Christmas with Chinese Characteristics II (On Not Understanding)

posted in: Culture Stress | 2

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During Advent, I spent time with two of my favorite Biblical characters: Zechariah and Elizabeth.  This was an ordinary Israelite couple from priestly families.  Zechariah was a priest himself, and both he and Elizabeth were upright, godly people.  But they had a problem.  Life did not go according to their plan: they didn’t have a child.  Elizabeth was barren, Luke 1 says.  They struggled with infertility we would say today.  And into this painful (and yet oh so ordinary) life, God broke in.  The angel Gabriel came to Zechariah and said you are going to have a son, and that son will prepare the way for the Messiah.

A band called So Elated tells this story in their song “Zechariah and the Least Expected Places” (you can buy the whole album for just $5!):

Jerusalem and the holy temple filled with smoke
Zechariah shuns the news from the angel of hope
Stuck behind an incense cloud of religion and disappointment

God keeps slipping out of underneath rocks
in alleys off the beaten path
Open both your eyes.

Prophets and kings and poets can contribute their work
just like eggs in a nest are alive with the promise of birds
But the Lord of Creation will not be subjected to expectation

God keeps slipping out of underneath rocks
in alleys off the beaten path
Open both your eyes.

Elizabeth, barren, her knees black and dirty like coal
her consistent prayers float to the sky and revive her soul
God we will wait though we don’t understand your redemptive story

God keeps slipping out of underneath rocks
in alleys off the beaten path
Open both our eyes.

This song has been one of my favorite Advent songs for a couple of years (and truth be told, I sometimes listen to it at other times of the year, too).  These have been years where God has shown up in some unexpected places, but also years where “her consistent prayer float to the sky and revive her soul / God we will wait though we don’t understand your redemptive story.”  I’ve needed the reminder that God shows up in the least expected places and it is okay to not understand everything.  Waiting and not understanding are part of life.

This year, although I know I am in the right place, Advent has been a time of a culture shock and language learning low.  It isn’t a dramatic low where I hate everything about China, but everything is no longer awesome.  Adjusting and living takes mental and emotional energy.  Its a weird thing because you don’t realize how much energy it takes until you step back and get some perspective.  But all the little things add up.  How many times was I jostled on the bus or sidewalk today?  How hard was it to put together semi-intelligent sentences?  How many times was I uncertain about exactly what was going on?  It all takes energy, and none of it seems all that exciting or romantic right now.  Language learning and culture learning are just work at the moment.

I am slowly developing new expectations for how to do life.  By experience, I know that it will take at least an hour at the post office to send a package but that wiring money from my account to my landlord’s to pay rent is instantaneous.  But experience also takes awhile.  At the beginning of November, I received water and gas bills stuck to my apartment door.  I figured that was probably a monthly occurrence (transference from paying bills in the U.S.) but haven’t gotten any in December.  Maybe they come bi-monthly (I didn’t get any in October, although I had just moved in)?

In this state of perpetual unknowing, I need the reminders that it is okay to not understand everything.  God isn’t subject to my expectations, and I still need the reminder that God usually slips out of alleys off the beaten path.  I want to slowly give up my own expectations and live by God’s expectations.  I want my eyes to be open to see where God slips in, in my life and in the the world around me.

2 Responses

  1. have been thinking of you lately, Ruth. We are connected on Facebook and maybe sometime we can video chat or just message. I’m from the YCW Group, serving in Hawaii. Have some similar feelings about how much energy all the newness takes and the navigating. Peace to you this Christmas and hopefully we can connect soon!

  2. […] until Epiphany on January 6 or until all of my packages/Christmas cards arrive).  I appreciated celebrating Advent at a quieter pace than you can in the United States.  I quietly set up my tree (given to me by […]

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