Imagination: The Shaping of Reality

Trying to get to Narnia

“This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!” thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her. Then she noticed that there was something crunching under her feet. “I wonder is that more mothballs?” she thought, stopping down to feel it with her hand. But instead of feeling the hard, smooth wood of the floor of the wardrobe, she felt something soft and powdery and extremely cold. “This is very queer,” she said, and went on a step or two further.

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I can be faulted for having a vivid imagination. As a child, I would have no problems reading stories about magical worlds late into the night. Dragons? Fairies? UNICORNS?!! These other-worldly creatures beckoned me to venture into a place that was incomparable to the usual trek to school with standard workbooks and bullies. That place was in my mind and yet, it wasn’t. The words I read painted images that were beyond anything I could normally experience as an Asian girl growing up in a small prairie city. Those words took me into worlds where misfits could be heroes and children could be powerful.

Of course those worlds also included evil and sinister motives. But good seemed to always triumph after a long perilous journey. These stories tended to involve a group of characters that were unlikely to cooperate if not for a common purpose or enemy. And because these characters were a hodgepodge of personalities, I could be one of them on this adventure. These stories took me in because I could see it, I could picture it in my mind as though it was happening to me.

Remarkably, it all began with a picture, according to C.S. Lewis, author of one of the most beloved children’s stories in western literature. Not a painted picture, but an imagined one of a faun bearing umbrellas and parcels in a snowy woods. That image launched an exploration that resulted in a series of books, which in turn invited countless readers – including yours truly – into the world of Narnia. This imagined story was so powerful that even after all these years Narnia has never left me. Last spring I placed my palm at the back of an old wardrobe in The Kilns, Lewis Close. I pushed – half expecting the slates of wood to give way to a forest. My friend and I laughed with mirth and a tinge of disappointment. Who wouldn’t want Narnia to be real?

That’s the drawback of imagination. Reality is never as beautiful or fulfilling as we imagine it could be. Reality is chaos and random, or mundane and pedestrian. Reality punches one in the gut from time to time, and leaves you gasping. Reality can drain you of energy with its demands and responsibilities. In these moments, my imagination can easily slip into fantasy when I want control or an escape. Fantasy is seductive and sweet, but leaves one feeling hungry and perhaps even angry when the illusion fades.

Without my imagination though, my faith and capacity for growth would have died long ago. Certainty would have ruled my thinking and would have told me that this is it. Life is just a series of happenstances that mean nothing and will never mean anything. Close the door and move on; run with the rest of the children.

Imagination makes me pause and consider another interpretation. With my imagination I can see reality being shaped or fitted into the arch of a larger story yet to be completed. Imagination is the ability to visualize a different view of things. Or perhaps it’s not ability at all but a divine grace because who can see beyond this world without the aide of something or someone outside of us? Perhaps this is what is meant by the “Christian imagination.” Christian imagination is hope-filled and generative. It’s looking beyond what the natural senses say are the boundaries to real life and believing that there is more. There is more grace, more joy, more love. Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being certain of what we do not see. I have found that prayer is the means to access that divine imaging. Prayer is that doorway where we are invited to step further into God’s reality that is far grander than our own.

Therefore, I’ll always keep reading and keep imagining the possibilities. Maybe there is a purpose. Maybe there is a hopeful future. Maybe there is a goodness that will win in the end. And maybe, should I ever come across another wardrobe, I’ll take a step in.

This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.

Conversation with my dad

My father is a man of few words. Because we live in different cities now, our interactions have been reduced to short, simple sentences flung back and forth through cyberspace.

“ How are you?”

“ Still kicking”

“ Anything new?”

“ Same old, same old.”

I remember getting early morning car rides with my father to the inner city train station. He was heading to work, and I to the university. The rides were blanketed in that familiar silence. Some days I would try to spice things up with a question.

“ When did Grandpa first come to Canada?”

“ I don’t remember.”

“ What was it like when you came to Canada?

“ It wasn’t easy.”

Over the years, I’ve managed to draw out more of my family’s story from my father. But his silence has worked its strength as a barrier against unpleasant memories and painful losses. Downstream, life continued with adult children leaving home, grandchildren, and retirement. Why open the dam when there’s still plenty of fishing on a calm, tranquil lake?

When I was younger I had interpreted my father’s lack of words as rejection. He rarely said anything harsh, but neither did he say anything encouraging. Surprisingly, I never acted out to gain his attention. I had two older brothers to watch over me. However, brothers are a poor substitute for a father. So too, as I later discovered, are boyfriends.

But my father, with all his limitations as a fallible human being, also carries kindness. When my pet budgie suddenly died, my young heart broke. Unable to bear the sobbing of his eight-year-old daughter, he immediately purchased another budgie without saying a single word. His kindness also looked like working long shifts to feed the family, fixing up an old tricycle for my first bike, and teaching me how to use power tools.

I may have longed for a different father. A father that looked more like an 80s sitcom dad: white, funny, and physically affectionate. Instead I was given a sullen, Chinese man who never knew how to fully express himself and who never seemed fully content except when holding a fishing rod in one hand and a freshly-caught trout in the other.  I may have used the Heavenly Father as an alternative for my earthly father…. but I am too much like my Baba to deny the resemblance.

When I had decided to go into ministry I told myself I didn’t need my father’s blessing. I braced for his anger. While I didn’t get the verbal acceptance I secretly wanted, he helped load my possessions into his van and a rented trailer. He and my mother drove it for several days to set up their daughter in a new city, a city where she would eventually stay to work for the Church that he has distrusted all his life.

I can now say I never needed another father. He was there and he never left. Though I may still desire his approval for the work that I do, I no longer fear losing his love. I fear losing against time. In the years that I’ve been away from home, my father goes fishing a little less and moves a little slower. I think of that time in the near future when there will be no more fish to catch and no water to float on. Will that dam finally crumble? Or will we sit in silence with all the things we wish we could say?

This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.

Another moon

Supermoon over VancityIt happened again.

A couple of good dates. Friendly laughter, trading stories, deep conversations, common values, rising hope.

Then…silence.

Failed attempts at connection, just to end with: oh, there wasn’t enough chemistry.

Say what?

Many moons ago, I started blogging because I was struggling to find a voice as a single Christian woman in her 20’s. Now I’m blogging because I’m a frustrated single Christian woman ever getting closer to her 40’s. And I know I’m not alone. There seems to be a dearth of single men (in their 30’s and 40’s) who are capable of being vulnerable and faithful. Those who are, were smart enough to find a good woman some time ago.

I’m frustrated because I can’t seem to figure out a good theology of dating. How is God working here? How do I pray? Is God wanting to reduce me to begging for crumbs from the table while watching others enjoy a plentiful feast? Are we just leftovers here?? At least pass some salt, or a drop of wine.

There’s a supermoon tonight, rising over the city and reflecting bright light on the ocean shore. A perfect warm summer evening at the beach for happy couples and fuzzy bunnies. On the other side of the world, war is being waged on women’s bodies and helpless children. Cities and villages bombed. Minorities being exterminated. My heart cannot handle the grief and my mind cannot comprehend the divergence of human experiences. It can all seem unbelievably absurd.

But life is gift. What we are given is not ours to own or dominate. Enjoy, yes. Celebrate, yes. Cherish, yes.

I can practice forgiveness and exercise faith. And I have the privilege of doing such things without the comfort of a companion. I hope these virtuous muscles are stronger than I realize because they’re going to have to sustain me for the journey ahead. I fear fatigue and apathy. Acedia awaits to catch me in his alluring arms, offering security in exchange for perilous love.

And so I wrestle into the night, and into the next, and the next. I say with the Church:

Jesus, how long? This doesn’t make sense. Have mercy on us, and bless those bunnies.

Sunshine does the soul good

The sun came out in glorious splendor today.

Cup of comfort
Cup of comfort

Vancouver seems to be alternating between grey and light. Today was covered in glorious colors once again.

Not much to say other than in the span of a few hours at a cafe, I saw a man walking with a “Zorro” jacket, a man in a suit with an “imperial” moustache and holding a banana, and a little girl with bright pink rubber boots and leopard print coat. Who ever said Vancouverites don’t have style?

I’m prepping for preaching this Sunday and thinking ahead to two speaking engagements. My mind is swimming with thoughts of bread and wine, feasting and mourning, remembrance and anticipation.

Looking back and seeing ahead.

May we eat, drink, and be merry in the light of Christ.

A Power that Gives Life

“….whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” Mark 10:43b-44

The past few days I’ve been thinking of the sad story of a young girl who recently died by suicide as a result of peer abuse. Her story is told in her own words in a youtube video that she posted just over a month ago. While it raises a lot of questions about the roles of authority figures in her life (where were her parents, teachers, and extended family?), it is hard to ignore the sad reality that Amanda Todd was the victim of sexual predators, social ostracism, and mental illness.

She was rendered completely powerless. Powerless to change her situation. Powerless to change her psychological state. Powerless to change her past. In her desperation for love and affection, she became vulnerable. And instead of finding an advocate, she became an easy target for those needing to wield their power.

I understand that feeling of powerlessness and vulnerability. In my early teens I had my first taste of rejection, betrayal, and social ostracism, or what we like to call “bullying.” It wasn’t until I experienced it that I realized that I had participated in bullying others (I promptly apologized to a girl that I had bullied and experienced for the first time what it meant to be forgiven). I’m starting to learn now the dynamics of power in all relationships; the effects of having power taken from me; and the weight of my power as a healthy, educated, resourceful woman serving as a pastor.

From these experiences of powerlessness, my gut reaction to those words of Jesus about becoming a slave swings between rebellion and resignation. Rebellion because I don’t want power to be taken from me, especially when I have already experienced marginalization in multifaceted ways.  But neither do I desire greatness. I’ll let the extroverts and those out to prove something to somebody to obtain it. Leave me alone to do my work. I already serve others. I’ve already given up dreams, career, and rootedness to follow Christ. Must I stoop even lower? Must I be crushed?

And then resignation hits. Fine. My feelings of “rebellion” must be a sign of pride and selfishness. What else do you want to take from me, God? What lesson am I supposed to learn in this unjust game of life in which I am destined to lose anyways? You’re sovereign and all-powerful, so who am I to complain? I’m just a servant. I’ll just be a tool for your use. This is the way to humility, right?

Neither of these reactions are healthy or the way of shalom. They’re a sign of a hurting heart, bleeding from wounds caused by others and weakened by a poor understanding of who God is and His work in our lives. It’s also a result of a poor understanding of biblical context. Jesus was speaking to his disciples who’ve been arguing over position and prominence, and who’ve been completely oblivious to how Jesus served the most vulnerable in society. He called the privileged to account and invited them to give away everything. He brought in the excluded and established their inclusion into the Kingdom. In other words he restored humans to their humanity, as neither gods nor objects.

I am both powerful and weak. Both saint and sinner.  These particular words about servanthood speak to the parts of me with privilege and influence. These words remind me that I have a duty to serve my sisters and brothers.  To speak on behalf of others who are silenced. To listen when others need to be heard. To use what I have been given to give to others.

To the parts of me that struggle for dignity and acceptance, I hear instead the words that Jesus spoke soon after.  To the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, he said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” You are free now. You have the privilege of sight. You have power that you didn’t think you had before.

What did Bartimaeus do with this new-found privilege? He chose to follow Jesus along on the road to Jerusalem. With his new eyes he likely witnessed the unjust suffering of Christ on the cross. He saw a Savior without power. Scorned, mocked, and hated, for no reason other than being who he is.

But maybe he saw a resurrected Savior full of glory and grace. Maybe he saw the reality of God’s Kingdom on earth, a Kingdom to which he belonged. Maybe he saw a power that was greater than the darkness, a power that gives life rather than takes it.

We may be living in dark times, but we have seen the light. Go, Church, your faith has healed you. Go where Christ leads. Don’t shut your eyes to the injustices. Don’t believe you are without power. But don’t think that power is meant for you alone.

Woe to those who take power for themselves and dehumanize others.

And mercy, oh Lord have mercy, to those who cannot see their God-given worth.
This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.

Prayers while on retreat…

O my Lord- wash me,

Wash me of this relationship

Wash me of the pain of it

Wash me of the hurt of it

Wash me of the disappointment of it

Wash me of the resentment of it

Wash me of the attachment to it

Wash me of the hurtful memories of it

That come back in quietness and in prayer

That come back in the silent night hours

I give myself into your hands, Lord

Do for me what I cannot do for myself

Heal me, Lord

Under your healing touch

Hour by hour, and day by day

I shall be set free

 – author unknown

Write the wrongs that are done to you in sand, but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble. Let go of all emotions such as resentment and retaliation, which diminish you, and hold onto the emotions, such as gratitude and joy, which increase you.

– Arabic proverb

(A prayer for my enemy)

May you be happy

May you be free

May you be loving

May you be loved…

May every fiber of your being resonate to the glory

            To which God calls you

May you be successful in every endeavor

May you experience the fullness of peace in body and soul

May you know the Lord in all his goodness

May you forgive every transgression

I forgive you with all my heart and soul

May you know what it means to be a child of God

May you experience the glory of possessing the kingdom of God

May you live and walk in peace and fellowship

            With all of God’s creatures

May every blessing be yours

May goodness and love how itself in everything

            That you do and all that is done to you

May you be one with all of God’s creation

May you experience the blessings of God’s grace for all eternity!

– Father William A. Meninger

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/