Kong See Fatt Chai: Reflection on Lunar Chinese New Year by Alex Tang —
The greatest annual human migration on earth often goes unnoticed by the world. Every year, between January 10 to February 18, billions of Chinese people will rush home to celebrate the Lunar New Year Spring Festival with their families. This year CNN estimated 3 billion people are making the trip by rail, cars, air, and sea. This tradition to spend the dinner with their families (reunion dinner) on Chinese Lunar New Year eve is the major festive event on the Chinese calendar. Spring is a time of new birth, where the old year is left behind, and a new year is welcomed. The Chinese will make sure all debts are paid before the year ends. This is similar to the Jewish Passover and Jubilee festival.
The seasons of death and rebirth is deeply ingrained into the Chinese culture due to their close observation of the four seasons. The ancient Chinese are monotheistic. They worship a one god called Shang Di, whose attributes are very similar to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Unfortunately, under the Emperor Qin Huang Ti, the dragon replace Shang Di as the center of worship, and he himself become the ‘ancestral dragon’. The dragon, in Chinese culture, is regarded as good and beneficent, unlike the dragon/serpent in the West. Thus the Chinese people was deceived and undergoes generations of intense suffering and pain under the Deceiver. We have only to look at their long history of suffering under their Dragon Emperors, warlords, and recent history under the Communists.
Every Lunar Chinese New Year brings a theme of hope. A new year with a fresh start. The possibility of being better than the previous year. That is why it is such an important Chinese festival. And why so many Chinese make their annual long journey home. Some will travel days or weeks. It is to be with family at the close of the old year, and to welcome, hopefully a better year, with family. During the New Year day, the Chinese wish each other “Kong Hee Fatt Chai” meaning “wishing you prosperity in health and wealth”.
Every New Year brings hope of spiritual renewals. Isaiah notes that the Messiah will deliver the peoples from darkness including the Chinese people!
Isaiah 49:12 (NKJV)
12 Surely these shall come from afar; Look! Those from the north and the west, And these from the land of Sinim.”
The Hebrew word Sinim in the Mesoretic text means Chinese. Most scholars find it strange that Isaiah will mention Chinese so they look around for a similar sounding tribe. They found a tribe, the Syennites, who lived near the Aswan, which is in the south.
Isaiah 49:12 (NIV)
12 See, they will come from afar— some from the north, some from the west, some from the region of Aswan.”
The only reason Aswan was chosen is because the translators and scholars was trying to fit everything into the context of what Isaiah was saying. Isaiah mentioned north and west. It was the translators and scholars who chose the Syennites (south) instead of the Chinese (east). It is strange that they did not look east. Nevertheless, Jesus will deliver the Chinese people from the darkness and this new decade will see a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit among a country which is unleashing another level of persecution on Christians and other religious traditions. Out of this refining fire will come a stronger Church; one purified by suffering and pain. The Lunar Chinese New Year brings hope. Hope for new beginnings, new life, and a prosperous new year.
By Denise Moore —
Last week my husband and I drove down the mountain to Fort Collins to attend the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. March & Celebration. I was really excited to gather with a diverse group of folks to celebrate the life of a man who was so instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement and also to bring awareness to the fact that much still needs to be done.
It doesn’t really seem like much. Most likely it won’t make a real difference in anyone’s life except perhaps my own. When I look at my heroes of activism like the ones shown on the card in the picture above, I am awed by the contributions they each made. The card was given to me by a dear friend and coworker who happened to be a dedicated activist herself and spent 50 years as a member of Sisters of St. Agnes. The heart shaped rock was left at my door years ago by two neighbor girls. It reminds me that my purpose is to love. Love fuels my desire for justice; it fueled Sister Judith’s desire for justice as well. What can I do? Can I really make a difference? There is no way I will ever be like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Dorothy Day. Then I am reminded that I have been made for a purpose. We are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (Eph. 2: 10 CEB Translation) Perhaps my life destiny isn’t one of grandeur and fame. Truthfully, I’m fine with that but I do want to make a difference in my world.
Sometimes when we look at the great leaders in any movement, we asked ourselves, “What difference can I make?” The fact is, we many never know what impact our actions have on those around us. Dorothy Day said, “We can change the world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its’ ever widening circle will reach around the world.”
A few years ago we went to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in in Atlanta, GA. This mural is painted on a wall at this center and serves as a backdrop to the statue of Gandhi. This mural is a powerful reminder to me…Dr. King could not have done what he did without the thousands of “regular” folk who supported his leading. When you look at the this mural it highlights Dr. King but it also highlights all of the unknown people who marched and protested and sacrificed for the civil rights of others. Some of these people even gave up their lives for the cause. Regular people like you and me found the issue of human rights so important that they realized the good thing God had planned for their life was to live their life…walk daily…in pursuit of civil rights.
One such man was Jerry Pogue. I had just been hired for the BEST job ever as the director of a small nonprofit called The Quest For Social Justice (now part of Mobile Interfaith Conference https://mobileareainterfaith.org/) and was attending a Bridges dinner that we sponsored. The idea behind these quarterly dinners was that if people of diverse cultures gather around a table with facilitated discussion, bridges will be built. I was lucky enough to be seated at a table with Jerry. The topic that year was “law enforcement” and after a local sheriff’s talk about racial profiling, the table facilitator asked Jerry if he had ever been racially profiled. Jerry, a gentle giant with a deep southern voice, replied, “Well, I’ve been arrested nine times but it was always for something I did.” He went on to spend the next forty minutes telling stories of his work as an organizer for MLK. I kept pinching myself, amazed that I was getting paid for this sacred experience.
Jerry told us that of the nine times he was arrested he went to the emergency room three of those times before heading to jail. He had been beaten so badly that he required medical attention. I asked him how he took the beating without fighting back and he told us that he had literally grown up in a church. His father was a minister and he watched time and time again as his father helped people in need. He told us that as they beat him, he kept telling himself that there would be people in jail who needed his help and if he was in solitary confinement (where they would have put trouble makers) that he wouldn’t be able to help them. He also said that Dr. King had drilled it into them that if they fought back then they would negate the message they were trying to bring. “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”and “Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.” Martin Luther King, Jr. Jerry was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things (you can read his obituary here which gives a detailed description of Jerry’s impactful yet ordinary life).
We don’t have to take great steps towards civil rights, we only have to take daily, small steps in our ordinary lives…and that makes all the difference.
by Christine Sine
I am currently working on a new series of prayer cards – this one consists of some of my breathing prayers, one of my favourite types of prayers to write. It has provided a great opportunity not just to remind myself of some of these prayers, but also to refresh my memory on the importance of such prayers and the breathing exercises that can so richly enhance their use. Below is an excerpt from one of my previous books Return to Our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray, where I first explored this type of prayer.
The Jesus Prayer
It was the Desert Fathers and Mothers withdrawing into the Egyptian desert about three centuries after Christ to pray and meditate on God’s word, who really developed breath prayers as a spiritual discipline. Evidently they would often sit outside their cells weaving baskets and contemplating Christ’s presence in quiet solitude meditating on short, one breath prayers. They breathed in God’s word slowly and deeply, reverently repeating the prayer over and over, letting it permeate their minds and descend into their hearts. Sometimes they would breathe their prayer before going to sleep at night, repeating it until it lodged deep in their souls. When they woke in the morning the prayer was still on their lips.
Many scholars believe that the Desert Fathers and Mothers picked up one of the most common prayers of the Psalmist: “Lord, have mercy” and developed it into a breath prayer that later became known as the Jesus Prayer. Sometimes it is expanded as “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. For more information visit Soul Shepherding.
Richard Rohr feels that the very name Yahweh is designed to sound like breathing. We breathe in and out YH WH from the moment we are born, until we die. Each breath we take is a reminder of the God who created our universe.
Not surprisingly, many of us continue to find breathing prayers provide wonderfully enriching ways to deepen our intimacy with God. Some breathing prayers, like the name YHWH and the Jesus prayer, are simple exercises in breathing in and out that calm our spirits and center our attention on the God who is life and love. They usually involve the use of a simple word or phrase from scripture. Here is one example of a well used breath prayer that draws from Psalm 23. Breathe in slowly and deeply as you whisper or think: “The Lord is my Shepherd…” Hold your breath and your consciousness of God’s presence… And then exhale as you whisper or think: “…I shall not want.”
Other breathing prayers are more complex. They can be used to remind us of the incredible transformation that God has initiated and will one day bring to completion in all of us. Other breathing prayers remind us of our commitment to see God’s world transformed into a place peace and abundance for all. Still other breathing prayers can draw us into that intimate place of communion with a God who loves us more deeply than we can ever imagine.
Expand Your Breathing Practices
Over the last few years I have composed a number of breathing prayers that move beyond the simple calming and centering of the Jesus prayer. Some, like this next prayer are wonderful reminders for me of the characteristics of the God’s whose breath I inhale. At the same time they encourage me, as I exhale, to expel from myself all that is not of God.
Breathing prayers are not about emptying ourselves so that we feel a void inside. They are about renewing our minds by saturating ourselves with the presence of God. I like to imagine that the outward breath creates a new space for God to fill. The inward breath draws something new of God’s character into me. As I breathe this prayer I visualize myself breathing in a little more of God and who God intends me to be and letting go of some of what is not of God.
Breathe out empty yourself: of hate, of fear, of anxiety,
Breathe in fill yourself with love, with life, with mercy.
Breathe out empty yourself of busyness, of selfishness of greed,
Breathe in fill yourself with peace, with joy, with hope.
Breathe out empty yourself of idolatry, of self worship, of false gods,
Breathe in fill yourself with God, with Christ, with the Holy Spirit.
Breathing prayers can also form an important foundation for our engagement in the pain and suffering of God’s world. I wrote the following prayer to remind myself that breath cannot be held to oneself. We must breathe it back out into the world. I am called to be both a contemplative and an activist and I as I take notice of my breathing I am reminded constantly of that.
Breathe in the love of God,
Breathe out and share it with the world.
Breathe in the peace of God,
Breathe out and share it with the world.
Breathe in the life of God,
Breathe out and share it with the world.
Breathe in all that is of God,
Breathe out and share it with the world.
Obviously this is a very different understanding of the outward breath than I described above. This double meaning is very much in keeping with the physical act of breathing out however. We breathe out to expel toxic substances from your body, cleansing and renewing our blood. That outgoing breath can also be a source of life to others however. Mouth to mouth resuscitation depends on this. That breath which cleanses and renews our bodies, holds something of the life giving presence of God which goes back out into the world to renew the life of others.
Yesterday I received this email from Pastor June who has been working through The Gift of Wonder with a special group. I love the creativity that the book has inspired and am grateful for the ways that June and others are using it. Her email reminded me that I have not yet shared the Gift of Wonder Bonus Packet we have just made available.
This note is so long overdue but it is imperative that I write and let you know a snippet of how my Gift of Wonder group is doing. It has been an interesting for sure. It has caught some of them maybe a little off guard when I challenge them with assignments – but then to see the wonder and creativity that they get into – it is such a blessing. The last time we met, two weeks ago today, (we meet every other week) we did the chapter with the seed bomb assignment. Since it is indeed a challenge as to where we would be able to throw them we discussed other options. I thought – how about putting little notes/words in a balloon and giving them to people randomly. One lady, who will miss tonight because of illness, did just that. She put ten notes in a balloon and gave them to a lady who lives in the same complex as she does whose best friend recently died. She told the lady to pop the balloon for a surprise – after the lady followed the instructions she had hugs and thanks for the lady who gave it to her. (They both live in a senior housing project).
Painting of rocks has also been something that has intrigued several of them. Two of them have found painted rocks when they have been out – one outside a restaurant and one in the parking lot at a grocery store. A couple of them have hid rocks. An interesting share by one of the ladies who lost her husband quickly at the age of 63 (she is 56) after she has been in the group was that she had hid a painted rock in plain site on a park bench where many people were walking by and no one even noticed or paid any attention as she watched for a while. She observed, “How can people be so unobservant?” We discussed how many of us are the same or were the same before I started challenging them to do the book activities – ‘take a walk, and what do you see?’
This book has given me the opportunity to also challenge people gently to think about God being a part of their lives. Some of them have been extremely hurt by the church/church leaders and really struggle with a relationship with God for themselves. One lady who I did not know at all, brought by her friend is opening to the fact that the reality of God is possible.
Because of the creativity that is emerging from the book we have put together a special bonus packet which describes some of the exercises in more detail and makes suggestions from some of the creative ideas that it has inspired in others. Enjoy and please send your own feedback. I would love to hear what the reading of my book has stirred in your life.
Also don’t forget that if you have not yet purchased your copy of The Gift of Wonder it is available from these outlets:
or you can also order The Gift of Wonder with our beautiful prayer cards only available through the Godspace store.
by Christine Sine
Saturday was my 69th birthday. Not a big milestone you might think and a seemingly inauspicious event on my journey through life. Yet this has been a very special celebration and as I enter my 70th year on this beautiful God inspired and God created world, it makes me realize how special every day and every celebration is.
Part of what this weekend, and in fact the whole week that went before it has taught me is how important it is to keep my eyes and ears open for the special things that God is saying and doing in my life. It has reinforced how important the times of reflection and contemplation are and the joys that come to us when we seek to be fully attentive to the presence of God.
The card above was drawn for me by my dear friend Kim who is recovering from heart transplant surgery. It started as a doodle with her non dominant hand which she then colored. Hopefully you can see the dancing figure that has now become my image and dream for Kim. She still needs a walker, but I pray for the day when she will be able to dance as free and joyously as this figure.
Kim, an expressive art’s therapist inspired me greatly when I was writing The Gift of Wonder, so to receive this card, one of her first poems and reflective doodles in months was incredibly special and it will sit on my desk, an ongoing inspiration to me, for many months to come.
Inside was poem Kim wrote for me:
not the finesse of a flamenca
or the thrust of tango,
but with wobbly legs
where am I, who am I?
With great gulps of air,
finding a breath rhythm to keep me going.
I follow new born heart,
butterflied with wonder,
waiting in now
arms reach out to dance, hug,
to hold my shaky fingers and hands
as if to say, “LIVE!”
Kim’s journey over the last few months has been slow and arduous yet it has also been an inspiration for many. It was wonderful to be able to celebrate with her and her husband as she came to spend her first night home since her ordeal began.
Notice the glowing Lights
The weekend before, I was in Colorado. A weekend with Kathy Escobar, conducting a workshop at The Refuge allowed lots of time to talk. I felt that her finger labyrinth summed up much of what we talked about – Trust the path! What an important reminder for all of us. At one point Kathy asked me:
WHAT DO YOU LACK IN YOUR LIFE?
What an important question for all of us to ask periodically, not so that we can make a great list of all the things we would like to have but so we can evaluate where we are at and what we think God would like us to journey towards.
My answer: NOTHING. Life is not perfect. There are struggles and challenges, but when I look at what really matters, I lack nothing. I hope you can say the same.
From there I journeyed to Estes Park with Godspace bloggers Michael and Denise Moore. What a privilege to get some face to face time with these special people. Again we talked, and talked and talked. Kindred spirits on the journey through life.On my last morning with the Denise and I took a long walk through the town and around a lake. We began in the dark and the first photo I took was of a fairytale land of winter lights. It summed up my feelings this week – a wonderland of God’s light shining around me as journey into this 70th year. Some of it is shining directly from God as the light of the moon does (or at least that is how it feels) and some of it is shining in the “trees” – the people around me. All of it providing a rich and enriching glow of God’s presence.
Take a few minutes to sit and think about the lights that shine around you. Maybe life is difficult for you at the moment. Maybe it is easy, but for all of us there are lights shining that aids our journey. What and who provides that rich glow of God’s presence at this time?
by Christine Sine
I have just created a new contemplative garden. This one has an Australian theme and is surrounded by some of the photos and artwork that I have from Australia. It probably doesn’t surprise you, as, even though there has now been rain in many of the worst effected parts of the country, the consequences of the fires are still to be both evaluated and dealt with. There is much to do and so much that provides a focus for prayer, meditation and contemplation as I move through this season of Epiphany.
Evolution of A Contemplative Garden
It all started when a friend gave me a bunch of eucalyptus leaves as a gift of empathy when the fires were at their worst. Hmm I thought What a wonderful centerpiece for a new contemplative garden. Consequently this garden has some rare unique features to it. The vase, tea light and feather vase are all made from banksia pods, one of my favorite unique Australian flowers. One vase holds the eucalyptus leaves, the other some cockatoo feathers I brought back from Australia. Behind the vases are a couple of aboriginal paintings and behind those a painting of galahs one of my favourite Australian birds. In front is an untouched banksia pod, and a couple of rocks I picked up in Australia many years ago.
The garden itself looks barren, though I am about to scatter seed which I will water each week with the hope that they will germinate and bring life to the garden.
The recovery of the Australian bush will take years, and the trees will always bear the black scars of fire. Some of the forests will regenerate. In fact the process has already started. One of the wonderful things about eucalyptus trees is that the outer bark may burn but the tree itself regrows after the fire. And some of the grasses seem to need the fire for their survival.
Much of the forest will not regrow, and of course the people and the animals that have died will not return. But the forest will be renewed and as I pray, that is what I pray for.
Meditation on a Garden.
As I sit in my sacred space each morning these are the thoughts that have lodged in my mind and provided many minutes of prayer, contemplation and inspiration each morning.
The cycle of life, death and resurrection is embedded in the whole of creation. As I look at the photos of regeneration in the Australian bush I am inspired by the ways that God has imprinted the story of Christ – life, death and resurrection – into the whole of creation. It is truly amazing and hope giving.
When fire burns it leaves scars that never go away. If you walk through a eucalyptus forest five years after a bushfire has swept through it looks untouched on the surface but when you get close the blackened scars are evident. The tree has survived in spite of its traumatic past and is probably stronger because of it. Trauma can cause our lives to become stronger too. And it is often out of the scars that the new leaves and the new life grows. It reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem and the post I wrote several years ago reminding us to stay close to the cracks because it is in the cracks, the broken places of our lives, where violence flares and pain cries out that healing also happens.
Catastrophe brings out the best in people. I am reading so many incredible and inspirational stories of how strangers worked tirelessly to help save lives and homes. Some gave their lives. Others gave up their jobs and their livelihood to help. It reminds me of when I read A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. This I believe is the image of God deeply rooted within each human being. It wells up and bursts forth in the most awful situations.
In the midst of pain and suffering there is always sharing and caring. The outpouring of money from around the world for the firefighters, for those that have lost their homes and for the animals that have been injured is heartwarming. Like many of us I have been particularly touched by those who are knitting socks for koalas and pouches for kangaroos. Their efforts say I feel your pain and I want to do what I can to relieve it.
There are other beautiful forms of sharing too that have become apparent in the aftermath of the fire. I love the story of the wombat burrows that evidently stretch over long distances and probably provided shelter for a diverse array of animals during the fires.
Don’t Forget the Others. It was my birthday on Saturday and I had planned to do a Facebook fundraiser for the bushfire victims, but then I received a card from friends who work in Haiti, and I felt God say – don’t forget the victims of earthquakes and hurricanes in Puerto Rico, many of whom still lack housing, Don’t forget my friends in Haiti who have worked for 10 years to alleviate the suffering of that earthquake. And don’t forget the work my friends do in Juarez Mexico through Arrow Outreach to provide educational scholarships for young people to help move them out of poverty. (The latter is now my Facebook fundraising appeal so maybe you would like to respond.)
When we are in pain, or if someone we love is suffering it is hard for us to think about the suffering of others. Part of what I realized this week is that even when we are in pain or grieving for someone else who is, we need to stretch outside our comfort zones to remember and respond to the pain and suffering of others.
The promise of newness beckons even in the most challenging situations. It reminds me of the prayer I wrote for New Year’s Day 2019 which begins
The promise of newness beckons
like freshness after the rain.
Let it rise from the ashes of the past,
Hope where none seems possible.
When we have faith there is always hope and promise.
In the last couple of days I have been looking for images of hope and promise in the aftermath of the bushfires. I have relished the photos like those above posted on facebook by my friend David Knox of the regrowth that has already begun. I have also enjoyed articles like this that speak of the unexpected efforts that firefighters have gone through to save special parts of our creation heritage. More than anything I am deeply touched by this photo of a little boy who is rejoicing in the rain that he last saw six months ago. In many ways it says it all. Rain will come. Delight and joy in God will return to even the most damaged landscape and damaged person.
What Is Your Response.
Prayerfully spend a few minutes meditating on the image above.
When was the last time you felt a fire had swept through your life? What scars do you carry that indicate where God might want bring new growth?
Where has the rain fallen and the joy bubbled up from within?
As you think about this what is your response? Write a prayer, sing a song, draw a picture, get up and dance. Allow the loving presence of God to embrace you.
by Lilly Lewin
I’ve posted this before, but it’s a great practice for Epiphany, January, or even next year post Advent…Looking back at your year and doing some reflection before moving into the New Year. This Reflection/Practice can be done individually, with your family, roommates, small group, youth group, or your entire church community. I originally created this meditation/reflection for a Diocese of Southern Ohio gathering using a created center on each round table of ten people. Then I led the reflection verbally and people responded in silence. It is even more impactful when you invite people to take time to journal from the questions. You can always do a both/and where you lead the reflection and then have a written copy for folks to take home and continue to consider, pray with or journal from in the weeks ahead. We did this as a part of our thiniplaceNASHVILLE gathering last week, and I realized that there were lots more things I needed to be grateful for in 2019 than I’d thought! I sadly had been looking at all the trash on my path and not all the gifts! We each took home a star to remind us to look for the gifts along the way this year and to be thankful for these!
Know that even though it’s the middle of January, there is still time to reflect on last year and prepare for the year ahead with Jesus!
Round Tray, Large Pillar Candle, sand, stones or rocks, trash that reflects your location, ribbons, confetti, small packages, glow in the dark stars: things remind you of celebration. Enough stars for number of participants to take home.
Looking Back and Looking Forward….Look at the Center Piece.
Consider the Smooth Space
The Rough and Rocky Space
A Space filled with Trash
A Space filled with Celebration and Stars
Consider your Journey in the Past year…Consider the path you’ve been walking.
What were the smooth spots ? Take time to thank God for these.
What were the Rocky Spots? Talk to God about them. Did you feel God’s presence or did God feel absent? Tell God your heart.
Were there times when you felt like you were traveling through trash?
Were there people who threw trash on your path?
Take time to talk to God about this. This may be heavy. Feel what you need to feel, then
Allow God to help you begin to forgive.
Whose path did you throw trash on this year?
Allow God to forgive you for this.
What were the gifts of this past year?
What were the celebrations that you can be thankful for?
The People, the Places, the Opportunities…..
Take some time and remember.
Take time to feel the joy and the pleasure of those gifts.
Take time to be grateful.
What about the year ahead? How does your path look?
What things do you need for your Journey in 2020? Take time to consider this.
Know that God is with you in the smooth and in the rough places.
What path are you walking tonight?
Where are you with your walk with Jesus?
Are you following His Star…willing to go where He goes?
Are you stuck in the Palace afraid to leave it?
Are you stuck in old habits afraid you’ll never get out?
Are you willing to leave your comfort zone as the Magi did and go on an Adventure?
Are you walking with Jesus by your side?
Have you even invited Jesus along …is He chasing you?
Are you chasing Him? Have you left Him far behind?
Talk to Jesus about where you are today and where you want to go this New Year.
Take home a star to remind you to watch for the gifts along the way.