Feb 28, 2023

O Taste and See - India Reflection 2023

By Sara Spohr

I’ve joked repeatedly since I’ve returned from India that “the food was a spiritual experience.”  I don’t know what happened to me.  My long-held identity is that of a midwestern farm girl who is a notoriously picky eater.  Apparently in India I’m a “foodie.” Every meal, every new taste and spice, every bite was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It turns out they cook with a lot of butter, just like my Norwegian mama, so maybe it was inevitable.

Here is a photo of one such meal, an unexpectedly delightful sampling of six different foods.  Each compartment held a portion both big enough to really get a taste, but also small enough to leave you wanting more.  This is a photo of a delicious meal, but it is also a metaphor for my spiritual experience on this trip.  Far surpassing the amazing food for lasting personal impact, was the deep spirituality of each person I met in India.  

Six major world religions reside in India.  They are Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Islam and Christianity.  We had an opportunity to interact with five out of the six, and it was the richest sampling of spirituality and wisdom I’ve yet to encounter.  This country is a beautiful blending of faith and wonder, it has a spiritual center grounded in ancient words and practice, and it elevates a mutual regard for the faith practice of neighbor and stranger.  Here’s the briefest snapshot of my encounters:

A Hindu high priest brought us into the holiest place in his 2000-year-old temple and welcomed us with generosity.  A Jain tour guide taught us these Hindi words, “a titi devo bava,” which mean “a guest is equal to God.”  A walk through the working kitchen of a Sikh temple that daily feeds 1000’s of hungry people, even through the pandemic.  An Islamic Imam welcomed us into his mosque with these gracious words:  “beggar, peasant, politician, king - all are equal.”  We met Christian pastors and servants at various boarding homes and outreach ministries who feed, cloth, educate and love children with dignity and grace.

In this brief tour of religious practice, I devoured a diverse meal of genuine spirituality, servanthood, and loving kindness.  In a time in America where we keep dividing ourselves across religious belief and practice, I’m grateful that Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry helped me to walk right into a new perspective.  This experience gave me a vision for peaceful dialogue, showed me the beauty of a shared interfaith commitment to serve the “least of these,” and delivered the purest expression of hope on the smiling faces of hundreds of students.  This trip certainly was big enough to give me a taste, and small enough to leave me wanting more!

In my faith tradition, following the way of Jesus, bread is both sustenance for our spiritual selves and then the body of Jesus.  I’m trying to remember how many times on this trip I took actual bread and used it to carry a variety of tastes to my mouth.  This feels like Jesus’ way to me, his way was to listen to each voice, to love each child of God, to carry grace upon grace to each body and soul.  “Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—how good God is.” Psalm 34:8 MSG

-- Sara Spohr serves as Pastor at Lake Nokomis Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN) and is an LPGM Sponsor and Traveler

Photo Captions:

1. Header: Sara and LPGM Development Director Bethany Krepela show their "girl power" with their sponsored students and a friend at Siloam Boarding Home in Tirukoilur.

2. The February 2023 travel group poses with LPGM partners and Indian staff at Siloam Boarding Home. 

3.  A "quick lunch"

4. Sara visits with three tailoring students at Timothy Center for Children & Women's Empowerment, a vocational ministry of the Artcot Lutheran Church of India.

5. The LPGM travel group poses with a Hindu high priest at the Arunachala Temple in Tiruvannamalai.

6. Women of the Arcot Lutheran Church shared their work to support social justice and mental health initiatives in their communities. 

7. Sara enjoys the company of the girls at Melpattampakkam Boarding Home.