Fear Not

Dave Canovas

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The world teaches you to fear. The Holy Spirit whispers in your ear and says otherwise; to fear not.

Being trapped in fear and anxiety is no joke and I feel like the world we now live in is not helping alleviate our state of fear. The world makes us obsess and fear about being left behind in practically everything. New models of phone. New episodes of our favourite series. Career. Marriage.

The world makes you think something is lacking in you and gives you the feeling of missing out. It drives you to spend minutes and even hours googling solution for receding hairline. Every morning, the first thing I have to check is my phone fearing I might miss a matter-of-life-and-death message. Social media drives you to think that your worth is measured up by the likes on your feed.

And yet succumbing to the world still makes you fear. It never seems to fill you, in fact it makes you even crave for more. Therefore, the world is not the solution to our fear, our anxiety and our depression.

Decluttering ourselves of all the things that world has made us think as important could prove really hard but there is always the omnipresent Spirit we can invoke for help. It guides us to see beyond the world. The graces that the Spirit will make us believe in, are revealed as different possibilities from re-discovering our love of reading and exercise to spending more time with our loved ones.

2 Timothy 1:7 For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Passion

Dave Canovas

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

Just how did you do it?

How did you not flinch when it was too painful? When you fell while carrying the weight of the world, how did you rise up again? How far ahead did you see when your present was too agonizing? How far back did you have to look to remember that you were everything but a criminal?

How did you not break when they shattered you? When rebuked, how did you not hate? How long did it take you to forgive? A minute? A day?

How had you chosen pain over glory? Dying over living? How were you not reminded of ruthlessness by those scars, that instead of waging chaos you uttered “peace be with you”? How did you do it?

Lover of my soul, how do I become whole again?

Peace be with you.

Dave Canovas

I joined FB just few months ago. I refused to have one, most of my entire adult life. I thought it was rife with negativity and I thought there would be triggers there for me. Not good for my mental wellbeing but somehow thanks to the “snooze” option my wife taught me. That way I could avoid people posting messages of hate, sexism, racism and bullying. Just as there are positive messages out there, it is also replete with messages that could disturb your peace.

Peace is so hard to come by of late. Wars are being waged everywhere ranging from small to large scale and everything in between. Keeping an ear to the ground of Philippine election and politics has piqued my mental wellbeing recently.

Too bad that it is just few weeks from Easter Sunday when we were reminded of the powerful words Jesus spoke; “Peace be with you”. Today I thought it is time to invite peace again in my life. In our lives.

Know when to give up. Maybe the story has to end at some point. Maybe the wheels have to stop turning and start recharging. Maybe the fight is not worth it anymore. The time to stop is when you become exhausted, unproductive, vengeful, angered, unnerved, confused. Perhaps the best recourse is to “accept the things you cannot change (serenity prayer)”.

Forgive and ask for forgiveness. When others hurt us or when we hurt others, that is when it becomes most difficult. That is when you feel heavy. You sweat during those sleepless nights. But when we forgive or ask for forgiveness, it becomes lighter on our shoulder.

Years ago when I challenged a 4 year old boy into capturing his thoughts into drawing, I asked “What does peace look like?”I was really impressed with what I witnessed – a love heart drawn on paper. When I asked, “What does war look like?”. He started to draw vigorously, chaotic lines. I knew it was really war that he drew because of his “angry” body movements while he drew.

It is time to choose that tidy love heart of peace rather than the angry lines of war. It is time to remember and live what Jesus said after His resurrection, “Peace be with you”.

Beating the seven deadly sins

Dave Canovas

What is the opposite of pride? I thought it’s humility but the sharing of a speaker in a weekend retreat I attended had me reconsider my answer. He thought that it’s love.

Not since watching the film “Seven” have I given the seven deadly sins a good stare. I did agree with the speaker that love is the opposite of pride (Proverbs 16:5 – “arrogant in heart”). But I am also convinced that, so are gluttony (Philippians 3:19 -“their god is their belly”; envy (Proverbs 14:30 – the one the “makes the bones rot”); sloth ( Proverbs 19:15 – “idle person”); wrath (Matthew 26:52 – those “who take the sword”); greed (1 Timothy 6:10 – “love of money”) and lust (1 Corinthians 6:18 – “sexual immorality”).

Love’s OTHER-centeredness, no doubt, opposes the seven deadly sins’ SELF-centeredness.

In my life, I have wondered how I have fought a sinful thought.

First is by recognising these sins on their onset. These sins could sometimes blend into our skin slowly, cunningly and quite subtly. We watch out for signs of these sins and nip it in the bud before we get consumed by them.

I would call these early signs my moments of unease. Guilt-ridden urge. Sweating. Racing heartbeat. Feeling a “bit sad”. A mind peppered with the “what if’s”. Fantasizing and daydreaming. Cravings. Mindless scrolling on the phone. Restless feet. Indecisiveness. Aimless pressing of the TV remote control. Stressful eating. My signs could go on and based on my history, these underlie these sins. Before any of these signs spiral out of control, I try to nip it in the bud. But how?

Pray and in praying, each word really matters. Fr. Andrew Ricci has always suggested to NAME IT in our prayer. It does not have to be grand, thought-out well or grammatically correct. It just needs to be flowing, honest and specific. God I am feeling the urge to forgo again an opportunity. God I am feeling lazy today and I am not being productive. God, I am feeling the urge to stay home, lie on the couch, miss church and become slothful. God, I am being stuck in my thoughts and my cravings. You know that this could lead me to excess and become a glutton. God, I am feeling uneasy right now that I don’t have what my neighbour has. This is envy and it is not ok. Deliver me from envy and help me realise that what I have is enough. God, I don’t really understand why I am feeling annoyed right now. Help me through my feelings before it boils over and becomes anger. Prayer at its most specific could help win against the enemy.

In early childhood education, there is what is called dispositions or habits of the mind. If we train ourselves to resort to prayer every time we are challenged by sinful thoughts, then the mind becomes a very powerful tool which could stomp sins on their head.

Since love is the opposite of the seven deadly sins then it is only love that can vanquish them. When you love, then there is the “other” to think about; the “other” that we see beyond the “self”.

Giving to others for example, vanquishes greed. The law of marginal utility tells us that no matter how much material things we acquire, we will never ever be satisfied. Greed just gets us caught in the cycle of buying things that will never be as satisfying as when it is new but being generous? This empties us and allows us to see that others’ happiness could be truly gratifying.

When I slack, feel unmotivated and slothful, I think of the “other” who might benefit if I look ahead and soldier on; perhaps the children I teach who could learn from my enthusiasm or my family whom I could build great memories with. Lying on the couch all day is not what I would consider loving.

Beating the seven deadly sins today does not mean we have slayed them for good. Sinful thoughts are here to stay. A sinful thought is that unwanted visitor always wanting to hang out with us at home, at work or even at church. It could stare right at us through our TV screens. But remember that God is also here to stay; His goodness endures forever. God also loves to hang out with us in every corner of our home, at work and certainly He is alive and longs for us, at church. He is ready to meet us at each moment we are tested.

Praying for self-control Dave Canovas

Hard to resist?

2 Timothy 1:7

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

If I were to pick one from the fruits of the Holy Spirit right now, I’d choose self-control.

Now it is becoming more often when we feel always being on the edge of an outburst. Is the world to blame or have we become overly sensitive, fatigued and too opinionated? Patience thins when plans go amiss. And almost everyone seem to have some form of addiction. Substance. Sex. Gaming. Netflix. Chocolate. Food. Sleeping. Gambling. You name it.

The world outside our body, mind and spirit, it seems, is ready to rule us. Time to learn self-control.

Self-control for some reason reminds me of self-regulation in children. It is not a stroke of good luck that children learn about it; it takes great mentoring, coaching, role modelling or environment setting to encourage young children to be in control of BIG emotions such as frustration, worry, anger, sadness. These could be a lot to take for a young child but is not entirely impossible to learn self-control. Let us not completely rule out our own ability to learn about it, as well.

But as a Christian, what I aim for is self-control gifted by the Holy Spirit. Nope, it is not merely being in control of my mind, body and BIG emotions but achieving a state in which I allow God to have power over me, where my actions and decisions seems to be made for me, by God.

Self-control gifted by the Holy Spirit is not silence. We could appear really serene on the outside but inside us could be brewing anger and chaos. Growing up, I did not have models of self-control. Everyone around me seemed to explode. It was utterly difficult to learn healthy self-control. For most part of my life, silence was my resort – a padded resilience, bottled negativity and some kind of empty “self-control”. It would surface in my later life as depression.

At some stage in our lives, we have to unlearn old habits and learn new ways. For our sake and sake of our family and children. I thought true self-control, the one gifted by the Holy Spirit, is the one I needed to learn. Because, I have learned the hard way that fake self-control won’t work.

First some practical steps. Prepare the mind for reality of problems.

Being a teacher here in New Zealand, we encourage children to problem-solve. Problems are vital to children’s learning. For example, the play environment I would set up for children would always be challenging and riddled with problems. The “troll bridge” does not have to be still and sturdy; it must be wobbly and problematic. That is how children learn about balance. I believe children must experience falling for as long as they fall safely.

Problems, too, form a big part in how we, adults learn about self-control. We do not deny ourselves with the inevitability of glitches, of plans going awry, of unmet expectations, of problems, of imperfections. I am not always the type who would always look at the glass as half-full. It could also be half-empty. It is more realistic for me. If things do not go to plan, I don’t go ballistic anymore as I used to. For me, that is JUST the glass half-empty again but I know God is going to fill the other half of it. And I am totally at peace with it.

Secondly, think of the danger of lacking self-control.

One is guilt. I have never seen anybody feeling really peaceful after an outburst. God knows how I feel really guilty whenever I lose it with my own children. Once the beast in you has said your piece violently, the fragments of broken relationships would be hard to piece together. Guilt, together with its twin, regret, could visit you even in your dreams. It is gnawing.

The pitfalls of lacking self-control eventually became my hard “why’s”. Why did I want to learn self-control? For me, it is my children. I needed them to have a model of authentic self-control. There was suddenly a sense of urgency to protect their hearts and minds. Being the father of the house, I have that role to create a home not built upon shaky impulses but on consistent practice of letting go and letting God’s power take over.

Learning self-control is tough work. It is not a ray of light that shines upon us while we sit down. Yes, it also takes time to learn. Praying and talking to God often will set the ground for us. Fr. Andrew Ricci whose podcast I follow, always suggests, naming “it” whenever we pray. It is different for all of us. It could be self-control to help you turn away from being angered by the smallest things. It could be self-control from spending too much time watching Netflix. It could be turning away addiction to illicit sexual materials or drugs. We are called by the Holy Spirit to name it whatever it is and to cast it aside. Pray for self-control every single time no matter how long it takes.

Be ready to reap the fruits. The outcomes of self control gifted by the Holy Spirit is not of guilt, regret, emptiness and bitterness but of love, patience and peace. As we turn away from sinful addiction or bridled anger, we reap the grace of being one heart with God. But before any harvest, we need to work really hard sowing, watering, preparing the soil. It may not happen in an instant. In fact, it may be a cross to bear with confusion, hurt ego, sweaty palms, heart wildly beating. But soon all these will fade away and we reap the fruits that we deserve – that of love and peace in our hearts.

Why God?

Dave Canovas

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

On this road, I am aimless, inconsistent, out of sight but why God are You still constant and always by my side?

I am Your riches’ squanderer. I am prodigal. I am blind but why God am I favoured, Your most desired?

Farther away from You, my sins separate me yet I find myself near you always. My God, am I worthy?

My errors pierce Your heart, my pride, thorns on Your sides yet God You still see me with such loving eyes.

When I am worn and all spent, You have always carried me through. My God of second chances, will You get tired of me too?

Father, when all is gone, when all else fails, my lasting God in my demise, You will remain.

The beatitudes: a game-changer in what “feeling blessed” could mean (Dave Canovas)

Yesterday was my forty-seventh birthday and it felt like my fiftieth was just around the corner. I made a very intentional, conscious, huge effort to count my blessings as if wanting to enforce a feeling of blessedness upon myself. It was such a big effort because as you know, reality and real life always happen.

As I was preparing for our church group’s bible study, I turned to Luke 6:20-26 (The sermon on the plain) which was the bible reading few Sundays ago. It was a bible study that we postponed then because, as you know life happened.

When I read that passage, it baffled me. Blessed those who are poor … and woe to those who are rich – what could this mean? I wished God would speak and explain to me all this. The passage demanded re-reading on my part. Still confused, I had to read on what some bible scholars think it means. This led me to another bible passage from Matthew 5:1-12 (The sermon on the mount) which has parallelisms with Luke’s “Sermon on the plain”.

My puzzlement about the passage’s meaning, I realised, stemmed from me thinking about what is of this world rather than what is of God. But as always, with prayer and study (research) come enlightenment.

“Blessed are the poor”, for example, is of the spirit and it is the acknowledgement that we are nothing without God; that we are wholly dependent on Him; and that He is our only life support.

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Like a beggar, we bend down in humility and as we get closer to Christ, living by His examples, we get farther away from our own foolish and self-centred ways.

Blessed those who mourn: they shall be comforted. If others and our own sins become our source of mourning, then God promises peace and comfort.

Blessed are we when we hunger, thirst and constantly seek justice. Blessed are we when we unceasingly progress in our faith and realise that other things like fame, riches or unfairly getting ahead of others, cannot ever fill us.

Blessed are those who are merciful; they shall have mercy shown them. People around us are in need of our mercy and compassion. There will be times when will be on that receiving, humbling end but we need not beg for others’ mercy and compassion. It will be given to us freely and lovingly as mercy is what we have sown to begin with.

Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God. God sees our heart, too. He knows all our impurities or our desires to purify our hearts. He knows our sins or how we seek redemption. He knows when we hate or when we love. He knows when we let ourselves succumb to worldly pleasures or when we reject them. He knows our integrity or our inconsistencies. If we are pure in heart that is our thoughts are loving as much as our actions; then we will see God.

It will definitely happen when we will be rejected and outcast for believing and living this life as Christians. Persecution is a state of blessedness, too. Blessedness or the beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel, I have come to realise is a real game-changer. It is not the blessedness that we are wont to think. it is the kind of blessedness that we have chosen to live by in order for us to see the face of God, in this life or the next.

What is the meaning of life?

Dave Canovas

This is a question that could be borne out of disappointment, grief, depression or even mere boredom. Whichever it is, I do not welcome it. It nags and gets me into deep thought. Deep thinking, I have come to understand, tends to be more of a liability for me than an asset.

No matter how I tried, this question does pop up from time to time and I really have to grapple with it but now I have been learning and been very quick to reframe it in a way that would make me avoid the pit of futile deep thinking. WHAT MAKES LIFE, LIFE? – is a question that really sounds better in my head in that it provokes “doing” and “action” rather than just merely meaningless pondering.

So what makes life, life?

Make “ordinary” things “extra-ordinary” again.

Very often, these “ordinary” things are being made redundant by our life’s routines. Routine for me is such a killer. We have always had these “things” in our lives – talked with, played with, used, eaten, lived in or enjoyed. These have become such a part of our routine already that we have overlooked their importance. Getting your dream job may have heaped our “hallelujahs” then. I wonder if we are as grateful for it, now. We only realise how much our loved ones mean to us, once we lose them. In most days, they tend to be relegated to just being the “ordinary”. I remember crying when we bought our first house but now I am finding myself wishing it was bigger. These thoughts could all be counter-productive so the solution is to make these things that seemed “ordinary” now, “extra-ordinary” again. Bite an apple like it is the sweetest and juiciest apple you have ever tasted. Drive to work with zest like it is your first dream job. Hug your wife and children like you are never going to see them again. Live your life as if it were your last. Well, you know, it could really be your last. I am really fortunate to teach pre-school age children everyday. They seem to never lose the joy. They always remind me to see the spiritual sense in even the most mundane of things.

Always think and strive to learn and avoid meaningless pondering. Why your neighbours are better off than you are, why you couldn’t be in two places at the same time, why you think people are mean to you or to each other, why people unnecessarily honk their horns during traffic – seem to be pointless thoughts because it gets you nowhere other than to spiral down. Thinking and striving to learn, on the other hand, is one built on purpose and could be actualised into something of value. Recently, I came across quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson which I have been reading over and over again. These are short but really meaningful and have great potentials to make me a better person. I have been constantly listening to Fr. Andrew Ricci’s podcast and have been enriched by his wisdom. Striving to learn new things is a start of greater things.

Act on your knowledge. Implement your plans. I spent my whole life wondering about the ‘what if’s” and the “what could’ve been’s”. I resolve to not waste another minute of my life focusing my energies on these, instead, to start to do, to act and venture into things I am most afraid of and in the process, add value to my life. What is the value of your plan if it remains a plan forever? At my kindergarten, we envision creating a community garden that could benefit our families. Sounds like a big vision but would not come into fruition if we do not attempt to start to work towards it. Whenever I gain new knowledge that deepens my Catholic faith for example, I share them with others hoping that it could impact on their lives as it continue to impact on mine. The home is a good starting point of sharing these. I make myself visible and available for other people and offering a life of service, as much as I can.

Always find time to connect with self, others and God through prayer. Prayer is a respite for the tired, an assurance for the weak, a celebration for the happy, a feast for the soul of the peaceful. Prayer can be all of these. We pray in all our seasons not only when we are in need. Prayer also transcends distance and time and allows us to be connected with the people we love. I have loved ones from the Philippines, USA, Canada, Middle East and Israel but I always feel that prayer still binds us together whenever I remember them in my prayers. Prayer binds me to God. It is always a wonderful place to quell fears, to heal, to feel love, to unburden myself and to remain faithfully connected with God’s promises.

What makes life, life, I learned, are overcoming yourself and getting past your past and your nagging meaningless thoughts. What makes life, life; is to start to put things together beginning with the little things and adding them all up to create a bigger picture of continuous learning, connecting and devoting to a life of prayer. That is the life worth living for with actions all done in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Values in action

Luke 15:13 – “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one or love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

I value my “family” but there were points in my life when my actions led me away from them.

I had some irrational obsessions years ago. Obsessing with fixing broken things at home or keeping the house insanely and perfectly tidy, was one of them. This came in a guise of “valuing family”.

Who doesn’t like a clean and tidy house for your family?I think we all do but for the longest time for me, it bordered on irrationality when even the tiniest things would keep my head in and would make me fly off the handle. I abhorred it when things at home would get broken or misplaced. I hated looking for lost things. That would be enough for me to have a fit. My feelings after exploding would be much, much worse.

Was it worse because of growing anger? Or was it worse because of guilt stemming from hurting the feelings of the people I love. Little things at home seemed really “big” enough to pull me and my family apart. I knew I needed help,

Never stray from your values. Work towards aligning your actions with your values. I came to realise this when I went through counselling for depression. People who suffer the feeling of inadequacy, worthlessness and depression, may have really admirable values in life like faith in God, family, friendship or diligence but our actions or inaction, like sinfulness, disloyalty, betrayal or sloth, could further lead us deeper down the pit.

What I found that I have always valued are faith in God and my love for family. I have always aimed to live by these in the past but was unsuccessful several times. I guess by not praying, I had not realized my faith. I guess by having a short temper over household matters, I had not been a good father or husband, either. Such was a mismatch of values and actions that tormented my soul.

My inaction, I knew, would only make matters worse. On the contrary, I learned later on that the more I spent meaningful time with my family and the more I pray and learn about God’s word; the closer I get to realise what really matters to me.

Now, I know enough that I value my faith and that, not praying or not learning about the bible, will only make me feel inadequate and more depressed. I still do struggle now but I know enough that I value and love my wife and my children, that petty household things must not feel big enough to overcome that love.

The Holy Spirit and lessons on spirituality for young children

Dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

To start to read professional research on childhood, is always a big mission for me. You see, a teacher gets rusty and a little misplaced through time and one surefire way to fan the embers and to get back the inspiration, is to read. As always, getting started is the most difficult step but I have learned in the past that once you get through the first step, it gets easier, intriguing and thought-provoking along the way.

I have few pages of research on spirituality among young children, a topic I long wanted to unravel, sitting on my desk for months. In the last Auckland lockdown, I managed to finally read it. Let me share with you highlights of what I learned from these journals.

Most research contend that spirituality in the early childhood settings, are not fully understood and articulated because it is often equated with religion. Research found that childhood is a stage in life where spiritual experiences are very much alive and when children revere that which cannot be seen. What are some of these spiritual experiences? That sense of wonder and constant wonderings about themselves, others, nature; are considered spiritual experiences. Wonderings truly abound in a young child’s life. A child at daycare once asked me if a tree had a heart like human beings. I invited the child to hug a tree and listen for any heartbeat to seek the “truth”.

Spirituality awakens a child’s focus and creativity and one way teachers could foster spirituality is to invite calm and silence in their lives. Research found that developing spirituality in young children could help address alienation and depression, violence and alcohol and drug abuse, later on in their lives.

The way spirituality was painted here is truly beautiful. But that which drives these spiritual experiences, I believe, is rooted in something more than a realisation, a feeling, an emotion.

What truly drives spirituality is the Holy Spirit and absolutely, my faith has EVERYTHING to do with it. Our connectedness with people, places, things and ourselves; has more meaning, knowing that the Holy Spirit is behind it; such is our eyes that allow us to see the truth.

When my two daughters were toddlers, my wife and I used to take them to the beach just to search for shells. Then, it was not the number of shells they found but how they got to discover each shell. I would let them run their fingers around it and let them find words to describe it. Always, I would point out that God made them. How did God make them? I don’t need to know. For something so perfect, it must be such a loving act. Nature is so perfect and it must be a work of a perfect God.

Nature invites focus and silence. The world bustles with a lot of noise. PS4 noises in the living room. Car honking in the streets. Chatters in the train. Noises in our head. How do we turn these noises off? A time of prayer spent in nature is one way to invite the Spirit. My younger daughter, Soleil came one day telling me that she meditated in the school garden. I was very pleased that she found her way to turn off noises around her and bring in peace by praying in silence.

The Holy Spirit lives in us and manifests Himself in different ways. When our children, show acts of kindness, praise their good-heartedness and let them know that the Holy Spirit guided their work and it must be in their heart. My elder daughter Skylar loves to share her food with her friends in school. I knew that she really has a good heart. When she was about five years old, she got mad at us for shooing the ducklings taking interest in our picnic food. She must be feeling the ducklings’ hunger. Children’s act of kindness are spiritual experiences that must not go unnoticed.

When we struggle, the Holy Spirit can also hold us together. Anger and sadness are healthy emotions that children have to go through. When prolonged, deep and constant though, these emotions could become unwanted spirits later in our lives. These could turn into the feeling of worthlessness, alienation and depression.

Early on in life, we can help children recognise big unsettling emotions. We label these emotions. We talk them through it. We encourage them to believe that they will never ever be alone and that act of inviting silence predisposes them to prayer. In silent prayer, the Holy Spirit could dwell in them. It could dwell In all of us.

As Jesus promised us in John 14:16-17 – “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

The Holy Spirit is the kind of help we all desperately need today.

While we, teachers and parents, scramble to “teach” our children to succeed academically and socially, we should also “teach” them spirituality driven by the Holy Spirit. The early years is the best time to do this. It is the time when children show so much reverence to the unseen when they spend endless moments of wonderings. Teach them that the Holy Spirit can be invited to dwell in us when we pray in our silence. Once it touches us, all we have to do is surrender and it becomes our armour against the unwanted and unwelcome spirits of this world.

Our life and joy-giving connectedness with the world and ourselves is driven by the Holy Spirit. When that connectedness breaks causing us despair, it is also the Holy Spirit that restores, rebuilds and heals it. Let us take it. It is a free gift.