The Call

“Come and see.”

The seed of this blog sprouted in my sweat, in a place I never really imagined I’d end up–and in a place I could never pronounce, no matter how many times I hear it, write it, or practice it.

Tiruchirappalli, south India.

Or, to be precise, the seed really started growing in Shantivanam Ashram, a Benedictine monastery about 40 minutes west of Tiruchirappalli, on the shores of the Kaveri River.

So here I am in the summer of 2017, on a personal retreat at this monastery for five days, having coming here on a spur-of-the-moment detour because I have a week before my flight out of India (and what a detour it was!  If you want to find out more, comment below).  And let me tell you.  It’s screaming, scorching, frying hot, even in the shade of the

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Jesus in The Grand Hall Meditation Hut, Shantivanam Ashram, facing the four cardinal directions
meditation hut where I’m doing my best to center myself for prayer.  I’m facing the center of the room, where there’s a carved wooden sculpture of Jesus facing all four directions.  He’s in the common meditation pose–the lotus position–with legs folded, one foot hooked up over the opposite thigh and palms resting gently on his thighs.  His four faces are all gentle, relaxed, each one signaling north, south, east, and west respectively.  This symbolizes that he sees over all, into all, beyond all, over the entire universe.  As sweat drips down my one face–and as I close my eyes and try to mimic the calm expression on Jesus’ faces–I am reminded of the passage from the beginning of the Gospel of John.  I’d just read it recently, so perhaps that’s why it comes to mind so readily now.  This particular scene is commonly called the calling, or the invitation, or–perhaps not quite as commonly–the commissioning.  I think that’s what it’s known as in the other three Gospels, but of course John is always different.  In any case, I decide I’m going to meditate on this passage.

The scene takes place from John 1:35-41, when Jesus walks by John the Baptist on the shore of the Jordan River (actually, fun fact: the Gospel’s author gives no specific detail about the exact location of John at the time, but the Kaveri River is 100 yards away from me, currently, and it’s blazing, it’s dry, I can hear the shrubs struggling in the hot breeze, and so for the purposes of my meditation I imagine I myself am near the Jordan River).  John the Baptist points to Jesus, and says to his followers: “Look at the Lamb of God passing by!”

John’s followers are, quite understandably, intrigued.  They follow after Jesus, leaving John the Baptist behind.  Jesus turns to them as they trail after him,  and he says, “What are you looking for?”

The followers now say to Jesus: “Teacher, where do you live?”  In Hebrew, they call him Rabbi.

The answer that Jesus then gives these two men has changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, right up to this day.  I’d venture to say millions, if it hasn’t changed the life of every single faithful follower since Jesus spoke them.  That’s a bold claim, but they’re that powerful.

“Come, and you will see.”

These words have certainly changed my life.

As I repeat these words silently, right there in the Grand Meditation Hall in the sizzling late-afternoon stillness of this southern-Indian monastery, I imagine that I am in the Israeli desert there at Jesus’ side.  I try to meditate on the scene itself, to envision it as it unfolds.  And I begin to hear these words somewhat differently.

“Come and see.”

“Rabbi, where are you staying?”  He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”

The very next part of this passage states that Jesus invites the followers to his place.  Let me repeat that.  To Jesus’ place!  I begin to imagine this.  This seems so simple, so incredibly mundane, so normal, so…pedestrian, I almost laugh out loud.  It’s strange, right then, for me to imagine Jesus’ house.  That’s certainly not something I typically spend much time thinking about.  But of course, he had to live somewhere!  Of course he slept, and of course he went somewhere at night for shelter and warmth.

So I begin to imagine the house.  His house, Jesus’ house.  I begin to picture what must have transpired as these two curious proteges–originally of John the Baptist, mind you– now go after Jesus and, quite literally, are invited over to his place for the afternoon to just hang.

“Come, and you will see.”

I repeat the phrase again and again, and they start to take on an entirely different tone.  The feel becomes light, easy, simple.  I hear them as if Jesus is speaking them in my presence, as if I’m one of those men tagging along.  As if he’s speaking those very words to me.  I hear them as if Jesus is saying directly to me, “Let’s go to my place for the afternoon.”

And with that, my breath deepens, and I no longer notice the sweat on my face, my neck, my shoulders.  Or, rather, I’m aware of it–I’m always aware of it in India–but it’s no longer bothering me.  I’m not thinking obsessively about wiping my face and trying to find the nearest fan or cold body of water, or flight to the Arctic–or better yet, back to Chicago!  I feel the sweat, but it’s no longer of any consequence.

Why?

Because I’m at Jesus’ place!  It’s four in the afternoon in John’s Gospel passage, much as it’s probably close to four by now, right here in southern India, near Tiruchirappalli (nope, still can’t pronounce it right).  I’m with Jesus, and it’s the most natural and wonderful thing I’ve ever experienced.  I’ve never done this before!

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The Kaveri River, as seen from Shantivanam Ashram
At that moment, everything else ceases to matter: the heat, the sweat, the rest of the day, the next meditation session, my discomfort in the lotus position.  None of it.  I’m not worried about the next meal–or the resultant restroom trouble.  I’m not distressed about my future, about the lack of clarity I have, about where I’ll be next week once I leave India, let alone next month or next year.  The doubts and the questions are there, of course, but they fade, and I’m just there right then, with Jesus.

At his place.

Jesus Himself called me.  He gave me the invitation to his house.  He said come over, and we’re there, naturally, just ourselves and some other friends, chilling.

“Come and see.”

Right then in Shantivanam ashram*, as I repeat this phrase over and over again, slowly, letting myself be at Jesus’ side, I am almost overwhelmed by emotion.  I’m here, with Jesus, because he personally called me.  He said, “Come and see,” and I took him up on his invitation.

I took Jesus up on that invitation, and that afternoon I went to his place.  I never experienced anything like this.  Looking back at this, even later that night, I found it was easy to say, “Oh, the heat made me crazy,” or “Perhaps I’d gotten a little too sick from the southern Indian diet.”  I found it was easy to sit on the plane a week later and say, wait a minute, yeah, right, Luke.  That didn’t actually happen.

But no.  Of course, maybe I am a bit crazy–my friends can attest to that–but you know what?  That is the entire purpose of this passage.  It’s meant to seem weird, to us who are not normally accustomed to “hanging out” and spending the afternoon with Jesus, at his place.  Of course it sounds … unorthodox, to say the least.

But.  That’s the invitation Jesus gives us all–not just you, not just me, not just the holy people out there or your friend you know who’s in the seminary or for “those Bible-thumping Christians.”  It’s for everyone.  Jesus says come and see.  He says, be here with me.  Why not spend the afternoon with me?  And he doesn’t say “Come, you rich white folk,” or “Come, you nice people,” or “Come, except for you, you, you, and you.”  Jesus just says, “Come and see.”

 

The doubts and the questions are there, of course, but they fade, and I’m just there right then, with Jesus.

The invitation is open to us all.  Everyone.  The invitation is universal, and it applies to my hot sweaty self as much as it applies to my mother, to my father, to the poor fellow passengers who sweated with me on the bus all the way here to Tiruchirappalli (I’m never going to get this word right).

“Come and see.”

I am not trying to sound holy and righteous, or like I’m some mystic who’s got privileged access to all these meditative insights.  I’m not any of that.

I’m just a mostly normal–albeit weird and crazy–Catholic, and I want to believe that Jesus loves me.  I want to feel loved, and along with all that insecurity and awkward–and I’m sure annoying–neediness, in the middle of it all, Jesus gives the answer.  He sends the invitation.  He says, Come and see.  Come, be with me, as you are, at my side!

No condition, no problem, no hesitation.  Just come.

And he’s saying that to you, too.  He’s saying that to you, you, you, and you–and your friend.  And your friend’s friend.  And your friend’s friend’s mom, and her mom, too, and her sister.  And your sister’s sister, and her in-laws, and their children.

(Did you know that’s what Catholic meant?  It means universal.  This is Jesus’ call.  It’s for us all.)

I’m just a mostly normal–albeit weird and crazy–Catholic, and I want to believe that Jesus loves me.

So.  If you don’t believe me, if you’ve decided that perhaps yes, Luke is a little too crazy, then first avoid Indian food, and then, if you haven’t spent time with this passage, I encourage you to bust open your Bible and open it up to John, chapter one, verses 35-41.  Spend some time in this scene, wherever you are currently, and whatever your state in life.  And if you don’t have a Bible, or if it feels entirely foreign to you, freakish, weird, impossible…not to worry.  I invite you to just sit there with the three words that Jesus gives us from that passage.  You don’t even need a Bible for that!

“Come and see.”

Wherever you are, you can sit with this, and imagine going along with Jesus for a while.  Come, and see what happens.

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Shortly after Jesus calls his disciples, Philip then goes to his friend Nathaniel and says, “Come and see.” This is the beginning of evangelization! We can also go out and spread the word, to “come and see” for ourselves!

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Welcome to Shantivanam Ashram!
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The highway passing by the ashram
 

*ashram is the Sanskrit-derived term for a hermitage, or a place to meditate and “strive for liberation.”  This term is actually intensely complicated, and so far for me has defied a simple explanation.  If you are interested in learning more, please comment below and I will happily provide more resources or even write a blog entry about my experiences at Shantivanam in greater detail!

2 comments

  1. I love reading what you’ve written & your thoughts on the experiences you share. I’d love to hear more. Can I get on an email list? My Mom recently met you in Southern Alabama. & shared your blog with me.

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    • Rhonda–surely! Of course– you can subscribe and follow this blog via email and receive updates whenever a new post goes up. I am glad to hear from you! And feel free to share with anyone else 🙂

      Like

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