Thursday, 31 October 2019

Being Christians

What makes us Christian?  Very many think of being Christian as an identity that needs to be safeguarded.  It is something that we need to "protect" and "uphold" from all the rest of the peoples.  By being apart we preserve and show ourselves as Christians.  But that's the most unchristian thing to think and do! 

Being a Christian does not mean to be standing apart or worse, above others.  The yeast does not make any impact on the dough if it says to itself, "I'm not going to mingle with that un-yeast!  My identity is something higher than this dough and therefore I need to stand above the dough!"  Such a yeast is as good as absent!  For the yeast to leaven the dough, it needs to be mixed well with the latter.  Spread well, and because it mixes with it, the yeast by its mere presence does what it does best - transform the dough!  In the process the yeast is not too worried about safeguarding its identity.  The presence of the yeast is easily noticed by the everyone once the bread is baked and ready.  Once baked, there is neither yeast, nor dough! 

As Christians, we are called to be the yeast.  Our presence is meaningful and worth the name, only when we, being Christ-like, live for God and others.  If we are to live purely for ourselves, holding the placard of 'Christians' at a distance from others, we surely will survive but deprive ourselves of Christ. Imagine what Christians would be without Christ!  Not too hard to, just imagine what bread would be without yeast!  

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Generosity

Fr Sean narrated a story he heard from someone in Bootle sometime ago.  A small boy who loved cars once happened to see a large car roll up on the street he lived.  He ran out to admire it.  He saw a man get off it and excitedly asked, "Is that your car?" "Sure, it is," replied the man.  "It must be very costly!" stated the boy, to which the man replied, "I got it for free!"  The boy could not believe he ears.  "For free?  How come?" asked the boy. "My brother gave it to me," said the man.  The boy longingly looked at the car and said, "I wish..." 

Fr Sean paused at this point and asked us, "What would you have said if you were that little boy?"  At least my mind completed the boy's sentence thus: I wish I had a brother like that!  Fr Sean continued and said, the boy actually said, "I wish, I was that brother!" 

There is more joy in giving than in receiving.  

Monday, 28 October 2019

Encountering God

Zechariah when he entered the temple to offer incense-worship meets the angel Gabriel whose message marks the beginning of a totally different lifestyle not only for Zechariah but also for his whole family.  That morning as he entered the sanctuary, I'm sure he certainly did not expect to see the angel or get a vision.  

Most of us stroll through life totally oblivious of the numerous ways and means through which God calls on us.  We are either too busy after something we have set our minds to or are too lazy to hear and ultimately respond.  God constantly interacts with us in the little and big things of life.  The more we are attuned to this, the richer our life will be, constantly transforming and growing into a better image. Just like Zechariah whose life undergoes a major shift on encountering the angel and God's message, so too is our life bound to change when we become attentive to the encounters we have with God!  

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Being good

Being good by virtue of one's merit is one way of being good.  Another way, though not the best, is to ensure that one is better than the others.  That way one 'automatically' becomes good - when in comparison to others.  Another way: in order to appear good, make sure the others around appear bad! 

The Gospel of the day, wherein we read the prayer of the Pharisee and the Publican, we hear of another way of being good:  making our best effort and asking God to help us be good.  The Publican does that and is appreciated.  The Pharisee too is being good but at the cost of making others appear bad! The difference could as well be between appearance and being. 

However, cannot really blame the Pharisee.  He was actually keeping all the laws that he was taught and all the religious practices that he was indoctrinated with.  So in that sense taking pride in doing what is told and from centuries has been practiced and handed down cannot be negated outright.  The downfall however is in putting down the Publican.  Being good oneself does not require a quantitative measurement of the others goodness - unless one only wishes to appear good, among others.  

Friday, 25 October 2019

Mind, Cognition and Consciousness

Bibliography and resource tank for 'Mind and consciousness':

  • Interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn 'What is extended mind' (Aeon)
  • Andy Clark and David Chalmers (1998) 'The Extended mind'
  • Chalmers, 'The logical possibility of Zombies'
  • Chalmers, 'Consciousness and its place in nature'
  • Rorty, 'Incorrigibility as the mark of the mental' (self-knowledge, awareness, consciousness)
  • Jackson, 'What Mary didn't know' 
  • Crane, 'Intentionality as the mark of the mental' 
  • Searle, 'Minds, brains and programs'
  • Rorty, 'Mind-body identity, privacy and categories'
  • Smart, 'Sensations and brain processes' (materialism)
  • Sellars, Empiricism and the philosophy of mind XI-XVI 
  • Putnam, 'The nature of mental states' 





Clingfilm

I think I have a solution for preventing the "illegal" inflow of any and every species into this country - or for that matter any country: Clingfilm.  Yes, clingfilm.  Wrapping the whole country with clingfilm would certainly ensure that no one from outside the country, no non-native, whether human or insect, would gain entry.  I thought of bubble wrap, but I think clingfilm is better! 

We have this country right now dealing with the death of 39 Chinese immigrants and Inns (invasive non-native species).  So not only are human beings entering the country, even wasps, plants and insects too!  How dare they!  Back in India we have the NRC being brought into action to "weed out" illegal immigrants!  In South Africa, so far there was animosity against the white population who stayed on after the apartheid.  But now there is hatred against coloured fellow Africans too! (The Times, 25 October 2019).  Trump is praising his 'wall' built to keep away Mexicans and God-knows-who.  Not sure what is happening in China, because it already has a sort of clingfilm in place (at least on media).  Britain, a country which prides itself in being one of the world's leading brains, is entertaining the world - and itself - with this Brexit drama!  If leaving the EU was the most sensible things to do, come 3 years have come and gone and the country no better than when the result of the referendum was announced? 

I also understand that no country would like to be treated as a doormat, letting everyone walk-in and demand a better life.  That's the other extreme.  So is the fanatic fear of the non-native!  Letting in only those who can afford to pay or those who will benefit the local economy or toe the line of the ruling party is a very narrow and highly selfish access. 

So the most practical solution: clingfilm.  Security assured! Only problem is the same as with a fortress wall: Just like it prevents those outside from coming in, it also makes those within prisoners!  

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Amidst enthusiastic children

The interaction with Year 6 students of a local primary Catholic school to which I was invited along with a Priest, to share with them our vocation as priest and religious, was a very interesting experience.  These are just 10 or 11 year olds, grappling with huge words like commitment, consecration, ordination, vows, belief and most importantly seeking reasons and trying to explain these ideas to others.  These are concepts and values we discuss in our novitiate and novices fail to make head or tail of these things.  Here are 11-year olds, doing their best not just to make sense of them for themselves, but be able to explain it all to others!  That's a bold move. 

Loved every bit of it.  As we returned home, the other priest said, "Now I know why you love to teach!  You really were explaining to those kids, and not teaching philosophy!" Felt good being amidst young vibrant and enthusiastic children, quizzed about matters that take a lifetime to understand! 

Being human

A dog does not know itself as a 'dog'.  At the most, it knows the name that it is called by.  But the fact that the dog does not know its real self but only a designated name, does not affect the way a dog behaves.  It still is primarily a dog. 

Wonder if the same can be said of us human beings.  The whole process of naming a child and it growing up with additional identity markers in a way distances one from one's basic human nature and take on the 'added' identities as the primary characteristics of being human.  It is like the dog beginning to act as 'Ceasar' rather than as a dog - just because he is named Ceasar. 

Human beings are perhaps the creatures that have the best capacity to reflect on oneself and our own basic nature.  In such a situation, the added identities we acquire as we live our life in a family, in a society, in a particular culture, ... need basically to build on the basic human nature.  And in case the acquisition of an identity goes at a tangent with our basic humanness, then one has to make serious choice for what is basic rather than what is to be acquired.  Human life cannot be put at stake for a name tag, or a caste label or a bad word or scolding uttered by someone else.  

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Spider plant in a wine glass

My Spidey plant!  Planted a small twig in the end of May this year, when I returned from Farnborough after my retreat.  Have been taking care of it in my room all these days.  But will put it out in the dining room or hallway someday. Not sure though, how the others will feel about having things in cracked glasses!  I for sure don't, and neither does the plant!

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Perseverance +

Persistence.

So often exalted as a virtue can also turn to be a death-trap.  Once we get into the rhythm and become so steadfast in something, there is a great danger to forget or sideline why did we chose to become persistent with something in the first instance. 

Perseverance is indeed a great virtue, demanding great discipline and patience.  Nonetheless, needs to be coupled with love (or atleast the noble motivation that prompted us to walk down this path of perseverance).  

Friday, 18 October 2019

Autumn in the Salesian Gardens

Autumn colours in the Salesian Garden...

Growing up

Came across a new children's book gathering attention.  It is by Charlie Mackesy who actually began to put up he sketches on instagram.  Liked the following picture... and the message:
Photo taken of The Times (Oct. 17, 2019).  Inset photo of Charlie Mackesy

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Holiness is grace

As I spent time in prayer this evening, and later talking to the confessor, it hit me hard that for quite sometime now, I've been thinking and trying to see what is it that I can do; that I need to do.  All this while, it never occured to me to think, what is it that the Lord wants me to do. 

I think what triggered this insight was what the preacher said about holiness.  He said, "We want to be holy.  We strive our best to be holy.  But we forget that it is God who makes us holy."  Though not very convinced of that one-sided affair of God making me holy while I sit there doing nothing. I also realised that doing things without Him, is equally empty.  Holiness is His grace and I have to respond.  Be aware.  Accept.  Be grateful for.  And build it up/share it around. 

So this evening's prayer: Lord, help me know what is it that you want me to do.  

Evening prayer in the car park

Our house is closest to the street and on side is the road leading into the cul-de-sac. So the Chapel is the one on that corner.  Usually we have all our windows closed and there is hardly any movement of the traffic heard.  But with any of the windows opened the traffic sound - luckily, none blare the horn - is quite audible.  However, this evening - thanks to our 'dial wars', wherein some raise the thermostat to high, while some others turn it the other way round to reduce the heat! - the Chapel windows were opened by Fr John. 

So we started our monthly recollection with the exposition of the Eucharist, then began our evening prayer, said the three psalms and the scripture reading and then paused for our silent reflection and time for confessions.  After a few minutes Fr John left the Chapel to make his confession in the adjoining meeting room.  As soon as he left, Fr Peter got up from his place and began closing the two open windows. Fr Sean, sharp as he is, loudly stated, "This is the first time I said evening prayer in a car park!"

I burst out laughing!  Am sure, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament too would have had a good laugh! 

Prophecy and spiritual direction

Two points reflecting on the life of St Margaret Mary Alacoque...

The first one is more a social aspect but nonetheless rooted in spirituality.  This aspect is true of most 'prophets' who are called for a particular purpose, specially to tell his or her fellow people that what they are up to is not the ideal - far from it.  The telling part may not be the most challenging part, but the living together, after that, certainly is.  So when God tells Mary Alacoque to go and tell the community members and the Church at large that they are to do penance and increase their fervour for the Sacred Heart, it is a challenge.  First of all, she certainly was not the eldest in the community.  Secondly, not the superior herself.  But she has to tell this 'revelation' to all, even those older to her, those who have lived their life in the convent, following the vows for donkeys years.  I guess the same must have been true for St Theresa of Child Jesus too.  The only exception where a 'prophet' is actually invited to share his wisdom is Daniel, when as a child he is called in to resolve the Susanna dispute.  For the rest, beginnings were/are never easy. 

The second point is the pivotal role of spiritual direction.  In moments of such intense or out of the ordinary experience, to have someone who can direct and help one discern what actually is happening around you, is such a blessing.  To be able to live one's daily life imbued by that divine experience, rather than be run over by it, to have someone help you make sense of what is happening to you rather than be totally overwhelmed and lost, is a great help.  

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

School education system

We had dining with us for the last week a couple of French teachers from France.  They were here with a group of French students on an exchange programme.  Tonight at table, they were sharing the experience of their students at our Salesian school here in Chertsey.  They (the students) always exited the classroom at the end of the day, eyes wide open and jaws hitting the floor!

That they attributed the ambiance and the whole attitude of the English school education system.  The French school education system is highly teacher-centric and regimented.  The system expects every student to fit in.  In contrast the English school education helps each child seeks and build on his or her own unique difference.  The pressure is not to blend in but bloom out!  So the emphasis is always on the child discovering his or her own potential and seeking ways to enhance it.

They made a very interesting observation regarding the school uniform. In France, school children mostly do not have a school uniform - but the education system is too formal and rigid.  In England, most schools insist on a precise school uniform - and that they found, furthers their growth in differentiating one another on the basis of their individuality. 

That confirms why most children here love going to school.  I've hardly seen any child cry or drag his or her feet on the way to school.  The only other place I've seen such joy on the faces of children going to school is in Shillong.  All the other places, the joy is only while returning from school!  

Monday, 14 October 2019

I am...

An interesting observation ... (found on Aeon):
The Western focus on internal change makes anthropological sense: people in the West fixate on the internal. Psychologists have demonstrated this with a simple experiment. When researchers at Lewis and Clark College and the University of Nevada in Portland, Oregon, asked people to finish the sentence ‘I am ______’, people from the Western world responded with phrases such as ‘happy’, ‘a fun person’, or ‘a health-nut’. Meanwhile, rural Kenyans or Pacific Islanders said things such as ‘a mother’ or ‘a member of the Makea family’. Whereas most people define themselves by their relationships, people in the West emphasise their interests and personalities.
I'm not sure how the notion of 'interests and personalities' is internal and relationship is not.  Interests and personalities are actually outward tending - only in their expression is their realisation.  I fail to see how relationship is different.  Only in its exercise is a relationship alive.  One way of viewing relationships is restrictive.  They bind us to individuals.  On the other hand, is the fact that being in a relationship does not 'limit' us.  Rather than see as restrictive, relationships can be seen as linking, bridging. 

Anyway, that's a digression!

Am still amused by...
most people (rural, non-educated, tribal...) define themselves by their relationships, people in the West (educated, urban...) emphasise their interests and personalities.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

'Parent' in Hindi?

One strange insight that hit me hard the other day, while talking in Hindi to one companion from India, at the university the other day: Hindi does not have a word for 'parent'!  We have a word for 'mother', a word for 'father' but not for 'parent'.  The closest word we use for parent in Hindi is माँ बाप or माता पिता ... that is 'mother-father'. 

Or perhaps nuanced Hindi has one, but it certainly is not in common use.  I wonder why is that so.  How come the English (Western?) language coined a common word to indicate both parents while the ancient Hindi never really thought it necessary to have a single word denoting both parents.  Parents were always specified as 'mother-father'.  

Why question the Samaritan?

In the gospel of the day, where Jesus heals the ten lepers and only one returns to thank him, Jesus asks the one - the Samaritan - 'where are the other nine?'
The cleansing of the lepers by Bicol Peryodiko
On first analysis it can be said that Jesus is expecting a 'thank you' from all those whom he cures.  However, the whole passage taken into account is to tell us a message to be grateful.  Not discounting that important and powerful message, how justified is Jesus in asking that question to the Samaritan who returns to thank him?  After all, he is the one who came back.  Jesus should have stopped at praising him for his sense of gratitude.  Why question him?  It is like giving a serious reprimand about coming late for Mass, during the introduction to the Mass -  but who are the recipients? Those who have come on time! 

However, I think there is one possible circumstance which justifies Jesus questioning the only one who returned about those who did not.  Just think of those ten lepers.  They were living outside the village.  Ostracised.  Not welcome into the village.  Surely the only people whom they could contact were the other nine lepers! They certainly were the only support for one another.  None else.  In such a circumstance their bond would surely have been strong.  And when ultimately they did receive the cure, to think that they forgot all about their only 'friends' and 'family' is unlikely.  Didn't or couldn't the one who thought of thanking Jesus spoken to the other nine and said, "Come let's thank him first!"

Or another scenario: Perhaps the other nine were fulfilling the one command of Jesus - Go, show yourselves to the priests.  And then returning to thank Jesus!  So it is actually the Samaritan, who broke ranks with the other nine and returned half way, without having met the priests.  Who knows, the other nine were on their way to thank Jesus!  

Faith

The gospel of the day, where Jesus heals the ten lepers and only one of them - a Samaritan, at that - returns to thank him for his cure, exudes of the theme of thanksgiving and gratitude.  However, what struck me most in the passage is the faith of the ten lepers. 
The cleansing of the lepers - Bicol Peryodiko
There are these ten men, lepers, outside the village.  Ostracized.  Marginalised.  Not having anyone to whom they can meet or contact with.  All that they ask Jesus as he passes is for the curse of leprosy to be take away.  "Lord, have mercy!" And in reply all that Jesus says or does is "Go show yourselves to the priests!" And they go!  Jesus did not offer them a long mantra for healing.  Nor did he dole out any treatment by way of ointment or medicine.  Just the instruction to show themselves to the priests.  And what faith must these men have to obey his instruction right away.  No one asks a question.  Or a clarification.  None asking him what will happen then.  Or when will they be cured.  Or even the basic doubt of 'will the priests see us in this leprous condition?'  They just go!

Looking at my own life, I see it riddled with so many questions and doubts and concerns.  That even after I receive answers, signs and solemn indicators, I've not moved much in the direction I'm asked to move!  

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Gratitude

Thinking about thankfulness and gratitude, the theme of the Gospel tomorrow, where Jesus cures the ten lepers and only one returns to thank him, I remembered reading an article recently about how gratitude adds value to life. 

However, even at the end of the article, I still did not see what different or 'scientific' was the whole argument about.  It was like stating what we already know - or is it?  The article (found on Aeon) basically argued for gratitude to be the simplest way to lead a life of well-being, primarily also because gratitude leads one to grow in other virtues. 
NJlifehacks

I think there is basically - more in India than here in the West - a sense of entitlement.  That one is entitled to what one receives;  and for what one is entitled to one need not go about being grateful to others, certainly not to the ones 'below' us! And for those we pay, they are not doing us a favour.  They are getting paid for it, so why 'thank' them?  But the whole notion of gratitude is not about justice or balance.  It is not as if to set right the equation, that one thanks.  Basically gratitude is an attitude, not a means we use to level off trade or equations.  And the best thing about gratitude: there are no adverse side-effects, only further advantages! 

Cicero did have a point when he stated:
Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, it is the parent of all others.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Vocation promotion

Listening to a talk on vocation came across a very different image of the whole process of vocational discernment and guidance.  That of a person using a metal detector!

The idea is that in today's world, vocation (in particular, to religious or Salesian religious life) is not something that is apparent or evident.  Even for the concerned individual. Leave alone for the one helping others to make a choice for religious life.  It is like buried under several things/layers.  Exactly like one searching for something special or different, using a metal detector, the one searching has to cover a lot of area.  Often finding nothing.  Pay great attention to even the slightest indicator for he or she never knows where exactly is the object located.  Searching for those indicators which are not always very prominently visible.  Makes sense for someone involved in vocation promotion. 

However, the drawback of this imagery is that this gives the appearance of vocational guidance as a distant and technical task. Also as something of a detached task from the mission one is engaged in (as in a hobby) or that it is the only mission (much like vocation promoters in our Indian provinces - full timers).  Not something that as an offshoot of the mission, prolonged and communitarian.  Nevertheless, the analogy is worth further reflection. 

The Emmaus story

The Gospel event of the Emmaus experience consistently continues to amaze me.  Perhaps it is the one event narrated in the Bible that I've found myself reflecting on most recurrently.

This evening it occurred to me that Jesus while joining the two disciples was leading them in the opposite direction.  Rather than lead them back to Jerusalem, where the whole action was being unfolded, he walks with them, in the opposite direction.  Then the comedy of the fact, the disciples reach Emmaus only to run back to Jerusalem, the place where they started their journey! Back to square one! 

One way of looking at it is that God often leads us away from where we are and where we think we ought o be, only to lead us in the opposite direction.  Perhaps later in life we get back to where we initially wanted to be, but then we are not anymore the same person who started off.  The journey, the new place we've been to, and the whole experience of the while, transforms us and our view of the place we are so convinced we actually ought to be in. 

Another way of looking at it is that God joins us in our journey. He does not cause abrupt u-turns in our life, just because he wants to or because that's where we are supposed to be.  He basically accompanies us, even if we are in a totally different direction.  It is in our daily living that we encounter God.  In our everyday choices and decisions.  He accompanies us.  The decision to change or retain paths is always ours!  
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