Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

stone cross cappa

A cross carved into the outside of a cave church in Cappadocia.

Even though I studied history, I was never interested in dates, battles, kings, economics, politics. I have a terrible mind for dates and facts. Individual lives interested me, saints and their close friends, who became their biographers. Villagers who encountered the holy, and built shrines, documenting their own faiths into history. Grandmothers’ trunks reopened after Communism, the old icons and prayers intact in their hands and memories.

So many places in history are heavy with this kind of weight. What did Faulkner say about history? The past is never dead?

I remember looking at the “maps of the holy land” in the back of my mint green, Precious Moments Bible, during particularly long sermons. The maps were mostly brown and beige, with small bits of river. I couldn’t imagine those places as real.


At Harran, a city that has been continuously inhabited for thousands of years. The earliest mention of Harran in records is from 2300 BCE.

Never would I have imagined I’d go to Ephesus, and walk where Paul preached. Or see the kind of cave churches early Christians imprinted with carvings. Stone dining tables remain, as do trenches for wine, and holes in the wall where they might have hung cradles.

The faces of Christ are often rubbed off. Imagine the centuries of pilgrim hands, touching, caressing the stone, bringing prayers and desperate wishes. Imagine the Christians taking over the caves from pagans, and—first thing—carving a cross on the walls.

red last supper cappa

Inside on of the cave churches, an ancient painting of the Last Supper.

For me, the numinous wasn’t a tiger or a mighty spirit in another room, it was red paint on stone, or a damp cave, or a dark place for prayer. I entered Abraham’s cave on the women’s side, full of Muslim women and girls praying, where once Abraham spent ascetic years. I saw Job’s well, where God finally blessed him with holy water to heal his afflictions. I ran my hand over stone carvings from the earliest Christian period. I saw where pre-Christian families worked and lived.

cone house

Recreation of a traditional mud house, interior, in Harran.

Maybe nobody should try to study history until they can picture the food, the sunrise, the dust, and the fireplaces of those who lived it. I think about everything I know about Abraham—from the Bible camp song “Father Abraham,” to the promise illuminated by countless stars in the sky, to his wife laughing outside the tent—and then imagine him, and old man, praying in a cool cave. I prayed in that cave—my mind reels at the connecting point.

abraham's cave

Inside Abraham’s cave.

This might be the biggest blessing and take-away from my trip to Turkey, that I got to be, in all tactile glory and physicality, in places of history and beauty. I should dig up my Bible, find those sterile beige maps, and recolor them. I can collage on photographs, and write in impressions.

red crosses cappa

Paintings of crosses, Christ, and saints at Cappadocia.

Next time I teach Sunday school, I won’t bring out the felt board, I’ll bring in rocks, and sand, wool, cooking ingredients, red paint, terracotta, blankets for the floor, and make a cave. We’ll pretend we’re pilgrims (and aren’t we?), with all our doubts, idiosyncrasies, needs, and desires. We’ll touch, dream, articulate, and pray—and then read about Father Abraham, Prophet Job, and letters from Ephesus. Maybe we can somehow tie knots in our strand of history back into those stories, and realize them better.

job's well

Children peeking into Job’s well.




Read Full Post »

two girls

Two girls at an after-school tutoring program organized by the movement.

The hizmet movement places education—for all—at the foundation of its philosophy. Early in the movement, Gulen met with students, and the organization grew in places of study, with young activists and thinkers. The hizmet movement supports schooling at every level, and you don’t have to be Turkish, or Muslim, to attend their schools or receive support for education.

Visiting their schools in Turkey, and hearing about the importance of education, I was moved to think about my own education. In my mind, I call the librarians, teachers, and Sunday school teachers who taught me “a golden chain.” I was so often given extra time, extra books and materials, extra places to sit alone, and read and write. Teachers took the time to comment on poems I wasn’t assigned to write, to help me understand books I undertook to read on my own, and to give me used textbooks and class novels to build my own library.

The church I went to as a child drove many miles to pick me up every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening, so I could come learn, read, and sing with the congregation. All of this has shaped me. When I teach, I try to give extra hours as well—at lunchtime, at recess, sharing extra books and time tutoring. How else can I pass on the wealth I’ve been given?

folk dance

Children doing a Turkish folkdance; the girls are sowing seeds.

We visited one school, the oldest school founded by the hizmet movement. I was so, so struck by the warmth with which the children were treated. As we ate breakfast, we watched a kindergarten group having breakfast as well. They chatted and moved around freely; teachers peeled their hard-boiled eggs and helped them get milk; the kids got as much bread as they wanted. As they finished, they went out to recess, but they could take as much time as they needed to eat. This in contrast to the public schools where I’ve worked, where even the very young students are rushed through meals, sometimes have no time to finish, and are yelled at or made to keep silent.

The students also all participate in arts, dance, sports, and the school day ends at 2PM so they can have after-school activities. And—these students regularly produce the best national test scores of any in Istanbul. Top scores on tests, but the focus is on warmth and a variety of activities.

front of Syrian school

The front of the school for Syrian children.

We also visited an empty school, brand new and waiting for Syrian refugees from across the border. I was frustrated by questions from my colleagues about what kind of textbooks, and how much materials would cost, and where the students would go after this school. In my limited experience in Haiti, and with refugee students in the US—the traumas and needs are so great. We’re beyond talking about the number of materials. It is enough to have them in a safe building, physically intact. In Haiti, we used bits of cloth and chunks of concrete to teach sorting activities. In St. Louis, the students from Somalia often seemed unreachable—they had been through so much, so many unfathomable things—what did our inadequate public school have to offer? I was overwhelmed by the thought of what these Syrian students and teachers would bring, and need, and face.

empty classroom

By now, this classroom is full; the students and Syrian teachers arrived last week.

Almost despairing—why even try, when the odds seem insurmountable? Matt said, “Because you have to at least start.” You have to build the building, get the desks, give the teachers a whiteboard and markers. Get lunches, and some kind of school nurse, and establish a routine. Reading and writing, some sustenance, a semblance of order.

I think I’ve written here before about faith, doubt, and despair. Sr. Carla Mae taught me long ago that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but despair. Doubt still has in it a seed of engagement, the possibility to learn and relate further. But despair is a giving-up, a disengagement, a [false] belief that all is lost.

My experiences in Turkey gave me a great deal of hope—every family, teacher, business person, parent, organizer, scholar—every single one had a commitment to hospitality, to meeting and engaging with the other, and to education and humanitarian work. Most of them said, in some way, “Even if this is all that I can do, in the face of the world’s need, I will do it.” All believed that greater peace is possible, especially through education and relationship-building.

I am writing from Delhi, where I am also daily faced with great poverty, hunger, homelessness, and separation of the classes. Sometimes, driving through slums, I am tempted to think: “No amount of education or peace-building work on my part can ever make a difference, in this life.” And yet, I just came from Turkey, where I saw glimpses of a different kind of possibility. In gratitude to my hosts and new Turkish friends, I will try to keep embodying the possibility of hope.

good morning

This girl, full of energy and spunk, not only took the opportunity of our interrupting her tutoring session to chat and pose for photos, but leaped at the chance to play teacher and teach us “good morning” in Turkish.

Read Full Post »


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.


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.


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.


Votives lit by pilgrims at Mary’s house.

Read Full Post »


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.


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.


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

Read Full Post »

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.”


Read Full Post »

Last night, I started re-reading The Little Princess. I had finished The Wind in the Willows and My Antonia, and have a stack of library books, but was just falling asleep and wanted something softer. As in A Secret Garden, Hodgson Burnett’s young heroine is returning to her parents’ England after an early childhood in India. The narrator captured some of what I’m feeling as she mused, in her eight-year-old brain:

“Principally, she was thinking of what a queer thing it was that one time one was in India in the blazing sun, and then in the middle of the ocean, and then driving in a strange vehicle through strange streets where the day was as dark as the night.”

In cool Ontario, I read, swim, drink wine, and generally partake of the luxuries of a green, lush, well-tended and underpopulated world. Already it is hard to remember what was so daily and striking only last week.


I am tired of talking about the Burning Place. When people want to know, I now want to say, “Here is something I wrote about it once.” I don’t want to try and describe it, I don’t want to hear the “Gross,” or “Real bodies?” or “That’s so unreal.” I don’t want to try and use up the memories to help others understand; I fear that the more words I try to use to describe, the more actual pieces of the memory will disappear. The experience becomes what I say; I don’t want to forget the heat, the dry ashes as they fell, the torn garland in the water, the gravity of all around.

You know how if you talk about a memory, repeatedly, the memory itself becomes what you have said about it, and not what you actually experienced.

If you think about your high school prom, for example, you will remember the things you’ve talked about while talking about it all these years. The smaller things—the pollen from the stamen of your lilies falling onto the dusty velour of the car seat between you and your date, the awkwardness of seeing your gym teacher’s bra strap in her dress-up dress, the strangeness of driving to school as the sun sets, and parking in a familiar place, but in utterly unfamiliar clothes…

If I keep trying to talk about the Burning Place, I will lose the actual impressions. Like wet tissue paper pages—once color-saturated, they will dry up and leave me with rasping slips of brittle blank paper.


I kind of like being sunburned. Not on the tender parts, like my shoulder and that soft doughy bit between my swimsuit strap and my torso—that’s too much pain. But my legs, my feet. I like feeling the discomfort, the constant reminder, as I move my feet inside the sheets. It’s like: I can still be reached by the sun, even all this way away.


I still find myself working to keep water out of my mouth when I swim or wash my face. I keep forgetting that the water here—all of the water, every drop of it—is safe and will not make me sick. This is incredible.

I went to church last Sunday, an Anglican parish in small town Canada. It was an outside, casual service, the kind I hate. Lawn chairs, a jocular sermon, kids wearing baseball caps. No processions.

And even still, I needed it and loved it. The great thing about the BCP is that even in a lackluster service, you hear these prayers and phrases that gild the whole thing. It’s like seeing a red thread that you’ve previously only seen against green velvet, and here it is against denim: look how red and strong it is. Feel how inspiring and comforting the words. And so once again, I received the Body and Blood, and tried to use the tiny sliver of silence during the Prayers of the People—I have so many prayers. Of thanksgiving, of names of all those I wish to remember, to be thankful for, to send God’s Grace and Presence and Care to, for forgiveness (for privileges known and unknown, privileges seen and unseen.)

Bells from all over town are background for the readings. I keep my hands open, as if to receive, as I did so many times in India, and pray that I might keep my posture of openness just a little bit longer.

Read Full Post »

A few days ago, three of us tried to go to St. Thomas, Varanasi, for Catholic Mass. Like all things we’ve experienced, nothing turned out as we had imagined, and instead we got an experience we had not expected. A posture of openness…the key to all travel here.

First, we found the locked gate. A street food vendor reassured us that someone would unlock the gate when it was time for the service, and we saw six women already waiting. So we waited. When the women realized we were coming to church, they smiled and began looking at us in earnest. I said to my friends, “This church service just got a lot more glamourous.”

At some point, we realized that this was not going to be a Roman Catholic service. And, we never actually got into the sanctuary. The congregation gathered  on the front porch of the church, and a man came with a little wooden bench, a book, and a bottle of some kind of holy water.

The service began with a song, and lots of clapping. The minister sang from the book, but it seemed that most of the congregation knew the words; two women I saw had song books. The front of the books reminded me of the kind of song books you might see at a Pentecostal youth camp, in the 1980s. A cartoonish hillside with crosses and colorful printing. Ashleigh asked to see one of the books, and in the back there were some verses in English; she said she saw a lot of mention of “Jehovah.”

After the first long song, two women stood up and made witness. They spoke at length, and the minister and some of the other women spoke softly in assent and nodded along. This was familiar to me–a kind of testimony, passionate and supported by “Amen” or “Yes, Lord,” and support from the community.

We also noticed that for the women, it was a kind of social hour as well. After the testimonies, the minister began reading from what I believe was the New Testament. Again, like preachers I’ve experienced in the US, he often paused in reading and made commentary, gesturing to his heart, the street/world behind us, and the heavens above.

During his reading, the women occasionally spoke to one another. The younger women, with small children, sat at the back of the circle, and the little kids played with water bottles or toddled around the grassy courtyard. Behind us, we could hear the traffic and noise of merchants and passersby.

I imagined the women saying what women in church always say to one another, once a week, in respite and support: “How is your daughter’s pregnancy going? Is he still drinking? Have you found work? Did the fever go down?”

All of the women smiled at us, shared their books, and took our hands for a kind of pressed hand hand shake. Even though I spoke not a word of Hindi, I was incredibly welcomed. I clapped along to the songs, I bowed my head in and prayed my own prayer during their prayer time, and I listened to the women testify and tried to imagine their hopes and prayers.

That’s church, right? A gathering, a bit of respite from the heat and dust, a warm hand squeezing welcome?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »