Seeing without categorizing
Seeing with the Spirit
My faith story: how I chased knowledge, became de-churched, read the Gita, and found Jesus again
by Anita Coleman
Cuisine is not an old tired marriage; it is a passionate affair of the heart. —The Hundred-Foot Journey, a film about a relocated Indian family that opens a restaurant in a French town
Coming to America from India for graduate studies changed my childhood passion for reading into a consuming love affair with learning. I pursued academic knowledge so wholeheartedly that I, who drew lessons for living from my Bible, soon had little time for personal devotions or Sunday worship. In India, family and friends may have helped to correct the problem. In the United States, we are fiercely independent and individualistic. Thus, nobody, not even in church, was able to help.
During my doctoral studies my faith in Jesus vanished. By the time I became a university professor, the Bible had become irrelevant as I faced the problems of a young mother juggling a job and jostling through non-resident foreign student, first-generation immigrant, and citizenship processes. I worshiped the gods of our culture: materialism, innovation, and technology. I forgot my lifelong desire to help bring justice to all people and to eradicate poverty, hunger, and war. Instead, I enjoyed the intellectual passions and accompanying accoutrements of a career in academia. But deep inside something was lacking.
I thirsted for God and so, I kept searching books of many genres: science-technology studies, cognitive science, and philosophy. Finally, I decided to read Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu Indian’s most revered sacred text. I had never read it before. It changed my life. Ironically, it was there that I found my way back to Jesus. This sacred text unleashed forgotten memories of my childhood faith. In my teens the Bible had lavished me with courageous joy. It had helped me to nurture my younger sisters and dad after my mother’s sudden death by cancer. Emboldened, I ventured onto a church campus and found myself worshipping with a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation. My friendship with God and the people of God began anew.
The Gita is a conversation with God about the meaning of life on the eve of a horrific battle. It encourages the reader to imagine God as abiding in everything—one’s life, thoughts, desires, dreams, every nanosecond. The Gita’s God says:
“But truly great souls seek my divine nature. They worship me with a one-pointed mind, having realized that I am the eternal source of all. . . . I am the sum of all knowledge. . . . I am the goal of life, the Lord and support of all. . . . Those who worship me and meditate on me constantly, without any other thought—I will provide all their needs. Those who worship other gods with faith and devotion also worship me. . . . Whatever you do make it an offering to me—the food you eat, the sacrifices you make, the help you give, even your suffering.” —9:13–27 (The Royal Path)
These are some of the most popular verses in the Gita, and they have inspired millions of ordinary Hindus to careful devotion to God. A picture of Jesus, always fully turned to God, came to my mind. Dipping into my Bible, Jesus’ description of the Spirit’s role in discipleship exhilarated me. Jesus called the disciples, who were often confused by him, friends of God. He described the Holy Spirit as “advocate,” “helper,” “someone else to stand by you” (John 14:16–17, 26). The Spirit is with all believers, anywhere, anytime.
The 13th-century theologian Thomas Aquinas gave the Holy Spirit two proper names drawing on John 14: Gift and Love. According to Aquinas, friendship with God is accomplished by the Spirit’s intellectual gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, piety, courage, and fear of the Lord. As I began to pay attention to the Spirit I was graced with these gifts. Now, tongue-in-cheek I call the seven graces of Spirit the inimitable spices that keep me on fire for our awesome Triune God!
To look at the Spirit is to place eyes on Christ, “practicing the presence of God” as Brother Lawrence, a French monk in the 17th century, called it.
I suddenly became aware of the world differently, recognizing that Jesus Christ, whom I am to imitate, came to an oppressed country and a poor family, his attention turned fully to his Father. I then joined God’s work, humbly yet intentionally realizing my place and purpose in a new way. As a gift of new life, individually, the Spirit helped me love people very different from me. Collectively, the Spirit helps us bridge our differences, seek unity, and build a community that spans ever expanding rings around the globe as it models the intimate Trinitarian relationship.
On the surface, the Gita has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit of a religion developed thousands of miles away several centuries later. And I have no wish to conflate two distinct religions and texts. All I know is that the Spirit found me in those ancient pages of the Gita—found me in a way that would never have happened if I had seen the Gita only as the text of another religion. In that moment, God connected two texts held sacred by different people with my identity as someone born Indian, as a forgotten Christian, as an immigrant American, and as a person so very hungry. I ate. I began to be filled. I received a new heart and my eyes were opened.
1. Name one major challenge that you face as a disciple of Jesus. With whom have you shared this challenge? What are you doing about it?
2. What is your passion? Does it help you to live in personal contact with the Holy Spirit?
3. What is the role of the Holy Spirit in your life today? Can you remember a time when you have experienced a gift of the Spirit?
4. How is your discipleship motivated and strengthened by the Holy Spirit?
5. Do you know any immigrants? What is your relationship with them?
Anita Coleman is a wife, mother, and writer who enjoys electronics, gardens, and books.
Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics. 55. Pentecost issue. Baylor University’s Institute for Faith and Learning.
Dahm, Brandon. “Friendship with the Holy Spirit.” 28–36.
Kuecker, Aaron. “The Holy Spirit’s Gift and Witness: Communities of Reconciled Difference.” 11–20.
Waddell, Paul. Becoming Friends: Worship, Justice, and the Practice of Christian Friendship. Brazos Press, 2002.
Wiley, Charles. “Grace and gratitude: a Presbyterian vision for the 21st century.” Presbyterians Today. May 2015.