Shenme?

Yesterday I shared how the Shema declares essential truth: the one God who made himself known to Israel thousands of years ago holds the universe together is worthy of all our love, energy, everything.

Today I was encouraged to consider writing statements that would tell who I am, but in a way that reveals something of my relationship to this God: words to show that I talk with him, listen to him, and obey him. For example, when people ask me why I moved to Richmond, instead of saying, “To do an internship,” I could say, “To live with a caring group of people as we look for ways to love our neighbors more in Richmond and around the world, because we love God.” The way people respond to such a statement reveals, in turn, what is in their heart.

My teacher instructed my friends and me, then, to go out and practice talking with others in this way. I went to the local Chinese restaurant and ordered the chicken and eggplant lunch special. I drew a picture from the faded Chinese landscape photo on the wall, noticing how a winding reflection on the wrinkled surface shone in the light. It seemed to me like spiritual light, gently swirling and permeating the landscape. I showed the waiters my drawing and told them, “我会说一点中文,” (I can speak a little Chinese,) and tried to explain what I saw in the ribbons of light. To my surprise, they flicked a switch, and the entire photograph lit up.

On my way out of the restaurant, I almost overlooked a woman sitting on the other side of the street. On my way in, she had asked me if I had any change, and I told her I might later. Remembering my promise, I returned and gave her the remaining $2 in my pocket and said, “God bless you.” She held up a beautiful yellow Bible and asked if she could read something for me. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to give you a hope and a future.'” The woman who read this to me so confidently told me she had picked up this book out of the dumpster. “Those are not words to be thrown away,” I said. We exchanged names and a strong handshake.

In these small encounters, I did not use the statements I had prepared in class. No one even asked me what my job was, where I came from, or why I wanted to move across the world. When I took small risks, though–speaking Mandarin, revealing that I had been drawing, saying “God bless you”–the people that I was sharing with “lit up.” They shared with me something special because I let them in a little to the way that I see the world. These little gifts left to ask, “什么?” (Shenme?) “What?” Who would have known that a shema statement could do that? What more could such small boldness bring?

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