(Paper for class with Ajun Chulee)
BEWARE SPIRITUAL STATEMENTS AHEAD. DONT READ IF YOU CANT HANDLE.
If I were to summarize into one statement what I have learned in my four years of college it would have to be that God works in mysterious ways.
This learning has been a continuous one. I keep on getting surprised and realizing that through everything: every experience, every prayer, every emotion I am being transformed. I truly am being led. The beauty in our God is in this incredible balance we share with Him. We have, no matter how or when accepted Him as our Savior, as the ruler of our life. Yet we have complete free will. This includes continuously making mistakes, hurting ourselves and others; missing the target. The beauty is that through this, God still manages to act. Like an underlying current that carries us even if we swim the wrong way, He is always supporting us. The salt in the ocean keeps us afloat though we may feel totally lost in the immensity of it, and may never turn upright to float well, we may simply always keep our head in the water or tire ourselves battling waves and tides. We are afraid of it all. No matter what, we cannot dissociate ourselves from this intricate part of our humanity.
I am a synchronized swimmer. I can assert that continuously floating upright is tiring physically but also emotionally. The more difficult you start thinking it is, the harder you make it. Furthermore the reality is that there are various factors in the water that make it difficult for you to keep afloat.
In applying for college, I had to write essays about what I hoped I would learn and gain from this experience and what I knew would be challenging. My freshman year
I felt truly lost. Part of me thought that in knowing the difficulties lying ahead, I was immune to them. It was in writing a reflection paper in my Christian Perspectives on World History class that I gained perspective and insight into how my perceptions had been wrong and my reactions were not controlled. I did not act in a way that actually reflected the way in which I wanted to be seen. I was living in fear. I had been hurt and scared and felt rejected, I cycled into a vicious cycle of perpetuating the feelings that I had first been hurt by. How foolish to reenact something that you yourself had been hurt by.
Though I understood this my first year I was not able to end the cycle. I was still acting out of fear. We are very aware of the changeability of the world. We are afraid of admitting that we do not control any of it, we try to fight for our “freedom” but we are truly clinging to something to call our own. These things we cling to eventually slip away from us. And you fall down hard. This is what happened my second year of college. I truly surrendered and admitted that I was lost without God. The magnificence in falling was that I realized I was fearing for no reason. There was nothing to be afraid of. God caught me in his arms and instead of fighting the waves I was basked into the comforting embrace of the current.
Still; letting go is difficult. My third year I think of as gardening. God pulled out all the weeds from my life: unhealthy relationships and habits. I was still a little afraid. To this day I still feel a little sad and lonely. But I have surrendered and I trust. I cannot clearly see what God has planned for me. But what is there to fear? I know the end of this life. How can I fear loneliness or lack of security be it material or physical when I know the things that matter. Things matter in light of eternity. What does it serve me to fear
whether or not I will have a successful job or money or someone who loves me? God has a plan for me and I must only let him guide me. The most difficult and yet most rewarding part of this is in how surrendering and admitting we do not control leads us to become more aware of the Holy Spirit within us. There is a part of me that is afraid of making a mistake when acting on what I believe is the Holy Spirit. Because much of the time these are not things that can be explained in what our society deems “rational” ways.
The greatest adventure I have come across in this life is learning to understand the Spirit within me. There is a great spiritual learning that is not tapped into in many cultures and that for some reason has somewhat faded from Christianity. I believe this is the work of the enemy: fearing the power that we have within us and fearing the conciliation that can come in spiritual connection and understanding between the people of the world.
I firmly believe in the value of religions and philosophies other than Christianity. In her book God’s Many-Splendored Image, Nonna Verna Harrison speaks sweetly of the presence of God in each and every human being. Growing up in different cultures I have inherently always seen between certain lines. God has placed in me a deep-seated love and yearning to interact and humbly observe and learn from different cultures. It is difficult to express yet amazing to begin to fathom the infinite possibilities of human development. These different worldviews and philosophies, emotional expressions and ways of human interaction all reflect facets of God’s personality. I believe that in interacting and striving to understand the deep differences in cultures and humans, we can discover more of the Holy One. Furthermore, His truest deepest trait is love and it is in coming together humbly and connecting through differences and perhaps pain and difficulty that love flourishes and pleases Our Father.
In particular I am fascinated by Buddhism. Ancient religions such as animism and Hinduism also awake in me a deep emotional response. This emotional response is linked to many things in my own heart and experience. In my examination of it, I believe I have come to understand that it is linked to two main elements. The first being my fascination with the human response to the divine. I am amazed and moved that it is inherently human to yearn for something greater. Yet this emotion is so strong and tinged with grief because in this beauty of human worship and prostration the target is missed. I grieve as my Father grieves for his misdirected children.
Added to this grief is the realization of my own rejection of God at certain times in my life. I am only able to now grieve with my Father because of certain paths I have travelled. I used to have a certain repulsion to what I saw as “forcing our view” on others: “Who am I to tell them how to live?” I thought. On a mission trip to Taiwan, visiting a local church the pastor’s story helped me. He told the story of a missionary woman giving out flyers for a church event at the subway. A woman confronted her in anger “Why do you Christians always annoy us? All the other people from different religions leave each other alone!” The missionary spoke at once, pointing to the young child next to the woman “Is this your child?” the woman nodded. “How would you feel if this child called me or that woman over there or over there mother instead of you?”. This story had a strong impact on me. It helped me put together the experience and truth I have learned and gave me a framework of application as to why we share the love of God with others and what is appropriate in what situation.
The second element in my response is in my admiration for the spiritual wisdoms that are expressed. As I stated earlier, I believe that Christians can learn much from other peoples’ knowledge and that in coming humbly to others and recognizing worth the Glory of God can be felt. I believe that in the practicing of these spiritual truths, these individuals are on the path of being able to have the one true God revealed to them.
It is in examining these feelings yet in experiencing the reality of human interpretation of religion that I come to accept my own response and responsibility in interacting with religions. Coming to Thailand and learning about Buddhism, my first realization was simply “Humans are Humans”. There is a difference between what is religious ideology and what is religious practice. I was able to strengthen my own stance in seeing that though some Buddhist ideas are pleasing, their missed application seems to reveal to me the missed truth of this approach.
Still, I have often shied away from such claims because I am aware that there are also ways in which Christianity is not practically lived out as we theoretically express it. Because of my admiration of other cultures, because of pragmatism, because OF FEAR I often have shut my mouth. However I am now allowing myself the space and grace to experience spiritual learning.
In my exposure to human thoughts and theories of life and rightful acting in different cultures I have come to a transcendent understanding. My mind is beginning to grasp what my heart had long ago learnt. I understand that the main, beautiful, distinguishing attribute of Christianity is grace. Humans are humans and no matter what deep, ethical and righteous ways of living we devise we will fall short of them. The glory of our God lies in his unending love which saves us from the condemnation of this
accumulation of mistakes, pain and suffering we have endured and perpetuated. The extended glory and might that blows my mind away and makes my heart gasp for gratitude is in the amazing gift that God extended to us through His son and Holy Spirit. We are saved but also filled with this grace. We are capable of extending it. We are able to continuously receive it. In accepting this gift and asking for more of it I have come to accept many things.
I have in reading texts about Buddha found elements which helped me in personal healing and that offer wise perspectives in how to act in this world. I do believe that this world is filled with suffering:
“Birth is uncomfortable, both to the mother and to the child, although the child does not consciously remember it. The birth of a new idea, of a new “self” or personality, can also be quite painful; for old habits, and old ideas are difficult to discard. Decay is painful, whether it is decay of a tooth or decay of one’s morale and confidence. Illness is uncomfortable, both mentally and physically. Both death and the fear of death for ourselves and for others, constitute suffering. Either the presence of objects we hate or the absence of objects we love is a painful experience. Not obtaining what we have set our hearts on can make us very miserable. And, as we grow keener in our understanding of life, we become aware that clinging to anything can cause us to suffer.” (The Great Religions by which men live, Floyd H. Ross, 1960)
These statements I believe to be true and have experienced first hand. Discomfort and clinging shape the lives of many people and I believe that Gautama’s words can help us shift perspectives and are not rejecting a godly way of living. According to Gautama, the deepest unhappiness was the suffering of the mind and emotions. He believed that this suffering was felt by a man who was out of harmony with life:
“If I am unhappy it is because I am not living harmoniously. If I am not living harmoniously, it is because I have not learned to accept the world as it is. Perhaps I am expecting from the world things that I have no right to expect. Perhaps I am clinging too strongly to one part of my world, thus losing touch with the total picture. (…) Suffering is the result of a wrong attitude toward the world and our experiences in it. The world is not bad, but our attitude of craving is what makes it seem bad. This craving, or excessive desire, makes us slaves of whatever we crave.(…) Our cravings all make us lose our freedom to choose wisely. Craving which leads to unhappiness is caused by our ignoring our real needs. If we did not so ignore them, we would not make ourselves unhappy by pursuing things that will never bring satisfaction. We should look for the cause of our cravings, and then we should seek to remove the cause. Each person has a choice about the way he lives. He can fill his life with simple, unquestioned, habitual activities, which have arisen because of cravings. Or he can chose his reactions on the basis of each situation he meets. Covetousness, resentment, infatuation- these are earmarks of craving. Actions arising from them lead to unhappiness. Happiness is gained by ceasing to crave. The kind of character a person builds today determines the happiness you will have tomorrow.”
There is much in all of that is stated here. What I appreciate is that these are things I can take into account and use as tools. However the main tool is missing. Because though these are useful things to understand: cravings and intentional seeking and living; the last piece is missing. I believe that if someone were to follow these ideas with the intention of seeking truth God would be encountered.
Furthermore I believe that Christians often do not seek themselves. In our belief that Jesus is the answer, we often fall into a negation of our unhappiness because we think that we should be happy if we know the “truth”. We are not spiritually developed and I believe that we can learn to understand more of our selves and reactions, growing closer to God in not rejecting spiritual truths simply because they are used in a different religion. I believe that many Christians have abandoned the spiritual realm because of fear that this is a pagan, occult practice. However the reality is that spiritual knowledge is like scientific knowledge and it is wrong to ignore it and it is beneficial to be aware of it. We are spiritual beings and we can become more balanced in life if we learn this language.
Though it is of great value for me to understand the use of not expecting from others and of not clinging out of fear, the reality I have experienced is that I can only
begin to truly do so with the continuous help of the Spirit of God working in me. I do not wish to make derogatory claims, however in what I have experienced of mainstream Buddhism I do not believe they have reached the enlightenment they seek in the applications they have developed to these responses.
The reality is that even with these understandings, I will still crave and I will still cling. Yet the grace of God saves me and continuously redeems me. I know what matters. In light of eternity. I do not expect of others. I do not fear the negative impact of my words because in light of eternity the seed planted can grow. I have learned a different understanding of time that practitioners of Buddhism have not grasped. They are trapped in a cycle of lives and karma.
I can have an argument and be wrong and the beauty of saving grace is in the ability to admit wrong and still have the Spirit act through us. Because it is in humility that we reveal the true face of God and this is what hits people in the chest with a profound aching for this transcendent otherworldly truth that hits the target. We feel it hit us in the smack dab middle of our heart. In that instant we experience the truth of God: all encompassing Love.
My main prayer is that I continue in humility and am able to express myself with love even though it might not be understood. That in light of eternity I am acting in a righteous way and I can be an image of this. Of faithfulness to truth and love and of humility and understanding. I wish to grow in these things as well as in expression for the truth of God.
This fourth and last year of college which has started in Thailand is the year of blooming. At the end of last semester my garden was racked out. I felt bare. I knew that my soil was emptied of bad things and that I was beginning to fill it with richness to be able to bear beautiful fruits. I am so grateful to finally be seeing these fruits and flowers blossom and to know that this garden will only grow.