Excerpts from Saffron Cross: How a Southern Baptist Minister Fell in Love with a Hindu Monk

Excerpts from Saffron Cross: How a Southern Baptist Minister Fell in Love with a Hindu Monk
Krishna-Ballaram Mandir (temple) in Vrindavan, where we sat each morning on the world's coldest marble floor to pray before dawn.

In preparation for a presentation at my weekly creativity group meeting, I pulled together some excerpts from the sample chapter of Saffron Cross. The following is the book’s summary and pieces from the chapter on our Indian ashram honeymoon. I look forward to your feedback–good, bad, or indifferent. Your input helps me shape the memoir into its most engaging, inspiring form. Thank you.

Brief Summary of the Book

What happens when two ordained ministers from two very different religious traditions get married? How do they create a life together that enhances their individual and collective faith journeys? Saffron Cross: How a Southern Baptist Minister Fell in Love with a Hindu Monk is a spiritual memoir about the relationship between Dana, a Baptist minister and Duke Divinity School graduate, and Fred, a devout Hindu who lived as a monk.

Through personal vignettes, Saffron Cross offers compelling snapshots of the challenges of creating a single spiritual household from two sacred paths. Rather than living a watered-down religious life of infrequent practices, Dana and Fred are both committed to their own traditions and one another’s. This book includes chapters on an Indian Ashram Honeymoon, Vegetarianism, Sabbath Keeping, Grief, as well as chapters navigating the general obstacles of any interfaith relationship. Saffron Cross invites the reader on a journey of nurturing a partnership while facing east-meets-west stumbling blocks.

Excerpts from the Sample Chapter

This is not the chapter in its entirity; rather, I’ve included pieces of specific scenarios.

Context: Our daily schedule in Vrindavan, beginning with 4:30 a.m. prayer time at the temple

… Most days, I got up too, though reluctantly. First thing, I prayed for a hot cup of coffee to mystically appear as a gift from Jesus, who was surely proud of my being willing to honeymoon at an ashram in India with no heat and limited hot water. The coffee did not appear, so I pulled on my layers of leggings, pants, two pairs of socks, camisole, long sleeve shirt and LL Bean fleece. I wrapped myself in my newly-purchased wool chaddor. I clutched my Indian journal (an early Christmas present from Fred), and shuffled in my flip-flops (with socks this time—a trick I learned that sustained me) to the temple.

… The first five minutes at the temple were always the worst for me. I never seemed to have bundled up enough to survive the distractingly cold marble floor. And, other people’s pacing and chanting the Lord’s name that early in the morning (having not had my coffee) irritated me. Grumbling, I propped myself up against the temple wall, opened my journal, and centered myself.

I wrote page after page huddled against the humming structure in the dark. I reflected on India and Hinduism and all the things I loved and loathed about this honeymoon. While I wrote, my rear turned numb, the hushed chant of prayers no longer frustrated me, and the temple became slowly drenched with the soft light of dawn.

… During japa time, when I did harness the focus to pray, I chanted the Maha Mantra, the Lord’s Holy Name, a common chant used by the Gaudiya Vaishnavs. At other times, for fear of being a bad Christian, I struggled to remember the Bible verses I learned as a child in Sunday School. When my memory failed me (so often it did), I recited the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary, which an eager Catholic friend taught me in middle school.

Context: After a few days of visiting temples in the village

… As we traveled the market and visited temples, I continued to experience the heartbreak of India’s poverty, which is much different from America’s impoverished. Most village residents are malnourished; they endure daily food and water insecurity and no proper sewage system. They bathe in the streets at public water pumps. Children who do not attend school play with trash and newborn puppies.

Families live in shacks of plastic bottles. Someone told me that they actually pay rent for their trash tents and the roadside land it rests on. In the evenings and early mornings, the village air would fill with wood smoke, an indication of the small fires that blaze outside these huts. These fires—no bigger than man holes—warmed those who squated around them and served as the only source of light and heat until daybreak.

… I realized that our interfaith honeymoon gave me perspective on my own faith. In a way, India was a rejection of my Protestant, materialistic lifestyle. To be Hindu is to be a humble servant of the temple and to be fully dependent upon God’s grace. This is what Fred wanted to show me. He wanted me to understand why he is a practitioner of Hinduism. He wanted me to understand why he had lived as a monk and why he doesn’t place stock in this material world. He wanted me to know the context—the philosophy and Scripture—that taught him to be who he is.

Context: Following our arrival home

… We returned from India in January 2011 to continued our interfaith marriage journey. We had accomplished our goal: our interfaith ashram honeymoon fused us closer to one another and to God. The two weeks in Vrindavan felt like six months in the very midst of God, the one who created both Fred and me, and by whose grace we were brought together to navigate the challenges of an east-meets-west relationship.

The classical assumption of interfaith relationships is the immersion into a religious tradition different from your own will somehow convert you, mix you up, or derail you completely. I found the opposite to be true. My relationship with Fred and our honeymoon in Vrindavan formed me into a stronger Christian. I saw Christ everywhere in the streets of India—among the poor families, the widows, the sadhus, and the temple workers.

… We surround ourselves with reminders of India and our commitment to our interfaith marriage. Dried temple garlands rest in a glass jar on the dark wooden bookshelf that serves as our home altar. A silver om purchased in the Vrindavan marketplace dangles from my neck most days, gently tapping against the cross I wear on the same chain—two outward symbols of an inner mystery. They remind me of that holy space 7,000 miles away where we fused our interfaith marriage, where God and monkeys are inescapable.

© 2011 J. Dana Trent All Rights Reserved

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