Monthly Archives: October 2012

Unseen Servants Among Us

Today I’m over at Ed Cyzewski’s, In A Mirror Dimly, blogging for his Women in Ministry Series. There’s been some fabulous and thoughtful entries in this series, and I’m honored and thrilled to be a part of it!

You can read my entry here, entitled Unseen Servants Among Us.

If you’re joining us from Ed’s blog, welcome!  I hope you enjoy reading more about my adventures in China, my experience with reentry and readjustment to life in the States, and my love affair with Centering Prayer.  I try to cultivate a conversation about faith and culture here, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Meanwhile, I’m off to Arizona for the weekend for some time with family, some R & R, and some sunshine.

Hope you have a blessed weekend!

On prayer and presence

Do you ever get the feeling you are hemmed in by blessing both before you and behind you?  And that despite this season of grief and being torn from what was made familiar, there is promise in the ordinary, steady work of the hand of God?

I couldn’t sleep this morning.  I woke up around four o’clock and made the efforts at tossing and turning until it made more sense to rise and simply make something of these moments.

Photo credit:

And I’m sitting here in the dark of autumn in the early hours, oddly comforted by the quiet and the thoughts that wouldn’t leave me this morning: thoughts of friends and family who’ve listened to my thoughts these past few weeks with prayerful diligence, feelings of excitement about the presentation I gave yesterday on my research and the generosity with which it was received, and the sense that at a time like this, when China is fluttering away with rush hour energy on the other side of the world, God must be in the midst of it all, painstakingly working for justice and peace and love in motions far beyond my understanding.

I had that sense when I sat in silent prayer last Thursday at a weekly meditation lunch on the university campus.  I breathed in and out and felt filled by God’s presence.

Perhaps it was easier because I’d met with my spiritual director the day before and she’d made me attuned to the slightest of thoughts and motions that push God further away.  Perhaps it was the way in which the leader of the session invited us to think of those who were suffering and tears rushed to my eyes as I thought of all those friends and families in China who are ever on my heart and yet feel so far away.

Or perhaps it was simply the stopping, the breathing, and the embracing, that is that first necessary step toward God.

This morning’s meditation from Oswald Chambers talks about prayer as the end to our means.  It talks about the work that prayer does in us, and the sense that it is enough.  These words gave me great comfort and peace, especially at a time where I continue to feel the distance and the distress in leaving China in all the small and great things alike:

Prayer is the battle, and it makes no difference where you are. However God may engineer your circumstances, your duty is to pray. Never allow yourself this thought, “I am of no use where I am,” because you certainly cannot be used where you have not yet been placed. Wherever God has placed you and whatever your circumstances, you should pray, continually offering up prayers to Him. And He promises, “Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do . . . (John 14:13). 

In prayer, we are promised God’s presence, which is what the spiritual life is all about–finding, knowing, and being known by God.  And so as I go about my daily life in this place, despite the aching and restless feelings that come with the culture shock, I’m starting to embrace the fact that God has called me here, and that prayer can be greater and wider and more than silence or rightness with God or signs of holiness.

I’m starting to realize that maybe all of life is prayer and my role is simply to show up.

What do you think?

On holes and wholeness

I’ve been quiet this past week.  

It’s mostly because I’m still struggling with reentry, with being vulnerable, and with seeking God, and not feeling whole.  I didn’t post because I keep worrying that this refrain is bothersome, tired, and a little too heavy for the blogging world.

Fall leaves in Princeton, New Jersey.

In fact, I keep worrying waaaaaaay too much about what everyone else thinks…except for God.  I mentioned awhile ago that I’d been hanging onto others’ pieces of advice a little too eagerly and that my own chokeholds, my negative self talk and my efforts to intellectually solve or parse these problem of cultural coherence, grief, and loss just aren’t working.

They’re not working because my body tells me things my mind doesn’t even register.  They’re not working because I’m living in a life full of holes I can’t see, but I feel palpably and powerfully at the most inopportune moments.

And I’m discovering that this illusion of control that is such a powerful, productive concept in theory amounts to unpredictable, unexplained, and sudden expressions of emotion in practice, that make me feel very awkward, embarrassed, and well, out of control.

It’s not a good feeling.  

And it reminds me of the many times in my fieldwork when these amazingly solid, stoic women would burst into tears and reach out for me momentarily, only to literally, push me away, out of that fleeting embrace, making me wonder whether it had really just happened.  I realize, perhaps some of my own condescension and arrogance, in wanting those embraces to last longer, especially as I now realize we are all out of control, we simply express it at different times, and in different ways.

Comforting a woman in Yunnan province, Nov. 2010.  Photo by Leslie Santee.

I’m realizing the hard way that I can’t fight these feelings or this process, and when I do it simply pushes God and others farther and farther away.  This morning I felt God telling me that it’s all okay, this messiness of learning how to love again, be loved, and to receive, and there’s nothing that will be lost along the way that can’t be recovered.  I hear God also reminding me how good God is at loving me, if I will just let that be my priority in this season.

A week ago I thought I was finally getting really good at accepting my brokenness, but it’s going to take some time to really get there.  What’s paradoxical about the spiritual journey is I continue to believe that brokenness really is the path to wholeness.

It’s going to be hard to do this, to be present with God, but if I can just focus on one thing, let it be that, not peace, or excellence, or books, or productivity.  Those things will come.

New York City on a recent fall evening.

But in the meantime, I gotta believe that there’s enough grace out there for me, too.