Wednesday, July 17, 2013

tell me you love me by the charcoal fires

"For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say: 'Who will go up into the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' 
No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts, you have only to carry it out."
-Deuteronomy 30:11-14

There is a trend, a pattern, a story of human beings seeking holy places--places where the heavens kiss the earth. Spots where the mundane dust of our globe's crust is united intimately with the sacred air of heaven, where a ladder drops from the clouds to the soft tuft of earth where Jacob dreams, to find the starry rungs where angels tread on their journeys to-and-from the firmament.

Human beings long to find those places, where the tantalizingly translucent veil between the natural and the supernatural becomes completely transparent, and all but vanishes.
So they flocked to the Temple in Jerusalem, to Mecca, to Jagannath, to the Bodhi tree, to the Mount of Olives, and so too, Kolkata.

Here, in Kolkata, a woman told me on the first dusty, noise-polluted, thoroughly overwhelming day: the veil between heaven and earth is very thin here.
And so it is.
When throngs of sisters in white saris sing hymns to the virgin in the blessed room they call their chapel, there seems to be no difference between heaven and earth.
Accompanying them is a rag-tag little army of volunteers, a motley crew of pilgrims who have flooded this place where the heavens kiss the earth.

Here you meet your brothers and sisters from all corners of the globe: the diminutive-looking woman from China, who spends her weeks saving people from death on the streets, accompanied solely by her sidekick (a chipper elderly Irish gentleman) and flanked by their gang of minions--tall boys with hip European haircuts (rosaries around their neck or in pocket, per Sister's strict instruction). They stride into the homes like sanctified superheroes, carrying with them half-broken bodies, with the gentle humility of heroes who know the work they do is not their own.

Here you meet the single young 20-something EMT from LA county, addicted to helping those around her, brought here for reasons unknown, simply trying to follow a dream, follow a call. They say Kolkata calls you. And what can you do but follow?

Here you meet Handsome Spanish Man, whose eyes are always pensive, melancholy and searching, but mysteriously full of Joy.
Here you meet the young girl following an irresistible and unquenchable call, running a path marked by clear signs pointing the way to an unclear destination.
Here you meet the blonde hippie lad who looks like Robert-Powell-as-Jesus, who encounters the Eucharist in a bizarre, majestic silence and an etheral stillness.
You meet a South African art therapist, a blonde, smiling Italian hippie, leading her crew of gorgeous Italian volunteers with laid-back confidence, a pushy, lovable New York journalist moved beyond words by the love of the Sisters, a young Malay chef between jobs.

All these pilgrims journey to this place, following the light left by a brave young woman who loved her neighbors. There, they find they encounter a mystery, an almost frightening paradox--the woman they came here to meet tells them to go home.
She says: "Find your own Kolkata." A distressing welcome to a seeker thirsting for answers.
But the answer is already in your mouth and in your heart--the answer was in your heart from the  moment your tiny heart began to beat in the dark sanctuary of your mother's womb.
Because the mysterious, magical reality of the blessed world we now dwell in is that God is with us. A giant tear has been ripped open in the curtain dividing the heavens and the earth that sundered creatures from their creator.
God has taken up His dwelling place with us--we are surrounded by Him.
We may grasp for Him as if He is far off, but He is not far from anyone.
He is not in the past, or in the future; He is not across the ocean, or up in the sky.
So do not stand looking up to heaven, cry all the angels, laughing at the foolish men staring up at the sky, our ladder has vanished because the one you seek now dwells among you. You will find Him in the eyes of your neighbor, in the small disc that tastes like bread, or in the deepest part of your heart, where binding and loosing take place.
Go find your own ladder; Jacob's is now cruciform in shape and terminates at the feet of a virgin, tending to the baby in a manger.

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