger, risks and fears of the unknown, surround me both inwardly and outwardly, and the necessity of abandoning the old and leaping into the hands of God will be my greatest test.
Once on board the ship, the process of removing the routines acquired from life on the land begins. I am dismantled and stripped bare through processes unintelligible to the mind but welcomed by the soul. On the days of blessings, I am taken to visit the hall of mirrors, revealing all what was once long hidden and buried within my being. Faults bubble up from the ocean depths released from fissures in the earth’s crust far below me on the ocean floor. The others on this ship, reflect myself back to me, their actions and reactions point out my faults and my strengths. Everyone suffers here in their own way, and our invisible hearts beat in solidarity: “I’m suffering too . . .You are not alone.”
Each day blesses me with a new lesson to learn more about myself and how to deal with the constraints of life at sea. I am confronted by my shortcomings and suffering is inevitable through the process of growing. The pain that rises and falls with the ocean tides can be managed in different ways; recognise and embrace the aching within and turn wholly to the One for help, or turn away to search for distractions or to cast the blame on others and our surroundings. The choice is always mine; yet the blaming only prolongs suffering; distracting me from the ultimate blessing of seeing my own faults and turning towards the One for love and help.
We are a small crew of people bound together from different lands and cultures by a common vision; sailing on towards an unknown destination with hope and faith. And yet the challenges and perils of the ocean voyage are many. Whispering forces wait jealously in the winds, scouring for cracks of weakness in our hearts where they can rush in and steer us off course. Each crew member has their own shortcomings and challenges to face, with a unique purpose, role and responsibility. The medley of colours and cultures blending in love and challenges, steer us to work together, to find a patient heart as wide as this ocean, for the challenges can only be overcome through cooperation and the waves loom higher when there is discord on this tiny ship on the vast ocean. We are all bound together and the joys and pains of one are shared by the many.
Pilgrims from all over the world visit this minute outpost in the ocean. Some who come with a small knapsack and humble quietness may experience God’s Grace deeper than they thought possible. Others, carrying ancient suitcases from forgotten ancestors, have the opportunity to witness the opening of luggage they never knew existed. The blessings of being able to come face to face with oneself, is the greatest gift, and yet the process is challenging and confronting and can be extremely painful.
At times, heavy storms roll in and the invisible forces fight for dominance in our hearts and minds on these open seas, and I am incapacitated by waves of seasickness. Headaches and nausea remind me of the constraints of this physical body, compelling me to withdraw into my berth below deck where there is nowhere to run except into the arms of the Creator. I thank The One who gently embraces me with a wholeness not known by the mortal body but yearned for by the soul.
Throughout the voyage, I pray there is enough ballast of understanding and calmness to steady the ship and that enough people understand the meaning of this journey. Often I long to return to the shore, where life was comfortable and secure, but deep inside I sail onwards, feeling the sacredness and the blessings of this voyage. Each day I pray for the strength to endure and to trust in this expedition.
When the days are calm and the leaden mists clear, the ocean glistens afresh in the reflected light of the One. I bask in the sunny bliss, and the gentle breezes high up in the crow’s nest tell me stories that no one would believe. The only constant here is change and I pray that in this fluid and ever changing dynamic, our Benevolent Captain will truly guide us and forgive us our many shortcomings, as we may also always be able to forgive each other.
07 December, 2009
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I’m sitting alone on a white sandy beach on the west coast of Java. I have come with three of my closest girl friends, to stay a few days holiday in the bamboo cottages on this remote beach west of Jakarta. A traditional fishing village nestles in the dunes further down the bay and the ‘child’ of Krakatoa rises out of the ocean in the far distance in front of me; a pale blue cone thinly veiled by the ocean’s evaporating humidity making a two dimensional delicate image out of what is really a 3D giant. I remember how just last year on my high school field trip, I had climbed up the side of that hot cinder cone and watched the steam and heat gurgling up from the depths of my Earth.
But today I sit and watch her from the distance; the sun is closing its day’s journey, rapidly falling into the ocean in front of me while it paints the western sky with its miraculous brush. I am clothed in long sleeves and my blue sarong because I don’t like anyone to see my white skin and freckles, even though it’s a remote and empty beach.
The volcano changes color from soft blue to delicate shades of pink. So mild she looks as she sits there quietly, yet there is so much violence in her ancestors. The destructive force of power, far beyond my understanding, that causes instant death and annihilation through air and sea, killing thousands of bodies in seconds. The ferocious purging of the molten secrets from deep, deep below in the depths of our earth, brings forth fertility and new life.
She is a symbol of birth, life, and death. Krakatoa sings to me with mysteriously patient stillness.
“Hello Bule (white person), you want sex? I know white women are like prostitutes, only want sex.”
My peaceful gaze of Krakatoa has been violently erupted by a rough male voice. I struggle for a reality check, lost between realms. What is happening? I find some bearings of reality and I look up to see a local fisherman; his darkened weather-beaten face portraying a life of poverty and hardship. I pray he will leave me alone and continue his walk down the beach, but instead he comes closer and continues to talk to me in his gruff Indonesian.
In the shock of the moment, I have only two options; fight or flight. As a shy young 19 year old girl alone on a beach, of course my only option is to run away, back to the cottage to the safety of my friends. I feel violated and faint-hearted; it is not in my timid nature to engage in conversation with a man who voices such ignorance. I don’t say anything and as I get up to leave, something inside me tells me to sit down and talk to him.
“Sit down and talk to him”
I can’t believe my ears and argue back at the voice within.
What??? No way... You want me to talk to this crazy man?
“Talk to him. You have the opportunity to help this man; you can change his perception of western women. If you walk away now, he will continue his life thinking those thoughts and harassing all white women he sees. You have the language skills and religious and cultural understanding and therefore you have the responsibility to do this.”
“You like sex, ya, I know you like it. Come on, let’s go.” This man is really disgusting me.
“OK, OK, I’ll face my fears and see what I can do. But I really don’t know what to say… please help me God.”.....
“Excuse me, sir, that is a very rude way to speak to someone. It’s not polite or right to say those things.”
The words come out of me with the most polite and delicate Indonesian as a sign of respect, even though he is addressing me rudely. This is about all I can utter, as my very sensible mind is still questioning the wisdom of the voice inside.
“I know all white women like sex ….. blah blah blah”
“It’s not right, Pak, to speak to anyone like that, especially women. It’s a sin.”
“Blah blah sex blah sex blah”.
My feeble attempts are falling on deaf ears.
Keep going..... don’t be afraid, you can do it… the voice encourages me.
“Excuse me, Pak, it’s not right to talk to women like that and especially to a Muslim woman. Do you normally speak like that to Muslim women?”
“Blah blah,……. (pause) No, of course not, Muslim women deserve respect, not like white women who only want sex. I’ve seen them on TV, they like kissing and sex and looking at men. You are bad women.”
“Well Pak, what you are saying is not correct. Not all white women are like that and I am a Muslim.”
“Tak mungkin, I don’t believe you are Muslim, you are a white person.”
My body sighs involuntarily
“So you don’t believe me…??
Bismi Llah ir-Rahman ir Rahim
Al-hamdu li-Llahi rabbi l- alamin
Ar Rahman, ir Rahim
Maliki yaum id Din
Iyyaka na budu wa iyyaka nasta in
Ih dinas sirot al-mustaqim
Siratall adhina an’amta alaihim
His darkened sunburnt face has faded to pale grey, his black beady eyes have widened in horror and he is speechless. The opening chapter of the Holy Al Quran is being recited in Arabic by a white woman he has just been verbally abusing. The ocean breeze freezes the moment of horror on his face and time stands still within a sliver of silence.
His speechlessness tells me more than all the words he has so loudly abused me with. He bows his head and whispers hoarsely over and over:
“Please forgive me, I’m sorry, I believe you now. Forgive me, forgive me.”
“I forgive you, but please don’t think and speak like that again. White women are also creatures of Allah.”
He slinks away, lost in his own disgrace. The power of the holy words did all the work; I was just the extremely reluctant vehicle. I pray that Allah will guide him to find the right path.
Please forgive me, my Beloved Creator, for questioning Your wisdom and for guiding me and teaching me to trust You in all situations.
Thank you Allah, I still have so much to learn.
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