Maher Ashram

We have entered the heart of our journey, both literally and figuratively as we have crossed the threshold into Maher, and its embrace.  We know well our longings for a still more integrated life, where spiritually held values, as well as social and political beliefs enacted through loving and mutually supportive community, can be known and lived more fully each day.  Here at Maher, the “walking of the talk” is clearly more deeply realized and lived day to day.  At home we often contemplate the inconsistencies and paradoxes of our lives on planet earth.  And though we know challenges and questions would arise here as well, and that there is inherently questioning in all ways of living, for the moment this model of existence fulfills us in significant ways. We recognize that there are intricate and complex cultural differences and “laws of the land” that mean there is no direct translation of the Maher experience into American life. And yet we are questing to understand how elements of this time can weave their way into life at home more fully than we have known.

Part of the Maher “mission” comes in the many ways in which Sister Lucy envisions a new society for India, free of class and caste divisions, safety and nourishment for all, an ecological sensibility and way of life, and a binding together through acceptance and understanding in mutual cooperation for a higher purpose of peace, and loving community.  Pictures of Ghandi and Mother Therese hang conspicuously here in many of the buildings. Sister Lucy, a Catholic nun and founder of Maher, wears a crucifix with an Aum symbol for Hinduism on one side of the cross, and a crescent moon symbol from the Muslim tradition on the other. In a previous blog entry, see the Maher poster which shows the wheel of all religious traditions represented, and the reflection of this community’s enacted dedication to an interfaith and peaceful celebration of all ways of prayer and spiritual living.

There are over 1,000 children now living in the various Maher homes in and around Pune, in Kerala and in Jharakhand.  Other outreach programs offer food, health education, schooling and various social support programs within local communities on site, in poverty-ridden villages and slums. There is a home for the aged, and another for mentally disturbed women. All homes have at least partial solar power; some utilize waste biogas, and one grows much of their own food.  They visit farmer’s markets at the end of the day where the local farmers often donate what they have not sold.  Women and men create candles, bags, and cards, among other goods to be sold to help support Maher’s work. By this point in Maher’s nearly 16 year existence, there are older children who grew up here, and now have become leaders and teachers within the community. Each day we become aware of new initiatives and projects rooted in Maher, doing profound good in this state as well as in two others, Kerala and Jharakhand, quite far from here.

Our small group, Friends of Maher in Bellingham, has held the awareness that in all likelihood we would receive as much or more than we could ever give to Maher Ashram—- and now we have an embodied experience of the accuracy of our collective impression.  Sister Lucy’s manifest and ever flowering vision of a community where life’s backbone is love, justice, and the reliance upon the grace of one unifying higher Source inspires us deeply. Various slogans remind inhabitants and visitors at the many Maher homes in and around Pune,  “Is God so small to be possessed by one religion?”  This implied–in-the-question unifying spirituality is the underlying nourishment, grounded in an interfaith meditation and prayer practice, that fuels this community, all of whose members have stories of deep pain and disenfranchisement that have landed them by grace in this integrated healing environment.

Our days before Christmas Eve and day, which are their own wondrous stories, were filled with visitations to the homes that provide nourishing food, shelter, education and a loving, structure to women and children. Each place we arrived, children, House Mothers, House Cooks, and sometimes a Social Worker sang welcoming songs, offered blessings, and beautiful kollum, or sand paintings at the entry ways of the homes, acknowledging our visit! The sea of bright shining eyes and hearts bathed us in the warmth and the communion of love with mutual gratitude and kindness, bridging the more superficial distinctions that are culturally determined.

Another sign we have seen in many of the homes reminds us of the Maher mission, “Plant me where I can bloom.”  For the short time we have planted ourselves in this inspiring community, much is blooming within and around us; some blossoms are easily recognized, and others await our return home to be watered in our own beloved community.