companion on the shared journey

I had an experience I haven’t had for a very very long time; I had a chance encounter with someone who shared my faith.

Now, being a Christian in America, that doesn’t sound like it would be such a rare thing, but it is. To meet a stranger who is on their own unique dialect of the intentional journey you’re on, seeking God and spiritual formation passionately and honestly, not doing it for recognition or favors or obligation… what a privilege to meet someone like that.

He came in the form of an old man walking into my shop to ask me if I knew anything about the little church next door. One moment later, we were swapping church in the area recommendations and I was telling him about the best church I’ve ever attended. Two moments later, we parted as friends, as brother and sister, with a “God’s blessings on you.”

It was such a small thing, but it moved me. In a time where sarcasm is praised and authenticity is condemned as naivety, camaraderie is truly precious.

I hope he comes back to my shop someday.

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goodbye to my elemental friend

I think my relationship with the elemental is officially over.

I went down to their forest today, as I have every few days since I’ve been home. I stood there, gazing into the quiet shaded green, trying to sense anything at all that would show that they weren’t gone. Even just for the sensation of being watched. But I felt nothing.

As I stood there, puzzled and missing them, I asked God why I couldn’t sense them anymore. “Because you have me in your heart, there is no room for anything else,” he answered.

That wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear and I fought him on it. Shouldn’t having him lodged in my heart allow me to have more room for others, not less?

He clarified that I didn’t have that aching hole in my heart anymore. I wasn’t reaching out to the elemental to satisfy my spiritual longing anymore. And then it struck me, like finally understanding a foreign language: he was the one who had brought the elemental to me in the first place.

At the time, I was lonely and not getting the companionship I craved. I was also spiritually starved, but my hatred of the church was keeping me from filling that need, too. I was stuck in limbo, and that spirit proved to be just the kind of friend I needed.

A lump rose in my throat and tears came to my eyes. I still miss my friend, but I am more grateful than ever for the time we had together. Wherever they are now and whatever they’re up to, I wish them nothing but the deepest blessings. And while I don’t know if we’ll ever meet again, I’ll keep an eye open, just in case.

Planning Your Way to Enlightenment

I’ve been trying to manage God.

I want enlightenment so badly. I want to merge and disappear into the Holy Spirit so much it’s almost a physical ache. So I had been trying to plan out how to achieve that, keeping a strict eye on the horizon to make sure that I’m staying on course and that I’m progressing fast enough. As though developing a relationship was as simple and linear as reading a book. But it isn’t.

The only way to achieve intimacy and enlightenment is to do as that old Christian song says and let Jesus/the Holy Spirit drive the car.

The only way to take the next step is to let go. We are finite and we don’t know the path to enlightenment. God does, and he wants us to reach it even more than we want to reach it ourselves.

So do what you know is good for you (ex. pray, meditate, learn, practice), but do it without keeping an eye on your progress.

Trust that if you go where God leads, he will lead you where you are meant to go.

American Church and the “Real Christian”

I’ve been going to a new church with my friends and it is unlike any church I’ve been to.

We lovingly call it “hipster church,” but jokes aside, seeing a church thriving that holds different cultural views than the ones typically associated with church is refreshing. It’s nice to see a church that is quite liberal and still just as serious about seeking and knowing the truth as the conservative ones.

When it’s come to Christianity, I’ve been disheartened by how pervasively sticky culture becomes, how it saturates what we call truth and is then spread around with it as universal, objective truth.

It has been a mission of mine, by spending times outside my culture, to see what in Christianity is purely cultural, and what is true no matter where you go. The two are very different.

There’s nothing wrong with the cultural aspects to religion, but they shouldn’t be welded irremovably to each other. When they are, churches start creating oddly specific sins, saying things like “Real Christians will boycott Disney for this or that reason.” They end up making the price to enter too steep, so eventually people stop entering.

Never mind that God has already invited everyone to know him deeply, even those who like Disney.

Religion vs. Spirituality

It seems to me that, while religion and spirituality go hand in hand, they are not the same thing.

Spirituality, in the broadest term, is the conscious recognition that things exist in this world. Whether you believe in a spiritual realm or whether you believe that the physical is all that exists, everyone has their own spirituality. Everyone understands that the world has many facets and that these facets work in a specific way.

Religion, then, is the practical application of this understanding. What do we do with this knowledge? What is the healthiest way to live, taking all of reality into consideration? What is the balance of discipline and relaxation that best allows a person to live to the fullest?

That is the real question. There are probably a few objectively right answers in there, but not nearly as many as people think.

Devoted but not Loyal

I’m starting to get burnt out on church again.

I’ve been going to church every week for the past two months: compared to my previous record of once or twice a month. It was great for a while, but the last few weeks I’ve just felt stagnant. And I don’t know if it’s a stagnancy I need to wade through or one I need to change.

When it comes to Christianity, I’m devoted, but I’m not loyal. I believe that, if God/the Universe/the Life Stream is everything–is the beginning, middle, and end of all that exists–no religion, and definitely no church, owns him. Therefore, if a method of connecting to him isn’t working, there’s no shame in leaving and trying something else.

Before I returned to church, my Sundays were spent quietly with coffee and toast, listening to a sermon or other spiritual teaching while playing video games. On mornings when the weather was nice, or when God had something particularly pressing to speak with me about, I would go on a walk or go to the woods to meditate.

I miss those mornings. But at the same time, when I had those mornings, I missed meeting with other Christians and the spiritual stability that church brings.

I need to find a balance.

For now, I think I will continue going to the church I found in Tokyo because I do have good friends there. I’m only here for four more weeks and I want to make the most of the time I have left.

 

not like this

My best friends’ dad died today. He left a wife and four children, two of them in middle school.

As I was trying to get ready for the day, weeping, I heard God speak. “This is why you are going back (to America),” he said, “to be there for them. Improve your empathy, because they will need it.”

I like finding out what my next step is, but not like this. Not like this.

Meditation Corner

Some of the best advice I’ve heard about getting better at prayer and meditation was from a speaker at a conference I went to in high school. He advised us to create a “sanctuary in our room.” In other words, create a nook you can go to that is only used for prayer or meditation. In that way, you will be better able to focus and hopefully spend less time playing “tie down the monkeys” with your stray thoughts.

There used to be this tree a short walk from my house that bordered a wheat field. It had long, drooping branches and in the summer, its thick leafy branches touched the top of the wheat, creating a secret little spot in the shade. I went there to meditate as often as I could manage.

When I couldn’t manage, I took all the pictures off of one of the walls in my room and set a chair there, facing the corner.

These days, I find sitting on the floor in the dark, or with a candle or incense, more effective than the chair in the corner. But I still prefer to meditate outside when possible, if I can find somewhere I won’t be disturbed.

The Agreement

I am in Japan on a Tourist Visa, which means I cannot work while here. And, because I cannot work, money has been tight. I have to think about the remaining months, I have to think about rent and other bills and food and transportation, and make sure that the money I saved earlier this year covers all of that.

Needless to say, it’s a point of stress for me. Especially when things keep arising that I hadn’t budgeted for.

But in this season, as in all seasons, I know God will take care of me. It was part of our agreement, after all, when I welcomed him into myself. I will use all my resources to follow him, and in return, he will take care of me in the way he decides is best.

He has been surprising me with little gifts lately, as is his way. Just little things to show his support. An entrance fee was refunded to me. My friends’ party ended up being smaller than expected, so the “chipping in” cost was removed. I even found almost 200 yen ($2) in the bottom of my purse.

They were all nice surprises, but the nicest thing about them is knowing who they were from, and why they were given to me. It’s as if God was saying. “See? I’ll take care of you. You don’t have to worry.”

So I won’t worry. I’ll try to trust instead.

Sin as Contextual

Determining whether something is sin is a lot like determining whether two chemicals mixed together are going to explode: it depends what you are mixing with what.

Some chemicals are prone to explode on their own, and some actions are bad news for whoever participates in them. Things like murder. That one’s pretty cut and dry.

But most chemicals only explode when mixed with specific other chemicals. In the same way, whether or not something is harmful differs from person to person. What is harmful for one person is just fine for another. What is fine in one situation is not fine in another.

For example, it was noble to lie to protect Jews from Nazis. But it is not noble to lie to protect myself from embarrassment.

Another example is porn. For some people, it adds to their intimacy with their partner and helps them explore their sexuality. For others, it fosters harmful fantasies and thoughts.

To make matters even more gray, there may be things that didn’t used to be okay for someone to engage in but they are now, and vice versa.

Actions and thoughts affect each person differently. That’s why there’s no point to judging others.