Friday, January 28, 2011

Loving India

My heart brims over with joy and pride as I watch India's tricolor flutter high above the grandeur of New Delhi's Rajpath. India is celebrating her 62nd Republic Day, and though I stand still as the National Anthem rents the air, my heart is in a frenzy of emotion. It's that time of the year again, when the soulful notes of "Jana Gana Mana," "Vande Maataram," and "Maa Tujhe Salam" remind me about my love for this land, my adoration of the essence and spirit of this great nation that we today refer to as India. Known through the ages by names like Bhaarat and Aryavarta.

This is the land where people have converged from time immemorial in search of peace. Where the chaos of everyday living has cast an illusory veil over the oasis of peace that only the truest seeker is fortunate to discover. A land where kings and queens have lived in immaculate palaces alongside hermitages where monks revelled in the ecstasy of the palace within. Where the idea of "Aham Brahmasmi" or "I am Divinity" has defined the tradition of Sanathana Dharma, that is today known as 'Hinduism.'

Here is where the form of Ganesha adorns nearly every living room; where Krishna is incomplete without Radha; and where the Goddess is as powerful, if not more, than the Gods. Where the relationship between human and God is made personal, so that the divine is never thought to be too high up or too far away to experience. After all, Ganesha is only a glance away, and Saraswati only a song away.

The very concept of India suggests a freedom where Spirit is not shackled by name and form. I open my heart to the love of Christ as much as I do to the grace of Krishna. The Azaan from the mosque stirs my soul, very much like a soulful chant from the Vedas does. The Gurbaani sung in a Gurdwara brings tears to the eyes, even as a devotional song to Sai Baba rouses a wave of devotion within me.

This land is ironical in that it allows me to get mired in ritual, yet it also gives me the choice to rise above ritual and, thereby, unravel some of the deepest mysteries of life. I can choose to worship a river by offering flowers to it every day. Or, I can choose to embrace the idea behind this ritual. The idea that the river is a metaphor for life itself. A cyclical journey that begins and ends in the ocean. Like the soul's journey that begins from the Spirit and ultimately culminates in union with the Spirit.

The dancers performing on Rajpath are dressed in vibrant colors. Their energetic performance is followed by a serene procession of monks singing buddhist chants. So typical of India. I like to think of her as a splash of myriad colors painted on one canvas. She is calm like the waters of a placid lake, yet she can be tumultous like waves in the grip of a tempest. She showers you with the love of a mother, and molds you with the strength of a father. She is both, the beauty of the rose and the prick of its thorns.

My gaze wanders back to the tricolor. I am mesmerized by the saffron, green, and white. Each color is symbolic, each pattern laden with meaning. Just like so much else about India. A world within worlds, where every seeker finds their own path. I found mine here, and I have much to be grateful for. From the depths of my heart, I sing to her "Maa Tujhe Salaam!" (Glory to thee, O Mother!)

(Also posted on my blog)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Off the Map

I have pictures, bathed in light, from a land that lies off the map, and after I left, sparkling letters still reached me. They were letters written in such charmingly flawed English that it seemed a crime to correct them, even though the students begged me to.
I hope you are quite well. I am in the very pink of health. I would like to write so many about but my English is very poor. Therefore, may I stop here.
Even though it was some years ago that I visited, I still remember one day in particular. We start the day by squeezing into a Jeep that strains to climb a mountain. We cross wooden plank bridges and pass local people on bicycle and foot, toting burdens on their backs or across their handlebars. Our destination is a community of nuns who runs a distant boarding school high up in the mountain. The purpose of the boarding schools, with their dirt floors and outhouses and lack of electricity, is to provide an education for the most impoverished and isolated children in the rural areas, who might have no access to education otherwise.

“They’ll try to feed us, but I’ll tell them we brought our own food,” our guide tells us. “They are too poor to feed us.”
When we arrive, the nun who welcomes us at the door looks bewildered, and she says something startling.
“I didn’t dream you were coming.”
She notices our confused reaction, and explains. “I always dream when visitors are coming, and we prepare for them. But I didn’t dream about you.” She shakes her head, perplexed, as if her own mystical version of e-mail is growing unreliable.
“I’m glad you didn’t dream we were coming,” our guide chides. “Because then you would have prepared us a meal.”
The nun still proceeds to cut open some fruit for us, and children who attend the boarding school draw us by the hand and lead us down an overgrown path to the outhouse. This school is the most isolated and impoverished place I visit, and the crude bamboo structures and sweet children and hardworking nuns are even more diminished by the soaring mountains and roaring rivers that surround them. Struggling nuns and needy children seem to spring from this wilderness like fragile wildflowers, as unknown to the outside world as they are humble and holy.

On the way down the mountain, the Jeep breaks down three different times. Each time it clanks to a disappointing stop, we pour out onto the road. The final time we emerge, it’s growing dark. We’re on a narrow road in lush forest, and the mosquitoes are starting to hum. A folk remedy for malaria involves scraping the flesh on the neck until raw, red stripes decorate the sufferer’s throat.
“Why do you scrape your throats that way?” I ask.
“The pain of this scraping experience causes you to forget about the fever of malaria,” a student cheerfully explains.

This “remote rural region” is absurdly busy. Passers-by on foot and bike, instead of passing by, stop to inspect our plight. An increasing number of men gather around the Jeep’s engine, poke at it, and make conversation. The women and children gather around us. I can’t understand a word anybody says, but everyone smiles a lot. I have no idea where all these people live, because there is only forest all around. After a while, a man and his elephant walk past. The elephant is draped in chains, and I wonder if it could tow the Jeep. The elephant, though, disappears from sight, heading into the mountains in the gathering gloom. At some point it is agreed that this time, the Jeep is not going to budge. Our journey is stalled.
We are stuck in the mosquito-ridden jungle with our only means of transport a majestic, mournful elephant that is headed in the wrong direction. I’m haunted by the disappearing elephant because I know where he’s going. I’m aching to ride into the mountain darkness, into that nun’s dreams—because anyone can see she dwells with God. As an outsider, with virgin eyes, I saw immediately that this nun was a shining treasure in God’s heart. But the nun and I are separated by an impossible distance—for one thing, I have volunteered to be here. She has not. I’m just flitting through-like a bird, or a bug. She is more like a sheltering tree--this is where she was planted, and this is where she will die. Still, just by passing through this place, I’ve caught a glimpse of God-- the God who dwells on mountaintops with struggling nuns, who dwells with hungry children, who dwells with the abandoned and the forgotten. It’s time to hike out of the jungle, so I turn from the mountains, and we start walking down the road to town. Also posted on Strange Islands

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The inevitable distraction of tea

The big purple mug sat and stared moodily at me from the corner of the big oak desk. Its presence mocked and taunted me, hogging my attention like a hungry toddler in a superstore full of chocolate treats. I tried to ignore it, as a mother attempts to ignore the child’s tantrum in the cake aisle, but it refused to be ignored.

I lifted and held my mug in the way it loves being held, two fingers through the handle and the rest of my hand lovingly wrapped around, just to reassure it that I had not forgotten how much it meant to me. Never before had my beloved ‘World’s best Dad’ cup looked so sad.

I sighed as I lifted the cup and felt the coldness of the ceramic against my touch. No hot tea had blessed this vessel for some time, perhaps even half an hour by the feel of it.

“Fill me now” it seemed to mutter, the words breaking up with heartfelt tears, and echoing in my head like an explosion of emotion in a cavern of despair. “Please – I need it, warm me with tea and put me to your lips again.”

I choked back a tear as I looked into the stained pit of emptiness at the bottom of my mug, and stared miserably at the cold, thickly brown sludge resting there. I held my breath to calm the fire in my heart at the sight of the swollen wet crumbs, betraying the secret packet of Digestives that I had hidden behind the Idiots guide to Blogging. There are some things that are best kept secret in all marriages, Digestives are one such thing.

I felt the pull of the Digestives calling my attention away from the empty mug and towards the book shelf, but it did not last long. What good is a Digestive without tea?

I put the cup down with a flourish of decisiveness and determination. I was not going to be a slave to distraction and prevarication any longer. My fingers returned to the keyboard and I stared at the monitor, daring Microsoft Word to try and give me its leering look of condescending disgust again. All I had to do was concentrate, and something would write itself down on my screen, something would come to mind – something always does.

For five whole minutes, my fingers were a blur as I opened up the thesaurus and found out what prevarication meant. And condescending.

And flourish.

And gusset.

I sighed as I realised I could think of no more words to dive into and discover. The screen blinked at me. I blinked at the screen. Finally I smiled, as inspiration hit me squarely between the eyes.

With the oppressive weight of writer’s block lifted from my over burden shoulders, I threw a flirtatious wink at my mug and laughed as I said, “Oh come on then, you frisky little devil.”

The writing can wait a few minutes while the kettle boils.

also at my blog -

Sunday, January 9, 2011

being content in the now...

It doesn't seem all that long ago when, living in Melbourne in the middle of a drought, I had almost forgotten the sound of rain.

Now it seems that rain is a constant companion in this part of the world and liquid sunshine has replaced its warmer, drier counterpart.


So welcome at the end of a long day when one can snuggle a little further under the covers and listen to the calming rhythm of drops on the roof while sleep takes its hold.
But so NOT welcome right now. Everyone is over it. And with good reason, too...the floods further north of here have been nothing short of devastating and our hot Australian summer has been replaced with a soggy, humid season in which plans are cancelled and indoor activity options are exhausted.

The funny thing is, though, that if we weren't complaining about the rain, it would be something else... too hot... too cold... too dry... the list goes on. 

I think the reality is that the weather is kind of like the circumstances of life - they rarely ever feel "perfect".
There always seems to be something we want to change... a season we are ready to say goodbye to or an unfulfilled desire consuming this moment's joy.

The mountain top experiences do not last forever and it is easy to forget to delight in every moment when you are fixated with reaching the next peak.  

I have recently been reminded to make the most of the now. While there are things in the future I am looking forward to, I want to make sure I enjoy this season for what it is and get the most out of it before it is gone.  Obsessing about that which is not my reality right now will only bring discontentment and regret.

God alone is the one who controls the seasons of my life and my desire is to be content in the now. I will choose to seek Him in the times of drought, be refreshed by him in times of rain, cling to Him in the floods, and rejoice with Him from the mountain tops. 

He is a good God who fulfills His promises. I need to enjoy what He has given me for now, while I look forward to what is to come in the future.

I need to throw on my gumboots and go and splash in the puddles!

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." Phil 4: 11-13

Also published on my blog