HAVE A LITTLE SHRADHA
When I was a young boy, I summered in the Philippines and found myself in the charge of an elderly, devoutly Catholic relative. My great aunt went to mass every single day, was forever thumbing her rosary beads and always smelt of sampagita (the biblical jasmine from which they fashion wreaths for shrine offerings). I loved my Aunt and admired her religious fervour, even though I didn’t quite understand it.
One day, she said it was time to get out of the city and have a road trip; just the three of us (my great aunt, her husband and me). I couldn’t wait. But it was a different kind of road trip: it was a tour of famous religious sites where images of the virgin mary or Jesus Christ materialised and remained on things like large stones, cement and tree trunks. I was fascinated as I had recently read in the National Enquirer that the image of Jesus had appeared on a dorito. I couldn’t quite make the image out because the image provided was so, ahem, grainy.
The first site we went to was at the end of a bitumen road, from which another dirt road continued, all the way to the foot a small mountain. I couldn’t wait to see the chapel built around an image of Jesus that materialised on a piece of cement. The story goes that the cement was laid as the landing of the outer foyer of the chapel. When the miraculous image appeared, it was decided that the chapel be built around the image, so it would forever be protected from the elements. I felt the most incredible sense of anticipation and was beside myself when my aunt and uncle genuflected at the framed image on the ground.
I squeezed myself in between them and my uncle gently held the nape of my neck presumably as support in case I fainted. But I saw nothing. Absolutely nothing but a random set of indents framed by wood and glass. I looked closer. I tried different angles.
‘Uncle. Where is his nose?’
He eyed me incredulously: ‘Right THERE!’ He pointed to a larger indent close to the centre of the frame.
I looked to my Aunt.
‘You cannot see, anak [child]?’
My aunt and uncle asked me to try a yet more angles, said that maybe because it was so dark that was why I couldn’t see God.
‘Never mind’ said my Aunt, encouragingly. ‘So many more sites to see. Halika [come]’ and I followed them both out of the chapel with the strangest feeling that I had somehow disappointed them.
We drove on for a few hours, with me in the back of the car trying hard to listen in to the hushed tones my aunt and uncle had adopted for the first time ever (they were normally quite loud).
The next place we went to was behind another chapel. On a tree was the image of the Virgin Mary with her hands at prayer. Or so they said. Because once again I couldn’t see it. This time, maybe, the sun was in my eyes. Maybe I wasn’t tall enough. My uncle held me up. Yet again I saw nothing. And my aunt and uncle said nothing all the way to the next site.
Which, of course, was also deeply disappointing for all of us: for my relatives because they could see the Virgin, and me because I couldn’t. I tried so hard but I saw nothing on the rock formation, around which a grotto was built. Everybody was deeply concerned. But I was told not to worry, they were praying for me.
Upon being returned to my mother, I spontaneously burst into tears.
‘What happened?’ she asked my crest-fallen relatives.
‘I can’t see God!’ I interrupted, before anyone else had a chance to say anything.
My poor aunt and uncle left my mother to try to console me.
‘I can’t see God, Mum. I can’t see God!’ I repeated and told her the tragic events of the day.
Mum was a great listener; she took everything in before saying, ‘Son, it’s not important that you couldn’t see those images. And it’s not important why.’
‘But if I can’t see, does that mean I have no faith?’
She thought for a moment. ‘No, son. Either way, it’s not important to have faith in images. But it is important to have faith in people. Don’t worry I have faith in you.’
It took me a very long time, years in fact, to really understand what all this meant. And as I reflect upon my beautiful, growing community of brave, articulate, well-inked, energetic anarchists, I see what it means to have faith in people. Back in the day, when we were a very small number of teachers in a small converted warehouse, dropping knowledge about how enlightenment can only be achieved through practical compassion, I would never have guessed where we would be today. Now we are a much larger gang of upstarts, in a much larger converted warehouse with heart, courage, and yes, faith in spades. And all because our teachers had faith in us. When we speak with our students about some pretty big ideas, it’s about seeing their highest potential, not assuming lack of vision. And I thank God, whenever I teach a Jivamukti Yoga class, that, our students too, have so much faith.