It’s been a year since I’ve posted here. Not surprisingly, now that I’m off FB, there’s a growing desire to write more. Here’s an old post that was first published at Asian American Women on Leadership
I’m not getting any younger. My body protests with aches and discomfort from sitting too long or from sleeping in an awkward position. I don’t recover from physical activities as quickly as I did a few years ago. And my thoughts don’t seem to come as readily. Granted I have always been slow to formulate an opinion or response. I am one of those people who usually slap themselves with an “I should have said …” epiphany days after an altercation. But learning new things take a lot more effort now. Aging is a firm reminder that change is happening. For women that can often feel more like a sentencing instead a cause for celebration.
In my early thirties, my mind felt like it was being reshaped into another organ that couldn’t possibly fit in my skull anymore. I was immersed in theological studies and asked to learn subjects entirely foreign to my training as an engineer. Things like philosophy, history, and hermeneutics to name a few. Worse yet was being told that all they were all part of my Christian heritage. So why was I only learning about them outside of the Church? Why in graduate school was my first encounter with the language of sacrimentality or voices of women saints? And why did my brain feel like it was running a marathon — a three-year marathon – fueled by coffee, beer, and instant noodles?
Those years in theological studies were years of deconstruction and reconstruction occurring in repetition. Build up, tear down, and repeat. The paradigms I once held had been shattered but there was still a lot of debris to rummage through before anything new could be created. I knew that formulas for faith and salvation no longer satisfied a disillusioned person. But what will? Would I be able to put anything back together enough that can make sense of a diverse world, complex lives, and a frustratingly transcendent God?
The answer came slowly but positively. Words like “paradox” and “mystery” created enough breathing room for discussion and pondering. Time has afforded me ability to see how my theological thinking has shifted in surprising ways. What I once believed was universal was actually contingent on my context. What I once thought was inconsequential was actually essential to spirituality. What I once thought was dichotomous became a spectrum of colors. But the most remarkable shift of all is realizing that greater knowledge also meant greater love. It could have lead to conceit if not for community.
When the dust had settled, I found myself in good company. My friends were my teachers and my prayerful companions. Our shared experiences gave me consolation for the pain of loneliness and the grief of what was lost. Their stories gave me courage to receive who I was becoming. Their voices helped me to sing new songs and to remember a God who is eternally love.
In the English language, “heart” refers to both anatomy and the center of human emotions. Human thought is typically regulated to the brain or mind. In the Hebrew Bible, the word for “brain” does not occur anywhere. Instead we have words like leb translated as heart or mind. It seems that ancient wisdom did not separate the affect from the intellect and yet that’s exactly what we’ve done in western Christianity. In the Church the notion of loving God usually meant ardent singing and dutiful service. And in academics it meant the exaltation of the reasonable and rational. But where in the bible is love compartmentalized into either feelings or thoughts? Divine love is undivided. This is the aim of human love.
All this to say: my heart/mind, whatever you call the center of feeling and thinking, expanded and not collapsed. Ruins simply became material for a larger structure that allowed for deeper essentials of the Christian faith and broader scope for what is peripheral. This helped to me love God, his image-bearers, and creation, more — not less. Don’t get me wrong; this was a painful process mitigated only because I was looking for it. I was ready for change because what was taught to me before left me hungry and stunted. The dismantling of my tightly-held beliefs required grieving, grace, and the acknowledgement that this was what God wanted for me all along: to be transformed by the renewing of my mind i.e. to mature as a Christian.
We can never go back to our young, simplistic selves. The invitation is to keep loving Jesus with all that we got. Even when it means tired minds and aching backs, or a chorus of “alleluias” in the midst of rubble and dust.