Monday, August 25, 2008

Spirituality in Calligraphy

Neighbor in chinese

All last week, I facilitated a group using Ruth Haley Barton's Sacred Rhythms. It's a book on spiritual practice.

Going into the experience, I didn't expect to learn anything new— hubris, I know! One of the best things though? The group was attended by three Chinese-speaking participants. This made for a lot of interesting conversation regarding language and cultural perspectives. My favorite conversation revolved around Chinese calligraphy.

We'd gotten into a discussion about loving one's neighbor. I can hardly understand how to do that! one person said. Suddenly, I got this thought. Lucy, can you write 'neighbor' for us in Chinese? Lucy obliged (see pic above). Then I asked her to explain the component pictures contained in the character. Fascinating...

sunset... cow... rice... ear... mummy... ancient

This led us to consider that being a neighbor is something one does all day long, from birth to death, sharing our milk and our meat, our grain and our sympathy. And we listen. Because this is, from ancient times far into the future, part of the beauty of human relationship.

All this reminded me of something Tod Bolsinger says in It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian, ...Christian community is not just about neighborliness...nor is it just about proximity...It's not just about being friends or living in the same housing development. It's about sharing more than a cup of sugar and the lawn mower: sharing core values and a vision for living. (p.24)

I do believe that the Chinese character for neighbor contains some of this deeper spiritual aspect, in a way that is particularly memorable and enchanting. Which reminds me that perhaps when I've come to the dangerous place of thinking there's nothing much I'm going to learn in a certain arena, I need to get outside myself... cross culture or gender or age or status boundaries... so I can hear something unexpectedly beautiful, new.

Chinese Calligraphy photo, by L.L. Barkat.


Nancy's Awesome Picture of SC
Ted's book club post Lava Rock: Witness

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Blogger Joy said...

I've felt the affect of the depth of community this weekend in a profound way...with my loss so fresh, I could think of no where else I wanted to be but in church Sunday morning. It didn't strike me as odd, but for a nonChrisitian friend, she found it so strange that I would want to be with people, and of all things "religious" people...I could see where she got that perception. But I was grieved when I thought about how she had been such a huge help and assistance (in a true neighborly fashion) the last few days but there was an unspoken bridge we could not cross together. She could not understand my hope and my grief in the same way my dear Christian brothers and sisters could...but still, there was connection.

The calligraphy is so fascinating!

4:31 PM  
Blogger TAMI said...

That "hearing something unexpectedly beautiful and new" is the place God has me in right now - learning about 'spiritual literacy' as it were, reading the spiritual in our world and writing it upon the same. The Trinity is profound, and especially so when I consider His joy in giving Himself to us, not "only" on the cross, but also every day in new ways!

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great learning and sharing!

7:16 PM  
Blogger Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

What a great lesson for all of us. Thank you for sharing it.

Now if I can just remember it when I need to . . .

10:45 PM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

The shadow on the page... another one of your clever self-portraits?

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This reminded me of Lisa See's novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, about what it means to be lifelong friends no matter proximity, life stage or station. It's the failings, joys, and triumphs of being a neighbor.

12:57 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Joy... Loss. Painful. Thank you for telling us.

Tami... I like that phrase "spiritual literacy." It's a rich journey!

Nancy... it was really fun as well as informative.

Ruth... yes... how is it that we begin to remember?

CRAVER!!! Believe it or not, I thought of you when I took the picture. And I deliberately left the shadow in just for the reason you mention. :)

Heather... sounds like a good novel, or at least the foundation sounds good.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Shosannah said...

I have been feeling like I am being encouraged to push past what I understand, what I feel is consolidated within me. To breakdown the understandings I thought were built on firm foundations.
It is so interesting what you say here.
Sometimes a completly different perspective on such a seemingly simple concept can be so enriching.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

Perfect! I always get a kick out of that.

4:20 PM  
Blogger Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience said...

This led us to consider that being a neighbor is something one does all day long, from birth to death, sharing our milk and our meat, our grain and our sympathy. And we listen.

I pray I will remember this, L.L... That authentic Christian community requires a genuine sharing of all of who we are. To return to Eden and live soul bare.

Thank you, friend...
All's grace,

6:13 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Suzy... such breaking down for building up. Painful at times, yes?

Craver... : )

Ann... so good to hear from you again. I imagine you are golden with harvest, sleep-heavy from long days of ripening and falling and gathering— your own kind of Eden to share with such as us.

9:43 PM  

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