- Barefoot in a Wedding DressReligious Life in Asia and Hermeneutics of Spirituality
All over the world, the people are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world. New systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and the barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before.Martin Luther King1
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Heavy rain poured down into the dusty brown earth as we pulled up to the entrance of a village school in a very remote area near Jamshedpur, India. Our first sight was of school buildings tucked into wet fields on a spur of the thick and dark green mountain range. With the stormy rain blowing down on us, we rushed across the quad under a wild jumble of colorful and turned-over umbrellas. Hundreds of pairs of eyes were fixed on us. Whizzing by more children’s flip-flops than Santa Monica’s beach could hold in Southern California’s summer, we felt like bizarrely out-of-place ambassadors. Although we had arrived later than expected, we were welcomed with vivacious songs and delightful garlands. More than six hundred students, ages five to fourteen, sat barefoot on the plain cement floor of the porch, crowding around our three [End Page 217] seats of honor. We felt the force of those big brown, nearly black eyes, full of keen attentiveness, resting on us.
“How old do you think our visitors are?” the Rector asked the crowd. I was the youngest among our group, and my age was guessed to be eighty-one years old! Needless to say, this was, by far, an over-estimation. When the time for questions came, my attention drifted a little to the rain, beating hard on the rooftops and swelling the puddles on the construction site adjacent to the terrace where we were seated. The curious students asked, “Where do you come from and where will you go?” Nearly four weeks had passed since we set out on our quest to listen to women’s religious communities across Asia, regarding their spirituality and formation processes, their diverse cultural realities, their hopes and challenges. Here, near the end of our travels, an utterly innocent question unexpectedly framed a beautiful biblical précis of our journey. Where indeed?
The light but steady rain continued to draw me into the mystery of this place seemingly lost in the middle of nowhere as it washed the green and brown surroundings into new and untold shades of colors. Only the beautiful saris stood out against the murky ground. The women meeting my eyes in this very moment, clothed in such ravishing beauty and elegance, were construction workers. They were lifting and carrying rocks and soil on their heads at the construction site adjacent to the school. Parallel to our conversations with the attentive students, a sole continuous motion cut through the rain: the digging, lifting, and carrying away of heavy loads of dirt. Suddenly, I realized: they were barefoot. In all their charm, in the rain, working: barefoot!
This interrupted my train of thought radically and summarized some of the questions of our journey: How should one picture or perceive the future and the present of the people in religious formation who are confronting such poverty?2 What access to the Mystery, witnessing the nobility of barefoot workers in their beautiful dresses, can our faith and theological education provide? What kind of formation manual, theological curriculum and spirituality spectrum is necessary to educate the children’s educators, who take leadership roles in facing such social hardships? What kind of spirituality represents a vision of change while teaching in the presence of barefoot female construction workers? That wet day of June in Jamshedpur, India has contributed significantly to my own developing thought about what it means to engage and teach Christian spirituality in a culturally diverse global reality that confronts social injustices. The experience also contributed to my support of leadership formation, which envisions alternatives for excruciating impoverished circumstances.
In the summer of 2009 I journeyed to...