In the gang-ridden Englewood neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side, a place where children playing outside can lose their lives in drive-by shootings, where a young man’s ambition is more often to be “like my big homie L.D.” than to be a teacher or a doctor—where his future is likely to be the penitentiary, or the morgue, or continuing gang warfare—one great-hearted single mother, fed up with listening helplessly and fearfully day after day to gunfire and sirens, came out from behind her locked doors and started a neighborhood program for children: “Hugs not Slugs.” Drawing in other mothers to help, she prepared a feast of soul food—fried chicken and macaroni—gathered the neighborhood children in a safe place, and fed them to bursting with comfort food and with all-embracing maternal love.
Swamiji often mentioned two saintly women who were shining light into the darkness of Harlem. Their story takes fictional form in A Pilgrimage to Guadalupe, Kriyananda’s beautiful story of one pilgrim’s journey of self-purification, inner awakening, and, ultimately, of his merging into the blissful presence of Divine Mother.
The two old ladies, sisters living in a depressed and violent neighborhood, are strangers in a strange land—and yet, not strangers at all, for they see everywhere their Divine Friend, masquerading perhaps as any one of the faces of the beleaguered souls living all around their little knick-knack shop. When a gunman bursts in and demands money, the sisters see even here only the Divine Friend. Willingly, joyfully, lovingly, they offer the man all they have—for, as they with perfect innocence explain to him, what they have has come from God and is only temporarily in their keeping: that when God (in whatever form He comes) asks the return of what was always His, they are of course ready to comply. Theirs is a perfection of what Master calls “resistless surrender” to the Divine Will. The gunman, confronted with hearts so pure, natures so divinely loving, is at first baffled, then so inwardly transformed that he empties his own pockets, giving the sisters far more than was there to be taken from their humble little shop.
Amidst the swirling uncertainties of our time on earth, always before us are ways to serve, and in serving to be immersed in loving communion with God. Our task—and our joy—is to focus on the Divine in our daily lives, however It may come to us, and to respond—like the brave mother of Chicago’s South Side, like the two saintly sisters—with love, with inner freedom, with the desire only to serve and so bring into the light the true goodness that lies hidden in every person, in every experience.
Swamiji’s pilgrim, at the behest of Divine Mother in Her form as the Lady of Guadalupe, travels wholly surrendered to the Divine Will—his mission to walk to Her shrine in Mexico, taking with him no money and no supplies, to accept whatever help is offered, and to serve and learn from each one he meets. Coming upon the two sisters, their car broken down, the pilgrim, by the simple service of reconnecting a disconnected wire, joins his journey to theirs—lovers of God all three, giving one another strength and inspiration and loving help along their separate ways.
In the end, the pilgrim realizes, and Divine Mother affirms, that each one he has met—the saintly sisters and many others—is an expression of his own Self, that in offering himself in a spirit of loving service, layer after layer of darkness and limitation have fallen away from his own true reality until, finally, he stands face to face with Divine Mother Herself. Welcomed as Her beloved child, his mission completed, the pilgrim finds himself before the sacred image of the Lady of Guadalupe. “I see it,” the pilgrim declares, imprinting his thought in the ether, “and I flow toward it, my arms outstretched in joyous anticipation. I embrace Thy light. I embrace Thy bliss.”
The pilgrim’s words are for all of us still journeying toward the divine goal. They foretell too the moment of passing of our beloved Swamiji: behind him a lifetime of divinely loving service to God and Guru; all last traces of earthliness surrendered joyfully now into the cosmic source; before him the final test, death itself; and then the liberation long ago promised by his Master—his whole being rising into moksha, into eternal bliss in the arms of Divine Mother.
In divine friendship,
For Ananda’s “Thank You, God” Tithing