Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Addicted to Tom Sawyer, getting the fence painted!

My first taste of reading was quite addictive... thanks to Enid Blyton and the Famous Five series. When I exhausted them in the Parish library, I widened my reading.  But soon I joined the aspirantate at Gunadala and that's where I got hold of Tom Sawyer and Huck!!  That really was some reading. And if I began to jot down some salient points from my reading, it was thanks to Mark Twain and the library system of that time.

You see, we could not borrow books more than two at a time and that too for two weeks only. But there was Tom Sawyer and particularly that episode of him painting the fence - or rather getting the fence paited... I just couldn't stop reading and re-reading that over and over again.  By the end of the week I had to return the book.  But I still wasn't satisfactorily finished reading that section... so?  Simple! I wrote that down in my favourite diary, so that I could read it any number of times, anytime without having the original book.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

What faith can do (Kutless)

Dancing in the Mine Fields

At Araku

In the month of May when my time had come to leave Karunapuram I went first to Araku for animating a programme for the Junior Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy (before going home for my annual holidays). It was a good experience. I clicked a couple of photos of the place while on a short hike up the hill in the Sister's property.

Italian - Keralite

Yesterday I was reminded of one of the conversations I was a witness to about four months ago in BIRDY, Hyderabad.  One of the priests was pulling the leg of a Sister who was there in the house to learn Italian from another confrere.  The Sister herself was not aware of this fun - or rather was too naive to make sense of what was being discussed.  At one point, the Priest asked her, if there were any Italian Sisters in her congregation. She thought for a while and then enthusiastically replied, "We have one Sister from Kerala!"

Light the Way?

Yesterday morning I was at Ravindra Bharathi, with a few of our boys for different purposes.  While some were there for playing the band, a few of us, whom I was with were for distributing the snacks we had baked for the 1000 participants of the programme.

I really did not get inside to see what was happening, so let me not speak about the actual programme that was organised.  However, something that kept ringing in my ears and mind and heart all along was the 'fanfare' involved! The purpose, namely to increase awareness about the Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs), and action/2015 is noble in itself. The very concept and the ideals involved are truly praiseworthy.  However, the way we go about it all, seems too 'stylish'... more 'project-funded' than 'need-driven', involving voluntary participation. Most of the happenings were around banners, placards, flexes, stickers and all that stuff.  Most important of all these being, photographs!  Eeeh!

True Ruler

(My last blog post while at Punganur...)

I was reading history this morning... just because it was so enticing. The text was about the situation in Europe just prior and during the two World Wars. Of course, was aware that history is never as plain and direct as it appears on paper. There are many dimensions to it and not all get recorded. Much depends on the one who is writing it. But all the same, history is always fascinating.

Reading the text in hand made me realize that we keep making the same mistakes over and over again. We learn basically nothing from the past. Just one point about wars. The same today, as it was then. The decision for going to war (either within the country or with the neighbour) which subsequently led to the World Wars, was of the leaders. And who paid the price for it? The common citizen! And he/she paid it dearly. And what was the reason for going to war with some other group or nation? Mere trifles! While people of the country suffered for want of food, medicine and peace, the rulers (one after another) sustained the war. Perhaps if the political leaders were a bit more educated and humane, they would have realised the difference between merely being good and being great.
A good man would act boldly and courageously, bring victory and spare lives. A great man would have stopped the attack from happening at all... a great man would have stopped what he knew to be wrong, no matter who was ordering it. (from the movie, Prince of Persia, The Sands of Time)

Deafening Silence

(While at Punganur...)

Last month I wrote a small playlet, for the Independence day. It was based on a short text I read somewhere. Never really knew the origin of it, till today. As I was preparing my class for the 10th standard students, the textbook opened up to this page where I found the same text with a short note about the origin of it.

Pastor Niemoeller, a resistance fighter, during the brutal Nazi regime of Hitler in Germany, observed an absence of protest, an uncanny silence amongst ordinary Germans in the face of brutal and organised crimes committed against people in the Nazi empire. He wrote movingly about this silence.
First they came for the Communists,
Well, I was not a Communist
So I said nothing. 
Then they came for the Social Democrats,
Well, I was not a Social Democrat
So I did nothing. 
Then they came for the trade unionists,
But I was not a trade unionist.
And then they came for the Jews,
But I was not a Jew – so I did little. 
Then when they came for me,
There was no one left who could stand up for me.

Zen and Mysticism

(While at Punganur...)

I just finished reading a small book titled Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. Perhaps this is the first time I'm reading an account of Zen from someone who has at least made an attempt to become part of it, not merely intellectually but something more experiential. Add to that the fact that it is written by a Westerner, since I doubt any Eastern or Japanese would really write about it! However, the writing brought to my mind certain thoughts or concepts written by Miester Eckhart or even Kahlil Gibran. Have to admit that unless one truly experiences it or atleast is willing to be enveloped by it, the text makes profound sense and seems nonsensical at the same time! … mostly the latter. From my little reading and experience I do not see much of a distinction between the “It” or “Budda” described in Zen and “God” in the deeper and radical Christian experience...

Of Education...

Speaking of education, I gathered the following insights offered by a Westerner studying the Japanese method of learning, from the book Zen in the Art of Archery.
The Japanese pupil brings with him three things: good education, passionate love for his chosen art, and uncritical veneration of his teacher. 
I wondered what the first one really meant. So I made a list of things that mark a Japanese student-teacher relationship:

  • The role of the teacher is truly great and noble... in every sense. The teacher knows each of the pupils so intimately that only he knows when exactly to 'touch' the core of the pupil. 
  • The teacher is ALWAYS patient... under no circumstance does the teacher give up hope. In his great wisdom the teacher knows and makes the most of those crucial moments when a student needs to be touched. Patience... great patience, both on the part of the teacher and on the part of the student. No lengthy instructions. Merely short commands and then silent follow up. 
  • The teacher demonstrates and the student is expected to practice, practice continuously. However, the student is not to exhaust himself or herself. Art is not something mastered, it is something imbibed; not earned, but experienced. 
  • The teacher lets the student reach a point of desperation, a total self-emptying... perhaps the most painful part of the education process. 
  • The target is not what it actually appears. The aim is far more deeper and spiritual. Completing a task or mastering a particular art is only an ordinary outcome of this actual aim. More than a physical movement, an inward movement is initiated. 
  • The teacher does not teach, but merely shows the way. The student does the learning. “The instructor's business is not to show the way itself, but to enable the pupil to get the feel of this way to the goal by adapting it to his individual peculiarities.”

Experience vs Thought

The book Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel is about a student's ardent desire to learn about mysticism. Somewhere right in the beginning itself it is made clear to him that mysticism can never be comprehended intellectually. It is an art that is possible to be mastered only through experience. And once you experience, it is difficult to articulate it. However, the student is then put through a means of understanding Zen, through archery. Half way through his 'spiritual' journey, he lands on a good insight:
But why try to anticipate in thought what only experience can teach? Was it not high time to drop this unfruitful habit?


(While at Punganur...)

For quite sometime now I've been very much convinced that God does not do things for me... rather He has bestowed me – and each one of us too – the grace enough to accomplish the act. However, a good friend of mine has been throwing hints at how God could accomplish on His own things. At first I was not very keen on following this trend of thought. For me it was akin to say, “things happen”. For me, they don't... we make them happen. But I'm now exploring what I did not want to see earlier: that things happen, without me actually doing it. I still do not believe in things happening while I'm lazing around and expecting that work gets done. However, God does have His ways.

I've been reading this booklet titled, Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel and here's one line that I couldn't just go beyond:
What stands in your way is that you have a much too wilful will. You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen.
Looking back in my own life, perhaps I've had this difficulty in not believing that God too can work, without me, because of the innumerable people, instances and experiences I've encountered where everyone just preaches that God will see to things... most often, without 'moving even their little finger'. 

Icing on the cake

Too much of something, however good it is, sooner or later creates a sort of distaste for it. Very often hearing the very lofty and over pietistic sermons makes me feel a bit nauseated. It is like eating the cream on a cake – only the cream! The cake can very well be eaten without the icing. However, the icing does give it an aesthetic look (of course, not necessary for the gospel message, but that's all a sermon or some healthy advice often turns out to be). It may add to the taste as well. But if one eats that and that alone, that too much of it, one surely is not going to feel better. In such cases, the sermon is more a distraction than anything helpful. It certainly puts me off.

If only Jesus had said, “let your sermons be like the salt of your talk”... perhaps our preachers would have taken that seriously – at least some of them.

Give me back my pakodis

(While at Punganur...)

Sanjana, a fierce second standard girl, shared with Br Gupta some pakodis (snacks) during the break. Soon after the break there was the school assembly convoked for a special announcement. As all the students lined up, Sanjana was out of line. Br Gupta pulled her up and she was very upset. No sooner had the assembly been dispersed, she marched up to Gupta, put out her hand and in a stern voice stated: “Give me back my pakodis!”

The Whole vs the Part

In any system that is already set in place and running one danger it faces is loosing the vision or the picture of the whole for the part. We get so lost in the immediate and 'here-and-now' that we forget the larger picture. A continued loss of the larger picture will sooner or later make the system go in circles and ultimately collapse. Every once in a while the system needs to remind itself – or be reminded about – the larger reason for its existence.

Preventive System in Practice

(While at Punganur...)

Living and working with children is a good learning opportunity for practising the Preventive System of Don Bosco. One gets to see some fruits of it rather immediately. Substituting physical punishment with simple acts of with-holding affection yield positive results. Children gain the double benefit of growing in relation and virtue too. They begin to see the value in doing/being good for itself rather than merely avoiding evil out of fear.

Divine Play

For Chris and Anet, my 5 year old nephew and 2 year old neice, Jesus and Mary are very much part of the household. Usually Mummy is the highest appellate judge in all matters and so the kitchen is the most frequented room by both of them with their list of complaints and grievances. On those rare occasions when Mummy is too occupied to pay heed or has issued a verdict against their liking, then they march to the living room (where the altar is) or the grotto of Our Lady in the courtyard. Once stated to Jesus or Mother Mary then the issue is no more of any concern to them. The ball is certainly in the divine court!

Jesus in the toilet

As my brother and his two kids got ready to go up stairs to hit bed for the night, my nephew used the toilet on the ground floor. Inadvertently he forgot to switch off the light. When my Mum reproachingly asked, “Who used the toilet last and forgot to switch off the light?” my nephew replied, “I did go but I am sure I put off the light. Most probably Jesus went in and forgot.” Saying so he marched up.

Once in their room upstairs, my brother forgot to put off the light in their bathroom. When Roshni (my sister-in-law) sternly asked who went in last and forgot to switch off the light, my brother replied, “I did go, but I am sure I put off the light. Most probably Jesus went in and forgot to switch off the light.” At this my nephew snapped back, “How many times will Jesus go for his needs? He just went to the loo downstairs!”

Grace like Oxygen

In the gospel of the day the woman with the haemorrhage seeks to touch the hem of Jesus' garment, convinced that this would heal her. And it does! I'm sure that among the multitude jostling around Jesus, there would have been several people with major issues to be resolved or healed, but none of which were. The difference: She did it with faith while the others didn't.

Grace is like oxygen in the air. One needs to breathe in for it to energize oneself. Air is free and readily available everywhere but it does not energize us without the minimal effort of breathing in.

Now your turn...

My 5 year old nephew is learning some martial arts in his new school and on returning home one day was keen to exhibit his newly acquired skills. He did a few somersaults and some moves and was happy to see his grandmother (my Mummy) pleased about it. Then he enthusiastically invited her saying, “Now you do!”

Pre-Vatican Mass

(While at Punganur...)

Christu, in all his innocence, spoke of a very different and interesting perspective of his indefinitely delayed diocanate.
What's there? When I participate in the daily Mass I'll think of myself as participating in the pre-Vatican era Mass, where the priest presided over the Eucharist with his back to the Congregation. When I get ordained, whenever that is, I'll think of it as I've made the shift to the post-Vatican style of presiding over the Eucharistic celebration.

Sharp Kids

(While at Punganur...sometime during the beginning of my stay at Punganur)

Present here at Punganur only for a couple of months I had told the students that I'm only filling in for another teacher or taking some free hours. With that introduction I began “FN English” (the title is stuck in the school; but none knew what FN meant... with some investigation I came to know it stands for 'Functional'). As I continued my class, and as a 'threat' to the 5th class students who fail to write their homework, I stated that they would not be permitted to enter my class anymore for the rest of the year. No sooner than these words left my mouth, a hand shot up: “So Brother you'd be with us for the whole year!”

"Arrived Confreres"

It was only during my trip to Chennai for the formation commission meeting that I came to know from Fr Stan that the phrase “arrived confreres” of Fr Camillus (a former provincial of Chennai) was actually of Fr Maliekal. It was a phrase coined by Fr Maliekal while he was still a cleric, doing practical training at Yercaud, with Fr Stan. It was a phrase used by him to describe students who showed clearly signs of saturation – nothing more to learn or incapable of absorbing any more. Fr Camillus liked this phrase and it stuck to him... but the author is Fr Maliekal.

Working with Children

(While at Punganur...)
Working with children is a refreshing experience. My teaching stint and the experience gained thereof stand me in good stead now. It is basically applying those same skills, but for a different group and a different subject. The procedure and the net result aimed for is the same: learning and growth. Not teaching and knowledge but mutual learning and mutual growth. Perhaps one evident difference between the Brothers and these children here is that the latter are interested and zealous, while the former are an “arrived” lot.

At DBNJ, Ramanthapur

It is almost a week since I took charge of administration at Don Bosco Nava Jeevan, Ramanthapur.  I'm still learning the ropes of the game!  However, being with the boys is a different experience all together.  Call it a bad habit or a compulsion, I just cannot ignore a comparative view, at times, while trying to understand the boys in connection with my years of experience in the Seminaries.  Whatever it be, these boys are just plain mirrors... perhaps with some deeper things... all open and frank.  Most of them have had a troubled past but it does not really hamper their 'now'. For now they are happy and living life to the full.  They stay here, because they love it here!  All I'm trying to do is learn being good, gentle and understanding.  My stay in Punganur and my experience there with the children has indeed made its mark.  For most instances, I fall back on that experience than of the past 15 years.

More so, in the coming days. 
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