Monday, 31 December 2018

Solitude

Being at home with the whole family, especially with the kids, is a totally different experience than being in a religious community.  The one thing that stands out is the passage of time.  Time just flies.  Moreover, nothing really serious can be done while at home. Especially with the kids around, not that the others are any better but still, I could never think of doing any serious reading or writing.  I just didn't!  It's another matter that I did not plan or want to.  Even if I did, I wouldn't have been able to.  The silence and solitude my room in Chertsey offers is something I cannot even dream about while at Aziz Nagar. 

The inverse of it is also equally true: Cannot really have all that fun and interaction I enjoyed while at Aziz Nagar, all by myself while being alone in my room in Chertsey.  Especially with my research the only objective ahead, I just need to make the most of this time and opportunity.  

Back after holidays

The trip home these last few weeks was good.  Got to see the new house and the new place.  Did visit the old house as well.  Compared to the new one, the old one looks very small and cramped.  Didn't feel so all my life when that was the only house we had!

However, this holiday was different from all the other trips back home.  For the first time, I could visibly see the aging of all those whom I knew, even Mummy (of all people).  Beginning with Papa's fracture of the leg, these past few days have been a string of visits to the sick and ailing.  A couple of confreres too, completely bed-ridden.  The height of it all was the funeral on Christmas day!  A family friend from our acquaintances when we were at the old house passed away on Christmas eve.  So Mum and I went to visit the family on Christmas morning.  Since the priests were not available for a funeral Mass, their parish priest conducted a short service.  While spending time with the family, I was imagining what Christmas would mean for them on this particular day, especially for the grandson of the lady who passed away.

Looking back at the three weeks at home, Christmas was hardly 'experienced'.  For me it was all about being at home with the family.  So has every holiday been!  Back now in Chertsey, it feels as if I was here all along! 

Sunday, 16 December 2018

A cat

One of the masterpieces of my niece, who then wanted me to judge whether the cat was a big or small.

Tough decision!  Initially it did not have a tail, no ears, legs thin... I had to bide time to find out what exactly it was before calling it a bird! Luckily I did and was then told it is a cat! Oh yes, a cat!

For the future...

Reading an article on BBC, what struck me most was the concluding comment of a simple shepherd.  Here's the complete article...

Typical of a parent, he did not aspire anything for himself.  All he really wished for was a better future for his children. 


Friday, 14 December 2018

Driving

Have been driving quite a bit since I arrived back home in Hyderabad since the last week.  Having been driving in the UK for the last two years, being on the road in Hyderabad really feels a bit weird.  Not only has the traffic grown, the drivers have grown more crazy! 

Beside the occasional (unguarded!) road works and wonky u-turns, our roads have all the same aspects of the UK roads: speed signs, painted lanes, traffic lights, even round abouts (I don't remember seeing them before).  However, perhaps the only difference is that none of the above make any difference to the drivers, riders, pedestrians!  None at all!  Pedestrians walk across the road as if they're on a stroll in the park.  But I've to admit there are hardly any pavements!  Two wheeler riders and auto-drivers sneak in the least available space.  Forget the lane discipline, there's no indicating or giving way.  Each one is convinced he or she has the right of way - no matter where you are coming from, where you intend to go!  Even if I stop to give way to someone crossing a busy road or a vehicle passing by, the one behind me gets restless and keeps honking till I move. 

And yeah, the honking!  The first thing I noticed as I stepped out of the airport was the honking!  I think, if the horn does not work, none would take their vehicle out on the road!  That's the 'importance' - felt need - of honking while on the road!  The round-abouts are just a 'waste of space'!  I'm sure that's the opinion of most people around here. Parking is another adventure: one can park anywhere one wants.  The difficulty is when everyone wants to park around the same space. Then the road becomes the parking space!!  The condition of roads is another story. Add to that condition the heavy rain we were blessed with last night.  It's called 'icing on the cake'! 

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Don't toch!

My nephew received a remote controlled (RC) car for his b'day!  That has been his heart and soul since last weekend.  Last evening his 5 year sister played with it for a while when he was having his bath.  He was devastated!  When he went to bed, leaving the battery for charging, my brother and I found this note beside the car and the charging battery...

Green mangoes

Children have a totally different perspective of the world than we adults. They see things and the world in a totally different light than most of us. 

In one of my casual conversations with my 5 year old niece I asked her what colour are mangoes.  I only thought of yellow.  She, on the other hand, started with "Green, red and some are yellow!" At first I was prompted to 'correct' her and say mangoes are yellow.  But then I realized she was right.  Mangoes are green and red too!  

Monday, 3 December 2018

The world through the phone

For quite some time now there is this psychological tendency we are warned of and most often everyone is familiar with: living in the past.  The danger is that we forgot the present and miss out opportunities that the 'here and now' offers. 

Of late, viewing some videos of some significant events or even of accidents, I think we're now well into a different 'time-zone'.  Most people in the video, rather than cherish the event they are privileged to witness firsthand, in person, are busy taking pictures or videos of the event!  So rather than nourish the moment live, they're viewing it through the screen of their smart phones! Earlier there was this craze of getting our photos clicked by others. Today others need not be involved. Each one is a photographer. Each one is the one being photographed.  What about the scenery or the event?  That has relevance only in as far as it is 'captured' - not by me, but by my smartphone! 

Worst case scenarios are where people record an accident or incident and continue doing so rather than reaching out to the victim or standing up to some bullies or goons.  

Understanding health

The last few days have been a strange meditation on medicine, trees, fruits and health!  Even this morning, my mind was all about medicine and health and trees!  Where it ultimately led me to is to see how I perceive evil and that perception deciding how I deal with it.  It's difficult to explain since there are several things floating in my mind and it feels like a baniyan tree with not just one clear trunk and a couple of branches.  It is all a jumble of branches, trunks, roots...

However, one of the things that has been coming up over and over again in my mind is the notion of health.  Most often we associate it with physical wellbeing.  Sometimes also add mental well being.  However, we think of health as something delicate, something that needs to be preserved and safeguarded.  We rarely cherish it.  Even when we say we're healthy, we mean that we are physically fit.  But I think that's a very narrow understanding of health.  Health is to be measured by growth, not absence of illness.  And by the standard we measure health, so will our approach to it also be.

The same applies to evil - whatever that means and includes.  Rather than try eliminating evil, why not strengthen the good?  The medicine that we take when we are ill, if it is meant merely to attack the virus, is a very substandard and instant remedy.  Rather if it strengthens my immunity, already existing capacity, then those antibodies within me do the work of tackling the virus.  A twin achievement: strengthening the good and destruction of virus.  The former achieves only the destruction of virus, leaving my immune system still weak and vulnerable.  

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Entering advent

We begin Advent today.  For me it only meant preparing an Advent wreath... for now.

However, looking back at my own relationship with Jesus over the past two Christmas' that I've spent here on English soil, I wouldn't say that I've remained the same.  Far from being 'scandalised' or shaken by the lack of external practices of piety, I find myself far more consolidated in my real connection with the person of Jesus.  He certainly has not become more divine; he's become more human.  And thereby I begin to appreciate Him and His role better.

The most significant change that I've begun to notice is the way the Biblical texts, especially the Gospels, sound different.  Not extraordinary in themselves but personal - though, not always.  

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Teasing the mind

Assisting in teaching philosophy of religion at the University has indeed been a very special experience, so far.  I've taught the same course, albeit with a different content, but more or less the same themes, earlier as well.  That's in a seminary. But this experience here at the University has been very enriching. 

Comparatively I can say that back in the seminary we teach a group of students who are all believers.  So there is not a huge deal to convey proofs or arguments in favour of God or religion.  Convincing them of arguments for theism is pretty much a cake's walk. Unfortunately even the arguments against God and religion that are used and cited are mostly like paper tigers - appearing strong but somehow easily thrashed.  We do not really offer hardcore anti-theistic rational arguments for a robust philosophical study.  We merely tease or tickle the mind rather than crank it up to its maximum capacity. 

Perhaps we're afraid that the rational arguments may really challenge their faith.  Perhaps we, the educators ourselves, have not really been challenged.  Whatever it be the case, this opportunity to teach philosophy of religion has indeed been a great challenge for me.  Look forward to it, from further perspectives, in the next term as well.  

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Separation vs Amalgamation

Yours and mine, big and small 
erase these ideas from your mind. 
Then everything is yours and 
you belong to everyone. 

Insightful words from the Bhagavad Gita. 

Mary's "Yes"

Mary, at the moment of the annunciation, had no clue or past experience, not in her own life, not in the history of her family, not in the history of her people, no history ever!  What she was facing and told was something no one had ever asked or done before.  She had no precedent to follow or seek guidance from. 

Not that Mary was trying to weigh the pros and cons of her decision and then reply on its basis. But the point is that she had no clue, absolutely none, as to what she was getting into. 

Or did she? She did know what it means to be a 'mother'.  Perhaps to some extent she could have figured out what being a 'mother outside marriage' could spell for her. 

Or was she being 'naive'? Saying 'yes' without even a thought of what it actually means.  Just off hand.  Or totally distracted.  However the context in which Mary receives the message would not really make this possible.

So, ultimately, she did not have much!  Just "yes"! 

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

A heady mix

Clarity.
Doubts.
Haze.
Some light.
Confusion.
Thrill.
Flashes of insight.
Questions.
Going round in circles.

That's in gist how life has been in the past two weeks. This heady mix has been quite a bit.

A sample:
Belief = convictions not always verifiable by reason
but isn't imagination or hallucination the same?

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Hope vs Skepticism

What if we cannot know the final judgement (either in Christian terms or in ordinary day to day life experience)? 
  • Suspend judgement.
  • In suspending judgement we can either have the attitude of a skeptic and say 'nothing can be known - end of everything!' Or have hope!  
  • Neither despair nor presumption. 
  • Which of the two attitudes (skepticism or hope) we adopt decides the mood. 


Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Respect

You don't throw a whole life away just because it's banged up a little... 
That's one of the punch lines from the movie Seabiscuit

Why respect some great thinker, politician or celebrity if somewhere in his or her speeches or texts he or she has a very "biased" opinion about a certain group of people?  Why respect Kant and Hume, if they strongly felt that the whites were superior to the coloured skin? Why read and appreciate Aristotle if he felt men were superior to women?  Source: Aeon

  • Disrespecting the whole person and all his or her writings betrays a profound lack of understanding of how socially we are influenced, even the greatest of minds of any time. 
  • Never take one of their personal convictions to be the bedrock of all their thought and philosophy.  
  • We are judging them by today's standards and cultural openness - something that they did not have the privilege to in their times.  
  • While an individual is ultimately responsible for his own thoughts and actions, one cannot be held solely responsible, if the whole ambiance of his lifetime is flawed or biased.  (Jesus saying, "You don't give the dogs food meant for the children")
  • Accepting and admiring the deep thoughts of such men and women, is not affirming their 'racist or sexist' thoughts.  Racism and sexism were never okay, people simply wrongly believed that they were.
  • See if their fundamental way of thinking would be negatively prejudiced if applied today. 
Given Aristotle’s openness to evidence and experience, there is no question that today he would need no persuading that women are men’s equals. Hume likewise always deferred to experience, and so would not today be apt to suspect anything derogatory about dark-skinned peoples. In short, we don’t need to look beyond the fundamentals of their philosophy to see what was wrong in how they applied them.
  • Excusing them is not the same as excusing someone who's living today with some of those distorted values. We, the living, have the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons; we have history to learn from; we have the possibility of making amends; we may not be the ones who created such notions but are very much in a position to challenge them; we certainly are 'better equipped'... the dead have no such possibility! 

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Bible as a rule book?

A couple of days ago I was in a group that was discussing the Bible.  One point mentioned therein was that the Bible is not a rule book.  While some felt that it basically boils down to that, others weren't sure.  I feel the book is certainly not a rule book.  It is more of an inspiration and a guide book.  A recommendation of instructions, at the most.  But not merely a list of do's and don'ts. 

Imagine a game without boundary or rules.  Without instructions of any kind.  It would be too confusing to everyone.  The players could do anything and everything.  The spectators watching the game would not understand head or tail of it - there wouldn't be anything to understand! 

The Bible too is like a motivational guide, if I were to speak in non-religious terms.  I do things or behave in a particular manner, not merely because the Bible-says-so, but because inspired by what I find in the Bible, I choose to be or do so.  I feel inspired by what it says and internally fell the thrill of living by those values.  

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Five ways

One insight that flashed across my mind today is that Aquinas was clever to postulate the 'Five ways' together and not as individual proofs, or elaborate them in different places (I hope he did not!). Why?  None of the proofs, in themselves, are water-tight perfect evidences.  Individually they merely uphold one aspect of the divine.  But to move from mere existence to something more about the divine one ought to view the proofs collectively.

And how did I arrive at this insight?  Reading the critique of Hume.  But I may be wrong about Aquinas, in as much as he may not have seen the unity between them and may have as well proposed those 'five ways' each independent of the other.

Whatever be the case, teaching philosophy of religion in a totally different context, a context where the prevalent thought is anti-religious or at best agnostic and viewing arguments for the existence of God from various angles is quite adventurous. 

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Framing the Question

If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes. - Attributed to Albert Einstein 
Einstein is right on the dot! you need the right question in order to get the answer. The four “factors” to be kept in mind in the process of judging, according to Lonergan, are:

  1. give a chance for further questions to arise 
  2. make sure the question is set correctly 
  3. mastery of the context 
  4. pay attention to your temperament - whether you tend to be rash and hasty, or indecisive.

The above is from Fr Ivo's blog.  I just had to store it in my consciousness... lest I forget.

I'm at a mode of my PhD where I am told that I need to get my question really definite and sure.  But I don't feel I'm ready for that yet.  I do have a general idea of where I am going and what I want to do, but if you want a definite question, I don't think I have it yet.  While on the one hand, there is this innate feeling that the question will emerge, when the time is right - something I'm told by some whom I value - and on the other, there is a sort of pressure to frame one, now!  A bit unsettling state to be in!  

Teaching to think

I was very happy to read the following quote on Fr Ivo's blog the other day.  For me it has been a sort of guiding principle in my teaching endeavour.
It's never enough just to tell people about some new insight. Rather, you have to get them to experience it in a way that evokes its power and possibility. Instead of pouring knowledge into people's heads, you need to help them grind a new set of eyeglasses so they can see the world in a new way. (John Seeley Brown) 
I've always felt that it is a greater challenge for a teacher to nurture and guide a mind towards raising relevant and demanding questions than merely finding answers to someone else's questions.  Moreover making philosophy something you can 'do' in a classroom has always excited me.  The students too find it very engaging and helpful.  Even now, when teaching here at the University, some of my companions find it strange that I find games and activities to get the students to discuss philosophy!  On the other hand, I feel sad for the students of such courses as politics and history and psychology who have people lecturing them about topics so down to earth and practical.  And then some of them moan that students don't participate in discussion!  In that sense I feel truly blessed to have had the teaching (learning for me) experience!  

Learning

Teaching Philosophy of religion 'at a tangent' from my own perspective, trying to be in line with the main lecturer's take, is quite an interesting adventure.  For now we are dealing with the design argument about the existence of God.  I see arguments and points about which I've not come across before.  Most of the times, they quite apparent and 'normal' but there are also some points which I wonder how and why on earth do they arise.  How can one have such an argument in the face of such overwhelming proof to the contrary.  At times I fail to see the point at all. 

I also am becoming aware that my whole context (reading, understanding, ambiance, formation...) has been so to say 'soaked' in confirming God's existence.  Not that the contradictions and arguments against it were totally absent or avoided.  Far from it.  But the general ambiance was one of belief.  Now the context is different.  Naturally the take on the matter will be different.  I place myself in the shoes of the other and see why an argument, which makes no sense to me at all, is held in such high esteem by the other;  or some argument that I consider solid and convincing, being branded and 'silly'.  I still don't understand it, but it certainly helps me be open and considerate of the other.  Just as I expect the other to be of mine.  That is part of learning as well.  

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Romero, a saint?

The other day someone expressed their doubt if Romero was actually a martyr or a case of political assassination. He was not contesting the canonization of the person but expressing a sentiment that one gets to see in quite some believers.  The point is that he did not 'die' for 'religious' reasons.  That the circumstances in which he was killed wasn't a question or threat to faith, rather a political turmoil. 

I for one, firmly believe that Romero is a saint - so is anyone who takes a stand for some value, especially not for himself but on behalf of others, especially those who cannot really take that step.  Romero is for me a saint who did not restrict himself to his office or Cathedral.  As a priest, a bishop, he stood with his people.  He stood against some of his own clergy who took up arms.  He was not hesitant to call what is wrong, wrong.  Even if it was the one's he was representing within the Church.  He stood for values, not compromises. 

Furthermore, he stood with his people, and distinctively with the poor.  And as a bishop and minister of God, he used the sacraments as a means of pointing to the values, not as belittling them, as some accuse him of, but of pointing to what is right, what is good and true.  Standing with his people, he upheld hope, and showed them, by example, what love truly entails - loving all, even those who cause harm.  The same love also entails courage, the courage to stand up to oppression, injustice and violence, but not out of hatred but for love.

Last of all, if Romero's death was a mere political assassination, so was Jesus' crucifixion.  The Romans did not sentence Jesus to death for any religious reasons - those accusations brought forth by the religious authorities meant nothing to the Romans.  He was sentenced in order to avoid social unrest and political chaos.  What marks out a martyr is not merely how he or she died, but how he or she lived as well.  In that sense, Romero is a saint, not merely in the death he died but in the life he lived.  

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Salesian diversity

Among the few things Fr Cereda mentioned in his short address in the Church and in the Salesian community (during meal), while at Battersea, he expressed his great delight in noticing the diversity of the Sacred Heart parish.  Indeed that was clearly the theme of the anniversary.  But it was evident, not something they had to strain to project!  Even while among the Salesians, Fr Cereda said that this is what attracts young people to the Salesians - they see us, living, working, sharing life together as a community, not as a homogeneous group but as 'different' people, individuals from such diverse backgrounds, nationalities and attitudes living as one.

Indeed here in Chertsey we are 8 of us Salesians, and we're from 6 nationalities!  Two Scotsmen, one Irish, one Slovakian, one Nigerian, one India, one half Italian and half British and only one 'pure' Brit!  Though there isn't one large external work that we as members of the community partake, our very living together is an experience.  I'm sure if all of us were engaged basically in one task, say running the school or parish, the community dynamics would have certainly been different. But even without that life, as it is now, is interesting. 

We come to your feast

While at Battersea for the 125th anniversary of the consecration of the Sacred Heart Church, we had this nice hymn for offertory... was struck very much by the simple melody and a couple of very meaningful lyrics.


...
We come to taste
the presence of him whom we feed
To strengthen and connect us,
to challenge and correct us,
to love in word and deed.

We come to your feast 
we come to your feast 
the young and the old, 
the frightened, the bold,
the greatest and the least. 
We come to your feast
we come to your feast 
with the fruit of our lands
and the work of our hands
we come to your feast. 

We gather round your table
we pause within our quest
we stand beside our neighbours
we name the stranger 'guest'. 
The feast is spread before us,
you bid us come and dine;
In blessing we'll uncover
in sharing we'll discover
your substance and your sign. 

Sacred Heart Battersea, anniversary celebrations

Today was the 125 anniversary of the consecration of the Sacred Heart Church at Battersea.  It was on this very day in 1893 that the Church was consecrated by Bishop John Cagliero in the presence of Don Rua and some other prominent members of the Salesians from Italy.  They made their way to London from Rome, in spite of not having money and in fact borrowing money from one of the neighbours in France! 

Well, the celebration itself was simple.  Nothing extravagant, by any Indian standard.  I'm sure it would have been very very different were it to be an Indian celebration.  However, I did like certain features of the whole celebration.  The Mass was simple - not long and winding.  Singing was the best I liked.  The choir had no mikes and before the Mass the conductor, invited the congregation to join and sing along.  The music was minimal - one keyboard, a couple of violins and a box guitar.  Hymns were something we could all join in and sing along.  The archbishop of Southwark was the main celebrant, but the responsibilities for different things were all distributed.  A deacon read the gospel, another priest from the US preached the (short) homily.  Fr Cereda joined the blessing of the Church and congregation.  The various aspects of the liturgy were in different languages, rightly reflecting the diverse congregation which makes up the Church at Battersea.  Children were everywhere!  Long, a really long line of altar servers.  One read the reading.  The intercessions were by different children. The responsorial psalm was sung by children.  The only 'decoration' in the Church was a string on either side of the aisle with all the flags of the different countries.  Nothing else!  Of course, for the occasion the Church was painted.  But no other decoration strung or stuck or put up. 


The whole Mass, including the short presentation (a song and procession and handing over of the various national flags), presentation of gifts to former parish priests and helpers, vote of thanks, a few words by Fr Cereda before the final blessing took exactly 1 hr and 30 mts.  By any British standard that is 'too long' but by every Indian standard that was lightning fast!  Of course, there were other aspects that could have been done better (not prolonged) - sound system, for example - but on the whole I liked it all. 

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Morning sky

The view from my sunroof this morning ...


The postbox saga

Two days ago, one of our new confreres who is from Nigeria asked me for some help.  He had to urgently send scanned copies of his visa document by post and thereby miss his Friday lectures at the university.  Miss his classes for posting a letter?  It was Thursday night and all he had to do was scan the document, put it in an envelope and post it.  Why miss next day's class for this?  I asked him why not do it now (Thursday night) and he looked at me strangely.  "Is it possible?", he asked me? "Possible?"  I was not sure what was so difficult about posting a letter.  Anyway, I said, "Let's do it now" and we set out at the task. 

We scanned the document, found an envelope in the office (writing/printing the address on the envelope, was another weird episode - another time, maybe), affixed a stamp and then I told him now he can go and post it.  The postbox is just 15 paces from our main door and I told him where exactly it is.  Envelope in hand, he looked at me with a blank look saying, 'What postbox?"  So I took him, walked up to the postbox and showed him the postbox.  He beamed from ear to ear.  As we turned back home, I asked him how do they post something in Nigeria.  Only then, the whole drama that was happening for the past 45 minutes made sense to me.  He said in Nigeria, they take the letter to the post office (during working hours), pay the postman and he does the rest.  They don't have postboxes!!  He had never seen a postbox before, leave alone post a letter by himself. 

Sometimes we try to explain the intricacies of life and find ourselves still 'misunderstood';  what we do not realize is that the 'misunderstanding' is not about the complex part of the process, but something very 'simple' which I am aware of and have taken for granted, but is totally new or completely unknown to the other!  

Friday, 12 October 2018

Christian polygamy

The following is an extract from the parish (St Anne's, Chertsey) newsletter for the week, based on the reading of last Sunday's gospel about marriage.  Viewed from this perspective, religious ought to revere married people - not the other way round! 
Marriage is probably the most complex of human relationships and is certainly the one on which civilisation has been founded over the centuries. It is the most natural thing in the world for men and women to leave the safety of the family home and branch out with another partner to restart the whole process of love, companionship and procreation. 
But any married couple will tell you that if a marriage is to be successful then you have to get married to several different people! This is not a plea for divorce but for accepting that people change as they mature and that if a marriage is to be successful then both partners have to adapt to the changes in each other. In a certain sense each one has to keep “remarrying” the same person as he or she changes over the years. A Christian polygamy but with only one wife and one husband! 
The young love of the courting couple is beautiful but unlikely to stand the test of time if one of them thinks that the other is going to behave in the same way when he or she is forty, sixty or eighty. If we refuse to allow each other to develop and grow then we are guilty of trying to “infantilise” the other person. We are trying to freeze them at a moment of time, the wedding day, and prevent them from ever developing and expanding the embryonic gifts and personality that God has given them. 
All of this is just another way of saying that Christian marriage is not simply a state of life but is a sacrament. A wedding takes a day but a marriage takes a lifetime. The love between two Christians is a reflection of the love that God has for each of us and that Christ has for his bride, the Church. Being married means striving at all times to be signs to the world of God’s love through the way we love our partners. And that means “remarrying” them many times before we both grow old
Transposing this reflection to my religious life, I wonder at some of my students who are doing great in their active ministry now, how they have 'grown'.  One was so lazy or laid back, but now is a great pioneer.  Another was so mischievous that I was sure he'd never be entrusted with any serious responsibility; but today is multi-tasking several delicate and demanding portfolios.  So I ask myself, would they have been the same, had they been with me all along?  Would my continued presence with them have enabled them to 'flourish' as they are now actually doing. 

On the other hand, there are those whom I've worked with, or my own batchmates and colleagues.  My present impression about them is still the same one that I had or formed of them when we were students.  They surely have 'grown'; but have I - at least with regard to my view of them? 

Dawning of wisdom

Being back in the classroom as a teacher, II was very aware of how the students presented themselves.  In contrast, I did not bother about how I come across to them (atleast physically or appearance wise).  Impressing them with my looks or dressing style didn't cross my mind at all.  So was laughing when I read this particular quote that I came across this morning

When I'm weak, then I'm strong

One of the many Biblical paradoxes: when I am weak, then I am strong. A very good meditation on humility and openness.  The weakness experience here is not oppressive, even though it is meant to be.  The weakness does not prevent one from buckling, even though that is exactly what weakness is all about.  Rather, in those moments of struggle and giving in, we feel strong enough to carry on.  Rather than give in, feel the urge to keep going. 

However for me to really experience that I need to be doing what God wants me to do;  furthermore, not my work, but His work. So it is not me doing His work, it is me sharing in His endeavours.  Therefore the task is not mine alone nor am I totally indifferent about the work ("not my responsibility").  I have the strength because I'm not alone; because he who has entrusted me with a task, is taking the major responsibility and I have only to accompany; because the achievement of result is not my goal, making the best of efforts is. 

The challenge is for me to be humble and open enough to see that I'm not in this alone.  There are others, there are well-wishers, friends, guides, confreres, loved ones... there is God.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Back to teaching

Today was my first teaching experience as a visiting tutor at Royal Holloway.  It was great to be back to doing what I did most of my Salesian life - teaching.  I really did not have any difficulty putting on those shoes, in spite of the three year break from teaching.  Once in the class and in the flow of getting the students involved and animated, it was great.  Being my first interaction with the groups, I did not really delve too deep in the text.  Furthermore consciously avoided making those who did not come prepared, by way of reading the prescribed text, guilty or bad by stating it.  Rather, focused on helping them realize that in order to 'enjoy' the proceedings of the class activities, they'd have to come prepared.  Hopefully they feel comfortable and excited, not just to return to the seminar group next week but also come prepared.

The biggest compliment I received, given totally obliviously, was that prior to the seminar some of the students thought I was one among them!  I also realized that I actually know more than what I think I know - I always feel that I don't know things well, but when I see that I do know something more than others, then I realize that all that reading and reflection has indeed made some impression and not gone waste!

However, I always remind myself: aim for learning, not for teaching!

Grounded

Fr Sean, during his homily this morning, mentioned of something he witnessed during one of his visits to Loretto: a statue of John XXIII.  However what struck him most about the statue was that it was not placed on a pedestal or a plinth.  It was right on the ground.  Grounded.  Literally! 

Wish saints were seen as basically people who were grounded. Down to earth.  Not floating in the heavens, in robes white and gold!  John XXIII certainly did much good to the Church by convoking the Second Vatican Council, the deliberations of which we are yet to imbibe and fully understand, leave alone put to practice.  If not for any other achievement, just for this daring act alone he can be canonized. 

Know not about much about the previous Popes, but Pope Francis certainly does appeal to me as someone very much grounded.  Grounded in the lives of people, the poor the marginalised.  Grounded in nature. Feet firm in the actual grim, murky, confusing and challenging reality of people; not the ideal world we aspire to be or reach.  

Monday, 8 October 2018

Teaching

I begin my teaching sessions this week, on Thursday.  It is not full-fledged lectures but more of animating study and reflection through seminars.  Am not anxious or nervous because this is not my first time - being a teacher.  Moreover the class strength is not going to exceed 18 I'm told.  However, am looking forward to it, to see how different or similar it is from a seminary classroom. 

Am sure there'll be some belonging to the species of Dennis! Whatever it be I'm sure it is going to be a good learning experience for me.  From experience I know, I've learnt much from teaching! 

Feeding the "hungry"

Sitting in the library trying (really trying!) to read something serious, came across this particular video clip of Friends... By the time I watched the second part, I was suffocating - being in the library, I couldn't laugh and was struggling to control myself from bursting!



Watching these clips am reminded my confreres expression whenever I serve something "unusual" at table! And Rachel is very much my type of "cook"... ladyfinger and meat in dessert!

Evolving spirituality

Our understanding of spirituality constantly keeps evolving.  There was a time when 'saints' were those who did plenty of physical mortification and sacrifices.  I wonder if today someone cuts and whips and lashes oneself, be considered for canonization.

The parable of the good Samaritan too is a significant call to recognize spirituality in the times.  The priest and Levite who passed by the injured Samaritan, were not bad people.  They did not actually harm attack and injure him; they merely kept the law.  Their spirituality consisted in following the law.  If the prevalent Old Testament interpretation had emphasized more on the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law, perhaps we'd today have the parable of the 'Good priest' - the Samaritan would not have had the opportunity to help the injured!  Jesus, in offering a more humane interpretation of serving God, adds the directive 'Go and do likewise' to the existing interpretation and understanding.

In this regard I don't see very many cloistered religious being recognized as saints and canonized as before.  Not that they are less spiritual today but the understanding of spirituality today is more as 'engagement with the world' than 'fuga mundi'.  However this will be a very narrow interpretation of spirituality, for in the same passage of the parable, we read...
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself... do this and you will live. 
Love and do!  

From who to how

The gospel reading of the day is the famous parable of the good Samaritan. While listening to the reading it struck me that the question the person asked Jesus was "Who is my neighbour?" and Jesus replies to him, through the parable describing 'how' to be a neighbour.  (Perhaps my research on language is working in the background!) There is no 'ready-made package' of who the neighbour is.  So that all those who are that or 'have' that automatically can be counted as 'neighbour'.  There certainly is a question of witness and living by doing.

Coming to the distinction of 'how' and 'who', would a parent describe 'how' to be a clown, when the child asks 'who' is a clown?  Interestingly Jesus not only describes the qualities of a neighbour but concludes that description stating 'Go and do likewise'.  Knowing who a good neighbour does not qualify one to be a good neighbour, one ought to 'do' in order to 'be'.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Parting of the Red sea

Two interesting comic strips I came across today... both involving Moses.
 Am sure, the crossing of the Red sea today would take much longer than it originally did, given that very many would be eager to have selfies and photos along the way! 
Moses putting his skill to good use! 

Fancy food

With all the craze about specialized diets, one often wonders how on earth did we survive before?  While I am aware that some allergies are life-threatening, I am also aware that these allergies existed even before, what makes them lethal today is that in the process of adapting to the environment, we have lost quite a few immunities we would have had in the past. The earliest one I remember is 'dust allergy'.  When I first heard someone use this as a reason to get a different place assigned for work, other than the library, I laughed!  Today there are multiple examples: gluten free, vegan, diet drinks, sugar-free, ... what not!  Most often these are fancy fads. 

The human body is an amazing piece of work.  It can adapt itself to great variations - perhaps not as varied as some animals, but it does have enormous capacity.  Only if we let it develop can we enjoy diverse conditions of climate, food, drinks, circumstances... But if we pamper it and shield it too much, it will not develop the necessary immunity to fight and at the first slight variation, succumb to illness.  

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Life in precious

One of the arguments of pro-abortion activists is that the fetus, until it is born is not a living person or a human being.  Some would grant it a little more time and say only after a certain number of weeks in the womb does the fetus become a human being.  Till then it is basically nothing more than a 'tumour', a lump of flesh.

Travelling to London the other day, I noticed a pregnant woman being offered a seat as soon as she entered the train.  Wonder if an obese person too would be granted a seat in the similar fashion... after all, both have extra lumps of flesh!

I know there are very intricate issues involved in the arguments for and against abortion.  However, I do believe that standing up for those who cannot stand for themselves is what actually defines the quality of humanity.  It speaks more about the ones who stand up - or don't - than the ones who cannot!  

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Slow burner

Among the numerous things St Francis, whose feast we celebrate today, inspires us the one that caught my attention today is the fact that conversion or any transformation is a slow process.  Often some dramatic event or circumstance is attributed with the change of heart in people.  Not necessarily.  My theory of Saul becoming Paul: that his point of conversion was while he lay in bed helpless and incapable of anything, rather than the initial encounter with Jesus, holds true even in the case of St Francis. 

His radical breakaway from his inheritance and his father was perhaps one of the turning points but not the only one.  I'm sure the whole year he spent in imprisonment after he was captured by Perugia was a time of great introspection and reflection. It is said that spiritual journey is a marathon, not a sprint!  So too, any radical and genuine transformation is a slow burner, not an instant ready-mix. 

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Rational Proof of 'something more'?

My maiden meeting with my supervisor, in person, was quite an experience! All his initial questions and subsequent clarifications were very clear and showed me where I was headed to, if I pursued my line of thought.  And he certainly was not showing off, though his points were very scholarly. 

There was however one question which left me baffled.  I just could not think of any one reason or argument.  The context was our discussion about how language reveals a particular worldview and my furthering that point to show how a diversity of languages assists, rather than diminishes, a better understanding of the reality as a whole.  His question was: What assurance do you have that there is 'something more' to reality that what is perceived?  There may be, but any guarantee?  What rational proof or argument is there, besides intuition, that there is 'something more' to reality, more than what language reveals? 

Each language is different and the other person's worldview is different from mine.  That certainly shows that I do not have the full picture - neither has the other.  But now together, we can arrive at a wider collective picture than an individual worldview.  In this case, what is known is what is collectively known.  The question still remains: what guarantee that there is more than what is known by this collective knowing?  Perhaps that is all there is to know. 

If I stated that there is a world out there that I seek to 'capture' through language, and each language is limited in its revelation, then I'm falling back on the Analytical notion that that knowledge is 'getting the world right'...  I have been trying to get out of this mould of thought. 

Perhaps need to give my head a break!

Monday, 24 September 2018

A questioning faith

For the first time today, I had the opportunity to gladly counter an argument that faith meant 'not questioning'.  When sharing about faith and merely accepting what is told, I feel that my faith does not call me to be blind.  In fact, I find my faith more meaningful, strong and supportive, when I really question!

Someone said, children question but then easily believe what is being told.  I replied, they do certainly believe, but that does not prevent them for asking questions.  To every reply you offer, there's always a question ready - almost instantly.  However, they do not ask questions to everyone.  They approach people whom they trust... not so much to get the 'right answer' but under all that inquisitiveness is the need to be listened to.

Faith is not about 'not questioning', or 'merely accepting'; it is about trusting the one whom I approach with those questions.  And often, like children, I'm actually not looking for the 'right answer', I'm just looking for someone who will listen - listen with love and care!

Witness

As part of the Alpha course that I joined today in the parish, we were watching a video by Nicky Gumbel. Therein he mentions about drugs and alcohol not being the problem, but the solution - at least for those addicted.  The real problem being reality.

That set me thinking for the rest of the talk and the evening.  Certainly for those addicted, drugs and alcohol are not the problem but the solution.  But for the rest of us, looking objectively at those addicted and the drugs and alcohol, that's a problem!  The real problem is reality.  In order to face this reality, those addicted use drugs and alcohol and they see it as a solution.  I was wondering if, as per the intention of this prayer/discussion, we the "faithful" see belief in Jesus as the solution. Someone looking at us believing in God/Jesus, sees this as a problem not a solution.  Just replace drugs/alcohol with Jesus or religion.  From the perspective of an "outsider" it is all the same. 

As a believer, it will do me no good to merely harp on Jesus or religion as the solution because the 'outsider' will only hear that as the rant of an 'addict'.  Perhaps what will influence his attitude is if he sees that this 'addiction' is actually helpful not just for me but for everyone who comes in contact with me, and that too in a holistic manner.  

Musical history

Only last night did I discover that most of my favourite music bands were from Ireland!  The Corrs, Boyzone and Westlife.  All from Ireland. 

My exposure to contemporary English music began when I was at Nashik for my Masters' in Philosophy.  Till then, it was glorious Hindi music only.  Some occasional Konkani songs which Papa played at home. But they were almost by-heart given the fact that there were a couple of which Papa liked and they were on eternal replay mode! 

The only two audio cassettes I ever bought: one of Shammi Kapoor while on a school excursion to Delhi (that was for Papa) and the second one of The Corrs while at Pune for a course at JDV.  Not sure if I bought another one, while at Kondadaba.  But if I did, it was of Westlife.  Then there were some occasional songs I liked here and there but as for these three bands, I somehow liked almost all their songs. 

That said, ABBA and Boney M. were the best!  Literally grew up listening to these songs while at home. They were in Dad's collection which he received from the German family he worked for.  

Sunday, 23 September 2018

You be Jesus

Billy, aged four, and his brother Tommy, aged six, were arguing about who was going to get the first pancake that their grandmother was making at the stove. She took the opportunity to teach them a lesson, telling them that Jesus would let his brother have the first pancake.  Tommy turned to Billy and said, "Ok, Billy, go on then, you be Jesus."

Not just among children, most of us grown ups too have this tendency of 'letting or waiting for others to be Jesus'.  We'd rather not be one ourselves.  Admiring others be Jesus is good enough.  Becoming Jesus oneself is too complicated. 

On the other hand, perhaps we are not called to be Jesus.  Each of us has an identity, distinct from one another, distinct from Jesus.  Our vocation is to live that out to its best.  God calls each one of us, and the best we can do is to respond to him in the most generous and selfless manner.  

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Capacity for language as innate

Just mailed my second article to my supervisor.  Humboldt, Language and the Self.  Started out with something in mind, and ended up with something totally different.  Not sure if I can call it convergence or divergence!  I leave it to my supervisor to decide.  However, the exercise of putting it all together was interesting.  But I do acknowledge I lack the cutting edge or the finesse of writing a philosophy paper.  It reads more like a reflection on life rather than an abstract theorization.  Well, can't complain too much about it, for I prefer the former to the latter! 

Anyway, one of the elements in the paper that I gather and speak about is granting the capacity of the human being to create language an innate value.  Reasoning or thought is already considered innate to human nature.  In fact, it is one of human being's defining elements.  Humboldt's view that language and thought are intertwined, right at the origins, makes it possible to grant innate status to language as well.  I wish I had elaborated this dimension - occurred to me at 2 in the morning! 

However it is not a particular language that a person has innate ability for, rather it is the capacity to language that is innate.  So if language - or capacity for it - is part of human nature, belongs to the essence of being human, what would be the implications?
Not very many, given that language is being treated on par with thought? (too tired to exert the mind anymore!)

Generous and abundant

Fr Peter arrived at Chertsey on Tuesday evening, after a fortnight at home in Slovakia.  I picked him up at the airport.  When we reached home from the airport he wanted to put some things he brought from home in the fridge.  As I helped him I noticed, half his suitcase was filled with snacks - varieties of them, in abundance!  And he generously unloaded it all in the kitchen. The last time he returned from home, it was the same.

That's typical of people from the rural areas, especially a mother - generous and in abundance!  Most of those from the urban areas don't sufficiently understand and appreciate this gesture.  All that hard work, forethought, and love, especially for people she has never met, seen or known... She knows that her son will never manage to eat all of that stuff, all by himself, even if he gorged on them alone for a month!  It is her generosity and love, not just for her son but for all those whom the son loves.  

Grammar and worldview

Reading Humboldt who is considered the father of linguistics, it occurred to me that among the various differences between European and non-European languages, the place of grammar in each of the world languages plays a predominant role.  By non-European I specially mean those languages which have really not been 'touched' by colonisation or Western thought.  To an extent can even include one's mother tongue into this, as long as it is not English!!

My guess is this.  Most European languages have a defined and highly structured grammar. Mastery of such a language presupposes a thorough knowledge of the grammar.  Teaching of such a language is very much linear: alphabet, vocabulary, grammar...

On the other hand, non-European languages (at least most of them), are not heavily grammar based.  Not that they do not have a structure or syntax or whatever.  It is just that it is not codified. It is not set.  It is not rigid, but very fluid.  Only when scholars from another context, zealous to learn about such a language, that language is formalised.  The grammar, its rules and exceptions, is detailed.  And the 'linear study' begins.

No wonder why worldviews differ so widely, among people of different languages.  For Humboldt each language is a specific way of looking at the world, a world-view.  None of which is exhaustive.
By the same act whereby he spins language out of himself, he spins himself into it, and every language draws about the people that possesses it a circle whence it is possible to exit only by stepping over at once into the circle of another one. ... But because we always carry over, more or less, our own world-view, and even our own language-view, this outcome is not purely and completely experienced (Humboldt 1999, On Language, 60). 
Elsewhere in speaking about language and worldview he states
In passing over to others, it joins the common stock of the entire human race, of which each individual possesses a modification containing the requirements for completion by others (Humboldt 1999, On Language, 56).

Soul becomes spirit?

Even after years of listening to extracts from the Bible, everyday during Mass and prayers, some passages still catch my attention.  Perhaps the version I hear has something to do with it. Or maybe it is the reading I'm engaged in/with currently as part of my research.  Or maybe just that I'm hearing that section of the Bible for the first time (possible!!).  Anyway, was surprised to read the following this morning.
Whatever you sow in the ground has to die before it is given new life and the thing that you sow is not what is going to come... It is the same with the resurrection of the dead: the thing that is sown is perishable but what is raised is imperishable.... when it is sown it embodies the soul, when it is raised it embodies the spirit. If the soul has its own embodiment, so does the spirit have its own embodiment. 
Now those two lines are new to me.  The Bible making the distinction between soul and spirit?  And after death the soul is transformed into the spirit?  I remember I've thought about the embodiment after resurrection part before, but not this soul-spirit distinction and transformation.

Words do have the strange ability to confuse and confound!  God is no better! 

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

We did, but you didn't...

We played the music but you didn't dance. We sang the dirges but you did not weep.  We did so much for you but you said nothing!  We gave you all this but you did nothing with it all. 

The pride of being the one giving, the one doing, the one bestowing... it can actually cancel all merit.  In some cases it may backfire as well.  Perhaps the one you were playing music for was deaf and did not really know what you were doing.  Perhaps the one you sang the dirges to, was returning home after a very glorious and joyful day.  Perhaps the one you did so much for, needed something totally different than all the great things you did, something trivial that you did not consider as required by him.  Perhaps the one you gave so much of material things after all needed just a few minutes of your time daily.  Of course, there is the question of holding the other accountable to what he or she has been blessed with.  But should I be the one to whom they should be accountable to? 

Charity does take a big toll on the one engaging in it.  It demands more than being generous.  It demands being able to give without asking anything in return.  It involves not claiming ourselves to be the 'saviour' - not with the ones being helped out, not to others, not even within/for ourselves.  Most of all, it involves genuinely being concerned for the other - it involves love.  

Monday, 17 September 2018

Karwaan... an enriching journey

Yesterday watched the movie Karwaan, a lovely hindi movie!  A very simple plot and not too many characters or complexities.  Yet very smooth and profound.  How three different characters, with perhaps nothing in common bond together and in the process help one another learn something profound about themselves, through their mere presence.  The best I enjoyed was the subtle and comic timing of Shaukhat (Irrfan Khan).
Though don't really agree that the lyrics of this song actually represent the lead characters but all the same, do speak a lot about them.

The human voice

A simple reminder of the declining human presence in the world of technology and progress...

Anyone who has traveled in Europe, especially those like me from India, where public transport is anything but quiet, will certainly vibe with the sentiments brought forth in this video. 

Friday, 14 September 2018

No laughing matter

Browsing through the news headlines, the following one caught my eye
The news is about two men from Rajasthan who have been getting cobras so as to get them to bite their tongues because no amount of the usual drugs they've used gives them a high anymore!  It is said that the cobra's venom is strong enough to kill 20 people or an elephant!  But the same poison is also is being studied as a substitute for narcotic drugs.  The short news also speaks of these two men being the object of study at the Chandigarh university as part of their de-addiction research.

What amused me most was one of the comments below the article... hilarious!
They should try being bitten by politicians, they will either get a higher kick or die in minutes. Their tongues are more poisonous than any snake.

Sacred and supernatural

According to Prof. Tim Crane, one of the elements that links "religious impulse" and "identification" - the two essential characteristics of religion, according to him overlooked by new atheists - is the sacred.  The notion of sacred forms one of the key elements of the characteristics of religion, any religion.  He said that anything could be sacred... a person, a thing, a text, an object... anything!  But this means that there is a distinction between the sacred and the profane. 

The sacred in so far as it represents the 'transcendence' aspect and is a point of unification among the people who agree upon its being distinct from other things, especially profane things, serves as a connecting factor.  So from what I understand, a thing to be sacred has to fulfill both these criterion: represent transcendence and be a source of unity.  That broadly gives us a vague criterion of judging something as sacred or not.  So there could be something that actually reflects the transcendence but not noticed or accepted by us OR something that is socially projected but not actually sharing in the transcendence aspect of reality.  Neither of these can be called sacred(?)

But there is one thing he mentioned in passing: "...the sacred need not be the supernatural."

That set me thinking. Then I remembered the whole distinction between the sign and the symbol, especially made by Paul Ricoeur.  Am not sure if that fits in with Prof. Tim Crane's understanding of the sacred.  However, I don't think Paul Ricoeur would have serious objections to the sacred not being the supernatural.  In as much as what is considered sacred shares the 'immanent' aspect with us human beings while being the representation of the 'transcendent', that what eludes material quantification, the sacred does not become the supernatural.  And if it does turn supernatural, then it loses its immanent character.  I'm thinking of all that we consider 'sacred' within the Catholic tradition: relics, the altar, consecrated statues, churches... all are basically still natural objects or things.  Even the person of Mother Mary, as long as she was here on earth she was a human being, immanent; but now we treat her as supernatural, but she is no more with us in that immanent form as she once did.  (The only exception I can think of is the Holy Communion. Can it be classified under this: representing the sacred but not the sacred itself?)

On the other hand, there is this dilemma as to whether we need this distinction of sacred and profane at all.  After all, if we are true to our Christian tradition, there is nothing that is 'not sacred'.  Everything, however mundane it appears, is sacred.  So perhaps we can at the most speak of 'degrees of sacredness', in so far as it is ascribed to a thing by us collectively and not merely in itself being a representation of the 'trascendence'.  

Understanding tolerance

Another key point Prof. Tim Crane made while presenting ideas from his latest book, The meaning of belief, was the notion of tolerance.  Beginning with historical origin of this word he explained how it initially was very much associated and connected with suffering.  It then basically meant accepting suffering for having no means of escape from it.  However over the years the meaning of the word tolerance has undergone a shift but is now slowly turning into something very different and harmful!   
In the context of religion and religious tolerance, the word takes a different meaning.  It is not that religion or religions are to be tolerated in as much as they cause suffering yet for no other alternative we accept them.  It is not even that we let other religions exist side by side, for want of peace.  This would mean that we resist anything that 'offends' other religions.  We respect them. Prof. Crane said that's an inappropriate and unhealthy notion of tolerance.  Tolerance, on the contrary, involves disapproval, and does not involve respect.  His position was that we need not respect beliefs.  In fact, many beliefs, especially religious beliefs are not worthy of respect!  Rather he stated that we need to respect people, respect believers, not beliefs.  He just stopped short of saying 'Respect believers, tolerate beliefs'!  Moreover he spoke of tolerance as a practical attitude rather than a theoretical stand.  However, he was open to accept that this notion of tolerance, limits of it, actual practical entailment of this, are still vague and not well defined in his thought.

He was mentioning of an article by Bernard Williams on Tolerance... should read up that. 

Truth and meaning

The talk of Prof. Tim Crane (of Central European University) I attended yesterday, as part of his latest book promotion The Meaning of Belief: Religion from an Atheist's point of view was very interesting.  There was a large audience, the biggest I've ever seen in all the open public lectures I've been to so far.  Goes to show that people are still interested and curious to know about religion - even here in Europe! 

One of the key points he made prior to the exposition of the main ideas of his book was the distinction he made between truth and meaning.  He said he was not claiming to speak or clarify about the truth of religion.  He was only interested in the meaning of it.  He consciously made that decision because according to him a discussion on the truth would not lead him to any better understanding of religion, rather it would only cause further pain and division.  On the other hand, understanding religion and its contribution, or seeking meaning, would bring about a greater benefit for all.  After all, how can one criticize or even reject something without having a proper knowledge (an adequate conception) of religion? 

And according to me, though the two, truth and meaning, are connected, they need not always be present together.  The truth may not be meaningful (to all, all the time) and just because something is meaningful does not mean it is the truth.  

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Building nests!

I wanted to attend the departmental interview rounds for one post of full-time professorship at the university today.  As PhD students we were invited to be present.  However, was stuck in traffic and didn't reach in time.  So I was waiting outside the room, just in case someone else comes out and I could sneak in.  Then I decided to sit in the PhD room exactly opposite to the room where the interviews were being conducted.  As I opened the room, I saw a pigeon inside and then noticed one of the windows slightly open.  I chased the pigeon out but by then realized that it had been in for some days.  Just as I was hoping that it had not built its nest, I saw it under the table - not exactly a full-fledged nest but some twigs and leaves.  What's more, found two eggs in it! 

My desire to join in the interview presentations and questions flew out of the window, just as the pigeon!  I then searched and found a small lid, big enough for the pigeon to sit in, and then tried to re-arrange the twigs; placed the eggs in it and put the whole thing on the window sill outside.  But then had doubts if the eggs would roll down and crash on the pavement below.  Moreover the sun was beating hard and directly on the eggs - not a good thing!  So then, searched for a cardboard box, placed the whole thing inside the box.  But then it occurred to me that someone might accidentally grab the box in - and thereby disturb the 'ongoing construction of the nest' and break the eggs.  So put a small note on it.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Hunger

If there is one thing we religious - among the many! - have really no experience of, then that is hunger!  The occasional times we are late for meals or carry out fasts during retreats or days of Lent, hardly qualify to be termed hunger.  Real hunger is the physical feeling coupled with the awareness that I do not have and will get no food to eat!  Among the many privileges our profession and ordination offers us is this guarantee of food, irrespective of whether we have worked for it or not.  
There's many a one who would be idle if hunger didn't pinch him; but the stomach sets us to work. [George Eliot, author Felix Holt (1866)]

Bishops and authenticity

In the first reading of the day Paul admonishes the Corinthians to be squabbling with one another and then approaching an 'outsider' to arbitrate justice, forgetting that within the believing community there are individuals who are capable of amicably resolving the issue with greater depth and insight.  But this lack of trust of the one (or some) within is also an indicator that either there isn't one at all or that people have divided up life into faith-related and other-related so neatly that one does not have a bearing on the other.

The first imagery that came to my mind as I read this passage was the scandal of sexual abuse and the Church, all over the world, especially involving Bishops who either were involved directly in the abuse or covered up cases for the sake of 'preserving' the image of the Church.  From that perspective, I found myself reading Paul admonishing the Bishops rather than the people.  I should say, my experience of the Bishops in my lifetime has not been a very happy one.  Only on rare occasions have I met or interacted with Bishops whom I've come across as genuinely human.  Most don't even deserve to be called Christians, leave alone be ordained!

However, Pope Francis' homily this morning about the same reading, sheds a slightly different light which perhaps I've not looked into.  Speaking almost on behalf of and to the Bishops he
invited them to remember three things in these troubled times: their strength lies in being men of prayer; they should have the humility to remember they were chosen by God; and they need to remain close to the people. 
The Bishops Pope Francis has in mind and is speaking about are those who truly feel the burden of being human, not the ones who've decided and live as though they are above everything. (More quotes from the sermon). 

Thursday, 6 September 2018

They followed him

The last line of the gospel this morning, left me wondering if the same call were to be given out today, how many would follow!  Leave alone, just drop everything, no goodbyes or settling affairs or  packing and what not... just follow.

The team fishing would have surely heard of Jesus.  They wouldn't have followed his instructions if he were not seen as someone whom they considered above normal.  Or else which fisherman would take instructions about fishing from a carpenter?  But this team did and when they realise for themselves, rather than the hearsay they relied on so far, that he was someone really special, they acknowledge him to be someone who is to be in better company than themselves.  Peter asks him to leave because they are not worthy to be in his presence.  Interestingly Jesus invites them to join him!  And when he invites, some of them follow him, right then and there! 

I wonder if we in our contemporary world have space for such a feeling of wonder, of being overwhelmed, of being called and promptly accepting.  We'd sit, reflect, consult, calculate, discuss, reason out, weigh the pros and cons, try to strike a bargain, ask a hundred and one questions... But Peter and company chose to follow him right away; all the above followed!  Of course, they did not at once leave their families and homes but they certainly did accept Jesus as master and were willing to do anything he asks of them, right after their first encounter with him.  

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

On being a teacher

In India we commemorate Teachers' day today.  In a way it is a beautiful tradition of acknowledging the role of teachers.  Guru devo bhava! Mostly it is children in school and may be some colleges where they felicitate the teachers.  But it is also a day when everyone remembers atleast some of their beloved teachers.  Some make it a point to visit or call them, even though the student-teacher term is long over!  Just goes on to show that one can never really measure the impact a teacher can make in the lives of the students - for good or for worse. 
A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.
[Henry Brooks Adams, historian in The Education of Henry Adams (1907)]
On such an occasion, am ending the day laughing away at a forward I received...
Teacher: John is climbing a tree to pick some mangoes (Rewrite the sentence and begin  with 'Mangoes')
Student: Mangoes, John is coming to pick you.
Truly it is not easy to be a teacher! 

Misguided priorities

There is a bill drafted for proposal in the Indian parliament about providing river Ganga 'protection' with an armed force which has powers to arrest those polluting the river!  I really could not believe what I was reading.  My first impulse was to laugh.  The second thought was, why not?  It's a good move, if aimed at preserving the ecology of the river and its surroundings.  However it then struck me, why only Ganga?  Why not all rivers and forests? 

So we now have civil and legal protection for rivers, cows, temples (also places where temples were once believed to be!) ... Wonder when will people, especially women, poor, disadvantaged, activists, journalists, get protection? 

Then there is the tallest statue in the world under construction in Gujarat, that of Sardar Patel.  The cost of which is 30 bn rupees.  Wonder what would that statue stand for?  Sardar Vallabhai Patel was a freedom fighter who has to his credit the feat of uniting India, as the first deputy prime minister, after we won freedom from the British.  This 'statue of unity' will certainly be a tourist spot but to reach it the tourists will have to pass through the poverty and misery of the living people!  This obsession with  investing in buildings and structures seems to be a common disease found among all those in authority, be it in politics or religious life.  

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Benefits of being Jesus

Listening to Paul's letters these days in the readings, to the various early Christian communities I wonder it must have been a very exciting adventure for Paul to write all this stuff.  He certainly was writing those things for a people who were new to the teachings of Christ and most of whom did not know or even hear of Jesus.  Most of his text was for all people, the common folk; certainly not the theologians and highly learned. 

All of this makes me wonder, if the task of Jesus was easier or that of Paul, just the teaching bit?  Jesus taught off hand, used parables, spoke of things which everyone understood - of course, he also dropped in a few lines once in a way which none understood, then and even now!  Comparatively Paul's text is so heavy!  In one sense it appears Jesus was more direct and simple in his teaching.  The rest who followed Jesus and wrote extensively about him, made matters so complex and dense!   

Moving a step further, I envy Jesus - he did not have to break his head with mere thoughts! He had matters of daily living to grapple with.  He was more about living than thinking!  

Monday, 3 September 2018

Witness

The ongoing meeting of the formators (postnovitiate stage) of East and South Asia in Thailand, seems an interesting one.  Am reminded of the formation meetings I attended years ago.  Some of them were very challenging.  Not just the content but it was more about looking into ourselves.  The shift from focusing on what we should be telling and doing with our students to who we ourselves should be, made a big impact on me.

For quite sometime it was all about information: what we should do, how we should form the students, rules, policies, documents... and all that.  But at some point it struck me that if I am not that ideal person or atleast not making the effort to become the ideal one I'm trying to form, then how can I expect my student to be so?  Then on the meetings were more of forming myself rather than 'becoming a formator'.   Be and thereby form.  Or better, 'witnessing as formation'.  Was reminded of the same this morning when I read a statement made on behalf of a formee, from the ongoing meeting in Thailand.
Today we will say, what you are telling us. But tomorrow we will do, what you are doing now!

Needs and wants

Knowing the need and thereby shaping our wants is the ideal way forward.  Our liturgies and devotional practices are basically meant to help us come close to God.  But at times they become so repetitive that they lose their meaning.  On the other hand, they become repetitive because people find them meaningful.  However if our focus is on the need, then the want to have something 'usual' is fine.  However if our focus is merely on maintaining the 'usual' rather than the need, then we tend to miss the point. 

When we eat food, we consume it to sustain our physical well being and carry out our daily tasks.  Energy is our need.  Steak is our want.  Indeed steak gives energy, but if we are so stuck on steak we tend to forget that there are other foods too which give us energy.  And from common experience we know even if one desires steak much, one does not have it for meal everyday!  Knowing our real deep inner needs and fulfilling them is more important than merely going by our wants. 

Creativity in liturgy and what some call 'healthy distraction' during Mass does not make us less Catholic, as long as it helps all of us grow deeper in our love and communion with God.
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