Saturday 27 September 2008

The challenging word of Jesus

The gospel of today is striking: in the context of the great admiration of the crowds, Jesus tells his disciples: Keep this constantly in mind: the Son of Man must be handed over... The text continues: the disciples failed to understand, their minds were closed, and they were afraid to ask...

Constantly we come across this bafflement in the face of Jesus' message: they failed to understand.

That bafflement is our own, my own, experience even today.

It is easier to set aside clothes and ways of dressing than to set aside attitudes, especially those attitudes we have inherited or picked up from our society and culture: attitudes and ideas about success, about 'rising', about 'going higher'...

Jesus challenges all these: Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself...

And Paul prefaces this hymn with the memorable words: Have the same mind among you that was in Christ Jesus...

His ways are not our ways, his values are not our values, and we are constantly in the throes of conversion. Derrida might have been at home in this kind of a state?

Wednesday 24 September 2008

A new-old model of mission

In the current context of attacks on Christians and the growing disaffection with the very idea of 'mission' and 'conversion', it may be worth reflecting on the model of mission contained in Vincent Donovan's once well-known book, Christianity Rediscovered. Donovan narrates his experience of being a missionary to the Masai. After 150 years of Christian presence in terms of hospitals and schools, and after seeing how the veneer of Christianity simply dropped off once a young person went back to his Masai village, Donovan decided to try something else. He approached the headman of a village, and addressed the whole village. He told them why he was there. He shared with them his faith. The headman and the elders were surprised. "Padri," they told him, "if this is the real purpose of your being here, then why did you wait 150 years? Tell us about this Jesus, we will listen."

Donovan goes on to narrate how he shared his faith with several Masai villages. The process took about a year. Every week the people would gather to listen to him, to discuss with him and among themselves. At the end, however, there was the moment of decision. And he narrates how some villages decided to follow this new religion, while others decided not to. With the former, there began now a whole process of what to do next, the inculturation of baptism, and belonging, and so on. (One of the greatest problems was to face the inbuilt tribal antagonism towards other peoples - the transition from 'my tribe' to 'all the world is my tribe'.) With the latter, there came the moment when the missionary simply departed.

This is a new-old model of mission work. It is, says Donovan, what St Paul was doing: going to a place, preaching the message there, but not staying for ever. The longest Paul stayed was in Corinth, and that was a period of one and a half years. Paul did not put up mission compounds, much less did he engage in social work. The elders emerged from the people. Christian service also.

Strangely, Mr Patwardhan, who used to come to dialogue with me here in Divyadaan some years ago, seemed open to this kind of thing. "I like the method of St Thomas," he said. "You preach your religion to us. We decide whether we want to follow." I guess, though, he was telling me that we should have been preaching to the upper castes and the rich, and not to the poor; the assumption being that the poor were not free, that they could not be relied upon to make up their minds independently and freely, that they were more open to 'enticements' and 'fraud' and 'coercion.'

But Christianity Rediscovered: a book well worth reading. We have a copy in our Divyadaan library, and I remember giving a copy to the Chhotaudepur house years ago. Perhaps it is still lying in the library there.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta's "Faith and us"

Yesterday's Indian Express carried a very important and interesting reflection on the current state of affairs involving widespread attacks on Christians all over the country, by Pratap Bhanu Mehta. The piece was entitled "Faith and Us" and is well worth reading. I believe Mehta's arguments are extremely sound and very important. He focuses on the right issues....

- The utter abdication by state governments of their duty to protect the lives and property of citizens.
- The political acceptability today of the language of revenge.
- The arrogation by the state of the right to decide whether or not someone's conversion is genuine.
- The intrinsic unimplementability of the various anti-conversion laws, because of the inherent difficulty of ascertaining motives (and if implemented, the draconian possibilities that open up).
- The bizarre insecurity and the paranoia that a few FCRA funds will somehow be able to match and overrun the enormous wealth of Hindu organizations.
- the enormous political gains derived from polarization for parties like the BJP.

An article well worth reading... Perhaps it is available also on the net, I have not checked.

Cf. The Indian Express, Tuesday, 23 September 2008.

Tuesday 23 September 2008

The inner word again

Tony De Mello has spoken of the 'bursting forth', of the inner urge to write, of the impossibility of not writing... which I have identified as the emergence of the inner word.

It is not exactly that, of course. The inner word emerges from the act of understanding; it is, in Gadamer's words, understanding brought to its term. The bursting forth of writing is the emergence of the outer word. But that emergence happens of course only when 'thought' is ripe: when, in other words, the inner word has emerged.

The question is, how to facilitate these emergences of the inner and outer words. Understanding, as Thomas has said, is a passion rather than an action: it is not under the direct control of the will. But it can certainly be made probable. One way is to read, to read abundantly, to read well... Another way is to cultivate 'good habits of thought' - allow yourself to think things out, rather than immediately going to take help from someone else. Yet another way - and this regards more the outer word - is to keep writing. "Nemo die sine pagina," notes Henrici in his methodology book: don't let a single day pass without writing a page. The more you write, the easier it becomes. The 'bursting forth' becomes more probable.

Rushdie magic

I have just begun Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh. I was caught after the very first page. I had expected something Islamic; instead, the novel is based in Kerala, and deals with a Firangi family, the Gamas, 'proudly descended from the wrong side of Vasco da Gama's bed.'

The characters seem to speak Bandra English, perhaps because that is what Rushdie is familiar with - though I must say I don't know how the Firangs of Kerala speak. 'Speakofy,' 'tiltofy,' and so on. But it is a wonderful effort, this putting down of Bambaiya English, or perhaps it is now Indian English, the way sentences end without objects, delightful. So Boozy Snow White speaks to Camoens (pronounced-Camonsh-through-the-nose:

'Mr Big Shot Jailbird Camoens da Gama,' she snapped. 'Can't keep a civil tongue for any lady, still pining for your late wife, isn't it, and never mind that she fooled with half the town, rich man poor man beggar man thief. O God listen to me I am not supposed to say.' She turned to go; Camoens caught her by the upper arm. 'God, men, let off, you are leaving a bruise!' Snow White exclaimed. But the demand in Camoens's face could not be denied. 'You are scaring,' Snow White said, wrenching her arm away. 'You look raving mad or what. Are you drunk? Maybe you are too much drunk. So. I am sorry I said but everybody knows, and some time it had to come out, isn't it?...' (66-67)

God and the hearts of kings

The first line of this morning's first reading, from the Book of Proverbs:
The heart of the king is in the hand of God
Wherever he wants to, he turns it.
A verse beloved to Thomas Aquinas, who keeps repeating it, so much so that his Latin is so familiar:
Cor regis in manu Dei
quocumque voluerit, vertet illud
.
There arises, of course, the problem of human freedom: if the heart of the king is in the hand of God, and if God turns it wherever he wills, what of our freedom? That is one of the problems Thomas tackles with characteristic brilliance, a brilliance that has, unfortunately often been misunderstood even by his most devoted followers.

But that has often been the fate of great minds: they are so great that their followers have a hard time keeping up.

Goodness

This morning I was speaking to Mario, who is a teacher in Nirmala Convent. Mario and his family were affected by the recent flooding of the Godavari. They live on the first floor, and the water had risen to within a foot of their flat. There was no way they could get out. They had to go to the terrace, where luckily there was a ladder, and climb down into another building.

Mario and his wife spent the night in the house of friends. But what touched him most was that so many people kept calling, including, he told me, the parents of his tuition children: "Come to our house, Sir. Allow us to serve you" was the way they put it.

Despite the efforts of our politicians, there is still so much goodness around.

Monday 22 September 2008

Satyagraha

Satyagraha:

overcoming hate: of the parivar, of the BJP, of the VHP, of the BD, of all those who feel it is their duty to destroy, maim, kill, for whatever nationalistic or political purpose.

overcoming fear: of pain, of suffering, of death, of destruction.

holding on to truth: of one's being, of the constitution.

Pussy Cat and the Queen

Fairy tales and nursery rhymes often contain deep truths.

The following nursery rhyme contains a profound hermeneutical truth:

Pussy cat, pussy cat,
where have you been?
I've been to London
to see the Queen.

Pussy cat, pussy cat,
what saw you there?
I saw a little mouse
under the chair.
Cats will naturally see only mice.

As you are, so you see.
As you are, so you know.

As Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas said, We know by what we are.

So it was not only Augustine who was a hermeneut in the grand tradition. The difference was that he wrote in commonsense language that is still accessible to us, while Aristotle and Thomas wrote in systematic language that can sometimes be a block even to a Heidegger.

The inner word

Augustine Arulraj shared this story from Tony De Mello with me this morning, in the light of our ruminations on the role of the inner word in hermeneutics:

The man was a religious writer and asked for a word of wisdom.

Said the master:
Some people write to make a living;
others to share their insights or raise questions
that will haunt their readers;
others yet to understand their very souls.

None of these will last. That distinction belongs to those who write only because if they did not they would burst.
As an afterthought he added:
These writers give expression to the divine
- no matter what they write about.


Anthony De Mello, SJ, One Minute Nonsense, p. 70.

Metaphysics: relevant?

Lots of questions have been raised and are being raised about the relevance of metaphysics for the Christian faith. Perhaps it all began with Luther who made his decisive option for scripture alone, and dumped all philosophy as the devil's dung. I have a feeling Schleiermacher went along this line, and interesting, it seems T. Kisiel has shown that Heidegger was reading Schleiermacher, On Religion, at the time he was formulating his views about being-in-the-world as prior to all epistemological articulation of subject and object and knowing....

But it does not really call for a Schleiermacher or a Heidegger to get into this kind of questioning. Our own students do it year after year, and they can hardly be said to be part of the Wirkungsgeschichte of the great men mentioned.

Savio D'Souza has been at the receiving end of these questions these days, and interestingly enough the questions came pouring out just when Edwin D'Souza was with us at table.

Some things that come off the top of my head:

Analogy: absolutely at the core of the Catholic faith. Cf. the controversy with Barth: he said he would have become Catholic if not for analogy. (Of course, he misunderstood the doctrine, and therefore rejected it, as has been shown by Bouillard.)

Causality: a proper understanding is absolutely vital if we are to conceive properly the relationship between God and world. That is the problem tackled in one way by the Catholic ex nihilo creation doctrine; and by Sankara in a different but equivalent way (at least if you follow De Smet).

The distinction between essence and existence: vital for understanding the distinction between person and nature in Christ. So essence, existence, and the theory of distinctions. (On this, see Lonergan.)

Relations: vital for an understanding of the theology of the Trinity. (Lonergan again would be very helpful on this point.)

Person: again, was borrowed from Greeks / Romans, but the theological concept has been hammered out in the process of thinking out the faith; 3 person in one God; 1 person, 2 natures in Christ. (See De Smet, and the forthcoming collection of articles by him with the title, Brahman and Person.)

So in fact, most of the classic Catholic metaphysical theses arose in the process of thinking out / faith seeking understanding of the faith.

The pity is that our metaphysics is so antiseptically separated from theology, including that of De Smet / Marneffe. But that was the style in those days, and unfortunately we have not yet broken free.

We need to distinguish but not necessarily separate philosophy and theology. Aquinas and even Scotus and Ockham knew the distinction but did not practise separation. The separation is a child perhaps of Cartesian doubt and the Enlightenment and Christian Wolff and Kant...

An engaged way of doing philosophy / theology: we begin from where we are, and if where we are includes lived faith, then so be it.

The lived faith will not, of course, be a pure, non-verbal and non-verbalized experience. It will be historical, mediated, more or less articulate, because forming part of a living tradition. And so the way of doing philosophy / theology will be hermeneutical and dialogical: mutual self-mediation within a tradition.

So perhaps we will stop talking about philosophy and theology, and talk simply of ongoing appropriation of a past and a present, in order to communicate in the present and to the future.

Coming to think of it, India too does not separate philosophy and theology, and perhaps does not even feel the need to distinguish the two. There are no real proper equivalents to these terms. Philosophy has for some time now been rendered as tattvajnana, the knowledge of tattvas, which is perhaps more akin to ontology, the knowledge of being/s. The rendering of theology is less firmly crystallized: someone like De Smet might want to call it Brahma-jijnasa; others, like Jan Feys, might want to call it Isvaravada.

Let your light shine

There is talk of satyagraha.

Satyagraha really means that: holding firm to truth, first in one's own life, then in the public domain.

The power of Gandhi's use of symbols stemmed from this kind of holding fast to truth in his own life. The choices he made were bold, and they cost him: his food, his dress, his mode of travel, a thousand things.

He was able to reach millions because of this.

"Let your light shine. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bed." But make sure the light is there first. Make sure you are indeed the light of the world.

The 'little tasks' of ecology

The document on Evangelical Poverty of GC26, n. 96, contains the following suggestion:

Let the province educate communities to being ecologically sensitive, by supporting initiatives in the local area concerning respect for the environment, use of alternative energy and economical use of resources.

This is a rather sanitized version of the Working Document which read:

Let confreres be willing to engage in the 'little tasks' of ecology: saving water and electricity, economizing on non-renewable fuels by more sparing use of vehicles, not using a bigger vehicle when a smaller one will do, not using private transport when public transport is available, and so on...

Last year, when Mumbai was facing the threat of power cuts, the local papers were full of such details. Someone calculated that if only a certain percentage of citizens were to switch off any electrical appliances when not needed (the TV, the computer, the lights, the fans), there would be no need of the power cuts.

Communicators and things

Yesterday I was reading Tavleen Singh's column in the Indian Express. She was berating the media for endlessly (and boringly) portraying Kandhamal as violence against Christians. Everyone knows, she concludes, that the real problem is between tribals and Dalits who have converted to Christianity and have consequently improved their economic status.

I thought of ignoring this very powerful columnist, but then this morning I received an email saying that the VHP and the Bajrang Dal are trying to spread precisely this word, that the problem is not against Christians, but a socio-economic one between tribals and Dalit Christians...

Tavleen Singh does not take up the issue of whether anyone can take the law into their own hands. She does not ask why so few have been convicted, despite openly claiming responsibility. She does not ask why, even if there is an underlying socio-economic problem, the issue of conversions should be raked up. She simply diverts the issue.

But indirectly perhaps she and the Parivar are doing a service. Part of the khunnas is probably that socio-economic equations are being disturbed.

I do understand that there are other issues. For a long time now, the average Hindu has an aversion to the topic of conversion. Gandhi himself had it. I guess all of us feel that - a Catholic feels it when another Catholic goes over to one of the Pentecostal churches.

But the question is: does that give me a right to take the law into my hands? Do I not have to uphold the constitutional principle that allows every person in our country to make up his / her mind on fundamental issues, including religion? Are there not other, better, more human ways of handling the problem, if problem it is? Let the Catholic look to his / her own practice, and ask why people feel the need to go away. And so on...

Saturday 20 September 2008

Simple courage and strong faith

Today is the feast of the Korean martyrs: some priests and so many lay people who laid down their lives for the faith.

India Today (22 September 2008), not necessarily known to be non-partisan, carried this touching testimony:
Satyvan Diggal, now in a relief camp, says, by August 27, most of the houses in his village were gutted. "Fearing death, I agreed to reconvert but once I came to the camp I changed my mind and left everything to God. We are Christians by conviction and not by force."

The testimony of simple people: simple courage and extraordinary faith.

The Godavari in spate

The Godavari burst its banks yesterday. It was the worst flooding since 1967, people were saying. The cause of the flooding seems to have been the water released from the Gangapur dam. Joel said evacuation announcements and warnings were being issued on the radio since early afternoon.

The waters covered Goda Park completely: about 2 feet of the street lights were visible. Whole slum colonies have been washed away. The water did not spare the rich either who had built their bungalows too close to the bank. The new building colony at the entrance to Goda Park was practically part of the river.

Mr Vamane, our Marathi teacher, said that the river was so swollen that it could be seen from the terrace of Nirmala School. I myself saw the waters swirling just a foot or so below the Canada Corner bridge. The only other bridge above water was the Panchavati bridge. All the others were submerged.

Our cook reports that at least 70 people have lost their lives.

The little stream on the other side of Nashik seems to have burst its banks too, blocking certain low lying roads and bridges. The Bombay Naka exit and the Nashik-Pune road seem to have been functioning, but naturally were packed with traffic, according to Hugh Mascarenhas.

Friday 19 September 2008

Phadtare wines



Yesterday we were guests of Hambir and Nalini Phadtare, two wonderful people who are setting up a winery in Ambe Bahula village on the outskirts of Nashik, just off the Bombay highway. Hambir comes from an old Nashik family that used to own large agricultural properties within the city limits, while Nalini comes from Gwalior and is very likely related to the Scindias.

The brand name of the wine is Mountain View, and the effort is to create a niche market, because Sula, Grover and Indage are simply too big right now.

We had a wine tasting session: semi-dry Chenin Blanc, rose, Cabernet, Cabernet Shiraz, and late harvest Chenin Blanc. Most of the wines were fresh from the vats, but the bouquets were extraordinary. The whites were on the sweet side, in keeping with the Indian market, but the reds were dry and the Cabernet Shiraz was especially good.

I found the people behind the wines also extraordinary. Hambir is a PhD in sociology and taught in the US for 20 years before coming back and rediscovering his first love, grapes. He became the first person to import wine grape stock into Nashik. His grandfather, I think, was the first to import certain table varieties that have now become popular, such as Sharad or Kismis.

Hambir, I discovered, is a person with a passion not only for wine but also for people. He was telling us that one of his greatest satisfactions is to be of assistance to tribal farmers. He is in the process of helping a group of 3 tribal villages to enter into the wine grape cultivation process.

There is as yet no restaurant, but when it comes up it will enjoy a delightful view of the mountains...

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Jesus and death

I have been reading Suketu Mehta's reports and ruminations on the Jain attitudes towards life and death in his Maximum City. Jain asceticism is one of the strictest and harshest in the world.

Then this morning there was the gospel reading about Jesus raising the son of the widow of Naim.

In one sense this is astounding: a man with power over life and death. In another sense, one is forced to stop and ask: but why on earth did he do that? He knew that the young man would one day have to die again. So why this cheating of death for a short while?

A completely different attitude here towards life and death. This life is by no means ultimate for Jesus. His being is completely turned towards the Father. And yet it is not that this life means nothing. For it comes from the same Father, through the Son. And so, while it lasts, it is precious, it is beautiful. And the Son of Man is moved by compassion for the drama of human life. Death, it is true, is not the ultimate evil, and his resurrection has robbed it of its sting. But it is sad, and can often be very sad, especially for those who are left behind. Jesus is moved with compassion for the widow, and he intervenes.

All Christian charity, all Christian work for justice is to be seen in the light of this compassion.

It is completely misunderstood if it is seen as arising from a desire to proselytize, just as it is misunderstood if it used to proselytize.

One loves. Full stop.

Does this mean that one will not bear witness to the source of this love? Does it mean one has to hide one's identity? These are also questions.

The happenings in Karnataka

I have not seen the TV news, but the students were reporting that there was a discussion last night between Margaret Alva, the BJP Home Minister of Karnataka, and someone else. The Home Minister, it seems, took the usual tack: the problem is the (alleged) conversion efforts on the part of Christians. Alva, it seems, pointed out that no one should be allowed to take the law into their own hands. If Christians are being attacked, they would protect themselves. The Minister replied, astoundingly, that in that case the Christians would be punished for taking the law into their own hands.

Whatever the shape of that argument, the fact is that a certain section of our countryfolk are taking the law into their own hands, and also getting away with it, with the often massive (tacit) support of the state. The question is, what can a minority community do in the face of this kind of assault.

There is the mundane reaction on the part of an ordinary Christian: anger, helplessness, frustration at not being able to do anything. I find that anger in the students, in myself.

There is the Gandhian way. It is very demanding, and calls for a longish effort at mobilization. Satyagraha does not happen overnight. One has to be spiritually prepared to absorb violence without retaliating; one has to be able to absorb the violence with inner strength and without trauma.

There is Martin Macwan who has overcome fear. Once one has overcome fear of death - one's own death, the death of loved ones - there is no other fear.

There is the ancient Christian way, exemplified astoundingly today by Bishop Cyprian who, condemned to death by beheading, asks his Christians to give 25 gold coins to the executioner. It makes me ask myself: what is it that makes a man do that? From where does that kind of attitude emerge?

One cannot communicate to a massive nation (more than a billion now, as opposed to 300 million in Gandhi's times) through the usual means. One has to perhaps take a leaf from Gandhi's book. One has to take symbolic communication seriously.

So symbolic communication emerging from a purified interiority, from inner strength, from deep conviction, from great love that overcomes every vestige of violence within oneself.

It is astounding that a time has come when we have to talk like this. But perhaps it has come.

Thursday 11 September 2008

Issues raised by Orissa

One of our friends has just come back from Orissa. He said he just had to go, just to overcome his fear and express his solidarity. He joined up with a Tehelka correspondent as his photographer, and so was able to penetrate into the most troubled spots.
Several issues are raised by the happenings in Orissa.
1. The accusation is made that Christian missionaries are attempting to convert by force or fraud. There are many issues here. But a widespread underlying assumption is that a poor person is either stupid or gullible or is not free to make up his own mind. I think we should each one uphold the principle that any and every person is free to make up his or her mind on any of a range of fundamental issues, including what kind of God he/she wants to believe in and what faith he/she wants to follow.
2. Another underlying assumption is that to convert is to somehow betray one’s nation and culture. (Some years ago I had an ongoing dialogue with a Mr Patwardhan here in Nashik; he was writing a book on the New Kargils in the Centre of India; he was referring to the ‘Christian pockets’ that missionaries were creating in Jharkhand and other places.) But this is just not true. Christians are as Indian as anyone else. This was one of Narayan Waman Tilak’s cherished convictions. Brahmobandhav Upadhyaya was a Christian and one of the great (but unfortunately unsung) heroes of the independence movement.
3. A third point - and in many ways the most important - is whether any citizen can be allowed to take the law into his/her own hands, as has been happening for weeks in Orissa. Even if there is a real grievance, no one can be allowed to take the law into his/her own hands. How can a secular democratic state tolerate the endless and planned violence that has been going on in this Indian state?

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Socio-political education

The Rector Major has been repeatedly calling attention to the socio-political dimension of Salesian education, saying that we need an updated reading of Don Bosco's "Honest Citizens and Good Christians."

The seminar on human rights gives us a good opening for this. There is probably good stuff already available for making people aware of human rights and also for training them in this area.

Could our province Development Office look into the matter and take concrete steps, e.g. by making available texts and programs in this area?

Human Rights Seminar

The seminar on human rights is just over, and for most it was an enlightening, inspiring and useful affair.

As Matthews Philip said, everyone does not have to become a human rights activist, and not all need to do everything. But certainly provinces and congregations could reflect profitably on the issue. Human rights is a question of human dignity, and we as church are certainly concerned with this issue.

Human Rights could easily be introduced into the curriculum of Religious Instruction and Value Education in schools, in the Catechism programs in parishes, and in formation programs in youth centres.

Letters to the Editor is another easy way of getting involved.

Discovering, networking with, and supporting NGO's involved with human rights in our local area is yet another way. This will help much to overcome the 'Stand Alone' type of status of many of our institutions. It is also a very good long term investment: if anything should happen one day, we can easily fall back on a network.

Our brothers could be encouraged to keep their eyes and ears open in their Sunday and Thursday outreach. Even if 'nothing concrete' is achieved by meeting youngsters and playing with them week after week, the outreach is a precious moment of contact, especially with disadvantaged youngsters. What is their caste affiliation? What are the power structures in the area? What are their problems in the area of education, health, employment? A thousand talking points.

And then Action-Reflection. Experience that is not reflected upon is experience lost, experience that remains in the magma of a thousand other experiences. Action-Reflection is part of the strategy of Salesian Youth Ministry, as is goal setting.

Learning about the laws of the land, the Acts passed by Parliament, the GR's enacted by the government, the mechanisms for putting these provisions into effect... Another vast area of learning.

Lourdes Baptista pointed out that this seminar was about creating awareness. It needs to be followed up by one on what he called 'technologies' regarding human rights.

Ecclesiastical furniture

This is one of my pet topics.

I have sat for hours on end during theology on chairs that were shockingly bad for the lower back: where there should have been a support, there was only space, and where there should have been a flat surface, there were curves. The most comfortable chairs for long term sitting, according to me, are the classical straight-backed solid wooden chairs of the Lonavla variety.

Then again there is the question of beds. I see that the new generation is often a full foot taller than my generation. But the beds have remained the same: even I don't fit into them comfortably. How do our students sleep? I have been asking this question over the years, and they tell me: diagonally.

Sleep is a human right. I wish I had done something about this earlier!

Beds, chairs, tables of the right height: healthy ecclesiastical furniture should not be such a difficult thing. And maybe our own formal and non-formal technical institutes could get some business.

(And yes, Elson, make sure the beds are long enough!)

Babasaheb Ambedkar

I liked what Pallithanam told us this morning: that while people have to be paid and transported to come for celebrations of Gandhi Jayanti and Nehru Jayanti, thousands gather spontaneously to celebrate the Jayanti of Ambedkar.

It is Ambedkar who has captured the imagination of the masses. It is he who has a following.

Yet the name of this great man is not known beyond the confines of India. Years ago, at table with some priests in Switzerland, I mentioned Ambedkar. No one had heard of him. One of the priests got up and looked up an encyclopedia; there was no entry on Ambedkar. Last year, during the meeting of the precapitular commission in preparation for GC26, I mentioned Ambedkar, only to be met with blank stares. Gandhi is known the world over, Ambedkar is not.

Perhaps it is time for a little biography of Ambedkar in Italian and in German?

The lotus and the muck

The lotus of yesterday reminded me of the story Martin Macwan found in Gijubhai Badhekar's school textbooks, the story of the bhangi and the Sonpari, the golden haired fairy.

It seems there was a bhangi who lived at the bottom of a pond. Gambling with a high caste man, he won everything the other man had. But the man would not give up, and staked his sister, the Sonpari. The bhangi won, and the prize was the Sonpari. But the Sonpari, who was high caste, said she would never marry a bhangi. The bhangi compromised: I will turn into a lotus, he said; all I ask is that you touch that lotus once. The brother of the Sonpari felt it was fair enough, and agreed. So the bhangi turned into a lotus, and the Sonpari, reluctantly, waded into the water to touch the lotus. But the lotus went further and further out of her reach, until she found herself neck deep in the water, and the bhangi carried her off to his house in the muck.

But word got around. Some fishes came to know that something was happening in the pond. They went and told bigger fish, who went and complained to the king: the bhangi in the pond has captured the Sonpari. This cannot happen, the king said, he is a bhangi, and sent his whole army to settle the matter.

So the army came to the pond, emptied it, destroyed the bhangi and his house in the muck, and saved the pretty Sonpari. And she lived happily ever after.

This, it seems, is one of the stories that little children in Gujarat learn in their textbooks.

The mind and heart revolt. Is this possible, and is it possible that no one has bothered to protest such a blatantly casteist text till Martin Macwan?

But the lotus grows out of the muck. I have been deeply impressed by the spirituality of some of our speakers in the Seminar on Human Rights. Martin who has faced death and is still so serene. Pallithanam who has just come out from a trip to Kandhamal, and who says that he is not doing anything very brave or very difficult in his PARA...

In classical India people like the Buddha and Sankara not only used the lotus as an example in their writings (nilam mahat sugandhy-utpalam iti), but were flowers of great beauty and spirituality. In today's India, we have new lotuses from different ponds, from the very soil of India, lotuses like Martin and Palli.

A lotus in Divyadaan...



nilam mahat-sugandhy-utpalam iti...
"this kind of lotus is blue, big, sweet-smelling"

The one above is far from blue, but is big and certainly very beautiful...

Tuesday 9 September 2008

Martin Macwan

We have just heard Mr Martin Macwan, Dalit leader from Gujarat. Martin was absolutely clear and serene about his origins and his identity: he had himself introduced as a poor Dalit boy and child labourer. He began his talk with an account of the conflict between Gandhi and Ambedkar about separate electorates for Dalits. This was the only time Gandhi undertook a fast unto death: "At no cost, as long as I am alive, will I allow the division of Hindus." Ambedkar replied that Dalits were not Hindus.

Was the real issue Gandhi's fierce loyalty to the religion of his birth? Or was it the simple fact that, according to the 1931 census, Dalits formed 20% of the population, Muslims another 20%, and tribals 8%, forming a formidable block of 48%? Martin raised the question and left it to our reflection.

He spoke of the Rampatra Chhodo Abhiyan, where he organized the Dalits in Gujarat to refuse to drink from the 'Rampatra', which is the euphemism by which the vessel for lower castes is called in Gujarat.

He spoke of the land and wages experiment, how they managed to raise the wages from Re. 1 per day to more than Rs. 30 per day, till the upper castes and landed gentry got together and murdered 4 of the Dalit leaders and injured 20 others.

He spoke about his discovery of the blatant caste bias propagated by Gijubhai Badhekar, who is revered almost as another Gandhi in Gujarat, and who was responsible for bringing Madam Montessori to Gujarat and for spreading the Montessori system in the state. He decided then to write his own alternative textbooks, and the experiment is doing very well. He has plans to set up a National Dalit Book Trust, and to translate the books into all Indian languages.

He said the major problem was the lack of unity and clear identity among Dalits themselves. There are some 761 subcastes among the Dalits, with their own internal hierarchy, untouchability, etc. There is a mindset of inequality and of 'being low', propagated by parents and by teachers. There is the fact that a Dalit man will refuse to do the work traditionally assigned to women, such as washing plates. Martin spoke of the "poison of inequality" that we carry within, that has to be removed if the Dalit cause is to proceed.

He spoke also of broadening the definition of Dalit: a Dalit, he proposed, is one who stands for equality, lives equality, and fights inequality.

He inspired me and many others most of all by his utter lack of bitterness. A man who has overcome fear, a man who is able to stand for the truth regardless of short term gain. A man who has suffered also at the hands of the Church. A man of great spirituality.

Sunday 7 September 2008

Ushas, daughter of the Sun

The Church celebrates only three births: those of Jesus, John the Baptist and Mary. For all others, the real day of birth is the day of their death, the day of their birth into heaven, into God.
It celebrates the birth of Jesus, because he is the sun of salvation.
It celebrates the birth of John, because he was purified in the womb by Jesus.
It celebrates the birth of Mary, because she was immaculately conceived and born full of grace.

So we celebrate today the mysterious workings of God. God says to Jeremiah: before you were born, I knew you; when you were in the womb, I consecrated you.

Paul in the Letter to the Romans speaks of those whom God has called to himself long ago according to his purpose. We celebrate one such call today, and we believe that all of us have been called. We believe that the same God who worked in Mary works also in us. Insignificant though we are, he has known and loved us from eternity, with an everlasting love.

But the birth of Mary is special, because it lies on the very border between darkness and light. It is the dawn of salvation. It is the early morning light before the sun rises. It is the time of beauty, of stillness, of peace, the presage of a new day. Mary is Ushas, the morning, the daughter of the Father, drawing all her beauty from the sun, yet bringing forth the sun.

We celebrate this mysterious working of God’s grace. Here, at the birth, there is surely no question of merit. All that Mary is at birth is totally due to God. She shines with the light of the sun that is about to rise.

And this is how it will be throughout her life: totally transparent to God. And this is the true beauty of Mary, her true glory, her true dignity: that she realized that everything in her and all that she was came totally and completely from God.

She has this indefinable attraction for us because she is a human being so open, so humble, so surrendered, so empty, that there is nothing left of her anymore, but everywhere is God, and the glory of God. Her soul shouts, it magnifies the glory of God.

And that is why Mary can never become an end in herself.

We think of the thousands flocking to Bandra to pay her homage. The cult of Mary ever threatens to block the divine and swallow up God himself.

But I would like to believe that, despite all our efforts, Mary simply cannot and will not allow herself to become a diversion on the way to God.

She in her wisdom takes us, in ways unknown, to the throne of God. The dawn cannot be captured and fixed; it eludes our grasp; slowly but surely its fragile beauty dissolves and gives way to the dazzling brilliance of the sun.

Sin is at root the attempt to make ourselves the centre of the universe.

Grace is letting our eyes be opened and bowing to the truth. It is allowing ourselves like Mary to dissolve and give way to the dazzling brilliance of the sun, recognizing that we shine but with a borrowed light.

Friday 5 September 2008

Walking in the rain

Yesterday we had a shower here in Nashik like we haven't seen for a while.

We were sitting in a dark refectory (since the lights had failed yet again) and marvelling at the rain, but also feeling quite restless. The rain in Nashik has a way of washing away games and walks. Though that does not quite deter our young hot bloods from going out. Thank God for that.

Suddenly it occurred to one of us: why not walk in the rain?

Which we did, three of us. Take off your slippers, give the chance for the earth to touch your feet and gently massage them. Enjoy the hard, warm feel of the paved road, relish the squishy yielding feel of the grass and the mud and the gathering water on the football pitch. Feel the rain pouring down on your head and onto your shoulders and the rest of the body...

The rain blessing, touching, caressing the body and penetrating to the secret corners of the spirit.

By the time we went in I was thoroughly refreshed in mind and spirit.

Non-verbal therapies

'Non-verbal therapies' is my way of referring to therapies that do not involve talking and verbal self-disclosure, as do many of the classical varieties of therapy starting from psychoanalysis and going up to individual counselling of whatever type.

This classification may not be quite exact, because increasingly individual counselling and group therapy are making use of therapies across the board, including what I am referring to as non-verbal.

But the non-verbal type of therapy is something amazing, both because you do not have to share all your pain, guilt, shame and woundedness, and because they seem to be surprisingly simple as well as surprisingly effective.

AMR (Joe Kunnumpuram's Awareness Meditation Relaxation), for example, can be practised by just anyone, even someone without much formal training (though the training does make a difference, in my opinion).

AMR at least has deep roots in the basic insight of the Buddha, that when sensations are watched dispassionately, with neiter moha nor krodha, they rise and then they fall away. The basic presupposition is that all of our experiences are stored in the body, and that we can become aware of these bodily sensations by sharpening our awareness. That is really the task of Vipassana: to sharpen our awareness, and then to watch the sensations on our body, watch them dispassionately, neither becoming attached or craving for the pleasurable, nor running away from the painful.

Shades of New Age? Perhaps. But I appeal to the very Catholic integration between faith and reason, between grace and every other 'natural' possibility given to us human beings by the same God.

Xavier Swami of Karjat



Yesterday I was mentioning Xavier Devadas to one of my friends, and I thought, I must write about him.

Xavier's experiment at Karjat is something worth visiting and learning from. Don Bosco Karjat is a beautiful 60 acre property about 2 kms. out of town; it includes a whole hill with an astoundingly beautiful view, and in the rains it is an astonishing picture of lush green.

Xavier has about 20 boys at a time, most of them from the streets; he helps them, over a period of 3 months, to get ready to proceed with their lives on their own, making use of what he has learnt from Atmadarshan Patna and other places. The training includes prayer, meditation, personal and emotional growth, learning of English, life coping skills, agricultural skills, a trade...

Even more interesting is Xavier's involvement with the tribal villages around. The villagers have to give him a formal invitation signed by the sarpanch and other panches; then he offers classes which do not clash with the school system...

Then there is the vegetable garden experiment: huge brinjals, tomatoes, gowar grown in gunny bags, in mounds of mud wrapped round with grass, in holes in unpromising ground filled with compost made of organic waste... The idea is to help the Katkari villagers supplement their meagre diets with vegetables. If the vegetables are also sun-dried, then they have vegetables throughout the year... Talk about sun-dried tomatoes in our plush shopping malls! Here is a wonderfully contextualized idea: sun-dried tomatoes for the Katkari villagers.

Amazingly, people living 3 kms. away from Karjat town might never have visited the town, seen a train, or a post-office, or sat in a jeep...

People like Xavier swami are signs of hope and signals of transcendence.

Teachers' Day

A wonderful Teachers' Day reflection from today's gospel, which is about the impossibility of the disciples fasting when the Bridegroom is with them.

All of us, teachers and educators, are called to be Brides and Bridegrooms. When we walk into a class or oratory or youth centre, our students and young people must find themselves in the impossibility of fasting. Our presence must be one that brings joy, brightness, hope rather than fear and a pall of gloom.

We are called to be Jesus!

Discipline is not the end of education. The end of education is setting people free, free to be their ownmost selves, free to grow and develop and flourish into the people that God has wanted them to be.

And so the educator must be a free person himself who is able to set people free, set their hearts on fire, be the ground and the soil and the water and the sunlight...

Happy Teachers' Day, all you teachers!

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Presence

Once upon a time, in a certain Salesian house, a very strict and even unreasonable Prefect of Studies was replaced by a wonderfully human, kind, gentle one.

The stress level of the students dropped dramatically, so much so that the local chemist complained that his medicines were not getting sold anymore.

Everything was going well and everyone seemed to be happy. But the Rector got a shock when he realized that the students did not really like the wonderfully human, kind, gentle Prefect of Studies. It was a real puzzle to him.

That was when he realized the importance of presence. The old Prefect of Studies was strict, harsh, unreasonable, but he would follow up the students. The problem with the new one was that, while he was kind and gentle, he was rather often out of the house for pastoral work, and it was not in his blood to do the kind of detailed follow up that his predecessor was doing.

The moral of the story is that any kind of stroke is better than no stroke at all. Even a negative stroke is better than no stroke at all. Those who deal with children know that a child will often be naughty simply in order to get some attention from its parents or guardians.

Personalization

The Salesian Ratio repeatedly emphasizes the need for personalization in formation, and the members of the Department for Formation indicate lack of such personalization as one of the factors in the rather alarming rate of defections among temporarily and perpetually professed members.

The problem is to understand what personalization might mean, and to acquire the convictions, qualities and skills necessary for it.

Among the convictions are that process is more important than results, especially in the area of formation.

Among the qualities necessary are a good measure of self-possession, which is perhaps related to self-esteem, confidence and trust - trust in oneself, in human beings in general, in the particular human beings entrusted to one's care, in life, in God.

As for the process of personalization itself, examples will have to do when theory is lacking. When I see a young confrere doing something that I consider wrong, or inconvenient, or incorrect, or simply unsuitable, I can call him and tell him, kindly or less kindly as the case may be, that this is wrong, inconvenient, incorrect, or unsuitable. On the other hand, I could call him and begin a conversation with him, in which I make him aware of what has happened, help him own the event, the feelings associated with it, etc. I will try to communicate empathy: I am not judging him as a person; instead, I value him greatly as a person; I also communicate to him my understanding of his feelings. Eventually, we arrive at a point where the young Salesian is able to take a somewhat detached view of himself and his action, begin to evaluate it, and arrive at a decision for future action. This latter process is, I think, personalization.

Personalization is not complicated. It calls for the same qualities and skills as counselling. It is not that it needs to be done for every silly little thing. But it would certainly help in the larger matters, and it is a great tool when we ourselves, the formators, find ourselves fuming, fretting, getting annoyed and impatient.

Cynthia Gonsalves, FMM used to give a very good course on such matters. I remember attending one of her courses in Hyderabad, perhaps in 1997... Cynthia is now a member of the General Council of her congregation; hopefully she will soon return to India to continue her work of animation in the important area of formation.

Meeting your Infancy Needs

This is a wonderful list of suggestions for getting one's infancy needs met. I have edited a bit. Those who want to look at the original list could look at John Bradshaw, Homecoming, 217-219.

Get into a hot tub and focus on bodily sensations.
Treat yourself to a regular massage.
Have a manicure and a haircut.
Have a friend feed you - either cook for you or take you out.
Sit quietly wrapped in a blanket; in cold places, sit wrapped up in front of a warm fire.
Have a bubble bath, lounge in a tub of warm water and bath oils.
Block out periods of time for doing nothing; make no plans, have no commitments.
Spend 30 minutes to an hour floating on a swimming pool on a warm day.
Hang in a hammock for a long time.
Listen to soft lullaby music.
When working, have liquids available for regular sipping.
Suck on mints while starting a new job or doing something for the first time.
Change your eating habits. Instead of three square meals, have a number of small nutritious meals.
Have some specail support person (ideally of both sexes) who will hug or hold you for clearly contracted periods of time.
Take as many naps as you can on days when you have plenty of time.
Get plenty of rest before doing anything new.
Practise trust walks with a friend. Allow him to blindfold you and lead you for a contracted period of time.
Risk trusting a friend whom you have good feelings about. Let him plan and control what you do together.
Get a partner, gaze at each other for 9 minutes. Laugh, giggle, do whatever. Just hang in there. Don't talk. Just look.
Spend time meditating on nothingness.

Adulthood: Generativity vs Stagnation

Abe Puthumana was talking about the stage of adulthood, with its crisis of generativity vs stagnation, and told the story of his own sister-in-law who did not know what to do with her time after her fifth child began going to school. Her husband said to her, "You know, I always wanted to marry a college girl, so why don't you think of going to college?" She thought about it and found it a good idea, and took admission in college. She had to sit with her eldest son, in the same class. She went on to do her LLB, became a practising lawyer, and eventually resigned from court in order to provide legal advice to women.

Abe also told the story of Jim Borst, SJ. About five years before his retirement, Abe asked him what he was planning to do afterwards. Jim had not given a thought to it. Abe suggested that he do a nine month Maxi Sadhana course at Lonavla. Jim thought about it and agreed. He told Abe later that that was the best experience in his life. He went on to become a counsellor, taught psychology to the Jesuit novices at XTTI Patna, and so many people, many of them his own ex-students, began approaching him for help. He began a whole new enriching and fulfilling life after retirement.

Young Adulthood: Intimacy vs Isolation

In the context of Young Adulthood, with its crisis of intimacy vs isolation, Abe Puthumana told us the story of the famous Fr Camil Bulcke, SJ, great Hindi scholar, who would, every Thursday, take a loaf of bread and a slab of butter from the Manresa dairy in Ranchi, and cycle off to spend the day with his friend, Fr Freyne (?), playing chess. Freyne was a frontline missionary, Bulcke was a great scholar. Their friendship helped each one be a better person, Freyne a better missionary, Bulcke a better scholar. After Bulcke died, Abe met Freyne and asked him to tell him something about Bulcke. "We were novices together in Belgium," he said, "and became good friends. We made a promise to write to each other every week, wherever we were, and to visit each other every week if we were close by. We always kept that promise. I miss him," he said, with tears rolling down his eyes.

The other story was about George Soares, SJ, the famous Indian scripture scholar at JDV, Pune, and Bertie Philips, SJ. Bertie was in Vinayalaya, Mumbai, while George was in Pune. Whenever George felt like a break, he would take the train to Mumbai, go to Vinayalaya, and the two friends would go to the common room, put on some music, and each one would sit there reading his own book. At the end of the day, George would take the train back to Pune.

A wonderful teacher

When Ratnaswamy was doing his BA at Trichy College, he was way ahead of the class. His teacher, Fr Cartier, SJ, recognized this. "No need of following the class with the other students," he said. "I will give you special lessons." Ratnaswamy did so brilliantly in his BA exams that his papers are still preserved in the archives of the University of Madras.

Fr Cartier is an example of a teacher who does not treat his students as a mass, but is able to recognize and encourage their individual potential.

I was wonderring whether this Ratnaswamy was the same as the uncle of our own dear Fr Joe Dhyrianathan. Joe would sometimes mention this uncle to me. Joe himself was a brilliant man who we never really fully recognized, and whose vast energies and gifts never really found an outlet in the congregation. Joe used to tell me that he had joined after completing his B.Ed. His novice master somehow took a dislike to him, and kept on taunting him, B.Ed., M.Ed., Mad, so much so that the good provincial, Fr Carreno, had to take Joe out of the novitiate. When the novice master changed, Joe was sent back, and eventually made his profession.

Monday 1 September 2008

Atmadarshan retreat, Patna

I am just back from a very useful retreat at Atmadarshan, Patna, the Jesuit centre for spirituality and renewal. The retreat was an unusual one, entitled Journey towards Wholeness, and made use both of Erikson’s eight stages of development and the Awareness Meditation Relaxation therapy developed by Joe Kunnumpuram, SJ, at Atmadarshan.
The peculiarity of AMR is that it is a non-verbal therapy: there is no need of deep and extensive sharing as is the case in Group Therapy and most individual counselling therapies. This will ring a bell for those who have done Vipassana, and in fact, AMR has roots in Vipassana meditation. It also makes use of a variety of other therapies and tools such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Hypnotherapy.
In combination with the traditional retreat model and Erikson’s eight stages, AMR makes for a fine retreat, with opportunities to go over unfinished growth tasks in infancy, toddlerhood, pre-school age, school age, young adulthood, etc.
Journey Towards Wholeness, especially when led by Abe Puthumana, SJ, would also make a wonderful basic program for our formation personnel. It could then be followed up by a training course in AMR itself. The four month long Atmadarshan program (January to May) would complete the training.
But the offerings of Atmadarshan are for all, not only for formation personnel. A great opportunity for growth, and for all-round (spiritual!) well-being!

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