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Wandering Between Two Worlds: Essays on Faith and Art [Kindle Edition]

Anita Mathias
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In lyrical essays, Wandering between Two Worlds explores Anita Mathias's naughty Catholic childhood in India; her large, eccentric extended family in the Catholic sea-coast town of Mangalore; her rebellion and atheism as a teenager in St. Mary's Convent, Nainital, her Himalayan boarding school, run by German missionary nuns; and her abrupt religious conversion whereupon she entered Mother Teresa's convent as a novice. Later essays explores the dualities of her life as a writer, mother, and Christian in the U.S.-- Domesticity and Art, Writing and Prayer, and the experience of being "an alien and stranger" as an immigrant in America, sensing the need for roots. Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, London Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, Commonweal, Notre Dame Magazine, America, The Christian Century, and The Best Spiritual Writing (HarperSanFrancisco) and have won awards from The National Endowment for the Arts, The Minnesota State Arts Board, and The Jerome Foundation.

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About the Author

Anita Mathias was born in India, has a B.A. and M.A. in English from Somerville College, Oxford University and an M.A. in Creative Writing from the Ohio State University. Her essays have been published in The Washington Post, The London Magazine, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Commonweal, Notre Dame Magazine, America, The Christian Century, Religion Online, The Southwest Review, Contemporary Literary Criticism, New Letters, The Journal, and two of HarperSanFrancisco's The Best Spiritual Writing anthologies. Her non-fiction has won fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts; The Minnesota State Arts Board; The Jerome Foundation, The Vermont Studio Center; The Virginia Centre for the Creative Arts, and the First Prize for the Best General Interest Article from the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada. Anita has taught Creative Writing at the College of William and Mary and at regional writers' conferences in the United States where she lived for seventeen years. She now lives and writes in Oxford, England.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Holy Ground of Kalighat

Entering Kalighat is akin to entering a city church--or, for that matter,
The Missionaries of Charity's chapel at Mother House in the center of
Calcutta. You are stunned into stillness, into a sudden awareness of your
jerky breath, your distracted mind. The silence shrouds you until you are
aware that it is not silence, not really: there is the rustle of
supplicants, rosary beads rattle, bowed heads breathe. So, in Kalighat,
after your jangled spirit laps up apparent silence, you hear soft
sounds--low moaning, a tubercular cough, patients tossing in pain and

Still, Kalighat felt like holy ground. I often sensed the presence of
God in the dimness and hush of that place. Bhogobaan ekane acche, Mother
Teresa whispered in Bengali as she goes from bed to bed: God is here. Her
creased face looked sad and sweet. This is Bhogobaan ki badi, God's house,
the sisters tell new arrivals, believing that Kalighat is sanctified in its
very stones by the thousands who have died peaceful deaths there. Perhaps
the light created this aura. The light spilled from high windows through a
filigreed lattice, spilled into the dim room with a stippled radiance that
made working there epiphanic, an annunciation.

Perhaps Kalighat had that sense of being holy ground because it was an
ancient Hindu pilgrimage site. I wondered whether the devotion of
generations of Hindus, no less than Catholics, had hallowed the ground.
Surely, I reasoned, all kinds of God-hunger are acceptable to Christ who
chose as his symbols bread and wine, who offered his flesh to eat, his
blood to drink. Perhaps what happens in a pilgrimage spot is not that God
descends to earth in a shower of radiance and the earth ever after exudes
his fragrance. Perhaps it is we who make spots of earth sacred when we
bring our weary spirits, our thwarted hopes, the whole human freight of
grief, and pray--our eyes grown wide and trusting; our being, a
concentrated yearning. Perhaps that yearning--which is a glimpse of better
things--makes that spot sacred and lingers in the earth and air and water
so that future pilgrims say, "God is here."

On our way to work, we frequently picked people off the pavements
where they lay and transported them to Kalighat to die, in Mother Teresa's
phrase, "within sight of a kind face." For these people who are kicked
aside, cursed and ignored, Kalighat is an inexplicable miracle, a
last-minute respite, a stepping into grace. In her speeches, Mother loves
to quote the dying man she brought to Kalighat from the streets of
Calcutta--"All my life I have lived like a dog, but now I die like an
angel"--which was, perhaps, just what he said, or, perhaps, a composite of
many experiences.

Kalighat consists of two L-shaped wards, accommodating about sixty men
and women, rows of low cots, snuggled even into every cranny. In a
place like Kalighat, perspective is everything. My parents, on their
monthly visits, grumbled that it was a grim place, daunting and
unpleasant--and so it is until its strange charm, its eerie radiance, works
on you. I loved Kalighat for its tiny miracles. An old, almost bald woman
with a wicked, shriveled face occupied a bed in a corner. Everyone avoided
her: she was nasty. When she could sit up, she'd curse all within earshot.
She spat gobs of yellow phlegm all over the floor, perversely ignoring her
spittoon. Once, as I tried to feed her, she lost her temper and slapped me,
sending my glasses flying across the ward.

Dealing with her was not a pleasure. So the other patients had often
eaten their dinners and fallen asleep while she hadn't been brought her
tray of gruel and boiled vegetables. One evening, chiding myself for my
fastidiousness, I braced myself and took her tray to her. As I approached,
she smiled, and her face briefly became numinous. It glowed. No one had
ever seen her smile. I hugged the memory to myself as a shaft of grace, a
cryptic divine sign--though perhaps it was a trick of the light.

But I remembered Gerard Manley Hopkins, my favorite poet:
...Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

Most patients in Kalighat, too old or weak to walk, crept around the
ward or to the bathroom while squatting on their haunches, slowly moving
one tired leg after the other. The actual work dispelled any vestigial
illusions of the glamor of being a "Flit on, cheering angel" Florence
Nightingale of light and mercy. It was "hands-on," occasionally repellent.
I often forced myself through the chores by sheer will-power. I reminded
myself that I had decided to imitate Christ, and to be a saint in the
tradition of Francis of Assisi, Damien, Schweitzer, and Dooley as I fought
nausea and changed sheets fouled by the "rice water" stools of cholera
patients, the blood and mucus filled feces of those with dysentery.

Why do you do it? Monica, an intense, curly-headed West German
volunteer, an atheist, asked. No one assigned me this chore. No, I chose. I
was then struck by the paradigm of Christ, "who, though he was rich, yet he
became poor." Born amid a stable's dung, as literally as we cleaned feces;
homeless during his ministry; dying naked on the cross. Come follow me.
"One must go down, as low down as possible to find God," I reasoned with an
eighteen-year-old's intensity. And what did I equate "God" with? Joy.
Certainty. Peace.

"Oh the mind, mind has mountains." The romance of the spiritual life,
its Pilgrim's Progress through internal hills and valleys, shed a gleam on
everyday chores--washing clothes or windows, or scrubbing the stainless
steel plates left pyramided on the courtyard floor after the patients'
evening meal.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 373 KB
  • Print Length: 152 pages
  • Publisher: Benediction Books (16 Nov. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00A9285II
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #619,018 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wandering Between Two Worlds 25 May 2007
This is a glorious book, which details Anita's journey from a Catholic background in India to a Christian life in America, and all the phases in between!

It resonated with me, because I am interested in Indian culture, Anglo Indian society as it was, and Christian writers such as Thomas Merton, T S Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins. These are liberally quoted from, which adds to the wonder of the book!

The descriptions of her Grandmother's church in Bombay had me rushing to Google images to check out this fabulous building, and the description of Anita's time with Mother Teresa's nuns was very thought provoking.

Altogether a brilliant book, which will stay with you for a long time!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Diverse, elegant, must-read essays. 28 May 2007
These essays run the gamut from a description of the author's large family in the Catholic town of Mangalore; the eccentric German and Irish missionary nuns in her boarding school in Nainital, where she was "the naughtiest girl in the school;" to her conversion and years working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. Her essays on Domesticity, Writing, Prayer and the condition of exile are poetic and beautifully written. Well worth reading.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Faith to move mountains 15 Oct. 2007
Witty, moving and meditative, this is a great read for some cultural eye-openers and faith-filled adventures. Most enjoyable!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars 31 July 2015
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Beautifully written, thoughtful and insightful
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book of essays 18 July 2007
By BookLover - Published on
This interesting, diverse book of essays includes memoiristic pieces about Anita's rebellious childhood in India, which morphs full circle into a novitiate in Mother Teresa's convent in Calcutta. Later essays deal with her reconciling her Christian faith, writing and motherhood in America. The essays are funny, beautifully written, passionate, erudite, and a pleasure to read and re-read. All in all, a most rewarding volume.
4.0 out of 5 stars A Look at the Influences of Conflicting Cultures 15 May 2014
By Solveig Engh - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Wandering Between Two Worlds: Essays of Faith and Art is a collection of eight essays by Anita Mathias that look at the influences of her journey between her native India and her eventual life in the West. I especially enjoyed two essays that I would like to highlight.

First, in “Holy Ground of Kalighat” Mathias shares her experiences as part of Mother Teresa’s congregation, the Missions of Charity. As one who joined the group she worked her way through aspirancy, postulancy, and novitiate while stationed in Kalighat, a home for people rescued from the streets. Readers receive brief glimpses of day-to-day life in that surrounding. Mathias also tells a story from the order’s earlier days when Mother Teresa prevailed against opposition to obtain Kalighat. At the time it was a dormitory that was part of a still-functioning Hindu temple. However, this phase of Mathias’s life abruptly ends when she herself suffers from what could have been a fatal disease. She is sent home to her family and lived to tell the story.

Second, “Aliens and Strangers” looks at Mathias’s feelings of alienation based on the diverse influences in her life. She was part of a historic Catholic minority in India (her mixed racial background of Indian and Portuguese descent dates back five centuries), she attended a boarding school operated by European sisters, she studied in the United States, and she eventually emigrates to and settles in Oxford, England, with her husband and children. But the essay also examines the struggles of other emigrants Mathias knows. When looking at the difficulties they experience she concludes: some succeed and some do not. And she acknowledges that although she has succeeded, she continues to draw from the influences of her childhood even as she responds to her life in the West. Personal faith becomes a factor in this essay; she ultimately determines that her identity is established through her relationship to God. Although God was of interest earlier, here He becomes central. .

Other essays concern the author’s family life in India, her rebellion in the Catholic boarding school (where she identifies herself an atheist), her decision to follow Christ (which she thought would be fulfilled by choosing to live a radical lifestyle), her thoughts on establishing physical roots and maintaining a home, and her discovery of similarities between prayer and writing. I initially found the complex sentences of some essays distracting—but they did somehow depict what I felt was the clamor of the Indian culture..

My overall evaluation of this book is based in part on what I felt was a misleading subtitle—I expected more on the subject of faith. Because this seems like a significant issue, I’m giving it four stars. However, because two essays spoke to me, and because the remaining material and the excellent writing did keep me somewhat interested, I would recommend the book as a collection of literary essays.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read 30 May 2014
By Serena Mehra - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed the book. I could relate to so much of what the author wrote about since I grew up in similar circumstances. I would highly recommend it.
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