The Promise of a New Year’s Morning
Five years ago today as I write this, I woke up in the north of Argentina and wrote these words:
It is 6:30 am New Year’s Day, but it is too beautiful and private a moment to stay in bed. I am back once again on a bird deck 30 feet up in the trees, looking over the Parana River and into Paraguay. The full moon has just set in front of me as the sun begins to light up the land from behind. Occasional faint sounds drift in – street music from the town of Libertad 3 km away, singing, firecrackers and dog barks from across the river in Paraguay – reminding me that it is early on 1/1/10. But mostly I am engulfed in the cacophony of birds and insects greeting the new day like any other in this jungle preserve. It is heavenly peace.
Today I awoke at the same time, but at home in my own bed. I came upstairs to my study as the first pink light began filtering in through the windows, and once again I felt surrounded by heavenly peace. But it won’t stay quiet long, for in six hours I will be boarding a plane to Amsterdam and transferring on to New Delhi, where I will begin a journey to several spiritual centers in India as part of my seminary program. My one previous trip to India, in 2009, was focused on food and cultural destinations, but there is no escaping India’s pervasive spirituality, as captured in this journal entry from that trip:
I stepped into the bow of our houseboat a few moments ago, at the crack of dawn. The thinnest crescent of a new moon is hovering in the robins-egg blue sky in the east, and the huge, burnt orange ball of the sun has just penetrated the deep haze on the horizon. Egrets, cormorants, kingfishers and herons are stalking the pads of water hyacinth or swooping low over the water, in search of breakfast. A few people from nearby homes are starting their days with a quick splash in the river. Pairs of fishermen in long canoes are heading out for the morning catch. And in the distance, there is a low chant and music that sounds like a Catholic Mass, Kerala-style. The sense of timeless antiquity of this setting exceeds anything I have ever experienced.
So when the opportunity arose to travel to India to fulfill my requirement for “Theology in Context”— “the practice of ministry through first-hand cross-cultural experience and careful reflection”— I jumped on it. However, with a busy fall and an even busier holiday season, I managed only to take care of my logistical prerequisites, like vaccinations and packing. The less urgent but more important preparations—intellectual, emotional, and spiritual—have had to wait until today.
As I centered myself this morning during my daily meditations, what I had expected to rise was a passage from Psalm 139 that has always comforted me at times of travel: “You trace my journeying and my resting-places, and are familiar with all the paths I take; you keep close guard behind and before me, and place your hand upon me. Knowledge so wonderful is beyond my grasp.” What rose instead was a passage from the Book of Ruth—with a twist: “Where you go, I shall go, and where you stay I shall stay. Your people will be my people … and I shall be your God.” Not a prayer from me to God, but a promise from God to me.
I am now ready for travel …