Time apart

This morning, I dropped Laura off at the airport on her way to a
five-day trip to Honolulu. I'm already missing her but know that Sunday
night will roll around exceedingly quickly. In the meantime, Laura and
her mom will have a splendid time in Hawaii while I get some time to
indulge into some programming projects that I've not been able to
immerse myself in as a married man.


Yesterday morning, as I meandered from one thought to another, the
words "Be still, and know that I am God" registered on my
consciousness. As I quieted myself, I found a clarity of mind and focus
of action that I am wont to attribute to divine action. Silence on my
part is often a prerequisite for communing with God. What happens
though when God is not be found -- or to be heard -- when we actively
search for God, whether in quiet or in silence? The theme for
yesterday's sermon at First Pres Berkeley (based on Job 23)
was precisely such silence of God. Mark Labberton's sermon induced the
scribbling of a lot of quotes, questions, phrases, pregnant phrases on
my notepad. Let me share a few:

  • Job 23 as a counterpoint to the proverbial wisdom tradition in which you will have a good life if you do right.

  • Job's friends marshalled all the arguments of proverbial wisdom in an attempt to set Job right.

  • How did Job know that he was righteous? Aren't we all less than
    righteous? Is that type of righteousness what Job was thinking about?

  • I don't think that I've ever been plunged in the "dark night of the soul", that Jobian darkness.

  • The silences in Yosujiro Ozu's films came to my mind. The previous
    day, Laura and I had just seen silences in Ozu, who came to my mind
    because of our seeing Café Lumière,
    Hsiao-hsien Hou's tribute to Ozu. I found a lot of Hou's silences
    unbearable, while Ozu's silences were illuminating. Why is that? Are
    some of God's silences unbearable while others are illuminating?

  • The choir had just sung Ich harre des Herrn, meine Seele harret, und ich boffe auf sein Wort from Bach's Cantata 131 (BWV 131) (Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir.) (Out of the depths I cry to thee, o Lord. Lord, hear my voice!). What suitable accompaniment to the day's sermon.

  • All this reflection makes me once again deeply aware of my own
    acute vulnerability. God does not explain or even justify His silences.
    He provides no satsifying answers other than the ultimate, eventual
    assurance that things will be set right....eventually.

  • In the face of such vulnerability, we need to live in the here and now and live in hope.

  • Jesus provide his own share of odd silences. Eg., with Lazarus, Mary and Martha.

  • In Bach's St. Matthew Passion, Jesus is ostensibly one of the star
    singers. Yet he doesn't sing very much. At the beginning, he sings
    beautifully, reassuringly. Then he falls silent very soon into the

  • In the face of global suffering on mind-staggering scale, how can I not expect to suffer too?

  • In silence, we "face the reality of our own mortality" (ML)

  • Milosz expresses the transience of the moment with poignancy. See, for example, Czeslaw Milosz - Poetry: Encounter

Back to blogging

There have been many things on my mind lately, and I've not had the
discipline in place to make them flow together coherently. The
"bookmarks" I have saved on my del.icio.us account
gives some indication of what I've been pondering, but by no means, a
complete picture. One thing is for sure: all this distraction has
pushed my blogging to the side. Today, I will get back on my blogging
podiums to write about both the personal side and the work side of what
I've been up to.

On the personal side:

As I jumped in wondering what I should actually write about, I felt
instantly pulled in too many directions. Fortunately, I was reminded of
the central lessons of the last weeks: that I should start in a place
of great stillness, which also happens to be a place of great depth. As
I hold myself still, I am able to accept that I am a little human being
living in a world with outsized needs, including my own. I remember the
pledge I had made to pray for Darfur, and I pause to do so. We put up a
display to raise awareness about Darfur at First Pres Berkeley and will host a postcard writing event for A Million Voices for Darfur
in early April. I am relieved that spring break is coming up, primarily
because it gives my students and me some breathing room for the course.

The absence of activity on my electronic presences belies the churn of
words on my computer. Having just read about super-prolific Stephen
Downe's recently announced hiatus from blogging
to take time to stop and reflect made me wonder whether I'm going in
the wrong direction by trying to get back into blogging.

The situations are certainly not parallel. First, I've never been the
regular and prolific blogger that Stephen was. I have had lots of time
to reflect, though I can stand for more in this time of change,
challenge, and opportunity. Most importantly, I believe that regular
weblogging would be an excellent discipline for me since it would force
me to work in smaller chunks, to begin and to complete manageable
pieces of work on a regular basis. Without forcing myself to write
coherent sentences and paragraphs, I will generate monstrous lists of
suggestive phrases. Writers understand the seductiveness of such lists,
which seem to contain more content than they actually do.

On the work side:

There is a huge amount of change afoot in my workplace and in my own
professional career. Although it would be inappropriate for me to write
about some of these matters, I can certainly write openly about my
personal vision for information technology at UC Berkeley and beyond.
This is an opportune moment to rethink every aspect of my professional
work as I look at the field at large and the challenges, opportunities,
and risks before me specifically. The product of my (over?) cogitation
has been long EccoPro
outlines with phrases such as remix, interoperability,
gather/create/share, grids, bibliographic metadata, knowledge
repository, seamlessness. My job now is to write these outlines in
little essays that make sense to others. time to step back to ponder
what we do to best serve the academic and research needs of the campus.

What I need vs what I want

I'm having a hard time accepting that I need long stretches of quiet
contemplation to become truly centered and grounded. I just wish it
weren't true. I wish I could instantly jump from one situation to
another with effortless "context switching" and be fully immersed in
each task from the start. Isn't that the dream of a society hooked on
"continuous partial attention"? I've been attracted to the "Getting
Things Done" system for that reason. As the Wikipedia explains:

    GTD rests on the principle that you have to get
    things out of your head and recorded into a system you can trust. That
    way, your mind is freed from the job of remembering everything that you
    need to do, and can concentrate fully on actually doing those things.

GTD has certainly helped me get better organized, but it hasn't been a
panacea. I don't blame GTD for my problem since it never promised to
let me squeeze five elephants into a clay jar. Instead of aspiring to
grow large enough to envelope elephants, I need to accept that I am
just an ordinary clay jar.