Monthly Archives: August 2010

Gentleness

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” –Philippians 4:4-7

Last night as I was reflecting on this verse and preparing for some silent prayer, I was recalling three words I had scrawled in magic marker on pink construction paper six years ago in Puerto Rico: kindness, patience, gentleness. That pink swatch of construction paper served as a bookmark in my Bible for many years, reminding me of God’s greatness and my own weaknesses. You see, kind, patient, and gentle are three things I was not (and probably still am not), but three things that I had committed to praying for, to becoming through God’s work in me.

It is quite recently, however, in this past year, through weekly talks with a soul friend of mine, that I have been learning that truly experiencing God’s grace requires dealing gently not only with others, but first with oneself. After all, how can I impart grace to others if I do not embrace that promise of grace first myself?

Reading through my devotional last night, it reminded me that a prayer word in silent prayer serves as a gentle way of coming back to God. “Free from thinking,” J. David Muyskens writes, “we enter a profound rest.”

It is a small thing, but I recalled a moment during yesterday when I was genuinely fatigued, but I couldn’t figure out a way to rest. I felt convicted that I should have been doing something, and so I was restless, which I am becoming convinced is an unnatural state for humans created by a God who made a day for rest! A friend of mine also recently sent me this article on clergypeople who are not taking time to rest, and for whom it is causing great consequences.

It sounds simple, but I think learning to rest, and being gentle, are two qualities which usher in the fullness of the humanity for which God intended for us.

In what ways do you resolve to deal gently with yourself, and how does it bring you nearer to experiencing God’s peace?

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Books Read in China

books!

My husband is usually the avid reader out of the two of us; I prefer to pour over anthropological theory and ethnographies and then just rest my brain in my spare time. But in China this summer, I’ve already accomplished more free reading than I do in an entire school year, and I’m eager to share some of the books I’ve been enjoying:

1. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See: My mother-in-law gave me this book for Christmas, and I’ve been looking forward to reading it all year! I actually read this book before I left for China, but it was an exhilarating read about two sisters who come of age during the Japanese occupation in Shanghai, and then relocate to the United States and spend the rest of their lives in Chinatown in San Francisco. It wasn’t the most beautifully written, but it was a page turner. Early on in our trip to Nanjing this summer, Evan and I traveled with an eighty-six year-old woman who was born on the island of Hainan and had to evacuate Shanghai, which was bombed by the Japanese, just like in the book.

2. Peony in Love by Lisa See: This novel was a fantasy-like take on another one of the cities we traveled to this summer, Hangzhou, and it dabbled in the history of women who pined after their lovers, starving themselves to death, and hoping they would return to haunt the earth as hungry ghosts. I found the story captivating, beautiful, and mysterious, also a healthy history lesson on the Hangzhou area; Lisa See seems to put a great amount of research into each of her books.

3. Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost: I actually gave this one to Evan for Christmas, and then stole it from him when I was out of books and in between chapters as we were traveling from Hangzhou to Nanning! This is an average guy’s experience of traveling through China, but I found it a really, funny quick read, and would be great for anyone coming to visit. Would also make for a good book on cd to listen to I think.

4. The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar: I swapped the Lost on Planet China book for this one at the Western store in Nanning, and I think it was an excellent trade. Umrigar’s novel is about two women of completely different classes and lives whose stories get thread together in compelling, yet tragic ways. I think she has a real gift in creating honest, flawed, and believeable characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

5. Forty Days to a Closer Walk with God by J. David Muyskens: This is my current devotional that leads a newbie through the practice of Centering Prayer. It was given to me by a dear friend, with whom I have practiced Centering Prayer, and it is approachable, insightful, and simple. I look forward to reading it each day.

Now, I’m going have to head over to the Western store to make another exchange soon, or resort to stealing my husband’s books again.

Abide in me…

I sat in silence last night for the first time in far too long.

My practice of Centering Prayer has been so gratifying in China, especially in a bustling city teetering on 7 million or so, I crave silent time with God, and yet, I am so distracted by the day’s tasks, and I make excuses to avoid meeting God just when I need God most. This evening the meditation I read was on Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha and this business of being distracted, or rather, choosing to be distracted.

Centering Prayer itself is an exercise in releasing ourselves from the things that distract us everyday (for me, it is often the thought that I need to start my work immediately in the morning, so therefore, I don’t have time to pray; or, it might be the thought that my Chinese is inadequate, and therefore so am I and all the plans God has for me here; or, simply, the thought that is more pressing than the words coming out of my husband’s mouth), and repeating a prayer word to remind us of God’s presence and our intention to dwell within that presence as our mind inevitably wanders (as mine just did in the above parenthetical!).

For years my prayer word has been grasp, and the word has held great meaning and a powerful reminder for me that just as I am grasping for God, God is always, ever intently grasping after me. Since I arrived in China, though, I have felt compelled to discover a new prayer word, which is no small task, given that I have literally lived and breathed the previous one for over six years.

However, the word, abide, has gently, but firmly marked my silent prayers here in China. And tonight as I was imagining myself at the feet of Jesus, looking into his eyes and straining to hear what he has to say to me, alongside Mary and Martha, I stumbled upon two things.

One is the sense in which distraction is really a choice, and not a force to which we are passively and powerfully subjected.

Martha feels trapped by the tasks which she finds a great distraction from Jesus, but I think Jesus himself implies that distraction is a choice, when he says of her sister, “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” I recently read an article in which a brilliant professor who is busy with multi-million dollar grants and projects had the revelation through spending about a week in nature away from computers, text messages, and the like, that he could, indeed, stand to become a better listener.

And I hear God saying to me that I can choose to be distracted and let my life pass me by, or I can choose the best thing, the only thing, which is to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen. I can choose to listen to others, and I can choose to be fully committed and fully attuned to things that really matter.

The second revelation was to do with this prayer word abide.

It occurred to me this evening that there is nothing modern about the word abide, because it harbors no sense of time, contemporaneity, or measurement, but a sense of longevity, eternity, and perpetuity. The phrase I often repeat as I pray and process the distractions in silence is, “abide in me, as I abide in you,” (John 15:4), and tonight as I repeated it, it was as if I was hearing it for the first time.

I realized in my spirit that abiding is the opposite of distraction: abiding is the experience of dwelling with one another, of being content, of listening and relishing silent presence. I was sitting with my knees propped under my chin as I began to pray, and for the first time that day I noticed the tightness in my shoulders, but as I repeated my prayer word, dwelling, abiding at Jesus’ feet, far away from the distractions, the kitchen where I had previously been alongside Martha, clamoring away, I not only felt the tightness dissipate, but I felt almost as if there was a hand upon my back supporting me, and I allowed myself to lean back into it, resting, abiding, and relishing God’s presence.

Thankfully, this choice to abide, to choose against the distractions of this world, and to choose ‘the better part, the only thing’ comes also with God’s promise to support us, to hold us up as we go on living, and that can ‘never be taken away from us.’