Special Sanctuary:

Church of the Risen Lord (CRL)
Eons ago, I cried buckets in this church—tears of fear and joy.

As a 14-year-old college freshman, a promdi (from the province), uninitiated to the ways of city slickers at the University of the Philippines (UP), I felt as though I was thrown into the deep end without any swimming lessons to keep me afloat. 

It was here where I said a thousand and one prayers. 

Here I prayed before every exam or any activity in my classes that were all strange in my eyes.

Here I prayed for wisdom in decisions and temptations.

Here I prayed over frustrations with professors, lessons, classmates, crushes, and grades. Then after these had passed, I went back to thank God for his generous grace. 

With the guidance of older cousins, siblings Benny and Erline, soon the deep end was no longer terrifying territory. I learned how to swim like the rest of the city folks until my graduation four years later.

Before I went to UP, both Benny and Erline had told me about CRL. What I remember most was what they said about its architecture:

“Like a cart in a caravan.”

“A parabola.”

Awe and reverence were the two emotions that kicked in when I entered the structure for the first time. It was unlike any place I've ever seen. I seemed to enter a holy ground where I could partake of God’s Bread of Life.  The ceiling reached heaven. The air came in and out freely, attracting chirping birds and fluttering butterflies.  

I quickly became a member of the UP Christian Youth Fellowship (UPCYM), the organization that built the church in 1954, with Cesar Concio as its architect. In this group I met fellow believers in the saving grace of Jesus.  Despite my other exciting activities—announcing at DZUP and writing for the Philippine Collegian—my student life revolved around the UPCYM.

On many Sundays, I'd sing anthems with the choir up in the balcony. At vespers, I'd help put up stage productions—one that comes to mind right now is dramatizing and reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's letters from prison. 

Solemn and serene, this church was my haven of safety, a constant silent witness to my growing up—from a scared little girl to an adult whose moral fiber remained woven in the tapestry of God's love. 

CRL is so far away from where I live today. But every so often, I get to attend service there. Once, on a Woman's Sunday, I was invited to speak. Then about five years ago, I attended its 50th anniversary, a happy occasion that allowed me to re-connect with  kindred spirits.   

Just last week, I had to make my way there again despite the floods and rains. My cousin Benny—he who initiated me to the ways of the UPCYM—was urgently summoned by God on his way to a meeting. He left us so suddenly we are still reeling from the shock. It was a bittersweet homecoming. 

Tony and I said our final good-byes to Benny, immediate past chairman of the CRL council. And I thought I'd never cry buckets in that church again.

Entering my safety haven, with my dear cousin's body in a box on the altar, I felt once again the twin feelings of awe and reverence. Despite our sorrow—and the inconsolable grief of Benny's children and Erline—the sanctuary reminded me of the constant love of Jesus: in exams, in fear, in frustration, in joy, and even (or specially) in death.

CRL tells me that our risen Lord is our constant. He remains unchanging despite the changes of years and the end of life.   

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8 (NLT)


Eva Kristiaman said...

My deepest condolences, Grace. Thanks for sharing the hope and the joy in our Lord, whatever we experiencing in our life, He is the same.

The Tiger Scribe said...

The hardest thing to do is not to ask for forgiveness but to say goodbye. The former is for reconnecting a bridge that was once broken, but the latter is permanent. Miss Grace, i wish to extend my condolences to you and your family. Even in his farewell, your cousin brought you back to this church.

Grace D. Chong said...

Dear Eva,

Isn't it wonderful how our Lord remains the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow? Thanks for your words of comfort.

Grace D. Chong said...

Hello, JP! An unchanging refuge through the years . . . and surely, before I am called home by our Maker, I will go back for other happier occasions.

Yay Padua-Olmedo said...

Beatiful, Grace, thanks!

Grace D. Chong said...

Salamat, Yay. There have been many interesting and surprising things happening here. Rose, Carol and I will let you in on everything when you come back in November. Meanwhile, enjoy Natalie Grace!

Anonymous said...

May God's comfort be with you, Grace. His grace is sufficient. Take care... Bethel

Anonymous said...

Thank you Auntie Grace for such a beautiful piece about CRL and Tatay. Yahmin