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Category Archives: Religious Practice

Ethnographic Fieldwork: A Look Into The Christ’s Commission Fellowship (CCF Ortigas)

Brief Background on Christ’s Commission Fellowship

The Christ’s Commission Fellowship (CCF) is a non-denominational church which began as a small evangelistic home Bible study in 1982. For 3 decades, the fellowship constantly transferred from one place to another 6 times before it found a permanent home in Frontera Verde, Ortigas in 2013. During the transferring period, CCF also expanded its reach by creating several satellites inside and outside the country. Today, it has over 60,000 believers and 65 satellite locations. Due to the large number of worship service attendees it has per week, CCF is considered to be an example of a megachurch.

Just like any church, CCF has its own set of beliefs and practices. In fact, their beliefs are very similar to those of the Roman Catholic’s. Worshippers of CCF attend an hour and a half long service every Saturday or Sunday. On Saturdays, there is a 6:00-7:30 P.M. schedule, while on Sundays, there is a 9:00-10:30 A.M.; a 12:00-1:30 P.M.; a 3:00-4:30 P.M.; and a 6:00-7:30 P.M schedule. During Sunday services, the pastors make use of the same bible – the one that has 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament – in referencing their discussions. Their church also believes in the same God that comes in three forms: namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For them, the use of water in baptism is also important as it symbolizes “an act of obedience to Christ’s command” (CCF, 2016).

Methodology

This ethnographic research paper talks about our group’s first hand experience on CCF’s Sunday service. Last July 8, 2018, our group attended the 12 noon Sunday service in CCF’s Ortigas branch. We used participant observation in collecting data to better understand the culture of CCF and the people there. Our group was asked to arrive at 11:30 A.M., 30 minutes before the service, in order to manage good seats inside the auditorium. Getting inside CCF’s building was easy as anyone is free to enter. The only hurdle was trying to mix well with the regulars so as not to look lost. Upon reaching the auditorium, it was observed that during the time before the actual Sunday service (from 11:30 A.M. to 12 noon), a quiet time or reflection time is being imposed in order to prepare one’s self for the upcoming service. At the start of the worship, the audience is asked to stand up, sing and dance along to the songs that are led by multiple singers on stage. It is then followed by a short prayer and a short moment to greet one’s fellow worshippers. At this point, establishing a rapport is crucial in order to make the people around us comfortable having us around. The whole worship service that consisted of talks from pastors and personal sharings from worshippers lasted for an hour and 45 minutes (12:00 to 1:45 P.M.).

Ethnographic Fieldwork

Offhand, the structure of venue reminded us a great deal of the Mall of Asia arena. From the escalators that were facing opposite sides of the reception area, to the amenities that await us inside the building (e.g the bookstore, cafeteria, coffee shops, basketball court, zumba area, gym, offices, and the auditorium to name a few). The place evoked feelings of warmth, belonging, and camaraderie as the people inside were very accommodating towards the participants for that Sunday’s worship. There were people who were well-acquainted to each other, families and friends who greet each other with wide grins plastered over their faces, but even so, the place did not feel exclusive at all, people from all walks of life joined together had one objective in mind—-the Sunday worship.

When we stepped inside the massive auditorium—a 3 level infrastructure with a 10000 pax capacity—-we were bewildered and stunned because we did not really see this one coming. We expected the place to be more intimate, modest, and subdued, yet there was this full blown production that included performers who sung in a lively song-prayer worship. The discourse was very much like a TED talk, at least in our frame of reference because of the ambience and the aura that it evoked—from the display monitors, the equipment, up to the content of the powerpoint presentation. It was interactive and it deviated from the traditional customs of  the Sunday mass in a sense that it didn’t follow the ceremony/form that most of us, first century Roman Catholic Christians are familiar with. They had pastor/s for the speakers, and during that afternoon they tackled concept behind the act of mercy or being merciful. They affirmed that in order to achieve “legit happiness”, one must be full of mercy—-and that really puts thing into perspective. Other factors such as KCF which stood for kindness, compassion, and forgiveness were also discussed during the hour and a half long session. A first hand account sharing was also given by a couple who struggled with their marriage prior to becoming active in their Christian faith—-they openly disclosed the rocky path that they embarked upon, such as the husband’s infidelity in marriage and the wife’s apathy.

The community members were very welcoming, one instance that we had in particular was with this man that we sat next to during the worship, he extended his greeting by shaking Eunice’s hand when the speaker requested us to greet our fellow worshippers—this came as a bit of a shock to is because under traditional Catholic circumstances, we are often timid when it comes to greeting other people that we’re not all that acquainted with—-perhaps it varies from one Church community to another but it still came as a surprise nonetheless. People from all walks of life came and we can’t help but have this impinging need to calculate the costs of their production because technically, dropping by to participate to their Sunday worship was not subject to any admission fee/s whatsoever so quite literally, a person could drop by unintentionally and still get to enjoy and make the visit count without having to shell out as much cash.

Overall, the environment inside the CCF fostered a healthy safespace for people who wished to join and participate in their worship service. The community was very casual, upbeat, and welcoming and they did not sneer nor look down on us when we arrived the venue. Not to mention, the people we encountered and ran into were very nice, genuine, friendly, and accommodating and there was no room for exclusivity whatsoever. The place was filled with people who were dedicated and interested to learn not only from the pastor and his sermon, but from each other’s insights and personal experiences as well. Regardless of who you are, where you come from, what you believe in, or what your faith or religion may be, the whole CCF community will definitely make you feel more than welcome and part of the community. In fact, they have a Welcome Center by the main entrance, which is managed by young volunteers. The Welcome Center’s main purpose is to, of course, welcome first timers and new members of the community and entertain their questions regarding the worship service and to give them an idea of what to expect during the CCF worship service. It is also open to anyone who is curious and wishes to learn more about the CCF, as well as its community, worship service, faith, beliefs, etc.

Our key informant from the CCF Ortigas branch was Pastor Ickhoy De Leon, who was a former businessman who decided to leave his corporate career in order to serve full time at his Church as a pastor. Other than that, he is also the current head of the CCF’s Singles Ministry. During our visit and interview with Pastor Ickhoy, he shared with us how most non-Christians view the CCF’s worship ceremony as a “concert” because of the large auditorium filled with people dancing and singing lively. Besides singing and dancing, the CCF is still looking for more ways on how its audience and fellow worshippers may actively participate during their worship services. Another thing we learned from Pastor Ickhoy is that contrary to Catholic faith, Christians believe that receiving the Holy Eucharist every worship service is unnecessary, since they strongly believe that Jesus Christ is always present within them and that Christians do not follow and observe the Sign of the Cross. Moreover, he also shared with us how the CCF community celebrates their Sunday worship services. The worship service first starts with a Bible reading and a quiet prayer or reflection time, followed by praise and worship through song and dance, then the pastor’s sermon. After the sermon, families or couples who were invited by the CCF to share their personal experiences are asked to share it with the rest of the CCF community. Also, we learned from Pastor Ickhoy that the CCF worship service is open to everyone, even to those who practice and come from different religions.

During the worship service, we were not able to contribute that much to the program since it was planned beforehand and none of us in the group were members or part of the CCF community. However, because the CCF community practices active participation during its worship sessions and welcomes non-Christians to join and participate in their worship service, our group’s presence in the event contributed to the crowd’s participation in praising Jesus Christ through singing and dancing. Although we did not know much and were not familiar with the worship and praise songs, as well as the dance, we just clapped our hands. Through our own active involvement in the activity, our group was given the opportunity to also contribute to the overall ambiance of the worship.

Sociocultural Context and Background

The Christ’s Commission Fellowship (CCF) is considered to be one of the fastest-growing evangelical churches in the country. According to CCF’s website, anyone can participate in their activities. However, since CCF has a mission which is “To honor God and make Christ-committed followers who will make Christ-committed followers”, those who are willing to abide by this mission are encouraged to join. Their church also has certain beliefs, and the only way to join them is to “walk with God” and to understand the beliefs that accompanied this line of thinking. It is considered one of the fastest-growing Evangelical (non-denominational) churches in the country. We posit the claim that people gravitate towards this type of church or community because it breeds a sense of camaraderie that the traditional & oftentimes conservative roman catholic church would otherwise not be able to provide and/or develop. The Roman Catholic church tend to preserve the status quo and this element is intricate and deceptive because the religion follows a highly dogmatic approach. First century christians, such as the members in our group, lead lives by the book and at times this could feel a bit routinary or stagnant in the long run than its designated purpose of being a joyous/spirited celebration. By no means is this a derogatory assertion that we try to posit as religion is a conundrum—-with multiple layers and decades of history that defines its canon. To put it into context we are limited to the confines of the Christian traditional church’s customs; to have this unique community that is widely hospitable, with such cutting edge and top of the line facilities that seem too good to be true, it is a no-brainer that people could be swept away by the allure, the pomp, and the circumstance. With that in mind, it should not come as a surprise that Filipinos are indeed fond of communal celebrations that involves some sort of singing and/or dancing which ultimately cultivates a positive outlook on life—-the CCF worship is a manifestation of this code. Regardless of where a person came from or what their current standing in life is, they are free to join the worship and rest assured they will  be treated just like everyone else–on equal footing.

Conclusion
1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?

Through our participation in CCF’s worship ceremony, we realized that our pre-conceived belief that Christian ceremonies were simply just “concerts” was a wrong assumption. By actively participating and immersing ourselves in the experience, each of us was able to feel our strong love for Jesus through the music and dances being performed on stage. The interactive discussions by the pastors made us learn more about what it takes to be truly happy. The use of audience participation, rather than having the audience to just listen and observe, made reflecting and learning more personal. Despite this service being a non-Catholic ceremony, CCF succeeded in inspiring us to open our hearts to our faiths through the use of active song and dance, insightful lectures from the pastor and through the story shared by a Christian couple about how their faith salvaged their dying marriage.

  1. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?

By coordinating with Pastor Ickhoy de Leon, our group was given the opportunity to understand and realize that although the Christ’s Commission Fellowship somewhat differs from the Roman Catholic religion in terms of its practices, traditions, celebrations, methods and rituals on worshipping and praising the Lord, both of these faiths and religions share the same goal and purpose, which is to love and serve God and to promote His love through our everyday actions. Other than that, we also learned from Pastor Ickhoy the different forms of worship that the CCF community observes and practices, such as Bible reading, prayer or reflection time, dancing and singing along to worship and praise songs, and sharing of personal experiences. Furthermore,

  1. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?

By employing participant observation in our ethnographic research on the  CCF’s worship ceremonies, we were able to see and witness for ourselves the commendable effectivity their church and worship service has in terms of inspiring and encouraging people to full-heartedly participate in their worship celebration. Through participant observation, the group was able to experience how Christians celebrate and worship Jesus Christ. Not only did we get to witness and observe the difference in the crowd’s eagerness to sing along and dance to the beat, but we were also able to observe how the pastor communicated his message to his audience and listeners. Furthermore, we were able to fully immerse ourselves in the experience of what it would be like to be a Christian and a part of the CCF sector. This is in contrast to the very minimal and shallow information we would have obtained, had we chosen to adhere to the interview, survey, or questionnaire method of conducting this ethnographic fieldwork research.

  1. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?

A questionnaire or interview would prove to be more effective than participant observation when one simply wants to conduct a survey or simply a casual interview for a feature magazine. On the other hand, participant observation was imperative and was key to close and address all of the floating questions that we had prior to our visit to the affluent and renowned worship community. Having  or conducting an interview point-blank would leave us with blanket statements that we, as researchers, could view with a one-sided lens. It would not really echo well in our respective psyches to the extent that it would remain as a plain text and a bunch of jargon that we could not interpret for ourselves if we did not opt for a participant type observation.

  1. What insights did you gain about Philippine society and culture from the event that you observed and participated in?

In essence, Filipinos are always on the pursuit of happiness—of pure and utter bliss. They seek for the next best thing, even in terms of religion, a request that the CCF community heeded to. The idea of camaraderie, of shared feeling/s of joy that is carried out by singing and/or dancing is deeply embedded in the Philippine society. This is one of the driving factor/s that attributed to the CCF community and explicates why it gained prominence and reached a wider demographic in the first place. There’s also the convenience and the prestige that comes along with the patronage to the CCF community—it’s captivating and fresh and it transcends the confines of tradition and it sweeps Filipinos right off their feet.

Sources

The Christ’s Commission Fellowship. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.ccf.org.ph/

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A Day in the Life of a San Jose Seminarian

For the group’s ethnographic study, they decided to find out what happens in the day-to-day life of a seminarian, in this case a San Jose seminarian that resides in San Jose Seminary located inside Ateneo de Manila University.

Knowing that the residences and houses of these people are usually not open to anyone so as to strictly maintain security, silence and holiness, the group felt that they can’t just barge their way in and randomly observe inside despite being Ateneo students. In order for them to get inside the Seminary, Gelo, one of the members in the group, decided to contact Brother James Santos, who was his former teacher in Christian Life Education back in 3rd year high school and was coincidentally Miggy’s teacher in 3rd year as well. Brother James served as the group’s key informant for the fieldwork.

With the group having conflicts with their respective schedules and contacting the Sikh Temple, which was the group’s original plan, they decided to go with their back-up topic. They figured that it was more convenient and less hassle because it is nearer everyone and the group already had a possible contact in mind and also because of the time constraints. Knowing Brother James; that he pursued becoming a Jesuit and maintaining contact, Gelo messaged him and he willingly agreed. With his hectic schedule however, the group was only able to meet him last Saturday afternoon. This worked out in favor of the group because two in the group had their NSTP in the morning so transportation was not a problem and second, the group eventually knew that Saturday was usually a time of rest for people working in seminaries. This meant that whoever the contact in San Jose Seminary would not be pressed for time in allowing the group to become acquainted with the seminary and its residents.

Come Saturday, 4:15 pm, the group went to meet Brother James at Loyola House of Studies, where he and his fellow Jesuit seminarians reside. Introductions were done, specifically for Marty who was a stranger for him at first.

Realizing that there was still time before the group met with the contact, Brother James decided to tour the group around the Loyola House of Studies. He led the group to a nearby garden that was facing the Loyola School of Theology. Once outside, he proceeded to give a brief background of the school. According to him, Jesuit initiates attend this school in order to take up Philosophy, Theology, and other subjects that are essential in their formation towards becoming priests. Afterwards, he informed the members that San Jose Seminary is a diocesan seminary while the Loyola House of Studies is for people who wish to become Jesuits. This is where the group first gained knowledge with regards to religious life. The group thought ever since that San Jose Seminary was also a place for Jesuit seminarians. He then continued to explain. Brother James was asked by Gelo what the major differences were between the two. He said that there are two kinds of priesthood, religious and diocesan. The religious priesthood are Jesuits while Diocesan priesthood are Jesuit trained. The diocesans are parish-based meaning they are sent to different communities and dioceses, telling mass on their respective parishes. The religious on the other hand are more of formators and take on a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience which can be seen in Brother James’ simple attire. Religious priests can administer the sacraments as well. Another difference is that the Jesuits study and practice Ignatian values/spirituality while diocesans are free to choose which value/spirituality they want to study and practice: Ignatian, Carmelite, Augustinian, Dominican, etc. The whole formation to become a Jesuit takes 12 years while it takes only 10 for diocesans. Brother James also noted that the diocesan brothers in San Jose Seminary are called Josefinos after their patron saint, Saint Joseph. The second building that Brother James led the group to was Fr. JM Lucas S.J. Renewal Center which was essentially a dorm where students who go on retreats or recollections reside in during their stay.

Right after the tour that Brother James conducted, he was messaged by his contact telling him that he was done with his daily duties and that he was ready to meet the group. He then proceeded to walk with the group towards San Jose Seminary in order to meet up with his contact. When the group was nearing the entrance, they ran into Father Manol Montesclaros S.J., who was a resident in the seminary as well as an acquaintance of the group’s accompanying Jesuit brother. Brother James introduced each member of the group and then told Father Manol what our business at the seminary was. After a few questions, he asked Brother James to take a picture with the group by a nearby statue of Mother Mary in case “the group needed documentation for their study,” as he put it. Once the picture-taking session was over with, Father Manol said a few parting words, wishing the group luck in their project and then went back to his musings.

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Left to right: Marty, Miggy, Gelo, and Father Manol

After that encounter, the group followed Brother James into the lobby of the seminary and proceeded to wait by the couches while he was conversing with the attendant at the front desk. During this time, the members took to inspecting the lobby and overall appearance of the venue. The one thing that stood out was this grand marble wall near the left side of the front desk. On that wall were various batches from the Loyola Schools and the Ateneo High School that were benefactors of the seminary. The group was in awe because of the beauty and serenity of the place. The group began to realize the amount of money that was put into making this place what it is today.

A few moments later, Brother James’ contact arrived in the lobby. He introduced himself to the group as Brother Jason Alde, or “Jas” as he is called by the residents. Furthermore, the members found out that it is currently Brother Jas’ second year of priesthood in San Jose Seminary. After introductions were set, the role of the tour guide was handed over to the diocesan brother, with Brother James tagging along the group since he “had time to kill.” The first stop in this tour was the main chapel wherein Mass is always held. Similar to the marble wall back in the lobby, the members of the group noticed that the floor tiles and the walls were made out of marble. In addition to this, there were also statues of various saints placed along the walls. The beauty of the chapel was more displayed when lights were turned on. It was also during this part of the tour that Brother Jas told the group that there were two San Jose Seminaries in the country, with the second one being in Cagayan de Oro. After becoming acquainted with the chapel, the group proceeded towards the conference rooms located beside the entrance. According to Brother Jas, those rooms were used mainly for counseling and other, more personal matters like meetings and conferences. There was just something about the entire vibe the place gave the group. It just felt like you were in a different place that separated you from the real world. You felt secure and at peace with yourself because of the place. It was so quiet with a relaxing breeze brought by the tall and plenty trees which surround the seminary that can calm your mind and it just made you feel so much better just by being there. It felt like going on a mini retreat because there were just a few people in the area and the few people that were there greeted you with a smile and a small conversation. They just made you feel at home and welcome.

Throughout the remainder of the tour, the members of the group found themselves surprised. The reason for this was because their individual stereotypes about seminarians were broken apart; They were able to gain a new perspective on people in their line of work. One of the factors that brought about this development was when the group was shown the recreational facilities as well as the “TV room”. In the recreational room, there were equipments such as a billiard table, books, ping pong table, and various musical instruments. Brother Jas explained that seminarians “relax and have fun” and they really have a designated time for recreational activities after they are done with their duties for the day. It is their way of bonding with one another while at the same time having fun. In addition to that, Brother James made a joke about how the group probably thought that seminarians led “boring lives” and how all they did on a daily basis were to read books and pray. Another interesting feature that the group saw in the recreational room was the honesty store. Seminarians are allowed to get food and drinks anytime of the day just as long as they write in the log book and pay later on. The group found this interesting because we were surprised on how disciplined the seminarians are. They are disciplined because they can easily just get stuff for free but they choose not to. The group also found it funny because Brother Jas mentioned that there are some seminarians that “forget” to pay and he said this while laughing, this goes to show that they are in fact, human after all.

Also, during the tour, the group would on occasion run into other seminarians and workers. The first group of people the group chanced upon were both buying snacks at the “honesty store” when the group entered the TV room. When they noticed the presence of the other people in the room, the two brothers asked Brother James and the members if any of them wanted to buy at the store. The group kindly declined the offer and the pair proceeded to leave the room. The next person that Brother Jas and company were able to meet was Brother Earl. During that time, Brother Earl just finished playing basketball with his fellow seminarians. Upon meeting the aforementioned people, he apologized to them if he was in any way emitting an odor due to becoming sweaty. The group waved this off and after a few exchanges, Brother Earl excused himself in order to get water and freshen up. Thirdly, Brother James and the students were introduced to the cooks behind the cuisine that the residents of San Jose Seminary are treated to everyday. They were actually kind enough to allow the students to enter the kitchen and document the place even if on a regular day, no one is allowed inside the workplace except the cook and the helpers.

Throughout the run-ins with the different residents of the diocesan seminary, the only thought running through the minds of each student was that the people there were amiable and easily-approachable. None of them gave off the vibe that they weren’t open to any type of communication and some were even willing to assist the group with any concern they may possible have. One of the cooks even went so far as to invite the students and Brother James over for dinner because it was already 5:40 pm when the tour ended, to which the group respectfully declined.

After the tour, Brother Jas lead the others to one of the conference rooms in order to take a mini rest from walking around and to talk about life in the seminary. Once each person was seated comfortably in the room, Brother Jas left and came back shortly with copies of the community schedule, which contained the itinerary for each day of the week as well as the various activities held in some of them. After analyzing the schedule, the group members noticed that at 6:30 am and 6:00 pm everyday, Personal Lauds and Personal Vespers are practiced, respectively. One of the members, Miggy, asked Brother James what they were. He explained to Miggy that Personal Lauds were basically personal prayers done in the morning while Personal Vespers were prayers done in the evening.

Another thing that the students took note of was the practice of Examen, which, according to the schedule, was done twice everyday, one right after the seminarians wake up and the other right before they sleep. Brother James and Brother Jas explained that in an Examen, a person would look back on the day that was. It is an Ignatian value wherein one tries to recall the events which happened beforehand throughout the day and try to find God’s presence in those times. It is also a way of examining how he sees God and what His plan is for him. The person undergoing the examen would take into account the things that uplifted his being as well as the things that brought him down during the day. He would give thanks to the Lord for being able to experience all of these things, the good ones for giving life to his spirit and the bad ones for giving him experience with regards to handling obstacles that come his way. After giving gratitude, he will end his Examen by asking the grace of the Lord in the coming day. This was explained to us as a prayer that was personal because it is more of a silent prayer and not something to be recited out loud. This short period of the day, which only lasts for 15 minutes, allows us to reflect on what happened and try to become a better individual after reviewing the recent events in our day.

As if luck was on the group’s side, they also found out that the seminarian may choose to conduct their personal Examens during their free time. Brother Jas also brought it up that he would conduct his own around 6 in the evening on occasion. With all of this in mind, the students made a request to the seminarian if they can join him in his Examen. Brother Jas gladly accepted our request and asked each person, including Brother James, to get comfortable in the conference room. Once everyone was seated accordingly, Brother Jas then began the Examen asking everyone to reflect and look back on the day that has passed. Afterwards, the participants began the next step by trying to remember their individual shortcomings or sins they may have committed during the day, and asking the Lord for forgiveness. The next phase involved everyone remembering the blessings they received throughout the day and giving thanks to the Lord for all of them. Once that was done, Brother Jas initiated the last part by requesting the participants to ask the grace of God for whatever individual concern each of them may have. The Examen came to a conclusion through the recitation of three Glory Be’s.

After the prayer session, Brother Jas excused himself for a short while to talk with his fellow seminarians. During this time, Brother James asked each student how every one of them felt after the Examen. In general, all of them felt more relaxed and at ease after the prayer session.

After each member gave their personal thoughts on the activity, they then asked Brother James to give a short orientation on the Examen. He began by giving a brief background on the activity, telling the group that it dates back to when St. Ignatius was conducting his pilgrimage in Manresa. According to him, St. Ignatius always had with him his journal where he would write all of the things that he experienced as well as his personal thoughts and feelings. Brother James also said that once St. Ignatius established the Society of Jesus about 400 years ago, Ignatius encouraged his fellow Jesuits to have a prayer-filled mindfulness by proposing what is now called the Daily Examen.

After giving the historical background, Brother James went on to explain the mechanics of an Examen. He said that while an Examen can be performed in a variety of ways, there is a basic set of guidelines as to how to go about the activity, which was what the group actually followed during their earlier Examen. He said that in this guide, the Examen is divided into five parts:

  1. Ask the Lord for Light: This meant that the participant would want to view his day through the eyes of God.
  2. Give Thanks: The participant recalls the blessings he received throughout the day and thanks the Lord for all of them.
  3. Review the Day: The participant looks back on the day that has passed.
  4. Face Your Shortcomings: The participant acknowledges what is wrong in his life and in him at the moment.
  5. Look Toward the Day to Come: The participant asks himself in what aspect he needs God in the day to come.

After the orientation, Brother James was asked what made the Examen such a significant part of the seminarians’ lives and what made it different from just normally praying to God. He went to explain that in an Examen, one doesn’t simply talk to the Lord but rather, he lets the Lord enter his being. Through the spirit of the Lord, the person is then able to look into himself and the things that uplifted his spirits or those that brought him down during the day. Furthermore, he said that the seminarians conducted the Examen twice a day because the evening Examen is interconnected to the morning Examen of the following day. This meant that those who performed the Examen after they wake up were actually praying for the concerns they may have had the night before. Brother James also added that in his case, the Examen helps him in finding out more about himself, where he loves more and loves less, as well as remind him why he entered the Seminary in the first place.

The daily Examen performed by the seminarians of San Jose Seminary is one of many other practices that show how faith plays a big role in our society. According to the CIA’s The World Factbook, Philippine demographics show that there are several religions in the Philippines such as Catholics, Muslims, Iglesia ni Cristo and more but in particular, 80.9% of Filipinos are Roman Catholic while 5% are Muslims and 2.3% are Iglesia ni Cristo. This means that the different religions, especially Roman Catholicism, influences us greatly in our everyday lives and of the way society dictates how we live.

In the case of Brother Jason Alde and the rest of the San Jose Seminary, their way of life is rooted in the Catholic Ignatian Spirituality teachings which is akin to that of their neighboring Jesuit seminary. As already stated earlier, they make sure that they are able to perform the Examen twice on a daily basis because it is their way of thinking on everything that has occurred to them during the day, both the good and the bad. For them, the prayer activity is a means of guiding them towards becoming better servants of God.

To cap it off, everyone in the group was treated to an enlightening experience during their visit to the seminary. They were able to find out how a seminarian lives out his life on a daily basis. Moreover, they realized that the Examen is not specifically only for those undergoing priesthood. It is an activity that encourages literally everyone from various walks of life to look into themselves, both spiritually and mentally, as a means of attaining a way of life centered around the values perpetuated by Christ and His followers. In the words of Brother James, “Ika nga ni St. Ignatius, Mawala na ang lahat, huwag lang ang Examen’”. If there is any takeaway from this experience with the seminarians, it is that choosing the religious life is not at all how we perceive it to be; boring, hard, do nothing but pray, and many more. The tour and conversation the group had with Brothers James and Jas showed that being a seminarian is fun and exciting. They showed how they try to take each day one at a time allowing God to lead their way and direct their lives. With their simplicity and happiness, they show content with what and where they currently are and smile and face each obstacle that lies ahead.

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Left to right: Brother Jas, Miggy, Marty, Gelo, and Brother James

 

REFERENCE

“The World Factbook: PHILIPPINES.” Central Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, 14 Nov. 2017, http://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/rp.html.

 

Go, Guevarra, Veloso

SA21 P

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2017 in Religious Practice

 

A Guest of the Teacher

A Guest of the Teacher

The Blue Mosque, Photo acquired from the Taguig City Government website.

Going to Blue Mosque was not too difficult. Living in Paranaque, traversing to the mosque meant a meager 30-40 minute ride by car. Add the fact that I was visiting on Holy Thursday, and one can imagine the ease in reaching this destination. In fact, the most difficult parts of the trip was merely traversing in 1-way, narrow roads in Maharlika Village, all of which were adorned by the colorful hijabs worn by Muslim women, the smiles of children playing, and the typical urban hustle and bustle typical to a non-subdivision barangay situated within a growing urban city.

Amir texts me around 3:40 PM, announcing that he had just arrived in the mosque, and asks me whether I’ll be arriving soon. “Let me find my way through these narrow streets muna,” I tell him in jest. “Good luck,” he jokingly replies.

Datu Amir Wagas is a 3rd year AB Developmental Studies in Ateneo de Manila University whom I met in a political party in the same university a few months before my trip. Regularly representing the Muslim sector of the studentry, I’ve made his acquaintance through a number of discussions and school events. At one point, on telling him about my interest in exploring the Muslim faith, he offers to bring me along with him in one of his Thursday prayers one of these days. I eagerly agreed. After all, it wasn’t everyday that such an opportunity arose. “It will be educational,” he promises.

When I arrived ourside the gates of the Blue Mosque, the majestic and poignant image of the gentle mosque against the backdrop of the grey-paved barangay immediately struck me as stunning. I found Amir waiting by the front gate, wearing a white taqiyah, a type of Muslim head-wear which rested on the crown of his head. He grasps my right hand between his hands firmly, and shaking it, then pressing his arm to his chest he greets me, As-salāmu ʿalaykum. I greet him good afternoon, and he brings me inside the gate. “In Manila, this is my home,” he assures me. Immediately at the mosque facade I was introduced to Datu Moden Talandig, a grad-student from Ateneo de Manila University studying MA Global Politics, who was also invited by Amir to join him in today’s prayers.

Amir tells me that Tuan Parmanan, his teacher should have been meeting us shortly, but he is still out of the mosque for some errands. He invites me and Moden to go out to buy some snacks at his favorite place around the area while we wait. Looking around, some boys our age – maybe younger – around the facade were also on their chores, two cleaning cars, one dragging a dried banana trunk from the backyard to the gate to dispose of it. He calls out to them to greet them, and they greet us back and approached us.They give a slight bow, and as Amir introduces me and Moden, they also take our right hand, shake it, and press their right hand to their chest. As they take my hand, I try to shake back, greet them in return Asasamamalaykum and press my hand on my chest. I realize that different from other youth our age, in their disposition in their work, and in respect expressed in greeting us. Amir looks impressed and somewhat amused. He tells me later in jest as we walk going to his favorite canteen, As-salāmu ʿalaykum.  As-salāmu ʿalaykum. “Don’t forget,” he asserts, “it means peace be upon you.”

Going to the canteen, a couple of streets in from the main road from where the Blue Mosque is situated, he tells me to look around. I notice the quietness, and somewhat a peacefulness to the area. Maharlika was also considerably clean, much different from the barangays from my area in Paranaque. Posters of of Qur’anic Summer Classes are posted on light posts, there were also visibly less cars weaving about in the streets. “This is what Mindanao looks like,” Amir tells me. Moden, who hails from Maguindanao agrees. It is very peaceful here, also very safe if I may say,” he continues, “much different from how Muslim communities are stigmatized.”

When we arrived at the canteen, Amir orders us Beef siomai, chicken balls, and some packs of Zesto. Moden orders a mango shake. People eating with us in the canteen are in conversation. I look at their menu, hung about in a tarpaulin board inside the canteen behind the manang who manned the cashier. Beef siomai, chicken balls, chicken tocino, tapa, beef sinigang, chicken adobo, beef barbecue, beef hotdog. For a while, I forgot that I am eating with with Muslims, if not only for the halal menu that this canteen has. Moden and Amir talks about school. Studying in Ateneo as a scholar, Moden says, it’s been useful for him to have had experience studying abroad through many programs. United StatesJapan, Taiwan, it’s an application of his experiences and observations in these places, in which this, along his knowledge of Sharia Law, does he hope to use as a viewing point towards his course in MA Global Politics.”You know us Muslims,” Amir exclaims, “it is obligatory for us to seek knowledge. Secular, religious, same thing.”

We go back to the mosque, where Tuan Parmanan sits on a chair near the. Amir sits in front of him, and we sit beside Amir. Tuan Parmanan apologizes for his lateness, he came from Cubao to buy a goat. He tells us how this morning he saw Sedeqah unfold. In Islam, Sedeqah is an act of generosity/benevolence. He says he went with a couple of teachers to an orphanage, where they served goat curry. He tells us of the significance of dividing a goat to peoples, an act of sharing blessings. He shares on how their community always involve themselves with orphanages.”Orphans are taken care of, who are close to Mohammad, for he himself was also an orphan. Nakakalambot ng puso.

Amir brings out a pen and a notebook and starts jotting down notes. “Now,” he continues, “we Muslims are like orphans, with no one to care for us, to get closer to Allah. And that’s why we need our teachers. Without teachers, we are like orphans. Teachers are our source of knowledge. If there is knowledge in a dog, then we accept our knowledge. Every living thing can be a teacher as long as it inspires.”

The person who was dragging out the banana trunk a while ago passes by us, with a bowed head, right hand on his chest, and left hand on the side of his body, quickly and urgently. I learn later that it was important for Muslims to not interrupt people in discussion, in studying.

He asks me on my religious beliefs. I told him that I am unsure, yet compelled to believe that there is a higher being, albeit not what has been depicted in religious history so far. Tuan Parmanan nods his head in approval. “Di tayo pwedeng malimit sa isang practice,” he says.“Exploring faith requires an open mind, respect, and engaging other faiths and cultures. Respect, especially, brings to knowledge.” He refers to Amir, and continues, “Thursdays, they go here to learn, yet it is our hearts which will lead to the Creator.” He refers to me, “We are all journeying, and I am lucky to have been on this journey. The Creator’s purpose to create is for us to worship Him. He quotes, “I am a hidden treasure. I love to be known.”

I ask him on how Muslims approach faith. “We learn about the creator through creation”, he says, “There are many ways to know the creator, but the closest is through ourselves.” He tells me that teachers in Blue Mosque are tasked to 1) interpret Qur’an, 2) memorize Qur’an, 3) study Islamic law (Sharia), 4) study Mohammed’s life story, 5) study Arabic language.” He tells me how Divine Presence is a contrast to simply study. “It is to search for the creator, not only through knowledge, but through presence”. “The Creator encompasses everything, not constrained to a paradise. Out of all races (referring to order of beings), humans beings are special because we are set to know him. Hindi tayo ang mayari sa ating feelings, sa ating knowledge.”

Muslims go to the mosque for the Magrib, one of the 5 daily prayers, the salat.

Suddenly, the call for 6:00PM prayer, the Magrib. The muezzin goes on top of the minaret, Amir tells me, and he says a special call for prayer, the Adhan. He tells me a couple of phrases from the Adhan.

‘lā ilāha illā -llāh, muḥammadur rasūlu -llāh
There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.
Ašhadu an lā ilāha illā-llāh waḥdahu lā šarīka lahu, wa ašhadu anna muḥammadan ʿabduhu wa rasūluhu.
I bear witness that (there is) no god except Allah; One is He, no partner hath He, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His Servant and Messenger.
                                  Muslims washing their feet and arms before entering the mosque. 

 

Tuan gets me a chair just outside the musallah, the prayer hall and tells me to observe for now. I go around for a while and take pictures, women and children, and men are physically seperated. The Imam, the Jama’a‘s (the Muslim community) leader leads the prayer, he stays behind a curtain, unseen by the constituents. They bow, stand up, and touch the floor with their foreheads, signaled by phrases, all in succession. The air somewhat smells spice-ey, musky, yet not unpleasant.

Muslims in prayer, led by the Imam.

After the prayers, we meet up with Tuan Parmanan again and he continues on his discussion.

He tells me of the concept of Mi’raj, and its significance to Muslim culture.“Mi’raj encompasses different realities, body and soul. Like how Mohammed who was tasked to preach Salam. Siya lang ang nakaattach sa creator. Qur’an was revealed to him. He is a mercy to all mankind”. He continues, “Kaya ito ang mensahe ng Islam: good character, good society, to be a peace-loving person like Ali, the first caliph”. “Makikita mo ang propeta sa mga taong katulad ni Mohammad.”

“Our companions contain fragments of Mohammad, and together, they build an image of the great teacher: just like how the stars make up the moon.”

“Islam contains a message of prayer, of fasting. To train us to become a person with a strong patience.” “We believe in in the rule of love, how the prophet does not need our love, but how it is us who needs to love him. We love who Allah loves, and if we follow this, then we too, receive Allah’s love.”

He pauses, and smiles at us in lightness, “Kaya ang Muslim, hindi marunong magalit.”

Around 7:20, once again there was a call for prayer, this time for the Isha. This time, I can join in, says Tuan Parmanan. As I go in, in my nervousness, I stay a row behind Amir, Moden, and Tuan Parmanan. A couple of kids saw me, probably in annoyance, and they drag me to the right side of the musallah. Seperated from my peers, I was subject to the scolding, and being taught by the almost-teenagers. They fix my arms in a cross-armed manner, they push my legs forward, for they sense my nervousness, and they look at me in confusion, probably perplexed, for this faux-Muslim joining them, yet, all in a sense of jest. After a while, I get used to the pattern. Allah. I touch my head on the ground. Allah. I stand up and put my arms in a crossed-arm manner. Allah. Then I bow.

 Women are physically separated from men during prayers. Thank Allah, the women tell me, “Men are smelly”. A group of boys walk through the womens’ area in the Mosque.

After the prayers, the almost-teenagers approach me, and asked me if I’m new. Or if I’m part-Middle-Eastern. It was the beard, they say. Tuan Parmanan arrives in amusement and speaks to the almost-teenagers in Tausug. They laugh. I laugh with them in confusion. Leaving the almost-teenagers, Tuan tells me that they’re also some of his students. He also acknowledges my beard.

 Amir on the far left, Tuan Parmanan off-center, and Moden on the far right, having dinner with me as we continue discussing

After the Isha, we have dinner in one of the rooms in the mosque. They serve us goat curry, which, after the prayers and the lectures, I found really comforting. I meet Brother Aian Naqshbandi, a missionary affiliated with the Blue Mosque. They tell me about the state of the Muslim world in the present. On how puritan movements arising, the emergence of ISIS, the question of a new caliphate. But Tuan Parmanan inserts himself in the conversation. “To the Muslim world, we simply need to return to the Qur’an.”

Amir exclaims, Inshallah hopefully, which means “if Allah wills”.

Mohammad was known to have many cats, the most famous being Muazza.
Thus, cats have earned a special place in the hearts of Muslims.

Tuan Parmanan and Brother Aian tell me about the evening prayer I am to join in.

Dhikr means pagaala-ala, Ala-ala, they tell me, Allah-Allah, a remembrance of “Allah” and his “good names.” Blue Mosque is authorized to hold Dhikr. Their theme this year is “The Seal of the Masters”, which emphasizes the role of the teacher. They tell me how how the first teacher, Mohammad taught, and whom he taught also taught, who taught a student who also taught, which created a cycle called the “golden chain”, Mohammad’s predecessors. “Dhikr is to get the pity of Allah, seek his pleasure, pagkakaisa. There is a garden of paradise to those who seek Allah.”

“Make prayer as if kahit tibok ng puso magiging prayer to Allah.”

“Lahat ng bagay ay lumuluwalhati, always somewhat connected.”

“Do not be a kafir. If you remember him, he remembers you.”

After eating, Amir puts on the turban imamah, it is tied according to the tradition of Prophet Muhammad, Amir tells me. And he also puts on the jubba, worn because the Prophet Muhammad also wore one. It is worn for special prayers.

We walk out of the dark hallway and enter the empty musallah. We gather around the circle rest for a while. Moden and Brother Aian talk about the Gnostic tradition and its relation to Islam. Some of the boys whom I saw working earlier, apparently children of some teacher join us in the circle. Finally, with the Misbaha, a type of prayer-beads, Tuan Parmanan leads the Dhikr. The group joins him in chanting the prayers, different prayers, one after another, in darkness, under the dome of the Blue Mosque, a very foreign, yet welcoming place.

Around 9:00PM. We talk through the facade of the Blue Mosque, on our way to the night-stained musallah.

I close my eyes and try to hum with their chanting. The knowledge imparted that day, the plethora of ideas, the sights seen, and my own personal thoughts revolved in my head. As the chanting grows louder and louder, such thoughts too, get stronger. I rock my body left and right with them as they too rock their bodies stronger and more chaotic. Tch!, Tuan Parmanan signals us to stop.

Then as the chanting stops, what was only left was silence.

I recall what Amir tells me earlier, on how people stay away from Barangay Maharlika, and how even taxi drivers refuse to bring passengers in the area because of a fear of violence, of war, of harm. Yet, in my short time with these new brothers – these Muslims who are not too different from myself and whom I’ve learned so much from and whom earned my respect, these people whom through them I’ve met the great teacher, the Prophet – I’ve found peace.

Going back after the dhikr.

Published by Earl de los Santos, 2 AB Lit-Eng.

 

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