|James In India
J. Alan Burdick
© Copyright 2004 by J. Alan Burdick
The Desert Queen rolled gently as moved across northern India. James was on a vacation from his job in Damman. He had booked a “Palace on Wheels” tour, which used the old wooden and swank cars of a bygone era. There were four compartments to a car, with a common room at the end. The dining car was clean and served fine food on good china. There was only one other American on the train, and both James and he stayed away from each other. While many different languages were spoken, the pattern was, as in India , to use English as a common language. This morning as they had breakfast, James sat at the table with a member of the church of India.
“India has a very old Christian history. It’s said that St Thomas, himself, came to India and founded the church.
“Tell me more,” said James, and this was the story he heard:
“And all the apostles did gather with the risen Christ and he did assign each a place in the world where they were to labor. To Thomas, he did assign India, but Thomas replied:
‘Lord, I do not wish to go to so distant a place.’
The Christ rebuked him and forthwith took him to a merchant of that place who was seeking a carpenter to work for King Gundaphorus in India. The merchant gave Jesus a coin of silver for Thomas and took him , still protesting ,to the ship which sailed at once.
They sailed for some time, and, at length did stop at Andrapolis where a distant cousin of the merchant was being married. While the others sought pleasures , Thomas sang a mystic bridal hymn and averted his eyes from the beauty of a beautiful Hebrew maiden.
After they had arrived at the court of Gundaphorus ,Thomas did see, and disapprove of the rich goods there. Thus spake the king to Thomas: ‘Here are great riches in gold and silver. I want you to build me a palace of shining beauty that will honor my name”
So Thomas took the riches, but he did not built a palace on the land given to him, but rather gave the gold and silver to care for the poor, which were many. The brother of the king, a man named Gad, did then come to see the new palace. Thomas told him that the palace was build , not on earth, but in heaven. When Gad heard this he was enraged! Indeed, he was so angered by the effrontery that he died that very night.His soul did go to the promised palace and he did so marvel at the beauty of it that God returned him to life so that he could assure his brother that his palace , indeed , awaited him.
One day as Thomas was walking outside of the city walls, he saw the colt of a she-ass. The colt spoke to Thomas and told him: ‘ I am the direct descendant of Balaam’s ass”
He returned to the city gates, riding upon her, and when he dismounted , the ass dropped dead.
It was his belief in celibacy that caused Thomas much trouble. A young man sought Thomas and when given the Word, killed his mistress because she would not live in perfect continence. He did go and ate the Eucharist with Thomas. As soon as the Eucharist was consumed his hands did wither. When Thomas was told all that had pasted, he healed the withered hands and restored the woman to life.
Thomas continued to preach the life of celibacy and many heard the Word and this cause much confusion. The king ordered Thomas to be silent, but Thomas continued to cause husbands to leave their wives. Thomas traveled to a distant city near the mountains. It was ruled by King Misdaeus. There he caused Mygdonia , the wife of a wealthy courtier, to convert to celibacy. Misdaeus did imprison Thomas, but the doors of the prison sprang open anytime he wished to preach.
Misdaeus , at last, took Thomas to the summit of a mountain where he caused him to be pierced by four spears. Thomas thus did die and was buried in that land. Later when the king’s son was taken by a demon, the king use a handful of dust from the grave to cast it out. Then the king, and all of his household did convert to celibacy.”
The train pulled into Agra and James walked through the train station to a modern, spacious touring bus. The sky was bright blue, clear, with a brilliant sun. The bus threaded its’ way through the crowds of people, masses of cars, and mixes of bicycles while the “Palace on Wheels” person talked about the history of theTaj Mahal.
James thought: “India is much larger than I thought it was. It is a huge nation, and unlike our country, which is really a republic, it is a democracy. How unlikely! It is made up of people who are different races, different religions, and who speak different languages…how could a democracy work in such a situation…yet it does. So many people! The Taj Mahal is Islamic in nature, but all peoples are allowed into it. What a contrast to Saudi Arabia, where the Matahwas make sure that no unbelievers are allowed into their mosques, and it certainly would not ‘be modest’ to build a tomb of beauty to a loved one!”
The bus pulled up to the entrance to the gardens, discharged everyone, and picked its’ way through the parking lot for tour buses. There were about 30 buses there. Because the grounds were so crowded, we were told to find our own way, and to meet back at the bus about noon. James walked through the gardens, which had small alcoves with stone seats under trees that gave shade from that intense sun. The Taj Mahal was even more beautiful and impressive than James had thought it would be, but more and more, the press of people overcame him.
There were people of every race and wearing an overwhelming confusion of dress. The languages were musical. Nowhere did he hear one he could understand. James found an alcove one seat empty, and sat down, separated from his group and guide. He closed his eyes and started to meditate. He found his dark hall with a light coming through an open door at the far end, and started to move toward it.He expected to stop at the thresh-hold (as always), but went through it to a place of no place, no time, pure light, peace, and rightness. He was lost and really did not know how long he was “there”, but when he opened his eyes there was not anyone within 20 feet of him, (although the grounds and building were still packed), and no one paid any attention to him. As he returned to the waiting bus, the crowds no longer seemed foreign and overwhelming to him. India had given him a priceless gift. To James, this was enlightenment by “when you think, just think”.
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