God speaks to me through fortune cookies. I’m serious about this. The God of my understanding has, over the years, used any means possible to get my attention, and one of the first times I noticed that the Spirit was trying to get my attention was in this fortune cookie message: “What is hidden in an empty box?”
Normally fortune cookies tell you that something wonderful is about to happen, or that your work is going to be successful, or that happiness is right around the corner. But this one made me sit down and think. I still have it, taped into my journal from that year. I was a senior in college, and I thought I knew a lot about life. I liked to stay up late drinking and telling anyone who would listen everything I knew about saving the world. After several too many of these kinds of nights, I was beginning to grow weary and embittered.
But then the question: “What is hidden in an empty box?” I was reading a lot of taoism at the time, and probably saw the fortune cookie message as some sort of sign. Reflecting on it more than 10 years later, I see many layers of meaning in it for me, both today and back then. During college, I used an array of substances to “escape” what I saw to be the evils in the universe. At such a comfortable distance from the truth, I could then feel free to analyze and prosyletize on any subject imaginable. I was, after all, in the midst of writing a thesis on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and the definition of self. I knew a thing or two about identity…though not too much about my own.
Now, after six years of living sober, I see that God’s fortune cookie message may have been trying to reveal that all my pursuits of perfection were empty, devoid of substance because I was pursuing them in a state of self-righteous, self-hating intoxication. Maybe God wanted me to see the emptiness then, so I would look to him and be liberated from my struggles. But instead, I continued in the same way for several more years to run from myself, to dig through so many empty boxes looking for the magic key that would take away all of my worries and fears. I finally did find that key; it’s called a relationship with God, as I understand God, coupled with the willingness to clean up any of the messes that I make. But at the time I thought there might be an easier way, so I continued on the same path and got the same results.
Before I could get to the point of having a real relationship with God, I had to let go of my fears. One of my fears was of losing the mystical quality that my spiritual path had taken on during my college days. In addition to the fortune cookie-type messages appearing out of the blue (which happened almost monthly for a while there), I read a lot of Rumi and had practically memorized the book Conversations With God. If I became a Christian again, I thought, I would lose these new modes of understanding which had taken such hold of my heart.
When I moved to Koinonia Farm in 2006, I had no idea that my spirituality would be challenged and solidified into a relationship with God, with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I had no idea I was going to go through that kind of conversion. I feel so blessed to have made the transition to Christianity here, because I did not have to give up on the mystical ideas of my college days. To my delight and surprise, they integrated easily and fully into my practice of Christian principles.
The fortune cookie-style communication from God had died down, but last winter I guess myself and a few others here needed a blatantly obvious message about where our focus should be. The holidays are Koinonia’s busiest time, shipping out thousands of orders from our catalog, harvesting from our 90 acres of pecan trees, and hosting hundreds of visitors and guests. Bren, Brendan and I were having a Chinese take-out dinner late one evening, after a long and busy day one week before Christmas. We finished our meal, and had been talking about plans for the following year. Brendan had just recently begun keeping chickens, and he was fairly well obsessed with getting more animals and resurrecting our neglected gardens. Bren was chest-deep in responsibilities, desperately needing someone to assist her as she changed hats many times each day and tried to keep the peace among the community members. I was overseeing the parts of the community that Bren and Brendan couldn’t keep up with, and slowly learning how to lead without being an overbearing manager, how to guide the people in leading themselves.
The tasks before us were monumental, and though we are all visionaries and could see clearly the potentials of our community at Koinonia Farm, we were having a very frustrating time getting over the many bumps in the rutted dirt road that we had to take to get out of some serious messiness left over from years of high turn-over and neglect. Bren liked to use the metaphor that we were all in a car hurtling down the road at 70 miles an hour, and if something was wrong with the car we had to fix it while it was moving. Well, when we finished our meal, each of us grabbed a fortune cookie, of which there were only three. I mentioned playfully that God speaks to me through fortune cookies, and everyone smiled though we weren’t expecting much. And then one of those Koinonia miracles happened.
Bren opened hers first. “A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains.” She guffawed and said that was exactly what she needed to hear at that moment.
Mine said: “You have an ability to sense and know higher truth.” We all nodded, acknowledging the affirmation that I was doing difficult, but good and important work, and that my intuitions were pretty accurate amongst the interpersonal conflicts that were flaring up like little wildfires. And Bren and I were the firefighters, charged with noticing the fires before they got too big, and showing other people how to put them out.
Brendan, a little starry eyed from exhaustion, wondered if his might say something about chickens, since he was still so uncertain about what direction to take with our farm animals. Then he opened his cookie, and started laughing hysterically. Bren and I waited for him to share: “It is better to have a hen tomorrow than an egg today.”
We sat around the table for about 10 minutes, not really speaking much, in awe of how blatantly God delivered specific messages to each one of us that night. What a gift, to live in awareness of God’s voice coming from all directions, even from a small slip of paper tucked inside of take-out cookie. It liberates me, strengthens me to carry on the work that I am called to do here at Koinonia, and beyond, because I know now that I’ve always been on the path that God intended, and that I’ve experienced all I have for very specific reasons. I’m learning is that perfection does not arrive all at once. But every once in a while I get to see very clearly one thread of the glorious tapestry of creation, and it is enough to carry me through anything that life can dish out.
If I could just let go of my fears, there would be nothing to stop me from realizing my full potential. I have just one question now: What are you hiding in an empty box?