Nature my chapel, poems my psalms
Recently, I visited a friend in Pune city, India. She invited me to go to the mall just for "trolling"; I reacted with all my dislike for the mall culture and suggested that we go to a nearby garden, so we ended up at the Kalyani Nagar Joggers Park.
The well-maintained cleanliness put me in a good mood. It has a nicely laid out path popular among joggers. There is a cool, shady area with big old trees and a green lawn for barefoot walks; benches to sit on and watch the sun rising and setting; a playground with swings, slides, seesaws and jungle gyms for kids; and a basic gym for grownups, too. There are people practicing yoga under the covered area, from which one occasionally hears peace chanting and even laughter yoga.
Everyone, regardless of caste, creed or religion, pays a 1-rupee ($0.014) entrance fee. The whole atmosphere was like what John O'Donohue, the poet and philosopher from Ireland, says: "Landscape ... is always wrapped in seamless prayer." Yes indeed, each jogger, walker and yogi was immersed into that seamless prayer.
The time I spent at the joggers park took me back 10 years, when I visited Rabindranath Tagore's ashram called Shantiniketan, near Kolkata. Tagore, the artist, poet, great philosopher, novelist, educator and Nobel laureate for literature, was in the vanguard of Indian nationalism in art and literature.
Tagore's school, known as Visva-Bharati, was an alternative to the poor system of education imposed by the British. His inspiring and well-loved multicultural educational methods efforts went beyond recitation, memorization and textbooks, combining traditional Indian education with Western ideals.
His teaching was held under a tree, imparting wisdom in a cumulative and sequential pattern, building on what was taught previously.
One of his poems, "Where the Mind Is Without Fear," is being included in the Catholic hymnals in India. The words of the chorus pray, "Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake."
Addressed to God the father, it sends a message we so need to hear — especially during such dark and perilous times — as we search for our lost humanity in the hullabaloo. Through this poem, Tagore teaches people of all walks of life to stand up, reach out to one another with a global outlook in an interdependent world, and speak up against ultrareligious extremism and intolerance. It is my understanding that this poem, so timely written during the pre-independence days of India, helped it achieve freedom.
In our world today, we are feeling powerless as we go through a hellish time, with harsh words, acts of retaliation, and under the weight of overwhelming institutionalized injustice everywhere.
We are still in a different kind of slavery or colonialism, where women and children are the last "colony" to be freed. This world scenario of messiness, violence and confusion is caused by the devastating patriarchal mindset, making us question what is wrong with our world.
In times of turmoil, Tagore's poetry is more relevant than ever before. There are selfish, greed-driven, narrow-minded chauvinists everywhere, cashing in on the inherent weaknesses of the blameless people of their countries. They are trying to break their countries into fragments by creating divisions of caste, creed and religion.
Everyone who struggles to bring peace feels disgusted to learn that a country ruled by black money, barbed wire fences, frauds, crimes and injustice, and which spends millions on security to cover insecurities, inflation and poverty, falsehood, nepotism and favoritism, just makes life more difficult for the underprivileged.
However, the words of Tagore, a truly realized soul, stand as a signpost.
He had experienced British chains, and through this poem, he must have cried to the Father to awaken his compatriots to see the dawn of inner and outer freedom for all. Today, world governments "of the [male], by the [male] and for the [male]" are indeed asleep and in for a rude awakening. We should all ask God our loving father and compassionate mother to awaken us before someone wakes us with a bullet.
How I wish everyone understood the truth communicated by Tagore; following his thoughts, we would have an end to narrowmindedness, violence and the repulsive "vote bank" craze we see in India today.
In fact, Tagore's words would help all nations grow out of nationalism and prejudices to become one universal family. Listen to Tagore's poem, which is a clarion call to every heart to walk on the moral path, to believe in the worth of every creature and the preciousness of life, and to build stronger, peaceful, knowledgeable countries worldwide. Let the truth, elegance and righteousness of his wisdom enthuse every soul for a dignified, disciplined, dedicated and meaningful life, and may our visionaries rebirth a new world order.
As I enjoyed the park, there was a wonderful interplay of listening to words of prayer like this poem and reading from the primordial sacred book called nature. My mind was whirling like a Sufi dervish. Open spaces like a labyrinth or the joggers park allow our collective wisdom to emerge. Moreover, the compellingly inspiring poem made me reflect on its applications on a personal level and urged me to put my best foot forward.
Spending two hours in an amphitheater-type garden, where the trees bestowed counseling and showers of prayer upon me, awakened me to my social conscience. My choice of going to the joggers park instead of the mall helped me realize that there is nothing in the mall that I cannot live without!
I concluded my two hours of prayer by thanking my friend for agreeing to my choice of the joggers park; the choices we make in the present liberate the future from the past and make the world a better place to live in harmony.
The garden and Tagore's poem brought me the realization that the spiritual life and the practical life are two sides of one coin. The preciousness of human life is nestled in nature, which helps us reclaim our sense of the mystery in a machine-driven age.
Can the garden culture keep God alive where the terrorists are attacking temple-mosque-church?
Let us print T-shirts: "Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake."
[Margaret Gonsalves belongs to the Sisters for Christian Community, Washington, D.C. She is active in church and theological fora. As founder of ANNNI Charitable Trust, she works to empower indigenous girls and women, offering residential programs in English and sustainable development skills in India.]