“No, don’t sweep the floor on the first day of Chinese New Year. You will sweep all our luck away!”
Growing up in Penang I associated the Lunar New Year with many instructions like the above. There were a number of things one had to do or not do so as not to jeopardise your luck for the coming year. Since our family is a Christian one, I was never sure of the worldview convictions that lay behind such beliefs. Most of the time we played along just for fun. I often suspected that the true reason for such prohibitions was to free folks from housework so that everyone could enjoy the new year festivities.
One could say that such practices belonged to a body of beliefs for how one should live so as to maximise good things and minimise bad things. The practice of Feng Shui, for example, taught one how to align things and places so as to maximise blessings and minimise trouble. How should Christians respond to teachings like these?
Well, one could see such things as purely cultural. One doesn’t really believe sweeping the floor on the first day of the Lunar New Year sweeps away one’s allocation of luck for the year. But you go along because it’s fun and one way we bond with family. I think of many Christians in the West who go along with Halloween practices, like “trick or treat” because it is a fun cultural practice long dissociated from its pagan roots.
I don’t think one should be legalistic about things. But one should be clear about why one does something. I think of the biblical warnings against idolatry and things like prohibitions against witchcraft and consulting soothsayers. One key reason for such prohibitions is that, de facto, when you are doing such things, you are saying that trusting in God is not enough. You need these other things because you can’t trust God to provide you with what you need. In many ways this is the first sin. In Genesis we read that God created Adam and Eve and provided for all they needed and more. The serpent raised doubts about God’s provision, that God couldn’t be truly trusted. He tempted them to move away from a stance of trusting and obeying, to taking their fate into their own hands and providing for themselves by eating the banned fruit, thus disobeying God (Genesis 3). And we know what happened as a result.
So, is God enough to meet our deepest needs? Will we be loyal to Him and trust and obey Him? Or is it God + Baal, God + Feng Shui, God + money, etc. Of course we are not saying that God doesn’t care for us through His gifts, like money, good medical practices, etc., but we are clear that we trust in the Giver not the gifts. And we show our trust by living lives of obedience in the strength He provides.
This is a tough Lunar New Year for me. Apart from the four years when I was in Canada, I have never missed spending Lunar New Year in Penang, celebrating with family and friends. In my family of origin, only mum is left. She is 93 and suffering from dementia. We can’t be with her this New Year. Will there be another? Our only grandson is in Melbourne with our son and daughter-in-law. Another son is in Toronto. I am very grateful for family and friends in Singapore and I know I am one of many who can’t “go home” for New Year because of the pandemic.
So I struggle with the blues this New Year. I feel the weight of all my losses from 2020 in my heart, especially the passing of John my dear friend, and Alan my cousin.
But God is enough.