|My journey through
Southern India rewarded me with the wonderful experience of the unique
beauty of Kerala state. Two days of boating along the inland waterway
system provided a welcome respite from the dust and confusion of bus
and train travel, as well as memorable views of thatched huts clustered
among coco palms and wide-horned water buffalo relaxing in flower-covered
ponds. The destination was Mar Gregorios Ashram and Sister Susan
Kuruvilla, a stigmatic Christian nun well known in the region for
her orphanage and the weekly healings she conducted there.
The ashram was a small block and cement structure. It surrounded
a dusty courtyard populated with goats and other small animals and
had open space for activities such as winnowing rice and drying
sap from rubber trees. I was welcomed with open arms by Sister
Susan and her assistant Matthew. I recall her saying, as she cleaned
a sewing machine and other household items out of the small room
that was to be my sleeping quarters, "You are my son, I am
your mother. You may stay with us as long as you like."
Like Mother Teresa, whom I had visited twice in Calcutta, I found
Sister Susan to be slight of build, gentle, humble and deeply pious.
Unlike Mother Teresa, who had been granted the Nobel Prize for Peace
at about that time, Sister Susan remained relatively unknown to
the outside world, with the exception of a few foreign supporters
and institutions where studies on her had been performed. I read
articles from a Canadian newspaper with a statement to the effect
that her wounds must be 'authentic,' as opposed to self-inflicted,
as they would otherwise either infect or heal over time.
According to Sister Susan, the story began when she was thirteen
years old and was viewing a painting of Christ in a local church
that was part of a Christian sect founded here by St Thomas. She
described how Christ manifested to her from the painting, asking
her to devote her life to God. As a teenage schoolgirl, she was
understandably overwhelmed by the event, and returned home to discuss
the matter with her family. The answer was yes, she would, and the
following Good Friday she was temporarily marked with the wounds
of the crucified Christ--cross-shaped incisions on her palms and
soles and another on her forehead (and possibly on her side as well).
Some time later the stigmata also began to appear every Friday,
and eventually every Tuesday as well.
During the week Sister Susan would be busy with overseeing the
children in her care, daily maintenance of the facilities and preparation
of food and products for consumption and sale. Much of her time,
though, was devoted to prayer, often standing before an open Bible
in a small room off the public area.
Imagine the prayers that might be offered by such a person, chosen
by the Holy Spirit to bear her burden, to make such a sacrifice
for suffering humanity... Imagine what guidance, encouragement
and inspiration she must be receiving in return
On Tuesdays and Fridays, following a session of prayer, Sister
Susan would lie down on a pad in the center of the largest room.
Slipping into her trance state, she began to moan and thrash about,
clutching and kissing her crucifix as the wounds on her hands, feet
and forehead spontaneously began to bleed. Ashram staff and visitors
such as myself had gathered around her to witness the transformation
and comfort her with soft pillows and with woven grass fans. After
some time she began to 'speak in tongues'- uttering words from what
I understand to be an ancient Middle Eastern dialect, possibly the
language spoken by St Thomas.
Following this, she would rise and offer blessings and healings
to the people standing in line before her. Unlike the Philippine
psychic surgeons, whose work I felt unable to accurately evaluate
(see story in Sept/Oct ConneXion), I believe Sister Susan to be
exactly what she appears to be, a compassionate and devoted woman
with an incredible gift from spirit and an awesome responsibility
to use it.
From the ashram I moved on to other wonderful adventures, including
a healing siddhi, Parmeshwar Swami, and the fire-walkers and hook-hangers
of Kataragama in the forests of Sri Lanka. I carried with me two
gifts from Sister Susan, which I consider most precious: a blue
and white plastic rosary, which today hangs in my bedroom as a constant
reminder of my days in her presence, and her reply to my question,
"What is God?" She responded simply, "God is love,
and love is sacrifice. God is love, and love is sacrifice."
These and other stories from around the world will next be presented
in a slide show and talk program on November 18th at Sellwood Spirit
Feathers in Portland. For information please call 640-3668.
Jim Martin, Lic. Ac. is an acupuncturist with
offices in Hillsboro (640-3668) and Scappoose (543-7266). He presents
slide and lecture programs about travels in search of strange and
wonderful people and places around the world. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org