Learning to lament & a train that wouldn’t stop.

I had a dream last night that I was riding on a train through LA that wouldn’t stop.

Night was imminent, an eerie sensation of helplessness in the midst of this train’s planned, intentional and determined route sunk deep into my gut and bones.

It wasn’t a panicked helplessness like that time the bus I was riding in Bangkok broke down at a random spot in the city (this situation ended up completely okay, not to worry).

No, it was like a deep-seated grief, coupled with nostalgia, memory, sadness and loss that began to emerge. The places this train was taking me were intentional and meaningful spots where significant moments in the past four years had taken place. It carried me by restaurants and parks where I’d passed old time with friends, by my church in Santa Monica, by a spot in Manhattan Beach where I’d taken my dad once, when he visited, to take photos, the old company I used to work for, the hospital that I’m working at now but not going to be working at for much longer, a churro spot where I had a date before quarantine started.

I woke up not because the train stopped, but because I realized that everything was empty and it jolted me; every place and memory wasn’t filled by the people that were once a part of it; there was only an empty shell of a building or distant voices but no one to associate them with as the train passed by each spot.

I don’t know what to make of this haunting dream, except that maybe it’s a representation of how quarantine, how this current state of the world feels, a subconscious, haunting, visual representation of emptiness and loss.

This time feels all about dichotomies and tensions to me — the tension between exhaustion & rest, silence & noise, essentiality and non-essentiality, virtual chatter & solitude, different degrees and types of grief (like the grief of the enormity of a global pandemic that’s claiming hundreds of thousands of lives or grief over a relationship that never happened or grief over not being able to see my family or friends), the past, present, future and the way they’ve melded together to become one and the same. The way I’m answering questions I’m faced with as a chaplain visiting families with sick children & the way I’m answering questions that I ask myself — the question that emerges from all of that: when is it okay to not have answers?

That train ride reminded me that I have lost things over the years.

And in the past month.

Things that may not be as “big” as others’ losses, but things that I need to make space to grieve the loss of, all the same.

Maybe an appropriate response to some of this tension, these dichotomies, is to make space for lament and grief. What does it look like for us to mourn the losses that we’ve faced in this time, without comparing them to other types or magnitudes of losses, without necessarily seeing them in tension with anything else, but instead simply a true representation of our past and present experience?

Sometimes the tension is good.

Sometimes though, it’s necessary to hold each thing individually, give each of those things space instead of inherently understanding them as “in tension,” in comparison with other things (I’m saying this more to myself than you). Our human brains look for significance, to make sense of things. It often doesn’t make sense why we care about certain things more than others; why some things move us much more or make us much more sad than other things. How do we measure personal significance or truly mourn our losses if we’re trying to understand their inherent “worth” in comparison to other things?

The losses through which your train ride would take you, over this past month and a half especially, matter a lot.

How do we make space for the grief and the loss of both “big” and “small” things?

How do we understand that all of those things are important and they matter?

What would your train ride look like? How would it make you feel? How would you remember, honor and lean into each of those places of memory?

A divinity for daily life.

I experience the divine in the seemingly smallest things — the way the light pours through the cracks in my drawn blinds in the morning, the smell of a fragrant burning candle, the melody of an acoustic guitar, driving home on the 134 at dusk — seeing that view that overlooks the whole city, sipping a latte with a friend at a local coffeeshop.

I wanted to expand upon my last post, “I don’t think I’m a non-denom, evangelical Christian anymore,” because there are a few more places I can go with that one; I may end up doing a small series on it. Here, I want to talk a little more about my experiences with God and what I’m learning from friends and peers of other faith traditions or denominations about their ways of communing with and experiencing God. It has been teaching me a lot.

One of the beautiful things about being a part of the spiritual care team at Children’s Hospital LA is that I get to learn from the other chaplains about their traditions, how that informs their spiritual practices and ways of offering care, etc. It seems like in a lot of other faith conversations, there is an unspoken (or spoken) idea of exclusivity — this is where/how I practice my faith and in this context, that is the correct way — I don’t need to learn from other traditions or have them inform my practice in any way. In healthcare chaplaincy, it seems the opposite; sometimes the best way you can care for patients’ spiritual needs is to learn as much as you can about the worldviews and specific practices of various faith backgrounds.

For example, there are certain prayers for healing from the Qur’an that a Muslim patient would appreciate; he or she may not be comfortable with any other type of prayer. A Jewish patient will need his/her food kept kosher in a special fridge during the hospital stay — it’s necessary to be aware of and able to accommodate those requests.

In addition, as a Christian, learning about these traditions has been informing my own, in ways I wouldn’t have expected. In my Christian journey, growing up in a non-denominational church, I felt separated from certain practices of my faith — of tradition, liturgy, understanding the sacraments, corporate prayer, etc. because the components of my understanding of God were the Bible, my church, my small group, youth group, communion, service projects and mission trips and that was pretty much it.

When I read my devotionals on my own or Scripture on my own and didn’t “feel” the Spirit in that instance or didn’t understand the impact the words were having on my everyday life, I stopped reading and/or continued to read but felt disconnected. That often left me wondering if I was really “missing the point” or “missing God” in those cases, or was it just that the method wasn’t the best way for me to connect Scripture to a practical experience.

As I piece together a theology and understanding of my Christianity at this point in my life, it’s very helpful to learn about Jewish practices like Shabbat (Sabbath-keeping) or keeping kosher; these are practices that have kept the Jewish people constantly aware of — and connected to — a practical living-out of the faith. Or Catholics using rosary beads to say daily prayers. I understand it can swing to the other side and become “too ritualistic,” separated from the spiritual impetus, but for me, it is helpful to learn about.

My Jewish peer at work speaks so naturally and organically about her theology and spirituality — it has become a lifestyle, a way of seeing everything and understanding the world. As much as I’ve always aspired to that, and hoped that I reflect my faith in that way, I still feel that my Christianity can be easily compartmentalized — especially when it does not feel grounded and connected to practices of my daily life or spheres of my identity — what I’m eating, how I’m spending my time, what I’m paying attention to, what I’m thinking about, etc.

As I figure out what practicing my faith is going to look like right now, I want to remember to be conscious of the divine in my everyday life — whether that’s through a ritual or a liturgy I say with my church or alone, journaling or writing my prayers down — or whether it comes through reading Annie Dillard’s poetry or listening to Sufjan Stevens on a drive home, I believe each and every one can be a spiritual experience, a communing with God. A divinity for daily life.

What does my relationship with God look like when I’m questioning my Chinese-American-ness or adopted-ness — how, practically, can I feel connected to my faith in those moments? Or in moments of vocational questions — like how do I merge what is fulfilling with what is sustainable? The moments where I’m so sleepy and don’t want to pray, how can I still experience God?

I’m looking for rhythms and practices of life from the Christian tradition or borrowed from others that could help a feeling of practical-connectedness to God and to myself.

How do you experience God in your daily life within your tradition or spiritual practices? Would love for you to share with me! Thank you for reading. xoxo