What Me Worry?

January 25, 2015 at 1:36 pm

The story is told about a man on a journey who suddenly finds himself running away from some tigers.  The tigers are gaining on him as he reaches a cliff.  Fortunately, there is a vine hanging down the side of the cliff.  He grabs it and begins to rappel down the cliff away from his pursuers only to realize that there are tigers also at the bottom of the wall waiting for him.  As he clings thinking about what to do next, he realizes that there is a mouse that is gnawing away at his vine.   He is soon  hanging only by a thread.

This story is about the reality of our existence.  It can reflect many different aspects of our life.  How we live in illusions and build castles in the air.  We seek security and comfort.  We curate our image so that we find approval and esteem in the eyes of others.  All the while,  we think that we control life and its outcomes until events occur that wake us up to reality or scare the hell out of us.  One could also interpret this story to reflect that we are all aging and ultimately will die.  That notion is incomprehensible to us during our invulnerable years of youth; however, it becomes more real as our hair grays and our face wrinkles and sags.

I could not stop thinking the past few days about this story recorded by Pema Chodrun since  Hyderabad is in the midst of a swine flu epidemic.  300 people have tested positive.  25 people have died very recently.  I am not sure this government knows the real numbers.  There is no panic.  The authorities say  not to worry.   There is no public health alert or encouragement to get vaccinated.   People are basically unconcerned at work.  The newspapers generally report the epidemic on page 3.  Quite a contrast to the Ebola event in the US a few months ago.  However, it scares me.  I had not heard much about it.  I had not been reading the papers in the past couple of weeks.  Then I picked one up on Wednesday and saw that 200+ were tested positive for H1N1 and 20 people had died.  Moments before, I had  read the tiger story.

Kathleen wondered why I was so somber. I mumbled something about being tired from running 4 miles that morning rather than saying that I felt surrounded by tigers.  I was morose.   I was not sure if there was even a vaccine for this flu.  I googled H1N1 and found that there is. I wondered then if it was possible to get vaccinated in Hyderabad.  Is the vaccine available and if it is, are there sufficient supplies?   I then thought about the recent outbreak of HIV in one of the states of India because a doctor was reusing the same needle.  I then remembered that in another state poor women were paid some rupees by the government to get sterilized to control the population.  They died after the surgery when the antibiotic that they were provided had poison in it.   India is not the place to be when you need a sound public health system.    “The line,” my dad once said in his later years, “between the here and hereafter is very thin.”

I did not have a panic attack.  However, I did remember how Jesus sweated blood during his agony in the garden as he realized that his tigers were about to get him.   In the end, he embraced our  human condition.  He willingly and nonviolently walked the path to death.  One of the central pieces of Christian iconography is Jesus on the Cross capturing the pain, suffering, and death inherent in our natures.   I get it.   I grasp the concept easily enough ; you can know something with your mind, but not your heart.  It is another matter when you have actually have a sense of our fragility.

The  story of the person on the vine does not end with him hanging by a thread.  In the midst of his predicament, he notices some ripe strawberries within his reach.   He reaches over.  He plucks them.  He enjoys tasting them.

I am tempted to end this meditation here.  Let you explore its meaning.

The conclusion  reminds me of the French existentialists.  They viewed life as absurd and meaningless, but were excited about how they could shape their lives creatively.  What kind of masterpiece could they create?

I am also reminded how our world was created out of love and is rooted and ultimately grounded in love despite its many perceived shortcomings.

Kathleen dropped me at work that day.  We made plans to get our vaccination the following day by a doctor who we met serendipitously.  She  practiced medicine at Mt. Carmel and Riverside in Columbus for 15 years.   As we rode, I told Kathleen and Mr Shah, our driver, that I had had a dream and related the Tiger story.  But I added something.  In the past, Mr Shah shared with me Islam’s view of heaven and hell.  So right after the part about enjoying the strawberries and the thread snapping, I added  how  I was borne up to Paradise by the prayers  of others to the arms of God.

A Skulking One-eyed Mullah

January 25, 2015 at 1:30 pm

“ I do not know where Osama came from.    I do not understand ISIS.  They are not Muslims.  Islam is not violent.  We greet each other by wishing that God’s peace be with you.  The last revelation from God through the Prophet, may God’s peace be upon him,  was  effectively ‘To live and let live.’   We are to let others live in peace and ask to be left to live in peace.”

We were shopping in a handicraft shop with our good friends, John and Mary, just before their departure to the US two weeks ago.  The Muslim shop attendant was showing us a “Happy Buddha” statue of a 15th century laughing  Japanese Buddhist monk.  The Paris terrorist attack had just happened and he volunteered that the terrorists were not Muslims.  I said that they sure gave Islam a bad name. He then responded with the statement above.  We had also recently witnessed the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birth anniversary.  My driver reinforced the retailer by saying that in ISIS territories,  Muslim faithful were afraid to go outside to celebrate the Prophet’s birthday.  “How,” he asked, “could these guys be Muslims?”

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan was quoted in the Times of India (November 4) long before Paris: “Terrorism has no place whatsoever in Islam; it is not acceptable or justifiable under any circumstance.  If an individual or group has a grouse or complaint, it can be addressed using peaceful means.”

Also in the same newspaper Aamir Raza Husain wrote “ It is regrettable that a religion of pacifism should be linked to violence.  That the perpetrators of violence carry it out in the name of religion is blasphemous…Islam stands for peace…it is a path of grace and harmony…The Muslim greets another with the salutation, ‘Salaam’—Peace.  He prays for peace, fasts for peace and gives in charity to gain ultimate peace.  He starts conversations with salaam and ends his prayers with ‘salaam.’”

I am reminded of our recent visit to Hamuyan’s Tomb in Delhi with John and Mary.   John was taking a picture of Mary in front of mammoth 16th century door.  6 Muslim men were walking side by side and they all looked at us at the same time.  It was like an “eyes right” command had been given.  I said “Salaam Aleikum.”  They responded in unison “Walekum Salaam”.  They stopped and gathered around John and I to learn who we were and from where we hailed.  There was much smiling as we parted.  John was amazed.

One of my partner buddies visited from Grand Rapids last November.  When he learned that Hyderabad is 50 percent Muslim and that my driver is Muslim, he commented on how  Islam  is not particularly popular in the states right now.   I commented that I have never met a finer human being than my driver and told him how when I read the Gulf news, the leaders of UAE, Saudi, etc. are trying to address the radicalization of their youth and other segments of the population.  They  are hoping that education may provide a key.  The leaders are hopeful that reinvigorating the system of education will both train their young in what the Koran teaches as well as prepare them so that they will not be  unemployed.  The Gulf states are also talking about joining together to enhance their military capability to fight ISIS.

I recently read ( in the local media I think)  how parents are shocked by questions from their children about misinterpretations of the Koran that they find on the web when they google certain questions.  Those who pervert Islam for their own ends have propaganda all over the web.  The religious leaders are talking about how to make sure that their young are educated in a manner to avert that influence.

Kathleen and I hear Muslims refer to some Muslims as “Bad Muslims.”  We have heard a few times that the terrorists will end up in hell.

Islam is not centralized.  There is no one central figure that can speak out against terrorism.  While many in the US, wonder why Muslim leaders are not speaking out, those that do speak out, do not  seem to get any attention.  Someone apparently decides that it is not newsworthy.  Aamir Raza Husain wrote in the Times of India last November:

“No imam of a mosque, no sheikh or head of an Islamic state and not the followers of the late and unlamented Osama bin Laden of the al-Qaida nor the skulking one-eyed Mullah Omar of the Taliban have ever had any universal religious sanction to lead Muslims into battle. Since the time of the Prophet, there have been saboteurs and hypocrites in the ranks of the Uslim Ummah.  These are the modern-day terrorists who have unleashed a reign of fear, tarnishing the name of Islam.”


Opening Our Hearts

January 14, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Mother Teresa wrote:

“ Love is a fruit in season at all times

And within the reach of every hand.

Anyone may gather it

And no limit is set.

Everyone can reach this love

Through meditation

The spirit of prayer

And sacrifice,

By an intense inner life.


Do we really live this life?”


In a few words, Teresa gives us a vision of a life lived in love.  She tells us it is there for taking.  We all have access to it.  It is unlimited.

Yet, looking in the mirror,  I realize how I do not live it and access it.  I fall far short of the mark.  I read about it. Pray about it. But do not follow her prescription as I should.  There is a need to live the intense inner life, to pray, meditate and sacrifice.

Her quote comes from a chapter in Everything Starts from Prayer called “Opening Your Heart.”  Later in the chapter she writes  “ It is so easy to be proud, harsh, moody, and selfish, but we have been created for greater things; why stoop down to things that will spoil the beauty of our hearts?”  Perhaps the intense inner life involves cultivating an awareness of our emotional life, listening to what it is telling us, how it may be directing us or controlling us, and holding it before God so that we find the way of purity.

Jesus came and told us that Kingdom of God is at hand and within.  The “intense inner life” of Teresa is a journey to the Kingdom of God within.

Rex Pai SJ writes “Prayer is a journey inward…We move toward deeper levels within us, towards the centre and core of our being where we meet the one who is waiting for us, the one who is the source of our being and the meaning of our life…prayer anchors us on God.”

Courage to Change on January 13 provides a similar message: “ Our group gives me great spiritual freedom because it encourages me to find a personal understanding of God, and to allow others the same freedom.  Until I could think of God in terms that were meaningful to me, I was not able to truly turn my life over to a Higher Power.   My concept of God evolves.  It changes and grows as I continue to change and grow.  How wonderful it is, for I now sense a Higher Power that is as alive as I am!  Never in my life did I dream of finding such a source of serenity, courage and wisdom.

There is a sense of unique purpose to my journey through life.  I am the only one who can live it, and I need the help of the God OF MY UNDERSTANDING in order to live it fully.  Grounded in faith, I can hold tight to my course and meet the future with confidence.

Once upon a time I was afraid to live life for myself.  This was because I did not know how to do it and thought that there was no one to show me.  Now I have a resource deep within me to guide me along life’s many roads.  I am not alone on my journey.”  The reading concludes with the following quote:

“In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”  – Albert Camus

Rex Pai continues writing about this journey inward to the invincible summer:  “ Prayer  makes us keep our heart at the lotus feet of the Lord while we plunge into the struggle of life ( Krishna’s advice to Arjuna in the Gita.)

We realize the words of wisdom spoken by little Anna of “Mister God” fame:  ‘People can only love outside and can only kiss outside, but God can love you right inside and can kiss you right inside.’

The inward journey, by its very nature, takes us outward, back to life—but with a renewed vision, a new sense of purpose, and a deeper commitment to work for a better world.  In ‘Longest Journey’ John Dalrymple brings this out very well:  ‘ The Christian who prays involves himself in a double journey, a journey inwards and a journey outwards.  The journey inwards is the journey from the issues of this world towards God.  It is a journey towards the mind of Christ beyond feelings of expediency or fear of what people will say, to truth itself.  It is followed by the journey outwards back from the depths where we meet God to the issues facing us in our everyday life,

A journey which we now undertake with a new sensitivity to the will of God in all things…

It is a two way exposure.  The journey inward exposes us to God and the journey outwards pitches us back into God’s world, and as with all pendulums, the bigger swing towards God in prayer the bigger the swing back towards the problems and persons of this world.’”

As Mother Teresa asks  “Do we really live this life?”

The heart in Christian spirituality is where we meet God within.  It is beyond discursive reasoning and the intellectual abstractions of our minds.  We embrace God with our hearts in a way that is beyond the grasp of our minds.  Buddhism also talks about this awakened heart.  Pema Chodron says “ No matter how committed we are to unkindness, selfishness, or greed, the genuine heart cannot be lost.  It is …never marred and completely whole. ..When inspiration has become hidden, when we feel ready to give up, this is the time when healing can be found in the tenderness of pain itself.”  Doesn’t this sound like how God reveals himself to us?  How God’s light comes to us in darkness?  God provides hope in the midst of bleakness.

Much like Rex Pai describes above the two way exposure of the journey inward exposing us to God and a journey outward to embrace the pain and people of the world, so too does Pema Chodron describe the awakened heart as “equated, in part, with compassion—our ability to feel the pain that we share with others.  Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. ..we erect protective walls made out of strategies, opinions, prejudices, and emotions.  Yet just as a jewel that has been buried in the earth for a million years is not discolored or harmed, in the same way this …heart is not affected by all of the ways we try to protect ourselves from it.  The jewel can be brought out into the light at any time, and it will glow as brilliantly as if nothing had ever happened.  This tenderness for life…awakens when we no longer shield ourselves from the vulnerability of our condition, from the basic fragility of existence. It awakens through kinship with the suffering of others…we become open that we can take the pain of the world in, let it touch our hearts, and turn it into compassion…” and put love into each moment of every day.

All of the above were the readings from four different sources  with which I started my day.  They are intertwined.  It is the Holy Spirit teaching and guiding.  Rex Pai finished his meditation with the following prayer:

God of life and love,

You know me and you understand me through and through;

You know everything I do or say, everything I think or desire;

‘Your knowledge of me is too deep; it is beyond my understanding’ (Ps 139)

You invite each one of us and challenge us to an exploration

Of our inner space and to an ongoing discovery of you as the God of our heart;

In discovering you, we more truly discover ourselves;

In discovering ourselves, we progressively discover other persons and our world.

May our inner journey liberate us from being absorbed in ourselves and our own interests.

May it take us towards others in concern and service and bring to realization the kingdom promised by Your Son Jesus.

May we like Teresa really live this life.  Amen.


Cochin Fishermen

January 13, 2015 at 9:12 am

Today is my birthday so I found it edifying how the readings for today, the first week of ordinary time, spoke to me.  Happy New Year.

With the new liturgical calendar, the readings begin with the start of Jesus’ public  ministry.   The readings focus on His message:

The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the apostles preached Jesus.  They did not forget his message but Christ became the focus of the message of the Apostles.  ( Referred to as the Kerygma in academia).    Here though we see the Church emphasizing the message of Jesus at the beginning of the liturgical year that the Kingdom of God is present.  Wake up and Repent.

Jesus then sees Simon and Andrew casting their nets and tells them to Follow Him and he will make them fishers of men.  Next,  He meets  James and John who are mending their fishing  nets.   He calls them as well.   They left their father Zebedee and the hired help on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

When we were recently with our friends John and Mary in Cochin  on the Arabian Sea, we watched men casting nets as they have for thousands of years.  They retain about 30% of the revenue from the fish that they catch and  sell.  The rest goes to the owner of the nets and dock.   The fishermen likely take home somewhere between 3 and 10 dollars a day.  This reading reminded me of these men.   Like these fisherman,  the first disciples were the working poor.  Jesus’ father was also a common laborer.  A technon.  Commonly portrayed as a carpenter, but more likely he was a mason who worked with concrete. Perhaps that is why  Jesus who was also born in a barn always had an affinity for the poor and called his disciples from the little people of this world.

As I read this passage,  I also imagined the reaction of the  father,  Zebedee.  Was he shocked or surprised to see his sons walk away?  Had he met Jesus before?  Had Jesus already been spending time with his first disciples?  Were they already familiar with his wisdom and charisma?  Had their hearts already been touched and were they  burning within?  Perhaps Zebedee blessed them as they went.

Reading this message on my birthday and reflecting on the call to follow Jesus, I wonder what does it mean for me to follow Jesus?  What is he asking me to do?  Am I called to be a fisher of men and women?

Yesterday at the end of Sunday Mass, Fr Packiaraj introduced a newly ordained Jesuit ( who he welcomed to the crazy club) and a newly married couple.   He talked about how each are called to their respective vocations.  Indeed, as a married man,  I can follow Jesus and discover God’s will by loving my wife.  I am called to serve and be the face of God for her.  Deep inside our protective persona, we are all fragile packages.  We need to be gentle with one another. Husbands have a responsibility to respect and love their wives’ fragile packages and vice versa.   We are called to live the vow that we made to one another to be faithful to one another no matter what  comes our way whether in sickness or in health.  It sounds easy, but is not without its challenges.   Isn’t that why we need the grace of the sacrament of matrimony?

These days, many young people are not interested in the artifices of marriage.  They see people marry and divorce like teenagers in middle school going steady and breaking up.   On the other hand,  I remember a married couple telling Kathleen and I when we were engaged that a married couple living for the Lord makes others hunger for what they have which comes from the Lord.  So perhaps as the culture around us has more and more people of all ages living together without marriage and unaware of how God can sustain their love, the remnant of married Christians has an opportunity to truly be a light to the world and  a lamp upon a lampstand.   In that way, married couples living out their vocation can be fishers of men and women.

At the same time, it is clear to me that all human beings are swimming in God, moving in God, living in God whether they acknowledge God or not.  We all live, move, and are  grounded in God.  God comes to us through one another.  A happy, loving marriage is not the special preserve of believers, Christians, or any other faith tradition.  I have more recently been conscious that it is important to not be self –righteous or think that God has given me or Christians something special.  A special knowledge.  If anything, one of the premiere points of Jesus ministry and message to the Jews was just the opposite.  He was always talking about how he found greater faith outside the Jewish tradition. There are many examples. A few include the story of the Good Samaritan,  the Samaritan woman at the well, the wise men who came from outside Israel to honor Jesus at his birth, Paul’s transformation of Christianity from a Jewish sect to a religion for all.  As the sun shines on all people, so too does God’s love.   Clearly God acts and seeks to draw all no matter their ethnicity or religious tradition to Her love.  Nonetheless, I know the power of the sacrament.  I have experienced how when I call upon the Lord, he keeps me true to my vow, removes impediments, distractions, temptations.

Thomas Aquinas discusses our concupiscible desires.   Aquinas baptized Aristotle who stated that we are animals.  We share an animal nature with sexual desires that are good and purposeful.  All desires are a yearning for the good.  According to Aquinas, all choices we make are for a perceived good.  The perceived good may be contrary to the real good which is ultimately choosing God.  While desires are  in themselves  good,  they may be misdirected  by us and end up weighing  us down.  They can be stirred up and perhaps form habits that lead to an addiction.  Some people live their lives on this level.  They enjoy the pleasure of such stimulations even though it makes them crazy and can lead to sin.   On the other hand, the grace of the sacrament or making conscious contact with God will help integrate our desires in a healthy and wholesome manner that aligns us with what is good, loving, and pure.  This example is only one among many of the ways Jesus calls me to be the face of love for Kathleen from moment to moment.  It is God’s will that we love and love in a special more intense way within married life.  At the end of the day, such love is incarnated and realized in how we treat one another.  Acting out of love  is  how we worship and honor the Lord and walk in Her way.

As Jesus asks us to come and follow him,  married couples are called to be of one heart and one mind as we seek to walk with the Lord in His way of love.  May we not refuse anything that He asks of us.  We may tend to complicate the discernment of the way of the Lord.   Aquinas can be boiled down to saying that God simply wants us to love one another.  St Augustine said “ Love and Do What You Will.”  Yet, we cannot be faithful to that call without His help and grace.  Whether known or not, God may be helping us, atheists, and agnostics to live in His love and reveal His love.

Lord, may we be obedient to the call that you have given us.  As we walk together through life,  may we see your face in each other and in others.  May we see your love revealed and reveal it.   As we seek to do your will in all that we do, may all our actions be worship.  May we as a married couples be a light for others in our shadowy existence.  May we hear your call to “ Come, Follow Me” and refuse not anything that you ask us to do.