Friday, January 14, 2011

Desperately Seeking Solitude

"The soul is like a wild animal - tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, self-sufficient. It knows how to survive in hard places. But it is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently by the base of the tree, and fade into our surrounding, the wild animal we seek might put in an appearance." ~Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness

I'm reading through the book Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton, and before I left for India I read the second chapter in preparation for my next meeting with my Aunt. The chapter is on solitude and creating space for God. I remember little about the chapter, having read it a couple weeks ago, in the midst of getting ready for India and heading back to school. So I came back to the book to re-read the chapter, and that quote was the first thing I read. It hit me - BAM - very unlike the first time I read it.

My soul has been in hiding. It's resilient to be sure, because in the midst of this hard, chaotic experience it's still here. I know this with such certainty because two days ago this wild animal cried out in pain and frustration as it needed to roam and have a space to just be. It's a busy schedule we keep, with constant, in-your-face type confrontation of poor and helpless people, in a loud, ceaselessly busy city. There is no quiet space. The sounds of the city and the people come in through all parts of the building. The windows and doors can be closed, yet the sound of honking vehicles and shouting people come through loud and clear. Much more so if you're outside.

Where, then, can a person find a place to fade into their surroundings, patiently waiting for the soul to appear? Where can one find a place of silence, quiet, solitude? This is what my soul cried out for two days ago. A quiet place to seek quietness and solitude. A place it could roam free and just be in the presence of God. Fully exposed without fear of being spooked or trampled. I'm only just beginning this journey of seeking solitude, but the recognition of my soul's need for it has been exponentially displayed and experienced on this trip. And I'm finding that there are times I have to create a place for myself. A place of solitude that is not merely external but internal as well. When you don't have a physical, tangible external location that provides a place of quiet solitude you have to get resourceful.

How did I manage, you may ask. Well, I'll tell you. Upon a teammate's recommendation I grabbed my earplugs, pillow (wrapped in a blanket), journal, Bible, pen & light, and I went to the rooftop of the building. I found a location out of the way, that was dry and least likely to be disturbed, sat on my blanket covered pillow, put in my earplugs and began to quiet myself. There were still external noises surrounding, but they were significantly muted. However, just by removing the majority of distractions, especially that of other people, and internally quieting my spirit, I was able to find the solitude my soul was so desperately seeking.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

India beginnings

Where do I begin? Let's see, the beginning is usually the best place. It's only been two days in Kolkatta and I already feel like I've been gone for a week. But wait, that's not quite the beginning. In the beginning was a jet plane...hah. Ok seriously. We flew out of Seatac at 1:40pm January 6th. Ten long hours, minimal reading, two movies, two meals, and very little sleep later we arrived in Frankfurt, Germany around 8:50am January 7th. Another pass through security, a bit of walking around, and a short wait later and we were on our second plane headed to Kolkatta, India. By this time I've had far too much food, or so it felt like. I knew I needed to eat, but didn't think I could. I've decided that my body does not like long flights. And what airline doesn't have Ginger Ale as an option for a drink?! Apparently, Lufthansa doesn't. I had to buy some at the Frankfurt airport...$3.70! Oi. But, learning experiences, all of it. Including my lot of a middle seat on both flights...not very conducive for sleep, which doesn't help someone with a cold. Oh, my bad...I had not wanted to complain, so I am done now. Anyway, one and a half movies, at least 2 hours sleep, lunch and a snack later we arrived in Kolkata, India, about 12:50am January 8th.

We were picked up by one of the volunteer coordinators of Calcutta Mercy Ministries, and away we went.

The drive was maybe 45 minutes, and traffic was very light given the time of night. We received a mini-briefing about meal times and a few housekeeping type items. Of course, one of the first things we did was get our computers connected to the internet.

We made it to bed about 2:30am. Despite exhaustion, and Nyquil, it was somewhat of a fitful night's sleep. It always takes me time to get used to a new bed in a new place.

Of course, the barking dogs didn't help make for an easy sleep either. At about 5am came the prayer call. If you've never experienced the Islamic call to prayer, I have to tell you it's definitely an experience. It's beautiful, to be sure, but definitely loud, and it did not help me sleep.

As it begins to get light outside, the sounds of the city begin to grow. People are up, working, walking, living. It's very hard to describe the street just outside where we're staying. The way we talk about people living on the streets in the U.S. does not begin to cover how people live here. They quite literally live on the street. Shelters are built out of whatever these poorest of poor can find. It's not just a sidewalk, but it's someone's house or shop, maybe both. There is hardly any space between buildings where there isn't someone living. The poverty is beyond what we know, or could even imagine. They are not all this poor, that's to be sure, but there are more who are poor than not. In fact, at church this morning I learned that 74% of the population lives on 50 cents per day. That's not American cents, that's Rupees. Equated to the U.S. dollar, that's about 2 pennies a day!

There is much more to write about from our first day, but I think I ought to attempt my hand at some school work. More to come soon, so stay tuned!