Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The World Imagined

The World Imagined

The World
What a beautiful place it Could Be
A place where children can run around free
And parents can live with no worries
What a beautiful place it Would Be
If people
taught themselves a new vocabulary
So that hopefully
Every hurtful word is replace by words of positivity
The world Should Be a beautiful place
If we stop judging each other by religion, sexual orientation, gender or race
We should learn to welcome those differences with warm embrace
We should learn to co exist
Can you Imagine a world like that?
How about we stop imagining
And change the words Could Be, Would Be, Should Be
To just the word IS
Let us start making the changes within ourselves
So we can change this world.

The celebration of Christmas offers us an opportunity to celebrate God who is already present within us, to wait joyfully for God’s second arrival, and to revel in the mystery of life. It is a time of many good memories: “the simple joy that we find in decorating the Christmas tree, the multiple and colorful ornaments and the stories that goes with each one, the fireplace, the little pleasures from the taste of eggnog and cookies, and the chatter…  Friendship, family, community, peace, love, happiness, and togetherness…” All of these and more I have been gifted with this year while celebrating Christmas with the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia. In this snapshot of a moment, I am reminded of the world that God created. I am also reminded, as sharers of that creation of our responsibility to bring forth happiness, love, compassion, and kindness to those that we encounter.
We started our Christmas celebration with a party while decorating the tree. Then, right after evening prayer, we went into the community room and exchange presents. Throughout Advent, each of us had an Advent Angel, all of us praying for one another. During Advent, I enjoyed going to my mailbox everyday to find a prayer, a thought, a quote, a poem, telling me that someone is thinking of me and praying for me on that day. On Christmas Eve, we got to reveal ourselves to our Advent Angel and exchange presents. There was so much laughter in that room. We all guessed who our advent angel was, but many of us were wrong.  It was nice to finally put a face on that person who was praying for us and thank her.  Then, we went to dinner.  Many of us benefited from a nap after our meal.   As for me, I needed to get ready for midnight mass, which was really at midnight.  The mass was beautiful! After mass, we invited the community to share bread, coffee and tea with us.  After our late night, we got up early for Morning Prayer and mass. And again, we share a wonderful meal with each other.
Since I started with my work in Bristow, I saw so much despair: the broken families, the mistreatment of children, the abuse of women, homelessness, poverty, and all the challenges that one faces when she or he immigrates to another country. Yet, I have also seen courage, perseverance, and humility. Equally important, I have gain yet another family; a family that is teaching me balance, prayer, peace, love, patience, compassion and kindness with myself and those that I encounter. With the help of so many great role models, I do not believe that I am changing the world in any major way, but I do think that I am doing my part.
The mystic Meister Eckhart once said that we are all a seed of God, each called to be mother of God. During the Christmas season, once again we recognize that God is not coming down to earth another time to perform miracles in the face of so much despair.  The God we are worshipping does not seem to rescue us from “evildoers”. Instead, through the Holy Spirit, God has given us the knowledge of life and death, the knowledge and the ability to choose life in all of its diversity to transform God’s world.  Like Mary, we are called to compassion, to connection with our brothers and sisters, to love one another, to share each other’s hurt and to offer kindness, to recognize that no matter how seemingly different we are from each other, we are all intricately connected, and like the South African proverb says, Ubuntu, I am because you are. In other words, with all our differences, we make up a community. Who and where is God in that community? The answer lies within us. God is present when we recognize the other’s pain, when we are not blind to the other’s sufferings, when we offer kindness, a listening ear, and a helping hand to those around us. God is present when we realize that we are part of the other, and the other is part of us, that we are not so different after all.

I pray that the good memories of this Christmas Season carry forth to the New Year and may each one of you be richly blessed this new year!


Saturday, November 30, 2013

In Thanksgiving

“We need to thank God not solely for what we have, but also for who we are, since we are created in the image of God.”
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I have a lot to be thankful for; a family that loves me, friends that supports me; and a loving community that I have been welcomed into…  When I think about all that I have and all my privileges, I recognize that I am blessed.
                  Yet, if I am honest with myself, I realize that it is often hard for me to be thankful and to recognize my blessings. What I struggle with the most is accepting myself with all my faults, my struggles, and my qualities.  There is restlessness within me. I yearn for more. If I was smarter, more talented, more this and more that, perhaps I would be more lovable, or so I believe.
                  I see myself in a lot of the people that I serve, whether at BARN or at BEACON.  We all have our vulnerabilities, our fragilities, and our weaknesses.  We connect through our common struggles, our desires to overcome them and become the best person that we can be.  I see it in the mothers who, despite their abusive and oppressive past, see BARN as a second chance and tries desperately to provide a better life for themselves and their children.  I see it in the immigrants who, despite not knowing how to read and write in their native language, try their hardest to learn the language of their adoptive country in the hope of a better future.  All around me, if I take the time to see, I recognize those tender moments in life.
                  What I need to do is be thankful for them, is to recognize the blessings in those life experiences and struggles. I need to see them as God’s way of shaping my life.  I need to learn to be joyful despite what I believe to be my failures.
                  In her book, Called to Question, Joan Chittister said, “… We far too often expect joy to come to us rather than realizing that we have a spiritual responsibility to make it for ourselves.” Though it is hard to find joy in my struggles, weakness, and vulnerabilities, those life experiences often shaped me to be a more understanding, compassionate, and hospitable person.  If I am able to bring joy to others, I frequently find that I am joyful myself.  I believe that it is by accepting ourselves, all that we are, with all our faults and qualities, that we learn to lean on each other, support each other, and embrace each other through our incompleteness.

I hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving and I will be keeping all of you in my thoughts and prayers during this advent season!


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The God in Others

This semester, I have had the privilege of being a co-facilitator for the Beginner Conversation class at BEACON, the adult literacy program.  At times, it can be challenging.  Imaging having a conversation with a group of students, many of who known very few words of English.  After all, my students are at the foundation level. But, it is my favorite class. I am biased of course!
                  Just a few days ago, I have been granted the biggest compliment. “Christina, would you mind being my teacher forever”, one of the brightest of my students said.  Others echoed him.  This was toward the end of class, after I had shared with them my own experience as an immigrant; coming to a country where I did not known anybody, I did not even understand the language, and I left all that was familiar to me behind…  Although I spoke in English, they understood.
                  As I reflect upon that day, I came to understand that as human, we want to be understood.  We deeply crave for someone to understand our pain, our burden, our memories and to say “I know, I have been there, I understand what you are going through”…
                  As Christians, we have been thought to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We feel responsible to care for those who are less fortunate, “the needy.” Yet, I find that we often distance ourselves from those we are helping.  We rarely share ourselves with those we are caring for.
                  I could not promise my students that I will remain their teacher for the rest of their time at BEACON.  However, for the duration of my time with them, I hope to form true relationship.  I know that my time with them will shape and transform my life as I am continuing to learn more from them.  And I hope that they will know that I honor and respect them for their courage, their perseverance, and their strength. 
                  Caring for one another, helping each other reach their full potential should be more than an idea or a responsibility.  At the end of my day, I often ask myself in what way did I see God today?  Whether through my work at BEACON, the BARN, or in community, I often see God through my relationship with others.  Those that I encounter have blessed me.  Now, my question is, in what ways do I want others to see God in me?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Women In Society

“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”
Mary Wollstonecraft

I started volunteering at BARN with the preconception that the women I am working with are survivors. I believed that they were victims of an abusive relationship. The men that promised to love them and hold them dear as long as they shall live became their abusers. Whether emotionally, physically, or financially, the one that these women had trusted the most and depended on hurt them the most. For many women living at the BARN, my beliefs hold true.

In our society, in many cultures, women have been made invisible. We are treated as the “other”. We have been thought of as the one who is intellectually inferior and overly emotional. In many situations, we have been objectified. We are often treated as ornaments and a means to an end; someone who needs to be cherished when she is needed but is also disposable when she is no longer fit for her purpose. Our role have been limited to that of a “trophy wife”, a mother, yet not capable of having a voice in the upbringing of her child or the needs of the household … . In the short time that I have been working at BARN I have encountered all those above observations.

But I would not be honest to say that I have not been surprised. I think that part of growing and learning is to become humble enough to recognize when we are wrong.  BARN, a transitional home for women and children, wants to support families that are homeless by providing services to “promote healing, growth, and self-sufficiency.” While most women at BARN take full advantage of the program, I was quite taken aback by the few who are resistant to learning. For instance, the one who remains dependent on the caseworker, refuse to move forward, and remain an obstacle to the progress of her children.  Or, the one who would rather put herself in harm’s way through her relationships with multiple partners instead of keeping a job and caring for her child … . But through those few, I learn that as women, we are called to support each other. Although for me, I naturally think of support as being compassionate, caring, and understanding, I am learning that being supportive can also mean be assertive, tough, and yet merciful.

Barbara Starrett writes, “Every women’s efforts are valuable and limited only by her own vision and the intensity of her belief in that vision.” My hope for the women I meet at BARN is that they dream big. I want them to take full advantage of what the program offers. I am hoping that they overcome their past and know that they are capable of breaking the cycle of abuse in their family. I want each of them to obtain the means to be self-sufficient and find the support that they need to raise their children in a peaceful environment. I am hoping to continue to help them in anyway that I would be the most useful: whether through tutoring, babysitting, providing life skills lesson or a listening hear … . I am ready for the challenge, I think.

With love,