Religion in Everyday Life.
Jesus said, "In me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation; but be of good cheer." (John 16:33)
The reading of Christian books helped me very much. I wanted to find at least one person who could testify from his own experience that Christ was doing something for him now. I asked Rev. Chakraverti if there was any such person in Vrindaban. He answered that there was one unmarried American lady missionary in the mission hospital. if I wished he could arrange for an interview and I could speak with her. I had been living under a strict vow never to meet or talk with an unmarried woman. I looked upon them as dreadful serpents or tigresses. I had heard of this lady, Miss Porter, as a truly devout and religious woman. However, I could not think of her as being holy and devout with her Western dress, living in a bungalow, eating any sort of food, perhaps even indulging in beef. However, I wanted to find just one person who could honestly say that Jesus Christ was living with her now. I was still clinging to many old ideas about eating and drinking; but now I had a new vision.
At last he arranged my interview with this lady and we went to her house. For the first time in my life I was entering the drawing-room of a missionary. I inspected everything with curiosity. There were costly carpets on the floor and people stepped on them with their dirty shoes. There were easy chairs and lovely curtains. All seemed so different from the religious life I had known. Glancing through the door, I saw the dining room with its big table and chairs at which the lady missionaries sat; and the thought of their unclean food made me sick. I was nervous and wanted to go away at once. Just then a lady with a smiling face appeared before me. I had always wanted to smile like that but had refrained because of my great piety. I thought, “I, who was undefiled by anything unclean, could not smile, then how could this person with defiled teeth and tongue smile such a pleasing smile ?" I had not seen such a smile before, though I had seen many women smiling. This was not only the feminine smile but it had something more than that.
She saluted me in the Indian way with the hand folded. K.K. and I stood up. I did not know what to say. I seldom saluted anybody except religious persons, but I had always expected people to salute me. How can I salute this person, who was defiling herself in matters of food and dress ?
I was dressed in a dhoti and a shawl. I had my long tuft of hair. I did not have any facial markings. I must have presented a rather repu1sive appearance to a cultured Western lady. As we sat down I studied her expression, her dress, her shoes and her manners. Many thoughts surged through my mind. Was she a religious-looking woman or not? Where were those signs of religion that one always saw on the body of a Hindu religious woman ? I could not make out by any sign whether she was married or unmarried or a widow. But there was one sign that I could not help seeing. There was a beaming purity-joy and peace on her face spoke of other true Godliness. She was very healthy, strong and modest with no intimation of an inner conflict or sin. I had seen multitudes of religious men and women but scarcely a happy peaceful face among them. A divine light seemed to glow on her face. My mind was confused. For all these years I was taught that to become religious and God-centered one had to give up everything. 1 would not allow myself to enjoy any good things. I would not smile. I was living as much an austere and strict life as a Hindu widow who is compelled to do so. But here was one person whose whole life was given to religion, who could smile and give evidence of the fullness of joy and peace. There was a luster on her face such as I had never seen before. I was for the first time in the presence of one who was a refined, modest and buoyantly radiant Western woman; so my mind was questioning furiously.
I asked her many questions about my vision. Could she say that it was possible for Christ to actually come and do such things in a person's life ? I thought this was possible in my life as I led a religious and austere life. But how could He be expected to come in her life? She did not quote from a book or repeat religious texts or verses; but said, "As far as I have experienced Christ, He does come and work in a person's life if the door of his heart remains open." This idea was new to me. In all my Hindu religious life as a teacher, preacher and mendicant, I could never say that I had a personal experience of a Living God. I could quote scriptures but could say nothing from my own experience. I was self-righteous, thinking of myself only as a teacher, one to be listened to with great respect, one of weighty opinions. But the vision brought to me the existence of quite another world, where all my self-righteousness was worth just nothing. Another thing which she said came with arresting force. She insisted that she was not a Christian merely because she had been born in a Christian home; but at the age of thirteen, she had opened her heart to Christ's coming and had given herself to Him. He really began to work in her.
Her humility and tenderness, her smiling face and her courtesy appealed to me very much. Had I ever been so courteous, sincere and humble towards my enquirers ? A solemn exterior, roughness and gruffness, a feigned and improvised outward seriousness were the most characteristic signs of my relation to others. How many times had I offended those who came to me for religious discussions and instructions. But here was this religious woman, whose whole bearing was so appealing, charming and convincing. This was not due to her observing certain rules and religious practices. Religion to her was not a hard relentless taskmaster but something that set her free. She was not following any code of law about food, clothing and observances. But here was some other inner Power, which was none other than Jesus Christ.
I thought that this woman must have had an inner vision like myself. But I was not prepared to believe that Christ does work in the life of sinners who repent and desire to be saved and have peace and joy in their lives. Just for knowing the experience of two or three persons I did leave Miss Porter that day with a feeling of new hope and some relief.
From that day I wanted intensely to know more about Jesus Christ. So I borrowed some books from her. My mental strength had become so weak that it was impossible for me to read continuously but with will-power I could read until midnight. I wanted to know three things especially:-
(1) Is Jesus Christ to be found in the lives of Christians both past and present?
(2) Could I by reading the Bible and using other helps, get a fuller and better understanding of what Christianity is?
(3) Could my almost wretched health ever be restored and could I become strong and well again?