Religion has come to mean prescriptive and restrictive, at contradiction to the American zeitgeist of free will and options. How to explain Nepali culture saturated with religion? Where every wall in most every room has a recess for a personal devotional space. On the street, shrines of stone or metal were everywhere, big and small and heavy with devotional objects like milk and oranges, candles and flowers.
But Spirit lives inside us, we carry it with us. I was reminded of pictures of Christ and the Apostles in an ancient German Catechism I own. Above each Apostle’s head a small flame burned, denoting the holy spirit as they went about their tasks. I saw such a being in Kathmandu.
At a jagged intersection, dusty second story windows and tangles of wire gave way to ground floor storefronts that tumbled to steps that ended at shattered curbs where the smallest cars flew through the intersection in a swirl of beeping and diesel and parasols and backpacks. Dogs and a cow lay placidly among the din. In the interaction grew a tall tall tree. The dry leaves above the road provided shade and shelter to the spot. The tree commended the intersection in a way that no sign for phone cards, chai or saris could compete with. The cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles went round and round. This was a Piccadilly Circu in miniature.
At the curb stood a women dressed in a sari. Quickly stepping through the traffic, her feet landed on a stone block jutting into the intersection at the gnarled base of the tree. A recess in the battered trunk was now before her. It held a small statue, an orange and a flower. Dutifully, the woman placed a small tea light with them. The tree has created a covenant with all those who passed under it. The woman had honored that covenant with her prayer. She would carry the spirit with her.
Wayne Howe is a member of the Board of Directors and represented Go Global VT on the Bhutan/Nepal trip in July 2018. He has been a primary teacher, Principal, and Assistant Superintendent in schools throughout Northwest and Central Vermont.