I’d want Log to hear my story first because you are the people who have encouraged me to plod on in my faith. I write in long sentences partly because I have so much to say! Hm, here is part 1.
Where do I begin…To tell the story of how great a love can be…
My Awaken was about Love – an advent of new life, the awakening of a soul once hurt and hardened.
It all sounds majestic in retrospect but in truth, it was often tiring and frightening – the thought of having to go for Awaken made me feel almost as grumpy as when forced to wake up on a rainy weekend morning. Also, melting hardened souls (like mine) is as simple as smelting – how easy melting iron out of its ore can be huh.
So… the morning after coming home from a cruise (think: gluttony and sloth), I dragged myself down to a retreat that apparently promised God’s glory, all the while smsing Oliver, “Sorry!” and “Late!” and “Coming!” I missed ice-breakers, big PHEW.
(Ah, speaking of Oliver. The only reason I was actually going for Awaken was because Oliver + Estelle + Oliver’s mum incessantly nagged persuaded me to. These 3 people had become my only community during the last few crazy years; it’s only because Estelle never gave up reminding me abou even when I was miles away on exchange; it’s only because Oliver queued up at 1.30am to register me in Awaken. You’ll hear more about them later…)
The palpable hype about Awaken had been fanned by loggers and sfx people. There was a fiery hope that God was going to do something great in this hiiilllda fooooo, the infamous girl with notorious questions and some kind of attitude. Yet, by the start of camp, any excitement I once embraced had morphed into a lingering sense of apprehension, a gnawing fear of disappointment. What if I completed the intense journey of a conversion retreat with nary a tinge of transformation? I wouldn’t know what to tell loggers, goodness gracious!
The retreat began and continued with Amazing Archie! (aka our spritely Archbishop William Goh) He spoke for all the sessions despite being unwell and he constantly peppered his teachings with Bible passages (compelling evidence hm). His sessions were steeped in knowledge and wisdom, complemented with candidness and humour. More remarkably, he was ever empathetic and never on a moral high horse. I was moved in mind and soul by Archie’s encouragement: he repeatedly reminded us to claim God’s love, to understand what sin involves and causes, to have enough humility to surrender and believe.
In the spirit of secrecy, I shall skip to the most tangible bouts of my conversion experience.
The aim: to make the best confession of our lives! I really wanted to, except that I had to ask for a private audience with Archie before confession came around. I had to ask him why some sins are sins, oops. I know that many people berate me for thinking too much and having too little faith, but I’m sincerely confused about how dogmatic sin is often made to sound. I don’t understand how good intentions (even with unfavourable consequences) can be declared sin, no exceptions allowed.
See, law school really confused me. I learnt that there are two elements to a crime: the (wrong) intention and the (wrong) act. Shouldn’t there also be two elements to a sin: the (sinful) intention and the (sinful) act? If I succumbed to a sinful act but thought I had good reason to, or had noble intentions, was I really culpable of sin?? Argh.
In that very short half an hour, Archie basically helped me reconcile my understanding by highlighting that wrongful actions almost always involved 1 of the 7 cardinal sins as the root cause or, at least, a constitutive element. One might think he has good intentions behind an act that is deemed a sin, but he almost always has underlying intentions that are rooted in one of the cardinal sins. After some examples of how this was true, I couldn’t (and didn’t want) to disagree. At this point, I didn’t feel unjustified about sin anymore. I could feel truly repentant without any countervailing ‘considerations’.
I was progressing! I was humbly and willingly dredging up all my actions from the past, which I now understood as being sin, or at least caused by sin. I specially requested to go to Archie for confession (yes, I think I was a rather troublesome retreatant).
I was doing well in confession, saying all I had recalled. I also told Archie that I really hoped to find my conviction back again and I never wanted to go through another series of mental-spiritual disbelief/disillusionment/torture, ever again. Archie shook his head and exhorted with a sigh, “It’s prideee…”
Oh boy, I was rather taken aback. In fact, I was stunned and sad. I never thought of myself as proud; I always thought I was earnestly seeking the truth. (Actually, OOPS but I still think I was more sincere than proud. If I were the latter, I’d have relinquished church, no?)
In any case, Archie sounded rather exasperated when he nagged me to simply ask for a spirit of humility and surrender. I could only nod in response. My penance was fitting: to read 1 Col 3. From that point onwards, my silent prayer and quiet conviction was to surrender in humility by the end of Awaken.
Washing of feet
The washing of feet was my point of conversion. It was where humility + healing + conversion poured out through my tears, it was when I literally heard God speaking through Oliver and Estelle.
We had one hour to invite people and proxies up to the basins of water, to kneel and seek/ offer forgiveness through the humbling act of washing their feet. I decided that it was time to let God shine His light and love through the shadows of my past. So I looked to Estelle with pleading eyes to be proxy for my ex-boyfriend (they randomly met for the first and only time at the archdiocese youth day last year). Then, I disrupted Oliver’s worship-leading so to be proxy for my ex-best friend (they are old buddies and actually, it seems all part of God’s ironic (not-funny) grand plan that led me to know liver and sfx and log!).
I know that the Spirit was working through Estelle because the reconciliation we shared was immensely intense. I washed her feet first, tearing and weeping through my sorries. That was me repenting for the pain I had caused to my ex when I decided that I did not want marry him in future and so I pulled away… I had been cruel.
When Estelle washed my feet, however, the Spirit came upon us like never before. She was completely wracked with sobs and wails of sorrow – grief and regret coursed through her cries, her words, her being. There was absolutely no reason or human ability to weep about what she never knew and felt, and the words she said were not her own. I was extremely moved and awed because I had no doubt it was the Holy Spirit who was in the centre of this reconciliation. I could only grieve and mourn with raw emotion, whilst I matched Estelle’s cries-in-the-Spirit with my sobs of remorse. We knelt there for half an hour or more, and Oliver was probably rather horrified because he had never seen Estelle in such uncontrollable grief. Ah, but after Estelle and I ended our little drama with her pleas for me to claim the forgiveness, it was his turn.
Oliver said he would wash my feet first, I didn’t know why but okay, if Oliver said so and he was the proxy for his good ol’ buddy, so be it. In any case, I was totally exhausted from the episode with Estelle. When Oliver began by saying that he could feel a lot of pain, a part of me wanted to shrivel up. I think, I was tired of pain.
Lo and behold, another torrent of Spirit-filled grace fell upon us and the utterances laced with regret were not his own. Once again, I was in complete awe while simultaneously replete with sadness and contrition. I was as sorry as Oliver-as-proxy was. We wept and mourned. I tried to tell him and myself, it’s okay and it is all in God’s plan.
Finally, Oliver said he would kiss my feet as an act of humility and that really made me want to protest but I had no more energy. Through our dying sobs and drying tears, I washed his feet too.
Praise God! The people of painful memories and hurts, the events and reasons that led me away from my once-strong, pure, unquestioning faith – all these were reconciled and healed through an ultimate display of God’s power and presence.
I was renewed, forgiven, and still loved.