It’s been a year … definitely.

A year ago today I wrote my first blog post and I spent time saying goodbye and finishing my packing. I remember that day vividly but it seems a world away and I guess in some ways it is. This year, I got to see so much and at times understand so little. I could tell stories for hours. People have asked me since I returned home, how have you changed? A tough question and one that I’m not really sure how to answer yet, I think time will let that answer be known… What I do know for sure is through all the ups and downs of an amazing year, repeatedly, it’s been the people. Varied and textured, supportive and a challenge, it’s the people I think about, reflect on and for whom I pray. I hope that has come through my blog.  The idea that people are more than an idea, a culture, neighbors or enemies but we are all humans breathing the same air, drinking the same water and inhabiting the same earth. We might treat life and each other differently but we are all here whether any one person or group likes that or not … we are all here.

Thank you for traveling with me this year and reading and considering my reflections. I write this not because I want to stop thinking or stop blogging but because it’s time to mark time.  In the upcoming weeks and months I may post some more reflections and pictures, maybe under this blog title maybe another, but for now I turn my focus to a new adventure, the adventure of finding a call.  I leave you with some (not all) of the faces that will never leave me. Many blessings to you!

Bethlehem – Part 1

I love Bethlehem!!! …There I said it.

Jerusalem is fascinating and holy and people from everywhere come here but it’s also a city; busy, noisy and full of tension.

Traffic, light rail, The Holy Sepulchre and the Lutheran Redeemer bell tower

Bethlehem is a city and lots of people come through there but it doesn’t have that busy, noisy feeling of a city. It has the rhythm of a village. I’ve been there twice since I arrived in the Holy Lands and I’m sure I’ll be back a number of times before I go.  It’s only 7 kilometers to the south of Jerusalem.

There is much to say about Bethlehem, the home of Jesus’ nativity birth, but for today I just want to share some of the architectural beauty of the Church of the Nativity.

I’ve heard this Basilica, as it is sometimes called, described as gaudy and overdone. And I’ve heard much speculation about whether this is really the spot where Jesus was born. ‘I mean really, how can we be so certain?’ goes the rationalizing… and maybe we can’t know, maybe we don’t even need to know … exactly where. But I love the place, sure the decorating idea of, “if a little is good, a lot must be great” is a proven philosophy but to me the decoration and adornment speaks much more to the near eastern culture in which and of which it finds itself not to the proof of whether Jesus was born there or not. And I’m OK with following the tradition of this being the spot. If nothing else this “spot” is the oldest continuously operating church in the world, it was commissioned by Emperor Constantine around 326 AD. (Yes it’s been reworked a few times, but its still working…)

For me more than anything the church and the city is a place to go, to revere and to remember the start of a life and an event that changed the world and the hope, I believe, of the world forever. Thank you Jesus, thank you God!

Nativity Church

You can walk from Manger Square or…

— the steps from the nearest street…

you must enter through the door …. the opening has been made smaller through the ages … can you see 3 different door frames?…

The Door of Humility… maybe you’ve been through it a time or two as well?…

once inside you will have much to see… the lower Mosaic floor is from 4th Century Constantine construction…

Everyone wants to see where Jesus was Actually born so you go to the right and follow through this door…

You will find fabulous details…

Maybe even a service happening in the main cathedral….

But I didn’t quite make it to X marks the spot because if I understood the rumors correctly 600 Polish people where in town with their Arch Bishop and he was conducting a service in the Grotto of the Nativity so I decided to come back later…

… and then found that other rumors where true… the crowds will descend and make for a long wait… I think I’ll check it out next time…

Definitely next time…

Hello South Africa…

… well hello Cape Town anyway…

Compared to living in India, I feel like I am back home in the states again. Many things feel familiar to me, more “western” … yet I am not at home, I am in South Africa, the province of the Western Cape and even more specifically the city of Cape Town. And things are not the same. Life here is owned by its people, its rhythms, its flavors, its sights, its history and its politics.

I’m just starting to soak some of it in…

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!

Joy, sorrow and the basics of everyday…

Welcome to the Ganges! The holy river of Northern India where one trip thru the city of Varanasi on a boat will reveal a whole spectrum of human realities and ritual both religious and benign…

The holy city of Varanasi is all at once picturesque and haunting, powerful and intimate… All the sights, sounds and smells to someone like me create a real clash or dare I say, cacophony, but to the faithful believer the rhythmic harmony of life is played out at the Ghats of the Ganges. There is a never ending stream of bather’s lathering up, what seems like the entire cities laundry being washed, cows coming to cool themselves, bodies being burned for Hindu cremation, garlands of flowers placed in the river for hopes and dreams, children playing, people working, and a ton of wide-eyed tourists not sure of what to make of it all.

It’s a microcosm of the India I am learning to love, where everything that we neatly characterize and separate in the west collides expectantly as a natural rhythm of life here. Now I don’t want to sound overly romantic, because believe me some of the aromatic qualities of this rhythm are definitely not romantic, in fact they can be just plane foul. But there is something real and raw about life here; in so many ways it’s right in front of you. And you get to decide what you’ll do with it…

Will you concentrate on the stacks of timber used at funerals?

Will you get caught up in the architecture or the landscape?

Will you notice the religious bathers and the women who want their photo taken?

Will you see the faces of these happy kids who found some things that most of us would throw away and made it into the best toy a young boy could hope for?

What will you see?

Yeh hai India meri Jaan…

It’s a Hindi phrase. I don’t know the source, but a new friend of mind uses it often. “This is India my love.” And it is…

No matter what you think of India, its incredible beauty and the things that break your heart, no matter what scares you or even horrifies you … this is India. No way around it, what you see is what you get, or is it?

There is a rhythm to India that can’t be fought. Take traffic for example. I am sure that those of you who have never been here or to another country like it would at times stand in dazed confusion if not paralysis when watching the traffic or attempting to cross the street, I know I have. But you can’t do that, you can’t fight the rhythm. There is too much force behind it. And the rhythm is something like when you move, you move and when you sit, you sit. A commanding quick- paced, “Come, come, come.” is what I hear from my new friends here as we walk and board buses to discover areas of the city I have not seen and realities of life I have not personally encountered.

And yes I stood there paralyzed from a distance as these two guys worked and the traffic just worked its way around them.

Come, come, come …This is India …

Ashram

Well actually there are many many Ashrams here. Are you familiar with Ashrams? I mean more than seeing the movie Eat, Pray, Love…? Ashrams are places of spiritual hermitage. It is an Indian and a Hindu tradition. I have visited many of them since I have been here. They’re mostly peaceful, reverent, introspective and respected places.

There is also a Christian Ashram Movement. Mostly connected to the Catholic Church, these Ashrams are Christian, Indian and peaceful, reverent and introspective as well. I just returned from one of them. Shantivanam.

It is a two-bus trip about 6 – 7 hours south of Tiruvannamalai that I managed to make because of my traveling companion Sister Sanjeevani who was returning to her Convent which was across the street.

Shantivanam has Fathers and Brothers who maintain basically the life of a hermit. There are three daily services and much time for quiet.

Even the meals are in

I was the only guest for the 3 days I was there. It was lovely and peaceful yet I am certain I am not called to the life of a hermit … though that wasn’t really in question was it?