“I just wanted you to know I hear you. I see you.”
I received this voice message from a friend in response to a long, rambling complaint I sent the day before.
“In walking with people through grief and loss, I’ve recognized how powerless I am to rescue anyone, said Aubrey Sampson. “And I’ve been surprised (and humbled a bit) that people rarely look at me for rescuing. Rather, they’re desiring to connect, to be validated that their suffering or the injustice they are facing hasn’t somehow disqualified them from personhood,”
In that moment, I felt like a person again because I knew someone—even if separated by two time zones from me—saw me.
I could identify the feelings of sadness, anger, worry, and general angst. I could name a laundry list of circumstances in my and my extended family members’ lives. But I couldn’t let myself really pull apart the factors that had multiplied to equal this current spiral into infinite sadness.
With all the moving variables of emotions, there was but one constant: shame.
How could I ramble off an assortment of hardships when others I love have lost so much more? How could I complain about not having enough when not having enough meant being unable to afford a vacation for my kids for spring break? For others, not having enough meant not putting bread in the hands of their children every day.
I felt the anger at myself deep in my core, multiplying the hurt.
I was comforted by my friend’s assurance that I was not alone, but it didn’t help the guilt I allowed to seep into the ground of my being. It tripled the worthlessness that howled in my ears.
Another notification dinged on my phone. She proceeded to name issues she knew to be present in my life— ones I hadn’t mentioned the day before. Ones that ran deeper than the kick in the gut of a hefty financial blow or the frustration of parenting-working-schooling life that never seemed to add up to enough.
She knew the anniversary of the loss I faced, the loved one just out of surgery, the parent in pain, the inability to help loved ones drowning, and the struggling child. She named the yawning unknowns I faced and the dreams I’d lost.
“It’s a lot,” she said. “Anyone would be struggling under the weight of all that. It’s like you are a pillar holding the weight of your own life and the lives of everyone around you, and you’re cracking under the weight. Really, it’s so much,” she echoed. I didn’t quite believe her yet as I continued to weigh my pain against that of others in this always-lose game of, “whose suffering is worse?” But I tried...
Despite the gentle sound of the waves and the cool evening breeze descending over the lake, I couldn’t help but feel disturbed. The sunset over the Sea of Galilee should have soothed my soul, but my mind wouldn’t stop turning the story over and over.
I sat there on the eastern shore recalling the day and the place that had so rocked me. Not far from the quiet Kibbutz where my tour group was staying, we had trekked up into the Golan Heights. Tucked away in the hills were the remains of a Byzantine monastery, identified by tradition as the place where Jesus performed what is called “the Miracle of the Swine” or “the Healing of the Gerasene demoniac.”
It was a story in the Bible I had never given much thought to, tucked away among the other miracles Jesus performed around Galilee. But that day, standing among the ruins, the story came alive for me. That night I lay in a hammock listening to the sounds of celebrations drifting across the water from the far shore. The western shore, the Jewish side of Galilee in Jesus’ time, was alive that night with music and lights.
Change, even for the better, is never uncomfortable or easy. Restoration comes at a cost.
Here on the Gentile side, all was quiet. It would not have been those many years ago, as the sounds of the tormented man echoed out across the waves. The disciples would have heard his cries from the other shore, that strange man in the foreign city. Surely there were stories about him circulating. A good Jew wouldn’t dream of crossing to the other side of the Jordan into that unclean, strange land on a normal day. But with a madman roaming around the tombs—unthinkable.
Yet, that is exactly what Jesus did, his disciples in tow. He initiated their journey to the other side, rowing into the storm and knowing what would await them on the other side: a naked, screaming man who said he was possessed by a legion of demons.
As soon as the man saw Jesus, he knew something the disciples did not just moments earlier when Jesus calmed the storm. “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me,” he cried out. He knew precisely what kind of power Jesus held, and he wanted nothing to do with it.
The people in this area were ruled by fear and superstition. The tombs were believed to be the home of demons, which is why the man was there—not in the Decapolis, the ten Greek cities directly to the South, where he was from. The caves around the tombs were a refuge for people who had been cast out by society. He was utterly broken, an outcast, the lowest of low. Jesus sought him out with the power to heal. Yet he begged Jesus not to torment him any further. Why?
Change, even for the better, is never uncomfortable or easy. Restoration comes at a cost...
Nicole T. Walters and Prasanta Verma were both raised in the Southern United States but have ties to South Asia. Nicole fell in love with classical Indian dance and then Mother India herself through social work in the country. She and her family spent two years in Bangladesh working with a nonprofit. Prasanta’s roots are in India. She was born under an Asian sun, and lives in the U.S. now, and her ancestors and relatives come from this region of the world.
Their two very different perspectives converge in their love of South Asia, chai, faith, and writing. Together, they interact with the first ever U.S.-Bangladeshi co-production, the acclaimed film, Rickshaw Girl.
This is a story that helps the audience…
…to Feel the Weight: Nicole
You cannot help but feel when you watch Rickshaw Girl. Through the rich color, grit, and complexity, you feel the full arc of the plot—from the weight of poverty to the grief of oppression and to the hope of new beginnings.
Having lived in Dhaka and feeling all the paradoxes of life in Bangladesh, I was eager to first read Mitali Perkin’s young adult novel Rickshaw Girl and then watch the film adaptation. Watching the movie was like stepping into a memory for me, while also stepping into parts of Bangladesh I could never know fully as a foreigner. It was like pulling back the curtains into what I only heard from friends.
In the movie, you are immersed in the life of a young girl whose father is a rickshaw driver in a village outside of the capital city of Dhaka. The difficulties of poverty send her into the city to find work to help her family and bring her face-to-face with the struggles facing women in the majority-Muslim country that was part of India until the British withdrawal in 1948 left a divided and warring subcontinent.
…to Rise Above: Prasanta
The movie starts with a painting.
The protagonist, Naima, is cheated out of payment for her painting, and her mother tells her to be grateful for what she did receive. Then her father becomes ill, can’t drive his rickshaw, and falls behind on payments. Her mother also loses her job due to an unjust accusation. Naima finds herself surrounded by injustice. How does one break this kind of cycle, when the whole world seems to be scheming against her?
I’ve ridden in rickshaws in India, fully aware that the life of the person pulling the rickshaw bears no resemblance to mine—and the ability to leave such a lifestyle is only available to a few who are fortunate to find a way out. But for the grace of God, it could be me in those shoes, like Naima, with a rickshaw-pulling father, bathing in a river, scrounging for money, and subjected to mistreatment.
The movie feels authentic to the life I’ve witnessed in India—as one who claims a tie through her ancestral roots to that region of South Asia. The scenes looked familiar to me, and if I didn’t know the setting was Bangladesh, it could have easily been in India.
Naima’s only skill is painting—but she is very good at it, painting walls of houses, sidewalks, and rickshaw covers, brightening the dull and dreary days with her colorful scenes. Her vibrant paintings of flowers and birds are a cheerful, stark contrast to the darkness surrounding her, to the broken concrete and fragile dreams, her faded clothes and the never-ending cycle of hardship and suffering.
Her paintings reveal a bit of what’s inside her heart: the desire to dream, to fly, to rise above—the desires that exist in the young where hope resides—that small drop of belief that a smidgen of justice remains hidden somewhere beneath the mounds of desperation of her family’s plight.
Trying to Fit Into Someone Else’s Clothes
You know that feeling, the burning desire to make it fit even though you know it won’t? You wiggle; you inhale, and you try just one more time.
Here I sit, a bundle of fur warming my side, basking in the warm glow of the Christmas tree—and it all looks picture-perfect. Yet, I’ve always felt like I inhabit the fringes of life.
Even as I round middle age, I feel like I fit awkwardly into this life I’ve worn for decades like a pair of hand-me-down jeans a little too long for my short legs and too tight around my wide hips.
This year I’ve spent a lot of time exploring who I really am, peeling away the layers of false selves I have worn over the years. We all put them on, that baggy coat to hide our flaws. That glamorous dress to divert their eyes from our insecurities.
Maybe it’s the don’t-care attitude I’ve heard we take on in our later years. Perhaps it’s the liminal space of being back in graduate school and wrestling with a twenty-year-old calling to ministry that has seen its share of detours, diversions, and dead-ends.
Either way, I’ve been throwing off the distortions and trying to find the right fit. And for the first time, I’ve realized I’m not the only fringe-dweller in the spaces I long to find a home.
Getting Naked In Front of Strangers
When I’m nervous and out of place, I ramble. I feel compelled to fill the awkward silence with a lumbering monologue instead. As anxious as I was, I spent a lot of time listening this year instead.
Forced to slow down and seek the wisdom of others as I entered the discernment process with my church, I found myself with others in the same uncomfortable limbo as myself. I was one of a dozen people who felt compelled to pursue a possible journey into ordained ministry. Thrown together in this vulnerable process, we stripped down to our barest selves in front of strangers.
We sat in Zoom rooms and conference rooms, the offices of our church leaders, and in intimidating interviews with Commission on Ministry members. We told our raw and unfiltered stories, with trembling and a few tears.
Trying Jesus on For Size
For me, it was a year of uncovering layers of my complicated history with the Body of Christ. I was a child who didn’t know who the Jesus figure that came out in manger scenes was. I knew there was something important about him and longed to know more. The youth group of my teens nurtured me and then discarded me like an ill-fitting pair of pants.
I was introduced to versions of Jesus who wanted me to do all the right things and ones who loved me like a best friend. There were ones who kept records of my sins in heavenly file cabinets, waiting to judge my failings—and ones who held no record of wrongs. I did my best to decipher who Jesus was when I wasn’t even sure who I was.
I thought I had it all figured out by the time I was on staff at the mega-church I’d spend a large portion of my life in. On the outside, I looked like a perfectly-polished Christian. Husband and two kids, the van, the Christian preschool, and obligatory Insta-worthy birthday parties. I looked just like everyone else so that meant I belonged, right?
Never mind the uneasiness that rattled around my soul, the lack of connection with the Jesus I longed to know intimately, and the theological issues I thought would go away if I ignored them.
It was a beautiful place; it was just not the place I belonged. And I knew it and pretended not to. It was easier that way—until it wasn’t. Until my desperate, dry, lonely soul cried out to move from the fringes to the place where the Spirit could live and move in me...
I held the plastic cup of juice in one hand, a tiny square cracker in the other. In my chair, I tried to focus all my thoughts on God and let all else fall away. This symbolic act of taking communion was designed to bring me closer to the Lord. Head bowed, it was just me and Jesus. Until I realized it wasn’t…
Countless throngs of angels stand before you to serve you night and day; and, beholding the glory of your presence, they offer you unceasing praise. Joining with them, and giving voice to every creature under heaven, we acclaim you, and glorify your Name…
I came of age in my faith in a tradition that didn’t place a strong emphasis on what is sometimes called The Lord’s Supper, Communion, or the Eucharist. A few times a year we would come to a service to find trays of individual juice and wafers had been placed around the room. Like the other elements of the Baptist worship I experienced, it was an emphasis on each of us connecting with the Lord, individually. Communion was largely seen as a symbol of remembrance, reminding us of the sacrifice Jesus made for each of us and allowing us an opportunity to evaluate our personal relationship with God.
In your mercy you came to our help, so that in seeking you we might find you. Again and again, you called us into covenant with you, and through the prophets you taught us to hope for salvation…
I hold out my hands in expectation, waiting alongside others. I smile at the little girl to my right, excitedly squirming as her mom whispers instructions in her ear. The person kneeling to my left brushes against me as he makes the sign of the cross and places his elbow close to mine on the rail. I look around the circle at members of my community. I’ve only been a member of this Episcopal parish for a year, so I’m still getting to know everyone. But the Priest knows every name. I listen as she makes her way around to me, stopping to look each person in the eye.
After she hands a wafer to the family to my right, she reaches back to the silver plate stacked with wafers and picks one up. She winks and smiles as she places it in my palm. “Nicole, the body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” she says. Here I receive communion; I don’t take it. It is given to me, a gift each week—the centerpiece of our worship. The chalice bearer follows behind her, wipes the edge of the cup, and turns it before offering it to my upturned face. Slowly, the wine crosses my lips as he reminds me this is the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.
To fulfill your purpose, he gave himself up to death; and, rising from the grave, destroyed death, and made the whole creation new. And, that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us, he sent the Holy Spirit, his own first gift for those who believe, to complete his work in the world, and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all…
When I found myself no longer able to pray, in the throes of depression and anxiety, I reached out to friends around the world. They promised to pray the words I couldn’t, to carry me through my wilderness. I lived 8000 miles from home in South Asia when I realized how desperately I needed a community around me. Just me and Jesus alone weren’t enough; we were never meant to be.
In a time when I felt more alone than ever, I discovered the gift the Body of Christ can be. It was the prayers of friends, the wisdom of a Spiritual Director, and the listening ear of a counselor who pulled me from the abyss. I needed someone to stand before me and remind me Jesus was present. I needed someone to set a place at the table for me, to hold out the cup to my thirsty lips.
After supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, "Drink this, all of you…
The Eucharist isn’t only a remembrance of the Last Supper when Jesus said the words hear repeated each week. It is meant to be a foretaste of the Great Banquet that is to come. Jesus reminds us that one day he will eat the Passover again with us when it “finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” The disciples would have understood Jesus’ reference to a Great Feast to come, a time when “the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples.” Jesus often spoke to his followers about preparing for the feast that is to come. I spent so much of my life thinking this meant preparing myself alone—personal reflection, personal growth, and personal worship.
A feast is not to be eaten alone. A banquet table is not set for one...