What I Learned in India

“So what did you learn about yourself in India?”

Maybe that’s the question I’ve been waiting to hear, the nudge to finally get me to put into words what that trip last month meant to me. Thanks, Dilia. Saturday night was fun, but your question really got me thinking.

A few days ago, The New York Times ran an article about the temperature in Rajasthan reaching 123.8 Fahrenheit; they invited readers in India to share how they were coping with the heat. I haven’t checked the responses. Who reads in that kind of heat? Who moves? Who thinks? Who writes to The New York Times? No one gets “used” to that kind of temperature.  It was much cooler five weeks ago when I was there, but when I did finally start writing in my journal, the first words were “I would rather stay here in a darkened hotel room and write about India, than to actually go out the door and be in India. India is waiting out there, for I see its white hot light seeping under the drawn drapes.” Such was my state of thought.

Let me be clear. I am very glad I went. I would do it differently next time, if there is a next time. I’m grateful I did it this way this time. But it was exhausting. My friend Penny who spent five weeks in Jaipur (heart of the heat wave) during November and December a year or so ago, had a totally different experience than this whirlwind tour of mine. She spoke of wearing a light sweater, walking unimpeded to the corner of the block where she was staying and negotiating a tuk-tuk to take her to the center of town where she could wander in the shops at a leisurely pace. She went to a yoga class every morning in the temple a block away. She took walks in the big park next door to the inn where she stayed the whole time. She took the time to really get to know India.

No one (that means me) who flies into Delhi, spends one night there, two nights in Agra and two nights in Jaipur, all in four star hotels, can claim to “know” anything about India.  I saw India. I’ve written briefly about the main attractions that impressed me. Our small group saw most of them in early morning light. We would arrive about seven in the morning and be making our exit between ten and eleven, emerging into teeming hordes of aggressive vendors and less aggressive sightseers.

We spent a lot of time on the bus. I have photos of teeming streets in old Delhi, tree and park-lined streets of New Delhi, and everywhere traffic.

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We looked down on tuk-tuks, pushcarts, and thousands of scooters and cycles, motorized and not.

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From that privileged vantage point high above and far-removed in air-conditioned comfort, I caught glimpses of monkeys, elephants, camels and cattle not only in the country side, but moving through the city streets of both Delhis, Agra, Jaipur and points in between. Our bus drove on the left side of the road, like they do in England. We used four lane highways going from one major town to the next, but local traffic in the country uses the same four lane highway for local purposes, staying in the outside lane, walking, driving, herding cattle, going whichever direction is convenient.  It gets crowded. I closed my eyes a lot.

There were fourteen of us on a bus that would seat more than twice that many, so we were able to move around and spread out. No one could really sleep, write, or read, as the pavement was, shall we say, “challenging.” Nor was the bus of the same standard I’ve experienced with other Smartours tours. Padding in the seats was minimal, the seats were small, and the glass in the windows was neither tempered nor tinted. But our travel conditions were so far above what the masses around us were experiencing, that to even take notice of these finer points seems churlish.

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I will mention the rock that someone hurled at us, which crashed through one of those un-tempered windows, showering glass in the seat beneath. It was the window two back from the driver and one back from where our guide, Arvind, was sitting.  The seat was vacant. No one was hurt, but the incident was upsetting to us all. Was it merely unsupervised children after school? That was the explanation offered. Perhaps. But maybe our latent guilt at being so obviously separate from those around us made us think it might have been more. I for one felt rattled.

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“The problem is,” my travel mate Marilyn counseled me, “is that you have no barriers. You engage too much. Even when you say ‘no,’ you are still engaged.” She was right. I can’t be surrounded by so much humanity and not “engage,” mentally, if not physically.  At 5’10” and totally white-headed, I definitely stood out in the Indian crowds. I felt like a lighthouse with waves crashing around my base. I defended myself by moving into an ivory tower in my head and moving my body forward. Marilyn, consciously or not, had assumed the role of my protector. She of equal height as the aggressors met them eye to eye. “Shoo!” she would say. “Go away!” Words I could not utter from my exalted height without seeming like a bully.

That was the dynamic we’d adopted when on our next to last day we ventured out after lunch to buy spices in Jaipur. We had spotted the little shop a block and a half away from the hotel. We negotiated the short distance without incident, and entered the dusty half light, the air redolent of meals we dreamed of making in our own kitchens at home. We poured over the directions for preparing curry and tandoori chicken.  A new shipment of saffron had just arrived. We shelled out rupees for tiny little cases of the tiny little threads. The shopkeeper prepared us tea. It was like a ritual: one cardamom pod, one thread of saffron, and a few chips of cinnamon bark in each cup. It required time to steep.  We settled in and bought more – black rock salt from the Himalayas, a chai tea mix so strong it requires only a quarter of a teaspoonful for every two cups of water and milk. Almost an hour later we emerged, precious packets of future indulgence wrapped in pink plastic bags. Now this was the India I’d dreamed about, the India I wanted to carry home! Safe India.

We blinked in the blazing sun outside the shop. The crowds were formidable, the noise overwhelming, the distance back to the hotel longer than we remembered. That’s when one small piece of Indian humanity attached himself to me. I would guess that from his size that he was four or five, but he was probably older. He grasped a wad of my skirt in his little fist and trotted alongside me to match my stride. “Missy, Missy, Missy,” was all I could decipher of what he was saying. Marilyn tried shooing. He grasped tighter. I looked down at him, but he didn’t meet my eyes. He was like a little automaton, repeating his mantra. I breathed hard and looked around as I plowed forward. There were other children watching us. I realized that if I stopped, opened my purse or reached into my pocket it would be like feeding the seagulls in Galveston. And it would all be useless. Marilyn and I soldiered on, and finally, escaped into the hotel.

But I didn’t escape that little boy. I felt helpless and sad. It was like the feelings that had been hanging heavy around me during our trip condensed into one heavy cloud. I was miserable. I dreamed about him that night, realizing that under the current circumstances, there was nothing humanly I could have done to help that one child. It wasn’t a comfort. I woke the next morning, our last day in India, eager to head home. What right did I have to swoop into this country, take in the sights, do a little shopping and blithely take my leave? I had joked about this tour, admitting to being unabashedly shallow in this approach. I wanted it that way. This was a “bucket list” trip, purely for my own indulgence. I wanted to “see” India. I didn’t want to be touched by it.

Marilyn and I went down to the hotel pool while it was still cool. She swam while I sat in the shade, thinking about the day we had before us. We were to get on the bus at 11:30, drive six hours to Delhi, have a farewell dinner and then be dropped at the airport. Our flight back to JFK would leave at 2:30 a.m. for an early morning arrival in New York. Lots of hours, lots of travel. We savored this last little bit of cool serenity. I was more than ready to leave.

At 8:30, the sun was fully up. It was hot. We crossed the white marble pool deck to descend pink marble stairs, all sharp corners and shining. When I stepped onto the white marble floor of the courtyard below, disaster struck. The staff had been watering the potted plants and the floor was covered with the leakage, absolutely invisible. I stepped onto it and my feet slid out from under me. I remember the sound of glass breaking somewhere and I came down hard on my back, my head striking the last marble step at the base of my skull. I lay there and the thought came, “This is serious.”

The last thing I wanted to do was end up in a hospital in India. I knew I wouldn’t actually end up there. I had with me my about-to-expire Air Rescue card. I’d been assured I could be whisked away to any hospital in the world that I desired. But I didn’t want to even go through a hospital experience here. People were gathering. “Marilyn,” I appealed to my protector. “I need to be quiet for a while. Can you keep them away?” She was frightened and valiant and faithful. She stood guard while I lay on the floor. Did someone put a prop under my head? I don’t remember. I just lay there.

Then I did what came naturally. I turned to God. “Help! Please!” I started saying Mary Baker Eddy’s “scientific statement of being” – the “go to” position I’ve had since childhood. “There is no life, truth, intelligence nor substance in matter.” That’s the way it begins. “All is infinite Mind, and its infinite manifestation.” Then I stopped. Two sentences in and I was “engaged.” I had been trying so hard to disengage, to not think, respond or react to all that seemed to have been assaulting me this trip. “All is infinite Mind…” How could “not thinking” happen when all was infinite Mind? How could I not engage with Mind’s “infinite manifestation?” I was part of that infinite manifestation!

“What do I need to know, Father? I’m ready to listen.” I don’t know if I literally thought those words, but I experienced them. It was a major shift in attitude, lying there on that marble floor. Arvind’s concerned face looked down at me. “I’m fine,” I assured him. “I just need a little time here.” Marilyn continued her watch. She was obviously worried, but fiercely determined to honor my request. I turned my head. It hurt. “What do I need to see, Father-Mother?” I really wanted to know how to get through this. I desperately needed….I didn’t even know what I needed. I closed my eyes and just was still.

When I opened them again, it was there. I saw what I needed to see. It was all around me. My request was being honored. There was a periphery of people ready to help, eager to help, but they were giving me space, letting me do whatever it was I was doing without interference. I did not feel invaded or assaulted or pushed or shoved. I felt held totally in the love of that “infinite Mind,” which is Love itself. I felt enveloped in love, like there was nothing but me and the Universe and all was well. A flood-tide of comfort and well-being washed through me.

Then the image of that little boy came into my thought. But this time I saw him in a different way. “Why, he has as direct a line as I do, straight to Mind, straight to Love,” I thought. I wasn’t helpless, vulnerable, with a hard shell that needed to be cracked open – and neither was he. We were both made up of better stuff than mere matter. We were idea, individual shining expressions of the infinite One. The most effective thing I could do for him, for India, for myself, was see all of us as gathered into “infinite Mind,” see all of us as part of Mind’s “infinite manifestation.” My whole view of India shifted.

The pain just drained away. I left it like a jacket on the floor when I got up. I accepted some helping hands to cross the still slippery floor and went back up to our room with Marilyn. A little while later I got a call from the lobby. Some things I had ordered had been delivered. What was my pleasure? “I’ll come down,” I answered. Arvind was in the lobby, with the man making the delivery. The hotel manager was also there, along with the doctor who had been called. Would I please allow the doctor to examine me, they all asked. I realized the tour company needed this to happen, as did the hotel. It would also be an assurance to Marilyn. “Of course,” I said, and he did. There was no mark, no lump, no physical evidence of injury at all. The doctor shrugged his shoulders and left.

I’ve waited a while to write about this. I’ve learned to let experiences like this one “set.” I don’t know how else to explain it, but rushing out to tell the world about it when you’ve gone through something, well, holy, just isn’t the thing to do.  In the days following my return, I felt some soreness through my back and shoulders — mostly memory of the fall, and maybe of that fifteen hour flight back to New York in seat 51D on Air India. Those are all long gone.

What hasn’t gone is what I learned about myself. Most of what I’ve written in this blog has to do with “virgin qualities.” If you want a reminder, here’s what I’m talking about.  But just because you can talk a good game, doesn’t mean you don’t have to get out on the field and play. That’s the way we learn. India reminded me in spades that more is demanded of me than just “staying above it all,” and occasionally fumbling for change. I know now I have to engage; I can’t avoid it. But I’ve got to do it first through Love, for my own sake, as well as for the sake of others. Then if there is an opportunity or need for me to do something as one human being for another, it will come to light, and it will be just the right thing for that moment.  But the love has to come first.


India — the highlights

I’ve been putting off writing about India until I got my head around it. It was intense. Perhaps taking a two week trip to spend five nights in the country of destination isn’t the ideal way to get acquainted, but neither do I think five weeks of residency (my original plan) would have been an ideal alternative. There is no “perfect way” to see India, just like there’s no “perfect way” to dance with an elephant. The fact that you are doing it at all should be notable.

I’ll start with the places that made the biggest impression on me, the ones people read about in guidebooks and that are listed on the itinerary.

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One of the places that moved me most was the Ghandi Museum in Delhi where walls are filled with photographs, biographical information and quotations from the physically diminutive spiritual dynamo who transformed India, and still wields transformative power in the lives of anyone who will listen.

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I wasn’t familiar with the culture of khadi. How could this be, when I was raised in a family dedicated to making cotton better?  It is the whole reason India has a spinning wheel on its flag. I photographed volumes of information. I could have spent a whole day here instead of just the few hours. So much more to learn!

The Birla Temple in Delhi, one of the few Hindu temples which opens its doors to people of all faiths. They don’t, however, allow photographs. Sorry! But here’s a link where you can see the outside. We entered in mid-morning, leaving our shoes in an anteroom and walked barefooted over red and white veined marble floors, immaculately clean under intricately carved ceilings. The walls, spires and towers were red sandstone trimmed with white and gold paint. Shrines within the temple – dedicated to Ganesha, Vishnu, Shiva and others — were decked mostly in marigolds, which reminded me of our Mexican Day of the Dead. It is colorful, color-filled worship.  Guadalupe has nothing on this pantheon.


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The glow of the Taj Mahal in morning’s first sunbeams is magic. It is essential to get here early, to see the extensive gardens, stone work, pools and fountains that lie between the entry gate and the main attraction before harsher rays and teeming hordes dilute the effect of pure radiance.

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Obviously, it was undergoing some restoration work when we were there.

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The glory is all outside in the intricate inlays and stone work, the amplitude of the gardens and fountains; the interior of the exquisite building is claustrophobic, confining. After all, it’s a tomb.

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The vast empty spaces of the abandoned colonial capital of Fatehphur Sikri. All of the Muslim engineering skills that have attracted millions to the Alhambra in Spain are present here, but without water the artistry is lifeless. Canals and fountains are filled not with liquid, but with the dry pollen of pepper trees. The elaborately carved red sandstone facades look out on vacant plazas.

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The Muslim influence is seen not only in the water engineering, but in elaborately carved screens. They let in light and air, but keep out the sun’s harsh rays.

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It is a ghostly place.

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The Amber (also Amer) Fort, crowning some of the hills surrounding Jaipur, provided me another time warp.

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I rode an elephant to get up to it, the last of our group to step elegantly from a stone platform onto the twin bed contraption that bore us onward and upward.Never mind what we left behind us.

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All I could see of the elephant was the top of his head beyond the turban of Ali, the driver.  The hordes of clamoring vendors had followed the main body of the tour group far ahead, and Ali, the elephant and I were left behind plodding and swaying our way up the medieval road in silence. In my mind I was a maharani; there was nothing outside to contradict the illusion.

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We had a long time to explore the many nooks and crannies of the Amber Fort — which is essentially a palace.But there were palaces within the palace for different seasons of the year and different slants of the sun.

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The designs made me think of the interior of the churches we saw last summer in the south of France.

That is the rundown on the tourist highlights. As impressive as they were, they did not have as great an effect on me as India itself did. For that I will write further.

1500 Characters Is Not Enough!

Hotels.com asked me for a review of the Camino Real in Saltillo. I labored over it, because it had been formulating in my little brain all last Sunday when we finally made it home. After all that work, they said I’m limited to 1500 characters. Nyet! So I’m posting it here.

Great beds, great view, but bring your own food and a screwdriver.

I have such a love/hate relationship with this hotel. My husband and I have stayed here many times, going and coming between San Miguel de Allende and San Antonio, Texas. It is exactly half way on our journey, perfect to arrive around 4 in the afternoon, rest a while and then enjoy dinner. It is set up on a hill with mature trees, lovely grassy areas and spectacular views of the Sierra Madre. The staff is always welcoming and competent. (Well, this last time, we were sent to a room that was already occupied, but I’m married to Larry and forgive dyslexic tendencies.)  The beds are wonderful, the rooms spacious, and every one we’ve ever stayed in has had either a private patio or some other amenity to recommend it. There is a double security gate, and circuitous roads leading to your particular bungalow. You feel like you’re going to be well taken care of. That’s what works.

What didn’t work on this last trip was the phone in the room, the clock radio (obviously broken, but set up on the nightstand like for decoration), the wardrobe doors which wouldn’t stay shut and we kept running into, the shower head which sprayed in a wide circle and was unadjustable so you had to stand over by the open door to the shower stall in order to get hit with the water, and the electric hairdryer that fell off the wall. There was one tissue left in the dispenser. We just kept laughing. It was like Fawlty Towers.

In times past (and we’ve been staying here off and on for ten years) there was an excellent steakhouse with a panoramic view of the Sierra Madre. That has closed. So we ate in the bar on the trips prior to this one. Going north this time, the desk manager said that the restaurant was open again, and was located up where they have always served breakfast. OK, we said. (once you’re installed there, it’s a pain to get in the car and go elsewhere for dinner.) Both meals were basically inedible. My salmon was still frozen cold in the middle, there was rice instead of the potato listed on the menu, and the “steamed vegetables” was a pile of mushy stuff that looked like it had come from the garbage disposal. Larry’s enchiladas had been microwaved and couldn’t be cut with a fork. We recounted our experience to friends in San Antonio. “Eat in the bar,” they counseled. “It’s great!” So we rebooked and stayed again going south. The bar was being used for a wedding reception. We snacked in the room. “How bad can breakfast be?” we wondered the next morning. We were hungry. The yogurt and granola were nice. Everything else was so salty as to be gag-inducing. I paid the bill, since we were checked out. With tip, 400 pesos. We shoulda gone to McDonalds.

I made one last trip to the ladies room, as Larry was waiting below with the car. The little guy mopping the floor motioned me into a stall. I finished, about the same time he did. No flush. No water at the sink either. The water was shut off. He looked at me and shrugged. I wonder if the only thing that works at this hotel is the staff!

Some Things Are Worth Saving

I’m making friends with a new Mac. I respect its clean lines and uncluttered appearance. I didn’t want to dump a bunch of old docs from my HP laptop into it, so I’ve been going through and doing a lot of deleting. In the process I’ve found a few things I feel good about having written. This is one from May 29, 2004. I’ve made a few tweaks — very few. I’m grateful the country has come so far.

Dear Cousin, Friend, Relative – I’ve been hearing from you all —

RE your e-mail urging I send an electonically generated thank you note to President Bush for his stand against gay marriage. OR urging me to contact my political representative to act immediately. OR whatever else you’ve asked me to do to “save” marriage…….

I write this with love and respect for all you stand for, but I can’t stay silent on this one.

I am a Christian. I acknowledge that I’m saved from hatred, sin and condemnation – from all manner of evil, from hell in every sense of the word – through Christ — through the life lived by Jesus. His is the consumate example, the only way. He is unparalleled in the universe for the love he expressed, the forgiveness he showed, the suffering he endured. I love Jesus.

And I take his charge to follow him very seriously. His most simple and profound counsel was “Love one another.” And he told us how to love: “As I have loved you.”

He loved unconditionally, freely, extravagantly. He loved with everything he had, with total commitment. — inclusively, unselfishly, passionately – so much so that his final earthly act has taken the name “The Passion.”

I will take the word and works of Jesus Christ as the example by which to form my social attitudes and opinions.

Not the proscriptive strictures addressed to an ancient middle eastern tribe who, like new born children, had to have everything dictated to them, even to their dietary and clothing practices!

Not the detailed counsel attributed to Paul, who, inspired by his own Christian conversion experience, felt impelled and ordained to tell every other Christian how to conduct themselves in their personal and congregant lives. (Whoever heard of something like that happening! Yeah. Right.) In all fairness, much of what is attributed to Paul is now acknowledged to have come from other sources. This should be evident, in that some of his counsel is at odds with Jesus’ practice and direction.

And what was that?

“Love God. Love one another.” Do it the best you know how. Give your all. Commit to those you love. Be there for them – always and in all ways. Provide for their needs now and their future security. Honor their hopes and dreams. Live in community with one another and in communion with God. Mind your own business. Don’t exclude or reject any honest heart for any reason.

Jesus didn’t see us as sexual beings. He saw us as human beings in every state and stage of progress toward realizing our God-created spiritual identities.

Who on earth, given the persecution, revulsion and exclusion which comes with that state, would choose to be gay? As a Christian Science practitioner I’ve worked long – and fruitlessly – to help individuals who came to me asking for help in “healing” homosexuality. I’ve seen them overcome sensuality through prayer – as much a deterrent to spiritual growth in heterosexuals as in homosexuals. Yet the feeling of being NOT heterosexual has remained. I’ve witnessed their self-hatred, despair and guilt for this. And it’s only within the past five years or so, that I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to “heal” someone of homosexuality is like trying to “heal” a woman of having periods. Some things are just a part of being human – maybe not pleasant or attractive to all sensibilities, but not “abnormal.”

I may not be able to personally comprehend what it is to be homosexual, no more than men can imagine having a period, but God forgive me for adding any weight these dear ones already carry. God forgive me for marginalizing them from “civilized” society, as surely as menstruating women were shunted off as “unclean” to red tents in the desert.

Civilized society benefits from stable relationships and moral commitments in many forms. These commitments also carry responsibility. Some of them include becoming a member of and serving in a church; serving in the military; committing time and effort to a community association board; becoming a regular volunteer for any number of civic organizations. Getting married. Excluding people from the right to participate in these kinds of relationships and commitments – and thus depriving them from responsibility — does not contribute to the stability of society. Rather, it separates and scatters — relegating whole groups to the fringes or hounding them into an underground culture. And then we click our tongues over their irresponsible behavior!

Anyone willing to commit morally and legally to a civilized institution these days – to be willing to say “I’m there for you with all I am and with all I’ve got. I’ll be there for you in sickness and health, for richer and poorer. You can count on me always and in all ways,” — should be encouraged, not vilified.

Mary Baker Eddy might have been addressing this same subject — and many others, as well — when she wrote:

In Christian Science, the law of Love rejoices the heart; and Love is Life and Truth. Whatever manifests aught else in its effects upon mankind, demonstrably is not Love. We should measure our love for God by our love for man; and our sense of Science will be measured by our obedience to God, — fulfilling the law of Love, doing good to all; imparting, so far as we reflect them, Truth, Life, and Love to all within the radius of our atmosphere of thought.

     The only justice of which I feel at present capable, is mercy and charity toward every one, — just so far as one and all permit me to exercise these sentiments toward them, — taking special care to mind my own business.

Fussin’, feudin’ and fightin’ – Being “church” can get messy.

The topic of “church” didn’t come up that often when we lived at the beach. Generally, gringos (I use that term for anyone not born in Mexico) came to Nayarit for vacations and fishing. The “fishers of men” thing wasn’t a high priority for people just visiting.

It’s different here in San Miguel. Here there’s a large ex-pat population who call this town home, and for many of them an important part of putting down roots is finding a spiritual home base. Virgin Territory How I Found My Inner Guadalupe was conceived at the beach, and is my chronicle of personal wrestling and self-perception along the lines of “where does one lodge one’s faith?” Some people opined that my thinking at that time may have been as soggy as the climate. Well, the search continues in this higher, drier, clearer climate. I don’t know that I’ve reached any definitive answer about what I say when asked what I am, but I’ve been open to exploration.

The town offers a lot of choices. I’ve mentioned before that one of the places I’ve “lit” from time to time is the San Miguel Community Church, but though I recently acquired a name tag to wear at services, I’m still loath to put my name on any dotted line. It does seem that just as I am in search of self-definition, the Community Church is, too. Who knows? Maybe that’s what attracted me in the first place.

My friend Al wrote about this church recently on his blog. His remarks are in response to a “wisdom offering” and ensuing discussion that I led last week at the early service. Not everyone, I am assured, would agree totally with his account of church history. All of this was before my time, but I’m seeing the various stories still inform current perceptions.  If you’re interested, read what I said last Sunday, read what he wrote, and then read the comments after his blog entry. Yeah, I know. It’s messy. But that’s what I titled this piece in the first place!

My remarks at the early service, San Miguel Community Church, March 22, 2015.

“What Kind of Church?”

I’m presenting these categories in reverse order, with an eye toward Easter and resurrection – from the slightly moribund, to the vital and transcendent. Any church can have elements of all four categories. The question is What is the foremost characteristic of an organization? I need to give Leonard Sweet credit for the concept of these categories.

Monument church – we recognize them often by their landmark buildings. We also know exactly what to expect when we enter the door. I think of these churches the same way I think of McDonald’s. I don’t mean that as a disparagement. This is from someone whose car automatically veers to the right when I see those golden arches just this side of Leon. Breakfast at McDonald’s is a ritual when my husband and I drive to the coast. It’s not inspirational, but it is definitely comforting. We don’t have to make a lot of decisions. We are simply given a meal in familiar form to sustain us on our way. That is a good thing, but not transformative.

Maintenance church – This church may well be located in a landmark building, or it may be in search of a place to erect one. A maintenance church is identified by place – whether an actual physical structure or a place within a denomination. Questions at business meetings revolve around how to maintain that place and identity. I’ve heard churches like these referred to as having an “edifice complex.”

Ministry church – This is a church which is all about people – helping them out, comforting them, feeding them, praying for them. The purpose of lifting and enlightening human lives unites the members of a ministry church as much as or more than any particular denominational elements. The primary motivation of a ministry church is service, both to the community and to one another. The Church at Jerusalem, led by the disciple Peter, was a good example. It drew members because of the love they felt expressed there, the individual sense of fulfillment when working as a group.

Peter is the one who Jesus appointed as “the rock,” on which he would build his church. Jesus had asked the question “Who do people say I am?” and after receiving various responses from the disciples, he asked another question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, who was then known as Simon bar Jonah, is the one who blurts out the answer: “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.”

The response of Jesus is infused with relief. Somebody gets it! And the “it” is a big enough and solid enough concept that Jesus says

“God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am. And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.”

(That passage above is from The Message, a translation of the Bible by Eugene Peterson.)

Peter’s recognition of who Jesus really was, the embodiment, the incarnation of divine power, the Messiah or Christ, the tangible evidence of divinity embracing humanity, was the foundation stone, the rock, on which the human organization of Christianity was based. Peter’s glimpse of the coincidence of, that is “the being in the same place at the same time” of God and man, the living evidence of “God with us,” this Christ-power is what lay behind the good works, the healing work that he and members of the Jerusalem church went on to do. They ministered. They healed in the name – that is in the nature — of Christ Jesus.

But still they carried a limited sense of what the life of Christ Jesus meant. They referred to themselves at that time as “people of the way,” a distinct sect of Judaism, limited to those who followed the laws of the prophets and whose men were circumcised. It was Paul, the former Saul whose reputation was made on the many Christians whom he had persecuted, who got an even deeper meaning of Jesus’ message. As Paul he carried that message to the far corners of the Roman empire, including not only Jews, but gentiles, slaves, and even pagans. He trained, educated and inspired others to do the same.

That brings us to the last category, the Message Church. We might even consider it as the Messiah Church. Both words begin with “Me.” This is the church which emphasizes what Jesus said in his response to Peter, “And now I’m going to tell you who you are, who you really are.”

The Messiah words of Jesus are central to the Message Church, and just as most of his deep messages were uttered to individuals or to small groups, his words apply specifically to me, and to you, and to you, and to that guy over there. In essence (and this is what I as an individual hear) Jesus says:

“Search the Scriptures. They tell you about me. Remember my words. I tell you about your potential for good, the power you possess as you abide in me, as you follow me. Take up your cross. Give up your former identity. Be made new, be born of Spirit. You have potential for change, redemption. The precious substance of your God-made being has never been touched. This is who you really are. You are more than a servant; you are a child of God.”

The Message was powerful to grow the Christian church throughout the Western world. It still is effective when spoken with heart to those whose hearts are yearning.

What if you had to be strip searched before you attended a church service? Strip searched once more when you left? Anyone who has conducted church services in a jail or prison knows that the essential elements of effective “church” are rudimentary and few. “I just want to hear the word,” explained one inmate to me. “That’s all.”

Monument, Maintenance, Ministry – ultimately it is the Message that moves individuals forward. And it is only as individuals hear and respond to that message that church moves forward as well.

Going Off Her Meds and Heading for Mexico

“Breaking Up With My Meds” is the first post of a new series of incredibly brave articles drolly titled “Going Off.”  Diana Spechler is the writer, and her column appears in The New York Times, under the category Anxiety. The last two paragraphs grabbed me. They talk about our modern society’s yearning “to become spotless on the inside,” a flute tune that resonates with the drum I’ve been beating for some time — our need to reclaim the original definition of virginity.

“I wish I could meet that young woman,” I thought at the time. “She is a real live virgin.” I promptly forgot her name.

It is the magic of the Writers Conference of San Miguel de Allende that Sunday afternoon, yesterday, standing in the gardens of the Hotel Real de Minas, I asked a new acquaintance what she wrote. “I’ve just begun a series for The New York Times,” she answered, “about going off my meds for depression.”

And so begins a friendship, Facebook and otherwise. Diana Spechler. You should remember her name.

What do we call ourselves?

Last night at the 10th Annual San Miguel Writers’ Conference, Alice Walker bemoaned the fact that women still refer to each other in groups as “guys.” Thinking in the shower this morning, what’s an alternative? Gals? Ladies? Women? Think about it. Can you hear yourselves, hum, Ladies, using any feminine term of address that doesn’t have just a smidge or an echo of diminution in it. Diminution? Is that a good word? Maybe I’m thinking “a tone of condescension.”  Maybe I’ll come up with some better term for calling out to a group of my, (oh dear, shall I say it?) gal pals, when I want to get their attention. Gal pals? Yech. That tasted awful on my tongue. Help me come up with something better!

A New Way to Look at Mexico

C.M. Mayo’s “Marfa Mondays” podcast interview with Georgetown University professor John Tutino gives a fascinating new perspective on an old and shared history between the United States and Mexico. Give a listen. It’s an hour and fourteen minutes, so download it for a road trip or have your knitting or Spider Solitaire game handy.


What Are We Really Supposed To Be Doing?

I gave the “wisdom offering” today at the sweet little church that lets me drift in and out. Since I actually wrote something down, I thought I’d post it on my badly neglected blog. Besides, it’s about a Mary. You know I can’t resist a MARY story. Here ’tis:

Most women, if they’ve had any exposure to the New Testament, are familiar with the story of the sisters Mary and Martha and a party in Martha’s house. Luke tells the story. He was a Greek gentile who put together a long account about the life of Jesus, and much of it focuses on the women surrounding Jesus. That is literally true, because it’s in Luke’s gospel we get the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, how she got the news of her pregnancy, and what she thought about it. A physician, Luke must have been a good listener, a guy women could talk to. So it may have been that this other Mary, Martha’s sister, told him about what happened at the party. I doubt if Martha would have told him.

Jesus is the guest, and he’s talking and sharing his ideas. The guys are sitting around listening, asking questions. The women are in the kitchen, doing what women were supposed to do, all except one. That would be Mary, the sister of the hostess. She’s sitting right down there with the guys, listening and learning. She’s not giving a thought to what’s going on any place else. This is not what she’s supposed to be doing!

Martha finally has enough. “Why don’t you tell her to get up and come help me?” she demands of Jesus. He answers her, “Martha, Martha, you are troubled and careful about many things, but Mary has chosen the good part, and it shall not be taken away from her.” See? I doubt Martha would have shared that.

Kathleen Norris comments in her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith:

I can hear Martha muttering, her housewife’s meter running, as she is so overrun with the work of hospitality—the cleaning to be done, the food to be prepared and served—that she risks becoming inhospitable. She’s my Type-A side, rushing to get the job done, but at too great a cost. Mary is pure Type-B, the procrastinator and dreamer, the person who knows that no small part of welcoming a guest is the ability to settle down and listen. She is my better self, the one I have to strive for.

I’m drawn to the fact that this author recognizes that each of us has both Martha and Mary elements. I know I do.

A large part of this summer, settling in after a cross-country move, I’ve spent going through files, trying to consolidate a vast amount of paper down to a few file drawers. I am in awe at the meticulous records I once kept. Both my husband and I were always self-employed, as well as owning jointly some rental property. We lived in the litigious and exigent state of California, so we kept each entity separate from the other, separate bank accounts, separate sets of books. I was the Master Record Keeper, the Martha of the two of us. I dutifully filed and retained every tax return and all the material to support them. We kept it all, at least records dating back to the requisite 2003, hauling the whole load with us when we moved to Mexico in 2006. We stored  them in a line of formidable gray filing cabinets.

Over the last seven plus years, I’ve subtracted nothing and added more records from our life in Mexico, a paper-loving bureaucracy if ever there was one. If you are an immigrant, there’s even more paper to keep track of than “normal.” Did I mention electric bills? In Mexico you are nothing, no one, without proof that you are plugged in and are paying for it. For good measure I’ve kept every statement, as well as records from Telmex, Telcel, SIAPA (that’s water and sewer), and even Global Gas.

This summer all this emerged. The documents had rippled edges from coastal humidity. Rusty paperclips and staples were embedded in bundles of statements and receipts, each page containing information you don’t just chunk in the garbage. To burn or to shred? Environmentally responsible, I’ve been shredding. It is rote work. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Three bags full. No, five. No, six. More. Evidently I have channeled Martha big-time for a long time, doing what I was supposed to do.

But what I’ve also found in those filing cabinets are records of my many Mary moments – journals and correspondence kept from the late 70’s, mid 80’s, longer entries from the early 90’s. They are introspective, inquisitive, seeking and searching. Sometimes woefully dense or painfully naive, but at other times, dare I say, poetic? These are my “good part.” They tell me much more of who I am and how I’ve progressed than the many bags of now confetti-ed financial records. Here I find letters exchanged with a wise woman mentor as I struggled through the challenges of early marriage. There, I come upon reflections about overcoming cynicism in the face of one war after another. Those are a welcome resource given current headlines! I find thank you letters written to me, when I myself have been the mentor. Oh, those are nice. And here, a long letter to my parents I wrote after their Christmas visit with us in 1991. It is filled with a litany of gratitude for all that they have done, not just for Christmas, but for all my life, for how I have been raised, for the values they have instilled.

My mom saved it! I find it now in a folder marked “SUSAN,” retrieved from her filing cabinets and sent on to me by my faithful sister-in-law, the one who ended up with the brunt of settling Mom’s estate a couple of years ago. Writing that letter was perhaps the best use of time I ever spent. It blesses me now, as I re-evaluate what seems a life time emerging from these ancient Penda-flex files. Could I have ever spent moments more valuable than listening and writing down my Mary moments?

Oh, I will still keep financial records and file returns. I’ve just finished and filed the required one for 2013, in time to swear to myself that this year will be different. I will have records for 2014 in order, and I won’t be waiting until the last minute – again. But somehow, after this cathartic cleaning out, I’m not feeling the mantle of heavy guilt that my silently raging Martha part would impose on me. My “good part,” my Mary part, will probably keep on doing what she’s always done, even if she’s supposed to be doing something else. And that’s a good thing. I have it on the best authority.

“Be who you are,” she reminded him.

One of the things I like doing on this blog is sharing stories of women who show up and make a difference, just by being who they are.  With tongue only slightly in cheek, I refer to them as “real virgins,” because they fulfill that original meaning of the word “virgin,” a term which had nothing to do with physiology. A virgin was someone who was undefined by any human relationship; she was one-in-herself, whole, complete, intact, un-fragmented, un-captured, self-governed. She looked to no other human for authority to think and act according to her highest sense of good.

My friend and mentor (coincidentally, her name is Virginia, but I call her Ginny in my book) posted an entry on her blog today, recounting a story which is ancient, but has relevance today. All these problems in the Middle East — it’s HISTORY, amigos, tribal history. Whether or not one says she “believes” in the Bible, it is a book full of tribal history, history that is verified through other sources and channels. If you don’t know any ancient history scholars, just look to the folks at The History Channel, right?

If you take the time or have the inclination to browse through what Christians call the Old Testament, but is also known as The Hebrew Scriptures, you can  get an inkling of the longstanding nature of the problems still plaguing the “Holy Land.” Plays well with others, was not a prominent character trait in most  tribal leaders. But as Lynne Bundesen makes clear in her excellent book The Feminine Spirit: Recapturing the Heart of Scripture, at every crucial point, showing up at every step of spiritward progress in the biblical narrative, there was always a woman, listening, forgiving, giving counsel, sometimes taking direct action on her own. In her blog today Ginny recounts the story of Abigail, who saved not-yet-king David from the dark side. Abigail was a “real virgin.” The world could use more of those these days. Want to volunteer? Well, read about Abigail first. You can do that here.