Fall is my favorite season of the year. But I have noticed that at some point, I started to feel down or lonely in Fall, and even be apprehensive of the approach of this season. Having a reading break in October in the U.S. and February in Canada might be related to the need for a pause or slowing down.
The other day, I re-read “Here and Now” by Henri Nouwen that I encountered for the first time in 1997, and pondered on the importance of “Reflection”. I have had an opportunity to learn from the translator of this book, Rev. Koichi Otawa last year, and received a recommendation to read the chapter on “In Search of Meaning”. This process is also described as “Examen”, “meditation” and “reflection” in “The Good and Beautiful God” by James Bryan Smith. In “Here and Now”, the author touches on devotional reading.
Below is the an excerpt from “Here And Now”:
Most of us read to acquire knowledge or to satisfy our curiosity. When we want to know how to repair a car, cook a meal… give a lecture, etc., we have to do a certain amount of reading. … The purpose of spiritual reading, however, is not to master knowledge or information, but to let God’s Spirit master us. … The great value of spiritual reading is that it helps us to give meaning to our lives. …The issue is not just what we read, but how we read it…We have to keep asking ourselves: “What does it all mean? What is God trying to tell us? How are we called to live in the midst of all this?”
“Here an Now” by Henri Nouwen
Often times, I’m unable to easily find answers to such questions and instead find myself fallen asleep. Yet I notice my heart being calmer through the reflection rather than being filled with the matters of the world that stir up fear, anxiety, and compulsion.
Perhaps, there is an important meaning in applying myself to look for a meaning, more so than finding the meaning to the answer itself. It might be because through the process of reflection, I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, walking the journey beside me today, and get to know God, who works within my life.
Another point; when reflect on “What meaning does this event or issue hold?”, I’m led to a question, “Why do I react in this way, anyway?” When that happens, I realize I’m not necessarily reacting to the “issue” itself, but reacting to somebody else’s reaction to me. These steps provide me an opportunity to recognize what is holding “my current self” captive, and what is driving me.
However if I use this time of reflection for the purpose of self examination and self analysis to judge words and actions of myself and others, I end up being controlled by my false self, who is obsessed with how I acted and how others might evaluate me.
Jesus Christ came to this world to tell us that “the image of you this world conjures up is not your true self. Your true image is a child of God who is atoned and loved.” The book reminds me of this after 24 years. Since when the words “false self” and “beloved child of God” resonated in my heart, I have set out on a long journey full of struggles and gradually come to savor the depth of their meanings. To read the Bible, needless to say, and other devotional reading and reflections are so very important.
Worship is also a time of reflection, to which God invites us. To receive the Bible message from the passage we have read many times before, this time communally with others. If we could take the time to look on with the spiritual eyes our hearts that frantically raced through the past week, at the same time noticing the warm gaze of God and His love, with what peace would we able to welcome the new week! The delight of Fall I have forgotten completely, and the joy of worship in the temple of God. I hope we will savor it together once again, and enjoy.
from Santa Clara Valley Japanese Christian Church Bulletin “Hydrangea” published on 11/3/2021
Santa Clara Valley Japanese Christ Church pastor’s wife. Mother of three daughters born in 🇯🇵🇨🇦🇺🇸. Hobby: Observing my husband, aimlessly change interior decorations. Stay-at-home wife blogger ＋＋Violette ＋＋https://violetteivory.wordpress.com/
As the 4th of July approaches, American life, which kick started the regeneration process, seems to be gradually coming back to life.
Half a year ago, I mentioned that I’m working on my rhythm for:
🌿Connect, and 🌿Create
I expected our anxiety and stress that we have had since before the pandemic would be exacerbated by stay-home life, but oddly enough, I find myself freed from them after a year.
During this year, we re-evaluated what are the essentials for us, and made an effort to protect them dearly. For me as a pastor’s wife, the biggest challenge as well as joy was the online church service we broadcasted from our living room. While the stay-at-home order was in effect, we were concerned about the mounting anxiety for our church body, so we recorded videos of the pastor’s Stay Home Life and uploaded it on Youtube, and increased the number of phone calls and visitations. As a result, our days of being chased by an increased business begun, quite contrary to the rhythm of rest and restore.
Yet it was a timely offered grace of God that I had the chance to ponder what it is that my soul is truly seeking, in contrast to the previous days when I lived my life in constant comparison with others, driven by something.
It was a great comfort and encouragement even in the midst of quarantine to be able to hold online service every week, and get connected to people from all over the world through JCFN conferences and other opportunities.
The happiest moment after the pandemic subsided was when I saw people attending the service for the first time as the church reopened. She has never come to our church before, and was put in a situation where she has to live apart from her family and friends. The pandemic begun while she is still in that condition and was able to get connected with the church and God’s family through online service and ZOOM Bible study. Her husband, who have been a seeker, was able to get baptized this Summer with the support of the church community 🙌. This was a major event that taught me how essential the “rhythm of connection” is.
The “Rest” and “Restore” are the rhythms of input in order for our busyness and stress bound souls to be filled by the peace of Jesus.
The latter “Connect” and “Create”are the output rhythms that can get us out to a new world where we can receive joy and blessing, while without them we tend to shut ourselves in with fear and anxiety.
The Rhythm I’m talking about is the contemplative way of life to retreat in silence, and then proactively go out in the world to connect with people, as Jesus did. Through the “forced quit” of this year, I learned personally that this contemplative rhythm and balance are important to our souls.
Right before the stay-home order was put in place, I attended a retreat. Until then, I saw going to a retreat for “rest” and “recovery as a treat to myself, and the time of equipment for the next, higher step and self actualization. However once I was there, I had the time of reckoning with myself that could not be satisfied even when I rested or had my wishes come true. Moreover, I saw my weaknesses and shortcomings, ugliness, and easily-hurt self. Later I realized that the retreat was not the time for me to learn a new skill or merely rest, but a superb gift of grace from God to help me to notice important needs for my soul.
Now that I look back, the whole ear was the time of retreat for my soul. Grace I received through online CC, EC, GRC, and weekly services became milestones that led me from the bondage of self-affirmation, anxiety, and fear to freedom as a child of God. In each step I took this year, there was a gaze of Jesus who is with me in pain, and through it my soul was able to see myself from a new vantage point. The peace I was given at each moment showed me the meaning of what I’ve been through, but also the meaning of the connection with people God has placed in my path.
On June 15th, the restrictions for quarantine were lifted, and I started reconnecting in relationships with church and others.
Where there is regeneration, there is also pain. Not everybody can easily jump the distance after experiencing enforced social distance and political division and discord. For example, don’t we sometime regret confiding in our friend, parent, souse, or lover our innermost thoughts? We have already experienced the hurt and pain of not being accepted when we wanted our core being, opinion, and vulnerability to be known. We live in an era when we don’t know how to regenerate our connection with others just because the world reopened again.
To be honest, I’m quite uncomfortable with small groups. I am a shy person😅. I probably had negative images (too much work. hard) towards small groups before, and was the type who couldn’t wait for it to be over. I think it was because the past pain with connection made me uncomfortable with sharing something that I’m not interested in or inconsequential surface matters. Also I was not open to sharing the innermost part of my soul that I haven’t really recognized myself. Yet if stayed afraid of connections, the soul will sooner or later be isolated and be in the optimal condition to doubt God and others, which is what the enemy who wants us to be alone.
Since I got married, I lived in three countries 🇯🇵🇨🇦🇺🇸 and moved 12 times. That was a memory of repeated desolation and pain, the accomplishment I’m not even proud of. In my 40’s it has been my major goal to rebuild the connection with trusted friends and church in a different location. For me, who are not comfortable with crowd and social situations to interact with many people, it was a struggle to go along with others. I might have looked normal to others but in my heart I was like a crown who are juggling frantically.
I’m thankful though, that I was always able to share my feelings and thoughts with my husband Suke-san (while there might be other challenges in our marital relationship😅). Through this pandemic, I learned that the connection that is important to me is not just the ones to share time and fun, but people who I can share what’s in each other’s heart, responsibility, and aspiration, even if we live far away from each other.
Especially this year, I remember instances when God has timely placed a fitting person or connection in my life. Starting with retreat, even if it was a short and limited time to share, Mrs. K who I had the honor of being in the same small group at EC, a young person who is filled with the joy of salvation and desire to serve, a person who is fighting valiantly with trauma, or someone else who sent me a surprise gift. By focusing on God’s timely placement such as these, the connection with others that used to feel like a bothersome chore transformed into the connection of grace where I can face my soul.
I made prayer Lei for my daughters. I heard that Lei has a meaning of “beloved child”, so I have prayerfully woven raffia and flowers together for every graduation. There are connections prepared for us, which God himself planned and leads us to meet those people. The connection that provides rest for the heart, by simply being there, and the connection to provide encouragement and sincere interaction through just sharing time together. Even the connection that pains us or cause suffering, when it is connected and woven by the hand of God, it becomes a one of a kind, original “Lei-a beloved child”, even though it may appear a little awkward. At each milestone of our lives, God gently place it on our neck and lovingly utters “You are my beloved child. In you I am delighted”, and teaches us that the connection has become a beautiful Prayer Lei. As I thought of my children and prayed, wouldn’t God instead of counting our shortcomings and weaknesses, to remind us of these connections and communicate how much we are loved and blessed?
From now on, instead of seeking connection for self validation or for pride:
→ I want to re-receive the connection God gives with thanksgiving.
→ I want to choose to bless others sincerely and love them.
→ To be a friend who others want to be friend with.
This pandemic was the time to give thanks again for Jesus Christ who became my friend friend and loves me as a whole, weakness and shortcomings and all. I hope to enjoy the connection with Jesus who walks with me, and the true freedom as God’s beloved child in this era of new regeneration.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
I was nervous every time since I was not used to sharing in this way. With thanksgiving for such precious opportunity, I would like to keep writing in my blog about the rhythm of soul. Thank you for reading, everyone! 🌿
Santa Clara Valley Japanese Christ Church pastor’s wife. Mother of three daughters born in 🇯🇵🇨🇦🇺🇸. Hobby: Observing my husband, aimlessly change interior decorations. Saty-at-home wife blogger ＋＋Violette ＋＋https://violetteivory.wordpress.com/
This year our three girls are each graduating from middle school, high school, and college. So for the past month, we spent hectic days, our moods soaring or plummeting with each incoming communication such as “the graduation ceremony will be online”, and “we’ll have prom for our school”.
At the end of May, the Covid infection warning level went down to Yellow. We glimpse a hope of recovery in the next fiscal year for schools and churches, while being aware of new challenges with hybrid operations. At the same time, the back-sliding and hollowing of faith surfaced in the face of isolation from the society and community, which became a commonplace due to this pandemic.
My husband and I received our second vaccine at the end of April, and our children’s vaccination will also be complete by the end of May. The Summer break begins in June but what will the world be like once it starts moving again? What will the church be like once the restrictions are lifted? Still the days of reality with cloudy uncertainty continue.
Since I had already experienced fatigue and fever with the first dose of vaccine, I scheduled the second dose with side effects in mind.
As expected, a severe chill came 14 hours after the shot and I couldn’t sleep. When the chill receded, fever broke out next and kept me up. I experienced these uncontrollable bodily reactions, but apparently it would have been ok if I took fever reducers at the beginning.
How much harder would it have been, if it wasn’t from the vaccine, but from the actual Covid infection or the side effects of the treatment for an infection. I was compelled to pray for our friends and acquaintances who are experiencing incomparable hardship.
I was also moved with thanksgiving for regulations and countermeasures put in place by churches and local government, and the heroic work of medical personnels to get us to this point.
On a different topic, my oldest daughter graduated from college a week after my second vaccine. The weather forecast for that day was 5℃(40F) with rain starting a few hours before the ceremony. There was a thorough check for participants of the ceremony to ensure that at least two weeks have passed since the second vaccine, and also the proof of a negative test within 72 hours. It was said to be the first outdoor graduation ceremony since 1956. We got our spot an hour before the ceremony in the cold rain, armed with rain boots, heat-tech, and rain coat.
I kept checking the weather forecast daily for one week before the ceremony, and even after arriving at the venue I looked at the forecast every 10 minutes with my cell phone.
Suke-san (my husband) said to me,”No matter how many times you look at the forecast, you can’t change the weather. There are rainy days and clear days in our lives. But there must be a beautiful blue sky above these clouds. How splendid that God is showing this to the graduates!”, as he was shivering and smiling at the same time.
In the end, despite my numerous checks on the forecast, the weather did not turn the way I hoped, and we had an unprecedented graduation with umbrellas☔.️
There was also another thing that filled our hearts with heavy rain clouds, even if we actually had clear weather on the day of the graduation ceremony. The reality is that half of the graduating students wouldn’t get a firm job offer until June when the world gets moving. The result for the third interview for an NPO, where my oldest daughter wishes to work, did not arrive even after graduation.
The wall of disappointment we cannot overcome by any human effort.
To look straight at the side effects of emotions bubbling up in our hearts, and put aside the disappointment, frustration, and anxiety.
To look up to God who works through our weaknesses.
Perhaps we can do these when things are going well, but now we don’t even have the willpower left to rise up. It is as if we are under the spell of spiritual Gogatsu-byo (May Blues: a Japanese term for a form of lethargy experienced by college freshman and workplace recruits shortly after beginning school or work).
Even if we had faith, we can experience anticipation followed by disappointment. Our hearts react greatly to that pain, and the recurring pain leads to spiritual backsliding.
When we ask God time and time again the meaning of events in our past and present lives, yet fail to gain understanding. We find reasons to write them off as inevitable and gradually increase distance from those around us and isolate ourselves as if we are spiritual failures.
Since my salvation in high school, I’ve been passionate about serving at church and sharing the Gospel with family and friends, but there was a period in my early 20’s when I fell away from God because of an encounter with a wall of uncontrollable reality and disappointments.
Especially when I’m experiencing a spiritual May Blues like that, I would like to look up at the sky above the cloud and see:
① Not the outcome, but the faith that waits on the Lord himself.
② Jesus, who is walking beside me hear and now.
and be reminded many times over that these are given to me.
I’m fortunate to have a friend from my Hi-BA days who will check on me at least once a year, regardless of how far we live or if we are aware of what’s going on in each other’s lives recently. She probably doesn’t know how many times she, who lives so far away with her newsletters, encouraged me and helped me to return to God.
God has placed these people in our lives from the time we were saved, and occasionally reminds us how they have come alongside us on our journey.
Perhaps, to let go of the outcome is to contemplate on Jesus and receive who He is, slowly and repeatedly through that process.
A few years ago I went through a period when my heart was filled with disappointment, anxiety, and anger, and I was disappointed in myself. I experienced the spiritual urge to quickly “let go” and “surrender”. The pressure I felt in my heart was subtle yet it was definitely there. In the midst of that I attended C-WIT and learned contemplative prayer and centering prayer.
Since then I gradually started paying attention to my internal processing of what’s going on with me, and how God intervenes in it.
Like a caterpillar through a stage of cocoon becoming a butterfly, I now consider the sudden side effects of my emotions and spiritual May Blues as a purposeful process for recovery.
I also learned that I can enjoy the process in my way, rather than just endure it like some kind of discipline.
Until now, I was compelled to take and eat each “problem dish” that came in front of me like sushi on a conveyor belt; “Eeek, it comes! What do I do!?” (it would’ve been nice if it was delicious sushi).
Since then I recognize a “problem dish”; “Here it comes… This is it”. Even if it was a problem with a premium, I only focus on the Lord and voice the name of Jesus. Meanwhile, the dish keeps moving on the conveyor, so unless I grab at it, it goes away on its own eventually.
This is different from ignoring my own responsibility and ceasing to make an effort. Rather it is me who is unable to trust the Lord and cannot wait for the time and outcome that are prepared for me. I felt freed from the compulsion and anxiety and realized how desperately I have been trying to control the outcome.
“If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” 1 John 3:20 NIV
Of course after a while a similar dish comes my way. But as hundreds and thousands of such dishes roll in, instead of pulling these problems toward myself, I find myself being pulled toward Jesus. Instead of solving problems myself, I enjoy the conversation with Jesus who intervenes on my behalf, and look forward to seeing His handiwork.
We shouldn’t rest when we are tired. We need rest before we get tired.
Recently my quiet time changed from an ascetic endeavor of purging anxieties to just being there to receive God’s love. I sometimes even fall asleep. It has become a time of supreme bliss.
On that day, as the graduation ceremony drew to an end, when graduates were getting up on the stage to receive their diplomas, a gust of cold wind came in to blow away rain clouds and blue sky opened up.
It was like a scene from a fairy tale that I have never seen before. No number of pictures could capture the beauty and the wonder of it all.
My eldest daughter came home for the first time in a long time and stayed busy with tests and interviews, and eventually received a job offer from the NPO she wanted. We have had a conversation that this is not an outcome to be grasped, but the blue sky God has shown us as a process to the next step.
Once again, as I remember that beautiful blue sky after the rain, I am excited for the not-yet seen spiritual blue sky God is going to show each of you.
May you see a beautiful blue sky when you look up this coming June. 🌿
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV