Travels

The last time I was home with my family, I had time to reflect where I had been and where I was going. My dad told me I was lucky to have visited the places I did by the age that I am. When he was my age he had never even left his side of the island (Dominican Republic). However, he has visited many countries in comparison to the average Dominican and has always said that his favorite place the Czech Republic. But he was right, I was privileged in the sense that I got to see and live in parts of the world that he, along with many others, ignore in their lives. Throughout my life I’ve visited four countries, which isn’t much, but that’s Four more than the number my parents had gone to at my age. Looking back on the year I was able to see a bit of the region that I study and explore how diverse it is and understand that what you learn in an academic setting will never satisfy the region because of the complexities that come along with the Middle East, as well as the rest of the world.

I was able to go to Israel, Palestine, and Morocco this year and learn things along the way. I was able to visit the third holiest mosque in the world in Jerusalem and the third largest in Casablanca. I was able to eat different foods and speak with different people about their perspectives. I would love to continue traveling the world because these experiences are things that cannot be taken from me.

Even though I don’t live there and don’t plan on living there for a while, Miami is and will always be my home. That’s where I grew up, made mistakes, learned, and worked hard because of the opportunities my parents made sure I had. I will always consider Miami my home.

 

Pause and Presence

This morning, I meditated. I’ve done many different types of meditation throughout my life, but this time felt different. Perhaps, it was the fact that I was alone and decided to meditate myself instead of in a group setting. During my meditation I prayed and reflected on the week ahead, and the week behind me. Here are a few of my take-aways:

  1. I am getting way too caught up in questioning my self-worth
  2. I have rejected accessing my true feelings in order to feel content
  3. I may have over-booked myself a bit
  4. It’s okay to press pause

Out of these main points of reflection, the last seemed to stick out most. “It’s okay to press pause,” is a phrase I heard said by one of the members of the book study on Sunday morning. I think this a really useful concept and I hope to implement it more this week and in the weeks to come.

During the hustle and bustle of college life, I rarely think to hit the pause button. Instead, I devour all of my tasks as quickly as possible to feel as though I can push pause afterwards. But perhaps, it’s healthier to push pause in the moment sometimes. Not necessarily to procrastinate, but to simply reflect on what is really important and how best to maneuver the work and lifestyle that college brings. This week I hope to remind myself that college is not a foot race or even a marathon, but a self-driven walk in the wilderness of knowledge.

“The greater the depth of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of mystery that surrounds it.”

Sharada Navaratri

I’m going to be totally honest, I forgot all about Sharada Navaratri, which started this week.  This fall equinox Navaratri, usually twenty days before Diwali, has different significances depending on what part of India you’re from. I grew up with Navaratri as a celebration of light over darkness and the battle of Dussehra.

It’s my nineteenth Navaratri and I still don’t know things like good and evil, or darkness and light– I don’t understand them, and often find those gray spaces in between the loudest of all– but when I think of Rama flying over dark & cold waters away from the demon land of Lanka, received with light and fervor by his loving people, I think of my grandfathers. So this year my nine days and nine nights are for them.

My maternal grandfather, Govinda Rao, who passed away a few years ago, is probably one of the biggest reasons I felt so deeply about Hinduism in the first place. He came to America with literally twenty dollars in his pocket and used them to take a taxi to the hospital where he had a job; he educated his daughters even when that wasn’t the norm; he loved God and loved scripture intimately. But these are only stories to me. I have only one memory of my grandfather before his stroke, and the rest are of us learning Sanskrit together, of me reading the Mahabarata to him over long long afternoons with breaks for water. His prayer beads, always wrapped around his wrist in his final days; singing bhajans with, and eventually to him when he could no longer speak. He sought out his homeland in every way he could, and in doing so he taught me everything I know now. In music, in prayer, and in devotion. My brave grandfather who traversed the ocean to give his children a better life. I’d like to think, over the course of the years, he came to know God through seeking only peace.

My paternal grandfather, Devraj Gupta, is also an incredible man who I love dearly. Although I don’t know a lot about his religious life, my Babaji unknowingly taught me how to distinguish my Hinduism from Hindu nationalism. From him I am one quarter Punjabi, and I treasure this inheritance because of his bravery, his love, and his peace. When India and Pakistan cleaved in two my grandfather was forced to flee the border further inland. He was around my age at the time. He has only ever said one sentence about it to me– perhaps because I am still, at nearly twenty, the youngest grandchild– and even that shook me to my core at the horrors of it. My Babaji saw the dark dark side of Hinduism and saw the outpouring of religious violence. He fled from it. Did not partake in any sort of sacrifice through blood shedding; condemned it even. And not only did he survive but he remained a good, peaceful man. This showed me that no matter how people act in the name of Hinduism there is purity and there is light. I love my Babaji for his wisdom and his resilience, two qualities that shaped me in my spiritual and daily life as a Hindu.

I hope that we can all take time to reflect on light and dark, on homecoming, on sacrifice. I hope these nine days and nine nights we recognize the Ravanas of the world and that we can embody the spirit of Rama as we set out to conquer them. Shubh Sharada Navaratri my friends!

Who Owns my Painting?

As an artist I find myself second guessing my decisions pretty consistently. “Was that the right move? Is this good enough? Am I good enough?” these are the kind of things that I find myself wrestling with in my mind.

I have been a creator since I could put crayon on paper and waved that paper around like a brand new kite. This creative quality carried me through years of growth and learning, but the entire time I have had a negative grudge over my shoulder telling me that I can do better. Telling me that I have to do better. This urge has been louder at some times and quieter at others. I am aware of the saying “we are our own worst critique” but I think that this should not be the case. Why should we constantly doubt ourselves?

During a critique last week my friend mentioned a way that her father sees creation and how he sees himself as an artist. He does not see his painting as something that he made or owns; instead, he gives the creative copyright to God. He believes that God gave him the gift of his hands and God guides his hands where they have to go when he creates a work of art.

When I heard this I found it to be profoundly beautiful. This artist gives up on second guessing himself because he knows that what he has is true a gift from God. And any gift like that can never be bad or unworthy.

This kind of trust and strength is something that I hope to bring into my own creative process and it is certainly something that I will continue to pray upon.

On The Waters

I set thee in the passage of the waters. I set thee in the

swelling of the waters. I set thee in the ashes of the

waters. I set thee in the lustre of the waters. I set

thee in the way which waters travel. I set thee in the

flood, the place to test in. I set thee in the sea, the place

to rest in. I set thee in the stream, the place to rest in.

I set thee in the water’s habitation. I set thee in the

resting-place of waters. I set thee in the station of the

waters. I set thee in the meeting-place of waters. I set

thee in the birthplace of the waters. I set thee in the

refuse of the waters. I set thee in the residence of waters.

(Yajur-Veda, Book XIII)

This week Brother Larry suggested I peruse the Vedas. My namesake: Shruti means, after all, “dscriptures of the Vedas”. I’ve never given them that much thought despite the heritage. On Monday I talked to Brother Larry about living traditions of the dead versus dead traditions of the living. I have always felt that texts lean more towards the latter, because Hinduism is so intensely ritualistic, and text has never come alive to me in the same way that chant or libations do. To me, a living tradition is something you carry out yourself; it is knowledge that you live with, and question, and then choose to live with, and that’s what makes it sacred.

So this week I am trying to explore my choosing of the Vedas, or lack thereof. There’s a lot of fancy English translation that is literally holier-than-thou, and I wish I could read Sanskrit because that’s how much it annoys me, all this thee-thy-thou nonsense that a white translator stuffed in there. But I go through the first thirteen books of the Yajur-Veda anyway. Skimming: I haven’t crossed the boundary yet between perfunctory and meditative. There are some passages I like and some I make a mental note of to come back to later. Then I stumble upon a verse that brings me pause. 

I set thee in the passage of the waters. I’m a sucker for anything that doesn’t make me choose a homeland. Instead let’s find ourselves in the waters: we are always growing, always changing. Whether in the Ganges or in the viscous tides of troubled years, we anoint ourselves. I set thee in the ashes of the waters. My ancestors, my own dead things– parts of me that fall away and parts that grow in their place… … I set thee in the way which waters travel. We are carried by God. The flood, the sea. The resting-place, and the meeting-place. The birthplace and the refuse and the residence. We touch upon all these places, and we also come away from them. 

To me this is the essence of Hinduism: my mother’s always said it’s not a religion so much as a way of life. In my understanding of this passage, and in my understanding of my mother’s understanding, there is no call to the absolute.  It’s true I believe in God, but I believe in God the same way Book XIII believes in the waters. A current, pulling us throughout life, so subtle beneath us that we believe it to be a part of our very selves. There is no dead tradition, only a living one as the river continues to flow. 

The Father of Maps (ابو خريتة)

Abu Kharita is not someone I look up to, care about, or wish greatness for. Abu Kharita is a both a real person and a fictional entity. It means both father of maps and father of bull-s—. I met this man in real life in Israel and I’ve encountered this concept many times prior to this engagement and will continue to encounter it for the rest of my life.

In all honesty I don’t remember his real name and don’t wish to. He was so proud of the wall he built to separate people. Like his government he believes it’s for the protection of Israeli’s  from suicide bombings, when in reality suicide bombings had stopped prior to its creation. In Israel they call this wall the “Security Fence” or the “Separation Fence”, as if it was a fence that is not made of concrete (In some parts it is a fence). The Palestinians call the wall “The Wall of Apartheid”, because they believe that Israel is a modern apartheid state as it doesn’t recognize Palestine as a state or it’s people and refuses to do so. The main reason as to why I dislike this man isn’t because of him building some wall to separate people, but because mentally he believed that all stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims were true, or so he made it seem. He spoke ill of all Palestinians, whether Muslim, Christian, Atheist, or other. He spoke ill of all Muslims. He was a dark-hearted man with disrespectful words. There are people who love Yasser Arafat and others who hated him, I’m neither. regardless of who Arafat was, I believe that his greatest accomplishment was giving Abu Kharita is name. He was a man who helped develop an arbitrary map that divides people along with the wall that accompanies it, but is also completely full of s—. My favorite thing about this wall; however, is the fact that it doesn’t work. People go through it every single day.

Just as people go through this wall in real life, there are people who go through the fictional walls that separate us everyday. This is the fictional Abu Kharita. Specifically with Muslims, there are labels that we attribute to ourselves that are essentially meaningless. Some call themselves traditionalists, others modernists, secularists, Hanafi, Maliki, Ismaili, Sufi, Sunni, Shia, Ahmaddiyyah, etc. these labels divide us not just religiously, but as people. Regardless of the category that we fall into, we’re all people with problems, concerns, ideas, philosophies, wants, and needs. We shouldn’t allow these fictional walls to separate us and we must go through them every single day.

Year Four

As a sit on this Monday night after reflecting on my spiritual journey tonight at our Marsh meeting, I thank God for the progress made thus far. Year three really challenged who I  was as an individual, I didn’t think I was capable of doing “good things.” As someone who prided myself on being a good guy, year three I made a bunch of mistakes, it shook me to my core. I had lows that I did not think I would recover from and for the first time in my life I felt truly alone. I held on to the sentiments of Mordecai as he spoke to Queen Esther, “…for such a time as this.”

I spent the summer before year four practicing radical hospitality. Broad Street Ministry reminded what it means to love like Jesus. I led mission trips throughout the great city of Philadelphia and I learned from middle and high school students all around the country. They reminded me who I was. I fell in love with singing Oceans and Down to the River to Play, and finding joy in telling the stories of Jesus. But there was one part of the week that always touched my soul. Learning about this rarely mentioned hero named Obadiah who hid a 100 prophets 50 to a cave. He practiced quiet resistance and fearless speech in the most genuine way. His story, him being consistently overlooked reminded me to keep going.

Year four, I sit in places that I could not have imagined three years ago when I chose to call this place home. For the remainder of my time at BU, I hope to be more like Obadiah and to choose the right moment like Esther. While the possibilities of the future scare me, the promises of the present fuel me. Carry. The. Love.

– Young Jedi

Remembering Faith In Rachmaninoff

I just returned from a BU Orchestra concert. To be quite honest, my expectations were not incredibly high given the fact that we’ve only been in school for about a month. Yet, I was surprised as to how well the orchestra actually played.

The musicians created a full, rich sound while sharing moments of deep musicality, visibly moving many of the assorted audience members. Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony was the chosen work for the evening, and in typical Rachmaninoff fashion, the violins played their hearts out and the brass had their moments of bright flourishes.

But as beautiful as the music was, I couldn’t stop thinking about the conversation I’d just departed from at the weekly Marsh meeting. Specifically, Devin’s heartfelt and inspiring narrative of his faith journey remained in my consciousness.

I recounted his words, “I made Jesus my best friend,” and, “It’s bigger than me.”

I hope to remind myself of these statements of faith this week and in the weeks to come. For there’s a lot to be said for reminding one’s self of the importance of knowing the presence of God in one’s life and humbly assuming such a role. No matter how beautiful or symbolic humanity’s impressions of the natural world may be, we are merely microscopic in the presence of God. In remembering this, I hope to let go of my anxieties and trust in my friend Jesus.

An Impressive Faith

This week I have been thinking a lot about my Grandparents. Specifically, my Grandmother. My Grandmother (dad’s side) is the sweetest and most loving woman I know. Yet how she remains this way boggles my mind. Florence is the mother of three sons and married to a wonderful man (my grandfather) who had a major stroke when I was four years old. I do not remember the Rene before his emergency; however, from what I have been told, he was a different man. Harsher, quieter, and far more independent. Since that change, my Grandmother has been his primary caretaker, though every year that title seems to decrease as her needs continue to grow. That being said, the love that they share still remains constant.

Florence also holds the title for the most spiritual person in my life and she continues to inspire the rest of my family with her faith. This faith is held amongst her entire friend group and seems to be the main factor keeping them together. However, this faith is often tested.             Florence’s oldest son (my uncle) was troubled throughout his life. He loved his family but the decisions he made ultimately led to his passing two years ago. When I received the call for his passing, my mind went directly to my Grandmother and how she would handle it. When I finally was with her I could see her pain masked behind a wall of solemnity yet her faith untarnished. Then I realized her entire support group has gone through this before. Her longtime friend from grade school lost both children years ago and my father’s godmother lost a child of her own ten years before.

So how is it that with all this pain and all this tragedy, these three women remain strong with an undoubted love for the Lord? I have not discovered true answer to this out of fear that the question would be too personal for my Grandmother to answer; however, the solution that I have deduced is as follows: These women may not understand why their children were taken from this world so young; yet, they do not focus on this anger and instead focus on the love that created these lives and the love that these lives gave to them and those around them. The Lord took away a physical piece of their lives, but what he left was an eternal blessing of memories, love, and influence from these people.

Maybe this is how my Grandmother remains a beacon of light for my family, or maybe this is some incorrect deduction from all that I have observed in my life. But one thing remains clear and inspiring, Florence Bergeron loves the Lord, she loves my Grandfather and Family, she loves her friends, and she will forever love her lost son.

Openings

The scene: It’s 11 pm on a Saturday night and I’m supposed to be doing the offertory prayer for tomorrow’s service. There are a couple things that I’m feeling and they mostly center around what could be called discomfort but what I’ll call instead growing pains: The rhythm of church remains uncertain to me. Also, I’m pretty daunted by the Bible. I have never purposefully encountered it. I still find multiculturalism a tricky thing, a buzzword I know but in the end Marsh has pushed me more than ever to be vulnerable in respect to it. My first understanding of temple was defined in its relation to the whitewashing around me. In this way I have learned faith: not only self determination, but also cultural survival. To detach myself from this kind of tribalism and offer myself wholeheartedly not to the relative comfort of an absolute but instead to the vast unknown is incredibly scary. So basically: I never thought in a thousand years I would be participating in a church service giving an offertory prayer. 

By this time half an hour has passed and I’m still freaking out and I find myself scrolling through all kinds of Bible websites looking for more information about What Is An Offertory? But now I am curious. I’m not worrying about crossing boundaries between gods or religions or hanging onto my book, my Hindu book. I’m just reading parts of the Bible that are in fact very beautiful. The way one might read a book of poetry and think oh. It’s hard to put words to a feeling so ultimately visceral, but I find comfort in these slivers of text, like my grandfather’s prayer beads or the smell of saffron incense. Bathed in the lamplight as night settles around me, reading words that are holy that can be mine or anybody else’s, all I have to do is breathe and let them flow through me. 

(Here are two that resonated with me the most. I don’t know why exactly, and I will take time to piece that apart later: but for now, I only hope that you can find beauty in them, too.)

 

Isaiah 55:10-11: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

 

Hebrews 13:14-15: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”