In winter 2018, I took a trip to India with a group of students from the seminary, visiting sacred sites of 7 religions – Baha’i, Buddhist, Muslim, Jain, Sikh, Christian and Hindu. The trip was called The Sacred Sites of India. It was amazing. There are temples and sacred art everywhere, pilgrims and worshipers everywhere. India is busy, beautiful, colorful, crowded –– filled with delicious vegetable curries, fresh fruit, palm trees, silk saris, pashmina shawls. There are men building roads, men building buildings, men with sewing machines on the street making clothes while you wait, men pulling people around in bicycle taxis, men cooking on gigantic platters in the street, men slicing coconuts with machetes. men carrying huge loads on their backs and on their bicycles. I have never seen so many men working so hard.
It made me question those simple phrases we say in America – “Have a good day,” “Hang in there,” “Tomorrow is another day,” “Good luck” -- slogans on coffee cups, posters, commercial slogans. “I’m worth it." In India, I was surrounded by poverty: children living on the sidewalk, going through garbage that cows and pigs are also going through, little girls and boys doing tumbling routines on the street for a few coins from tourists or selling postcards of sacred sites, women gathering cow manure and straw to make dung patties to turn into fuel to cook their food, women gathering rice, mothers shyly smiling, proud of their daughters, who are going to school and learning English, planning to become doctors.
In every place we visited, in every temple, in every hotel room, I said prayers for the healing of all people, the peace of the world – prayers for my friends and family, prayers for the people there – prayers for all of us. And I thought: What are we going to do? What can we possibly do about all of this? Is there anything I can do about any of this?
I started noticing solutions. At the Sikh temple, there is a kitchen that serves free food all day long to anyone who is hungry. The Jain Temple has a bird and animal hospital for up to 10,000 injured birds, where they treat up to 19,000 animals a year. The Baha’í Temple is recycling 2 million gallon of water a day to support the gardens, flowers and trees that surround the temple, with pumps that run on solar energy. The Baha’í Temple has also opened an educational facility on their grounds that will offer a space for young people to consult, study and learn. The air is noticeably cleaner there.
In the streets, every day, our guides, both of whom were Hindu, quietly, unobtrusively, gave money and food to outstretched hands. One guide told me that it is not giving – it is sharing. One hotel was selling crafts made by homeless people. Each place, some of them in the same city, had a solution that they were implementing and able to sustain – a unique solution to address one or more aspects of what seems like an overwhelming set of problems. The enormous scope of the poverty allowed my mind to focus, pay attention, and open up to ideas. It allowed me to see solutions that were everywhere, right now, right here, in my immediate surroundings.
I thought about my neighborhood in Minneapolis: What are some of the issues in our own neighborhood and what are some of the solutions that people are implementing? Just like India, and yet not at all like India, there is hunger, there is homelessness, pollution, children who should be in school. Peace and healing for the planet is my aspiration – and my contribution to that great effort needs to be centered on my particular circumstance. If that spot is Montevideo, Minneapolis, Jackson, Michigan, New Delhi, India, I need to pay attention to the needs that are around me, what might be required, and what I can offer. Solutions will be different for each place, calling for a unique response by each of us. Hunger, inequality, pollution, homelessness, despair are global issues, but what works in Montevideo may not work in New Delhi. Each of us is like all others, like some others, like no others.
I was thinking about consultation in India. I was thinking about consultation when I came back to my faith community. I think about consultation at the seminary.
I was also thinking about God. That God has a plan for us: to be able to live in peace. To take care of one another. To live by the golden rule – to treat each other as we want to be treated. To take care of this glorious earth. To never leave us alone, without guidance. We have so much guidance. So many religions, so much sacred text, so many ways to worship. My prayer is that we can listen. That we can stay with it. That we won’t give up. That we will find solutions that work for us – for each of us – to create a welcoming, healthy, loving community.