Monday, June 20, 2011

The Circle of Protection Has a Face

One by one, the faithful came up to Amma. And one by one, they received darshan, in the form of a hug and a blessing.  The best thing about the whole experience is that her face was full of joy each time she gave a hug.  And that joy manifested itself in a different way each time she gave a hug.  Sometimes it was a compassionate joy. Other times it was a serene joy.  Or it was a joyous joy.  I saw this same type of intense joy recently at an airport.  A mother hugged her little boy for no reason other than to express the joy of having him there. What can be more powerful than a parent's hug?

I happened to be on a list of "invited guests" who had been asked to come receive a special blessing from Amma on Friday in June. The list included Nobel Laureate Murray Gell-Mann; Felicity Broennan, executive director of the Santa Fe Watershed Association; Giselle Pérez of Acupuncturists Without Borders; Chris Courtney of Grassroots Yoga (who offers yoga fundraisers); Santa Fe author Glenys Carl; and others.

I had a couple of thoughts as I went up to receive the hug. One, my work to address hunger and poverty is indeed worthy of receiving a blessing. Two, even though I was personally uplifted, I went with a thought of obtaining sacred strength for this Circle of Protection campaign in which many of us are involved. It is true. We'll fight with all the intellectual and strategic gifts to ensure that programs that benefit poor and hungry people are not cut. But it struck me that we have to approach this effort with compassion in our hearts.

Since I don't speak her language, I have no idea what words Amma whispered to me as she hugged me (twice!).  But I didn't need to understand words. It struck me at that moment that a hug is the ultimate symbol of the circle of protection.

For many people, Amma is considered a saint and a holy person.  Even though the spirituality she offers is not the path I walk, there are many similarities. First and foremost, I believe that contemplation is at the core of our spirituality, requiring that we step out of ourselves to connect with God the Creator. 

And Amma connects action and contemplation (as in the center in Albuquerque created by one of my mentors, Franciscan Father Richard Rohr). Through her Embracing the World program, Amma provides people in impoverished areas with housing, health care, microcredit, fair-trade businesses.  One interesting business produces handbags from used saris. 

A circle of protection requires political strategy but also a heart. 

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