Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Wake-Up Call in Taipei: Have Faith in Prayers

The Prayer Card from the Holy Family Church in Taipei
Birthday is the day where everyone, regardless of religion and faith, makes a wish.  To say our wishes silently before we blow the candles on the top of the cake is already a written and somehow, the unwritten tradition of the world.  This is the special day we should celebrate life.

My birthday is in March and it is usually the end of school year in the Philippines.  Back in my school years, I was running for academic honors and has to maintain an above average grade in my major subjects in college.  I always used my birthday to ask my God the gift to get the honors that I was running for and even to maintain the required grades in my course. And it worked for me.  I always had my birthday wishes granted.

As I continue to celebrate my birthdays, my wishes vary with my interests and so with my ways of celebrating it.  When I reached thirty, I eventually found myself celebrating my birthdays abroad.   It has become a personal tradition that I wanted to explore the world and celebrate the day I was born. Being a Catholic in the Philippines, a birthday is not complete without going to the church for a mass or light a candle.  When I celebrated my birthday abroad, I did the unconventional to my Catholic faith.

March 17,2007,  I found myself kneeling together with the other tourists and local believers inside a pagoda of Golden Buddha in Bangkok while trying to sneak a photo as it was not allowed.  Entering the temple means we had to follow the rituals of vowing and kneeling. 

March 17, 2012, I had my birthday eve in a bar with foreign friends in Kuala Lumpur, then spent the rest of the day with college and office friends in Singapore. It was quite a discovery for a not-your-party-girl like me but I had lots of laughter with new friends whom I just conversed over via telecons and in-house office chat.

March 17, 2013, I spent the rainy afternoon inside the church ALONE on a Sunday (something that is impossible in the Philippines) in Jeju Island, South Korea when I went to my first solitary travel in the country for ten days.  It was the most solemn and closest encounter I had with my God.  I was able to visit the church, light a candle and pray the Holy Rosary.

Then came August of 2014.  It was not my birth month but my friend, Connie. Along with her sister Jen, we went together for a three-day trip in Taipei to celebrate her birthday. Being the one who is always tasked to prepare the itinerary, I made sure we can attend the English mass on Connie's birthday at Holy Family Catholic Church.

Holy Family Church in Taipei
When we silently entered the church, it felt different for many reasons. Many vacant seats, fewer people but very, very much solemn.  Sunday masses in the Philippines are always flocked with overflowing crowd of Catholics.  It was so solemn that we did not attempt to whisper.  Everyone was attentive and responsive - to songs, prayers and psalms. Before the recession, the commentator asked for the first timers who attended the Mass in that church. We stood up and found ourselves a bit shy yet overwhelmed with the faithfuls clap. Somebody gave the microphone to us and the commentator asked each one of the first timers which country we came from. It was such a nice ministry and at the end of the mass, they even had some food to share.  It was a heartwarming experience. We felt blessed.
Pingxi Sky Lantern in Taiwan
In the afternoon, we spent half of the day traversing the countryside northbound to Pinxi Line.  I put it in our itinerary for two reasons - 1) for Connie to experience train travel, and, 2) to write my wishes in sky lantern. The latter was indeed contradicting to my Catholic faith.

Pingxi Sky Lantern in Shifen station is famous to tourists and locals who believed that their wishes will come true.   Unexpectedly, we were perhaps, one of the few who proved otherwise.

Arrays of lanterns along the railroad
The lantern was sold in different choices and colors that represent every aspect - love, money, relationship, faith, health, among others.  We were offered a two-sider-lantern for NTD150 or four sides for NTD200. We took the four-sider lantern and had one side each to write down our wishes.  One side was allotted for Marinette's wishes.  We did not mind the color at all. 

We wrote as many wishes that we can, filling all spaces even up to the edges of the lantern. Those were about personal, career, love, money, material things even for other people. Every space in different strokes and styles, as much as we could to fill in. For some reason, it was enough for the three of us. Or rather, we made it fully enough for us.  No need to have one lantern each.  One is enough. We had four sides anyways.

my side of the our skylantern

And so we wrote our wishes - my half-meant wishes.

We took our celebratory photo, a MUST for all tourists from different parts of the world.  It was all over the place. We had our photo with every side, one each for our wishes. And the lady who sold the lantern to us and the one directing the ceremony of its sort, lighted the lantern and shouted, "Let It Go"! We cheerfully enjoined her as we let go of our lantern, following its trail.  

Our celebratory photo before we released the lantern
However, the unexpected happened! Something that anyone from that place of wishers and believers had expected to witness.
as we released our lantern
At the snap of the finger, as if an impatient and rushing wind swayed the lantern so quickly that the video even looked like it was set at fast forward. The fire could not cope with the strength of the wind that it swayed so abruptly.  Everything snapped in seconds!

Shamelessly it crashed against the branches of tree at the top of the store where we bought the lantern, burnt so quickly as if our wishes just turned into ashes.  I felt weird, a bit worried.  But I shook it off.  The worry was no longer about my wishes but on the damage our burning lantern might caused.  The worry turned to laughter. We laughed at how people around us seemed to regret about our burning lantern.  We laughed on the chaos we created for a brief moment.  We laughed at the thought that we almost destroyed the true meaning of sky lantern to the tourists and many believers of it.

And we finished our trip that day exhausted but had so much fun.  Here's the clip of our embarrassing video.

Looking back, some of my prayers were granted, not in the exact ways that I wanted them to be but in God's ways.  I know and believe that my wishes were granted, just like how I trusted my God to grant my wishes on my birthdays. It was not because our lantern of wishes was burned but it was because of the burning desire in my heart that my God will bless me more.

Our trip in Taiwan was a wake-up call for me - not to settle in anything fad but to keep the faith. Our dreams do come true - just Pray Hard and Work Hard. And I will continue to explore the world and celebrate my life that God has blessed me with.

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