shall I stand before thee face to face?
With folded hands, O lord of all worlds,
shall I stand before thee face to face?
Under the great sky in solitude and silence,
with humble heart shall I stand before thee face to face?
(poem of Rabindra Nath Tagore born in Calcutta 7 May 1861)
Across the road on the other side of the street there was another series of huts on a piece of land that was semi cultivated with banana and coconut trees and there was a main kitchen and a large veranda for meals. This was a place where one could be in silent retreat and also in solitude if one so desired. It was run by a nun called Sister Marie-Louise. She spoke some French and once in a while she invited me for lunch and asked questions about my life and work and projects in Canada.
Sometimes our conversations were mainly in French, she said, so she could practice her French and at other times it was a way of sharing with the other guests who stayed there. I met one lad who had just come back from spending three months in complete silence At a Vipassana retreat and he asked to stay in one of the huts so that he could be ‘grounded’. The sister asked me if I could be so kind as to take his meals to his hut for him each noon and so I did. Eventually he came out of silence and we went for a walk and he told me quite a bit about Vipassana and his experiences.
I also met a Dutch priest who was bitten by a spider on the thigh of one of his legs and the wound got from bad to worse so much so that he had great difficulties walking and I was also asked to take his meals to his hut each day for him.
It was interesting meeting the different folks who passed through the ashram. Some had been travelling to visit different Gurus and they had many stories to tell, Among them was a French guy who told me a lot about Ananda Mayi Ma. He left for a while to get initiation from her and when he came back, I thought he was radiant. I asked a lot of questions and we became friends and he promised that at a proper time we would travel together to Ananda May’s ashram. Later on I will tell you about that visit.
Among the people staying at the ashram, was a little teen-aged girl that I can’t recall her name so lets call her Maria.
Maria was a Catholic and very fervent and prayerful. She was asked often to sing in the chapel and so she did, with a very beautiful voice.
One day, at the evening prayer, she sang the very beautiful prayer of Tagore, “Day after day, O Lord of my life, do i stand before Thee face to face,” She was standing as she sung this and her face was turned and uplifted towards the sanctuary. I could imagine Maria one day as she stood before the Lord and she could now see Him face to face and what a beautiful experience it must be for her. she was born blind. It was always a moving experience to hear her and this day was not by any means, an exception.
She sat very often on a bench near some flowers and somebody had given her a flower and she was examining it with her fingers. She had a woman who came and read stories to her and one day they were both sitting on the bench together as I was going by and the woman called out to me, she explained that from time to time she would take a book from the library and read stories to Maria. This day, Maria particularly asked her to read one of Charles Dickens stories. as she read the story, she came across the tale of a man who was described as being bald and Maria asked her “what does that mean?” So the woman called me and asked if I would kneel and allow Maria to place her hand on my head so she can feel what a bald top feels like.
So I accepted and knelt at her feet. I looked at her face as her palms touched my head and I could see the expression on her face. She asked me how did I loose so much hair and I explained that it was an hereditary thing in our family and that my father was bald and ever since my twenties I began loosing hair.
On another occasion I was going by and she was sitting in the garden and as I went by, I stopped and had placed my hand oh her head and she raised her hand and held my wrist and called my name. “How did you know it was me?” I asked, and she replied, “because of your watch. You are the only person i know who wears the face of the watch facing downwards”
One evening the electricity was off and the path to the chapel was pitch black. I was walking cautiously with a torchlight and I heard Maria coming along with her cane. She was walking at a fairly fast pace as I was about to say “be careful Maria” but then I realized that although for us, the path was in darkness, it made absolutely no difference to Maria.
There are times when I remember her and her beautiful voice as I vision her standing, looking up to the ‘face’ of God as she sings “Day after day, O Lord of my life, do I stand before Thee face to face!”