Gaining Perspective

Thursday, Feb 9th, 2012

    Yesterday was a day of great contrasts as we rose from the dusty plains to the heights of Mount Popa, an ancient Buddhist shrine atop a rock outcropping which soars to about 5000 feet.  After a day of visiting the historic archaeological district in Bagan, our guide wanted us to see the work of farmers in small villages.  Sharing the road with bullock carts gave notice that we were observing ways of life that have changed little over the years in this arid land.

    President marshall at the helmAt a small roadside market, we learned of two enduring crops that sustain life.  Peanuts are a critical source of protein; not only are they harvested to eat whole, but are ground for their precious oil.  The grinding process utilizes a bull, an attendant to encourage perseverance, and an old wooden press that extracts every drop. (I hope this bull was given an extra day off for hauling this attendant!)

    A cousin to the coconut palm, the Toddy tree provides juice, building materials for shelter, and leaves and wood for lovely crafts.  Every aspect of the tree is consumed over its life cycle, displaying the creativity of the people and the significant bond the culture has with this tree.  It is a symbol of life in these unforgiving plains.

    President Marshall assisted by Chris PerkinsMount Popa offers a stunning vista of the volcanic terrain--after you have made the challenging ascent of about 800 steps.  I daresay I would not have completed the climb without the encouragement and strong arm of Christopher Perkins, truly my Barnabas for this endeavor. Together, at a steady pace, we joined other pilgrims who had come to pray, to observe, and to survey the remarkable surroundings.  Dodging little monkeys at every turn, we grudgingly acknowledged that they were probably there first!

    Understanding the faith of other traditions remains elusive in many respects, for every religion is a mixture of revelation, culture, and improvisation.  We gain perspective as we pray for wisdom and compassion--for others and ourselves--as we seek the true and living God.

    Molly T. Marshall