Thursday, June 28, 2007

The way of ‘he’ in Nanjing

Nanjing, China—“O God, with a thousand names…” I could have invoked.

What is striking about this picture? Close to 200 eminent persons belonging to and professing different religious faiths, as well as eminent persons not professing any faith, gathered together at the 3rd Asia-Europe Interfaith Dialogue in Nanjing, China. (Two previous ones had been held in Bali and Larnaca.)

They came from 39 Asian and European countries. Diplomats and government officials outnumbered the religious leaders and civil society representatives. The majority (124 of 158 official delegates, or 78.5 percent) were men.

During the three days that they were gathered, no prayers were said, no chants were heard, no outward display of religiosity was seen. There were no common rituals (usually musts in multi-religious, multi-cultural gatherings I have attended in the past).

I must note that, in contrast, Filipinos (the women especially) are big on rituals when it comes to ecumenical faith gatherings no matter how tense and serious these are. In the Philippines we usually start off with priests, imams, pastors, nuns and lay leaders leading the opening prayers. Especially in so-called interfaith dialogues.

There was none of the above in this in Nanjing. That’s what struck me. Those are externals (internal?), you might say. Well, I thought prayer—communal and personal—was basic to all faiths, a wellspring from which understanding, peace and goodwill could flow forth. For prayer is the language of the heart. In Nanjing the language was diplomatese.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

‘Trauma, interrupted’: Naming the pain

What can art do in the face of global suffering? Can artists interrupt the trauma or do they intensify the pain when they step into it and try to do something to ease it?

These are some of the questions posed by women artists in the art exhibit “Trauma, interrupted” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (June 14–July 29).

The art works in different media are the 18 artists’ expression of their deep emotions (rage, shame, hope, peace) and resolve that have arisen from pain and trauma they’ve had to deal with—their very own or the collective pain and trauma of the women they have encountered.

The exhibit explores the links between trauma, art and healing. The art works, curator Dr. May Datuin said, challenge us to come to terms with a range of traumas, including those resulting from conflict situations, natural disasters, human rights violations, mental and physical afflictions.

The exhibit is dedicated to the memory of Tomasa Salinog or Lola Masing of Antique whom Japanese soldiers turned into a “comfort woman” during World War II. She died last April 6 at the age of 78. The exhibit also honors the more than 50 Filipino comfort women (the Malaya Lolas) and many Asian women who had come forward to speak about their ordeal and demand recognition and apologies from the Japanese government. (So far, no apologies. Most former comfort women have refused to accept funds from Japanese donors.)

It is also dedicated to women from all walks of life, women who have been wounded emotionally, spiritually, physically, and who seek to become whole again.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The power of “The Ninth”

Pacifists, fascists, religious, communists, Nazis, romantics, tyrants, humanists, revolutionaries, despots, freedom fighters. What do they have in common? They have felt inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, particularly its fourth and last movement known as “Ode to Joy.”

What is it about “Ode to Joy” that movements and leaders who hold divergent beliefs and ideologies have claimed it to be the anthem that embodies their quest?

Last week the German Cultural Center held another screening of “Tne Ninth”, the award-winning documentary by Pierre-Henry Salfati. This was part of the long-running celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome which created the European Economic Community, the forerunner of the present 27-member European Union. “Ode to Joy” is the EU’s anthem, by the way. It was re-arranged for the EU by Herbert von Karajan.

It’s a familiar tune, only many don’t know that it is from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor’s last movement, which ends with a rousing orchestral and choral climax that could set you aflame. Beethoven’s inspiration for the finale was Friedrich Schiller’s poem “Ode on die Freude”.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The grace of remembering

Last week’s column (“Disappeared”) which was about remembering those who vanished in the night, and where I used excerpts from an article (“The Missing and Dead and those who Survive to Tell the Story.”) that I wrote in the 1980s elicited some heart-tugging feedback. One of them was from poet Grace Monte de Ramos who had been moved many years ago by that feature story that came out in the Mr.& Ms. Special edition (the “subversive” edition edited by the present Inquirer editor in chief) and was “provoked” to write a poem.

For Grace, last week’s column piece again released a stream of memories.

I seldom use readers’ letters and the ensuing exchange of thoughts (via e-mail) in this column but maybe this one with Grace would resonate with those who believe that we should not totally leave the past behind.