Whenever someone asks me where I am from, I pause. The pause may not be outwardly visible, but it’s there, every time. I was born in South Africa to roving pastor parents. Yes, they were/are missionaries; I sometimes cringe, even now, at that word. However, my folks are a breed of their own: missionaries who lived in solidarity with the people with whom they work and whose only conversion efforts were in pursuit of building water tanks and promoting effective leadership in already-existing local churches.
My parents were the font at which I drank Christianity as a teaching of love, compassion, justice, and humility: love for our neighbors, compassion towards strangers, justice for all people and humility to remember that we have so much to learn from those around us. I credit them and their example (along with a college professor who got me reading the likes of James Cone and Marjorie Suchoki) for keeping me in the Christian tradition, providing me with a framework flexible enough for my questions but sturdy enough to offer hope in the face of not only despair but in the face of subtle cynicism. While I continue to identify as Christian, I have also found spiritual nourishment in other venues: puja – the daily worship of my Hindu host family in the Darjeeling Hills of India, Buddhist rituals and meditation, the Sabbath meals I’ve shared with Jewish friends, the words of the Sufi poet Rumi. Indeed, I have found that light seems to shine from many directions, illuminating a path that I feel compelled to follow, regardless of not knowing where it leads.
I have been thinking and writing somewhat regularly about this journey since I first embarked to India in 2005. There I was given the name Jyoti, which means light, by my host family. The name, sharing a meaning with my given middle name Helen, stuck. As I considered what to call this blog, “jyotir vidya” – “knowledge of light,” seemed to fit well. It references both my own journey in search of light and truth in the world, particularly through my relationships with people. It also plays on my Nepali name, Jyoti, as the blog is about me, thus knowledge about Jyoti.