Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 71:5-18) transports me to the woods behind the garden of the Oakley house where I grew up, in the summer of 1966, my 4th year on the planet. It’s one of my earlier memories, with my neighbor friend Tommy Brown and I heading off on the adventure of our young lifetimes, with our dads’ shovels in tow. There in the middle of the scrub pines, we started digging, determined to make our way through the earth’s core and on to the other side of the world, to emerge in China. Why we wanted to make our way to China, I don’t remember. Our world was as innocent and good as you can imagine for a couple of pre-schoolers – full and free days romping in woods, exploring, playing games, with everything and everyone in our sphere of experience instilling in us the confidence that not only were we cherished by our parents, but we were beloved by the Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth. Had we a clue about what was transpiring in China at the time, I don’t think we would have taken the shovels out of the basement. Little did we know that on the other side of the world a revolution was getting underway, the Cultural Revolution. Mao Zedong was determined to instill in children born to middle class and educated families that they were anything but beloved, certainly not cherished. While Tommy and I were enjoying the bliss of childhood, a little girl our same age, Hong Fu, and her older sister Ping Fu, were torn from their homes in Shanghai and taken to a re-education labor camp in Namjing. For the next ten years, they would endure a tortured life, filled with every sort of humiliation and deprivation under the sun, from hard labor to rape to being force fed what the Red Guard called “bitter meals” – a mixture of dung and dirt, in attempts to eradicate every sentiment of privilege from their tiny frames.
I think about the various and sundry experiences of children of this earth and the presence of God when I read Psalms like this passage today. The poet must have had an upbringing closer to mine and Tommy Brown’s than Hong and Ping Fu’s. The song speaks of a confidence in the goodness of life and a reliance on the presence of God from birth on through childhood and youth. There is a bit of anxiety in the Psalm, with the innocent confidence waning in regards to God’s continuing presence through the sunset of life, but the precious memories of God’s refuge throughout the early years help alleviate the worry. But what about those children who have no precious memories, who only bear scars of horrific trauma? Could they sing this Psalm? Could they remember a time when they indeed discovered a secret place within, a place inviolable, a sacred refuge and strength available when there was no physical refuge available for them to find escape?
I don’t know Ping Fu’s faith, or lack thereof, but I have learned enough of her story to know that there was something present in her life, giving her and her sister the resilience to survive traumas no child should have to endure. After Mao died and the Cultural Revolution died with him, Ping made her way to a university, where she discovered that in addition to having a heavy dose of defiance, she also contained a generous portion of genius. Her research led her to start poking around and digging deep into the ramifications of China’s one-child policy, and her criticisms soon drew international attention. This promptly got her exiled to the US. She may not have dug a literal hole to get here, but it was due to her digging around in matters the Chinese wanted to keep buried that created the passageway. Once here, she made her mark in the field of computer science. Her start-up company, Geomagic, brought innovations to the field of 3-D imaging and printing, and she now serves on the National Advisory Council for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She has recounted the wide range of her life experiences in the memoir, Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds. Her story reminds me that we serve a well-traveled God, a divinity who digs between the world of innocent privilege and the world of tortured suffering, to be present and available, offering hope and love to all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, upright and bent and broken, all precious in God’s sight.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.