Friday, November 30, 2007

The Mockingbirds Leap - A Blog for Advent

‘beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. the least we can do is try to be there.’ annie dillard

As the season of advent is almost upon us I wanted to draw your attention to a special advent blog that my good friend Glenn has come up with for the season. He has gathered a wide variety of people together, of which I'm priveleged to be one, and asked us all to be attentive to the world around us during advent. It's an experiment in spiritual attention to the presence of God all around us in every day and we do it during Advent as a preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas. His prayer is that we will all be impacted by the immense presence of God in the world. It begins, and maybe ends, in simply witnessing to an experience of grace in our day. It may simply be the statement of an address or location, or it may be an extended meditation or a poem, it may be a photograph or a piece of video, whatever it is that speaks a blessing into our lives during Advent, bearing testimony to it on the blog, and we'll see if we can accumulate a daily witness until Christmas Day itself. The days of the Advent season provide ample time for good habits of attention to take hold and grow in our lives.

Click on the title above to go straight to the Blog and feel free to add your own comments as we enter advent.



Thursday, November 29, 2007

Angkor – A Wonder of The World !

Cambodia, land of contrasts. After the horror of the Killing Fields comes the wonder of Angkor. It is the most amazing man-made complex I have ever seen. Partly the Vastness of it – hundreds of temples and bits of temples spread for miles around. And not just any ruins but amazing fantastically intricate carvings and vast temples that would have held thousands. Angkor Wat – walking across the causeway too it is a mystical experience. Its vast – part of the biggest Religious site in the world.
Some of it is overrun with tour groups, but at some of the more remote temples you can explore corridor after corridor on your own, stumbling across long forgotten altars to who knows what God. Although the Khmers were Buddhist, they had a strong Indian influence and many of the carvings have Hindu gods and goddess’s on them.

And then there is Ta Prom – once a vast temple that had 80,000 people working in it. While many of the temples have been restored this one has been left exactly as it was when the French explorers rediscovered it in the 1920’s. It has been invaded by nature and much of it has crumbled, while the walls have trees growing out of them and there are piles of rubble everywhere. It’s a good place to act out your Angelina Jolie fantasies ( no not those ones Mullan- this is a family blog), as it was used to film parts of Tombraider, or for my generation being on the set of Indiana Jones.

Its just stunning, its incredible. It was built in the 11th and 12th Century and supported a population of 1 million at a time when London was a small town of 50,000. I’m also betting that the water and sewage facilities in Angkor would have been superior too. I would put it on my list of things to see before you die. It will not disappoint.

And so tomorrow I leave this land of contrasts which showcases the best and worst of humanity. The ancient splendour and the modern horror.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Killing Fields and S21

Today I visited S21 prison where thousands were tortured and then the Killing fields of Choeung EK where tens of thousands of Cambodians were killed by the Pol Pot regime between 1975 and 1979.

Sometimes words cannot convey all we want them to. Sometimes the horror is so much that we find ourselves mumbling Kyrie Eleison – Lord Have mercy …. On ourselves as well as the pitiful victims of the Khmer Rouge.

Today it is a strangely peaceful site with quiet waters flowing past the green trees and the faint sound of children playing in the distance. It’s hard to believe that I’m standing on a mass grave of thousands of people, many of whom were bludgeoned to death to save the price of a bullet. In the memorial on the site thousands of skulls are stacked in a glass tower, as a memory and tribute to the unnamed and unknown who died here.

We breathe in and try to comprehend what happened here. Some are silent , some quietly weep. I find the words spoken to me as a child, somewhat comforting … Our Father who art in heaven , hallowed be thou name …. I repeat the prayer as I walk around the site, though I struggle with Thy will be done on earth.

Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy

Christe Eleison. Christ have mercy on us all.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cao Dai - its like Ikon but with better robes !

Went to the Cao Dai temple in Vietnam. They are an interesting religion - its a mix of about 6 western and eastern religions and philosophies- basically take the bits you like and leave out those you dont. Lots of Buddhist influence but at one point they also had their own Pope and Cardinals. They are also a big fan of Victor Hugo and have a statue to him inside the temple. If only I had brought a copy of Petes'book with me I could have left it with them and some day we could have a statue of Rollins in beside Victor Hugo. Currently they have 3 million followers.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Culture - The Ties That Bind

In Vietnam, perhaps the most culturally different place I’ve ever been to and yet it makes me think of home more. Suddenly the music of Duke Special and Foy Vance is what I listen to while lounging in my beach hut in shorts on a hot afternoon. And with the music is memory’s of cold clear autumn days walking down by the beach or through the forest kicking through those yellow leaves. Of a clean crispness in the air , of woolly jumpers and turf fires burning and warm drinks. Coming in out of the cold with flushed cheeks but feeling alive.

When it comes down to it I’m a northern hemisphere man. I like the mildness of our climate and the lifestyle that goes with it. And it is strange to think these thoughts while listening to the waves crash on a golden beach and eating some dragon fruit and loving it. And its not home sickness, because I don’t want to go home. I am loving Vietnam but perhaps, that’s part of the paradox of travel. As well as learning about other cultures, you also learn the importance of your own culture. You realise how much a part of it, you are and how it has shaped you. You also learn a lot about your self and who you really are, and also what you want in life and what you don’t know. I will expand on this more in later posts but sitting in my beach hut in a hammock gives me a lot of contemplation time.

I’ve also been reading through the Psalms this week. The Blues of the Bible. Davids’ writings ranging from unrestrained praise to shouting at God. Honestly not sure what to make of it right now – its hard and honest and raw and dull and wonderful and annoying and profound. But walking on the beach a lot it is perhaps a phrase of my least favourite apostle Paul which constantly springs to mind. In a rare poetic turn when talking to the men of Athens he describes God as one in whom we live and move and have our being. And watching the sun rise and the rain fall over a deserted beach, watching the stars from my beach hut and then falling asleep to the rhythm of the ocean ….. I think I’ve begun to understand that phrase like never before, perhaps even for the first time.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jungle Beach

Travelling, travelling and thinking. Time to wonder about life and what it is I actually like and want to do with it. And I want to create, I want to make things out of nothing. Make ideas come alive in the mind and imagination of myself, and also those who will read them. I want to love and be loved and to rediscover the joy and wonder of my very existence. There is a young girl here from Australia on her gap year. She still has a sense of wonder about everything around her, the certainty of opinion of the young but also the sheer joy at the sun, at the rain , at the electric in the air as it seemed a storm was building. It’s refreshing to be around that na├»ve but wonderful joy at her own existence.

Jungle Beach is a good place to contemplate these things. It’s a little no-frills resort at the end of a peninsula. Accommodation is wonderfully basic beach huts. One side more or less open to the elements and your bed is a mattress on a bamboo platform. The sound of waves crashing on the beach gently lulls you to sleep. There is nothing to do here but relax, walk on the beach and eat the fantastic food on offer. Its about £9 a night and that includes three meals a day and all the coffee, lemon water and drinking water you can handle. Tomorrow I may feel adventurous and climb the mountain to find the waterfall and go swimming. Or I may sit and continue reading a book that I am disciplining myself not to read too fast. It’s “The Shadow of the Wind,” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and he writes with an unrestrained beauty and the whole story displays his love of literature and storytelling. Its mesmerising. Buy it. Read it . Love it .

And so what next in my own story ? Am thinking a lot about culture , reading the Psalms and a lot of other stuff but cant quite articulate where it is taking me yet. Maybe tomorrow. Right Now I'm getting the overnight Bus to Saigon because the train was cancelled. And there are some new photos on the flickr .


Saturday, November 03, 2007

Dragons and Karaoke

Halong Bay

Shrouded in mist, shrouded in myth, shrouded in mystery. Halong Bay is an incredible place. As you leave the harbour in a Chinese Junk type boat it looks like an impenetrable wall rising out of the sea, but as you get closer you realise it is hundreds of islands and the boat happily sails through them. Some of them rise majestically hundreds of metres above you and you can see why it is the home of many Vietnamese myths and legends. The main one tells us that long ago the people of the land of Vietnam were under attack from a foreign invader and they appealed to heaven for help. So a mother dragon and her children came to help them, dropping jewels and jade into the sea. Those jewels became the islands we see today and the new defences helped the people stay safe and form the country of Vietnam. The Dragons were so impressed they also set up home in the bay.

I wonder what the dragons made of our Karaoke on board the Kangaroo tours boat. Probably not much but we had a great time, It rounded of a good day visiting a cave full of stalactites, cruising around the bay and having a great dinner on board the boat. What goes on tour stays on tour but all I can say is that my rendition of Brown Eyed Girl followed by I Cant Help Falling in Love with you, had the crowd screaming for more. But ever onward after one more night out in Hanoi with the Aussie girls from the boat it’s a 16-hour train ride to Danang.

Oh Yeah and lots more photos on Flickr - click the title above to go straight there.