We pushed off, heading to the center of the earth. The temple in the middle of the sacred Narmada River, it is believed, aligns with the Northern Star on an axis that goes straight to the heart of our planet. Hindu pilgrims come to the site, walking for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days without taking scissors to their hair, without food or shelter, but for the grace of strangers. Ashes of loved ones are scattered here into the river's flow. . . . . And we had a bit of business of our own.
After circling the 5th century temple, reeking of prayers and history and candlewax, the sun fades, we linger in quiet. One of our group empties her mother's ashes into the river with words of blessing and farewell. The river receives her offering. Everything slows into stillness. A boat filled with drumming and chanting draws near.
I'm handed a tiny clay bowl alight with flame and asked to send it down the river with my hope for the world. We each gingerly release our prayers into the flow, and then turn, astonished, back toward the ghats from which we came. There, lights are swimming toward us, dozens of little lights, no hundreds; no, actually, 1500 moments of light and hope are coming our way, surrounding our little boat, and flowing on, out into the great dark night.
On the river front, pilgrims are passing by, barefoot and sincere. Children are playing, goats are prancing, women are washing - but all pause to see the river lit up. It brings to mind a story - a very old story - that has guided my life for 40 years. It stems from the Desert Fathers - hermit monks in the caves of Egypt in the early centuries of this era, and it goes like this . . .
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said: "Abba, as much as I am able I practice a small rule, a little fasting, some prayer and meditation, and remain quiet, and as much as possible I keep my thoughts clean. What else should I do?" Then the old man stood up and stretched out his hands toward heaven, and his fingers became like ten torches of flame. And he said: "Why not be turned into fire?"
I have wanted, all of my life, to be lit up, to be a spark, a flame, a burning moment of hope. When it is time, I want to flow, like the river flows, out into the great mystery beyond. But in this moment, in my small clay vessel, I want to carry all of the light that I can. I want to be turned into fire.
from one spark to another,
Susan Hull Walker