Note: This is the transcription of the Youtube video with the same title. The link is here.
JBOY: If I am going to ask someone to share how the examen has greatly influenced his life and his choice of music, I have no other in mind than him. He’s very popular especially in YouTube singing praise music with his band, “Where’s the Sheep?” Know more about him and his choices, and what’s best, he’ll sing for us. I’m “On the Line” with Mike Shimamoto. Stay with me.
JBOY: Who and what influenced you to choose inspirational music over other popular genres in music?
Mike: My journey really started in church. I am the youngest of two brothers. I was around 10 years old, fairly young when my brother was invited to join in our parish’s charismatic community, the Youth Life in the Spirit. He was 5 years older than I am, and I was much too young to join technically, but I found it so unfair that he was permitted to go, so I threw the biggest tantrum para makasali. I really wanted to experience what a prayer meeting was.
In Merville, where I am from, The Parish of Our Lady of Beautiful Love, we have a very good music ministry. That was the first time that they played worship music, praise music from Hillsong. It was my very first experience of music that really felt different. It had a different power to it. And I genuinely fell in love with that music. I fell in love with the power that had to make you feel. You know when you’re feeling a particular kind of emotion, feeling frustrated, restless, sad, music had this kind of potency to be able to shift your mood and impart some kind of energy. And I fell in love with it.
I was in basketvall in grade school lang iyon Father! I did a little of track (and field). So (my life) was more into sports and trying to keep up with the academics. But it was in Grade 7, confirmation yata, I sang a song, tapos nandoon si Kuya Cyrus (Lim). So after non, he just started inviting me and sir Jampao (Reyes) started inviting me in different school masses until naging school-wide mass na siya. I just kept going deeper and deeper into just the power of praise music. And obviously it was also this time that I was falling in love with God and also discovering my faith, and what that meant in my life.
JBOY: If you would review your life, what are the things that you are grateful for that have led you to your choosing this career path? If there is one thing that you will always remember of the Lord barging into your life, what would it be?
MIKE: It was really just the overwhelming presence of love that I have experienced throughout my life. When I was eleven years old until I was college, I was serving every Saturday. But those were also the years when things were difficult for me personally. My father got sick, and it was just a really long period of trying to navigate that time. My mother being extremely heroic, tried to raise my brother and I by herself. It was definitely not an easy time for us, physically, emotionally, spiritually. It was very challenging. But you know, I really felt that throughout my life, I was being guided. And there were so many people in our community who made us feel that we were cared for. I remembered, ganoon kasi ako, music was never a career option for me; it was more of a language, a space of communication. All of my friends say na madaldal ako, but I had a hard time truly articulating how I feel.
I grew up in church and I have been introduced to the concept of the audience of one. In the moment of performance, yes you have a responsibility to your audience to engage them and to lead them, but ultimately you’re singing for that One person, that one intention that makes the song true for you. So I was definitely fully engage in singing to God, for a specific person. But to witness that there was a conversation happening between not only myself and God, but the other person, in whatever they were going through, to be part of that was life changing for me. It was nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
JBOY: You know the difference between pop music and church music is that when you sing in church, you lead people, you lead people to God. You are a leader without people knowing you are actually leading them. And without you also knowing that as you lead people (to sing), you too are being led by God. Serving in church is leading people to pray.
MIKE: What was told to us is that we are mere mirrors. We reflect the Light. When we reflect Him, you know that you’ve done your job the best way possible.
I definitely thought of pursuing a career in mainstream. It was the usual thing: when you get there, you’re given projects and contracts with a certain figure. I was supposed to have a handler (giveaway na ba masyado?). Ang entry point ko pa nga ay I was supposed to be part of a soap opera, and a singing career after. I just remembered going through that entire process, I was constantly discerning and reflecting. What dawned on me was this, “Why doesn’t it feel like the music I fell in love with?”
We did a concert in Dulaang Sibol in high school. It was a last hurrah. Ateneo meant so much to me, formed who I was and my music, and I wanted to give back. But I remembered distinctly in that moment, in that concert, that I felt so free. Music felt so freeing, colorful and so powerfu! We were just having fun, and we weren’t even trying to send a message. It was really more of a celebration. But at the end of it, I had a friend who approached me. He placed his hand on my shoulder and said, “Thank you. I was able to pray.” And that wasn’t really naman the purpose. But when he said that, alam mo iyon, something clicked inside of me. This is what I want. Whatever music I pursue in the future, it should always have this at its core.
JBOY: Do you have any regrets in life, that would have been important especially in your career choices?
MIKE: Definitely my life hasn’t been perfect. I am the first one to claim that I am very limited and that I have so many flaws to work on. I do know that in every stage of my life, I tried to put God at the core. And I know how that sounds! But it’s really genuine! There were a lot of opportunities and a lot of different moments where I could have pursued something more; whether it was a career in showbiz or to live somewhere else and what not, but I was always trying to be conscious of His will for me. So I have no regrets in terms of the choices I made professionally. All the ridicule that we had going into “Where’s the Sheep?” I remember, tinatawanan kami ng mga radio heads kasi we were trying to put Christian songs into the radio. I don’t have any regrets about that.
4. ASK GOD
If anything, I wish I was a lot more open, I guess, with the people in my life. I was definitely, well I guess I still am where I would like to shoulder most of the burden and I was trying to keep a very closed border with myself, and I wish I shared more, like I felt there were so many people who wanted to know and also to be a part of my experience pero I was a lot, you know, I wasn’t as open as I should have been, and who knows what we could have created if only we allowed something like that.
JBOY: You know that is also part of your enigma, people get to be curious about you, that’s how I know you, madaldal ka for other things, but we cannot glean anything from your personal life. But that’s who you are, and that to me is a gift. It is important that you are able to get hold of who you are, even your problems because there are things that are really very private, right?
And The Examen Becomes Him.
JBOY: So the examen: those are the steps (Review, Gratitude, Forgiveness, Ask God) that we’ve taught our students. If you do that every day, getting to see how God is working in your life, or the things that you’ve missed, how would the examen help you as you move to the path you’re treading?
Examen as a Discernment of God’s Presence
MIKE: Kaya I was also excited to talk about this with you. Really, genuinely, in all honesty, discernment and the examen are the most important lessons I learned from 16 years of Jesuit education. I started in Prep, and I graduated college in Ateneo (de Manila). Every morning, I do meditation and prayer. I started out 10 – 15 mins, but now 30 to an hour. I am just in a quiet, reflective meditation and prayer. My prayer follows the same steps as the examen. I start off with gratitude. On what I am grateful for, I recognize: the blessings that I have, that I sleep in a comfortable bed, a roof over my head. And then I do repentance, parang for all the shortcomings that I’ve had. Intention: I always ask for wisdom and knowledge to discern His will, but also for patience and openness. The rest was mostly adoration and thanksgiving, and I learned that from being exposed to years of examen. And it has really changed my life.
Examen as a Discernment of Meaning
There’s just so much responsibility placed on you. And my practice of the examen, of meditation and prayer, allow me to take on a bigger view on my experiences, to re-center me into what I feel is my core. Like the Jesuit concept of going back to your “why” and I feel that always helped me. There’s so many things to worry about, so many things to have to be anxious about, but when you go back to that core of you are and what you’re doing this for, it makes things so much more bearable. It reminds you of why you’re doing these things.
And I feel like taking 5 to 10 mins out of your day, to just kind of go back to your body, allows me to come back to who I am, remember who I am, so that I can gather myself again, and prepare to give it away again. And I feel that the examen is like that: it’s like getting recharged before you go back to the world.
JBOY: The effect of the examen gives you peace, and you find yourself collected. Parang nabuo ka ulit. Every day parang nakakalat ka palagi. You’re always scattered because there are many concerns, and sometimes you lose who you are. The examen re-gathers you. There is an experience of wholeness. And I think what you’ve said is very important: that doing the examen gives you meaning and purpose, and that moves you towards direction. These three things are very important if you begin to tread wherever you’ll be, wherever God wants you to be. Definitely pagganoon ka, you’ll be happy because you are at peace.
Examen as a Discernment of God’s Will
MIKE: And at the same time, it is also such a great litmus test. If you find yourself just constantly unhappy, frustrated or restless and you go back to the examen, you go back to who you are and your purpose. You are able to discern parang, “Teka lang. Bakit ko pa ba ginagawa ito? Especially if it is not really aligned to how I feel I should do. It allows you (to realize) na parang, “Ok it was not as important as I thought it was at that time.” And it gives you this holy detachment: if it is not what God wants for me, bakit natin ipagpipilitan.
“Blessings” by Laura Story
MIKE: The song that I will be singing is a song by Laura Story called, “Blessings” and it’s really a song about hope. The first time I heard it in church, it had such a controversial message for me, kasi the chorus goes, “What if your blessings comes through raindrops, what if your healing comes through tears, what if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near. And what if trials of this life, are your mercies in disguise.”
And I think that it is human nature, that when we’re put in conflict and in times of hardships, we feel that God really seems far away. And it seems that He has taken Himself apart from us. But I feel, especially with me, in my times of darkness, this song constantly reminds me that even the hard times, God is here. And in His infinite wisdom, He is walking with us, crying with us, feeling our pain, gives us hope. So I will do a rendition of this which I recorded and will be sharing with all of you.
(By the way), the campus there is really memorable to me, and I can’t wait to see how it changed. Hopefully we can come and visit again, and I am praying for all of you and all the work that you’re doing, Fr. Jboy.
JBOY: Thank you very much. So, Mike Shimamoto!
“Blessings” by Laura Story
We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things
‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise
We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe
When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise