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

Be still.

Every week at church, my pastor, Scott, segues into a prayer time in our liturgy by encouraging us to “in the stillness of our hearts, offer our prayers and concerns to God.”

Yesterday was the first time I heard that and was somewhat struck by the fact that my heart was NOT still. Relationally, vocationally, emotionally, spiritually, my heart and mind are in turmoil right now. Especially in moments of prompted stillness, or when spending time in the morning journalling and reflecting, I am more than ever reminded of how un-still my heart and life really is. I understand it could just be a nice-sounding way of moving us into prayer, reflection and inward contemplation. Maybe encouraging us to still our hearts as we move into this time, if they aren’t already there. Yesterday, I was simply struck by my heart’s anxiety and I wasn’t sure what to do. I decided to meditate on Psalm 46, where the phrase, “Be still and know that I am God!” is used, a command God gives to be still — because He is God. But where does that statement of stillness come from and in what context is the psalmist quoting God here? I was curious. Our lives are not expected to be still already, they are expected to still in light of knowing who God is. Or something like that.

Let me expand on some of my thoughts and reflections (coming from a slightly more stilled heart), after examining this more closely.

Psalm 46 is a pretty beautiful poem of praise to the God of Zion/Jerusalem who is present with his people there (historically, God was believed to inhabit the temple with his chosen people in Zion/Jerusalem). Vv 2-3 describe a tumultuous, entire earth-shaking earthquake, and God’s presence, his refuge and strength in the midst of that chaos and fear — which those of us who were in the LA area the past few days can really relate to. Two days ago, during the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck Ridgecrest, I was listening to some live music in Pasadena. The band was introducing a song titled, “Firm Foundation,” about standing on solid ground, trusting and hoping in higher and stronger forces than ourselves — as the ground literally began to shift and shake underneath our feet. It was probably the most visceral reminder I could’ve had at this time of the fact that God is God and we are always on solid ground, always in the midst of refuge and strength when we are in his presence. In the midst of an earthquake, the truth of God remains the truth of God. The reminder of that fact through song was pretty prophetic and beautiful.

The psalmist here, in the midst of a cosmic-sized earthquake, reasserts his faith and hope in God. God is both the God of the heavens and cosmos, but also God who resides in Zion/Jerusalem among his people. As the poem continues, we see that God is in the midst of the chaotic and unpredictable forces of battle and war as well. That’s where the statement, “Be still and know that I am God” appears — in the middle of earthly wars and battles, God is there and he is above it all (“exalted among the nations, exalted in the earth” vv. 10). He is not only sovereign, exalted over it all, but he is with us, with the life of the community in the midst of it (vv. 11).

The stillness that comes with God’s power and presence can be in the midst of cosmic disaster or war, but it is a reality for the depths of our hearts. In our deepest, darkest doubts, fears, questions, anxieties and pain, that’s where God’s stillness reigns. These tumultuous images of war, chaos and disaster rendered by the psalmist could be his realities in the Near East of the time — and that was where God was present and exalted and where he was reminded to “be still.” Today, we are experiencing earthquakes and wars too; pain, anxiety and fear is persistent in our world today, but the love, presence and stillness of God persists as well.

That call to “in the stillness of our hearts, offer our prayers and concerns to God” from my pastor is not a request to still the actual realities of our lives — sometimes, we just don’t have that power. The call is to remember this God described and praised in Psalm 46 and throughout the scriptures, this God who is exalted in the midst of our pain, suffering, disaster and war. The chaos of life will continue; the depths of our hearts and minds may continue to be in turmoil and anxiety, but the peace, the stillness of God reigns nonetheless. What we choose to proclaim and believe in the middle of our anxiety is what matters — will we choose to cling to a stillness and ever-present hope that has power over it all, even when it feels as though we are powerless?

That is trust; that is hope; that is in what we could hope to find stillness.

References for Psalm 46 taken from:

Brueggemann, Walter, and W. H Bellinger, Jr., Psalms. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Waiting.

Waiting upon things is so difficult — any human would probably attest to and agree with this. This post comes out of a current story of a season of life of waiting. We all know it feels bad, hard, anxious and painful, but what can we do about it? Is God listening to us? Is it okay to not always be tangibly “moving forward” in our lives? What do we do when we feel a little stuck?

The other night, I was babysitting for two kids, a different family than I wrote about last — these kids are a 7 and 8 year old girl and boy in Santa Monica. Their parents had told me that they could stay up til they got home, I didn’t need to put them to bed, so I had braced myself for a loong evening of rambunctious games and running around. Which is exactly what it was. I began to notice their impatience early on while playing games with them — they’d continually ask me questions and as I was trying to figure them out, they’d repeatedly ask the same question in a crescendo-ing tone. It was pretty annoying and I found myself repeatedly asking them, “pleeaase, be patient as I figure it out.” Seething a little bit under my breath, I’d pretty quickly determine the answer, just to be bombarded with more questions and way more energy than I was prepared for. After awhile of the impatient questioning and my repeated pleas to please be more patient as I figured out the rules of a new game and how to explain to us all, or as I went to get us all water, or as I figured out how to deal with a tiebreaker … I realized that this was a learning opportunity and insightful experience for me as well as for them (hoping that my encouragement to be more patient in some way had an affect).

I’ve found myself currently in an ongoing season of restlessness, anxiety, questioning, doubting and stasis, in many ways. I have so much I want to do and figure out and sometimes it feels like all I’ve been doing is waiting to start something. I find myself longing for God’s presence, peace and action in my life, because waiting puts us as humans in a weird position. We’re out of control and dependent on other forces to make decisions. The power isn’t in our hands; if it was, we’d take action and get the outcome we want ourselves. We would answer the questions we’re asking about the rules of the game ourselves. Waiting brings up issues of trust and faith because when we cannot control an outcome, how will we live in the present and how will we interact with the One who has that power?

Reflecting back on the way I responded to those kids’ impatience made me think about the way I’ve been talking to God lately. What does God think when I feel restless and anxious in my waiting? When I really want something and I ask for it impatiently? I doubt God gets annoyed like I did with the kids when we ask for the same things over and over in increasingly impatient ways.

For those of you, like me, who may feel stuck and static in seasons of waiting and expectation, I hope you’ll be reassured that God does speak to us, interact with us, and move among us. But most of all, God loves us and is with us. I don’t know how you experience God’s love and presence, but I hope that in your moments of anxiety and difficulty, wrestling and questioning, stasis and stuck-ness, that you will in some sense, experience solace. Maybe moments where we seem to most lack control over our lives can point to the fact that anything that is achieved or that happens is God and not us.

I want to leave you with this prayer from a book of Walter Brueggemann’s, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, that my mom gave to me and I’ve been meditating with lately. This one spoke to me because sometimes we pray and try to listen but are distracted. May we have clarity and may we be in a “listening mood” in order to hear well.

Your command is garbled

We imagine you coming into the barracks with your insistent demand. We imagine you addressing the sun to “move out,” the sky — “let there be light,” the sea — “stand back.”

We imagine you addressing us, each of us and all of us with your order of the day. We imagine … but the din of other commands, of old loyalties and unfinished business and tired dreams cause us not to hear well, not to listen, not to notice, and your command is garbled.

So come again with your mandate, with the clarity of your imperative. We listen, because we know in deep ways that your yoke is easy and your burden is light. Come among us, because we are yours, and ours is a listening mood. Give us ears and then hands and hearts and feet for your good news. Amen.