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Students’ morning prayer, in Jalgaon.

At the end of many prayers in which I participate here, I hear and sing, or chant, “shanti, shanti, shanti.” “Peace, peace, peace.” May there be peace in this place, peace for those who hear the bells, peace for our community, peace for the world.

I am always reminded of the prayer of St. Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

How do I pray such a thing, in the midst of poverty, inequalities in education, and stories of female feticide, rapes, and murders of women?

How do I pray that, on a smaller scale, when I am still hurt, jaded, and cynical from my classroom teaching experiences? When I cannot say for certain that the schools in which I taught could ever be truly a “safe space”?

And yet, what kind of teacher—or human, or Christian—am I if I give up hope? Sr. Carla Mae once told me that the opposite of faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is despair.

For the last few months, I’ve been thinking about what happens when teachers “burn out.” I wrote a paper for my multi-religious contemplative capacities course entitled, “Ahimsa Practices for Tramautized/Tramautizing Teachers: How to Restore Peace-full Teaching.” In these three weeks, I’ve been listening carefully to the stories of teachers, and attending to what the schools here feel like. Do the teachers have warmth and regard for their students, or contempt and disdain? Are students energized and joyful, or reciting rote and fearful?

What meditative or restorative practices can heal teachers who work in circumstances where systematic injustices and dehumanizing bureaucracies discourage voice (read: vocation)?

We live in a world where peace feels frequently elusive, impossible, a nice quote to pin on an inspiration board before returning to sarcasm, individual competitiveness, black-and-white thinking, and practices that leave us feeling increasingly dead inside. Gandhi and the Reverend King are heroes, far removed from the kind of daily injustices we face. Unless our voices touch millions, we fear, it’s unlikely for us to see peace—or justice—in our lifetimes.

***

I had a long conversation with Prof. P. last week. Last year, I attended part of the funeral of his father. Twenty days before his father died unexpectedly, his teenaged nephew drowned. It was a hard summer for his family.

We sat together on a porch in Jalgaon, overlooking green hills and orchards. I told him that I had held his family in my prayers all year, and asked how they were.

Prof. P. mentioned how devout his sister-in-law is, how ordinary and good the lives of his families are, how the thousands drowned in sudden floods were at worship. And yet, he pointed out, thieves and looters live and thrive. We were talking about the problem of theodicy. Both of us used the phrase, “…in this life.” As in, “We just can’t understand the purpose of such loss, in this life.” Or, “…there are different kinds of karma, that we can’t understand, and it doesn’t make sense, the way things happen, in this life.”

I recited again a quote that is dear to me, from the Reverend King: “…the arc of justice is long, but it bends toward mercy.”

Jain cosmology, with its radically different sense of time, reminds me again and again that my mind is finite. The universe, and God, are infinite. Maybe I will be blessed with a few golden glimmers of Truth, of Possibility, where I understand, for one goosebumpy and numinous moment—the bending.

***

Remember how in A Wrinkle in Time, Charles Wallace thinks he faces evil alone—a quick path to despair.

Mrs. Whatsit shares with him a glimpse of our planet Earth, seen from afar. A dark, pulsing cloud covers most of it. It is like a tumor, a living, present thing. Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who reminds Charles Wallace and his friends that we are one of millions of those who work against the dark, who work knowing their tiny acts of light will not be overcome.

Charles Wallace is surprised; he didn’t realize this battle has been fought long before his particular pain. Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who offer reminders; L’Engle writes:

‘And we’re not alone, you know, children.’ came Mrs. Whatsit, the comforter.

‘All through the universe it’s been fought, all through the cosmos, and my, but it’s a grand and exciting battle. I know it’s hard for you to understand about size, but there’s very little difference in the size of the tiniest microbe and the greatest galaxy. You think about that, and maybe it won’t seem strange to you that some of our very best fighters have come right from your own planet, and it’s a little planet, dears, out on the edge of a little galaxy. You can be proud that it’s done so well.’

‘Who have our fighters been?’ Calvin asked.

‘Oh, you must know them, dear,’ Mrs. Whatsit said.

Mrs. Who’s spectacles shone out at them triumphantly. “And a light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

‘Jesus!’ Charles Wallace said. ‘Why of course, Jesus!’

‘Of course!’ Mrs. Whatsit said. ‘Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They’ve been lights for us to see by.’

‘Leonardo da Vinci?’ Calvin suggested tentatively. ‘And Michelangelo?’

‘And Shakespeare,’ Charles Wallace called out, ‘and Bach! And Pasteur and Madame Curie and Einstein!’

Now Calvin’s voice rang with confidence. ‘And Schweitzer and Gandhi and Buddha and Beethoven and Rembrandt and St. Francis!’ (65-66).

The mundane, daily, and systematic examples of injustice work to make us think that our impulses toward community, toward collaboration, and toward life-affirming action are silly, wrong-headed, and bound to fail.

As children of God, we are made to be light-carriers. If we tend to our spiritual selves and work in communities that can help us identify and remember our calling, we are better equipped to work against despair.

***

Practicing mindfulness may seem a selfish, tiny act—how is cultivating gratitude going to help my students in their poverty and hunger? And yet, we find that over time, the cultivation of a new kind of flexibility in the mind prepares us to be prepared and willing.

From childhood—ourselves threatened and made afraid from nursery school—we have been raised up in a posture of fear and despair. We forget so quickly our true potential. Even understanding that the history upon which we build assumptions may be faulty can change the position of our posture.

In Engaging the Powers, Walter Wink writes, “Learning the history of nonviolence is another way of rehearsing it. Furthermore, our ability to act may depend every bit on our knowledge of nonviolent methods and spirituality as on our fortitude” (300).

If I had to teach again, in such a situation, and I pray I will, I will do the following to begin with. I would teach the history of nonviolence, including the history and voices of those in the American Civil Rights Struggle and for every nation represented by my students. For my own good, as for theirs. I would commit to never using sarcasm, ridicule, or threats with my students—and would be forthright with them why I make this choice, and why it is difficult. I would share this challenge with my teaching peers.

I know from experience that when I have been honest with my students—in joy and humor, and in tricky times, admitting when things are hard and “right answers” far and few between, the energy in the room is one of deep community and connection. I didn’t know that when I engage with young people from my centeredness as a child of God, I am tugging a bit at the veil of despair that conceals our true natures that will help, one day, to upend it forever.

***

I pray that I will always have hope, and a healthy, noisy, thriving hope that fills my blood with oxygen and keeps me sharp and eager to work. I pray that I can grow in practices that help me see light, help me recognize peace when I see it, and keep me mindful of that arc of justice, ever ending toward the light.

All will be well. We are made for more than competition, poverty, sarcasm, and hopelessness. We are made to be in relationship, to heal one another, broken shard to broken shard, small light to small light.

It’s a good thing to recite “Peace, peace, peace,” many times a day. To take time to sharpen my eyes in looking for it, to reminding myself to not abandon it. I do believe that all will be well, and all shall be well.

I’m not sure how peace will come about, and in what forms it will take, but I trust that arc of justice, bending long to justice. I can see it and feel it, and I will not despair.

***

Portions of this reflection got their start in a paper I wrote for class in 2011, called, “Lights for Us to See By: A Critical Review of Engaging the Powers.”

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“Travel flirts with the unknown—that’s why we do it. There are a lot of responses to the unfamiliar. Fear is only one of them: there’s also resistance, denial, delight, hope, attention.
 
Tourists respond to the unknown by consuming it, whether by purchasing artifacts or doing ghost walks or buying postcards. Pilgrims respond to the unknown by simply being there.” –Martha Stortz, The Progress of Pilgrimage

First of all, I love postcards. Even when I was having worship-full moments at the cave churches in Turkey, I was now and then thinking, “I hope they have a postcard of this!”

I want to keep something, to hang on to it, to use it later for a gift card or tuck it into my hope chest. I want proof that I’ve been there, to see it on my refrigerator every morning as I get milk for my coffee, to say, “I was at a holy place and it was beautiful and I have lived in the world.”

I love the tangible, the physical, the keepsake. I want photos of my friends and loved ones. I got my ears pierced a second time the first week I was in Oxford—it was so dreamy, and crazy, and overwhelming. I wanted a spot to rub on my body to mark the occasion. Last year, I got my nose pierced during 48 hours alone in Varanasi. I felt floaty, like I wouldn’t remember what I had experienced (despite blogging, photographs, prayer beads, books) and I wanted that moment of nerves and [dirty] steel.

I’ve been thinking about pilgrimage these past few weeks, here in India. I’ve been trying to both help my classmates, and wondering about what helps someone have a good experience when traveling in a new place.

The idea of “pilgrim” is helping me frame this. I like to be in control. I don’t like days or trips where I don’t know what is going to happen. And yet, in India… one pilgrim suggests, “Prepare carefully, and then prepare to change all your plans.”

It’s hard to do this, especially when we carry with us our “stuff.” My stuff includes: I am [relatively] wealthy, I am used to getting my way, and I have agency. Like, if I’m sitting in a table I don’t like in a restaurant, I have the wherewithal and means to get a different seat. I can change apartments, wall color, beds, city in which I live. I can save up to by a car, or a scooter. I can take Spanish lessons, or scuba diving lessons. If I see it in a magazine, I can find it and purchase it. This is crazy—the amount of things I have access to and means to get.

And so, when I come to India, it feels like I don’t have agency anymore. Someone else makes my food choices, books my train tickets, creates the agenda for visits, lectures, holy time, and free days. This should be a gift, it could be. And yet, my habitual response is to think about ways I would do it differently, what I would like to do or eat [instead] and to chafe against all the unknown.

And yet, when I think about the holiest, most mind-blowing and blessed times of my life, they are often when I was not in charge. Moments sitting in the choir, in my home church, next to a dear friend…in prayer and song, being completely physically overcome.

Late, late nights with friends, when I had trusted them to choose the drive, choose the music, follow the conversation, and know that I was no longer judged—a bliss, a rest, a sensation all over my skin of belonging.

Of reading a book come recommended, that I didn’t know I would like, and finding a character who stays with me always, changing one way I see even myself.

Following a professor’s advice, following a new path along the river in Oxford, climbing the highest temple staircase…all against my first thought, and then arriving—like popping a particularly thick-skinned soap bubble—into a new understanding of my-self in the world.

I didn’t have control over any of those things. And yet, I wouldn’t be who I am without them. This is a strange tension—when to let go, when to try and steer.

I haven’t figured it out. The word “practice” gives me hope. Contemplative practice, teaching practice, “setting up a practice,” “practicing” yoga… I have some tools: I read. I take advice. I listen to old people, young people, dear friends—and try to connect all of the advice, and stories into something that helps me make sense of the world. I am willing to try, even if I make a fool of myself. I’ll try the new phrase, the new dance move, the daal.

As I said after I led the dancing for Mother Mataji this year, “It’s not that I’m a great dancer, but I make up for it in enthusiasm.”

***

I once had a therapist point out to me that, physiologically, anxiety/fear is the same sensation as excitement. Sometimes, when I’m feeling the adrenaline, I check in with myself. I say, “Is it possible you’re a little excited about this? Is it possible this is a good thing that part of you is eager for?”

That happens a lot in travel. I feel the nerves ringing, and check, “This is kind of scary. But is it possible this is also…delightful? Worth noticing, at least for a moment, before you run away?”

“Practicing pilgrimage.” This is what I’m thinking about, here in the rain near the Ganges. I’m covered by bug bites, and beginning to tire of mangoes. I would give Rs. 500 for a fresh, Golden Delicious apple.

I start to get impatient with my classmates. I think, “Just try it. Be grateful. Don’t be afraid!” And then I remember a time when I’ve burst into tears because the restaurant I had hoped about all week is closed and my plans have to change. I don’t like new things! I resist the unexpected. Maybe it’s part of our human-ness. Hence: practice.

The Jains believe that every living thing has a soul, and every soul is on its own path to omniscience. I’m not better than you, or better than a tree, because each of our souls is learning, striving, growing…on its own. Maybe you can offer me some tips, some compassion, some hints for enlightenment.

Like a honeycomb of musical practice rooms, all of us going over the tunes we’ve been assigned, stretching our fingers, correcting our posture, trying again. And again, practice.

And then, sometimes, it’s time for a recital. I put on my ball gown (true story) and nervously practice one more time before getting on the train. You bring a picnic, a bottle of wine, some Whitman to celebrate afterwards. We all gather, to listen to one another: an appreciative audience sometimes shepherds miracles.

Small children can fiddle circles around me, but I do my best. I am relieved, and excited; we are happy and feel invigorated, walking to the park afterwards, several conversations swirling around, about bravery, audiences, making mistakes, good teachers.

I want to practice pilgrimage because I’m greedy for those moments: invigorated, talking together, courage, mistakes, appreciating miracles.

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Mary in splendor, in Hagia Sophia.

Mother Mary was all over this trip. Surprising that after having lived in places like the Bronx, where she is also frequently found—from shrine to garment to tattoo—that I would feel so close to her at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.

When I was little, going to a missionary Baptist church out in the country, Mary didn’t come up very frequently, although I often got to play her in Christmas pageants. (Having blonde hair and blue eyes that matched her robes seemed prerequisite.) Even with nativity sets, I was always interested in the tiny baby, and in rearranging the stable crowd in various scenes. Mary wasn’t doing much in those little ceramic sets—kneeling, eyes cast down.

At one point in upper elementary school, I undertook to read the entire Bible, cover to cover. There’s not much Mary in there, either, actually. I loved the book of Esther, which read like a novel, and liked the idea of Eunice and Lois, early members of the church important enough to have names. Besides her magnificat, Mary doesn’t say anything. And Jesus himself is kind of rude to her in the wedding story, acting annoyed that she pressed him into service. And, to be honest, growing up trying to be a good girl, Mary just seemed meek and mild, the opposite kind of woman that a subscriber to Sassy magazine would aspire to be.

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Tradition says that after Jesus, as he was dying, charged his dear friend John with caring for Mary, John took her to Ephesus, where she lived out her days. This shrine is on the site of where her house is supposed to have been.

When I did my master’s in Byzantine hagiography, I finally started thinking about Mary in earnest. I saw images of her as God-bearer, as a near-warrior lady, holding the safety of humanity underneath her skirt, looking with intensity at Christ as she begs forgiveness on our behalf. My professor said, of her downcast eyes, “In these [Byzantine] images, she’s not looking down because she’s meek. She’s looking down because she is nobility, and they don’t look commoners in the eye.”

One of the things that’s so exhilarating about Istanbul is that beautiful images are grander than you can imagine, and jaw-dropping beauty is around every corner. I frequently found my eyes filling with tears. I would turn a corner, look up, and see an image of the theotokos, completely not expecting it, and stunned into staring.

Or I’d see something out of the corner of my eye, look up, and see Christ as king, splendid and solemn, staring at me from centuries ago—gold still shining in the dim cave light.

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Outside the Virgin Mary’s house in Ephesus, where pilgrims tie prayers on scraps of paper.

I couldn’t help by pray, and be awed (which is also a kind of prayer, I think), along the way.

CS Lewis defined the word “numinous” like this:

“Suppose you were told that there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told ‘There is a ghost in the next room,’ and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind.

It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is ‘uncanny’ rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous.

Now suppose that you were told simply ‘There is a mighty spirit in the room,’ and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking–described as awe, and the object which excites it is the Numinous.”

(When I looked up this story to get the details right for this post, I also found the following quote from Shakespeare that gets at “numinous,” “Under it my genius is rebuked.”)

So I would be walking around Istanbul, thinking about pistachios and how I used to always misspell “Constantinople,” (despite that master’s degree) and would suddenly find the hairs on my neck rising as I see another fresco, another mosaic, another image that stops my voice.

It’s hard to write about the numinous. When you have an experience—in a stand of sugar maple trees, at a child’s baptism, at the bed of a dying grandparent, in a chapel in Prague—that brings goosebumps, tears, a whoosh of energy in the gut and heart, and it feels like all of creation meaning…

It’s like the old writing class edict “show, don’t tell” falls apart. How can I show you? I can only tell you that I was greedy for images of holy and gold, and was blessed with more than I could handle.

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Votives lit by pilgrims at Mary’s house.

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My reflection with Matt’s on our first morning in Istanbul.

My classmate and our group leader, Abudurrahim, asked us to write a short response about our expectations for the trip (ten days, eight cities, countless sites and people, throughout Turkey), on the very first evening. I have been engaging in inter-religious dialogue and work for eight years; I’ve spent years of academic and professional time wondering about expectations for interfaith engagement.

But this was personal: What did I hope to get?

Matt and I were in the unusual position (for Western, American, Christians) of being in the minority; of the fourteen of us, only four of us were Christians. We often stopped during the day so our friends could worship in a masjid, but we never participated in a Christian service. I was startled to see large pieces of holy calligraphy, in Arabic, throughout Hagia Sophia, and disrupting my view of the central image of Christ.

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In Hagia Sophia, Christian images were plastered over both during times when the building was used as a mosque, and destroyed during iconoclastic periods. Our guide noted that the Islamic leader at the time did not want to destroy the images, because Jesus and Mary (Issa and Maryam in the Qu’ran) are sacred to Muslims as well; he just had them plastered over because images are not suitable for a place of worship. Here we can see the plaster being removed from the mosaic, painstakingly.

But this is what I asked for. I often use the word “disequilibrium” when I’m talking about education in general, and IR engagement specifically. It’s a term from Piaget. All children experience disequilibrium every time they encounter something, new in the world, that doesn’t go along with what they previsously knew. It doesn’t feel right. You have to check for other information, and finally incorporate the new worldview into what you know. It happens before you learn anything.

One of our jobs as teachers is to provide safe places for students (or congregation members, or clients) to experience disequilibrium.

For a toddler, it might be: You thought if you pushed this toy, it would light up red. But look! Sometimes it lights up green—what do you think about that? The world can be surprising. Keep pushing, see what happens.

For young adults, it might be: You have been taught that the protagonist of the book is always good, dependable, trustworthy. Guess what? Here’s an anti-hero, an unreliable narrator, a character you don’t like but somehow connect with.

For any of us: Every black person you’ve seen on television has been a criminal; you know only what the media has chosen to show you. Guess what? Your family has a new member, and he’s lovely, the son-in-law for which you’ve always dreamed. You’ll have to feel the disequilibrium, hold on as all the old synapses get sorted and grow, and incorporate these new understandings with how you move through the world.

I often pray that God will give me a posture of openness. By this, part of what I mean is that God will keep me curious, open to disequilibrium, and hold me safely through it. In my reflection for Abdurrahim, I said I hoped that I would experience things that I did not expect, and make new relationships and encounters that expanded my understandings.

This is easy for me to say, in America. In my home, with the pillow that smells like me, my favorite coffee cup, a closet full of clothes that suit the weather, and classes in which I excel. Surrounded by English language, and an endless (truly) assortment of food and drink that are tasty and nutritious.

Swimming like a faithful fish in a Christian environment, at a school of theology marked by a central chapel, and images and languages from the Bible throughout the literal landscape. Where I can wear a cross around my neck, say “Merry Christmas,” or “God bless you,” two dozen times of day, and never feel uncomfortable. Where I can seek out interfaith seder meals, or interfaith iftar, or read about Buddhism…if I want to. And no one will stop me or question my intentions; I am privileged that way.

The other hope I had was to really encounter history. I’ve learned and read so many Byzantine hymns, prayers, songs, stories. There was a time in my life where Gregory and Basil, Constantine and Helena—they were in my daily thoughts and writing.

This trip exceeded both of these expectation—boy, did I feel disequilibrium. Mostly in small ways—but they add up!—and in some delightful, serendipitous ways as well. And the history—well, I got goosebumps every day. I’m still working out what it all means to me. At the moment, my mind still reels slightly, dizzy from new geography, new tastes, and a crazy array of beauty and holy.

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The interior of the Blue Mosque. So, so breathtaking. One can’t help but pray.

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When I titled this blog, I turned to a group of women, and two saints, who have been most influential on my own spiritual growth as an adult. I became an Associate to the Dominican community of religious women, in Racine, WI, in 2004.

The Dominican charism, “Committed to Truth; compelled to Justice,” has informed my teaching, studies, writing, professional work, and how I encounter challenges and possibilities in my life. Today is the Feast Day of St. Dominic. Before he was born, his mother dreamed of a black and white dog, carrying a torch in his mouth– this would be her son, carrying Truth and God’s message to help bring light to this world.

Today I received by e-mail a sermon by one of the sisters, a powerful theologian and preacher. I share her words below. I am struck by her call to “enter into what it means to be human.” I am challenged by examining how I might live out my calling in everyday life, in all of my work, and not keep it for Sundays or “holy” occasions or settings.

“Proclaim the word; fulfill your ministry.  And remember I will be with you at all times. 

It is a phenomenon of life that as we get older, time seems to speed up.  Has it really been that long since we last saw each other?  It is hard to believe my youngest grandchild is graduating.  Is my hair turning that gray?  Am I now on the list to receive Medicare and social security?  Time is fleeting.  Where have the years gone?  The sense of life moving on can haunt us.

But the more important question is how have we spent those years?  How are we willing to spend our lives, so more life may evolve?  Suddenly we could arrive at our last day not believing that that was it.  And so we strain to find a way of living and being to harvest the short time of our life on Earth.

We know that our brother Dominic demonstrated a focused way of life.  The words of scripture heard today: Proclaim the word; fulfill your ministry.  And remember I will be with you at all times, unmistakably reflect Dominic whose feast we celebrate this week.  Dominic, the preeminent disciple and itinerant preacher left us an incredible legacy, using his time on Earth announcing peace and bringing good news.

Dominic set himself to preaching and attracting others to preach.  Heretical teachings dangerous to the faithful, led him to see a great need for educated, zealous preachers who would enlighten hearers and lead them to the truth.  He proposed an order dedicated to preaching at a time when no one but bishops regularly preached.  Designated by the Pope, he was to be the preacher to the world.  Dominic was concerned that preachers should know their faith thoroughly and be able to expound it competently.

Biographers tell of how cheerful and companionable Dominic was.  His intense devotion to prayer and preaching led him to demonstrate that both should be full time occupations.  You may recall from any studies about Dominic that he exhorted his brethren to ‘talk always about God or to God’.  Dominic spent five years as head of the Order.  Five years of his charismatic presence was enough to gather an Order that in its first hundred years would count nearly 30,000 members from the European countries.

Catherine of Siena is to have said: ‘The voice of Dominic’s preaching is still heard today and will continue to be heard’ in the preaching of his followers.”  It is quite in accordance with his own temperament that Dominic should live on in the church, not as a striking individual, but in the work of preaching the gospel.  Indeed that is why he gathered the brethren.

We have inherited this profound Dominican legacy, so in the same way, today’s scripture should speak to us.  Proclaim the word; fulfill your ministry.  And remember I will be with you at all times.  As Christians we have been called.  The call comes from a voice inviting us to be the persons we were born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given us at birth by God.  Vocation is the place where my deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.  Every journey honestly taken stands a chance of moving us toward the place where we make a mark in the world.

The nature of the call can change over time, taking a person down pathways never anticipated.  Friends, guests celebrating with us today you have each answered a call.  Those of you who were more formally connected with the Racine Dominicans as aspirant, postulant, novice or professed, we express gratitude for the gifts you shared with us, gifts that are immeasurable and lasting.  We hope that what you received during those years of special connecting have been valuable and have enhanced your life and outreach for whatever path you have taken.  We hope your Dominican connection has made you a better person.  Many of you have testified to a deepened spirituality, a stronger faith, and gifts of lasting relationships when sharing your thoughts for the Booklet of Memories.

As you have grown and moved on so have we.  In 150 years Racine Dominicans have never remained stagnant.  Change has been a mantra.  It happens to be quite visible today with the claws and jack hammers seen on the property.

Mother Benedicta began our community and we have always been a little chaotic as time unfolded, as social conditions changed, and the church changed with Vatican II.  While we changed our wardrobe, more significantly we changed our classrooms.  The world has become our classroom.  We strive to think through the questions of faith in dialogue with the world; attentive to the signs of the times, listening to the call of the Spirit, seeking the bigger picture, knowing God is at the heart of it all.  In the Jubilee ad booklet you received today, we invite you to read the two pages listing the Corporate Statements we have adopted.  We encourage you to endorse them with us.

And so to proclaim, to fulfill our ministry, to be a follower of Jesus is to reach out, to enter into what it means to be human.  It starts with loving a people so much we work to change the structures that violate human dignity and hold people in bondage.

As the Albigensian teachings challenged Dominic, as this week we remember the atomic bomb attacks in 1945, as immigration laws cause division, as trafficking enslaves, as Earth cries out for respect, as power is abused, we must strive to restore just relationships and bring peace to our messy world.  With Dominic as our motivator and mentor, we are companions on this journey, remembering we have a greater opportunity to make a path if we do it together.  Time is fleeting.   There is an urgency to proclaim the word, to fulfill our ministry with the assurance that Jesus is always with us.

Jesus came to teach us that God’s presence is as close as our next act of kindness, our decision to go the extra mile, our willingness to be inconvenienced, and our attentiveness to real needs, keeping in mind that the most powerful influences are often the invisible ones.

As we prepare to be nourished at the Eucharistic table, let us continue to be faithful followers of the disciple and itinerant preacher Dominic.  And let us carry on this celebration in a spirit of joy and heartfelt gratitude for all of us who have answered and continue to answer the call.

May the God in you meet the God in me with each encounter?” (by Sharon Simon, OP)

Image from “Telling the Stories that Matter.”

 

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On one of our last days in Jaipur, we visited a textiles factory. All of the dyes are plant based, and the printing is from hand-carved wooden blocks. I was in love with the wooden blocks and took all kinds of close-up photos of the carving.

For this pattern, the workers went over the cloth–several feet long, all down a long table–twice.

Close up of an elephant block.

Upstairs, four schoolboys were embroidering a wedding sari. I could not believe how quickly they could thread the tiny seed beads onto the needle, one-handed. Some of the blankets and fabric sold (while the factory is mostly wholesale, we did purchase some things) go to a scholarship fund for the students who work there. I bought an amazing embroidered bedspread–full of color and images from India; 70 percent of the price will go to the scholarship fund.

The boys at work. It’s kind of incredible to think about the “problems” we Western teachers have in getting and keeping student attention and focus. These four middle-school aged boys work most of the day, sitting or squatting, on incredibly focused and time-consuming work. They don’t make mistakes. They are earning money for their families and at some point make time for school, to learn reading, writing, and skills to continue to move them ahead economically.

***

Last night, we boarded a train to leave for Varanasi. We were in an AC “sleeper” car, with three tier bunks. Thank goodness for the AC. I slept on the bottom bunk and actually slept quite well. I woke up around 4AM to see the sky lightening from a deep indigo into a lighter blue. People were already walking in the fields, herding small flocks of sheep or goats, or carrying water pails along the side of the tracks to fetch water.

Me on the train with my “snack pack.” The Jains always pack us food when we travel by bus or train. Yesterday we had potato-stuffed naan-like bread with a relish, and a bag of tiny fried, spicy chips.

We arrived at Mughal Sarai Junction at 6:30AM. Someone from the program picked us up, and we drove into our campus. It’s the largest residential university in India, and is full of trees and lush greenery. Mangoes are abundant and we can pick and eat them from the trees if we like. It is very, very humid here– the most humid place I’ve every been. It has a beautiful kind of falling-down tropical feel…like a place that was once palace grounds and has been mostly abandoned for years.

Tonight we’re going to go down to the Ganges for the first time.

***

On a solemn note, I’ve also been thinking about the name Manju Singh a lot since the weekend. Manju, a twenty year old woman living near Jaipur, was beheaded by her father last Sunday in a so-called “honor killing” He felt that she was being promiscuous, and was found afterwards walking around the village with her head and a bloody sword. When the story came up on my Yahoo! India newsfeed, it was followed with at least three similar stories, including of a female infant. I cannot imagine; I cannot wrap my mind around living, parenting, and teaching in a community where just being a girl child puts one at risk.

We had a lecture on Jain law last week, and saw some of the features of the Indian Constitution, which tries to deal with the problem of “female foeticide.” Reading the articles about it is hard, and makes me really doubt humanity. In the linked article, in addition to describing the horrors of the practice of female foeticide, the writer describes the challenges and discrimination girl children and women face throughout their lives here in India.

I am not sure I have anything coherent to say on the topic at this moment, but it weighs on my heart.

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Christmas Even

We are in Joshua Tree National Park, in a cabin. I’m in front of a fireplace; outside, millions of stars fill a sky darker than I’ve seen in years.

A woodblock creche from India; the woodblocks are similar to ones used for printing patterns on saris.

 

Love the detail from this wooden creche– look at Joseph lifting the new baby high! Such a human moment captured and made immediate in simple wood.

 

And this one, another intimate human moment. The new family, young in the world.

I was trying to remember about starlight– isn’t it true that the starlight we see is reaching us many, many years after it’s already shone? That the stars we see shining, many of them, are already dead?

I’ve been thinking a lot about saints recently, and about Joseph– an ordinary man of the world thrust into extraordinary circumstances. His faith– and faith alone, no angel came to reassure him!– and solid actions nurtured something that has continued to impact us these thousands of years later.

As this year comes to a close, I want to hold fast to the idea that the relationships I form and keep, and the decisions and actions I take, are in place in a pattern or rhythm I can’t always see or know. How frightening! How out of control! And yet, isn’t Christmas–after the waiting of Advent–about embracing the radical unexpected things, with a willingness to joyfully follow a world turned on its head?

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