Saturday, June 29, 2013

one for your peters and your pauls

"For what would it profit a man to gain all his luggage, and lose his life?"
--A Strong-Willed Peter

     If you walk out of Waterloo Station, on London's Southbank, and walk down Waterloo Road, away from the Thames, past the Old Vic, you eventually will want to make a sharp right. Then, after going past several hole-in-the-wall restaurants and small mews, make a left. On your left there will be a modest building with a small sign, announcing that here is one of the three Missionary of Charity houses in London.
If you knock on the door, you will be greeted by a small sister wearing a white sari with blue trimming and a black sweater. She will smile softly and welcome you into a small chapel where there is a simple off-white rug, and, off to the side, benches where visitors sit to attend Mass.

     If you walk down A.J.C. Bose Road, in Kolkata you will need to watch your step.
You will need to dodge the portly men eating dosas, and the rabid dogs, and the men with machetes chopping down trees (because it's a sunny Friday afternoon, so why not?).
If you are brave enough to brave the piles of slimy brown goodness-only-knows-what, and the stares and the gaping holes in the pavement, you will arrive at a simple-but-stately blue house. 
If you walk just past this unobtrusive but imposing building, into the alley right next to it, you will see that right past the main door, the pavement bricks end, and the small street disappears into a giant pit of dust, which turns into a muddy pond during monsoons. If you knock on the simple wooden door with the cross on it, then a sister with a serene face and rosary beads slipping through her fingers will answer the call, and usher you into a small little covered entryway that leads into a middling-sized courtyard where there is a miniature grotto, equipped with Our Lady of Lourdes. To your immediate right is a large room with a vast slab of raised marble. This is Mother Teresa's tomb. Kitty-corner from this room is a small flight of stairs which leads you up to a simple room, sparsely decorated.
This is Mother Teresa's room, kept as it was when she lived there.
If you walk up the flight of stone steps next to the chapel with Mother Teresa's tomb, you will reach the chapel on the second floor. This large room has a stone floor, and windows open to let in the breeze and some fresh air.
These windows let in the clamor of the noise of A.J.C. Bose Road, one of the busiest streets in Central Kolkata.
But this chapel is one of the quietest places in the world, despite the outside noise.
Inhabited only by novices in plain white saris, sisters in their blue-trimmed habits, and visitors and volunteers in their ragamuffin uniforms of t-shirts and Aladdin pants, this chapel is a place of solace in the midst of chaos. 
Even the animals are drawn to the calm aura of this sacred ground. 
As the Blessed Sacrament sits exposed, a brave gecko or two scurries across the pristine white walls, silently venturing into the sanctuary, basking in its holy hush.

Sophia for wisdom and guidance; Maranatha for protection and strength

If you follow Gandhi Road to the outskirts of the small Himalayan hill-town of Darjeeling, you will pass a nondescript gated yard. 
If you look down the drive, you will see a very modest house at the bottom of the hill.
If you happen to see a sister, call out her name.
Perhaps, if you come at the right time and say the right thing, she will usher you into the small little convent of the contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity.
And maybe, just maybe, if you arrive on a good day, you will find yourself in the most minuscule, magnificent chapel known to man.
The dim lighting only serves to highlight the delicate, spindly monstrance standing like a triumphant Sun in front of the background of the blue Himalayas, seen in the brilliant light of the sun shining through the sparkling windows.
And then after greeting the Master of the House, you will sit with the sisters in their black cardigans in the crisp mountain air, basking in the sunlight of the morning, and drinking Tropicana grape juice.
And although you are from opposite ends of of the world, you are somehow family.

Southwark, Kolkata, and the Himalayas are all very different places.
So it's astounding that in all three there can be a spot that feels so much like home.

Communities and unities transcend time and space. Which is easy to say, but hard to understand.
But understanding begins with wonder; and awe leads to knowing.
And when you sit basking in the strange and wonderful knowledge that there is a certain blessing dogging your steps; then you begin to think that prayers may be blessings far more tangible than simply just words flying off into the air.
And when you all alone and find that you are accompanied by hosts of hundreds of thousands, you have a glimpse of what it means to be alone but also together as you can only be together in eternity--filled with the peace of solitude and the tsunami of Joy that is best described in the words of a favorite author as "the fires of eternal creation, the fires of love answering love for ever."
You begin to maybe understand how to go about being a sacrament of communion in an alienated world. And that is an indescribable sort of joy, what some may call a mystery,
Just like the mystery of how I hate grape juice, but Tropicana grape juice, drunk with friends in the presence of living saint can be the sweetest drink I've ever tasted.

"Christian hope projects itself beyond the limits of time."
--Pope John Paul II

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