Dispassion

Dispassion

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All 2017 August Vicar Writes

27 August 2017 | Vicar Writes

Dispassion

By Terry Wong

The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving. Proverbs 14:8

There is one principle undergirding our spiritual growth which is least taught or understood today. It has to do with the principle of self-knowledge or self-awareness. 

We hardly take soul-searching seriously unless we are hit with a crisis, i.e. a painful relationship breakdown or a major work failure. However, being self-aware is actually needed in our daily life, work and discipleship. Routinely, are we capable of asking these questions:

•     What are my motivations, the “whys” of what I do?

•     How is my behaviour impacting others?  

•     Am I dictated by a incessant need to please others? 

•     Is the “fear of man” determining my actions?

•     Why am I feeling downcast? Am I simply tired physically or are there some underlying issues which I am not at peace with?   

•     Do I have fears that I have not faced up to?

Am I capable of taking my intense feelings, positive and negative, out of the depths of my heart for a moment, and putting them where I can look at them – and where Christ can look at them?

It’s what the ancient spiritual traditions meant by ‘dispassion’. It’s a negative-sounding  word, and it’s not much better in Greek, because apatheia is the source of our English word “apathy”. But dispassion, apatheia, in the spiritual understanding of the early Christians, is about stepping back a bit from how we are feeling, what we think we are wanting, and what other people are wanting. We are saying: ‘Just a moment – can I make some space around these feelings, these instincts, these emotions, these desires? Can I create a bit of space and not allow my reactions instantly to be dictated by them?’ 

This applies equally to positive feelings of ecstasy and enthusiasm as to resentment or sadness. Stand back a little, give those feelings room to breathe; give yourself room to breathe. Ask, “What’s this really about?” Self-awareness, and this rather strange word ‘dispassion’, is about developing some sense of our freedom from the projections, the expectations and the busyness that control our lives. 

We can only get to dispassion when, in our prayer and in our life generally, we make enough space to reflect, to hear God. We encounter such moments when we pause to pray: “Search my heart, O God.” It is about being still enough  and to begin to realise who we really are. That self-awareness is often needed if there is to be change and growth. 

Something to this effect was happening in the conversations between Jesus and Peter in John 21. What did Jesus do to Peter? He simply asked questions. Deep and penetrating ones. They were questions that caused Peter to probe his own heart, his priorities and motivations. 

Sometimes, the real problem is not the absence of God but the absence of us. Even when we pray, our true selves are in absentia. In our busy city life, there are really no short-cuts to the practice of this discipline of apatheia. You have to find the space to be quiet and to be still. Sometimes another person, asking the right questions can also help us to find the space for self-awareness. 

I should add that often, we can rob the person from the needful path of self-discovery and discipleship experiences when we rush into defining a person’s problems or weaknesses. Instead, we should encourage the person to pray, reflect and seek the Lord. You need to help  him or her to step back and find the space to be more self-aware. From there, true growth and change will take place.

20 August 2017 | Vicar Writes

THAT YOU MAY HAVE LIFE, AND HAVE IT TO THE FULL

By Terry Wong

There is a new fascination with food in the globalised world of today, almost a new religion, where food is worshipped for what it is and nothing more. We eat and “have it to the full”.

 However, we would do well not to neglect the traditional aspects of food, which bring depth and beauty to the human experience, making it less selfish, self-aggrandising, where meals are set in the classical context of giving, community, family and relationships. The Bible offers some of these helpful perspectives.  

 Hosting a guest at one’s dinner table can serve as an expression of welcome and acceptance. To eat with someone is to embrace him. Jesus often ate with the rejects and outcasts of society, an association that drew the criticism of the self-righteous religious elite of his day. He dined with tax collectors and prostitutes, sharing with them and engaging them in conversation. How often do we find ourselves connecting with others, even strangers, over a shared meal? Do you know that chatting with a visitor after a Service over a cup of coffee can be something our Lord will do?

 Meals and feasting also carry the idea of resting from labour. The Bible takes this further in its portrayal of a heavenly banquet as ‘salvation rest’ from work, and the ravages of sin and suffering in this world. When we feast and eat, we naturally experience an inner sense of rest. One of the most well-known passages in the Bible must be Psalm 23. The psalm begins with the image of a guiding Shepherd but ends with us being served by a Chef – “You prepare a table before me….” Psalm 23:5). Each meal can be a picture of that rest,
even if it just provides a brief respite in the midst of the stress of everyday life. Take time to enjoy food. If you are eating with someone, enjoy the conversation and company while being fully present and engaged. 

 Associated with the idea of rest is also the theme of homecoming. This is one reason the Bible refers to meals when it describes homecoming events such as the Parable of the Banquet (Luke 14:15-24). With each meal, whether in our homes, especially the precious Chinese New Year reunion dinner, or in church at the Holy Communion, we anticipate the great gathering in heaven with Christ.  Christians are simply grateful that they are forgiven and accepted by the Father, and they remember this over a spiritual meal. 

 The idea of welcome, rest and home is also powerfully portrayed in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-31). The youngest son squanders away his inheritance. He returns in shame, hoping for his father’s forgiveness yet feeling unworthy to be called his son. His father does much more than forgive. He throws a lavish feast which includes a fattened calf to celebrate the restoration of a son who had gone astray. He exclaims: “Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” To gather around the table again reflects the reinstatement of the son’s position in the family. In feasting, the family celebrates the ties that bind. Yes, a family that eats together stays together.  

 It is not difficult to imagine the importance of a meal before an Alpha Course or after a Worship Service. It is as deeply spiritual as a Prayer Meeting!

 Jesus said, ‘’I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). My prayer for you is that food and feasting is not just about a tasty dish, an Omakase or Degustation meal. It may delight the palate but adds little else to life. That you experience food in the context of rich relationships with your friends, family and your Creator. That to me is to have life to the full.

13 August 2017 | Vicar Writes

A Christian approach to the issue of Same-Sex attraction

By Terry Wong

We were very blessed recently by the ministry of Revd Dr Wesley Hill. He gave a talk at at our Parish Workers Communion and also spoke at a conference organised over the weekend. 

 Hill is assistant professor of New Testament at the Trinity School for Ministry, an Anglican College in Pittsburg USA. Hill shared his personal journey as a Christian who gradually discovered that he has same-sex attraction and how that needed to square with his commitment to God’s Word and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  A celibate Christian now, he is both convinced of and convicted to follow God’s Word and the traditional (inherited) teaching of the Church.  

 He also challenged the Church to take a hard look at her emphases, especially the “idolisation of marriage” and underplaying the power of community living and spiritual friendships. 

 Hill explained how, typically, this Christian hope for sexual minorities lends itself to one of two options, both focused on marriage. The first, that homosexuals can change their sexual orientation and eventually participate in a heterosexual marriage; the second, that homosexuals can find hope in participating in a homosexual marriage.

“My story doesn’t allow me to locate my hope in either of those options,” Hill said. “Instead, what I found is that the hope God was calling me to in the gospel was hope that came in the form of a positive call to love, precisely in my celibacy.”

This sounds like it could mean a life of loneliness and a very depressing prospect and Wesley spoke to those kinds of questions.

After growing up in a “sheltered environment” where he had little to no exposure to homosexuality, Hill realised in college that ignoring his homosexuality was not the path toward redemption. “I began a process of bringing my questions to my faith rather than keeping my questions and my faith separate,” he said.

Hill explained that his own context has led him to a hope revolving around a vocation that encourages fellowship among Christians — the vocation of spiritual friendship. He views this idea of spiritual friendship not only as a call to sexual minorities, but also as a vocation for Christians in general, which allows more room for those who feel called toward celibacy.

This may be the first time I am sharing my thoughts on gay issues. Actually these concerns have dominated my thinking for many years now, often happening around my pastoral ministry to those struggling with sexual difficulties, same-sex or otherwise. I have said all along that the cause of same-sex attraction, whether nature (“born this way”), environment or a bit of both is a moot point. What is important is how we may guide the person to grow in discipleship. 

I agree with Hill that we need to develop a more thought out theology and practice of spiritual friendship in the life of the church. In our desire to protect marriage (promiscuity and unfaithfulness are not a lesser threat than LGBT issues) and melded with our Asian values of expecting everyone to marry, we may have idolised marriage and family to the neglect of the celibate person. The church as a family and community is vital to the life and health of every Christian. 

Regaining a theology of spiritual friendship can help us shift the balance away from the idea that romance and sex are what you need in order to be a fulfilled person. Revd Dr Ephraim Radner said very much the same thing in a talk he gave to a Young Adult group when he was here in April. In our highly sexualised world, it is all too easy to imagine that “romantic love” is the goal of life. In fact, romantic love is often a cheap, selfish imitation and replacement of
true love, as classically understood and experienced.  

In the Cathedral, we will seek to be vigorous as we help each other to think biblically and practise our faith in a fast-changing world. It is never easy to stay faithful to Christ, whether you are a heterosexual, homosexual, single or married person. It has always been so, right from the beginning of time . 

I close with the words of Jesus: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25

Note: Dr Wesley Hill’s talk can be streamed from our website in the sermon section

6 August 2017 | Vicar Writes

Thankful for…

By Terry Wong

Safety 
No need to glance back 
We can saunter with friends
Laugh, love, chat
Even when the sun has long set.

Beauty
Greens that give shade 
Blooming bougainvillea
Easing the eyes
Coloring the journey

Efficiency
The city works
The city works
Decisions made 
Carried out.

Integrity
A word is a word
The agenda is as written
No hidden ones in hearts
No whispers
The sum is as stated
No hidden extras.  

Equality
You can if you can
Ideas valued for what they are
Not for where they come from

Order
The voice of the community
Guided by agreed principles
Not arbitrary wishes of the few.

Stability
That we may plan
Way ahead
For our children
And our children’s children

Freedom
To worship
To hear creeds
To admire
To disagree
To choose a new creed


I am thankful for
Singapore. 

“I urge that .. thanksgivings be made for all people (nation), for kings and all who are in high positions…”  1 Timothy 2:1

ABOUT THE VICAR

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Revd Canon Terry Wong is the Vicar of the Cathedral. He writes weekly for the weekend Service bulletins and the articles are posted on this site.