I saw a little more of God in Myanmar. That is the best way to describe the experience I had on our cohort’s pilgrimage to Southeast Asia in February of 2010. We spent almost two weeks between Thailand and Myanmar, studying Contextual Theology, learning of the conflict between the military government and the native peoples and accompanying Dr. Molly T. Marshall for her lectures and commencement address at the Myanmar Institute of Theology. However, the most life changing event for me was something our tour guide said while showing us one massive Buddhist temple.
Our tour guide’s comment came during a time when all kinds of questions were being raised about where we were and what the meaning of it all was. I, along with my classmates, wrestled to make our religious upbringings mesh with this new land we were now in. We had learned prior to the trip that Myanmar, and most of Asia for that matter, was overwhelmingly Buddhist. We had also observed the ways in which the people worshipped, doing all they could to make sure to earn merit for the sake of the next life. One phrase that we continued to hear from people we met was, “To be Burmese is to be Buddhist.” Questions pervaded my mind; “How is God at work in this place?” “Does Jesus matter here?” Yet, while I did not necessarily get answers to these questions, I did hear God’s voice through the words of our tour guide.
While showing us the oldest, and one of the largest Buddhist temples, he began to describe its architecture. He spoke about the great detail given to the interior walls, for lighting and sound. He talked about how the bricks on the outside had been strategically laid in varying patterns, to give the temple flexibility during natural disasters. Then he said, “...and at every corner there is a stone.” Simple, yet life changing for me. It was at that moment that I heard God’s voice, speaking through language I was already familiar with; language of the “Cornerstone.” Our guide described the importance of the cornerstone, telling us that it was what held the whole temple together for all these years. It allowed the temple to weather storms for centuries.
Reflecting on this man’s words helped me realize how large our God is, and how important it is to embrace all people as being created and loved by God. One way I saw this realization at work was in an internship I completed at the Lawrence Memorial Hospital last summer. While working as a chaplain, I was able to connect with people from different cultures and religious traditions, being a pastoral presence during the most crucial times of their lives. Oftentimes traditions weigh heavily on our ways of ministering, but in a healthcare environment there is no time to be a slave to doctrine. One needs only to represent the presence of God in a way that connects with a person’s humanity and “createdness.” The ministry of chaplaincy can help one see another side of life; to see a little more of God. One is free to be a pastor for all faith traditions, not just the tradition of one’s own church. One is free to allow oneself to be held together with those from other traditions, by God’s initiative to keep us united.
2009 create Scholars Cohort