Thursday, December 23, 2010

'The Masses are Messiah'

LAUNCHED LAST week was Karl M. Gaspar’s latest book, “The Masses are Messiah: Contemplating the Filipino Soul.”

I was asked to write a blurb for the book’s back cover. After looking at the title I was discombobulated. But I thought I’d try. How does one distill into five sentences the essence of a book that was several years in the making and took the author over mountains and valleys, across rivers and seas and into the heart and soul of the people of our islands?

Anyway, let me quote myself: “Profoundly Pinoy! A must-read for both the actives and contemplatives of this planet. Somewhere on these pages you might recognize your own journey into your own soul, and beyond—from masa to misa to mystic to messiah. Karl has explored the amazing wilderness that is the Filipino soul and discovered gems so raw and so priceless. We are a spirituality gifted people and we should know it.”

Karl introduces us to his scholarly opus by dissecting the book’s title in Chapter 1. The title is from a poem written by poet-revolutionary Emmanuel Lacaba (1949-1976) who was killed in the prime of his youth.
The road less travelled by we’ve taken—/And that has made all the difference:/ The barefoot army of the wilderness/ We all should be on time./ Awakened, the masses are Messiah./ Here among the workers and peasants our lost/ Generation has found its true, its only home.
It was not lost on Karl that the poet’s name was Emmanuel which means God with us, Jesus the awaited Messiah that we sing about during this Advent season.

After hurdling the first chapter you can hurtle through the succeeding ones. From the chapter “Stories of Spiritual Journeys” Karl draws many tantalizing elements for his thesis. The stories gave him a window to what he calls the IBS (indigenous belief system) that would be in the core of his research.

The research methods Karl used were not the cold, empirical kind but the phenomenological approach which flung open hearts and souls: “…I found myself encountering Filipino souls. When the sharing became intense—and emotions were freely expressed—I found myself intuiting: how lucky and privileged I was to come face to face with Pinoy souls… Many times during field work, I was on the verge of tears and knew these were privileged sacred moments that I would rarely encounter in my life.”

The chapter “The Construct/Discourse of Filipino and Filipino Spirituality” asks: How is spirituality defined by the informants and other voices? Is there such a thing as Filipino spirituality? Yes, there is, Karl declares, and there is a variety of them. He looks to expert sources and surmises that Filipino spirituality is constituted by these various elements: “the IBS of our ancestors that go back to the pre-conquest era, the values that make up our identity allowing us to express a sense of connectedness to one another in reciprocal but just and compassionate relationships, in recognizing the kapwa in all beings (human and nature), a sensitivity to the needs of ‘the other’ in an engagement in liberation struggles leading to all levels of transformation, the lived spirituality of the ordinary people at the grassroots and some aspects of the practical spirituality among devotees-pilgrims.”

The constructs, definitions, terminologies, etc. lead to the grand question: Is the Filipino spirituality transformation-oriented? If so, what factors have contributed to this?

Karl posits that this transformative orientation is not new and did not arise only in the contemporary setting. It has its roots, he dares say, in the indigenous worldview of our ancestors who fostered a reciprocal relationship with the spirits long before the era of conquest and conversion to the Christian faith. The “this world-ly” perspective in our ancestors’ cosmic religion empowered them to establish just, tender and compassionate relationships with others—human and nature beings—for most of the time.

Just an aside: “Transformative” now seems to be an “in” word among those who take their theology to the streets. The word liberation (in liberation theology) sounds so yesterday.

Karl has immersed himself in the treasure trove of church documents, historical, anthropological and sociological researches that could provide evidence of a distinct Filipino spirituality. He then adds his own voice based on his own research and experiences.

He reflects: “A truly transformative Filipino spirituality is one that also engages the mysterious and mystical. Not only are the prophets to be drawn into this effort of helping evolve a transformative spirituality; the mystics too, need to be involved… To be truly transformative, all are led to the source of it all.”

So I said in the cover blurb that we are a spiritually gifted people and we should know it. But I also wonder sometimes whether this giftedness might be over-romanticized. Karl himself asks on page 11: If there is such a thing as Filipino spirituality, why has it not contributed to the transformation of our society? Can it be said that our quest for interior liberation (or spirituality) has not contributed anything to the social emancipation of the underprivileged?

Read the book and find out.

“The Masses are Messiah” (451 pages) is the seventh in the Spirituality Series from the Institute of Spirituality in Asia run by the Carmelite Fathers (O.CArm.). Karl Gaspar is a Mindanawon, theologian, Redemptorist brother and author of seven books. He suffered imprisonment during the martial law years. He has a Ph.D. in Philippine Studies. He continues to be in solidarity with indigenous peoples (lumad) and works for the promotion of justice, peace and integrity of creation.

Here’s a good definition of contemplation: “Contemplation is a long, loving look at the real.” MaLiGaYaNg PaSkO!