The nuns asked that we come to the House of Light only on weekdays, so we had the weekend "off." This meant that we had the opportunity to locate things we hadn't known we would need until we set up and started working. We strategized over breakfast Saturday morning. At some point during a discussion that included USB hubs, keyboards, fabric stabilizer and printer-scanners as well as planning visits to organizations and agencies the following week, we decided that this was the perfect day for us all to get henna tattoos.
Henna is a plant that grows in warm climates. It has been used as a cosmetic and textile dye for over 6,000 years. The leaves are dried and ground into a powder that is mixed with lemon juice or tea and essential oil to form a paste. This paste stains skin, hair and finger or toe nails. Henna tattoos are cultural, not religious. They are used by Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs among others. The designs are decorative and are used to indicate a joyous occasion.
I studied henna tattooing (mehndi or mehendi) the last time I was in India, and teacher-storyteller that I am, created a workshop around using henna to tell stories. I have taught it several times. The focus of the workshop is on creating symbols to stand for parts of a story we want to tell. Giving people a voice through visual metaphor is a powerful healing tool.
Our team decided to use one of the samples I had made for my workshop. It was a story of healing--physical healing and restoration to community. It was the biblical story of the woman who bled for 12 years. We could have just gotten various designs, but there was an unspoken need that this story satisfied for all of us. It was about holding many things at the same time: remembering the broken, while remembering hope; pushing through obstacles to grasp healing, while allowing God to heal in His way; and so much more that we couldn't articulate in that moment.
Our Muslim driver had henna dyed hair and henna tattoos on his hands. We had arrived in Kolkata towards the end of a Muslim festival season and the evidence of celebration still clung to him. He knew just where to take us for our henna tattoos, he negotiated the price for us, he kept a watchful eye for dangers invisible to us and he was full of advice for making the henna stain last longer.
Even though we started with the same design, we all had different artists. This was the result:
And isn't that the way of it? All healing is individual.
This was a fun, team-building activity with unintended consequences. When we engaged the culture in this way it opened doors. Immediately everyone who saw us smiled and gestured towards our hands. They knew mehendi indicated Joy. The tone of all of our interactions from this moment forward was completely different. Conversations opened with a discussion of mehendi, and a deep satisfaction that we were enjoying India. The henna made us friends rather than strangers. We had accidentally stumbled into Joy.
Shandra whispered to me, "I think they think we are here for a wedding."
"We are," I whispered back.
She grinned, "Yes, I suppose we are."
We were the wedding party, bringing tokens of love to the beloved. God sees you. You are beautiful to Him. He loves you.
Do you know why bad things happen?
Yeah. Really, me neither.
But I do know that God sees you. You are beautiful to Him. He loves you. Stumble into Joy.
On Monday, the nuns and girls would be thrilled with our mehendi. They apply henna tattoos as part of their Christmas celebrations, and were intrigued by the idea of using it to tell stories. Sister Dorothy and I talked about the possibilities...
And another fun thing: there was a big Hindu wedding in the hotel that weekend...the groom's younger brother insisted we attend.
As a result of this wedding, I met a Hindu man who talked to me over the course of the next week about marriage, faithfulness and love. He was preparing for his own wedding this coming winter and all these things were very much on his mind. I learned a lot from him, and pray that he finds what his heart desires.
I pray that for you, too.
Stumble into Joy.