Sacramental Shopping

*actually written back in August*

We've been in Hong Kong now for three weeks, and moved into our flat one week ago. Quite likely the nicest place we've ever lived, it's also the *smallest* place we've ever lived--just 589 square feet. Our bedroom is literally a bed-room--meaning there is room for a bed, a deep window sill, and then a one-foot walkway in between the bed and the closet. That's it. And the living room ... well, let's just say that Matt jokes about using the sofa for seating at the dining table, because there just isn't much room for chairs (and he's only half-joking!) But the space is designed efficiently, and it's got a user-friendly, cozy kitchen. We have a lovely balcony with a view of the mountains and the harbor. The building has a pool, jacuzzi, children's pool, and children's play areas, both outdoor and indoor and there seem to be lots of kids and babies who live here--all of which should make us very thankful...but...I have to admit we weren't thankful at first.

In fact, we thought we had made a dreadful mistake, and spent the few days after we signed the contract plagued with renter's remorse. We had been lulled by the luxurious facilities and the balcony, and the price kept going down without our even having to bargain. Anxious to be done with this part of the settling in, we ignored that little voice that said to wait and sleep on it, and instead signed the contract and paid the deposit. Neither of us slept that night--I kept thinking about that shipment of 10 boxes currently on the high seas, not even sure where we could store our suitcases in this flat, much less the 10 boxes worth of stuff yet to arrive. Matt kept thinking about the balcony, such a selling point at first, but terrifying once the little guy starts to crawl.

It took a few days to accept the situation, but after church the next Sunday we both felt convicted for our lack of gratitude for such a luxurious, clean and safe space to live, when so many people live in sub-standard housing. We also realized we were facing a classic Hong Kong cultural difference--the size of the apartment is not nearly as important to Hong Kongers, while beautiful lobbies and nice facilities rank high. Most Hong Kongers don't entertain at home―they don't spend much time at home, period. They often live with extended family and therefore people stay out late and spend weekends out and about―going to the beach, going to the park, or (most likely) going shopping.  I can't say we were both thrilled with our new home immediately, but we were on the way. (This being “on the way” is important, choosing to move in this direction instead of that one. Martin Luther says it best: “This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed” (”Defense and Explanation of All the Articles (1521), LW 32, pg 24).  

And so that Sunday we celebrated our change of direction by doing what the locals would do―going out for dim sum and then going shopping. It was sacramental shopping―an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. It's hard to put those two words together―grace isn't something that can be brought home in a shopping bag. But here in HK, where shopping is the national pastime and malls function culturally as important public space, spending the afternoon looking at housewares and furniture, imagining how to create a home out of our 589 square feet, was sacramental indeed.


Chip said...

Welcome to the blogosphere!

fairlen said...

That was a beautiful post! What a culture shock. I spent a very brief time living like that. It takes a lot of energy for me. I know Knick and I very much enjoy quiet evenings at home. But it also bothers me to have a lot of "stuff" and being attached to this "stuff". I admit, most of the space in our house is used to store "stuff". If we had to, we could easily live in a much smaller space (I like to think so) if we could strip our "stuff" down to the very essentials. 2 plates, 2 forks, 2 spoons, one table, 2 folding chairs, one bed....

But what about my sewing stuff? my art? Where will I make stained glass?

I don't know. I guess I'll read on.


Unkle David said...

What a wonderful understanding of sacrament! God does indeed move in ways that are wonderous to behold, or as C. S. Lewis said, " God does good staff work." It our duty to reconize it, as you are doing so well.
Via con Dios,