Sunday, 31 December 2017

Another year passes by

Another year passes by...

Time gone by, in bits and pieces
leaving behind only memories and experiences...
None too great nor too small...
Each in due place and of some worth to all.
The grand wall clock in our community room at Chertsey

Friday, 29 December 2017

Christmas in flesh and blood

On Christmas eve, I was surprised to see a couple of policemen with a youngster in our community room.  Fr John told me that the youngster was a past pupil of our Salesian school and needed a place for the night. So he'd be with us that night.  I was awake all through the time since I intended to participate in the midnight vigil service in the Parish.  I went down to the community room a couple of times and found the policemen speaking to this youngster.  I gathered he had not committed a crime serious enough for the police to arrest him and lock him up but there must have been something that necessitated their presence.

A while later a member of our community came in and found this whole scene a bit uncomfortable.  Since Fr John had by then left for Mass to some place, he came up to my room asking what was going on downstairs.  I told him as much as I knew.  But he was not in anyway consoled.  So he went down and spoke to the police officers themselves.  He then came up and informed me that the youngster had been caught up in a fight and had no place to go for the night.  Since he mentioned that he was a past pupil of the Salesians and that we would offer some assistance, they came to our place.  I told the confrere that Fr John has said that he'd be staying with us for the night and he also had left a note on the notice board to this effect.

Around 10.30 the policemen left.  I guessed they felt their work done and that the youngster could be left alone.  Our confrere was still quite agitated.  He then 'volunteered' to stay back (rather than go to the Parish for the vigil service as we had earlier thought of) and awake till Fr John returned from wherever he went for Mass.  He advised that I lock my room when I go for Mass, "just in case".

I found it a bit odd, an over-reaction.  Here was a youngster who in blind faith had sought help from the Salesians, after years of finishing his school.  If he was of any real danger, the police would have taken him into custody.  But they didn't.  So why should we be so alarmed.  After all, he was a youngster, may have been drunk or a bit high on drugs or maybe that was his way of talking (as I realised over the past couple of days), in need of shelter for the night.  And most important of all, it was Christmas eve!  We were about the celebrate the birth of a child who had no place of his own, born in someone else's cattle shed, far away from his own hometown, with no family or friends to assist his parents.

The youngster is still with us.  He was falsely accused in a violent incident and was himself a victim. However he is homeless.  He has two little children with a partner, whom he does not trust.  Yesterday he appeared in court and was cleared of all accusations.  He is currently looking for a place to stay, through the social services.  But being Christmas season, most places are full or under-staffed and hence he is still with us.  He is just 25 but talks as if he's an old man, about practically anything and everything!  A few other things are peculiar about him, but I guess they're more to do with the general lifestyle here than about him particularly.  However, I noticed something very noteworthy: Since the past four days he never took any food by himself, even though we asked him to help himself to whatever was available in the kitchen, just next to his room.  If invited he would join us for meals - just the one meal we have in common.  He could not go out for fear that when he returned there'd be no one to let him in.  So he'd sit, watch TV for sometime, smoke a bit in the garden...

I admire Fr John for his patience and trust.  He himself did not know this youngster, nor did the youngster know Fr John.  The young man's fond memories of time with the Salesians is mainly due to another Salesian who is presently not here.  But he was warmly invited to our Christmas meal, he received the same gift as did anyone of us at table that night.  There was no air of suspicion or superiority or condemnation of his present state of life.  No preaching or long lectures - neither in public nor privately!  Just offering him what he needs most at this point: a place to stay.  And while with us, he was as equal a guest as was anyone else!  No partiality! No deferential treatment. For me, it was a very humbling experience just to be around and listen and be of whatever help I could. A very unique experience of what Christmas could mean in flesh and blood. 

Starting with nothing

This Christmas season what comes most frequently to my mind is the manner in which God chooses to start his work here on earth - with nothing! Absolutely nothing!  First of all, as a little helpless baby.  That too in a foreign land.  With not even a proper shelter.  Born in a poor family with only the father working as a carpenter. No riches, no fame, no inheritance.  Perhaps the only claim to fame was that he was of the line of David!  But that too, the lineage going so far back that it might as well have been upto Adam.  Even if it was of importance, the claim to belong to King David's family offered no rewards or freebies.

However, the only thing of great importance to him was he had good and loving parents.  At least that he was not deprived of.  Considering the number of children born to broken and shattered families or living in horrific conditions lacking love, affection and the least of concern, Jesus did not have to suffer a childhood.

In spite of "lacking" so much, riding on hardly a couple of beneficial factors, Jesus goes on to make a mark in the history of the world and specifically on human beings.  Compared to his initial available resources, most of us, for sure we religious, have plenty! 

Growing in discipline

As I went in the Church at Weybridge for Mass, this roller scooter perfectly parked caught my eye. This sort of scooter is quite famous with children around here. I see children taking it up to school and then parents gettting in back with them when they come to collect them at the end of school.  Children just love pushing, hopping on it and riding it!

This particular one caught my attention because it was neatly parked in the place where cycles are normally parked. I'm sure the one who brought in the scooter was just a little kid. But she (given that it is painted) had the perfect discipline to park it in place rather than leave it about in some corner.  That's growing in discipline.

However once inside the Church I was wondering, if children could be taught such discipline and they retain that even when the grow up, how come frequenting the Church and participating in the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church is not something children carry on once they touch their teens?  Granted that parents and elders here value greatly the opinion and freedom of their children right from when they are little, how come civic discipline is retained but not religious fervour?   

Smart thinking

Call it business sense or pretty smart...
The ten-year old visited a farm one day and wanted to buy a large watermelon.
"That's three dollars," said the farmer.
"I've only got 30 cents," said the girl.
The farmer pointed to a very small watermelon in the field and said, "How about that one?"
"Okay, I'll take it," she said.  "But leave it on the vine. I'll be back for it in a month." 

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Meaning and work

Imagining a world dominated by work and nothing else...
If meaning, understood as the ludic interaction of finitude and infinity, is precisely what transcends, here and now, the ken of our preoccupations and mundane tasks, enabling us to have a direct experience with what is greater than ourselves, then what is lost in a world of total work is the very possibility of our experiencing meaning. What is lost is seeking why we’re here.
Source: Aeon article by Andrew Taggart

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Mechanical complications

Almost two months ago I burned our lawnmower.  Instead of mowing the lawn I was shredding leaves with it!  At one point it got too loaded and the motor got burnt.  But however I tried I could not open the thing to get to the motor!!  There was no way of reaching the motor.  The only thing possible was to change the blade.  That's it.  The mower was so designed as to prevent any other handling.

I remember distinctly an event many years ago. While in the Provincial house and on one of my many trips to the airport (to pick up or drop off someone - never once did I ever enter the airport!) I saw a taxi driver desperately flagging oncoming vehicles standing beside the road.  I stopped my vehicle ahead of his parked taxi and he came running to my side.  The spot was almost on the airport road itself.  He then pleaded with me if he could have some diesel.  He needed to be at the arrival spot to pick up someone but had run out of fuel.  He wanted just enough for him to pick up the person - would have been about 3 kms.  I did not have any reserve in my jeep but told him he could draw some from the tank itself.  He said none of the other vehicles stopped, even the rare ones who stopped did not want to share.  He was deeply moved when I agreed to his request. I said I have no clue of how to get out diesel from the tank but was absolutely willing to help him, if he could.  He said he knew.  Unfortunately there was no way he could draw out diesel from the tank.  The tank and engine were so built!  He said these modern vehicles are so built that any work on them could be done only by an expert and that too in a garage.  Unlike old vehicles which could be 'tinkered' with by someone with little expertise. However he profusely thanked me for my willingness and then began to flag down someone else.

My uncle a car mechanic, assembled a whole car from the spare parts he gathered over the years of his work.  Even dad could do much of the repair work of the car he was driving.  However, with modern cars there is nothing of this possible.  At the most refuel, top up screen wash or the radiator.  For anything else, however minor it may be, one would have to take the car to the showroom or garage.

Machinery made complicated or so intricate that it was just not possible to do anything other than use it.  And when encountered with a fault or repair, either approach the technician or discard it altogether!

So now I'm left with a lawn mower that I need to take to the recycling centre/dump! The only thing I can save of it is the rear end basket used for collecting the grass clippings - to grow one or two tomato plants this summer. 

Friday, 22 December 2017

Hannah and childlessness

In the readings of the day, we see Hannah re-visiting the temple to offer Samson to the Lord.  She meets Eli, and reminds him that it she was the same woman whom he found desperately praying for a child not so long ago.  She thanks him and offers her son for service of the Lord at the temple.

The clock has come a full circle today, when we hear parents not wanting to have children at all or having them aborted. In most early civilizations barrenness was conceived as a sin or a punishment from the gods.  Any woman not having children was often looked down upon and being cursed.  For the woman herself it was a big social stigma.  Times have so drastically changed that women today no longer want to bear children.  Couples who do not want to have children.  Women undergoing abortion merely to ascertain that their body is theirs and they have the right to decide what best to do with it.  Couples deciding to bring home a puppy instead of starting a family with children!  Woman bearing more than three children are seen as 'supermoms'!

Today's prayer: for all aborted children and the women who live with the adverse consequences of abortion.

Re-reading Biblical texts

After supper almost every evening, Br Mateusz practices the following day's Mass readings with me.  Listening to him, who is a first time learner of English coming from Poland, I sometimes am amused by what he reads.  Of course, he is making his best efforts, but what he utters sometimes changes the meaning drastically!  Am reminded of the same struggle of some of the Brothers back in Kondadaba and Karunapuram. Here are some things which I found very amusing, though not all are from Mateusz's mouth...

  • The Lord has filed my lips ... (filled)
  • His joke is not heavy and his burden lit ... (yoke) (light)
  • The childless wifi has children and the fruitful wifi bears no more... (wife)


Two Santas

The other day two Santas appeared in our community room...
They are just a little more than an inch tall, further dwarfed by the new 59 inch TV!

Christmas decorations are already up and about, mostly for more than two weeks.  Though one barely sees the crib anywhere, most houses are lit with special lights, Christmas trees, reindeers, santas...  Shopping malls began selling Christmas 'merchandise' almost a month ago.  Adverts related to Christmas began as early as October!  Christmas certainly comes very early here in the UK!  About Christ, well...! 

Fashion and women

The Daily Mail rarely goes without atleast 4 pages (either together or scattered) of pictures about clothing and accessories.  Most of these are for women.  It is quite surprising that it does a detailed analysis of which royal wore what, when and how much did it cost.  It would then have whole pages of photos of the past members of the royal family wearing the same or similar dress or using similar handbags or wearing the similar ear-rings.  From dresses, to footwear, to rings, ear-rings, hand bags, tiaras, hats ... gosh, what not!

However, all of this and in other media outlets too, there is mostly 98% of it all directed to the female gender.  There is hardly anything about men's clothing.  In that sense, men's clothing range begins with the t-shirt and ends with a suit.  That's it.  Nothing more than that.  There is hardly anything spoken or printed about men's clothing anywhere at all.  Thanks to that!

Know not if it the women's craze for such fancy accessories and garments or media's frenzy feeding the minds of the female gender.  Whatever be the case, the male gender have something they don't mind not being burdened with - more than the suit or shirt!

But here's an enlightened view from the other side...

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Openness to God

The text preceding the vision Zachariah has of angel Gabriel announcing the birth of a son to him, describes Zachariah and his wife to be devout Jews, following the Scriptures scrupulously, blamelessly.  Yet when the angel appears to Zachariah, he finds it hard to believe the words of the angel.  There is nothing of such description about Mary preceding the annunciation.  She is not described as 'following the commandments and ordinances blamelessly', yet when she is told that she is to become the mother of God, she accepts and the angel - same, Gabriel - departs.  No punishment.

Wonder why Gabriel was so harsh on Zachariah and not on Mary?  After all, Mary too asks, 'How is this possible? Since I do not know a man?'  Gabriel only replies her that God will see to it.  While in the case of Zachariah, he is silenced!  He is struck dumb!

I guess there is more of what has not been truly recorded.  Perhaps Mary, even though she did not follow the letter of the law to its perfection, she was more open to the spirit of Yahweh.  Zachariah, on the other hand, was very much concerned about keeping the letter of the law.  He did not expect God to spring surprises on him, certainly not with something outside the text.  Being a priest, he should have been more open to His spirit than Mary who was not so well versed in the Scriptures.  Just goes to show that openness to God is what is more appreciated than perfect adherence to rules.   Apart from this there seems no valid reason for Gabriel to be kind to Mary and harsh on Zachariah. (Unless Gabriel was partial, or Zachariah dumb-stricken by surprise, more than punished by Gabriel).

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Unreported episode of the nativity event

Did you know that Mother Mary had to fight off a sheep who was keen to take baby Jesus with it?  Watch this...

Children will be children!  Poor baby Jesus... perhaps that'd be the first time there were people fighting for him ... rather than against him or in his name!

Santa paws?

Call it ridiculous or obscene or whatever... but here are some ads for Christmas presents for pets!  Yes, for animals!

Last month there was a whole page ad in the papers for cat-proof Christmas tree!
Now that's going to the dogs, literally!

Friday, 15 December 2017

Winning by losing

There is a beautiful scene towards the end of the movie The birth of the dragon.  The two great Kung Fu masters Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man have fought one another.  But after a while of fighting both stop, thank one another and end the fight.  Those watching the fight cannot say who won.  When they ask both of them who won, they do not respond.  It is later when an avid student approaches Wong asking him to state who among them won, so that he could declare it to the world (and gain freedom for the girl whom he loves), does the following conversation take place.
Wong: My intention was to teach Lee Jun that his attitude was irreverent and his style inadequate.  If in defeating him I've driven him further in that direction then I have lost.  If in losing to him, I've changed his direction, then I have won.  
Mac: We're not in a monastery in China.  This is America.  In America we have winners and losers.  
Wong: Life is not always that easy.  
Not always is there a clear line dividing everything in the world into good or bad, white or black, win or lose, this or that, secular or holy...  The Western mind does not know or does not want to acknowledge ambiguity.  It seeks precise definite answers, even when there cannot be answers or when answers are not that simple.

Does Charles Taylor's understanding of reasoning (and faith) and his whole exposition of language pointing us to move towards this Oriental perspective?  Jesus' teachings too contain similar paradoxes: those who want to save one's life will lose it and those giving it up will save it;  last shall be first and first, last;  when you're weak then you are strong...

Elsewhere in the movie, Master Wong tells Mac, 
Knowing you opponent and knowing yourself are the two things Kung Fu is all about. The rest is eternity
A western mind would clearly state: 'The rest is irrelevant'... but eternity?  Now how does one understand and explain that.  Certainly not in any easy terms! 

Chertsey meads

Some pics of the Chertsey meads ...
 

Mixed prayers

This morning as I entered the Chapel for morning prayer and Mass, I was quite excited, happy, thrilled and relieved... all at the same time.  Thanks to the information I received the previous day regarding my research proposal.

As we began morning prayer, I found it weird that I was reciting Psalm 50 (Have mercy on me God in your kindness...) today being Friday.  My present state of mind and heart was anything but in that mood!  And for the first time in years I realised that what I truly felt and the sentiments I was uttering as I recited the psalm had no connection.  In my heart I was truly happy but here I was praying for mercy and forgiveness.

And I've been praying these psalms for donkeys years, everyday - twice!  Certainly I was only reciting, never really conscious of whether the psalm or canticle I was reading embodied my true feelings and state of being.

I'm aware that the compiled psalms in our breviaries are the 'hand-downs' of centuries of prayer and reflection.  And I can't imagine the confusion if the 7 of us in the community were to have the same mood and to choose the same psalm and then recite it together. But ...

Anyway am happy that at least for one day, on one occasion I was conscious of what I was reciting while praying! 

Unholy religion?

From The Times (Dec. 11, 2017) ... 
Religions have brought great things to civilization: schools, hospitals, learning, science, social organisation, art, altruism.  Yet they can also bring horrors, persecutions, and injustices, contemptuous exploitation of those they consider unsaved.  Religions still protect thousands of irrational and sometimes rules that have nothing to do with spirituality or even their own founding scriptures.  
Muhammad did not demand the burka or the suicide bomber.  Christ expressed no views on whether to eat meat on Friday, keep women out of the priesthood, give cardinals red hats or condemn same-sex love.  There is no evidence that the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, ordered uncut hair and turbans; that came over a century later, for social and distinctive reasons.  Buddha certainly did not recommend the murder of the Rohinghya in Burma.  
Human beings, self-seeking and irresistibly drawn to bureaucratic dogmatism, hung all that stuff on the hook of religion.  Some of it is harmless, some terrible.  Most of all, human like to seize on the mysterious sense of the "holy" that raises an echo in every heart and gleefully use it to shore up systems of unquestioned authority.  ... Human beings have weaponised holiness, made a sword and shield of it. 
The title of the article is "Putting priests on pedestals has abetted abuse" by Libby Purves

Language as the key

Am learning a new way of looking at reasoning and language.  Have always learnt and taught that language follows the process of reasoning.  That after the mind or the brain has done with the process of abstraction and reasoning does language chip in to label the concept or the notion the mind has now conceived.  Even to the describe the process of what and how the concept was arrived at, language helps.  However, a slightly different perspective is to see language as more than the end process or a labelling tool.  Language can be viewed as the one that actually collaborates with the process of reasoning.  It actually creates reality (not the physical one).  Without language one does not make any sensible headway in the process of reasoning.

This view of language is propagated by Charles Taylor in his latest volume The Language Animal.  Given that I'll be spending most of the coming two years (atleast) dabbling with this theme and the thoughts of Taylor, I feel a sort of contentment at having to work on a topic that always has been close to my heart:  meaning and religion.  My basic premise is that if language is constitutive of reasoning (or even the other way round), then so is belief.  The initial steps would be to see the divide between reasoning and belief - whether at all there is such a divide.  Or is it something that has been projected and debated while the underlying processes and core principles have always been the same?  Hope the endeavour to make sense of the meaning-making process helps me see myself and everything else in a better light.

Deuce

The 1961 women's final at Wimbledon was the last time that Wimbledon witnessed an all British competition.  Both the finalists were British: Angela Mortimer and Christine Truman.  The commentator wanted to be fair to both of them.  However, after the match he received 34 letters of outcry from the general public accusing him of being partial.  Of those 17 accused him of siding Mortimer and the other 17 accused him of being partial to Truman!

Such is life and human thinking.  No matter what you do, people will have an opinion.  If one were driven by what others say, one can never ever be happy or make any conclusive decisions.  While having an open attitude is healthy, one also needs to rely on one's own prudence and judgement in the final analysis.  

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Dehumanisation and violence

What drives people to torture and kill scores of people as in genocides or ethnic cleansing?  The easiest answer to that is that those perpetuating these crimes have lost their humanity.  They do not recognise the other as a human being.  But if one does not regard the other as a person, worth respecting and whose life ought to be safeguarded, then it only leads one to indifference.  Not desire or thrill in killing, at least not consistently and in such great numbers.  Just like we see mosquitoes.  We don't go about smashing every mosquito in the house.  We protect ourselves against them.  We carry on our work and only when they disturb us do we chase or kill them.  The same with lizards and even pests.  No sane person kills them en masse just for the heck of it, for no particular reason.  Most often these are outside our observation radar. They just don't exist!

One opinion is that the roots of mass violence is to be found not in dehumanisation but in human morality.
We find that moral violence emerges only when perpetrators see victims as capable of thinking, experiencing sensations and having moral emotions. In other words, when perpetrators perceive their victims as human.
.... dehumanising victims predicts support for instrumental violence, but not for moral violence. (Source: click here)
Does that mean dehumanisation has no role in killings of any sort?  Not necessarily.  Most often it is a deficit in humanity that lets one not do anything positively to prevent violence or murder. 

The early morning of the soul

Today is the feast of St John of the Cross.  He was a man who stood firm in times of extreme criticism, that too from those closest to his heart.  But he knew that what he was doing was for the good of the very same people whom he was determined to show a better way.  Thus today he is renowned for rejuvenating the Carmelite way of life.  His autobiographical work titled The dark night of the soul, contains his endeavours at the reformation of the order and his guiding principles.  It also speaks of his trials and tribulations along this herculian enterprise.
Fr Sean who was the main celebrant of this morning's Mass spoke in brief about the life of St John of the Cross.  When he mentioned about the book, I was amused because somehow the thought of what-if Fr Sean were to write a book along the lines of St John would be like.  The title of which was the cause of my amusement.  Given Fr Sean's habit of going to bed early and rising early, it occurred to me that the apt title for his book would be 'The early morning of the soul'! 
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