River of Peace
by guest author, Sandra Fults
I see her there before me, in my religious imagination. In Ansel Adams black and white, she kneels in a rushing river. She clasps her aged hands in prayer, eyes closed, head slightly cocked. She wears a thin cotton garment, a sari, and a matching scarf. Both are soaked from the river's spray.
She is a vision of prayerful serenity. I want to know her. I want to experience her peace.
Peace means genuine tranquility.
Genuine peace must come on the
basis of mutual trust, mutual respect.
I do not know this woman. I think she must be in India, a Hindu. Judging by her clothing and the river, I think she is immersed in the Ganges.
Less consciously, I form other more spiritually intimate assumptions. For example, since I think she is Hindu, she may be praying to Krishna, Shiva, Kali or one of the multitudes of names by which Hindus know God.
Yet, all this runs through my mind without benefit of knowing her, by approaching her and entering into her soul's delight and her mind's illumination.
His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama says, "Peace means genuine tranquility. I think genuine peace must come on the basis of mutual trust, mutual respect." His sentiment does not conflict with Christ's life as narrated in the gospels. I reflect on Christ's compassion and values as he conversed with the woman at the well. She was an outsider to the Pharisees, yet Christ protected her from their anger. And she was moved in her soul.
I take a tentative first step from my secure bank of rational thought and slowly ease my way into the foreign currents of her faith. She is watching me, the hint of a smile and a glint of merriment in her eyes. I stand before her, not yet kneeling. "The water's quite warm," I say, surprised. She smiles and does not reply.
Imagine: She and I, sitting on a lotus blossom that is suspended above the swirling waters of wholeness (holiness), our hearts opening to one another, radiating the pure light of joyous understanding.
I need to know how to proceed so that she will not sense any threat or disrespect. The answer comes to me in a whisper of realization: Proceed with humility.
We begin to exchange our respective beliefs about God. At this point, what seemed to be parallel paths begin to diverge. It turns out that she is praying to Kali, Hinduism's Black Goddess.
We are open as the lotus...
ready to spread our
fragrance as we pass through
our very different days.
Although I am open to a new approach to prayer, my cultural conditioning is challenged. I try to describe Christian faith and monotheism; she begins to look somewhat mystified as well. Is there any common ground here? I say that the Christian belief in God is grounded in the notion of one God. One and three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Overwhelmingly, the Divine is personified as masculine.
My new friend wrinkles her brow, considers this, and shakes her head. No feminine deities? No, I reply. I do not understand, she tells me. The Goddess Kali, who is but one of the many faces of the nameless One. Kali is the mother of liberation. My Hindu companion cannot understand how Christians can limit themselves to so few concepts of God's infinite power.
Perhaps a simple Hindu woman in prayer and an inquisitive woman from the Christian world can achieve a glimmer of enlightenment in the river of our coming together.
She listens to me with nothing more than acceptance and curiosity. I hope that I have done her the same courtesy. I sense I do not have to cast away all that my heritage has taught me about God. My ideas about God represent but one view of a multi-dimensional reality.
Final image: My Hindu friend and I have formed a community of two. We hold hands and help each other out of the river and up the riverbank, still part of the Hindu universe, still rotating on a Christian axis, yet open as the lotus and ready to spread our fragrance as we pass through our very different days.
Where will we go from here?
As we part, she smiles.
About the Author:
Sandra Fults has an M.A. in Systematic Theology from St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas. Sandra's graduate studies concentrated on dialogue among the world's religions. She is committed to a search for peace that is centered on discovering the dignity of every person and of every religious tradition. Sandra dedicates her time freelance writing and teaching. Her course, "Spiritual Pathways to Peace," is presented through Colorado Free University. The four-hour seminar is an exploration of Christianity, Vedanta and Buddhism and the challenges of interfaith dialogue. At the end of her class, participants partake in a Hindu feast, dancing, singing and all!
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