Thursday, 22 March 2018

Belief in God vs belief in the idea of God

Faith is often seen as a remedy for most challenges and difficulties one faces in life.  However, the contrary of it, namely that faith leads to most challenges and difficulties in life is also true. 

Faith certainly is no cushion to rest on.  If really serious about it, faith questions every aspect of our life.  We certainly cannot rest secure that faith will answer all questions.  No, it does not.  In fact, it raises several more.  So one may ask, if that is the case, why on earth would anyone want to grow in faith? 

Well the real issue is growing from having an idea of God to experiencing God; from entertaining and being entertained by the thought of God to being with him.  Need to graduate from 'faith in what' to 'faith in whom'.  That's the real challenge.  Living by the former is cosy and comfortable.  The latter is confusing and demanding.  Yet that is what we innately seek.  Though on the periphery and most often we avoid this innate tendency, we do get bored of it and once in a way let faith shine through us. But the moment we feel the 'heat' of it, we shrink back into the shell of our idea(l) God. 
Belief in God without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair is not belief in God at all, but belief in a mere idea of God.
Miguel de Unamuno

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Rendering meaning

The dilemma of whether to use or not to use language is such that even to express its 'murderous' nature, we use it.  An interesting article on the meaningfulness of greeting cards inspite of them using cliches or outdated phrases...
Clich├ęd statements such as ‘I love you’ and ‘Sorry for your loss’ call attention to this double futility: language always fails but it is impossible to remain silent. Nowhere is this clearer than in the sympathy card phrase ‘There are no words’. Though the statement is true, in order to be given meaning it must be expressed and, in doing so, is falsified. This axis of articulation and absence, of speaking and silence, is the dilemma that language continually re-presents.
[Source: Aeon]

Divergent worlds (really?)

For once, I'm beginning to feel the pressure (in a good way) of living in two divergent worlds.  There is the world of religious life, not just the one I lived in India which is considered a religious place, but the whole ambiance of community life, seminary, Salesian literature and apostolate... The one that I am still living consciously living. The literature that I still subscribe to (though tend to glide past it more often now).  The world of what I know for sure, mostly and feel secure about; am comfortable with.

On the other hand is the world which has nothing to do with the previous world.  It is a world that exists and operates as if the other - my predominant world - does not exist at all.  No charity-mode, no religion, no religious life, not even God.  But it isn't in chaos or bad.  There are values and principles at work - just as in the previous world.  The realisation that this world, unlike earlier experience or perspective, is not 'bad' or something to be avoided.  On the contrary, the 'other' world too is good and has great lessons in values to teach. 

The struggle however is to connect the two.  Innately I feel a great connection but am unable to consciously see or formulate it.  It still appears binary. But am feeling more and more convinced it isn't.  My research certainly has much to do with it.  But there is more that is fueling this dilemma.  Wish I could lay my finger on it.  But then wonder if I'd still feel the thrill of this 'ignorance' (or comfort?).

Focus of the click

There was a time not so long ago when photography was an art - an art not the be messed with.  So there was a sense of proportion, angle, symmetry, and a whole list of do's and don'ts that was part of photography.  Then there was a whole list of things one would photograph - basically people.  Anything else was considered a waste of precious time, energy, talent and resources.  However, whenever I visit tourist spots or am with a group of tourists (among whom there are invariably a couple of them who have hi-tech cameras), I cannot but notice the "odd and strange" things they photograph. 

Of course, the whole notion of art has evolved and technology has adapted.  But I wonder what would the pioneers of photography have said about this person who was photographing a dustbin?  He certainly must have seen something novel... hopefully.
Watching him click away the dustbin, and me being unable to resist the temptation of clicking him in the act, I was reminded of our picnic to Velankanni while studying at The Retreat, Yercaud, two decades ago.  Fr Amalaraj, the rector had a camera and once in a way he would exhibit his generosity by asking some Brothers to pose.  And boy, he did have a pose himself!  Soon, the requests for photos increased, especially from a select few.  Only later did he realise that this select group was coaxing him to take the photos so that the Assistant (who had the only other camera) could click him in his various comic postures of clicking photos! 

Tower bridge

Took time to leisurely walk about the Tower bridge yesterday.  It really is a magnificent work of architecture, but it is actually the historical significance of it makes the real value.  To have built something of that sort on a river is quite demanding - atleast in past when it was actually built (1886-1894).

Built close to the Tower of London in the fortress of London is what it derives its name from.  However, the most iconic structure of London, is all about doom and death - something it closely shares with the Tower itself.  Besides the walk/drive across the bridge, the only other point of attraction on the bridge itself is the Dead Man's hole (quite pricey though).  (Of course, I couldn't but smile when I saw a street performer "earning" his two-bit doing the classical 'guess the ball' game with three overturned cups. And I should say the audience was quite amused.  Back in India it is considered nothing less than gambling!)
Somehow the whole walk around the Tower and the Tower bridge is all about gloom, destruction, and death.  But the place is neat and very elegantly maintained.  So the whole history of capture, decapitation, torture... is camouflaged by the scenic tourism that now envelopes it.

On the whole, appreciate greatly the English sense of preserving historical places and maintaining records.  Besides, the attention to details and facilities in and around such places is really exceptional.

Awake or dreaming

Came across the source of the popular anecdote about consciousness and reality, at the British museum yesterday.  Butterflies symbolise happiness and longevity and are associated with the Daoist conundrum of whether or not life is an illusion.  Zhuangzi (about 369 BC - 286 BC) pondered ...
Once I dreamt I was a butterfly... I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awoke , and there I was, myself again.  Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.

Chinese St Peter

Didn't know that Chinese too shared with the Catholics a very close perception about hell or rather the entry process to hell/heaven, till I saw the following statue and description at the British museum yesterday.
 The description of this statue reads:
Figure of an assistant to the judge of hell
Hell in Chinese popular belief is modelled on a bureaucracy where souls plead before ten courts.  This pale faced clerk is carrying a slim scroll, recording the few names of those who have performed good deeds in their lives.  These figures originally came from a temple and stood either side of a judge of hell.  Perhaps all ten courts were represented with such glazed porcelain figures. [Ming dynasty, about 1522-1620, north China]

At the British Museum

Yesterday I made my second installment-visit to the British museum.  I visited only the South-Asia and China section.  I was interested in seeing what 'parts' of India were brought overseas and on display.  "Luckily" not much (atleast, on display)!  There were bits and pieces of odd things from the early days of the Indus civilization, with a portion of the display hall dedicated to each region of the country over the years; mostly the 'golden' period of that particular era. 
A statue of Lord Vishnu

An exquisitely carved Sarinda, a sort of Indian violin (description below)

Then there was this... the sword and ring of Tipu Sultan. Remembered reading some controversy about its possession some years ago.
Had sometime ago read about the British woman spy Noor Inayat.  Didn't know though that she was related to Tipu Sultan.
Did see some odd things though: the passport of Guru Dutt, a saree of an Indian woman activist in Britain, the movie certificate of Mother India, ... but I guess display of other artifacts collected from India during the four decades of British rule would be too controversial.  So they must be tucked away somewhere else (in the crown of the Queen?).  But certainly and luckily nothing colossal like the Egyptian or African gallery below. 

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Vocations to priestly and religious life

Vocations to priestly and religious life in the West are on the decline for decades.  Most congregations are either winding up or on the verge of closing down.  The same is the case for many Parishes.  Either merged or closed down altogether.  Here in this diocese of Arundel and Brighton, recently three parishes were merged or rather were being catered to by two priests.  And this is not a solitary case.

The Salesian province of Great Britain too has shrunk very much in numbers.  Naturally many would like to see more join the Salesians and continue the good work carried out by so many in former years.  However, the scenario at large has changed much.  So has the Church and the congregation too.  The recurrent questions one has to come face to face in the present times is: What next? How can we get vocations?  Very many ask and seek to find an answer to the question, 'Why are people not joining us anymore?'  However, I think prior to that question we Salesians need to ask ourselves, "Why is it that we want people to join us to become Salesians?"

If we have nothing distinctive or special or challenging to offer, why would any youngster want to join us?  If all that we presently do can be done without professing the vows or getting ordained, why then opt for priestly or religious life?  Where and how does God feature in our life, in our invitation to young people to join us?  If we have a relevant answer to that question then perhaps we can move to the next question of 'What more can we do to have young people join us?'

A proper understanding of 'consecration' will certainly do us a lot of good.  But am not sure if consecrated life is to be understood or interpreted as a counter-witness to the 'social' life. 

Value of human life

The recent incidents involving the former Russian military officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter have been hogging national media for some time now.  The British claim that they were 'attacked' by Russia using a nerve agent and seeking an explanation from Russia is justified. So is the anger, if Russia is involved in carrying out an unlawful activity on British soil.  However, while I find the anger and tension on either side justified, what I do not really approve of is the double standards of the British government and the lack of a wider perspective. 

Why is UK angry?  Because a former informant from the Russian army, now living in the UK, was attacked. While for the British, he may be a 'decorated' army/intelligence man.  However for the Russians he is a traitor.  He disclosed and risked the lives of Russian spies in Europe to the MI6 and that's treason, by any and every standard definition of patriotism.

Does that justify the attack on Skripal? Certainly no.  The UK is justified in getting angry but not merely for attacking the man and his daughter but putting at risk the lives of so many people.  Now the latter that does not seem to be the case! 

The message sent out: Lives of those living in the UK, atleast those legally here, are valuable.  The rest of lives are not worth much. If the attack on one man can prompt the British and the NATO to take such serious diplomatic steps, (eg.: of expelling 23 Russian diplomats) then how much more could and can the UK government do when thousands of lives are in danger.  I'm thinking of all the lives in Syria, for instance.  All innocent civilians.  Apart from providing aid, after the casualties, the Western government seem to bother only about its citizens on home ground.  The issue of greater concern is that the government can take diplomatic steps without engaging in war.  Why not use the same diplomatic measures to confront aggressive governments?  National embargoes only accentuate the suffering of the poor citizens and does not really affect the political and economic bigwigs. 

Moreover, thinking from the perspective of a non-Britisher, how would he or she feel when Britain interferes with their local governance or ill-treats political leaders on their home soil?  Are they not justified in getting angry at 'foreign interference'? What treatment does the English government deserve for arming different groups (armies and militia) around the world, bombing countries in the middle-east...

I guess it all comes down to the question of 'me and my'.  As long as nothing adversely affects me and my people, everything is fine.  

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

This is me

The following song from the movie The Greatest Showman, titled 'This is me' is a good motivational song with a catchy tune too.  A song for celebrating individuality, being proud of who and what we are, no matter what others think and how they categorize me. 

Each one of us has our own inadequacies.  However, only those most insecure will make others feel insecure.  Only those who humbly embrace one's own weaknesses, lets others shine through their drawbacks... and in doing so, helps both... 
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down 
I'm gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out 
I am brave, I am bruised 
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me 
Look out 'cause here I come 
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum 
I'm not scared to be seen 
I make no apologies, this is me

Patience and perseverance

Elisha cures Naaman, the Syrian of his leprosy.  Here's an imaginative aftermath of the event...

Many of the lepers in Israel hear of Naaman's cure and rush to the Jordan to take a dip.  Some wash themselves more than 7 times.  Some do it for 7 days continuously.  None of them are healed.  (Don't ask me why!).  Some go to Elisha and ask him to heal them too of their leprosy.  To each he prescribes a different course of action - all of which often take many days of perseverance and continued effort by the 'patient'.  Of these most give up very soon, because nothing of the sort that happened to Naaman is happening to them.  Of the few who continue being faithful to the 'prescriptions' of Elisha, not all are optimism. As time goes by and no healing happening, they begin to lose hope.  Only the most adamant and the most distressed, 'hell-bent' on getting rid of the disease continue and are ultimately healed.  But by this time, Elisha has moved on.  Those who were watching all this, hawk-eyed, have long got bored and gone on to find something more 'instantaneous' to amuse themselves with.  And those handful who actually are cured as now not so sure that it is only the 'prescription' of Elisha that has worked. 

Child and the family

On March 3, 2018, the Times ran an interesting article titled 'When good intentions lead to awful crimes'.  It was about the child migrants who were sent to New Zealand and Australia years ago.  The whole concept was to populate the British colonies with children from Britain so as to ensure the population remains white (mostly).  The whole endeavour was to ensure that the best civilization (read that as English culture) would prevail.  It was not done out of fear that the English would be wiped out or over run.  The enterprise was taken up at the height of the English mentality that the sun would never set on the mighty empire!! 
The exporting of children as colonial seed corn dates back to 1618 when 100 destitute children were sent to the fledgling colony of Virginia. By the time the last party of child migrants arrived in Australia in 1967 more than 130,000 children had been removed to Canada, New Zealand, Rhodesia and Australia. 
What actually happened 400 years ago was in a way charitable: boys, orphaned and abandoned or not from affluent families or from broken families, in Britain were taken to Australia with the idea of giving them a better future and a chance to carry on the 'English legacy' in the Down under. 
A child brought up in the bracing colonial climate would, it was believed, learn the value of hard work and escape from the corrupting influence of the slums. 
While what actually happened to these thousands of children remains far from the ideal or normal, the intention of those who approved and endorsed this enterprise was noble - as per the times. Even when the programme ended it was not because of moral issues but because the empire itself was waning.

The author does not condemn the whole programme but picks up the lesson to be learnt: need for rigorous follow up of charities.  Rightly so.  Passing moral judgement on the past by the standards of the present is meaningless.
Today, the idea that children could be removed from their families, lied to and dumped in the hands of strangers seems utterly iniquitous.The science of child psychology (which only emerged in the 1920s) has taught us that a child brought up in a family, even a poor and dysfunctional one, is almost always happier than one with no family at all. 


Last night at table Br Mateusz stated that back in his village in Poland the temperature last week was -27 c.  While our jaws dropped to the floor, he continued calmly, that last year the lowest was -39 c!!  Worse is that sometimes in summer the temperature touches a high of 30 c!  Well that's quite a fluctuation.  Compared to the rather stable temperature UK enjoys and the chaos ensuing any change in the temperature on either side of the scale, people in places like Poland must surely be well 'acclimatized'. 

The following cartoon from the paper a couple of days ago, best describes the British situation in snow!

Change of value

When I was small, I used to think, what if currency was not invented at all.  The world would surely have been more peaceful and there would have been more humanity rather than a craze and craving for 'earning more'.  Of course, over the years my reasoning has got the better of me, but somewhere deep within there is still this nagging feeling that if only we begin to value our humanity as more precious than material wealth and money, we'd be better off as a species. 
One of the displays at the British museum.
What if tomorrow the whole of human race begins to see humanity as a greater value than material possessions or positions?  Utter chaos!  Because most of our societal mechanism and functioning would collapse!  However, there certainly will be an overwhelming of concern, affection and love sustaining each and every individual.  

Monday, 5 March 2018

Celebrating 40 years of life

Received several greetings from far and wide today...
The most amusing was by someone in the community who said, "Life begins at 40... " and another completed the sentence, "... to do downhill!"

Prayed especially for Papa and Mummy and for ALL those who have helped me become who and what I am today. 

Thanks be to God! 

Sunday, 4 March 2018

The bloody lens

Last Thursday I attended a discussion/seminar on the role of media and war reporting.  To be honest, I signed up for this thinking there would be some really good answers or solutions to the way media reports news of war, death, and destruction. There were none!  However, halfway through the presentations I asked myself if I had any answers or proposals for journalists as to how they could or should do the job of reporting war, terrorism and the like.  Surprisingly I didn't have a clear picture or at least one without fueling the event being reported.

Thereon what one of the speakers stated made much sense.  He was for reporting individual lives and events rather than mass numbers and mega wars and attacks.  He said that merely reporting acts of terror or war only 'feeds the monsters'.  He was not for comparing numbers of deaths in combat or terror attacks as this was in a way being insensitive and leading to insensitivity. 

Figures and numbers matter but
  • only in as much as each death counts as an individual loss
  • not when leading to an 'us vs them' attitude
  • not at the cost of becoming insensitive to other forms of violence which are actually more painful and prevalent than a terror attack
  • they actually carry out the propaganda sought by the terrorists and bombers (actions are theirs but the voice and message is carried forth by the media!)

Focusing on numbers and discussing the scale of violence is only feeding the monster rather than reporting news and making a positive difference.  Of course, there is the media bias that no reporter or channel can escape.  And neither is every situation the same or a seamless robe.  

British flexibility

After five days of snow and cold weather, Chertsey is today free of all snow.  No more traces of any snow left anywhere as the temperature is more than 4 c and the sun is up too.  Though not many other places of Europe are so lucky as Chertsey, the snow has been an interesting experience for me. 

I've realised that the English, all across the country, are neither happy nor really prepared for any extremes of climate.  Last summer with the temperature touching 30, people were going crazy about the heat!  Pubs and bars were full and overflowing.  People walking around the streets dressed in shorts alone.  Being a country not used to heat, I could understand the 'struggle' of the people.  And now this snow - and a similar story!  Again?  With temperature plummeting below 0 c, and snow covering the road, (even if by a few centimetres), everything was thrown out of gear. Traffic is a chaos. Trains cancelled.  Schools shut down.  Gas prices soaring.  I guess even the climate has to be regimented!!  But since it is not yet, the chaos!  The English certainly could learn a lesson or two in adaptability and flexibility from the rest of the world!  

Of watches and time

While at the British museum, the second gallery that I chose to view was of the watches.  Three rooms displaying the history of watches. While there it occurred to me that the people who actually felt the need of keeping time and those who actually started making watches were the monks!  They needed some instrument to help them be faithful to their recitation of prayers at fixed times - the watch! 

 Some interesting models of watches... 
The farmer with the staff pointed the time on a dial on which he is standing.
The cow being milked would actually squirt milk at fixed hours. Such was the mechanism timed and created! 

The marketplace: when good is bad

The gospel of the day witnesses Jesus driving out all those doing business in the temple and claiming the temple to be the presence of His Father (Jn 2: 13-25).

Honestly if Jesus were to take a moment to consider, he would not have been angry on those poor businessmen in the temple.  After all they were earning a livelihood, perhaps some more than what they should earn but still their livelihood.  Surely people coming from afar would not come with animals and birds for the sacrifice. Where on earth are they going to hunt and search for them. And unless they were sacrificed, how would they ever worship Yahweh.  Their whole visit to the temple would be futile.  So these businessmen selling doves and animals and offering exchange currency were just aiding the worship of believers.  They were doing good.  They meant no harm.  Not all of them would have been fleecing the devotees - at least no more than what happens everywhere! 

In our lives too this can happen: where worship in its existing form can actually prevent us from savouring God's presence.  What was initially meant to bring us close to God, and is still good, but actually leading us only to a perceived sense of sanctity and holiness rather than an experience of God.  We can very well "feel" holy while being far from being actually holy. 

Lent is a good time for us to review not just all our vices but our good actions and habits too and see how they help us in our journey towards God.  Most often, it is our good actions that prevent us from experiencing God rather than our vices.  

British museum - collections

Last Thursday I was in London for a couple of seminars and I took the opportunity to visit the British museum - just because it happened to be behind the Senate house where one of the seminars was held.  The snow and the wind did not make the best of days to be out in the open but I enjoyed it all the same. However, the return was a bit of a long tour as many trains were delayed and cancelled and I ended up calling home asking for someone to pick me up for a station from where no more trains were passing through! 

The website of the museum stated that people spend 2 to 3 hrs at the museum.  Boy!  No way!  I managed only two sections of it in the 2 hrs I had!  There are more than a dozen sections yet to be seen!  The first section that I visited was the Egyptian heritage.  Only the statutes and writings from the time of the pharoahs and before.  What large statutes or remnants of those...  The first thing that crossed my mind as I wandered around all those statutes, stone slabs of writings, carvings, sarcophagus' and utensils was this: All of these would have been brought to London by sea.  There is no other way it could reach here from Egypt.  And it would have taken ages to get them across here.  However, all of these would have been in a sense "looted" from their places of origin.  The British empire was all over and they could do what they wanted.  The museum map stated that there is a hall dedicated to Asia and one for Amaravati!!  I did not visit that section - yet - but it was all "imported"! All of what was displayed in the museum, not just the Egyptian section but African, Asian, Middle-east and all, mostly was from beyond the English shores - at least the present geographical shores! 

On second thought, it occurred to me that if these were not brought to London, most probably they would not have survived this long in their own places!  The fate of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan is a case.  They were destroyed as recently as a couple of years ago. Though on display in a foreign land, these artifacts are still preserved.  With all the plans and works for the new capital of Andhra Pradesh at Amaravati, I never heard of any historical excavations or discoveries.  Perhaps we don't have an eye for it at all!  If the British were doing a similar construction, they'd have piles of historical artifacts and drones of studies underway researching their relevance.  
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