Sunday, February 6, 2022

“So Like, How Do We Pray?”

Scripture: Matthew 9:6-15

Link: Reservoir Church where Lydia pastors


Lydia Shiu

[00:00:00] Good morning, PAAC. Y’all, I am so excited to be here. I’m pastor Lydia Shiu. Um, it’s an honor to be able to preach and share a word with y’all at the Progressive Asian American Christians. We’re not a church, but we kind of are, we are a Facebook group, a community of folks who at the intersection of these thoughts and ideas

and identities, are here together at this common ground. Um, my pronouns are she/they, and I’m one of the co-founders of PAAC. Well, I started the group, but then, you know, Liz Lin with her amazing words, prompted so many of you to come here and that kind of made it a thing. So it’s an honor to be here. Um, a little about myself.

I live in the Boston, Massachusetts area right now, serving at a non-denominational church, Reservoir Church. This is [00:01:00] our studio and we do have services online at, uh, on YouTube at Sundays live, uh, 11:00 AM Eastern standard time. You can look up Reservoir Church Cambridge on YouTube. Um, there’s probably a link somewhere in the comments or something like that.

All right, well, let’s get to it. Today, I’m going to talk about prayer. So let me read our Bible text to engage this conversation and pray to start. Matthew chapter 6, verse 9 to 15. This then is how you should pray: our father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Let me pray for us. O love. When there were dry lands in our faith, [00:02:00] we founded and created this little nook in the internet world called PAAC. Remind us of grace

that brings us to the space. No matter how we may be coming with curiosity or longing, or maybe with triggers or traumas from church and sermons and Bibles and Christians, maybe with an openness, but maybe with also some healthy suspicion, God, we pray and we speak and we demand that you will bring us a source of life and love, that you would enliven us with that divine power.

Of comfort and encouragement. Remind us, and help us to remember that though there is so much out there that, uh, we can get our minds, hearts, minds, and hearts around. Um, and sometimes it doesn’t make any sense, break through, break through [00:03:00] the fear, break through our confusion, and help us to find your deep, deep, deep love.

We pray. Amen. So the first day I started working at this church, Reservoir Church, about four years ago, I came into the office not knowing what I was getting myself into. I came here of course, after many calls and emails and video calls and a weekend visit. But then I moved from California to Boston, with my husband, uh, for this job.

And when I first walked into the office, I met some folks named Leah and Christine, and they were very sweet and kind, asking me, you know how the transition’s going. I probably said something about, I’m not sure how I’m going to like adjust to Boston winters, which this winter has been very cold. I will tell you, um, and kind of right in the middle of the conversation they were like, okay, so, you know, yeah.

Like, let us pray for you. So Jesus, we, and they just [00:04:00] kind of eased into the prayer, not even like really bowing their heads or I don’t, I’m not even sure if they closed their eyes. I closed my eyes. Now I come from a Presbyterian background, which if you don’t know, it’s one of many Christian denominations characterized by a little more formality and order.

Literally the Presbyterians have a thing called the Book of Order, which is a step-by-step with articles and amendments to how everything should be run. And prayers among Presbyterians, of course, I’m generalizing a little bit, uh, you know, it’s usually like, oh, mighty God or good and gracious God. And, um, there’s a bit of a formality to it, but I noticed, uh, the style of Reservoir was a bit more casual and it struck me how they started a prayer with just “So Jesus…” What is prayer?

How are we supposed to pray? You see, I’ve realized over [00:05:00] the years, that seasons of our faith journey, um, there’s times when prayer works and certain kind of prayer works and other kinds of prayer, sometimes doesn’t work for you. And honestly, sometimes I go through phases. Yes. Even as a pastor, where I’m like, what is the point of all this, what am I doing?

I feel like a crazy person talking to nobody. What does it even do, this thing called prayer? Sometimes it’s hard to pray because I just kind of go into this like existential crisis for myself. Um, when I start praying and I have more questions than answers, and then I need to go like, you know, Google something like, what does Yahweh mean?

When I try to think of God’s names I’m trying to pray is as complicated as trying to craft a text message to your [00:06:00] ex after not talking for a few months or calling your parents after having a fallout for a few years. For me, even as someone whose job is to pray and read the Bible and preach and talk about God, there are seasons in my life where I’m like, is any of this real, am I in a cult?

And doesn’t matter, have I been duped this whole time with this thing called Christianity? And I come across Bible texts like this, that I just read for us. And sometimes actually struggle more than being encouraged. This is how we should pray. It says from right off the bat, our father, and I’ve got a problem, right then.

I mean, why is it going to be a guy, your kingdom come, oh, you’re a king now, high and mighty above us. And what, we’re just your minions? I mean in the first few sentences of this very prescriptive prayer, I’m already [00:07:00] tripping over patriarchy and hierarchy that I already struggled with in so many, uh, so many parts of my world and what, what I experience.

So yes, it’s, it’s hard to know and understand and receive teachings from the Bible sometimes because the Bible was written in the context and we only get to get a glimpse of it out of context. This prayer. Jesus didn’t show it as an example to me, an Asian American woman living in 2022, he said it to the Jewish people said in 27 AD in the ancient near east. For them

it actually was a provocative prayer. Our father. That was not what you called. God, you called God, Lord. Adonai. You actually couldn’t even utter God’s name, but Jesus called God Abba. You don’t curtsy and yield to this God, you run up and cuddle up on their lap. [00:08:00] It’s like, if I were to sit here and tell you, this is how you should pray, Hey, boo.

You’d be like, Hmm, that’s different. What, and yes, I don’t have authority like Jesus, but the comparison point here is that Jesus often were saying some really strange and ridiculous things that people didn’t necessarily recognize. Usually when Jesus said something, actually people were like, what did he say?

Why is he talking like that? Who does he think he is? And if that’s what you think after I preach, then I’m doing my job. Just kidding. Kind of.

And this kingdom and heaven, he was using their language, but spinning it on its head. There were concepts of metaphors that they were familiar with. And it was like saying God’s realm, God’s space, God’s rules, not the rules of the Romans who [00:09:00] were ruthless and oppressive, but God’s rules. Or another metaphor that works a little bit, maybe closer to us.

It’s maybe God’s household or God’s home, let God’s loving care and nurture be present here with us now rather than whatever powers that seemingly matter the most that everybody says. No, it’s not who we pay our taxes to that control our lives, but the one who loves us and feeds us and cares for us and is there for us.

A loving power far greater than the ruleres. And heaven. Heaven was a particular concept that they had that’s different from what we know about our world and universe today. At the time, the biblical cosmology consisted of understanding the world called firmament. They actually have pictures of a dome-like structure that was made up of upper portions and lower portions, heaven, and earth.

And so this prayer, it actually doesn’t work [00:10:00] for us knowing all that we know about the galaxy, except in a metaphorical way that like your love press into our love, let your body infuse into our bodies, let your universe expand into our way of doing things. Because what else do we have besides metaphors to talk about?

And if you say anything about God and claim it, not as a metaphor, but as an objective truth, then you are a liar. But what is a metaphor? Does it less true because it’s a metaphor. I mean, sometimes metaphors, stories get more truth captured in such a way that I could’ve never expressed in literal ways.

Like literature. Haven’t you ever read fiction that makes you go, yes. [00:11:00] This was better put than I could have said in exactly what I’ve felt and experienced in this world.

You know what I think about often when I think about prayer? It’s a bit of a random place, but it actually matters to me a lot. And come back to me again and again, um, there was a series of books that actually a lot of Christians didn’t like called, um, the DaVinci code, um, by Dan brown. And, you know, there was like a movie called DaVinci code with Tom Hanks.

And honestly, I really liked the books. They were thrilling and adventurous, just like easy page turners. Um, I think one of the series was called the lost symbol. And in that book, it talked about noetic science. Which apparently is a real area of study, uh, the study of subjective experience to ways that consciousness may influence the physical world.[00:12:00]

So the book had this noetic science lab. It had to be, uh, enclosed actually within a huge empty space because it needed to be free from all influences of the external world. And I thought that’s kind of like prayer. Influences of our hearts and thoughts out onto a material world.

Or like the movie Inception. I really love this movie. I think they’re in a top, Leonardo DiCaprio is a great actor and the premise is that this like one word or one thought planted in your mind and your deep, deep sleep is more powerful than any other influence. Uh, I mean, that’s how marketing works for me. And yes, I am very impressionable.

Well, one day somebody preached a sermon and said, talked about McDonald’s and later that week I had to go get mcDonald’s. Not sponsored. [00:13:00] All of these are a little bit silly, but also kind of true, you know. Our words matter, our thoughts matter, our feelings matter, what we say to our children matters. I mean, I’ve seen different kinds of music being played to water as it’s becoming ice.

And it makes different kinds of ice patterns. And of course, each snowflake is different as I’m reminded lately with a show called Daniel Tiger. That’s on all the time. But I, I mean, I knew it before, but isn’t it amazing, each snowflake is different and music affects crystallization. I don’t know, I’m not a scientist, but also have you heard about black holes?

Like what do they do? It just sucks in light and matter and sound and everything. And where does it go? There is [00:14:00] so much that we don’t know about our world, about religion, about Christianity, about ourselves. I mean these days, people are like, how are you? I’m like, good. Uh, how am I?

There is no answer to how to pray only the humble journey of asking questions. And that’s, that’s the faith journey. And a church or community is us just trying to do it together. Cause doing it together often does help like a good workout crew or a yoga community. Teachers and others on the journey, helping our journey.

And at the same time, sometimes you need to do it just on your own. When I left the faith for a while, because church felt suffocating and because they weren’t helping me deal with the issues that I had, were [00:15:00] instead judging me for the issues I had in the first place. Like it was my fault. Like I just needed to be fixed before I came to church.

When church felt more hypocritical than helpful, I didn’t go to church for many years. And I didn’t go anywhere else to get help either. So my problems continued. My addictions got worse, my depression got worse and the worst of worst of it all was that I felt very alone about it. No one really knew what was going on with me.

One day, I decided to go to church only because it was familiar and maybe there might be something that I could use to help. I went to just receive, not engage. I didn’t want to say hi to anyone. I didn’t introduce myself. I didn’t join a community group or a life group or a cell group. I just wanted to get my service at the back of the auditorium and then leave

as soon as I [00:16:00] could. One of those visits, I did get something. A pastor was retelling an old story from the Bible about another woman who came to Jesus crying in shame and desperation, in need of hope and overhearing that story because that’s what it felt like, that I was just there to overhear, I felt like I saw, I felt like someone saw my life, that someone had been in my shoes.

And then after that I needed some private conversations with God, this Jesus character, that if it was true, what the Bible was saying, that he cared about sinful woman like me, after that one sermon, I started doing what they used to call quiet times, QT, reading the Bible, praying and journaling, which was, you know, what you were supposed to do if you are a good Christian, which I never did.

So I never was good. [00:17:00] And here I was because I wanted to, and I needed it every night. I got home from work and all I wanted to do was open up a devotional book and pray to genus Jesus and journal my thoughts. And I did that night after night, and I heard honestly different things than I had ever heard in church.

Things like no one else can know the call of God, except for in your own heart. But no one else can tell you that you can’t do something because you’re a woman. Those prayers, I didn’t pray because I was taught to, I did it because I needed it.

Christianity is not a formula. It’s a story to be invited into. Prayer is not a formula. It’s not a command but an invitation. You [00:18:00] don’t have to pray a certain way. It’s meant for no one else, but you and God. What do you need to say to God? What do you want to God to understand about you? Or got nothing to say? Then don’t pray. Got lots to say? Then find the time to sit or walk or run.

Or stand in front of a waterfall or kneel in a cathedral, or find a stationery that works for you and just start writing. And Jesus, Jesus is just giving us an example of how to pray a really compelling, provocative for his time. And many would say for ours, a very interesting example of a human, so connected and in union with God.

And to show us that this kind of love with the creator God is [00:19:00] possible. To say, do you believe in Jesus is only to say, do you believe that? That a union with the divine with you? Yes, even you, it’s possible, do you believe that?

Holy and loving God, give us the humility to be okay not knowing everything, but just walk with us as we walk with you in prayer, sometimes stumbling in words, sometimes mumbling in our steps. Guide us and be with us, we pray. That’s all we ask for. And really that’s all you ask for to know that you are with us.

May we see and know that you are here, right here, talking with us all the time. Amen.[00:20:00]