The news has not been good lately. A brief scan across the global landscape reveals a pattern of suffering and madness. No need for me to detail it for you: beheadings, cease-fires that fail to cease the firing, refugees on treks from ruin to possible survival; all these tucked in amongst the routine mishaps, misadventures, and misfortunes that befall vast numbers of our fellow human beings on a regular basis.
And yet: I read
- of a man who was given some sort of artificial eye so that he was able to see for the first time in decades
- of a young man fitted with a bionic hand
- of conjoined twins surgically separated
- of an astonishing rescue of a woman from a mud pit by a passing stranger who then simply vanished.
And all these I read about just yesterday …. on a single random day.
Does the good balance out the bad? I am not making this naïve suggestion. But equally, I am not going to embrace the bleak perspective that the bad blocks out the good. Thus, we can ask, what is going on?
Pondering this I stumbled across this piece. It describes “pabasa,” a Philippine epic poem. Here is what the piece says:
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines describes the pabasa as “an epic poem in stanzas of five lines of eight syllables.” Apparently, it was originally intended by the Church as an instrument for evangelization. Thus, the Spanish friars used it as a means to indoctrinate the faithful in the early years of Christianity in the Philippines.
The book used for the pabasa is titled “Pasyong Mahal,” with the cross-carrying Nazarene on its cover, implying that it is about Christ’s passion. A scrutiny of its contents, however, would reveal that it is not just about the passion, that in fact the subject matter of the pabasa is the whole history of salvation from the creation of the world to Christ’s passion, death and resurrection from the dead.
The book is written in the old but beautiful, rhythmic Tagalog. And though pabasa literally means “reading,” it is not read but traditionally chanted or sung a cappella in a mellow, slow and monotonous tone that reminds one of the haunting lamentations of old provincial folk at the death of a family member. The whole pabasa is also customarily done without interruption from the beginning until the whole book is finished.
Depending on the organizer or host, a pabasa is done any day between the first Sunday of Lent and Good Friday. It is commonly carried out in village chapels or houses before a makeshift altar adorned with pictures and statues of saints and of the suffering Christ.
I offer this lengthy quotation because you, probably never having heard of pabasa, might be interested in it for its own sake, but more especially to draw our attention to one key point which goes to our issue in this post, the clash between good and evil.
One of the great weaknesses amongst the Christian faithful, in my opinion, is the prevalence of snippetology. A snippetologist is someone who knows only little bits of the Bible and biblical faith. (I perhaps have written before about this in these posts!) The snippets tend to be remembered best as “favorite passages,” tales, stories, and sayings that soothe and re-enforce and avoid challenging and disturbing. The snippets remain in some sort of suspended isolation from one another, never falling into an overall pattern, a cohesive narrative, a whole which exists apart from the fragile memory or the compelling preferences of the individual snippetologist. Given this abhorrence, did you notice the key about the pabasa?
(T)he subject matter of the pabasa is the whole history of salvation from the creation of the world to Christ’s passion, death and resurrection from the dead …. The whole pabasa is also customarily done without interruption from the beginning until the whole book is finished.
This is the opposite of snippetology. It banishes passage favoritism and embraces an holistic approach that demands that we attend to the biblical reality that in all of life, across its moral spectrum, in the depths and on the heights, on the stage of life’s bright lights and in the darkest valleys of the shadows of death, God is there and there God is up to something.
More than that: it demands that we admit that what God is up to is battle; there is a cosmic war going on and God is not hiding on which side he and his people stand. God is for good against evil; life against death; love against hate.
This is no snippet. This is the big picture; this is the whole story.