What opens the channel through which God’s grace flows into the human heart is, above all, an attitude of giving to the universe, to something larger than one’s little self, to the mystery from which comes all true inspiration. The channel grows more and more open. The giver increasingly finds his fulfillment in the giving, in using what he has, what he is to, in Sri Yukteswar’s words, “render grateful service.”
Even in the midst of personal suffering, the heart can awaken to its true joy in giving of itself. Recently we watched a documentary film called Blood Brother, the story of a young man’s awakening to divine love. Rocky Braat and his sister grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood of Pittsburgh, in a home that wasn’t a home, their childhood traumatized by alcohol and physical abuse. His constant longing was for loving family, loving home. As a young man, looking for something true and meaningful, he finds himself drawn to Chennai in India, to a home for HIV-positive children. Here he finds the love and family denied him in early life. His heart bursts open. In a moment, every talent, every creative ability, his physical strength, sense of humor – all that he is and knows – all pass from the realm of pointless worldly pursuit into their true value as ways to give to these children.
Especially moving is the seemingly irreversible collapse of his little friend Surya, the boy’s whole body disintegrating from an infection so vicious that the doctors offer no hope of cure. Rocky moves into the hospital, nurses Surya day and night as his condition deteriorates, his whole body covered with sores, his eyes crusted over. Rocky’s spirit never wavers – the joy and love that inform his nursing, his tirelessness, his lightness of being, have so clearly a divine source that one feels a grace surrounding the horrific progress, all but unbearable to see, of a child’s suffering. Placing compresses on the blackened surface of Surya’s face over the hidden eyes, encouraging the boy to try to open his eyes, Rocky rewards his little patient – his eyes finally cracking open – with promised happy images – smiling friends – the world of health and light. By God’s grace, by the power of divine love, Surya begins to improve, the lesions dry up, skin color returns to normal; Surya is again a happy, loving child, hand in hand with big brother Rocky.
When visa requirements land him for a time back in Pittsburgh, Rocky’s world of joyful service collapses into a grey depression, his heart longing to be again with what now seems his true family. Returned to India, his love for the children becomes also love for a young Indian woman, Nirmala, with whom he conducts a touchingly proper, traditional Indian courtship, complete with chaperones. Inwardly he knows that to continue forward on his life path is, as he puts it, to “marry India,” – to give himself wholly into the life of service that he has begun. He is at that critical point that comes to every devotee – when the early romance of the path must transform itself into the marriage of lifelong commitment that is the essence of true discipleship.
Rocky’s story is dramatic, intense, profoundly moving and true. Just as moving, just as true are countless stories all around us – the daily lives of people we know, people who love God, serve quietly in the ways that open before them, who give of themselves without fanfare, without seeing anything special in the giving, for they are simply doing what comes naturally.
Of the many unsung devotees, I think of one, a friend of many decades now, a man of simple devotion to God and Guru, of constant readiness to serve, to share what he has with others. Over the past forty years, whenever my friend would be away, I would know that he was taking care of one or several of a succession of elderly, disabled or impoverished friends and relatives – taking them to town for groceries and medicine, bringing firewood in, simply being there to offer the light of unconditional friendship into lonely lives.
The current recipient of God’s love through this channel is a disabled logger, living alone, struggling to breathe with congestive heart disease. Every day my friend returns from his faithful visit with a joyful account of the old man’s love for God, for all animals, of his shining spirit and loving acceptance of what comes. One evening recently my friend was late for a meditation – something that almost never happens, so committed is he to these times with God. After the meditation I saw his face, serenely glowing with God’s love. He had come late because he had been bringing the old logger back from the hospital and getting him set up at his own home again. In his service, he had been with God just as deeply as later, when he joined us in meditation. “I have no goal in life but to know Thee,” Swamiji writes, “and to serve as Thy channel of blessing to all mankind.”
In divine friendship,