grace

The Kitchen God and Grace

Zhao Jun the Kitchen God and his wife

Today is the fourth day of the first lunar month, the day that Zao Jun the Kitchen God returns from heaven. In Chinese tradition Zao Jun the Kitchen God hangs out in the kitchen of each home, because the kitchen is the heart of the home where all the juiciest gossip can be overheard. There he observes the family's good and bad doings throughout the year, with the faithful help of his wife who records them. Ten days ago, a week before the New Year, Zao Jun ascended to heaven to file his report with the Jade Emperor. Before his departure (via burning of his effigy) his lips were smeared with honey. Some say that the honey is a bribe. Some say that it sticks his mouth shut. Either way, the hope is that only sweet things about the family make it to the Jade Emperor's ears. Now, ten days later, Zao Jun returns. Each year I wonder, what about the ten days while he is gone? Are they a time when folks can do whatever they want? Or does the Kitchen God's wife keep an eye on things in his absence?

Funny story about how Zao Jun the Kitchen God got his job. He was not always a god. Once he was a human being named Zhang Lang. He was a handsome and wealthy man and rather full of himself. Zhang Lang was married to a devoted wife. In typical Chinese patriarchal fashion, even though people praise her for her virtue no one ever bothered to record her name. But she was dutiful, we know that. Nonetheless, Zhang Lang's roaming eyes landed on a pretty, younger woman from whom he left his dutiful wife. As punishment, the gods struck him blind, and the younger woman left him. Zhang Lang was reduced to begging door to door. One day he happened to knock on the door of his abandoned wife; only he didn't realize it was her because he was blind. She, on the other hand, recognized him immediately and saw his condition. Taking pity, she invited him in and fed him. Warmed by the roaring kitchen fire and with a belly full of food, Zhang Lang began to relate his story, tearfully regretting the poor choices that he had made. When his wife heard his remorse she said, “Zhang Lang, open your eyes. I am your wife whom you wronged, and I forgive you.” At that moment, Zhang Lang opened his eyes and he could see again. He saw that it was his wife, whom he had abandoned, who was his benefactor. And he was overcome with shame. Unable to face her, he flung himself into the kitchen fire and perished.

As the story goes, the gods took pity on him and made him into the Kitchen God, with his (again unnamed) wife as his aid. Together again, forever. I'm not entirely sure that this was a mercy though... always having to listen to the petty foibles of families, year after year, being smeared with honey and then burned, only to return and do it all over again. And his poor wife – what did she do to deserve her fate? Secretary to the man who twice did her wrong due to his pride. Yes, I said twice. Once, when he left her for the younger woman. And once again, when he could not accept her forgiveness and instead punished himself, and her by extension. Zhang Lang felt shame. And shame comes from pride, not humility. Shame comes when you are caught not being as great as you think you are. If Zhang Lang had truly learned his lesson he would have gratefully accepted his wife's forgiveness.

But I am not writing this to condemn Zao Jun the Kitchen God. I'm writing this because I know how he feels. I too have felt shame for hurting others with my bad behavior. And I too have been unable to accept forgiveness. In fact, I remember once telling my minister that I knew that God loved me because I could feel that love, but I could not accept it. I did not feel worthy. That may on surface sound humble but talk about arrogance! It is arrogant to think that you are the one who can decide. Forgiveness, like love, isn't based on merit, and you can neither decide that you deserve it nor decide that you don't.  Forgiveness is a gift, a blessing, grace.  I know that, I do, and yet at times there is part of me just can't let go.  So pity poor Zao Jun.

Maybe the Kitchen God is doing penance even now. Caught in a purgatory of sorts in which he'll stay, condemned to be burned again every year, until he learns true humility and accepts his wife's forgiveness. Maybe the Kitchen God's wife isn't his secretary, but rather just patiently waiting for that day to come.

The Way of the World -- Dedication to My First Gurus

Author: 
Om Prakash
The Gurus of This Young Man


Alone in my room with
my 8 track tape playing
click, by click, by click.

A medley.

Earth, Wind,  and Fire tunes spill out
filling the space with possibilities.

A barrier of love between my age of
 innocence and the drumbeat of pushers,
gangs, and guns
on what used to be my favorite corner.

The college kids, in fancy cars,
safari across the bridge that covers the
one railroad
track left over
after the six lane highway dividing the city
between black and white,
opportunity and economic depression
was constructed,
making a smooth,
swooping circle from suburbia
to drugs and back again.

Nothing as serious as crack,
that would come later,
but the same pain and suffering,
guns and gangs,
early deaths of bodies,
hopes, and dreams
that hang around the edges of the perfect
neighborhood for an economy built on the
exchange of street medicine
designed to heal the ills of a poor community,

Or keep it tranquilized enough,
at least, to suck the  blood of the people down to
the marrow
and reinstitute voluntary slavery.

But they say I should keep my head to the sky,
be ever wonderful, stay as you are,
you're a shining star,
and hearts of fire creates loves desire,
take you high and higher to your place on the
thrown.

The gurus of this young man
shut out of the yoga centers, ashrams, and
Buddhist temples through cultural
displacement
and financial segregation,
or by the fear, deeply implanted in my psyche
telling me that anything not included in the
slaver's religion is the devil.

Left to find the Beloved on my own in a city with a
church on every corner

through the magic of songs pointing to the light
that transforms the darkness and awakens the
human soul through rhythm, beat, and lyrics
saturated with living waters.

"We come together on this special day to sing our
 message loud and clear.
Looking back we've touched on sorrowful days,
 future, past they disappear.

You will find peace of mind of you look way down in your heart and soul.
Don't hesitate because the world seems cold.
Stay young at heart because you're never, ever old.  That's the way of the world." 

The way of the world.

"There I was washed upon a shore, crying my heart out, I just can't take no more.
My life had come to an end.  I was ready to give in. 
I closed my eyes for one last silent prayer, only to look up and find you standing there. 
I looked into your eyes and then I realized I'm in love. 
With you my love. 
With all my heart and you can never,
never give up on your dreams."

Om Prakash
© April 14, 2013

Amazing Grace

Author: 
Kat Liu

Almost every Wednesday morning at my Lutheran school, we sang this song. No one taught us what the words meant, but over time I figured out that grace was somehow connected to a mysterious thing called the holy spirit, or as I was first taught, the holy ghost. As a child, the word 'ghost' only meant one thing to me - a being without a body that was hell-bent on possessing mine. And indeed, that's what the holy spirit seemed to do. I was told that without the holy spirit entering you, you could not be saved.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. 
I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see.

Surrounded by the joyful singing of my fellow students and teachers, I mouthed the words with trepidation, feeling that I alone could not hear the sweet sound; did not see what the others saw.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. 
How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.

What is this thing that would make you suddenly fearful - to your very heart - of something that you had not been previously aware, and at the same time feel such relief from that fear so as to be as immensely grateful as the words express? It was clear that I had never experienced grace; the holy spirit had not entered me.

Eventually, I walked away from Christianity and these things became mere ideas from someone else's belief system. But lately, the holy spirit has been on my mind again. 'Spirit of Life, come unto me,' we sing every week. We're actually inviting a spirit to come possess us! I can't help but notice the similarities between the perplexing holy spirit of my youth and this comforting Spirit of Life. And I am facing these questions again: just what is the holy spirit? What does it mean to have it within you? What is grace? Only now, with many more years of  lived experience, I begin to understand.

Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.

Somewhere along the line I learned that fear doesn't always mean to be afraid. It can describe a state of awe. And I have felt awe. There have been times – whether looking up at a desert sky milky with stars or witnessing the supreme kindness of strangers when my perspective suddenly shifts. I am gently yet irresistibly put in my place as just one tiny speck in a universe of specks. Surprisingly, rather than causing feelings of despair, it’s comforting and liberating. (Roots hold me close; wings set me free.) Because at the same time I realize that all our specks are interconnected. We are not alone and our salvation depends on each other.  At moments when I really know this, not just intellectually, I feel the holy spirit of life course within me. And I know that there is no need to invite the spirit in. She is always there as that divine spark within each of us, and also between us. Connecting us. Moving us towards each other. I’ve
had this realization several times now and yet each time still gasp with amazement.  That sudden awareness of the divine within, that connection to the divine all around, and to know that the two are one and the same that is amazing grace.

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