Finding God in the Gap
By Theresa Martin ’11
by Oriah Mountain Dreamer
It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.
Excerpt from “The Invitation” by Oriah is from her book, THE INVITATION (c)1999. Published by HarperONE, San Francisco. All rights reserved. Presented with permission of the author. www.oriah.org
After graduating from SI, I decided to take a gap year before starting college at St. Louis University. I hoped to explore different cultures, serve others, and go more deeply in my relationship with God. My journey, which began on Sept. 14, 2011, expanded upon the theme of SI’s junior retreat, one that invites students to become fully alive.
During the year abroad, I spent three months traveling in northern India with eight other students from a program called Carpe Diem Education. Together, we delved into Indian life through spending time at a Hindu ashram and a Buddhist monastery, living with Indian and Tibetan families, trekking in the Himalayas, and most of all, taking in the smells, tastes and sounds of India.
After returning from India, I decided to join a program called Youth With a Mission (YWAM). Through YWAM, I participated in a six-month “Discipleship Training School.” This program brought me to Germany, Ukraine, and Ethiopia. In Germany, I participated in a Christian missions and art school. In Ukraine, I spent two-weeks volunteering with underprivileged youth and orphans. In Ethiopia, I spent three months getting to know the women of Jaja, a village on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, and volunteering at a local nonprofit, Women at Risk, that helps women escape lives of prostitution and learn job skills.
Theresa Martin visited the Golden Temple, also known as Harmandir Sahib, in the city of Amritsar in Punjab.
October 2011, writing from Varanasi, India: The Ghats
Varanasi: Filled with energy … Next to the water, it’s always busy, but not too busy. It’s hot, teeming with Indian culture. I saw a man yesterday who was sleeping on the street; a monkey was picking through his hair.… I’m sitting on one of the ghats and taking things in. I hear singing and drumming, kids trying to sell me candles to send on the Ganga—a prayer to the river. Smoke rises from burning incense, smells of people—of life. Men in robes smile as they share stories.… The days are pure. Untouched by distractions of life back home. Simple moments are often what turn out to be the most precious.
Theresa Martin’s travels during her gap year took her to India where she met people from all walks of life.
November 2011, Kolkata, India: At Prëm Dan, Missionaries of Charity Facility
“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” –Mother Teresa
Ratika began to cry out. No … to wail. Was it physical pain? Did she need something? I couldn’t understand. There were plenty of sisters helping that day at Prëm Dan, but no one came to help this time. The woman across from me motioned that Ratika needed to go to the bathroom. As I dragged Ratika’s plastic lawn chair into the other room, she continued wailing and sweat broke out on my forehead.
We arrived and I lifted Ratika onto one of the makeshift toilets, but her glazed-over eyes were wide with terror. She inched away from the toilet seat. What could she need? She grabbed my arms to stand up, and as I held her thin, frail body, wondering if she might die in my arms, our eyes met – and she wailed.
Forcing back tears, I placed Ratika in her chair and brought her back the sitting room. The knot in my stomach was making me feel queasy, and my eyes darted around, hoping for fresh air or solitude; instead, I found myself in the midst of women with missing limbs, no eyes, and withering faces.… I could not help Ratika with whatever it was that she had cried out for. I could not relieve her suffering. But as our eyes met again, I forced myself to smile. She smiled back.
I wrote in my journal that week, “Kolkata has a way of wringing out my heart, and like Mother Teresa, the prayer that I'm thinking is simply, ‘I thirst.’”
March 2012, a small town in Ukraine.
Dilapidated houses line the streets, skinny dogs have free range of the land, and camo-clad men keep their eyes ahead as the occasional 1980 Volkswagen rumbles down the pothole-strewn road. It would seem to be a hostile place. What, then, do I make of the warm welcome and immediate hot meal served to us? Ukraine surprises me already.
The author in Ethiopa, where she worked with Youth With a Mission.
July 2012, a rainy day in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The villagers looked at my feet and began to laugh. It did seem odd: a small, white, 18 year old standing with mud-caked legs amidst a newfound Ethiopian family. There were things I would never understand about village life. Try as I might, I may again fail to notice that the large pile of mud was not solid ground, but thick goo that would cake my skin up to the knee. So smiles broke out.
I felt a deep, inexplicable joy. There was nowhere I would have rather been than in that village, sweaty, caked in mud, surrounded by family. The water project wouldn’t succeed, the soap-making would fall through and, perhaps most painful to my heart, I would leave the following morning. Yet this was the moment I was created for. This was Church. I was standing in the most beautiful cathedral, this village called Jaja, where, surrounded by trees, I pretended that the city, the exhaust and the crowds were all miles away.
Moments later, two boys from the village brought water to clean my muddy shoes. The boys took off my shoes, cleaning them to perfection – to newness. New life. My muddy sneakers were now shining in the sun. Still, the boys returned with more water. My eyes filled with tears as they poured the water over my bare feet. This was an outpouring of Christ’s love.
In days past, there had been cups upon cups of coffee poured as these women shared their life stories. Jaja was a village that had been forgotten and abandoned as these single mothers struggled to survive despite the lack of legal identity, legal property and healthcare.
This is the village that I stumbled upon. JaJa is the village that God surely invited me into. “[Theirs] are the hands, [theirs] are the feet, [theirs] are the eyes, [theirs] are his body” (Teresa of Avila). Though they have little, they share what they have. In their pain, they cry. In their joy, they laugh. They dance. They taught me to be fully alive.
February 2013, a snowy Saturday night at St. Louis University
My voice echoes down the stairwell as I sing a song from the eighth floor landing in Marguerite Hall, my dorm. Johnny plays the ukulele, Ian is on the guitar, and I’ve got my djembe. The song continues, and I look out the window where a crowd is gathered around a snowball 10 feet in diameter on the sidewalk below. I smile. I can choose to be fully alive. College life requests a planner, begs me to overbook my schedule and temps me to stress over schoolwork. But the experiences of last year remind me that even when school is busy, there is joy in each moment. It’s “the adventure of being alive.”
Theresa Martin received SI’s highest student honor, the Ignatian Award, during her graduation ceremony in June 2012. She is now a freshman at St. Louis University where she is majoring in Theology and International Studies with a minor in Global and Local Social Justice.
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