I realized that it’s only fitting that I started blogging again yesterday during Lent, because as history serves, Lent has lent (I just can’t help with the puns…you know Easter is on April Fools, right?!) a good portion of inspiration.
So I’ve compiled, just in time for Good Friday, a dose of Lenten posts for your contemplative reading.
I pray that this season has been meaningful and full for you and that you find so much comfort and hope and peace even at the sight of our wounded savior on the cross. May we linger on that cross and the grave with renewed passion and waiting and expectation of the hope to come on Easter Sunday. Amen.
Ferreting out the feelings buried beneath all those lofty thoughts (ha!) does not come all that easily to me.
But I practice a lot.
Just like any other discipline, I practice faith to grow in faith. I practice the rhythms of letting go and listening, that also do not come all that naturally to me. And gradually God makes it clear that God’s been there all along, and yet, I come to experience God in new ways.
“Sturdy,” was my reply the other day, when my spiritual director asked about who God is to me lately. It’s not in the Bible, although a host of other like adjectives– steadfast, firm, unshaking–do come to mind.
Sturdy feels humble, though, like it might have fit neatly into Jesus’ Aramaic vocabulary. In the dictionary, one who is sturdy is strongly and solidly built, capable of withstanding rough work or treatment, and showing confidence or determination.
And when you think about it, despite some of the depictions of his fragile frame, withered on the cross, Jesus walked everywhere during his ministry, and he shouldered that heavy cross without complaint.
Jesus was rugged, dependable, and sturdy.
And I think the miracle of faith is that we, who are weak, whiny, and worrisome, we are invited to share in that sturdiness. We carry it within us when we dare to give and receive love, when we refuse to abide by the ways of this world, but abide in God instead. We become sturdy when we see and believe that God is making us new, by living in us and through us.
We become confident, not in ourselves, but in the sturdiness that inhabits hearts, hands, and feet. Our fragile frames can endure great trials because of who God is, what God has done, and who we are becoming.
So this weekend, look for signs of sturdiness in those around you, in your life, in you. You’re stronger than you think, because you carry not only the cross, but the resurrection within you.
Despite the title, I don’t have anything groundbreaking to say this morning, except that fellowship breaks into the most unlikely of places, and that yesterday was a reminder of all the possibility that exists not just in thinking but in listening.
I had my first meeting with my new language partner. It had been difficult for me to commit to finding someone to chat with in this language that means so much to me–it felt like replacing all the amazing people I’d met in one place, and the choice needed to be just right.
But I didn’t have the time for that or the money, and so I chocked this one up to the universe, letting the university arrange the placement for me. And yesterday a woman who’s about five years ahead of me in life greeted me by the coffee bar with the abrupt, halting speech patterns only reminiscent of a Chinese speaker of English, and as she began to unload copious amounts of unsolicited advice despite what little she knew of me, something in my spirit leapt and my heart warmed.
See, I may have mentioned that there’s a love language in China to do with giving advice–giving advice shows you care, and so people take and give as much as is humanly possible! And as my new language partner and I settled so effortlessly into a pattern of her speaking English and me speaking Mandarin, each pausing to correct unfamiliar words, I think not only my ears, but my heart recognized something as familiar and began to open.
Last night I read this piece from Amy Lepine Peterson, “Speaking Faith as a Second Language,” and it resonated so deeply with not only my cross-cultural experiences but the goals and hopes I have for the courses I am teaching next semester on culture and family ministry. Peterson writes eloquently about the process of learning that neither her native language nor her faith truly belonged to her:
“I was also learning that English–though my native language and one of the great loves of my life–didn’t belong to me. It didn’t belong to me, or to America, or to England, or to native speakers. As a language, it is a tool to be used, not wielded in domination or colonialism, but used for negotiating meaning. Together. Yet the transformation of my English has forced me to realize something even more important: that the language of faith needs to undergo the same kind of reconstruction for me to love it and use it rightly.”
As my language partner so openly told me about her struggles with depression in this country, her indecision about having a second child, and the pressures of work and family, I had to marvel as the intimacy that simply being present for one another, speaking the same language, introduces. I suppose because language-learning is essentially about vulnerability, being willing to stumble as you’re trying to express some of the deepest parts of you, it’s also about faith, as you surrender your dignity, and putter along like a child.
When it comes to this course I’m teaching next semester and my partnership with my language tutor, the goals seem akin to Peterson’s:
“Letting go of your ownership of the language of faith can be frightening, unmooring. Instead of being the person with the answers, you become a person with questions. Instead of colonizing, you work to cooperate. But in seeking to agree on the most basic of things, like the meaning of the word ‘prayer,’ you find a simplicity of language which lends itself to coordinated action. Your words take on gestures, form and meaning in the real world, incarnating the love you once only spoke of. Surrendering ownership of the language of faith means recognizing that I can only speak it as a second, and learned, language.”
So letting go, relearning, and listening. That’s what God’s got on my heart this morning…what about you?
I’m fairly certain that ever since I was exposed to the use of the word witness as a verb (probably somewhere between InterVarsity meetings and YouthWorks training), I became uncomfortable with what it seemed to imply.
The crux of the matter, I realize now, is that many versions of “witnessing” seemed to involve very little to no, listening or noticing, despite these being primary meanings of the term. Returning to practicing disciplined Centering Prayer recently has been difficult precisely because listening, noticing, and being silent are things that do not come naturally to me, or to others, I might presume.
But they are so necessary to communion with God and with others:
how can we tell others about who we know God to be if we do not first engage in contemplation, and with intention, noticing and listening for God in and around us? This terrific challenge, to be silent before God, implies a sort of witnessing that I can get behind. This kind of awe-inspiring humility that I feel when I enter God’s presence is the type I hope to impart as I live, imperfectly, yet boldly in the truth that I am forgiven, that I am blessed, so blessed, to be a witness.