Sunday, January 17, 2010
VISITING MAITHRI SAGAR ASHRAM
The Meditation centre at the Maithri Sagar Ashram was originally conceived of as a multi-purpose space, where different events could take place, which related to the spiritual dimension of the work done in the Ashram. We imagined that this place could be used for dramas, or at least mystery plays. Last Easter Caroline Mackenzie, along with Fr. Claude, Sr. Celestine, and others, participated in a liturgy where masks that Caroline had developed were used as a celebration of the mystery of New Life.
Sister Celestine has launched a movement which tries to find ways of discovering the promise of this New Life and a more just and peaceful world. For her and those who work at the Ashram, Life is the most precious force that needs to be nurtured in a world where oppressive structures bring about death and hatred between communities.
A British Quaker called Chris Lawson, who was a tutor in the Woodbrook College in Selly Oak, Birmingham, left the following reflections in the Ashram when he visited it in March 1995:
This is a place of images
and of that beyond images;
a place of secure spaces
speaking to inner spaces.
A triangle of collonades,
flat-roofed with two pointed towers,
a porch, steps, a wide doored entry,
and a cool pond at an airy centre.
Water, stone, and metal,
sky, sun, plants and marble,
blend to create ordered vistas,
geometry of harmony,
giving shapes of deepening calm
and invitation to movement.....
Here East and West, North and South,
have joined to make for wholeness.
And within the morning prayer are gathered
Gospel and Tagore, Missal and camphor,
whilst granite pillars and lotus plants
speak of our need for strength and freshness.
In this shade from the heat
as the breezes blow through,
our frenzies subside,
fresh vigour ensues.
The entrance grill shows Jonah, resisting, responding,
calling for repentance, so making for renewal.
Flames in ironwork and well-beaten brass,
Lampholders encircling a shining scene:
the Annunciation glows
with giving and receiving.
Some symbols in stone are older:
egg, inner eye, sun, moon and seed.
Therre are feet which bless and are blessed;
pots from which grace is lost or flows,
Ironwork screens show people enslaved and freed,
the mighty set down and the poor lifted up,
dancers to the Lord, leap, sing and rejoice,
and an alive Christ reaches out to all.
Artistically out of keeping,
a polystrene collage reflects our world.
Oppression, human rights, and the World Bank
Surround the direct question: "Will you
be the fire of Jesus for today ?"
Here in the cool of the dawn,
I prayed with the four Sisters.
They blended silence, song, words and the Wordd,
Took consecrated wafers and shared.
But knowing it was not my custom,
Blessed me instead with a fresh blossom
Symbol of an earth that is alive
And the call to grow into fulfilment.
And the prayer that now grows in me
Is that the space in these spaces
May free spirits and the Spirit
Blending image and reality,
Making for wholeness, bringing hope.
Recently I returned to Maithri Ashram with my wife, and two old friends John and Elizabeth Staley, who for fifteen years had lived and worked in Bangalore on development issues. They had also met Sr. Celestine in Birmingham, where she had stayed at the Woodbrook college as a Mary Cadbury fellow, sharing with others her experience of working with marginalized groups in the vicinity of the Kolar gold fields. We remembered now the various common friends that had brought us together in the early eighties. Many of the ideas that we had shared more than thirty years ago, were important for our efforts to create an Art Ashram in 1983. Caroline Mackenzie, who first came to India in the mid seventies, when she stayed with us in Silvepura for six years, had also been very much involved in the process that led to the idea of an ‘art ashram’ where the Sadhana is the practice of the creative imagination, along with a concern for the human community and our planet earth.
Jane and I were also remembering our own insertion into Ashram life, and ideals, when Dom Bede married us in a small open chapel at Shantivanam, which had been designed by the Abbe Monchanin and Swami Abhishiktananda, sixty years ago. This chapel was dedicated to the Holy Trinity as Sat Chit Ananda.
When I was asked to help in the design of this Maithri Sagar Ashram, I very much wanted to develop on ideas that I had first learnt about during the time that I spent with Dom Bede Griffiths. I wanted the Ashram meditation space to symbolize the profound mystery within the Divine which is both a Unity and a Diversity, in the ever dynamic movements that flow in the Holy space of the Trinity.