Bird’s Nest in My Hair

November 2, 2014 at 5:52 am

A Hallow Eve reading From Courage to Change:

“Fear can become a power greater than myself.

I may not be able to make it go away.

But today, with a Higher Power who is greater than my fears, I don’t have to let them run my life or make my choices for me.

I can grab hold of my Higher Power’s hand, face my fears, and move through them.

Today instead of seeking relief from fear by trying to do battle with it, I will turn to my Higher Power.”

Some say that our brains are hard wired to expect the worst and be fearful.  As humans evolved, this instinctual fear enabled us to be alert and survive.  Some call it our “monkey brain.”   On top of this inclination, our life experience will give us more reason to be afraid.  As I experienced various dislocations and job changes over the course of my life,  fear became my dominant emotion and  likely ran my life from time to time.

Fear also creeps in ways that I do not even notice.  How often do I fear what other people think?  How many choices do I make so that I am accepted by others?  What items do I purchase?  What do I say or not say?  And doesn’t it all go back to the need to survive and perhaps listening to my monkey brain?

Rarely is life so stark or black and white.   I generally also had the habit of looking to The Higher Power, making conscious contact, and seeking guidance.  Yet,  I am sure that Fear frequently made it difficult for me to choose the better course or the higher good.

I know that at times I was aware of my fear, acknowledged it, saw it as a positive motivator, and followed its lead so that I and the family could be safe and secure.  Is this all bad?  As St. Paul says, “ All things work together for good for those who trust God.”    While being inordinately afraid is not good, fear is a god given emotion that in itself is not bad.

Of this I am certain,  there is much ambiguity and uncertainty in life.  John Dunne CSC encouraged  embracing understanding with your heart as opposed to thinking that you will find certainty with discursive reasoning.  Dunne is likely on to something there.  Even so, for me  trying to follow path of the heart’s desire does not erase the fog of decision making or guarantee that fear will not run my life.   Perhaps our hearts need a purity that is difficult to possess in this life of shadows, darkness and compromise?  Perhaps the path includes earthquakes, mud slides, and avalanches if we choose the wrong fork in the road?  Is there a wrong fork for those who seek  to choose in the light of truth?  Or may we think that we are on the path of our heart’s desire leading to God, but are not?

In the end, we may be in a bit of a fog from time to  time which forces us to recognize our need for God and our dependence on Her to help us find our way. For the past few weeks, I have been reading daily the following four quotes of Mother Teresa:

“If we really fully belong to God, then we must be at His disposal and we must trust in Him.  We must never be preoccupied with the future.  There is no reason to be so.  God is there.”

“Yesterday is gone.  Tomorrow has not yet come.  We have only today.  Let us begin.”

“Don’t search for God in far lands—He is not there.  He is close to you. He is with you.  Just keep the lamp burning and you will always see Him.  Watch and pray.  KEEP KINDLING THE LAMP AND YOU WILL SEE HIS LOVE AND YOU WILL SEE HOW SWEET IS THE LORD YOU LOVE.”

“Today more than ever, we NEED TO PRAY for the LIGHT to know the will of God, for the LOVE to accept the will of God, for THE WAY to do the will of God.”

Living in the present moment, let us rest in God’s love in which we all swim.  May we see that we live and move and have our being in God.  We are grounded in Her Love.  It is very likely that we are free to choose our way and the Lord will bless our choices as we move toward fuller and deeper union with God.    Lord:  Reveal your love and mercy to us this day.  Let us know the Love that casts out all fear. Enable us to rest in your love.  Help us to “Be Not Afraid.”  May You rather than Fear be our Higher Power.

“That the birds of worry and care fly above your head, this you cannot change.  But that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.”

  • Chinese Proverb

Good Night Gracie

October 25, 2014 at 6:16 pm

Kathleen and I have passed our one year anniversary in India and it is an appropriate time to capture and record  the surprises that we have encountered in India which was aptly described by a past US diplomat, Kenneth Galbraith, as the Land of Functional Chaos. Much of the following is not particularly flattering to India; however, let it be known that we are enjoying our time here and that  the people are so warm and kind.  It is said that India is a land of contrasts and contradictions.  Whatever I say below can certainly be qualified and the longer I stay here, the more  I realize  that I have barely scratched the surface of a highly textured culture. I particularly hesitate to discuss  Indian spirituality.  Begging ahead of time for forgiveness, I will venture forth and apologize now  for missing the mark.   Here is a top ten list in no particular order.  Let’s start off with an easy one.


  • Peacocks on Golf Courses.

I was surprised by the number and variety of animals all over this city of 10 million plus inhabitants.    For instance,  I frequently encounter peacocks in the early morning at the Boulder Hills golf course.  They also live in the KBR  park close to our apartment and sometimes find their way into our Banjara Hills neighborhood.  I have also seen monkeys in my backyard a couple of times recently.   Herds of goats can be found sporadically along busy thoroughfares.  They are more present and available for purchase  at the times of festivals when Hindus or Moslems sacrifice them.  Stray dogs in packs of 4 or 5 are ubiquitous.  They are scavengers and viewed as such by Hindus.  They live off the garbage overflowing from dumpsters. Wendy Doniger has stated that in Hinduism, “You are what you eat.”  So living off  garbage would make dogs impure and viewed in a similar manner as pigs are in the Middle East.  The dogs are docile and afraid of people  for good reason.     From time to time, you see people with sticks threatening the dogs and I have read about people treating them cruelly.  On the other hand, a rare individual will leave food out for the strays.  You also  see a few dogs kept as pets which makes Kathleen wonder if they yearn to run with the strays.  Of course, there are cows, but not as many as you find in the smaller cities.  Some are kept as milkers.  Despite the fact that they also eat out of the dumpsters, they are viewed as sacred.  There are also huge oxen  traveling back and forth to their watering holes.  They lumber  up and down the streets that have recently filled with motorcycles and cars.   We also see camels periodically.  They are used to provide rides for amusement.  Just today, I saw a mongoose in our courtyard.  They survive on the unseen snakes.  I also spotted two pairs of parrots flying as well as  an eagle during my morning meditation time.

  • What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate.

The Indians have a very different communication style.  While Americans are more direct and even blunt, it is often difficult for me to understand what I am being told. Of course, anyone who has ever been to India will smile in agreement that India is the land of the bobble heads.  The bobble is not a nod  “Yes” or a shake of the head to the  left and right signifying “ No”.   The bobble also has a left to right motion that may even involve the shoulders, but your face does not turn at all.  If you ask Indians what it means, you will always evoke laughter.  It may mean anything from “ I hear you,” “I am thinking about it,” “I do not know what the hell you are saying, but that is OK,” “Maybe,” to “ I get it and agree.”  It aligns with the Indian proclivity to avoid saying “No” and disappointing us.  It matters not what question is posed.  They do not want to displease and are anxious to be thought of highly.  A common and simple example of this behavior occurs whenever we  visit another city.

As we recently celebrated our 39th anniversary in Chennai, we wanted to go see a couple of different Churches that our travel agent recommended.   At the hotel, I arranged a driver and confirmed both with the concierge and the driver that they knew the location of the  churches.  All that effort was for naught as we ended up at a totally different spot.  It was a shrine to Mary that we did not know existed in Chennai.  It commemorated an appearance of Mary to a young lad who was carrying milk from his farm to the local ruler.  Our reiki master, Kathleen, remarked that she could feel divine energy and felt much at home “among our people.”   We noted the name of the shrine, but we later could not find it in any tourist materials or on Google.  Finally, when I returned to Hyderabad, Fr. Pakieraj SJ explained to me that  it sounded like a shrine to a place of pilgrimage outside Chennai.

Many healings and miracles are known to occur there as in  Lourdes.  However, it has never been sanctioned by the Church despite festivals honoring Mary that draw almost 1 million pilgrims including  Hindus and Muslims.   One might argue that Rome has not deigned to investigate a remote location in the South of India popular with the poor and uneducated.  Father also told me that one of his fellow Jesuits asked pilgrims why they came to the site.  The Hindus spoke of the fact that Mary is a mother and that she suffered much.  So they connect with her in a way that they do not connect with the legends of their Hindu goddesses.  The Koran, in turn,  speaks of Mary and honors her as well.    But I digress, it is tempting to write about how Indian culture absorbs, transforms and makes its own whatever it encounters from other cultures.  I later did read story by  an Australian journalist who  described  this pilgrimage along with a variety of other spiritual quests in her book (Holy Cow!) which describes an  Indian spiritual buffet.

Returning to the notion of the failure to communicate, the day after our inadvertent visit to the shrine, we wanted to go to the Church of San Thome built over the former tomb of St Thomas the Apostle in Chennai for Sunday Mass.  Instead our driver took us to a church at the foot of the Mount of St Thomas where he was martyred in 52 AD.  Despite the fact that the Church was named after our son, Patrick and compelled by the aggressive beggars,  we told him to call the hotel and get directions to the Church of San Thome quickly.  We managed to get to there by the homily.

Another example of the Indian communication style is their use of flattery.  They are always quick to express their appreciation or identify another’s positive attributes.  It definitely works to build rapport and always puts a smile on my face.  Could it be that I am not as awesome as the wife of one of our employees told me at a recent event?  Some Indians are a bit cynical about its use and are forthright about how effective it is to get whatever the flatterer hopes to get from the unsuspecting foreigner.

In the US, we frequently provide constructive criticism to one another.  In India, as cultures converge, perhaps that will be accommodated but in the meantime it is not well received.  An Indian will go to great lengths to explain their view and why such criticism is not acceptable.  There will not be any meeting of the minds.  In fact, one comes away with the sense that the Indian feels that they know better.   We just do not get it.   Having witnessed this proclivity multiple times, I was not surprised by the Indian comments in response to an article on India in a recent online version of NYT.  The article described the nationalistic sentiment bubbling in India and suggested that it is a response to modernity that has occurred historically in other countries  such as in the Japan of the 30s or even today.   There were over a 100 comments posted that attacked the Indian author of the column.  No one was willing to acknowledge any element of truth.

Finally, I would like to list just one more common failure of communication.  If you want something done, it may mean asking 3 times.  One of our expat colleagues mentioned how they could not get items repaired in their apartment until they refused to pay the rent.  We have been told repeatedly that something will be fixed or delivered and then it will be forgotten until our reminders.  It is a gross understatement to say that there is no sense of urgency.

  • My Fair Lady

There was no way that we could anticipate what it would be like to leave behind all that we knew, who we knew, our regular patterns of activity, and the routines of our daily life.  Suddenly, we had all kinds of unstructured time together. What a tremendous gift.  Our love grows richer as we discover greater depths of intimacy and sharing.    I was fearful that Kathleen would not like it here.  From Day One, she embraced the chaos and the adventure.  Even though I had been to India 3 times before, I had never walked on the chaotic streets.  On the first day here, Kathleen got me out of the hotel and we walked to check out some restaurants down a road with no sidewalks  on a crazy busy street.  Through the first few days, she kept repeating: “ Judy Dench, Judy Dench, Judy Dench”.   (She was the actress in The Exotic Marigold Hotel who thrived in India.)  With my newfound free time, I went with Kathleen to Bikram Yoga for the first time and was delighted by how much she wanted me to like it.  I am still going a year later.

We see India through the same eyes.  I take pictures that excite her and she posts them on   Still a year later, when we see something curious, odd, or unusual, we will delight in it together.  We laugh and smile more.   We enjoy traveling together.  Sharing the delight of staying in unbelievable hotels where we are treated like royalty.  “Who knew that I would enjoy sightseeing so much!” said Kathleen.  In Rajasthan, we saw painted horses and elephants flanking  the sides of all entryways.  When we arrived home, I suggested that we have them painted on the hallway walls entering our living room.  “What a good idea!” Kathleen agreed.  There was the time in Katmandu when she wanted to buy a Tibetan singing bowl.  I waited outside the shop talking with our guide while she shopped.  She came out and asked me to go into buy the bowl that she picked out.  The proprietor demonstrated how the bowl worked for me and asked for 12,000 rupees (US 200).  I negotiated a selling price of 8500 or 9000 rupees ( US 160).   Later that night, I told her that I could have negotiated a little more.  She asked what I paid.  Her jaw hit the table.  She said: “He offered it to me for 8000 rupees and agree to sell it to me for 6000 ( US100)!”

What a blessed gift this whole experience has been.

I am now working 1 normal job as opposed to the 3 or 4 jobs at the same time  that I have had at Deloitte the past 20 years.  I only manage wonderful people now.  Because we work a later shift to maximize overlap with the US, I do not have to go into the office until 11 A.M. which gives me 5 hours in the morning to do yoga, exercise, pray, and read.  What a perfect way to start the day.

We love our apartment which has floor to ceiling windows and is filled with sunshine.  There are rarely clouds here.  We did not buy much furniture and it is spacious enough for Kathleen to offer free yoga sessions to mostly expat women.  2-6 women attend every MWF.  We have a balcony that overlooks a beautifully manicured courtyard.

It is so refreshing to be away from the political noise and sports mania in the US.  No more watching news shows that are spin sessions filled with negativity.  Many expats stay up on Sunday nights to watch NFL football.  No thank you.   I limit my sports to watching ND football, but record it and watch it after church on Sundays.  We do not watch any TV other than a little Masterpiece Theatre from time to time.  I think that we have watched 3 movies the past year.

We have so much for which to be grateful.  This experience is a transparent moment of God blessing our life together.

  • The Oppression of Women.

I am not sure where to start with the life of women in India.  It  varies with your caste or creed.  In a general way,  it is surprising to see how few women are out and about.  Kathleen went to a coffee shop one morning and was the only woman among 30 men there.  One of our Hindu employees explained to me that to leave the house she would have to ask a variety of males for permission to leave.  She explained that  it is not worth the bother.  I wonder if that is why she missed our party to mark the end of busy season after the last tax due date of the year?

While the Indian women wear long dresses or leggings, many of the Muslims wear burkahs in public.  It does help them avoid the gaping men of India.  The men gawk at women here.  They do not smile or avert their eyes.  Kathleen does not notice so much, but when we walk single file in the streets due to the lack of sidewalks, I can see it. Kathleen likes to tell the story of our Australian friend Josey who  dresses ostentatiously and sometimes skimpily.  She stops traffic.  All the men stare into her vehicle and women look at her disapprovingly in the grocery store.

It is also dangerous to be a woman in India.  I do not know how to explain the violence committed against women. I do not understand rape and why it occurs.  Seems to be a violent act of  hate and subjugation.  Seems to reflect a deep dysfunction in the culture of India.   While we offer a security person to accompany women home in a cab  if they work late,  some of the women refuse to work late since they do not feel comfortable riding home with two strange men.

Similarly, baby girls and female fetuses are also at risk since they are viewed as an economic burden.  They will require the payment of a dowry and will go to live with the family of her husband.  In the US, there are 1050 girls born for every 1000 males. In contrast, many states in India have 800 to 900 girls for 1000 boys. Because of the frequent abortions of unwanted baby girls, it is now illegal to determine the sex of an unborn child.   In the  book In Spite of the Gods, the story is told of a woman who gave birth to a female.  Her mother in-law visited her at the hospital and told her that she had given birth to a stone. “It was as if I had committed a crime.”  She ended up divorcing her husband which is also not acceptable.

On a different note, Bollywood dancing is quite racy.  The male and female anatomies bump and grind.  Elvis could have sat at the feet of these dancers to learn about pelvic thrusts.  Interestingly, however, the Bollywood stories always end up reaffirming a more conservative status quo.  Flirtations and titillations never cross the line.  Kissing on the movie screen does not happen.

With respect to the workplace, we see women working on construction sites all the time.  These are women from the backward classes which do not rise to the level of being called a caste.   They are typically migrants from Indian villages, dressed in colorful flowing dresses while carrying bowls of dirt, cement, and other construction materials on their heads.  Their husbands work on the construction site along with their toddlers and kids.  There is no one left in their tarpaulin or corrugated steel shanty to take care of the little ones.  The globalization that multinational companies bring to India does provide extraordinary opportunities for the small town villagers who manage to get an education.  The women in the workplace have the same issues as in the US.  If they are from an upper caste, they will typically have a great support network at home to help with their children.  However, a woman could also be expected to do double duty.  When you marry, the woman moves in with her husband’s family and is expected to take care of her husband’s family.

  • Can Cupid Get an Indian Visa?

Arranged marriages are the norm here.  People are expected to marry within their caste and creed.   The use of the word  “creed” is a misnomer for Hinduism.  Each region or state has different flavors of belief.  There is no orthodoxy.  As one of our managers explained to me, he is part of the Gujurati Brahmins.  (Gujurat is the state of the new prime minister). While Hyderabad is many hours from Gujurat, his life is still governed by the elders of his caste.  His arranged marriage with a woman of Gujuarti Brahmin descent has been a disaster.  However, the elders will not allow him to divorce unless he pays a princely sum to his wife that he cannot afford.  He and his parents are supposed to continue to live with this “Tigress” indefinitely while she makes their lives miserable.  He tells me that more than half of the arranged marriages end up being a burden as they drag each other through life.  Yet some Indians cite the low divorce rate as support for the notion that arranged marriages are happier than love marriages.  The Indians do view us and our divorce rates as despicable.  I was recently waiting for my car after a Deloitte event.  I was making conversation with one of our new seniors about how she was going to celebrate the Indian festival of Diwali with her husband’s family. She asked if I was married.  She was surprised to learn that I have been married 39 years.  She said that she thought all the Americans  married and divorced frequently.

  • The Caste System is Alive and Well.

On the surface, the new arrival does not suspect how all- encompassing the presence of castes are.  It determines the lives of most.  The scriptures of Hinduism say that the castes arose from different body parts of the god Brahma.  This religious underpinning of the caste system results in an entitlement mentality for the upper castes and an acceptance of one’s lot in life for the lower castes.  The upper castes treat the rest of the Indians with disdain.  They look with disapproval on the way Westerners treat their drivers and servants as equals.  We should not let them into our homes.  We should never share a meal or enjoy entertainment together. As a result,  Indians love to work for Westerners.  We are not as rude and derogatory.

The constitution does enshrine that all Indians are equal and it is illegal to discriminate based on caste.   In fact, the author of the constitution, Ambedekar, was an “Untouchable”  or Dalit.   I suspect that it was the influence of Jesus that caused Gandhi to refer to Dalits as Harijan or “ God’s children” since this  sentiment is difficult to locate otherwise in India.   In fact, Dalits do not necessarily consider themselves Hindus, yet remained defined by Hinduism.   Dalits do all the cleaning and dirty jobs.  You can see them sweeping the streets or scavenging through garbage for recyclables daily.  If the shadow of a Dalit falls upon a Brahmin, the Brahmin is supposed to go home and cleanse themselves.

Ambedekar was an atheist and chose to become a Buddhist because of  Buddha’s atheism but also because there are no castes in Buddhism.  A half million of Dalits converted with him.    Unfortunately, Ambedekar was not drawn to Christianity since the caste structure persisted with  those who were converted. For example, there are separate churches and cemeteries for Dalits in the former Portuguese colony of Goa.  Apparently, in order to be part of the Church hierarchy, it is necessary to come from an upper caste.  In the southernmost state of Tamil Nadu where there is a strong Catholic presence, only 3 percent of the priests are of Dalit origin. ( Source:  In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India)

As you would expect, politic are also  dominated by “vote banks”.  Castes have their own parties and  political parties will promise “sops” or various government programs for particular castes.   The founding fathers who encouraged equality all belonged to the Congress Party.  Their policies of course attracted the lower castes and the Congress party became guilty of exploiting the caste system for votes.  After more than 60 years, their rival party, BJP, has united the Hindu majority by propagating a nationalistic Hindu agenda as well as promising greater economic growth.

While there is presently not a lot of fluidity among the castes or upward mobility, the convergence of our cultures and globalization may create some.   Love marriages are breaking down some of the barriers. A former investment banker who married outside his caste and state is now India’s most popular author.  Chetan Beghat writes light novels that address the issues many face as the “New India”  emerges.

However the compelling myths of Dharma and Karma still prevail in much thought.  See the recent comment by the CEO of Microsoft ( who was educated in Hyderabad) in response to a question about the gender gap for compensation in the workplace.  He was specifically asked what advice he would give to a women about how to ask for a pay hike.  He responded that the superpower of karma will enable women to get paid what they should.  They should just do a good job and karma will take care of them.  His response illustrates the view that one must simply accept the place into which one is born.  Do one’s duty without expecting to be rewarded  and the karmic wheel will work for your benefit in this life and the next.  That is the only way one can explain how the egregious income inequality of India is accepted by all.   It also helps explain why my Indian colleagues are bemused by Westerners’ shock about how people live at a subsistence level.

  • Does Anyone Care About Mother Earth?

Firecrackers are exploding all around us.  The Hindus are celebrating Diwali.  Given that there is no orthodoxy in Hinduism,  the festival’s meaning differs by where you live in India. In general, it is a celebration of the ultimate  triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. It is an affirmation of life.  In our state, many light lamps to invite the goddess Lakshmi into their homes so that she may bless them with material wealth.  Businesses stay open a couple of extra hours without doing business.  They are waiting for Lakshmi.  After prayers to Lakshmi, “crackers are burned” to celebrate.  Every family lights their own and the displays rival the 4th of July in the US.  However, it is not organized or regulated.  So in the evening, you will see firework displays in all directions.   Individuals are lighting fireworks that  go well above rooftops and burst into a riot of colors. The fireworks start at dark around 7pm and continue past midnight.  Kathleen and I watched from the balcony of our apartment which has a fabulous view since it sits atop one of the hills of Hyderabad.   As I went to bed last night, I realized that I would never again witness such a colorful and noisy display of fireworks  blanketing the horizon.  I paused to give thanks to God for the joy and happiness that I was witnessing which also included watching a father and 5 year old son excitedly light  some “crackers” on the street below us.  Even the Christians and Muslims are lighting crackers tonight.

Even so, many Bollywood stars are trying to stoke some environmental consciousness by declaring that they will not light any crackers because of their polluting effect.  When Mr Shah, our driver, shared this bit of news, I said that the pollution of the crackers is minimal compared to what I see happening every day.  He was surprised to hear that the constant burning of garbage would be a problem.  I then also  listed the diesel fumes of the rickshaws and cars and the other toxins emanating  from the haze of white smoke coming out of buses, motorcycles, and trucks.  Add to that  the burning of cow dung for heating fuel and cooking  as well as other cooking oils.  Not to mention that the new prime minister appointed a minister for the environment who proudly declared that the unmitigated use of coal for generating electricity would continue until poverty is eliminated in India.  Perhaps it is too harsh to say that people just do not care about the environment.  Perhaps there is a need to raise their consciousness.  They do not have the benefit of the mythic Christian creation stories which highlight that we are created from the earth, are one with the earth, and intended to be stewards of the Garden.

  • There Are No Prophets in India.

We are in the season of Hindu Festivals.  They have been going non-stop since the beginning of September.  First plastic idols of Ganesh were submerged in the lakes only to followed by plastic images of Durga a few weeks later.  Ganesh is the elephant boy co- created by Shiva and his wife.  Durga is one of the primary female goddesses.  Calls by environmentalists to use clay images rather than plastic ones go unheeded.

“Enough already!” You might be saying.  “Stop the ax-grinding.”  OK.  No question that the festivals are very celebratory times. Much joy and happiness.  The present celebration of Lakshmi is very much like Christmas with generous giving of gifts and sweets.  Yet  I have to say that one of my main take-aways from my time in India will be how it brought the Hebrew scriptures or Old Testament alive for me.  From the sacrifice of goats at the temple of Kali in Kalighat to the idol worship.  When I read the Old Testament prophets, their message is pointed.    Isaiah states that God is tired of festivals and sacrifices. Micah tells us that what the Lord requires are not festivals and sacrifices but that we “act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with our God.”  Amos indicts those who live in luxury while ignoring or simply accepting the plight of  the poor, the oppressed  and downtrodden, orphans and widows.    The prophets point toward an authentic love and worship that is expressed through just and loving actions.  The poor have a claim on us.  They are not just “takers” or parasites.  The prophets provide a very discomforting message that rings true in India.

  • Finding God in a Foreign Land

Mother Teresa will say that you do not need to go to distant lands to find God, but it certainly did not hurt.  Visiting Mother Teresa’s tomb is the one of my best experiences in India.  Her life and writings are a vision of God’s love for us.  A love that is often not returned.  God’s light and truth stills shines through her.  She remains present and active in our world continuing her ministry and mission of revealing God’s special love.

Meeting Father Pakieraj S.J. is another spiritual highlight of our visit to India.  We are blessed by his spiritual direction and mentorship.    In addition to providing many  personal blessings and wise counsel as I head into retirement, he has provided an insight into the Indian Church and the variety of religious expressions found here.  I have become acutely aware of the simplicity of Jesus’ message and how it speaks to India and  contrasts with the local spirituality.  Jesus was a poor man.  His father was a humble techton or mason much like the day laborers here.  Like the Hebrew prophets, Jesus spoke on behalf of the poor and the marginalized.  He attacked the institutional church of his time. He told us to Repent and experience the Kingdom of God which is here, at our fingertips and within us.  He revealed that our God is a good God.  A loving Father.  Jesus was fully human and experienced the human condition to the point of feeling abandoned as he suffered and died.  Yet He is the Word by which our universe came into being.

It is a commonplace statement among Hindus and many from the syncretistic spirituality found here that there are many paths to God as there are many rivers that flow to the ocean that is God.  A Christian believes that Jesus is spoken Word that created those rivers and our Trinity is that ocean.  Those many paths are a reflection of God’s overflowing and abundant love that patiently and powerfully pursues us and is revealed to all who seek God with a sincere heart  no matter what we call ourselves or what our creedal statements may or may not be.

It has been fun exploring and trying to understand the complex and contradictory thinking of the eastern religions.  For example, the author of In Spite of the Gods quotes Krishna telling Arjuna:  “Thou feel pity when pity has no place.  Wise men feel pity neither for what dies nor what lives…I am indifferent to all born things.  There is none whom I hate, none whom I love.”  Buddha too says:  “Those who love nothing in this world are rich in joy and free from pain.”   The author contrasts this detachment of Krishna and Buddha to Jesus who did not refrain indifferently from  raising the dead, curing the sick and healing a variety of ailments.   Fr. Rex Pai talks about the compassion of Jesus and his followers:  “His heart is filled with compassion for the people and he invites them: ‘Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. ‘ He is truly ‘God with us’ who accompanies and strengthens us in our crosses and trials.  When we pray, our hearts are open to our brothers and sisters in need and to the pain of the world.   ‘ The joys and the hopes, the grief and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor and in any way afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anxieties of the followers of Christ’(Vatican II: The Church in the Modern World).   We make the sufferings of others our own by presenting them to the Lord…we come away with a desire to share and lighten the burdens of those around us.”  Fr Rex continues by telling the following story:  “…Meeting a boy carrying another boy a little smaller than himself, Fr. Flannagan remarked: ‘Isn’t  it a heavy burden for you?’  ‘No’, the boy replied, ‘he’s not a burden, he’s my brother.’”

While I tend to be disparaging of the Hindu idols and practices,  Fr. Pakieraj  helps me to bridge the gap.  We all need images such as Jesus on the Cross.  Images can provide comfort that God has the world  in Her hands.  Perhaps our God uses the plastic idols to connect with people and to inspire good works and service to others.

I have also learned how yoga can help quiet my mind and enhance my prayer life.  Some meditative yoga also releases and provides more energy that I possess throughout the day.  I am invigorated.  The breathing and the chanting of “Om”  associated with some yoga  also helps one live in the present and be here now.  As Mother Teresa says, “ We must never be preoccupied with the future. There is no reason to be so.  God is there.”  She also said, “ Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not  yet come.   We have only today.  Let us begin.”

  • Ebola May  Lay Waste to India

The lack of hygiene in India is stunning.  Here is a brief list of items that illustrate why.

One of the new prime minister’s important programs is to put toilets or bathrooms in the schools.  Think about that.

There is an acronym, OD, for open defecation and 60 percent of the population practices it.  90 percent in rural areas.  People think it is healthier than using toilets.

Cities do not have sewage treatment plants.

The bathrooms that exist do not have soap to cleanse  or towels to dry your hands.

When one first arrives in India, you are surprised to see men openly peeing on the side of the street.  ( I kid visitors that all of India is a golf course.  However, the Indians with whom I play golf, do not pee in the shrubs on the golf course.  They use the restrooms. How ironic.)

Another example of poor hygiene recently occurred on an airplane.  The individual next to me was reading a magazine provided by the airline.  He proceeded to sneeze into it, then closed it and put it back into the pouch on the back of the seat in front of him.

  • Bonus Round.

The amount of political corruption and its impact on infrastructure and all government programs is stunning.  When public funds are allocated for a given purpose, 70 percent of them never reach the project or the people for whom they are intended.  The politicians skim most of it.  The roads are a mess.  One frequently has to drive 20-30 mph because of their condition.  Not only do the politicians take the public money, they also receive bribes from the contractors that they hire who in turn skimp on the cost of the materials that are used.  The electrical power infrastructure is also poor.  Some  of the power is wasted on lines that go nowhere.  We have several power outages daily some of which is related to a shortage of coal.   There has been an ongoing investigation into  how coal contracts are rewarded which has caused the mines to be shut down.  It has led to this shortage and increased imports.  Interestingly, the coal companies are required to continue to pay their idle workers.


Getting Away with Murder?

September 27, 2014 at 10:13 am

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting the US and reminds us of the specter of how he and his BJP party used communalism to foster their rise to power.  In India, the term “community” is used to identify religious, caste, or ethnic groups.  It is accepted wisdom that the communities are set against one another to manipulate public opinion and foster political ends.    One of the worst riots in India since the time of the partition of Pakistan and India occurred in the state that Modi governed in 2002. Approximately 1000 Muslims were killed as the police and army stood and watched.  He escaped any culpability.

The enthusiasm around the election of Modi as Prime Minister of India reminds me of the early days of Obama’s election.  However, this enthusiasm is displayed only within the Hindu majority and his rise to power reflects both a questionable nationalistic impulse as well as optimism that his pro-business attitude will enhance India’s growth and development.    India is a parliamentary system and his party gained a plurality of votes that was effectively a landslide for Modi.  This plurality was unique in that people in the world’s largest democracy were voting for his party so that he could be chosen prime minister.  It has been 25-30 years since the prime minister enjoyed ruling without the need to form a power sharing coalition government.  The young embrace him as they view him as having the answers to many intractable problems.  Indisputably, he built out the infrastructure of his state, Gujarat, and help create a manufacturing base not found in many places.  Curiously, though, the infrastructure does not benefit Muslim communities in Gujarat.  Roads and electric power stop at the borders of Muslim neighborhoods.

Modi’s BJP party has used the Hindu religion for its purposes for decades.    In 1992, BJP incited a mob of tens of thousands of Hindus  in the holy city of Ajodhya to storm and demolish a Muslim mosque. Hindus believe that the mosque was built in the 16th century on the site of the birthplace of the Hindu deity  Ram.    One of the planks of BJP’s platform is to build a temple to Ram on this site. ( Modi however as prime minister is more focused on putting toilets in every school.  There are more temples than toilets in India.)

In 2002, a  train of pilgrims was returning from Ajodhya  to Modi’s state. On the way home, the train stopped in a community renowned for religious tension between the Hindu and Muslim communities.  The train of pilgrims chanted various religious slogans which resulted in violence.  Within 15 minutes of stopping, a train car went up in flames causing almost 60 deaths.

In a perhaps politically motivated  investigation that followed, it was discovered that the fire was an accident.  There was no incendiary device used.

Still, there is some testimony and circumstantial evidence that are damning for Modi.   Right after the train car fire,  Modi approved the transfer of the charred remains of the Hindu decedents for purposes of displaying them in a public square.  This display was contrary to  Indian law that only allows a transfer of remains to family members.  His close aides also encouraged a strike which helped to foment a riot.  A high state official who was later murdered provided testimony that Modi told officials the day after the train burst into flames to take no action against the rioters.  Not one Hindu  was arrested among the tens of thousands rioting.  The riots lasted for weeks displacing 150,000 people, destroying 20,000 Muslim businesses and homes and 360 mosques.  1000 people, mostly Muslims, died.

During this year’s election, Modi stated that the religious violence that swept his state was simply a reaction.  He has never apologized for the violence that occurred because of his inaction.  Even now, BJP rhetoric encourages Muslims to leave the country.   I can only shake my head.   It confirms the comments of our Indian Muslim driver that BJP and  its affiliated nationalistic organizations do not consider Muslims Indian.  Modi himself does not indulge in such rhetoric leaving hope that perhaps he will be a unifying rather than dividing force.  However, as he did when he governed Gujarat, he stands by and allows the inflammatory rhetoric.  Even though he has transformed his image as a leader who can foster growth, he built his power base on a platform of hate that continues to make the Muslim community nervous.

Modi is a “religious” man.  Even now,  during his visit to the US, he is fasting during the 9 day Hindu religious festival of Navrati which honors a different Hindu goddess each day.  May his heart be touched by God so that he can see that we are all God’s children.  May he reinforce the constitution of India which declares India to be a secular state and a home for the  toleration of religious diversity.


See for a timeline and in depth reporting on Modi and BJP.

An Overflowing Cup

September 27, 2014 at 10:05 am

My mom recently celebrated her 100th Birthday.  We had a great family gathering.  Over 100 family members, descendants of her brother and sister and my dad’s siblings’ kids came together for a family reunion. It was a wonderful day of Irish music, looking at photographs of my immigrant grandparents, their cousins, my  aunts and uncles, and sharing of our memories.  My mom shared that her secret to her long life was all about living for her kids and the extended family.  She also asked that I share a note that  I had written for her on Mother’s Day with the extended family. I shared the following:


Today we celebrate the life of my mom.

As Catholic contemplatives, we know, see and embrace God through one another, the beauty of creation and the events of our lives.

I would like to make explicit how my mother serves as an example of God’s presence to us through one another and thank the Lord for how we are blessed by God’s presence in my mother in so many ways.  My mom reveals God’s nurturing, loving, generous presence and nature.  This little acknowledgement is based on a note I wrote on Mother’s day which fell on Good Shepherd Sunday.  So my note is based on Psalm 23 and is addressed to my mom.  It follows:

Surely Goodness and Kindness have followed me all the days of my life.

God comes to me through you.

Like a Good Shepherd, you watch over me.

Guard me.

Encourage me to go on right paths.

You nourish me and lead me to green pastures where I experience the abundance of life.

These green pastures include an incredibly happy childhood and many family parties that you, Jo, Marge, Loretta, and Bea  hosted.

Together you created warm environments to celebrate a variety of occasions.

Through you I experience love with no conditions.

You always provide insight into my areas of strengths and gifts and encourage them.

You never allow me to sell myself short.

Through you I see and experience God’s generosity.

You do not cling to money but use it to support us in every way.

You are generous with your life as you have lovingly devoted it to your family by creating a true home that is a sanctuary from the turbulence of life.

A safe harbor.


Surely, Goodness and Kindness have followed me all the days of my life.

Empty Nest

August 10, 2014 at 10:38 am

Stanley Hauerwas was a dynamic and charismatic teacher in the classroom.  He was a Texan with big embracing personality.  He was one of the many outstanding teachers I had at ND when I pursued graduate work.  He filled up the room with his warmth and insight.  We spent some time reading one of his books titled “Truthfulness and Tragedy.”  It discussed how parents often find their self-worth, joy, and gratification in the performance of their children in an unhealthy fashion. Don’t we all experience this identification with our children?  Haven’t we all seen its inordinate expression in some parents?   Hauerwas talked about the fact that such ambitions for and identification with our children  will be frustrated if you have a child that cannot be a superstar in the classroom, stage, athletic field, or in their career.   The world is not Lake Wobegone where all the children are above average.  Tragedy teaches the truth of this perspective.

For example, tragedy may enter our life with a sickly child.  However, such tragedy brings home the Truth that all children are gifts. For it is a common experience that these children often are great teachers of life’s lessons.   They teach us that children are independent agents who we should not try to control.  We should let all of our children be free to live life. Let them become themselves.  Let them learn by their choices who it is they are, what their gifts and talents are, what their shortcomings are.

We should not find our self-worth in what our children do or who they become.  We should not be living our lives focused on how others will evaluate us in light of our children’s  lives and choices.  To successfully allow our children to make choices requires some detachment.  Loving detachment.  Courage to Change describes it this way:

I do not wish to interfere with anyone’s opportunities to discover the joy and self-confidence that can accompany personal achievements.  If I am constantly intervening to protect them from painful experiences, I also do them a great disservice.  As Mark Twain said, “ A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”

Sometimes it is more loving to allow someone else to experience the natural consequences of their actions, even when it is painful for us both.  In the long run, both of us will benefit.  Today I will put love first in my life.  All I have to do is keep my hands off and turn my heart on.

Exploring India on the Page

August 10, 2014 at 9:53 am

If you are going to India or just plain an avaricious reader here is a bit of a reading list on India.  Part of Kathleen’s and my India chapter is to enjoy various India seasonings.  The following books will give you a flavor for the vitality, sociology, chaos, religions, social transformation and  economic life of India.




A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth.  A wonderfully well written and captivating book that gives you a look inside the culture of arranged marriages in India.  Yes.  Arranged marriages are still the norm.   How do a young Hindu-Moslem couple deal with the expectation that you marry within your caste and community?  Yet, this book will expose you to so much more than the customs of marriage as you become an intimate of a few families in a way that reminded me of War and Peace.  Its length is also similar to War and Peace;  but  you will be sorry to see the book end.  You will not be anxious to close the book and say farewell to  the relationships that you have developed with the characters.

Shantaram by  Gregory David Roberts.    A novel based on the author’s life.  This man is one tough amigo.   Unfortunately afflicted by the disease of addiction, he is imprisoned for armed robbery in Australia.  He makes a daring escape from prison and hides in Mumbai where he makes friends, falls in love, is imprisoned once again, but lives to fight with the mujahedeen in Afghanistan while remaining an integral part of a happy slum among other things.  Very intelligently written, the author has many pithy sayings and explores the requirements of forgiveness and love in the face of personal betrayal.  He also captures many of the customs and everyday peculiarities of Indian life as a member of the Mumbai  mafia.  Somebody could make 2 or 3 movies out of this book.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.  Katherine Boo was an expat and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who lived in India.  She decided to live in a Mumbai slum for a few years and this novel  was its consequence.  I enjoyed reading this book a couple of years before coming to India.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling.  The classic.  Colorful rendition of India during the British Raj.  Kim is a bi-racial orphan of an Irish soldier.  He grows up with his identity in two worlds and effectively straddles both.  He is devoted to a Tibetan lama while also helping the British thwart Russian designs on India.  If history is your interest, you should also consider  Setting the East Ablaze  Lenin’s Dream of an Empire in Asia by Peter Hopkirk.   I have not yet read.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.  Entertaining and  brief book about a young man who migrates from an Indian village to Delhi.  He realizes his dream of becoming a driver for a wealthy family. With tremendous urbanization occurring in the Mideast and Asia, this book gives you an insight into the lives of those who leave their families behind to seek a better life and opportunities.  The local newspapers surprisingly  refer to drivers, rock splitters, and many others who have made such journeys and live in shanties as the emerging middle class.  This novel illustrates that this class may be left behind and not participate in the New India.  The Great Socialist lurks within the story told by its author.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.  A short novel that captures the tragic consequences of caste life which is stubbornly prevalent in India yet today.  I loved the writing style of this author.

Holy Cow  An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald.   Many expats find it a faithful reflection of many of their experiences in India.  I have yet to read it.


Autobiography/The Spirituality of India


My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi.  Meet the Great Soul directly.  Encounter his single-minded pursuit of truth as he describes India at the turn of the 20th century.  He wrote this autobiography  in the 1920’s  not long after returning to India from South Africa.  He wrote 20 years before independence and his death.  He records his first successful efforts of his nonviolent revolution.  Richard Rohr credits Gandhi with revealing to Christians the nonviolent soul of Jesus.

Mother Teresa  Come Be My Light   Private Writings edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC.  I have come to the other side of the globe and met Teresa while visiting her  foundation home of the Missionaries of Charity.  I was surprised by joy and serenity in her presence there.  This book traces her story and immerses the reader in her spirituality.  See the face of God.

Indian Faces of Jesus by P R John S J.  Hindus and Christians in India have sought to answer Jesus’ question : “Who do you say that I am?”   I am looking forward to reading this book a third time. Fr. John reviews the work of Hindu or Vendantic Indian thinkers and how they confront the mystery of Jesus while recognizing him as “the Supreme Guide to human happiness.”  He then also analyzes four of his Jesuit brothers’ unique approaches to how Jesus addresses India’s culture, problems and people directly.  These scholars all hail from the area of India in which we live.  Their work relies on  the scholarship related to the historical Jesus and the kerygma of the early Church as a platform for understanding how Jesus can uniquely address the social issues of India.  He also effectively analyzes their work in light of Chalcedon and early Church formulations of Christology.  He helped me recognized my docetic leanings.  If asked what my best experience in India has been, I would have to choose between the visit to Kolkata and Teresa’s foundation or making friends with Fr. Pakieraj SJ.  He gave me this book.

Cave in the Snow by Vickie MacKenzie.   Not a great memoir of a Buddhist nun.  Even so, you might find it interesting.

On Hinduism by Wendy Doniger.  Doniger sits in the Eliade Chair for the History of Religions at the University of Chicago.  This book is not an easy read but provides an understanding of the landscape of Hinduism.  Hinduism does not possess any orthodoxy; however, recently  fundamentalism has emerged.  While such a fundamentalism is  contradictory to the spirit of Hinduism’s openness to any strand of spirituality which it generally inculcates into its polytheistic tradition, nevertheless,  it has gained some political mojo. Recently, the fundamentalists objected to the scholarly approach of Doniger and had this book “pulped”.  In other words, her book was shredded and banned.  The publisher Penguin was castigated for caving to these demands. Of course, the “pulping” only drew increased  interest in the book and  I like others bought the book online in India.  My guess is that this book may be the most widely circulated of all of her scholarly writings as a result.




India’s Unending Journey by Mark Tully.   I have not read, but considered a classic.

The Ruling Caste  Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj by David Gilmour.  Fairly dry but based on letters and other archival material.  Provides interesting historical background.


Without Cost: Buddhist Slice of Life for the Clueless…Visit to Nepal

July 20, 2014 at 10:45 am

Often we impose extremely high standards on “spiritual or religious” people that they cannot possibly meet.  We are all made from the same clay.  I was confronted by this reality as well as many many other surprises  as Kathleen, Martin and  I observed the Buddhists in Katmandu.  You think that you know something only to find that you are really clueless!

There are many monasteries and Buddhist Stupas here.  Stupas were created when Buddha’s ashes were distributed among his 8 disciples and they buried his ashes in the ground.  Mounds of dirt were formed which over time turned into small and then large hills.  At some point, the Buddhists dug up and distributed the ashes across Asia and 80,000 stupas were built.   One of the largest stupas in the world is in Katmandu.    People walk clockwise around the stupa spinning prayer wheels that are built into the wall.  The wheels contain prayers.  Apparently, after a believer spins the wheel, the prayer within the wheel will be consider as said by the believer as long as it spins.

Also, built into the wall of the Stupa was a figure of Ganesh.  The story of Ganesh involves Shiva and Parvati.  Shiva is one of the most popular of the 3 million Hindu godsand counting.  Parvati is his wife.  One day Parvati wanted to take a nap and she formed a little boy out of wax or clay depending which story you read.  She put him outside her door and told him not to let anyone disturb her.  When Shiva came home, he wanted to see Parvati and found this annoying little boy who refused him entry.  He proceeded to decapitate him and go into his wife.  Parvati was angry.  She did not appreciate being disturbed and was upset to find Ganesh beheaded.  Shiva sought to make amends by killing an elephant and placing the head of the elephant on the body of the boy and bringing him back to life.  Ganesh is extremely popular as well and is the subject of prayers.  Folks pray to him whenever they start a new undertaking and ask him to remove all obstacles that stand in the way of success.  I was very surprised to see Ganesh on a Buddhist stupa since I did not think Buddhists believe in any god or gods.  Based on reading the Dalai Lama, I know that he does not accept the idea of a First Mover and views the universe as uncreated.   Our guide is an anthropologist and he shared that  there are a variety of forms of Buddhism and perhaps no particular orthodoxy.  He stated that 70 percent of the Hindu and Buddhist beliefs are held in common.  He used reincarnation and karma as examples.  So once again, we are confronted by the multiplicity or chaos of beliefs in the East.

The stupa is surrounded by a commercial area with Tibetan arts and crafts, restaurants, guest houses, and temples or monasteries.  We walked into one temple where we were handed some incense to burn in front of a Buddha.  We were encouraged to say a prayer and then offered a blessing by one of the monks.  I passed.   In exchange for the blessing, there is an expectation that one would make a donation.  When we saw the Dalai Lama in Minneapolis last March, someone asked him for a  blessing for the audience.  He said that as a Buddhist, blessings do not really make sense.  He was referencing that his school of Buddhism is not theistic.   10 minutes later as he wrapped up his talk and was shaking people’s hands from the stage like the rock star that he is, he took his scarf and gave it to a person and said “Here is my blessing.”    So I was surprised to see these Buddhists give blessings.  Struck me as at odds with the Dalai Lama and also as a commercial transaction.  Reminded of the Church selling indulgences prior to the Reformation.

Later in another part of the city, we saw Sadhus.  Sadhus are Hindu holy men who are supposed to be ascetics and live in the woods or the mountains.  They are very colorful.  Their bodies are smeared with yellow and red colors and their hair can reach the ground.  At first, I wanted to take a picture, but our guide indicated that there would be an economic cost.  Our guide explained that these guys are commercial sadhus.  The real sadhus are hermits who live in the forests and mountains.  He said that during the high season, the proportion of sadhus in Katmandu are in direct relationship to the number of tourists.  Since this is the peak ( or depth) of low season, there are only a few.  One of them encouraged us to take his picture, but I did not have any small bills and passed.

As we walked around the city, we would see monks of all ages.   Like India, there are many stray dogs here.  At a café where the monks were sitting outside, one of the dogs started barking at another dog.  As the dog barked and bared his teeth from underneath a plastic chair, I witnessed a monk grab a plastic chair and with much anger slam it into the concrete next to the dog 2 or 3 times.  One of the other monks tried to restrain him.

As part of our tour, we visited the home of a living goddess.  Please note that I said “LIVING GODDESS.”  The Buddhists take a young girl between the age of 3 and 6  from her family to be raised by another family in a small palace.  She must be a Buddhist, beautiful and have no scars.  Normally a few girls are chosen and then brought before the monks for one in particular to be chosen.  It is a great honor for the family to have their daughter chosen.  No one is allowed to take pictures of her except when she is carried on a throne by the people through the city during a festival.   She will live in the palace until her first menstruation at which time she is returned to her family with a pension.  Generally, no one wants to marry her for fear that she may still possess a bit of the  goddess.  Buddhists believe that if a human mates with a goddess, death will follow.   Martin said that he would have no such concerns and that the pension would make her even more attractive.

We almost stayed at a guest house connected with a Buddhist monastery.   However, we are spoiled.  The lack of air conditioning combined with  100% humidity caused us to relocate to a Hyatt Regency.   Before we relocated,  I asked one of the monks about Ganesh.  He said that Shiva, Ganesh, etc are lesser deities for them.  They  view them differently than the Hindus.  He said that they are lesser than the Buddha.   Another surprise to hear the Buddha described as a deity.

When we arrived at a 5 star Hyatt Regency, I was surprised to find monks in the lobby.  Somehow does not jive with my image of Buddhist monks living austere lives in monasteries or mountain caves in the Himalayas.

At the end of the day, all religions or expressions of spirituality are subject to the same proclivities of our human natures.   There are many beliefs and concepts that the major religions hold in common.  Apparently, there are also many pious and/or  superstitious practices that we humans bake into our spiritual rituals and observations.    I should not be surprised that monks and common people find a way to make a buck from any religion’s practitioners.

I suspect that our inspirational leaders would be surprised with what their followers have done and how their message has been transformed and often obfuscated.  After 2 days of touring Katmandu and getting ready to depart,  Matthew 10: 7-15  was the daily reading of the Church :

“Jesus said to his Apostles:  ‘As you go, make this proclamation:  ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons.  Without cost you have received;  without cost you are to give.’”

Without cost.

Lord, thank you for the many gifts that you have given us without cost.  The gifts of life, love, truth, meaning, purpose, fulfillment, joy.  May we share these gifts with others without expectation of return.  Help us bring your love and the  light of your truth to the circumstances, events, people and animals of our life today.  Thank you also for your followers today who continue to cure the sick, cleanse the lepers and stand up against injustice and the forces of evil.


Burning Embers and Anthropo What?

July 20, 2014 at 9:34 am

How can we finite beings speak of the Unspeakable who is beyond the comprehension of our limited minds? One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the Fear of the Lord which is the gift of grasping how small we are in the face of the awesome transcendent majesty of The Absolute Being. Here is how the prophet Isaiah ( Is 6:1-8) conveyed it:

I saw the Lord seated on a  high and lofty throne, They cried one to the other,  “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!”  Then I said, “Woe is me.  I am doomed!  For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips!”   Then one of the Seraphim flew to me, holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar.  He touched my mouth with it and said, “See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send?  Who will go for us?”  “ Here I am,” I said, “Send me”.

We can only speak of the unspeakable by using inadequate words of our human existence to capture the awesome transcendent majesty of the Absolute Being.  Is God a King?  Is  the kingdom of heaven or God a monarchical theocracy?   I think not.  But within the culture of Isaiah where the prevalent form of governance was monarchy, isn’t that best way to capture the Lord’s majesty?  Is it not still a helpful way to describe the beatific vision?  Isaiah’s language does convey a sense of the Lord as the Master of the Universe. ( I recall asking my son, Martin, when we was a little tyke perhaps 5 or 6 how he saw God.  His said, “ God is the Master of the Universe.”  At that time, I recall there was a cartoon or TV show with that theme).

Mt 10: 24-33 provides another sight of Who our God is:    “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?  Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.  Even all the hairs of your head are counted.  So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Addressing God as Father, Jesus revealed to us that the Absolute, the Almighty, the Master of the Universe,  loves us as his children.  Therefore, we need not live our lives in the fear of a karmic payback or a strict God who may judge us fairly, yet harshly. Such cowering fear of punishment is not the Fear of the Lord described above. Jesus constantly reveals that the Lord is “ My Father,”   “ Your Father”, “ Our Father,”   “Abba” or Daddy. Without question, one of Jesus’ primary teachings and revelations is God as a loving, merciful, faithful Father who patiently pursues, welcomes home and embraces with love the repentant thief or profligate son. Like Isaiah, we will experience a fearful sense of imperfection in the presence of the Almighty, but we have recourse to the embers of the Eucharistic sacrifice which cleanse and make us one in Jesus’ relationship with his Father who is now our Father as well .

Is God only a Father?  Is this metaphor not yet another anthropomorphism?  So be it for  this anthropomorphic expression is a powerful mode of communicating that the Transcendent is loving and unconditionally merciful.  Yet does not God’s love also have the nurturing presence of a Mother’s love who lovingly strokes the hairs of her children’s head?  Cannot both a mother and father reflect the faithfulness of our God?  May we as parents faithfully reflect God’s loving presence to our children as well as others.

This passage from Matthew comes in the midst of a section of the scripture wherein Jesus is sending his disciples out to preach for the first time. The disciples want to do what Jesus is asking. They are willing like Isaiah to be sent, but they are afraid. He senses their hesitancy and fear.  He tells them “…do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Is it not amazing that our God who Jesus reveals as Father actually lovingly holds all of creation in His/Her heart?  We should not be afraid of where the Lord may send us as we respond “Here I Am. Send me!” The Almighty knows and loves all of creation every moment. Our Lord God is a deeply loving Master of the Universe.

“Be not afraid.”  Yet we are.  I am.  Despite knowing God’sfaithful ever present loving care, I still fear the future.   I consider continuing to scramble to build barns to hold more wheat in case there is ever a need.  No matter how much money people have, they fear its loss.  Where can it be invested safely come what may?  How can I avoid my circumstances changing for the worse?  How can I make sure that my safety net will not have holes?How challenging it must be to be an investment advisor or money manager for people! How do you think their clients would react if advisors told their clients to pay attention to the counsel of Jesus:

“Consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.  They neither sow nor reap or gather into barns.”

Lord, help us deal with our fears.  Both our fears of You and the insecurity of our futures. Help us relax in your loving care.   May the Eucharist be an ember from the sacrifice that makes us holy as it touches our lips.  May it  cleanse us of our fears and enable us to say “Send me”.  May we not be afraid of what other’s think, but share your love in word and deed as your disciples and your children  have down through the years. Let  our hearts understand, recognize and embrace  Your promptings.  May the gift of your grace enable us to follow  You and not refuse You, our Fatherly King.  May we consistently reflect Your Fatherly and Motherly love in our families. May our families be like yours,  a Holy Family. Amen.

Is Matrimony Countercultural?

July 12, 2014 at 11:42 am

Recently I sent a NYT obituary of Stephen Gaskin to a few of the best friends of my youth.  I addressed them  as my countercultural brothers.  One of them responded that he is my brother, but that I am the one who remains “countercultural.”  I still puzzle over that comment.  I am not sure but he may be referring to my traditional beliefs such as my belief in the sacrament of matrimony.  The  readings of July 7 include one  from Hosea which captures the beauty of marriage.   Hosea describes the loving relationship of Yahweh and his people.  Hosea is one of the most poetic and comforting of YHWH’s prophets:

“The Lord says ‘ I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.  She will respond there as in the days of her youth…She shall call me ‘My husband’…I will espouse you to me forever:  I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity.”

I love the word “allure”.  Allure possesses a flirting quality.  Contains sexual energy or desire.  Allure is followed by “speaking tenderly” which conveys a sense of deep and  unafraid intimacy.

This verse is reminder of the book of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Song of Songs, and also of the verses in Paul’s letter to Ephesians which is frequently used to celebrate the sacrament of marriage.  Paul compares Jesus’ relationship with the Church to the relationship of a husband and wife.  Of course, in this age where divorce is commonplace, it may be difficult for our contemporaries and us to grasp what is signified  here.

I recall when I taught high school in the 80s, the prevailing attitude among our Catholic students was that it was not a big deal if a marriage did not work out.  One can simply get divorced.  I do not think that is what the prophet  Hosea or St Paul has in mind.   We have lost a sense of what a covenant is or what it means to take a vow.  For the Chosen People, the covenant made with YHWH meant a commitment that could not be broken.  Mother Teresa understood this sense of commitment when she took an additional vow to those of poverty, chastity and obedience.  She took a vow to “Never refuse the Lord”.  Brian Kolodiejchuk describes her faithfully executing this vow in Mother Teresa Come Be My Light:

A few days before Mother Teresa’s death,  a sister witnessed a scene that confirmed her heroic fidelity to her private vow not to refuse God anything:

I saw Mother alone, facing…a picture of the Holy Face…and she was saying, “Jesus, I never refuse you anything.”  I thought she was talking to someone.  I went in again.  Again I head the same:  “Jesus, I have never refuse you anything.”  Mother Teresa had kept her word to God.  She had succeeded in not refusing Jesus anything for fifty-five years, welcoming each situation as a new opportunity to be faithful to the love she had pledged.”

Mother Teresa considered Jesus her spouse.  Kolodiejchuk describes her relationship with God as follows:

The secret of the abundant light and love that Mother Teresa radiated…lies in the depth and intimacy of her relationship with God.  She was a woman “madly in love with God,” and even more she was a woman who understood that “God was madly in love with her.”    Having experienced God’s love for her,  she desired ardently to love Him in return—even as He had never been loved before.

Isn’t it interesting that we can more clearly see the meaning of marriage in a celibate sister than we often can those who take the vow of Matrimony?   Our scriptures tell us that  YHWH’s relationship to the Chosen People and Jesus’ relationship to his Church is as deep and intimate as that of a husband and wife who live out their marriage vows by recognizing that they are called to love one another and bring God to one another.   Married life is a call to incarnate and make real the Kingdom of God  and Love that Jesus proclaimed.  God willing, our love for one another is incarnated in our children.  Our children are tangible physical products of our passionate love for one another and mirror the act of God in creating life.  God created because God must love.  Family life is an opportunity to live out this Christian understanding of God’s love as revealed in Jesus’  gospel of love.  Yet it is not always easy.  We are frail creatures who often fall short.

I am reminded of one time when I was suffering from a sinus infection which particularly made me cranky and irritable.  Kathleen looked me at said “ So this is the meaning of ‘ For better or for worse.’ “ Believe me that captured my attention!  To paraphrase  Father Raj:   So many families are bleeding like the woman in the Gospel of Matthew  (Mt. 9: 18-26) who was suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. ( She touched the cloak of Jesus in faith and was healed.)  “They are bleeding through misunderstanding, conflicting egos, infidelities.  Spouses have to touch Jesus in faith –individually and together as a married couple in prayer.  It would bring great healing to them, their families and the entire society and the Church.  After all is not family a domesticChurch?”  Personal relationships can be very challenging.  Our faith tradition has example after example of God embracing our fallen condition, forgiving us, and renewing our life.  David committed adultery with Bathsheba.  Their son, Solomon ruled during the golden era of Israel.  We too through prayer must learn to embrace forgiveness to truly make our homes  domestic churches.

I recently read an illuminating example of the sacrament and its vows that builds on Father Raj’s comments in a publication of one of my friends, Matt Palmer.  He and his twin brother manage money  for people and publish “ Harvest.. a quarterly journal on true wealth building and sharing”.  Matt interviewed a retiring couple and asked them about faith and family:

“We’ve both been blessed with Catholic educations, provided by loving parents who understood its importance during our formative years.  We met and fell in love while attending a  Jesuit university and enjoying a vibrant, faith-filled college community together.  When we married we chose to top our wedding cake with a simple gold cross with two entwined wedding bands at its center.  For us it symbolized the true nature of our relationship, being one with each other and Our Father.  That sense of God being a part of our relationship, our friendship, our marriage each day has carried and sustained us throughout our lives together.  Without our faith and Him in our lives, I know our path would have been rougher and our challenges more severe.  He multiplies our joys and divided our sorrows.  For us, life is all about faith, family, and friends…and all the rest is just stuff!”  Truly this couple lives reflects that a sacrament is an encounter with God.  Together they experienced and encountered God frequently if not daily in their lives together.  They became the people that they had to become to make the marriage work and be faithful to one another and their Father.

In the sacrament of Matrimony, husband and wife are called to minister to one another.  We help one another along the Way.  Was it Jean Valjean at the end of Les Miserables that sings “We reveal the face of God to one another.”   I was touched one Sunday when Fr Raj gave me a second communion host to bring home to Kathleen.  It was acknowledgement that a husband and wife bring God to one another. As Mother Teresa said to her sisters and brothers:

“God is in love with us and keeps giving Himself to the world—through you—through me….May you continue to be the sunshine of His love to your people and thus make your life something truly beautiful for God.”

Lord, help all married couples faithfully live our marriage vows.  Make us into sacraments for one another.  May we encourage and nurture one another. May we reveal your unconditional love to one another.  May people see our relationships and yearn for You.  As parents, grant us wisdom and prudence to nurture and guide the fruit of our loving passion for one another.  May we be holy families who live in gratitude for all the great gifts you have bestowed upon us.  May our lives be something beautiful for You.  Amen.



Chaos Theory

July 12, 2014 at 11:11 am

We recently spoke to an American who has been in India 12 years.  He said that when people ask him what India is like, he says  “Ornate”.  I could see his point.  This word does capture the furniture, jewelry, clothing, artwork, and interior decorating of homes in India.  Yet, it did not completely resonate.  But I thought it was an interesting notion and started to think about what one word I would use to describe India.

India is the flip side of the US and The West.   When our Indian professionals return from the US, I always ask them what struck them.  Invariably, they describe the US as “organized”.  It is telling that the returning Indians notice our organization and discipline.  It captures the fact that their Indian reality is undisciplined and disorganized.   Perhaps the word I want to use is “chaos”.   I must emphasize to my Indian friends and colleagues that this characterization is meant affectionately and not judgmentally. It is important for us to be open to all cultural expressions  and what they offer or tell us about being human. With that important qualification, let me spend a few minutes describing the chaos of Indian traffic, public behavior, crackers and Hinduism.

When one first arrives in India, you cannot miss the craziness of the traffic.  Honking is constant.  Lane markers are suggestions.  Pedestrians cross busy thoroughfares willy nilly.  Cars and cycles frequently drive down the wrong side of the road.  There is no queue for cars at intersections.  It is not unusual for cars to make a right turn from a left hand lane in front of cars turning right from a right hand lane.  One expects to hit a pedestrian or vehicle a few times on every trip.  Yet there is a certain flow that one must feel as a driver since generally all this  chaos is handled without any  road rage or even mild perturbation.

At the airport, whether waiting in line to check baggage, to pass through security, or to disembark from a plane,   Indians simply ease their way if not push to the front.  I even observed this behavior by Indians in the US.  I was flying to Detroit from Columbus  and had to check some baggage.  I was in a line of 10 people when I observed a slight Asian Indian walk past me and 3 or 4 more people.  He was obstructed by a woman who he did not know and who he then engaged in a conversation about his boarding pass.  No one seemed to noticeas he made himself at home in the line there.   Similarly, I was 3rd in line in a queue to go through security to catch a flight to Delhi when all of a sudden a group of 4 women starting loading their purses and other carry-on items onto the belt for scanning.  The security guard objected, but they ignored him.  The two men in front of me smiled.  I asked audibly if the women  were royalty.  Likely they are members of an upper-caste such as the Brahmins.  When I jokingly described this anecdote to one of my Indian golf buddies, he was clearly embarrassed.

After passing through security,  I decided to go to the sundry store to buy a magazine and some munchies.  As I approached the counter that had two cash registers, there was a scrum standing there.  Looked like 4 people standing shoulder to shoulder.  I positioned myself behind a man who was directly in front of the register.  A 6”2”American came up and joined me on my right.  All of sudden, a man who was all of 5’1” started to wiggle in front of me.  I assumed that he was trying to work his way through to the magazine section.  My American colleague said,  “Excuse Me Sir, Get in line!  Unbelievable Rudeness!”  He was pissed.  The smaller gentlemen backed away.  I was in a good mood and smiled at the American and said “ It is no different than the driving on the road.”    However, I am not always so cheerful.

When there is a queue, it is not unusual to have folks pushing into you from behind.  I sometimes wear a backpack and there will be constant pressure against it.  One time after a plane landed, I stood up to stand in the aisle and get my backpack from the overhead bins.  A man from the rear of the plane, pushed past me even though there was nowhere to go.  He progressed a foot or two.  After I had my backpack and the line started moving to disembark, I pressed my backpack into his back.  10 feet later, he stopped and asked me if I would like to go in front of him.  I innocently said  “No. Thank you” as if nothing untoward had occurred.  After all, it did not seem so different from what is a common experience for me.  Nonetheless, such behavior on my part is embarrassing.

Kathleen arrived shortly before Diwali, one of many Hindu festivals.  This is a festival  that is celebrated by lighting fireworks or “crackers”.    I do not have to tell you that in the US, we gather around one site that has fire engines and squads at the ready to enjoy a displaythat may last 20 minutes.  In contrast, in India, it is every person’s  prerogative to buy crackers and set them off.  Nothing is organized.  We watched from the top floor of a local hotel as the fireworks began at 6 pm and went to midnight.  Sporadically litby the devout, flashes of large colorful displays  could be seen across the whole horizon from left to right.   The next day, we read about how the emergency rooms were busy with burnt hands, lost eyes, etc.   Is the picture of constant chaos coming into focus?   Even so, when I highlighted the contrast of our cultures, one of my Indian colleagues who has spent time in the US and witnessed our fireworks  laughingly said that Indians are truly free and liberated.

The chaos theory also applies to Hinduism and its polytheism.  With my Western mind set, I assumed that there would be some semblance of sense or underlying rationality to their spirituality.  One of our young professionals tried to tell me that Hinduism is confusing.  I told her that I needed to talk someone else  then  since I did not want to share in her confusion.  I did not realize that she was actually onto something.  I recently read Wendy Doniher’s On Hinduism.  She sits in the Mircea Eliade chair of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago.  While she is sympathetic to Hinduism, she is unsparing in her scholarly approach which has led to her book being “pulped” or banned in India.  As I read her book, it became clear to me relatively quickly that Hinduism is confusing and in fact chaotic.  One Vedic poem will credit one god for creating the world while another will ascribe creation to a different god.    The gods Soma, Tvastri, Varuna, and Vishnu are all credited with creation by different sources within the Hindu scriptural tradition.

Similarly, various gods are addressed within the same Hindu scriptures as  “You, god abc, are the only god I’ve ever worshipped; you are the only one.”  Doniher suggests that the “various competing claims of supremacy cancel one another out, so that the total picture was one of equality: each of several was the best.”

She goes on, “To the question, ‘Is Hinduism monotheistic or polytheistic?’ the best answer is, ‘Yes’(which is actually the answer to most either/or questions about Hinduism). “   One of the Hindus’ scriptures, the Rig Veda states  “The wise speak of what is One in many ways.”   Doniher indicates that this oft quoted Vedic saying does not represent a monotheistic One  so much as a “unitary substratum supporting a vigorous polytheism.”  Even so , this quote later became the basis for monotheistic versions of Hinduism when the invaders of India brought Abrahamic monotheism.  When the Hindus saw themselves through the eyes of Islam and later Christian rulers, they were not happy with what they saw. They looked and felt like a superstitious lot.  Some felt misunderstood.   Shankara first responded to the monotheistic philosophies of Islam around 800CE.  He helped start a Hindu revival.  One of his contemporaries humorously argued that he “championed monism because he was so stupid that he could only count to one.” Later Rammohan Roy reacted to the British and more recently,  Vivekananda brought back ideas from a visit to America that were infused into or read into  the Vedanta. These latter leaders argued that the ancient Hindu scriptures are monotheistic.

Doniher says that the Hindu traditions really descrbe a monism rather than a monotheism.  The later Vedanta monotheistic tradition  focused on the Upanishads’ teachings (900 BCE)which possess a monism that “assumes that all living things are elements of a single universal being (often called brahman), reached by individual meditation.”  In the West, we commonly refer to this view of God in all “elements”  as pantheistic.  The Christian tradition as embodied in Paul’s letter to the Colossians recognizes that all things live and move and have their being in God, but the creation is not the Creator.  We do not worship God in things even though their created beauty often brings us to and points to  the source of their beauty and  their Author.

I tremble a bit as I write these notes.  I would like to understand Hinduism better before arriving at conclusions about another faith tradition that are not particularly flattering.  But it remains difficult for me to understand polytheistic festivals where offerings for success are made to a deity, Ganesh, who is a boy with an elephant’s head,  whenever a new endeavor is undertaken.  Kathleen, the boys and I also witnessed goats being sacrificed to appease Kali, an angry goddess,  often pictured with a necklace made out of the skulls of demons that look a lot like men. There are temples to her all over the golf course on which I play.   They are among the large and beautiful boulders that are out of bounds.

Returning to Doniher’s  analysis that the Vedantic teachings are monistic, the Vedantic philosophy of the Upanishads “is  often contrasted with the polytheistic world of group sacrifice to multiple gods.  An image often used to characterize the relationship between the individual soul and brahman is that of salt dissolved in water.  ‘Thou art that ‘ the Upanishads insist.”    In other words, our true self can be found within ourselves.  This true “self” should be spelled with a capital “S” because it is the Self that is Brahma. “Thou art That!”   As our egoistic self disappears like a wave disappearing into the ocean of Self.  It is similar to salt that dissolves into the water.

The more recent interpretation or conversion of monism by Hindu spiritual philosophers into monotheism sits side by side with the ongoing practice of polytheism.  Perhaps it is consistent with the non-duality of the East.  The East is both/and whereas we in the West are either/or.  In any event, all this fluidity or lack of stability in Eastern thought is very confusing and chaotic.   This thought is reinforced by Doniher as she states  there is no Hindu orthodoxy.  There is orthopraxy.  In other words, Hindus are more concerned about ritual correctness than “right” thinking.  No wonder it is confusing and chaotic.

Perhaps a better word to describe India would be “fluid”.  Maybe.  For now, I will stay with chaos and also stay with the thought that there is an Absolute Being — The “I AM WHO AM” revealed to Moses in the burning bush and who is further revealed to us as  “ Our Father” by Jesus.  We are all children of the same God who is accessible to all who seek with a sincere heart.  Although it may be a bit more challenging in the midst of the shadows of chaos, I am sure that our loving Father  is accessible even as the Spirit floated over chaos in Genesis 1.   His sun shines on all humans as the Almighty holds us all in a loving embrace.