South Africa – but a brief pause…

Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg, Durban, Stellenbosch, Johannesburg… SA you’ve shown me many sides of yourself. And you haven’t been bashful or reserved … for the most part you’ve unapologetically said, “This is us, this is who we are.”

These two months in SA introduced me to people, attitudes and beliefs as different from one another as different can be. It would be similar to putting together a picture of America by visiting New York City, Mobile (Alabama), El Paso (Texas), and Monterey, California. The food and language (if only the accent) change, the common stories, the culture, the weather, the topography, the worldviews … and often very largely the politics take on varied and different images, heroes and villains, mantras and foci … for life looks a little different depending on the vantage point you have. History, choices and opportunities deal different cards and cards dealt don’t necessarily feel very fair or make clear sense.

South Africa I am nowhere near figuring you out …

…so let’s just pause the conversation while I head up to Jerusalem. I’ll be there for a couple months. In the Holy Lands I will begin to experience both the sacred and the secular of a place that provokes many images as well … everything from majesty and triumph to division and fear.

So till next time SA…

May God continue to heal your wounds and bless your efforts to reconcile and find justice. May God bring enough to those who know only want. May God relieve those who burden themselves with hate. And may God bring wholeness to all your people.

Goodbye India…

India you loved me, you hated me, you fed me, you starved me, you clothed me, you stripped me of my expectations, you shocked me, you gave me a gentle peace, you shared your stories with me, you gossiped behind my back, you kept me separate from you and you took me in as one of your own…

India you clarified, confused, challenged and helped me to better understand me, my hopes, my prejudices, my way of seeing the world … You gave me many opportunities to think twice, notice the subtleties and consider a different way to react and to be…

I see you differently than before I arrived … not better, not worse just more truly, more humanly, less naively.

Goodbye India … don’t forget me, I will never be able to forget you …you are now a part of who I am.

I’ll see you again … some day …but for now, I will carry you in my heart …

(And no I’m not back in the states … my next post – South Africa…)

Kindness and Love

A couple weeks ago I would have told you that I am exhausted. Exhausted physically. Exhausted mentally. Even exhausted emotionally. Traveling is awesome and it can be exhausting and overwhelming too.

And I got overwhelmed. I was sick, I was alone and I found my tipping point.

Or was I alone?…

I called a friend and before I could say a word, the tears began to flow… the next thing I knew I was at my friend’s grandmother’s home being nursed back to health. Her English was sparse but complete enough for us to communicate on the bare essentials. She feed me my favorite south Indian foods, monitored my liquids, let me sit with her, let me sleep in her room so that I would not be alone, held my hand …

She just let me rest, recover and come back to me.

While I was with her in the country, I rested, read and watched the animals, even they slept a little siesta in the middle of the day.

I don’t think I even realized how much she had done for me until the last day I was with her. I went in to her room to say thank you and goodbye and once again before I could even speak, the tears began to flow. She reached out her hand to mine and looked at me with knowing eyes… I reminded her that when I came to her I was so sick and so homesick … and that she brought me back to health. She told me that it was good for her Mother’s heart to be able to care for me. I hugged her with more tears.

What kindness, what selfless love! Look at this beautiful woman’s eyes and smile, it’s written all over her!

My Surreal Reality

Did you ever have an experience where you woke up every single day and said “this must be a dream?” Then you are starting to appreciate how these past 2 months have felt for me. I so often feel overwhelmed by the surreal reality that is my life right now. Who would have imagined what time spent away could do and where it might place me…

I traveled from Bangalore to Tirupati to see the community of and talk to the congregation of St Luke’s Lutheran Church of the SALC (South Andhra Lutheran Church). The SALC has had connections with the ELCA and her predecessor bodies.

Everywhere I go I am translated by someone, as my fast American accent is a bit confusing to the British English with an Indian accent that is spoken here. Sometimes I really wish I knew the language but then it seems we are able to make ourselves understood even without words. A gentle touch on the back, a strong arm stopping you from danger, one word and a finger pointing you in the right direction, eyes of fear and question and smiles of friendship…

When I spoke at St Luke’s I was honored to be translated by The Rev. M. Vijaya Victor, the first woman to be ordained in the SALC. I think she did well, but there were a couple times she gave me the look which said, “You want me to say what???” (I am sure this is not surprising to hear…) Just like I reminded the congregation of St Luke’s, Jesus goes before us, just like he said he would. (Mark 16:7) Thank you Jesus for the multitude of ways you work through us and the people we meet!

Differently Together

Even with all that I don’t understand and find downright puzzling about Hindu Temples and Ashrams, I have still found them to be surprisingly inclusive and welcoming … welcoming to the tourist, the spiritual seeker and those of every faith. Since I have been in India, I’ve been welcomed, blessed and fed by residents and caretakers of Ashrams and even prayed for by name by a Brahmin Priest. None of this was done to gain favor or to convert me, but instead because we meet strangers and friends on the journey of life, why not welcome them …?

For your presence is a blessing and your presence is an offering; not in the way that one should never give or support but in the way that a relationship is nurtured in presence; presence to others and presence to God.

I have met devout Christians who live in ashrams here in Tiruvannamalai as unquestioned Christian members of the community. I am intrigued by a space like an Ashram (which might be more akin to a retreat center or meditation space, it is not a Temple or a church.) Ashrams allow a space to be differently together seeking God.

I wonder if more followers of different faiths could seek God differently together, maybe we wouldn’t fight about our different faiths and understandings through violence, judgment and hate … maybe we could instead be more of a blessing to each other.

A wall inside the Quo Vadis Interfaith Dialogue Center.

The Arunachaleshwar Temple in the middle of Tiruvannamalai. Looks something like an Old Testament description of a temple…

The rather popular, with the Westerners and Indians alike, Sri Ramanasramam Ashram.