Excerpt from “Killing Fields, Living Fields” p. 106-107 :
… He observed the people blithely going about the business, boarding and leaving the bus as it clattered and creaked its way southward. They gossiped, they laughed, they bought and sold, they ate, they slept. They were relaxed, easy going, and content enough. This was the Cambodia the tourists saw and liked so much : peaceful, laid back, content, amiable.
But a closer, more discerning scrutiny betrayed something of the darkness, despair and insecurity under which they lived. There was on many faces a blank expression of futility and emptiness. Theirs was a fatalism, a passive resignation to the poor hand karma had dealt them. Like the all-night card games many idled away their lives gambling over, it was as if they had simply opted out of this particular round of the game of birth, death and rebirth, in the face of all the overwhelming poverty, corruption and selfishness in the seen world, and the evil and vindictiveness of the unseen world. Perhaps in the next incarnation fate would deal them more face cards, a few more trumps maybe. But clearly the deck was stacked against them and there were yet many more hands, many more games to be played, and many disappointments still to come before this cruel and repetitive game of living and dying was finally over, and oblivion attained.
Most never really contemplated the end of the game. It was just too distant. And anyway in their despair, they had become tragically and ironically hooked on the very lusts and passions which kept them from Nirvana, and in the game, like gamblers who simply cannot leave the table even at the prospect of misery and bankruptcy and the loss of everything including their own souls. The only respite was to live in a world of fantasies and illusions, rather than realities. Reality was too grim a fact and beyond their control but image could be managed, and manipulated to be an end in itself, If they couldn’t have authentic faces, then they would create masks, a smiling mask for every occasion.
(Hence this was the Cambodia the tourists saw and liked so much : the mask of peaceful, laid back, content, amiable)
Most of the men not working in the fields were lazily passing the time. Faces vacant, they sat or lay around doing nothing except fumbling with a cigarette, a habit to which virtually every man was addicted. Many worked as little as possible and even then wasted much of what they had on smoking, opium or bottles of cheap whisky around which they sat in small groups flushed and red-eyed, noisily singing and shouting but rarely listening to themselves or others, far into the night. On special occasions such as a marriage or death or an annual festival at the local village temple, such activities intensified, along with gambling, cock fighting, or frequenting brothels. Emboldened by a little extra merit in hand – having attended the temple ritual or sat within earshot of the monks’ chanting – they felt even freer to gratify their passions. Religious occasions invariably ended in more drinking, more gambling and more illicit sex. All this was accepted even expected.
A Khmer woman, however, stricly forbidden any such frivolity, remained at home, with the endless around the clock toil of working in the fields, keeping the children, cleaning, cooking, and hauling water. For many, with the passing years and growing family would come the moment when it would be her turn to hear through village gossip that her man had taken an additional wife, a young woman, probably already expecting his child. And after the nosiy all-night fairs run by the temple, usually at harvest time when the farmers had some money in their pockets, her husband might contaminate her with the widespread venereal disease, be forced into debt because he had wasted his money, marry off one of her young daughters to a drinking companion for the bride price he now badly needed, or disappear for months altogether. One by one her sons would fall into the same patterns, as soon after puberty they conformed to the drinking and sex habits of their fathers and peers. Few women had a husband who would be faithful all through life.
Not surprisingly, it was usually the women who provided what stability and backbone there was in the Cambodian family. But even then, used and abused, a virtual slave both to husband and sons until grandmotherhood, even if a wife could hold herself together, she had little time or energy for nurturing her children in the inner life once they reached school age. Most ethical and social training is the domain of the school and temple, where unlike at home, external discipline and conformity was ruthlessly applied. Faithful, hardworking and selfless women tended to make up the stable majority of the church, along with their numerous little ones.
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I find myself re-applying this 7 parts of praise with 1 part of puzzlement in this prayer of Jeremiah for Cambodia, I pray that the Lord of hosts who is Mighty, who is the Creator, who honours His Covenantal Love, who is Just, who is Omnipotence, who is a Redeemer, and who is All-Knowing, will be known in the hearts of all these men and women. I pray that the Lord of hosts will be adorned and worshipped in the hearts of all these men and women, that they know He is the Sovereign Lord and there is nothing too hard for Him to accomplish through their lives, however hard they are, that their eyes will be opened to His ways and saving grace. Even when there are puzzlement and restlessness waiting to be resolved and understood, I pray that they know they need no medium or high priests as a bridge to cry out and wrestle theirs with the Lord of hosts. They could simply come directly, through the Son Lord Jesus’ redemptive act, pray to the God who created heaven and earth. They could pray using terms of high respect for God just as if they were in a king’s palace, and yet they were speaking the everyday market language of the Khmer and they could understand every word of it. This was not like the Buddhist monks, who in unison chanted prayers in the ancient Indian language of Pali, quite unintelligible to the uneducated.
May they feel no fear, but only a deep awareness that somehow this “Heavenly Father” to whom all these prayers were being spoken was right there in the circumstances with them. The most wonderful thing is that when one would ask “How much? How much did He charge for this healing, for this grace?” The answer to this “Why, He asked for nothing?” They could thought aloud and continue to feel perplexed. The peace and joy of His presence would grant them a sense of relief that finally it was the end of such wrestle and there was no more to be done for that, for the costs had long been paid on the Cross. That indescribable expression of trust deep in their (and my) moist eyes, the quiet comforting words of the Puok Yesu, so confident, so simple, the plainly spoken prayers to the invisible “Heavenly Father”, the “Puok Yesu”, and not even a mention of payment. There they are falling face down, nervous at first but then the words flowed more easily …. all the concerns, the fears, the worries, the frustrations, the wrestle, the dreams, the many whys and many hows and many more whats … The prayers could go on and on until they drift into sleep, knowing He heard them all, and He will do it according to His will. Storm is calmed, wrestled wires are disentangled.
17 “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you. 18 You show love to thousands but bring the punishment for the parents’ sins into the laps of their children after them. Great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord Almighty, 19 great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Your eyes are open to the ways of all; you reward everyone according to their conduct and as their deeds deserve. 20 You performed signs and wonders in Egypt and have continued them to this day, both in Israel and among all nations, and have gained the renown that is still yours. 21 You brought your people Israel out of Egypt with signs and wonders, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror. 22 You gave them this land you had sworn to give their ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey. 23 They came in and took possession of it, but they did not obey you or follow your law; they did not do what you commanded them to do. So you brought all this disaster on them.
24 “See how the siege ramps are built up to take the city. Because of the sword, famine and plague, the city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians who are attacking it. What you said has happened, as you now see. 25 And though the city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians, you, Sovereign Lord, say to me, ‘Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed.’”