Transfiguration

There are some stories that make you want to curl up and cry. To weep and drench all horrors with grief. And there are other stories that make you want to retreat, to hide from knowing or to run until you forget.

I want to breath stories that remind me that we all have wings enough to soar, and love strong enough to lift them.

he became what we are that we might become what he is”


From our Orthodox Brothers and Sisters:

Thou wast transfigured on the mount. O Christ God, revealing Thy glory to Thy disciples as they could bear it. Let Thine everlasting light shine upon us sinners. Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Giver of Light, glory to Thee (Troparion).

On the mountain wast Thou transfigured, O Christ God, and Thy disciples beheld Thy glory as far as they could see it; so that when they would behold Thee crucified, they would understand that Thy suffering was voluntary, and would proclaim to the world that Thou art truly the Radiance of the Father (Kontakion).

A Voice in the Silence

Thanks AAWOL for the encouragement to speak: http://aawolsisters.com/2012/08/21/a-voice-in-the-silence/

I’ve always struggled with prayer. I still remember the first time I prayed out loud with someone. It terrified me. I felt like I did it all wrong and the corresponding prayer from the older woman confirmed my feelings. She prayed for my spiritual maturity and growth. After all, I only prayed for God to bless me (and only me). Of course, I was a young girl and a young Christian. No one sat down with me and taught me how to pray. Instead, I listened to other people’s prayers. Over time, I learned how to mimic other people’s prayers and use the same vocabulary. I learned formulas and categories of prayer. I learned that one should pray every morning and every evening, and if they’re really holy, they should pray ALL THE TIME.


I wasn’t really holy.

In recent years, I struggled particularly with hearing from God. I struggled with knowing what His voice sounded like and how to recognize it. I envied other people who seemed to have God speaking to them on a regular basis. They could speak in tongues, receive visions and dreams. They received “words” from other people. But with me, all I heard was the sound of my own longings. Why was God so silent?
In time I realized that I was interpreting God’s silence as anger or as distance. I felt that I had either disappointed God or made Him feel ashamed. His silence was a sign of disapproval or apathy. Funny how it seemed rather similar to my relationship with my father.

This silence matched my time of depression, a time marked by my inability to express grief, loss, and anger at being hurt by people. A time when I silenced myself as any good Asian woman would.

I can’t give a particular moment when God’s silence began speaking to me. Was it when I stopped comparing myself to other people, and comparing my prayer life to their prayer lives? Or when I began to protest and express my anger not only to God but also towards God? Or when I simply began talking to Him as I would to a friend, in trust that though He is quiet, He still hears.

His silence began to feel lighter like cooling summer breezes instead of scorching desert winds. His silence became more like an invitation to be more real rather than a rejection of who I am. His silence allowed me to present my innermost thoughts, feelings, and desires to Him. His silence gave me space to kneel and to outstretch my arms to the infinite and holy. His silence gave me my voice.

Then I am silent….

And it is He who speaks all the time.

Rain

July 20th, 2012

This morning I spent about an hour in the kitchen baking cookies for class today. When I finished and gone back to my room, the first thing I noticed was the scent of rain.

I had left my windows open. A breeze was stirring my curtains gently and brought in the fragrance of green, of cleansing, and quenching. I can hear the sound of tiny rivulets gushing through the eves and the patter of millions of drops against leaves, sidewalks and roofs. I can’t see the horizon out my window; the clouds have descended. All is being made new again.

I’m thankful for taking this course now, a year after graduating. Some of the material I’ve learned before but have forgotten. But it’s really more about the season I’m in. I can take. I can absorb and receive whereas before I was just tired of all the information and processing. There’s only so much deconstruction and reconstruction one can take in three years…. I had enough of it by the end.

Posturing makes all the difference. There have been times when I couldn’t sit at Jesus’ table and eat of his flesh and blood. I couldn’t see his good and loving ways. All I felt was pain, suffering, and loss. I couldn’t see his invitation to enjoy him as my God and as my friend.

And just like that.. the rain is gone. I can sense the sky brightening and with it the colours of the earth. I’m learning to savour. To take a long-loving look at the world and to, perchance, catch a glimpse through the eyes of Christ. What will I see? What will I hear?

Wonders.

Edit: The above was written as part of my journal for a class I was auditing (Contemplative Listening). It concluded last Friday, July 20th.

Holy Land – One year later

This time last year, I was in Israel. It was summer that I’m still trying to come to terms with on a number of levels. I’m sure other conflict zones on earth are just as mind-boggling and complicated and as the Holy Land. But it seems so much more extraordinary given the religious significance placed on such a wee bit of land. Small as it is, it is home for many groups of people. Is there hope for Israel/Palestine? Can there be peace?

My time there expanded my awareness of the Middle East, an area as exotic to me as China is for most North Americans. I felt my paradigms about Christianity and other faiths were laid bare under the hot, scorching sun. I was sustained by the Spirit and yet, long-held beliefs withered under confusion. Who was right? Which side is God on? Whose prayers does God listen to? Does God care about the Arab mother, living in refugee camps, working in subservient jobs to sustain her family? Does God care about the young Israeli soldier, trained to kill and situated between Settlers and Palestinians? Does God care about the Arab-Christian, who is discriminated by a government that is supported by the Christian West? Does God care about a evangelical, Chinese-Canadian woman, with the luxury of spending 3 months volunteering in a place that was completely foreign to her?

Last Sunday I was invited by a Catholic friend to attend the world premiere of Across the Divide, a documentary on Bethlehem University. I wish I had known about this university, indeed, I wish I had known a lot more about Israel before going. The holy sites didn’t interest me as much as what was happening to the people now. Yet my fears kept me from exploring more and my capacity to process the issues was (and is) limited. What I appreciate about this documentary was that it was balanced and humane. They brought various voices but they didn’t shy from showing the real, personal-level impact of conflict.

Also helpful was the panel discussion at the end (Archbishop J. Michael Miller; Father Thomas Rosica from Salt + Light; Carl Hetu, executive director at CNEWA Canada; and Brother Jack Curran, Vice President for Development at Bethlehem University; moderated by Kris Dmytrenko, writer and co-director of Across the Divide). Even thought they were all white men, I saw that they were using their positions of power to advocate and to defend, and to bring dignity and hope to the people they care for. They put forth a call, to “Look for signs of hope, but question injustice,” and to “build bridges not walls.”

Oh those blasted walls. I’ve never had such a visceral response to a structural object before. But seeing those separation walls up close, to feel its domination and intrusion, its power to divide and to confine, filled me with revulsion. On one side it’s justifiable and brought safety, on the other it is oppressive and debasing. Never before had I wished destruction of something, but there I was – praying for the walls to come down. Eventually they will, and may it be a day of peace and reconciliation and not a day of conquest.

What I’m just starting to understand is the Catholic call upon Christians to respond to the situation in the Holy Land. “The Holy Land is the mother Church,” one panelist said. We should care about what goes on there. I’m just not sure how.

Here are some quotes (according to my notes & memory) in response to audience questions:

When asked about their opinion on Christian Zionism and North American gov’t leanings –

 If you’re going to say you’re Pro-Israel or Pro-Palestine, don’t be anti-Israel or anti-Palestine. Palestine and Israel need more friends, not enemies.

I think this was in response to a question on the hopes of building an Arab University in Jerusalem –

The Holy Land is a land of surprise.

(In other words, you’ll be amazed at how difficult it is to actually do something there).

Lastly, and my favorite:

You come to Jerusalem for pilgrimage and when you go home you want to write a book.

You come to Jerusalem for a 3 month sabbatical and when you go home you want to write an article.

You come to Jerusalem for a year and when you go home, you shut up.

I guess this is my article, a year later, with no clearer answers. Except for this – God does care. I know, without question, that God cares about this rock orbiting a star in an immeasurable universe. And He (or She) cares about each breathing person living on it even while we destroy ourselves and each other. I know I don’t care nearly much as I should, but I feel him breaking my heart in order to love more. I’ll take that as my sign of hope.

If you’re interested on more, a fellow Regent student who won the Conway Holy Land Scholarship is blogging about her research and experience at http://morethanasoundbite.wordpress.com/

Shameless self-promotion

In a very non-Asian move, I’m shamelessly promoting what felt like a self-absorbed post (if you’re going to break cultural taboos, then you might as well do as many as you can). At the API Women in Leadership Conference, I met some very cool people. One of them was the contributor to Mirrored Reflections: Reframing Biblical Characters and the editor of AAWOL. I was quite surprised when she asked me to contribute to AAWOL. Here’s my first entry for them, and you can read more insightful entries from Asian American Women leaders at http://aawolsisters.com/

On a side note, my hope is that someone, who perhaps is going through or has gone through similar experiences would know that they’re not alone. That just because they don’t see the possibilities, doesn’t mean that it is impossible.

********

This wasn’t my dream.

If you had asked me five years ago what I would be doing in five year’s time, I would have given you a blank, helpless look. What I did know was that I was coming to a crossroads and a choice had to be made. My passion was for the Church but my paycheck came from my day job. For years I had been deeply dissatisfied with what I was doing, but I had no idea what else I could do. I had no vision of what my life could or should be.

Thoughts of going into seminary kept returning to me. If full-time ministry was a goal, it seemed logical to acquire theological training. But I didn’t even know what kind of ministry I wanted to do. The available and acceptable positions I saw for a young woman at that time were for children or youth ministry. Were there no other possibilities? The Chinese church where I came to faith in had no female elders and no female pastors, at least until the time I began considering seminary for they had just hired a female children’s pastor. They rarely had female speakers and when they did, the women “shared” instead of preached. I was discouraged, by people in authority, from considering seminary on account of being a woman. Ministry would be too difficult, they said, because the opportunities would be so few. It seemed that life would be simpler if I just stuck to my job. Still, there was a restlessness in my spirit.

Eventually, after much questioning and probing, I made the jump. In 2008, I quit my work and moved to Vancouver to attend graduate Christian theological studies. I went into the MDiv program because I thought it would open more doors. While studying, to my surprise, I began to receive a call into pastoral ministry. I reacted in panic and terror. It dawned on me that I was the only Canadian Asian woman in the MDiv program. Not only that, I still didn’t know of any Asian Canadian women pastors. I felt alone and the thought of trail-blazing into the battlefields of ministry was anything but encouraging.

What settled my heart was repeated assurance from God. Assurance that I have been called. Assurance that women were welcomed by Jesus. Assurance that my identity as a Chinese-Canadian woman was not a problem for God, but a gift from Him.

So it is with a strange and wonderful sense of awe that I can be composing this post for AAWOL. I am now a newly-installed pastor of a local community church. I haven’t been alone for I have been supported by mentors, friends, and family. Five years ago, I could not dream that I would be here and doing what I’ve been grown to love. This wasn’t my dream, but I have a suspicion that it has been God’s dream and God’s doing all along.

Recovery

I’m supposed to be writing a sermon. My friends know that sermon-writing doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m still not used to composing something that will be voiced and listened to. Part of the issue is trusting my own voice, the voice that God has given me. Am I worth listening to on a Sunday morning? Especially when there are so many other better preachers one can listen to? People can pick and choose which Sunday service to attend, which small group to participate in, which church activities to involve their families in. I think this “freedom” of choice can cause a certain amount of anxiety, especially for those who are committed for the long-haul. As a pastor, I can’t control what people do with their time… instead I have to trust that my worshiping community remains committed to God’s call, which also includes a commitment to a local body of believers. But it must be a voluntary faithfulness, rooted in love instead of guilt. There isn’t a way to secure or guarantee that; the best we can do is to go by their word. Then wait and see if their actions follow.

Trust is a fragile gift. I believe that one of the most destructive events in a person’s life is a betrayal of trust. Whether it is by friends, lovers, family, or those in authority. Deep betrayal can annihilate love and destroy a person’s faith. One betrayal of love can make all other relationships unsafe and threatening. Love, which is supposed to be open and abundant, becomes restricted and rationed. Love, which is supposed to be freely given, becomes a fear-filled choice.

Conversely, it is faithfulness that can restore love. People who can see you at your worst and stay by your side. Friends who protect and keep their promises. And the Christian hope and message is that there is God who is steadfast and faithful despite the wretchedness of humanity and the things we do to each other. Faithfulness over time can mend hearts and heal wounds, and can lead one to believe that goodness will be seen and experienced once again.

But what happens to the one who betrays? This is where I see the truth of the saying, “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts …..” Wrong begets wrong. I suppose there are many reasons for why a person betrays another: selfishness, pride, power, woundedness, or your basic- “I’m messed-up.” But without confession, repentance, and forgiveness… the behaviour is repeated again and again until they are internally destroyed, and all their relationships along with them.

I suppose, I would rather be the one who is betrayed than the one who betrays. If one is betrayed, you can still remain faithful and be an agent of love (though that in itself becomes a struggle). Jesus was betrayed by a friend and follower. He was deserted by his disciples and by the crowds that hailed his miracles and majesty. Yet he remained faithful to his promises, he remained faithful to his people.

Of course, it’s better not to be either. The scars of betrayal remains with you. It’s like you’re left holding a bag of shit with the choice of either throwing it at someone or to bury it. Better to never experience betrayal…. but if you do, I believe there is enough grace to heal all wounds.

It’ll just take some time, a couple bottles of rum, and a few, ever-faithful, friends.

Beating Heart

For the better part of the week, I’ve been holding my breath. Metaphorically speaking of course, cuz if I did I would be dead. But I’ve been holding my breath because I wasn’t sure if this change is real, or just an imagining, wish-fulfillment, or a surge of adrenaline. Will this crash somehow? Will this dissolve as soon as I declare it to be true? At some point, however, I need to exhale and breath in…..

I’ve been swimming in songs. Songs of faith, strength, and hope. I’ve been marveling in the goodness and beauty of creation. I’ve been singing in the shower and humming while I walk. I’ve been smiling at absurd things, and grinning foolishly as if I was in love. It’s been awhile since this has come easily, without convincing or wrestling. For I’ve been experiencing what I’ve longed for, what I’ve been waiting for…. God’s love. I’m so astounded by it, that I’m having trouble writing. Words fail.

Maybe next week it’ll all come tumbling down. Even if it did, I know it’s not my faith that will carry me through, but the Lord’s. And since this is a sermon week, I can feel the downward pull of doubts and self-condemnation (I so understand Darrell Johnson’s warning to preachers). So, I shall be patient with myself. It is ok. It will be ok. Cuz Julian of Norwich said so.

Why this change? What made the difference? A friend had asked.

My only answer so far, is that I faced my worst fears and I couldn’t fall any further.. and that I had friends who literally and figuratively held me. I told Christ that I needed Him to do something. And He did. I suppose I feel a bit like Job in that after all the deep suffering, what I most longed for was God, God to speak and to reveal Himself…..more specifically, to reveal His love for me. But why now, after so very long? Why not before? Esp when it’s generally a good thing to operate from a place of wholeness rather than pain?

That I cannot answer. I guess that’s where the boundary between God and I has been laid. It’s not for me to know “why.”

The cynic, or devil, in me says I’m deluding myself. But the truth sets you free… and goshdarnit, I feel free. Elation. delight. It’s a miracle, my friends, a miracle. Life has returned. My heart is beating again.

There are some songwriters that seem to capture this space that I’m in. Sara Groves’ Invisible Empires is rocking my world at the moment.  Here are a few snippets:

“Miracle”

Lay down your arms
Give up the fight
Quiet our hearts for a little while

Things have been spoken
Shouldn’t be said
Rattles around in our hearts and our heads

Let’s feel what we cannot feel
Know what we cannot know
Let’s heal where we couldn’t heal
Oh, it’s a miracle, it’s a miracle

“Open My Hands”

I believe in a blessing I don’t understand
I’ve seen rain fall on wicked and the just
Rain is no measure of his faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us
No good thing from us, no good thing from us

I believe in a peace that flows deeper than pain
That broken find healing in love
Pain is no measure of his faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us
No good thing from us, no good thing from us

I will open my hands, will open my heart
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I am nodding my head an emphatic yes
To all that You have for me

I believe in a fountain that will never dry
Though I’ve thirsted and didn’t have enough
Thirst is no measure of his faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us
No good thing from us, no good thing from us

*****

To those who have, and continue to grow with me… thank you. And to those who couldn’t, I am sorry for I couldn’t do the same for you. We try and we do our best. And for the spaces and cracks in between God will work out his goodness for all. This I believe.