Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Busy Life

Busyness ('mang')
Sometime ago, I mentioned that busyness can be mistakenly interpreted as virtuous. Some have even called acronym B.U.S.Y as ‘Being Under Satan’s Yoke.’ There are three words which I like to talk about.

The First Word - 忙
The Chinese word for busy is 忙, pronounced as ‘mang.’ It consists of the word 心 ‘xin’ on the left, and 亡 ‘wang’ on the right. 心 means heart or feeling while 亡 means flee, lose, or die. Put these two words together and we get the word busy. It is an interesting play of words, joining two seemingly unrelated words of heart and death to make up a word for busyness. Literally speaking, to be busy means killing the heart. This sounds gruesome, but if we were to think about how many relationships have suffered due to thoughtless acts of rush, it will profit us to learn some early warning signs behind the Chinese word for ‘busy.’

The Second Word - 忘
忘 (wang, 4th sound) is another word that contains the two radicals 心 (xin) with 亡 (wang, 2nd sound). One can try to forget the past, by burying the feeling (心) below the death (亡). However, suppressing feelings by trying to stop thinking about the past is not very helpful. It may even increase the fear of bad memories and constant nightmares. By putting to death all thoughts and feelings of the heart, one tries to imagine away the past. Yet, stifling our natural memories is not particularly helpful. After-all, memories form a large part of our identity. It is not the memories we ought to forget, but the way we encircle meaning around these memories. A psychologist who is also a Christian, David Seamands said: “We cannot change our memories, but we can change their meaning and the power they have over us.

I think this is a more useful advice, than simply asking people to disregard the past. Take the Holocaust as an example. The evil that happened should not simply be forgotten due to the horror. Instead, we can use this example to show how evil a human being can become, when indoctrinated with bad stuff. If we failed to remember, we risk re-creating the very nightmare we wanted to forget. When I was visiting Boston last year, I walked through the New England Holocaust Memorial and was deeply moved by the many personal testimonies engraved in granite/marble. Comprising 6 tall towers, each tower contains about a million names, who perished during the Nazi regime in World War II. The testimonies made lots of people who walked the memorial, cry. The mood was solemn and I tear up several times.

Truly, horrible events and nightmares cannot be simply forgotten. Memories should be healed, not merely swept under the carpet of busyness. Using busyness as a way to forget the past does not slow down the ticking time bomb inside. It may cause one to foolishly ignore there is such a device in the first place, just like an ostrich shoving its head into sand at the first sign of danger.

The ‘Death’ Radical
The word ‘death,’ reminds me of the Christian doctrine of sin and death. Scriptures declare it so vividly:
For the wages of sin is death….” (Romans 6:23a);

Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (James 1:15)

The two compound words ‘forget’ and ‘busy’ include the radical word ‘death.’ Such is the reality of a world that is mired in sin. Isn’t it a curious thing that many people suppress their bad memories by simply adopting techniques of trying to forget the past? By immersing ourselves in busy activities, can one really believe that one can forget bad events in history? The trouble with such acts of forgetfulness and busyness is that in the process, the one who suffers is self. By ignoring the bad past, without adequately finding a reasonable closure to setbacks or disappointments, we are simply sweeping the negative dust of the past under the carpet of busyness. Things get delayed. The search for solutions gets trapped under the suffocating cloud of busyness, and refusal to acknowledge the need for healing and forgiveness.

A Third Word - 妄
There is also another word that shows the effects of sin. The word 妄 (‘wang’ 4th sounding) has the woman 女 (nü) under the 亡 (wang 2nd sounding). Put together, it means rashful acts. A casual interpretation will mean that the human race as of today are descendants and are children of Eve, the first woman created. If we all constantly live under the cloud of death and the fear of dying, we are susceptible to all kinds of carelessness and rash behaviour. We are all born of a woman, a mother. We do things in the name of speed and efficiency, risking the ire of others from hasty decisions and ineptitude.

Death is a capital sentence that leads us on a journey toward a dead end. Practically all the words we talked about in this article that deals with the word 亡 (death) have negative connotations. What then is the antidote for busyness (忙), forgetting (忘), and rashfulness (妄)?

Some Attempts at Antidotes
Lloyd Thomas proposes that the antidote for such busyness be stillness and silence. There is a certain mystical aura in stillness and silence that I do not dispute. There are advantages of trying to balance out our hurry with a sensible dose of stillness and silence. The trouble is, in that moment of silence and calm, what do we focus on? Thomas’s prescription does not go beyond advocating for stillness and silence. Many different forms of spiritual activities teach the need to be still. Buddhism calls the practitioner to be still and to empty oneself from all sensualities. The Sanskrit word ‘nirvana’ means that perfect state of mind where people cease longing for any desire at all. Daniel Mutt, a professor of Jewish mysticism, advises in his book: “The Essential Kabbalah,” that the key to self-fulfillment is through a greater knowledge of God. For Mutt, the practice of Kabbalah is all about self-fulfillment. This is contrary to Rick Warren’s repeated chorus of ‘It is never about you,” which is vividly printed in the first sentence of the first chapter. This others-centered advice is prevalent in Warren’s best selling book: “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

My Comments
Thomas starts off well, by reading the Chinese word ‘Busy’ the same way I have described. At the writing of my article, I was not aware of Thomas’s article. He approaches the problem of over-busyness by suggesting the brakes of silence and stillness. Having provided a temporary respite, my question is: “What happens next?” Thomas did not elaborate further, but I guess it was not the intent of his article to go beyond the emotional reminder stage.

The Buddhist philosophy is not something I subscribe to. This world is filled with all kinds of spirits and demonic activity, that emptying oneself of everything makes one vulnerable to all manner of spiritual sabotage and demonic infiltration. The Buddhist idea of 'nothingness' is mind boggling.

Kabbalah, as according to Daniel Mutt is again too self-centered, and uses spirituality like a magical device to attain one’s end. Rick Warren's philosophy of helping people look beyond self-needs and self-fulfillment is a helpful first step in the right direction. However, even though it repeatedly insist that if we know God, we will know our purpose for life, it is too ‘purpose’ centered for my comfort. In other words, it makes life like a giant problem puzzle waiting to be unlocked by solutions provided through understanding God’s ‘purpose’ for us. With a formula of 40-days to discover our purpose, Warren’s book became a bestseller.

Personally, I do not have any grudge with Rick Warren. Neither will I dispute the immense amount of help his book has given to Christians all over the world. There is a small problem in his book. Some people may still utilize the book as a self-fulfillment manual using God as a way or a means to their own end. If Israel tolerated 40 years in the wilderness of Sinai before entering the Promised Land, what makes us think that 40 days of activities will give us a ticket to enter Purpose Land?

That said, I do not want to appear as one thinks he knows the antidote to the modern symptoms of busyness, forgetfulness and recklessness. I dared not. Only God has the ultimate cure. However, we do have some clues in this short life on earth. The Chinese word 性 (xing) means nature, character and disposition. It also means gender, property or quality. Interestingly, it also contains two words, 心 (xin, heart) and 生 (sheng, life). The key to living well is to be alive to our vocation, our calling in life. Who am I? What am I created for? What is our identity? By understanding ourselves more, we will learn to live well. Otherwise, we will constantly struggle through our daily chores behaving like square pegs in the round holes of activities. Such work is seldom meaningful.

Jesus said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)

We learn to know ourselves only in Christ
Christians live for Jesus, because Jesus first lived for us. We love because God first loved us. Believers in Christ have been made alive in Christ, even though in the past, they were dead in sin. The way to the Father in heaven is through Jesus, according to the Scriptures. Silence and stillness can be attained through intentional slowing down of our external activities, by turning our sails to catch the wind of God, and anchoring ourselves in Christ. We long to see God face to face. We become embraced in the loving arms of our Father in heaven. We draw warmth of the relationship with the Triune God. We learn to acknowledge that because God is overall, and has forgiven us of our sins and cleansed us from all unrighteousness, we are able to forgive. This is much better than simply straddling along the arduous path of forgetting. It is through forgiveness that Corrie Ten Boom was able to practice forgiveness, even to her bitter enemies. She shared in the book: "The Hiding Place” about her overcoming the tough difficult struggles through forgiveness in Christ.
It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, a former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie's pain-blanched face. He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.” He said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggle to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I prayed, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray:

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

We have come a long way, from busyness, to forgetting the bad memories, to acts of rashness. We have talked about the antidotes of busyness, and a small critique of each. I have also suggested that the better ‘antidote’ is Christ himself who gives us life. In Christ, we will be able to do what we normally cannot do on our own, like forgiveness. In the process, we know more about ourselves and are able to live meaningfully not simply out of self-fulfillment needs. Neither is it to sacrificially live for others only. Instead, letting God be our anchor, Christ as our chief Sailor, we catch the wind the pneuma (Spirit) of God. For in Christ, we are no longer dead (亡) but alive in God.


1 comment:

Rosie Perera said...

Eugene Peterson's chapter "The Unbusy Pastor" in his book The Contemplative Pastor is highly worth reading.

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