Leilei Tian is a LDS Chinese composer currently living in Paris. She and I have been internet friends for the past few years and I got to meet up with her in Paris last November. We talked a lot about God and prayer, and I asked her if I could share some of her ideas on this blog, which she happily agreed to. Although she has a public career as a composer, she seemed perfectly content to allow me to publish her extraordinary spiritual journey online, and I admire her candidness in this regard. Here is a selection from an email she sent me several years ago which touched me deeply, and which I still refer back to from time to time:
I believe there are several possible traps in the religious life. First of all, people believe religion is purely a public thing. I am a member of the church and I am grateful for all the good that I get from being in it. Yet, I have to admit, the collective worship and its activities can never replace the personal search for God. Religion, for me, is not about activities, not even to believe a set of doctrines, nor to build a social bond by sharing those beliefs. It is not even to just be a very nice and moral person. True religion is the way to learn to unite our soul with God. It is a more private thing than a public thing. Just like a marriage or close friendship is a private and intimate thing. In closeness, we find depth. So with God….to Him, we tell everything, expose every level of our being, good side and bad side, surely not less as to our spouse, but much more. Frankly, I have never regarded Christ as the Lord in the sense that he is my leader, my master or a mere example of good behaviors. But He has been my Lover, my best Friend, my Father, my Son. So in front of Him I am just as true as possible.
In the beginning, I fought with Him (Like Jacob wrestled with the angel:), I argued with Him, I complained all the time (like the Jews in the desert), I even imagined hitting him on his head when I got angry and hurt, also of course many sweet kisses, hugs, happy tears, praise, heart-felt thanks and joyful jokes….because that was me, both good and evil. But with time, I changed, never perfect of course, but I am no longer angry, sad and quarrelsome anymore…we have a more stable and loving relationship than our beginning now though never a lack of passion.
So how you regard the relationship between you and God is crucial, not how other people thought or taught you, but how your own heart told you it should be. If you identify the Lord too much as a public image and yourself as a part of a public institution or group, this may hinder your own spiritual growth in depth. Because any public thing is more or less outwardly oriented, good and helpful only to a certain extent. But to acquire intimate knowledge one needs to shut up the door and sit alone with God, one needs to take off the mask of public persona that one gets so used to wearing and be naked, telling Him things and feelings that you might not be able to tell others, even things that people think are not proper, even the doubts about any religious teachings, and asking big questions of life that others can’t answer either. To be completely sincere is the starting point. Anyway, God knows all our secret thoughts and feelings, even those that we are not aware of ourselves. We just need to confront our true selves and God Himself (not the one in the church, but the one in your innermost), to discover and know….By this we call it “secret knowledge of God”. Secret, not because we want to keep it for ourselves for selfish purposes, but rather because it is so deep, intimate and hidden inside, and people would hardly understand it, even if they were interested. So if even our own heart is a deep well full of secrets, how about the secret heart of our Lord whose depth of Love is unmeasurable and without end? For me, the Gospel is a “Open Secret” (the title of one of my pieces), though it is open to everyone, yet most people know only its appearance, not its essence.
When I first read this, I felt like a shock wave had come over me and a new door had opened. I couldn’t get the image of Leilei “hitting God over the head” out of my mind. I had never considered that the gospel invites us to embrace such incredible intimacy with Him. Since then, I’ve come to the realization that I don’t, and never really have loved God as He really demands in the first commandment: “with all your might, mind, and strength.” But Leilei has given me a vision for what that kind of love might look like, and its very different than the image I had grown up with, of trying to prove my love to God through obedience.
- Do you believe that focus on outward commandments can distract from the goal of having an intimate relationship with God?
- How is intimacy achieved?
- Is it necessary? What if our relationship with God is more distant but still respectful?