By Xiaoli Yang – OMSC@PTS Global Partner 2022-23
Editor’s Note: This week’s post is written by one of OMSC@PTS’s 2022-23 global partners, Dr. Xiaoli Yang, who joins us from Australia by way of her home country of China. During this sabbatical year of study in Princeton, she is doing research on the concept of lived poetics and its significance for theological reflection and spiritual formation, especially for the Chinese diaspora.
Curious to explore more of Xiaoli’s work? Learn more about her book, A Dialogue Between Haizi’s Poetry and the Gospel of Luke, available in both English and Chinese, at ChinaSource HERE and read a review of the book HERE.
Together with OMSC’s other Global Partners, I live in Payne Hall, a building that was dedicated to housing missionaries sent from the USA to other parts of the world. Today, the building is occupied by scholars from the Global South. Built in 1922, the same year OMSC was founded, Payne Hall sits in between the seminary campus on one side and Princeton University on the other. Standing in this liminal position as global leaders of the church and scholars of the faith, the world-class libraries and faculties of the university and the seminary provide us enormous resources as we bridge the world and Christ’s message that is both strategic and prophetic.
As an OMSC Global Partner, I have been able connect with many diverse communities and interesting people around the seminary. Participating in academic colloquiums and regular prayer with my cohort of scholars has enriched my perspectives and gathering for worship with the seminary community during chapel services has blessed my heart. Even opportunities to play football (soccer) and frisbee with others has been delightful.
As a theologian working on a theology of Chinese diaspora experience, it was very fruitful to participate in Princeton Seminary’s course on Asian American Theology. Because I am also currently supervising a student in Australia doing Asian Australian theology, it has been insightful to compare the Australian and American contexts and their influence on how our faith is lived. As a poet, I have also been given opportunities to share my poetry in different forums with the hope of fostering a sacred place for people to encounter and develop an intimate relationship with God . For me, writing poetry is as important a spiritual practice as writing theology, as I believe a key task of Christian leaders is to ‘present everyone fully mature in Christ’ (Col 1:28) in whatever means we can use!
My current research sits at the intersection of these experiences between theology, spirituality, diaspora, and poetry. I am exploring the concept of “lived poetics” as a resource for theology, attempting to trailblaze a creative and aesthetic epistemology out of lived human experience grounded on the relational Trinity. At the invitation of OMSC, I presented some preliminary ideas about lived poetics via video at the 2022 American Society of Missiology (ASM) meeting that you can view here:
During my time here at OMSC, I continue to explore lived poetics as a methodology for my book project on a “theology of displacement.” Lived poetics also informs a book chapter I am writing that curates artwork by Chinese artists in an upcoming volume titled Chinese Christian Witness: Identity, Creativity and Transmission that will be published by Brill. I also hope to present it during the upcoming 2023 ASM meeting. The concept will also serve as the foundation for a paper on “Lived Poetics from ‘Down Under’- a Contemplative Stance of Christian Witness during the Pandemic(s)” at the upcoming 2023 Princeton Seminary World Christianity Conference.
But lived poetics is not just an academic pursuit, it is also a deeply spiritual one. I am very excited to be working with the Princeton Seminary media team to design a multimedia experience called “Dancing on the Shore” that presents poetry in a contemplative mode that can help people engage with theology, spirituality and mission that will be presented both in Princeton and Boston during the 2023 spring semester.
Above all, I see theology as doxology—writing is worship, drawing all in communion with God and the creation. All of the work can be summarized in my poem ‘Birthing’ (2014), which I read out in the Chapel during the Advent. Here is an excerpt:
I am pregnant
with the dream
of a nation and nations
they gather and sit
in a pool under the living waterfall
their thirst quenched
It has been a joy to share scholarly and pastoral experiences with students, faculty and scholars from other parts of the world, and to feel encouraged and appreciated. Please pray for my daily intimate walk with God, divine appointment and inspiration. The words of Watchman Nee I found in Musuem of the Bible echoes: “I want nothing for myself, I want everything for the Lord”. Amen!