This Christmas, we had the privilege of going to Hong Kong to see where our new sister grew up. Dan and Fun (Cassy) had their reception on Christmas eve in the upper dining room at the YMCA in downtown Hong Kong (similar to the Hilton by American standards). They failed to tell us it was also the destination for more than a million local Chinese revelers who annually clog the streets for the spectacular fireworks and light show (think Rockin’ New Year’s Eve in Times Square). Luckily, they weren’t all invited. But it was an unforgettable night, no doubt about it.
The rest of the week our joined families spent sightseeing, touring around to different places of interest. One of my favorites was the recreation of an ancient temple, the name of which I can hardly pronounce, let alone spell. But it was here that Cassy used to visit as a child when her parents would come and revere the deceased ancestors. She’d told us a little bit about it before, but we only understood once we arrived and saw for ourselves. According to tradition, worshipers may select items to burn and send to their loved ones in the afterlife. If they choose, they may buy such items at the vendor’s tents just outside. It all begins to seem strangely familiar as you get past the outer courtyard and step up to the temple where people are lighting paper replicas in the giant urn, bowing and praying as the smoke billows up. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were sacrifices for the dead or for the living.
It didn’t hit me until later that this is essentially what all of us are doing as writers. We look for (and even buy) the best things we can think to offer in order to sacrifice them on the altars of our works in progress. Ideas, experiences, degrees, family secrets, all our most precious possessions, for the veneration of … something. Maybe fame. Recognition. Restitution for a shitty childhood. Whatever. And in the midst of it, it’s so easy to forget why we’re really doing it. It isn’t just for the dead—or the living. There’s a greater purpose and a higher authority who waits for our recognition. Though we accumulate all our experiences and talents and learning to pour onto the fire, we may still so easily miss the real reason our sacrifice is significant.
The question, I think, isn’t so much what you’re willing to give it all for. We can give it all sincerely and still be sincerely deceived. The more important question is, Are you willing to follow wherever God may lead? Many paths may seem to lead to him, but actually lead far away. In the answer to that question lies the truth of our ultimate sacrifice, our obedience to serve the kingdom. This is the only true measure of our worth as observers and storytellers on this earth.
Maybe there’s something here that can help us with those resolutions in the coming year. What quiet urging are you currently hearing?