You may be aware of the customary Indian greeting, common to people of all faith traditions, which consists of putting your palms together , upright in front of your heart, and bowing your head slightly, while saying “Namaste,” which roughly translates as, “I honour the divine within you.”
First the poem, and than a few thoughts about it.
Wealthy with anticipation
Scents of spice and jacaranda
Shimmer vibrant colour
Dust and monsoon rain
Whisper secrets to the air
A murmured mantra
Hidden under breath
But no less fervent
Reconnect my heart
I did not know I’d lost
Gives me new eyes to see
Broken beauty of a beggar
Who expects nothing
Yet receives my few rupees
With gracious dignity
A royal princess
In whose emaciated frame
I think I glimpse
The hope of glory.
a deep encounter
The poem came from an actual incident in a little Indian town, where I was stopped by a young girl – possibly a teenager, though it was hard to tell, because she was so emaciated. She was carrying a baby, though whether it was her own child, or a younger sibling, I couldn’t tell. The baby too seemed very thin and was unnaturally quiet. She wasn’t aggressive or pushy in any way, she simply put out her hand begging for some money.
In much of India the levels of poverty are simply mind-boggling for westerners, and beggars are heart-breakingly common. So much so that within quite a short space of time, it becomes possible to filter them out and simply not see the need that is right in front of your eyes.
Something about this young woman, drew my attention and I found myself looking her directly in the face (rather a cultural no-no in India). Suddenly it was as if I could see beyond the dirt, the physical hunger and the weary desperation. Instead of a pitiful girl begging I saw someone majestic and clothed in dignity and honour. It was as if when I looked into her eyes Christ looked right back at me. It took my breath away, as I suddenly realized in that moment that we were intimately connected. In our deepest, truest self we were not two but one. As I looked at her, I saw not only Christ but also my deepest self reflected in Him. I gave her whatever I had in my pocket and she moved away through the crowd, leaving me still in a bit of a daze, still shaken and intensely enlivened by what I had perceived in that moment.
engaging the heart
It has taken over six months to begin to process this very brief encounter with the divine in the form of a beggar in any meaningful way, even for myself. The funny thing of course is that this realization is nothing new. It is nothing that hasn’t been reported many times before by many spiritual journeyers. Indeed I have actually preached on Colossians chapter 1 several times. Understanding however, is not the same as realization. One is a matter of the mind. The other requires the engagement of our heart.
In that moment of connection, my heart was suddenly and unexpectedly engaged, not by pity, which is an ego centered emotion, but through love and compassion, which are expressions of our true self. In a way this was itself the essence of the realization. At a heart level, all of us are deeply connected in vital loving union, through Christ the hope of glory, who dwells in the deepest core of our being. The image and likeness of God in us, if we will recognize it in one another, is our shared inheritance and identity. This presumably is what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”
heart connection is a catalyst for change
Contemplative spirituality sometimes attracts a degree of criticism, from those who feel it is just self-indulgent or passive. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Awakening to the reality of who we are is possibly one of the most urgent and important works of humanity in our day and age.
When we come to understand that the essence of our identity is Christ, and that through Him we are vitally united with every other human being, how can we do violence, or perpetrate injustice or suffer any hurt to be inflicted upon them? When we awaken to the reality that the very life in us is the same Spirit, the same Breath of God that breathed all things into being, and that we are vitally united in spirit to the whole of creation, how can we contemplate wounding the oneness of life through exploiting or neglecting creation?
Awakening to Christ in us, is not just the hope of glory for us individually, but for the whole of creation. In the authentic connecting of hearts we wake up from the relative world of pain and suffering. At the same time we wake up to the absolute eternal reality of the Kingdom of Heaven, where there is no more hunger, no more pain, no more lack, no more sickness and no more death.
You may find it odd that I, as a Christian priest sometimes greet you or thank you with a gesture more often associated with Hinduism or Buddhism. Perhaps that oddness may serve an important purpose. We integrate actions far more completely than we do concepts or words. The Namaste is an action that recognizes and honours the divine presence in the person in front of us, and calls us to WAKE UP, to the absolute, eternal reality and presence of the Kingdom of Heaven.