Saturday, March 2, 2013

An Eastern Embrace

"No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." 
1 Corinthians 10:13

Hong Kong is really beginning to feel like home. There was a specific moment when I realized this actually. It was the day we took our flight out to the Philippines. As we sat on the bus I looked out at the water and mountains with the city skyscrapers in the back and realized I was falling in love with Hong Kong. Its an incredible place, and there is for sure no other place like it. Hong Kong has all you could ever want - the city with all it's entertainment, the peace of the mountains, and the breeze of the sea. 

After I came back from the Philippines, I lost sight of that moment when crossing the bridge. Fortunately, the feelings that washed over me that day have been restored, and I've been using this renewed excitement to embrace the Eastern traditions of this city.

To foreground my first experience with the practice of mindfulness, I have to get a little vulnerable. For those of you who know me, you might know that I struggled with depression on and off for a couple of years. It was nothing major, but both a genetic and habitual reaction and something I battled. I have perfectionist tendencies, and I can be impatient and hard-headed. The Lord's delivered me a long way from these things, but I rest in the truth that working through issues like these is a continual process that requires a lot of work and can sometimes feel like a get up - fall down - get up - fall down process. You're always your harshest critic, but I'll admit that there are times that I feel too tired to get back up. Sometimes I allow myself to fall into complacency and those are the moments that scare me the most - because God doesn't promise us ease or lack of troubles, but he does promise that He will guide us and strengthen us as we battle and fight the way He has commanded us to.

So this is where I want to apologize. I want to say sorry for any time that I have presented a sugar-coated Gospel, talking only of the peace and joy and happiness that comes from the Lord and acting as if the Christian life is nothing but rainbows and butterflies. It is far from that. In fact, it's extremely difficult and I, like everyone, have hurts and weaknesses that sometimes feel unbearable. There are times that I feel overcome with grief, sadness, loneliness, and all around hurt. Yet even Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, and the most beautiful truth is that He understands our temptations and shortcomings! We all have them, and while the church has made such topics taboo - real Christians struggle with real issues like pornography, depression, greed, pride, low body image, alcoholism, and a number of other things. The point I'm trying to make, is that the church shouldn't be what we fear in these moments of hardship, it should be the place and people we feel most safe to run to - but are they? I'll be the first to admit that I can be a hypocrite. When I face a problem I just want to talk to someone who I know won't judge me and will listen and sit with me in my hurt. Yet when others come to me in the same context I am often the first to aim at a quick fix and tell them they need simply to lift their burdens to God and everything will be okay. Now, yes of course in Christian discipleship we should point others to Jesus - but let's face it, life hurts sometimes (a lot of times) and when there is an issue or a temptation sometimes it requires a long time to overcome. So telling someone to put a quick band aid on a huge wound is not meeting that persons real need, which is long-term, daily, continual rehabilitation. 

All that said, I've become more aware of those people in my life who know my deepest issue and who have said the quick "I'm praying for you" (so many thoughts on this line but I'll bite my tongue) and those who have actually walked with me through it. I remember specifically sitting in the kitchen of my little one-bedroom apartment, crying to my mom about hurt and depression. "I just want to move to China and live with monks on a mountain or something," and my mom saying "Sarah you could move to the jungle and live with monkeys for all I care, I just want you happy." Who would have thought that two and a half years later here I am learning the art of meditation in China. That's right, this morning I had my first go at meditation with my new "teacher," Wendy. By the time I had finished I had lost feeling in my hands and felt incredibly relaxed. This art which Wendy calls "mindfulness" is a way of focusing on the here and now, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. The simple act of focusing on your breath is actually not so simple at all. I realized that there are many times that we are told to meditate; whether it be with Scripture, a decision, or in devotion, but many of us have not actually been taught this skill. You see I'm a thinker and a planner, and those things combined can lead to a very-easily distracted devotional time. For this reason I often have to journal my prayers or highlight Scripture to tune my focus. Yet there are many times that I still fall into distraction or allow myself to cut my time short because of alllll the things I have to do that day (lousy excuse). So I feel that learning the art of meditation and the skill of focusing on here and now - will actually allow me to better dwell in the Spirit of the Lord and live each day, listening and submitting to Him. 

Wendy encouraged me to begin practicing meditation for at least 5 minutes a day, and assured me that it would not come easily - that it requires a long period of time to form the habit and master the skill...Hm sounds a lot like what is needed in overcoming weakness and fighting temptation. After meditating, I decided to go on a run in the park. (I'm really happy my hobby is running because it's incredible what you learn about a culture simply by visiting a park. As I passed people doing their Tai Chi, old women sweeping the pathway in their traditional hats and bamboo brooms, and an old man meditating by a tree I realized there is much to learn from Eastern practices. Our Western culture, which emphasizes efficiency, future goals, schedules, and independence, when taken too far, can cheat us out of many beautiful things - like the simple act of being, the experience of right now, the unity of family, and life outside of a clock. How much do we allow our cultural ideologies to effect our relationships? Efficiency doesn't always allow for helping someone on the side of the road; future goals can distract us from life here and now; schedules may not allow for last-minute late night chats; and independence leads us to consider surrendering to others a sign of weakness. Take that to the Christian life, and these types of Western ideologies can sometimes cause us to feel like failures if we're not healed the next day, still struggling with an issue that we've been lifting up in prayer for years, or not experiencing "success" as defined by the world. It may do us good to learn of traditional Eastern practice, which teaches one to slow down, to focus on the simple act of breathing, and to just be. Maybe it's not a matter of East vs. West, "us" vs "them," "right" vs "wrong," maybe God intended us to learn from one another. While I am here, I look forward to learning Eastern traditions and teaching Western ones. It's this mutual partnership that can lead to a strengthening of the church and believers, and I'm excited to be a part of that.  

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