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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Turning Points

A decade after college, I and three lady batchmates finally found time recently to get together for dinner and "videoke."  Aside from our passion for literature, we discovered other commonalities: kids, grad school, teaching experiences, sensitivity to feminist causes (more of the "liberal" than the "radical" form, I guess) and, more importantly, "turning points" in life.

These turning points all have traces of the spiritual or religious. One found greater life purpose in the advocacy for liberating Islamic women from the stranglehold of ignorance, poverty and patriarchy.  This led her to a two-year theological study, a missionary stint in Indonesia and a sustained interest in advanced Islamic studies.

Another found her life-changing experience in her near-death experience in an ICU.  She has had a major surgery and a struggle with a life-threatening illness.  She is making up for her "lackluster" performance in college by an all-A+ rating in all her grad school classes in the U.S.  She has traveled to several countries already, which further broadened her worldview and deepened her resolve to seize the day! And she still finds meaning in her Catholic faith -- perhaps, minus the fanaticism of the folk religionist.

The other, who grew more articulate and wiser as the other two, found a form of liberation in grad school. She also discovered meaning in a Buddhist/Hindu context. Her spiritual quest has taken her to India four times already, her exposure to varies hues of personalities and socio-cultural contexts have given her deeper insights into human relations, and her intellectual pursuits have continually blessed her and those around her.

I, of course, shared instances of my own turning points in the context of Evangelical Christianity and liberal education.  Although a major shift in worldview eventually led me out of an institutional church, it was an institutional church in China, as well as writers and preachers mostly from institutional churches ,  that helped me get back to the Christian faith. Grad school also revived my passion for the literary and reconnected me to my life goals left out years ago in the dustbin of a sectarian chamber.


Most of us will have to come to several turning points in life -- even under what seem to be the most unlikely circumstances. Just like the case of the Samaritan woman who encountered her Messiah by Jacob's well (John 4.6-30).  Her story teaches us that turning points can come

... at a time least expected. It was midday, and the Palestinian heat called not for a conversation on the moral and the spiritual, but for an impulse to rush to Jacob's well for a refreshing drink. The woman went to the well to wash the dust down her throat or off her hands, but ended up having her moral filth cleansed. The Living Water had filled up her empty jar and forever quenched her thirst for meaning. places least expected.  C.S. Lewis found faith in a lonely room, Alexandre Solzhenitsyn in a Siberian prison camp, Charles Colson during the Watergate days, Zhang Boli in a frost-covered shed near the China-Russia border... This woman found her "faith encounter" by Jacob's well.

...for people least expected. She has been the talk of her town chiefly because she has had five husbands, an affront to the sensibility of a society that allowed divorce or remarriage for a max of only three times. Worse, she was living with a man she had not married.  To her neighbors, she would be the last person to get interested in clean living and spiritual pursuits.  But grace finds much meaning in one who has been disgraced.  And it is for the sick that the Great Physician came.  Too, a Samaritan woman getting incorporated into the Messianic Kingdom is unthinkable to a Jew who lives in a society where rabbis thank God daily for not being born as Gentiles, slaves, or women; where teachers of the Law prefer the Torah to be burned than for it to be left in the hands of a woman; where testimonies of women can never be accepted in Sanhedrin proceedings; where Samaritans are regarded as dogs and talking with a Samaritan woman (!?), at the very least,  raises the eyebrows of an all-male band of disciples.  But "turning a new leaf" doesn't require that one grows out of only one kind of tree, does it?

...with results least expected. Her testimony that a Sadducee may not hear in court got a hearing in the dusty streets of Sychar.  Who among her people could have thought her clay water pot would take on a cosmic significance? Who among her people would have expected that a life that has been the subject of gossip would become the focus of a gospel proclamation?

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