Friday, November 19, 2010

The Galloway School

We often get groups of high school kids here. They come from all over the Atlanta area and usually stay for the day. Since I work in the guest house, I spend as much time as I can with each group and always enjoy having them here. Last week we had a group from the Galloway School in Atlanta. There were about thirty students. They had never been here before. When I walked into the parlor to greet them, I noticed a box near the door. I looked down and in the box were cell phones in various sizes, colors and functions. The kids must have been told to deposit their cell phones for the duration of their stay. They sat before me in the parlor, looking comfortable in the chairs and on the floor. I chatted with them a bit and they soon commenced with all kinds of questions. They were so friendly and eager to learn about monks, monasteries, our tradition and the like. I later found out that the week had been a busy one for them. They had also visited several religious sites in the Atlanta area – a mosque, a Hindu temple, a Protestant church and a synagogue. Their heads must have been filled with memories of all those places and I thought how difficult it may have been for them to wrap all that together into one neat package. But after a while I sensed that they delighted in the differences they had experienced during the week.
As I looked at them, something looked familiar. Then it struck me that they were of all sizes, colors and personalities, kind of like the cell phones. The box sat nearby on the floor, and all the phones were turned off. And right in front of me the kids smiled as I talked and then came up with one question after another. They were like living cell phones – turned on and communicating with gusto. They did not seem to mind that their little communicative devices were set aside.
One of the kids asked a question about different beliefs, as to how one might be able to shift truth from what is false. That led me to talk a bit about religious pluralism. We are living in a time when the great religious traditions are encountering each other. And it has gone beyond encountering – there are many instances where the encounter has led to friendship, or marriage, or friendly cooperation and mutual respect. A lot of walls are coming down. Something as ordinary as a ride on a subway in Manhattan can easily situate one in a small and moving mystery of different cultures, colors, ways of being in this ever shrinking world. Everyone moving along – many of them with their cell phones.
I am sure that the kids embodied different traditions. They all seemed to get along and I noticed how willing they were to learn from each other. A lot of credit is to be given to their parents and teachers for encouraging them to grow with each other.
Later in the morning we walked over to our “green cemetery” where the students were to help clear some branches and leaves from the area. A group of them decided to move a big tree trunk out of harm’s way – it had fallen and needed to be moved. It was very heavy, way too heavy for one or two people to move. The kids positioned themselves and with a concerted effort managed to lift the trunk and get it where they wanted it to go. I watched and felt a hope rise within me. There are times when the burdens of this world seem impossible. But when a cooperative effort is marshaled, all of existence seems lighter and becomes more manageable, more bearable. The world that awaits the kids from Galloway is as beautiful as it ever was, and will even be more so when they enter it as adults and learn to carry it together.