Rev. Mark Ward: Echoes of India

A view from on top of the Amber Fort in Jaipur, India

A view from on top of the Amber Fort in Jaipur, India

The sights and sounds of India will be echoing inside me for some time after returning from the three-week Road Scholar “spiritual tour” that my wife, Debbie, and I took. But as I indicated in my sermon on February 1 what continues to work on me is the religious richness and diversity of that country.

We humans have struggled over millennia to name, to grasp, to honor, to serve that fundamental sense we have that there is something wondrous, beautiful, compelling and dear about this existence that calls to us, as Mary Oliver puts it, “like the wild geese, harsh and exciting.” Story, myth, ceremony and creed are all ways that we have tried over the eons to speak to this experience, to align ourselves or even commune with it. We sum all these up under the category of religion, although the more we learn about the varieties of expression that we call religious and the organized forms they have taken and continue to take, the trickier it is to say what exactly we consider religion to be.

This is interesting not just as an academic exercise. The broader we draw the circle of religious expression the more it can free us to explore further the ways in which each of us engages with whatever we may choose to call the holy. Many people have a narrow experience of religion, and, if it doesn’t work out, figure that religion is not for them. I believe that religious experiences are inherent to human experience: we all have them. And one of the gifts of our religious movement is that we invite each person to name and explore the meaning of those experiences in a safe setting, a place where we hold that each person has inherent worth and dignity and that we and all beings are bound up in an interdependent web of existence. Our congregation, then, becomes a kind of crucible where we can test and explore and eventually learn to name what resonates most deeply with our hearts, which is where our faith resides.

An "Aarti ceremony" held each evening in Varanasi along the banks of the Ganges

An “Aarti ceremony” held each evening in Varanasi along the banks of the Ganges

My hope is to find a venue where we can explore religion in India both to broaden our understanding of the forms religion has taken over the years and to reflect on what we have to learn from it for our own journeys. My current thought is that this will take the shape of an adult education class this fall. Keep an eye out for it. Meanwhile, I plan to post some of the photos I took in India on our congregation’s Facebook page. Keep an eye out for that, too, and I welcome your thoughts about what I have to share.