Thursday, October 21

Man proposes, God disposes

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MY journey to God was one filled with periods of belief and disbelief. Among others, I have listed myself as atheist and agnostic over the years. Filling up official forms requiring that information was a problem as one was generally expected to be in one of the mainstream religions. Most times, I had to reluctantly pick a religion that I had no faith in just for the sake of having the form accepted.

The accident that left me paralysed from the neck down made me question the existence of God even more. I reasoned that a good God would not allow a tragedy like this happen to me. That was also the time when friends and relatives, whether out of good intentions or with ulterior motives, introduced me to religions that could purportedly make me walk again.

Their proselytising annoyed me very much. One of them even had the impudence to say that my father, who was practising a mix of Buddhism and Taoism, was worshipping Satan. This and several other similar distasteful incidents made me keep my distance from them and from religion.

Despite my misgivings with zealots professing those faiths, I spent a lot of time reading books on Buddhism and Christianity on my own accord. As hard as I tried to relate my life to the teachings, I just could not make the connection. They offered nothing that I wanted.

When my mother became seriously ill, I put my trust wholly in medical science. The doctors tried their best but in the end they indicated that there was nothing more they could do to treat her when her condition turned for the worse. My mother, knowing that her time was near, kept pleading with me to take her home which I did. That was her last request before she drifted into a coma.

She was a Roman Catholic, as with most of the relatives from her side of the family. They asked if they could get a priest to give her the last rites. I had no objection as I believed she would have wanted that. They also arranged for a group from the church to come to pray for her as well.

While they were gathered around her bed in the room praying, I was by the door outside, my eyes closed and praying in my own way, not to any particular God, for her to be well again. I had never prayed as earnestly as I prayed that evening.

Just before the group concluded the prayers, I had a vision of my mother, radiant and smiling to me as she was being led skywards by two angels. I have never seen angels before but there were no reservations in my mind as to who they were.

My heart sank. Deep inside, I knew her soul had already passed on. True to my intuition, she breathed her last four hours later. On one part, I was utterly devastated. My prayers for her to be healed were not answered. She was taken away from me anyway.

On the other part, the sight of her in a healthy state again greatly consoled me afterwards. That revelation totally changed my spiritual perception. I found peace knowing that she was in a better place and not suffering any more.

It also convinced me beyond an iota of doubt that there is a God. How I made the connection this time I had no idea. From that day on, I learnt to pray. I prayed for the souls of my parents. I prayed for health. And I prayed for directions to make myself useful. In those moments when I held my hands together in prayer, I found a sense of belonging and serenity that I had never experienced before.

As I moved on in life, I became involved with the disability rights movement, pushing for a society that is accessible and inclusive. I was given opportunities to undergo specialised training locally and overseas. Finally, I found something that was worthwhile to do, one that could change my life and that of other people in the same situation as mine.

Somehow, my spirituality faltered somewhere along the way. My faith was placed on the back burner as I became busy with one activity or another. I stopped praying. There was always something that was more important than my nightly communion with God. It has been so long that I cannot even remember the last time I prayed.

Two elders in the family are afflicted with serious illnesses at this moment. As I contemplated over the situations they are in, I am reminded of the power of prayer. It dawned on me that my supplication for directions to be useful manifested ways that have been beyond my expectations.

My expertise in disability equality is being put to good use in changing mindsets towards disabled people. It has taken 10 years for me to reach this stage from the time I first prayed. Now, I am more convinced than ever that God exists and that prayers do get answered although not how we may want them or at the pace we desire.

As for the elders who are ill, I pray that God will be merciful and heal them physically and spiritually. And perhaps then, I can also rediscover the sense of belonging and serenity again in these troubled times.

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