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Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
SEASONS OF GRACE
Novocastrian Suzanne Romani shares
a recent experience which brought
together a difficult past and a more
under standing present.
High school, geogr aphy, a wooden desk
and India -- I'd sat mesmerised visualising
masses of brown bodies, all dr aped in
dhotis and coloured saris, bathing in the
I knew that one day I must travel to that
far- off land. It was as though India held the
answer to some vague unasked question.
Year s later I stumbled across The Razor's
Edge, Somerset Maugham's novel of the
spiritual wanderings of a young World
War I pilot and his search for a God he no
longer believed in.
My father was a World War I veteran.
Maybe that was why Maugham's tale
touched me so deeply. I could under stand
his char acter, Lar r y, a man there one
minute, gone the next, confused, restless,
finally finding serenity in an 'ashr ama' in
southern India .
Dad didn't travel ; he drifted -- toward
Newca stle. Here at the RSL he found
great weighty tomes of war histories
and mates to shar e that amber liquid of
forgetfulness. Or was it remembr ance ?
He was a man impossible to hold down,
impossible to have a fir m r elationship with.
Again, my need to go to India seemed
Earlier this year I was privileged to be par t
of a pilgrimage to both India and Sri Lanka
with Marist Father Michael Whelan
Our "Jour ney in the Hear t" included a
time of retreat in Benedictine Father Bede
Neither a rushed adventure, nor an
ordinary coach trip, it was a journey of
the spirit; a time for renewal, with daily
Gospel readings , celebrations of the
Eucharist, oppor tunities for meditation,
r eflection and group sharing.
It was a voyage of discover y. Months later,
the senses are still overloaded with riches
gathered from two remarkable cultures.
There were many highlights , from a
surprise dinner par ty with our leader
Marie's family on a Mumbai rooftop
ter r ace, to Shantivanam's rose-pink chapel,
to watching Father Michael place eight
flower s to represent the eight directions
of space on the sacred "Tali" platter. This
signifies that the Mass is offer ed in the
"centre" of the Universe, thereby relating
to the whole of creation.
Leaving a shr am peace to join symphonies
of blaring tr affic as an enormous blood-
or ange sun tried to force its way through
pearly white haze, we pass oxen with
painted hor ns, smiling faces, families
balanced on motor bikes
and on to Sri Lanka's
baby elephants, cheeky
monkeys and saplings
of the Sacred Bo Tree --
The clearest of all are my
days at Saccidananda.
Marie, our remarkable
pilgrimage organiser, had
prepared us as to what
we could anticipate at the
monastery which follows
the Benedictine tr adition
and the customs of a
Hindu ashr am.
Here there is meditation
at sunrise and sunset and
common prayer three
times daily with selected
readings from the Tamil
classics, Psalms and
passages from the Bible.
I'd packed only a few
basics for this trip. The
unresolved grief I'd
chosen to car r y was
I had a plan. I would sit
somewhere under a
shady tree, write a letter to my dad and
speak about the shame I felt at not having
understood why he was as he wa s, at not
having been mor e compassionate, more
Journalling was a practice both tried
and failed in the past; however, this
time I tr usted I could leave the sadness
forever in the red
powdery soil of
by taking part in
the daily rituals of
hermitage life. My
fear? There was
nowhere to hide.
The dam wall, built
with care, could bur st
Waking befor e dawn, I fell into the
narrow cot in my tiny cell each night
grateful for the mosquito net, overhead
fan, three meals of rice, curried vegetable
and fat yellow bananas; gr ateful most of all
to have made it through the day with only
lumps in the throat. No weeping.
Sitting at the rear of the coach as we
rolled through the green of Sri Lanka
toward the end of our pilgrimage gave a
chance to mull over where I'd been, what
I'd seen and more impor tantly, how I felt.
I recognised the spiritual backbone of
A JOURNEY IN
address to new
"Jour ney in the Hear t" had had
the greatest impact.
On each occasion during the Penitential
Rite, Father Michael had encour aged
awareness of our feelings, asking us to
silently identify any emotion, whether in
the body, psyche or spirit, to ask our selves
open questions, to listen.
At some point, whether at a resor t in
the mountains of Kandalama or
during the Ash Wednesday
Eucharist in the hills of
Kandy, I realised I'd been
gr anted an opening for
to ter ms with the regret
and guilt I'd clutched over
lack of connection with my
dad. I now understood it
And that long ago unasked
question? I believe I found an answer
during the Ashr am's scheduled after noon
talks with Brother Mar tin Sahajananda.
Reading The Razor's Edge decades
ago I'd br ushed against the Vedas and
Upanishads, two of the world's most
ancient religious philosophies affir ming
the oneness and har mony of all religions.
I remember the excitement I felt then.
It was as though I'd uncovered a hidden
truth. No matter the colour or creed, we
were all one.
As Brother Mar tin discussed the
similarities and differences between faiths
and the need to go beyond the str uctures
to see the fullness of truth in every
religion, and that there is no division,
ther e was that same excitement again.
As a kid of 12, I doubt there'd been
any inkling in that long-gone geogr aphy
class but was there just a glimmer of
this possibility when I travelled with
Maugham's Laurence Darrell and
witnessed his rite of pa ssage?
One of the delights of a pilgrimage
such as this is that the group often
continues to flourish long after the
time of togetherness with new bonds
and friendships, shared meals and
oppor tunities to become voluntary
"friends of Shantivanam" suppor ting the
Ashram's mission to assist the needy living
in their neighbourhood.
Initially I'd wavered about this tour,
dithering about risks of the unknown.
Str angely, throughout the indecision, a
strong message persisted -- the phra se
"let go and let God".
I'll be ever thankful that I did listen to that
constant inner voice.
From Mumbai to Colombo, "Jour ney in
the Hear t" had taken me through the
chaos of city life to tr anquillity on a river
cor acle ride , stillness in a Buddhist rock-
cave temple and the peace of a Hindu
her mitage, a place where my per sonal
spirituality deepened and moved to a
Pilgrims receiving communion at Shantivanan.
grief I'd chosen
to carry was
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