Thursday, October 12, 2017

Miracles and God

'Can we expect God to perform miracles?' This is a question that has bothered me for quite a while. It is very comforting to believe that when we are in need (or when we want something) we can pray to God to do a miracle to help us out. The problem is just that God seems to 'act' in 'strange' (difficult to understand) ways. Sometimes things work out the way we want them to be and sometimes they don't and whether this can be attributed to God doesn't seem to be clear. So the question remains!


I have had many 'answers' (hypotheses) on this matter. Mercifully, the none of the answers have persisted for a very long time. I have learned quite a bit about myself and my relationship with God by watching how my answers have evolved over time. So what follows is just 'my current thinking on the matter' (what a beautiful 'consultant-like' phrase!)


First, our understanding of what is 'natural' and what is 'super-natural' has evolved significantly. As we understand nature more, we become more aware of the 'miraculous' nature of nature. So 'miracles' might not as unusual as we might think they are. Also, to me, trying to understand the creator by understanding the (patterns in the) creation definitely qualifies as a spiritual pursuit.


Yes, God is not a genie (that will do our bidding) or even some sort of s cosmic vending machine (that can give us what we want if we 'pay' a specified 'price'- like a particular prayer or a ritual). It would be an insult to both God and us to think of God as an entity that can be compelled to respond in a particular way.


So what is my 'current thinking on the matter'? I think that the most important thing about God is that He is always with us. When 'miracles' do happen I prefer to think of them as a message from God that he is very much around. So I think of miracles as gratis. They just happen without we doing anything - essentially to encourage us to look beyond the mundane aspects of life - to be more aware of the miraculous nature of the world that we are living in -  to recapture our wide-eyed sense of wonder and childlike zest for life - to be more enthusiastic (en theos : with God) - to be aware of the presence of God in our midst!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Celebrating Onam in the Church

We celebrated Onam in our Church with the traditional onasadya (the traditional Onam feast) and games. Many of us also wore the traditional Kerala dress as onakkodi (the traditional Onam dress) to mark the occasion. There were some 'murmurs' about the appropriateness of celebrating Onam in the Church. But a vast majority of the church members were strongly in favor of conducting Onam celebrations in the church. For a Malayalam church outside Kerala, the church is also the strongest link to our homeland, our mother tongue and to our culture! 

The discussion about the appropriateness of  celebrating Onam in the church prompted me to think more deeply about the aspects involved. Onam is the most popular festival in Kerala. While it is essentially a harvest festival the underlying mythology of Onam is distinctly Hindu, about the benevolent asura King of Kerala named Mahabali and Vamana who is considered to be the fifth avatar of Vishnu, though the complex* (even secular) nature of the narrative is exemplified by the fact that it is Mahabali and not Vamana who is welcomed back on the Onam day. Onam is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm by Keralites of all communities as a cultural festival. Celebrating Onam in the Church is also an accurate reflection of the cultural identity of the St. Thomas Christians (also known as Syrian Christians)  in Kerala (the community I belong to). 

The population in Kerala is about 55% Hindu, 25% Muslim and 20% Christian. When I grew up in Kerala, my friends were from all the three communities and I used to visit their homes. I used to feel more 'at home' when I was in the homes of my Hindu friends as compared to that of my Muslim friends. I was not sure why. It was surprising as Christianity and Islam are monotheistic religions (as opposed to Hiduism which is polytheistic)  and they even worship the same God (the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob; the God of Ibrahim, Ishaq and Yaqub in Islam). Then it came to me in a flash. I am culturally Hindu while being Christian by faith. This is very much aligned to the way of life of St. Thomas Christian's in Kerala. 

Christianity hasn't been perceived to be a foreign religion in Kerala. Kerala has had the advantage of receiving Christianity very early(from AD 52, with the arrival of the apostle St. Thomas). Another great blessing was that Kerala received Christianity from its original source (Middle East)  without getting westernized. The westernization of Christianity (most visible in the westernized images of Jesus and some of the rituals that are more reflective of the western culture than of anything fundamental to Christianity) is so impactful that many people don't realize that the historical Jesus was an Asian and that Christianity originated in Asia. Anyway, Saint Thomas Christians have lived in harmony and in close interaction with their Hindu brothers in Kerala for the last 2000 years. 

This has led to the current situation where most of the Christians in Kerala practice a way of Christianity that is very much aligned to the local ('Hindu') culture. For example, 'thalimala' is used in the weddings very similar to the mangalsutra used by Hindus (with a cross inscribed of course). Also many of the Churches have lamps very similar those used by Hindus (with a cross added) and the bishops of some churches have saffron robes. Again, typical St. Thomas Christian names are 'Indigenized' versions of Hebrew names. Also, a high degree of respect for other faiths is shown. Many of the bed time stories told to the children in Christian households are from the Hindu puranas and to me this facilitates cultural integration more than anything else. (Please see here for an amazing example of respect for other traditions- Catholic priests arranging a Brahmin priest for a funeral and participating in the ceremony!)

Kerala is the state with the highest number of Christians in India is Kerala (a remarkable feat considering that Kerala is a small state in terms of overall population). It is also a state where Christians have had a huge influence in most spheres of life. Apart from the 'traditional' fields for Christian influence like Education (word for school in Malayam is 'pallikootam'. 'Palli' means a church building and hence pallikootam literally means an annexe of the church) and Healthcare, it is evident in the political sphere also. For example, the previous Chief Minister (Oomman Chandy) is a Christian even though Christians constitute less than 20% of the population in Kerala. So the 'Kerala model of Christianity' has been very successful - at least more successful than most of the other models of Christianity in India. 

Of course, the Christians needs to be careful not to bring in aspects like the caste system in Hiduism into the Christian community. This is a real problem as many of the Syrian Christian families in Kerala have the habit of maintaining a kudumba charithram (family history) that traces their origins to a Namboothiri ('high' caste Brahmin) household that 'adopted' Christianity based on the interaction with Saint Thomas himself. They consider themselves superior to the Christians (mostly from 'lower' castes) who were 'converted' to Christianity by the British missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries. So the word 'Syrian' has acquired a caste dimension through it was originally meant to signify the allegiance to the Church in Syria at an earlier period in the history of the Christian Church in Kerala. Of course, there is no way of validating the accuracy of the kudumba charithram (family history) mentioned above. However, this 'smuggles in' caste system into a religion that doesn't support any sort of caste system!

So what does all this mean? To me 'being culturally Hindu while being Christian by faith' seems to be sustainable model. So celebrating Onam in the Church is very much appropriate so long as we know what exactly are we are doing and why!

* The beauty of Hindu mythology is that it supports multiple interpretations and even multiple truths (as opposed to clear black and while definitions of right and wrong). Even in the case of the Onam myth there is no clear oppressor or victim. See here for more details.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

From belief to experience and faith

After practicing (albeit imperfectly) Christianity for more than four decades I have come to a realization - I really don't know what to believe! I do know that Jesus is my Lord and my God. Apart from that I am not sure if I really believe anything. May be, that is exactly the point. Any sort of belief limits your experience of God.

I have experienced Christ fleetingly though intensely. But I can't  make any generalization based on those experiences on 'how Christ really operates' - other than to say that He operates in mysterious ways (or ways that are best known to Himself).

Yes, there are parts of the Christian belief system that resonates with me - 'Christ being fully man and fully God at the same time' for example. Of course, I don't even begin to understand what that involved or even what that meant.

May be, knowing about Christ is the biggest impediment for knowing Christ (the same holds good in the case of mortals also). May be, God can only be experienced and not understood. Experience can lead to faith. If we keep the experience pure (uncorrupted by generalizations and belief), life can become a dance with God!

It is interesting to note that the 'direct experience' approach was much more mainstream in Christianity in earlier times that it is now. Direct experience is inherently personal and leads to personal (subjective) truth (MY GOD). Also it is quite unpredictable and difficult to describe using language. Hence it is a tricky proposition in the institutionalized forms of Christianity that often needs a common belief system, common rituals and common interpretation of the religious experience. At the same time direct experience is more authentic and 'scientific' (empirical) even with a degree of 'measurement error' (While the mystical doesn't need support from the analytical to be valid, any convergence is a define plus). Yes, there is an individual  dependence of the experience. But observer dependence of phenomenon is a basic principle in quantum mechanics also! 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Enlightenment

I have become enlightened about enlightenment. No, I haven't become an enlightened individual. I have only become enlightened about enlightenment and I have tried to capture that in the following paragraph!

Enlightenment is not about seeing new things. It is not even about seeing things from a new perspective. Enlightenment is about seeing things the way they really are! In that sense enlightenment is akin to spiritual rebirth (being born again)- being able to see the word without the distortions that we had acquired during our lives. It is simply a return to the original natural condition of the human mind - our 'everyday mind' and 'being without the angst of becoming'! Yes, it is also like waking up from a dream!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A conversation (Part 3)

Me: Where do you disappear when I need you the most?
Jesus: I am very much around
Me: It doesn't feel like that. Then what is the use?
Jesus: My main purpose is not utilitarian
Me: Then what are you doing?
Jesus: I help you to connect the dots even when I don't get involved with individual dots
Me: But I do sense your presence especially when things come together beautifully. I even see a personal touch to make me feel special. Sometimes when I have called out to you from the depth of your suffering you have answered me.
Jesus: May be you should treat it just as a proof of concept! (smiles)
Me: But other times when I am suffering and call out to you, I don't get a response. At least I don't get any response that I meets my need. So it becomes a 'torture by hope'.
Jesus: I hope you will sense my presence in both good times and bad times!
Me: I often feel abandoned, let down and very lonely
Jesus: This is part of being human. I can only say that I am with you even when you can't experience me. How can the omnipresent God be absent?
Me: May be you should make your presence felt
Jesus: Then you will only be interested in the miracles and not in the truth  underlying the miracles. It is like people thinking more about Santa Claus than about me during Christmas!
Me: So what should I do?
Jesus: It is for you to figure it out!  You have an entire lifetime for figuring it out for yourself!
Me: What about what others have already figured out?
Jesus: That is their truth. Walk with me and I will help you to figure out for yourself and do give me the benefit of doubt!
Me: Let me give it a try!

A conversation (Part 2)

Me: Why are you so unpredictable?
Jesus: Why do you want me to be predictable?
Me: So that I can understand you!
Jesus: And then predict my behaviour and then try to control me? (smiles) If you can control me then who is the God here?
Me: You have a point there. But may be I just want to relate to you better.
Jesus : For that what you need to do is to spend time with me.
Me: So we can only experience God and not understand God?
Jesus: It depends on your understanding of the word understanding! (smiles)
Me: Yes, it is difficult to differentiate between unknowable and unknown (not yet known)! May be if we experience you we can develop some hypotheses about you
Jesus: At your own risk (smiles). Remember, experience is dynamic. The cutting edge of experience is often too dynamic for understanding.
Yes: A static theology can't 'capture' dynamic experience of God
Jesus: Trying to 'capture' a limitless God in a limited mind and in an even more limited language is indeed a troublesome endeavour!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A conversation (Part 1)

Me : Hello Jesus! How are you?
(Jesus smiles)
Me: On hindsight, what a strange question to ask! It was a very human level question.
Jesus: I am more human than you think
Me: I know that being fully human AND fully God was your core miracle
Jesus: Was?
Me: Haven't you ceased to being human after you went back to heaven?
Jesus: After having made such a great effort to learn to be human, isn't it a waste to throw all hat learning away?
Me: Haven't you accomplished your mission on earth?
Jesus: Being the savior is not a one-time act. Yes, it happened once in one sense. But it keeps on happening in another sense.
Me : When I hear this, the image of Prometheus comes to my mind!
Jesus: Eagle eating his liver, the liver growing back to be eaten by the eagle again and then again growing back...?
Me: Yes! Come to think of it I think this image is rather neat. Prometheus was given this punishment for giving fire to the humans and you are supposed to be the light of the world!
Jesus: The myth speaks about stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humans. I didn't do any stealing (smiles)
Me: That I agree. Anyway, many of us on earth carry a crucifix (with your image still on the cross) and display your pictures with your wounds still intact!
Me: I feel like praying; but no words are coming to my mind
Jesus: That is perfectly fine with me. No words are required. Often, words are a distraction. Just be with me!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Miracle

"The miracle of Jesus is himself" - Rumi 

I have been reading 'The essential Rumi by Coleman Barks and I came across the phrase mentioned above in the chapter titled 'Jesus Poems'. Somehow, it resonated very strongly with me. While I can only guess what exactly Rumi had in mind when he wrote this, what it triggered in my mind was the wonder and mystery on 'being fully man and fully God at the same time' - which, to me, is the biggest miracle of Jesus. The incarnation of Christ (Son of Man) did not involve the subtraction of deity, but the addition of humanity.


Another 'miraculous' aspect for me in all this is how Jesus allows me to find Him in 'unconventional' places!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Questionable Assumptions?!

The last two posts ( ദൈവത്തിനു ചൂണ്ട ഇടുന്നു & ജീവിത ശകടം പംക്ച്ചര്‍ ആയി) that I had written, talk about communion with God (thinking about God, praying etc.). This raises an important question, ‘why should we have this communion with God’? Would God punish us if we don’t do this? Should we feel guilty if we don’t think about God?

These questions made me think about the assumptions that underlie the last two posts. The main assumptions were regarding the nature and purpose of the relationship between man and God.

In Christianity, the relationship between ‘God and man’ is considered to be that between ‘Father and child’ & I had assumed the same when it comes to the nature of the relationship. In such a scenario, communion (thinking about/interacting with each other) is a must for making the relationship work. It also follows that both God and man will ‘miss something’ if the communion does not happen.

No; I don’t think that God will punish us if we don’t think about(interact with) Him. But I do feel that we will miss out on a wonderful opportunity if we don’t do it. We discover certain dimensions of ourselves only in the context of interactions with others. So if we don’t interact with God, we might not be able to realize our full human potential.

To me, what happens when we interact with God is that we 're-member'. Remember (re-member) in the sense of being a member again (being united again with the 'Whole'). After this 're-membering' we re-emerge as renewed (refreshed, 'born again'/'born from above'*) human beings with a greater degree of awareness. This higher awareness will help us in making better choices - in dealing with ourselves and with others. It is not a matter of God telling us not to do certain things when we interact with Him. It is more a matter of we making different decisions (start, stop, continue, do more of, do less of) ourselves, based on our enhanced awareness.

Again, I don't think that God punishes us. I think that our actions, laws of nature and chance (entropy) combine to produce certain outcomes. I do believe that God nurtures us and gives us the strength do deal with the outcomes by 'being with us', suffering with us and suffering for us (as in the passion/suffering of Christ). God also gives us the wisdom to make better choices. This happens in the context of our interaction with God.

Hence it ‘makes sense’ for us to feel guilty if we miss out on this opportunity (to reach out to God). The feeling of guilt (like the feelings of anxiety, fear etc.) can be a useful warning signal. As long as we recognize the signal, we don’t really have to suffer the pain of guilt.

I understand that different sets of assumptions (on the nature and purpose of the relationship between man and God) are possible and they will lead to different conclusions (if we follow the same process of logical deduction). As I had written earlier, any sort of beliefs/assumptions about God is problematic (as they will limit God). I am also aware that many of these assumptions/beliefs are ‘anthropomorphic’ (attributing human characteristics to God) and can even amount to ‘creating God in the image of man’ – not a particularly noble endeavor I must say!

ബോബി ജോസ് കട്ടികാട്‌ ഹൃദയവയല്‍ എന്ന പുസ്തകത്തില്പറയുന്നു " ദൈവം നമ്മുടെ ശാഠൃങ്ങല്കും  ധാരണകല്കും മുകളിലെവിടെയോ ആണ്. ഇതാണ് ദൈവം എന്ന് പറയരുത്. ഇതല്ല ദൈവം എന്ന് പറയുക കുറേകൂടി എളുപ്പമാണ്.  അതുകൊണ്ടാണല്ലോ എന്താണ് ദൈവം എന്ന് ചോദിക്കുമ്പോള്‍ 'നേതി - നേതി' (ഇതല്ല - ഇതല്ല ദൈവം) എന്ന് ആര്ഷഭാരതം ചൊല്ലിക്കൊടുക്കുനത് പരമാവധി നിനക്ക് പറയാവുന്നത് ' ഇതുകൂടിയാണ് ദൈവം' എന്നുമാത്രം. അതിനപ്പുറമായ ശാഠൃങ്ങള്‍  ദൈവനിന്ദകള്ആണ്.” 

The above discussion clearly indicates that my current responses to the questions at the beginning of this post are far from adequate. I hope and pray that my understanding (and my answers/responses) will evolve!

* "Jesus replied, 'Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again'" (John 3:3). Please note that the Greek for 'again' also means 'from above'.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

ജീവിത ശകടം പംക്ച്ചര്‍ ആയി!

ജീവിത ശകടം കൂടെ കൂടെ പംക്ച്ചര്‍ ആകുന്നു. ആലോചിച്ചു നോക്കി - എന്താ കാരണം എന്ന്.

ആദ്യമൊന്നും പിടികിട്ടിയില്ല. പിന്നെ മനസ്സിലായി. പ്രശ്നം സ്പയര്‍ ടായരിന്ടെ ഉപയോഗവുമായി ബന്ധപെട്ടതാണ്.


ദൈവത്തിനോട് ഒരു സ്പയര്‍ ടായരിനോടെന്നതുപോലെ ആണ് പെരുമാറുന്നത്. വണ്ടി ഓടുമ്പോള്‍ സ്പെയര്‍ ടയറിനെ കുറിച്ച് ആര്‍ ചിന്തിക്കുന്നു? സ്പയര്‍ ടായരുമായുള്ള സംസര്‍ഗം വണ്ടി ‍പംക്ച്ചര്‍ ആകുമ്പോള്‍ മാത്രം! ദൈവമാകുന്ന സ്പയര്‍ ടയര്‍ ഇടുമ്പോള്‍ വണ്ടി നന്നായി ഓടുന്നു. അത് മാറ്റി സാധാരണ ടയര്‍ ഇടുമ്പോള്‍ വണ്ടി വീണ്ടും പംക്ച്ചര്‍ ആകുന്നു. 

ദൈവമേ, വണ്ടി ഓടുമ്പോള്‍ തന്നെ നിന്നെപ്പറ്റി ചിന്തിക്കാനുള്ള മനസ്സ് എനിക്ക് തരേണമേ!

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name".(Psalm 91:14)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

ദൈവത്തിനു ചൂണ്ട ഇടുന്നു!


ദൈവവുമായി ചില ധാരണകള്‍ ഉണ്ടാക്കാന്‍ ഞാന്‍‍ നടത്തിയ ശ്രമങ്ങളെ പറ്റി ഇതിനു മുന്‍പ് എഴുതിയിരുന്നു; അവയൊന്നും വിജയിച്ചില്ലെന്നും. ഈ ശ്രമങ്ങള്‍ പരാജയപ്പെടാനുള്ള ചില കാരണങ്ങളും പറഞ്ഞിരുന്നു. ഇപ്പോള്‍ തോന്നുന്നു വേറൊരു കാരണം കൂടി ഉണ്ടായിരുന്നു എന്ന്.

കാരണം ലളിതം ആണ്. ഈ ശ്രമങ്ങള്‍ ഒരു തരത്തില്‍ ദൈവത്തിനു ചൂണ്ട ഇടാനുള്ള പരിപാടികള്‍ ആയിരുന്നു. ശ്രമങ്ങളുടെ അടിസ്ഥാന ഭാവം ഇതായിരുന്നു : "ദൈവമേ ഞാന്‍ ഇതു ചൈയ്യാം, പകരമായി നീ അത് ചെയ്യേണമേ", അല്ലെങ്ങില്‍ "ദൈവമേ ഞാന്‍ ഈ നല്ല കാര്യം ചെയ്തിരിക്കുന്നു പകരമായി ഞാന്‍ അത് പ്രതീക്ഷിക്കുന്നു". വലിയ മീനിനെ പിടിക്കാന്‍ ചെറിയ ഇര ഇട്ടു കൊടുക്കുനതു പോലെ!

ദൈവം ചൂണ്ടയില്‍ വീണില്ല. ദൈവത്തിന്നു സ്തോത്രം!

പിന്നെ തോന്നി - ഈ പ്രശ്‌നം കുറച്ചുകൂടി വ്യാപകം ആണെന്ന്. നമ്മുടെ പല പ്രാര്‍ത്ഥനകളും നേര്‍ച്ചകളും ഇത്തരത്തില്‍ ഉള്ളവ ആല്ലേ?

ഞാന്‍ ദൈവത്തോട് പറഞ്ഞു "ചൂണ്ട ഇടാന്‍ ശ്രമിച്ചത് ക്ഷമിക്കേണമേ". ദൈവം പറഞ്ഞു "ഞാന്‍ ചൂണ്ടകളില്‍ വീഴുന്ന ദൈവമല്ല. ഒരു കാര്യത്തില്‍ എനിക്ക് സന്തോഷം ഉണ്ട് - ചൂണ്ട ഇടുമ്പോള്‍ എങ്കിലും നീ എന്നെപറ്റി ചിന്തിച്ചല്ലോ. എന്നെക്കുറിച്ച് ചിന്തിക്കുവാന്‍ ചൂണ്ട ഇടീല്‍ നിനക്ക് അവശ്യം എങ്കില്‍ എത്ര വേണമെങ്കിലും ചൂണ്ട ഇട്ടുകൊള്ളൂ. ഞാന്‍ വീഴാതെ നോക്കിക്കോളാം."

ചൂണ്ട ഇടുക, ചിന്തിക്കുക. ചൂണ്ട ഇല്ലാതെ ദൈവത്തെ ധ്യാനിക്കുവാന്‍ കഴിയുന്നത്‌ വരെ.

ഹോമയാഗങ്ങഴെക്കാള്‍ ദൈവപരിജ്ഞാനത്തില്‍ ഞാന്‍ പ്രസാദിക്കുന്നു (ഹോശേയ 6:6)

"I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Designed to think?!!

"The quality of my thinking is directly proportional to the level of my frustration", I heard myself saying this to a friend of mine. Initially, I didn't think much about it. I felt that I was just trying to be funny. Then I realized that the above statement came from the core of my being and hence I should look at it more closely.

I like to think. I feel happy when I sit down and think (in a relaxed manner) about a topic that I am exploring. The results of the various psychometric instruments that I have taken show a preference for thinking/intellectual activity. However, this does not mean that I actually do a lot of thinking or even that I am good in thinking.

May be, I am not doing as much thinking as I should. May be, I have fallen into some sort of an intellectual slumber and frustration (with other parts of my life) is required to wake me up! May be, when I feel uncomfortable I sort of 'regress' into thinking as a source of comfort. May be, I have some sort of a 'fear of failure' when it comes to intellectual activities also and frustration is required to overcome that. My be, I am 'designed to think' (possibly about certain topics) and my path to happiness and fulfillment is through thinking about/exploring those topics/aspects to the maximum extent of my abilities/talents!!!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Creative destruction: Fullness in vacuum!

I have been searching for some sort of‘equilibrium’ in my relationship with God. But as soon as I think I have reached a ‘workable equilibrium’ it promptly gets destroyed. This pattern has been repeating over and over again in the last few years of my life. This has left me quite unsettled and puzzled.

“What is the meaning of all this?” I have often asked myself. Isn’t it reasonable to wish for some sort of stability and predictability in one’s relationship with God – especially when one is trying to anchor one’s entire life around that relationship? Won’t this kind of a pattern destroy a person’s self confidence, self respect and even his belief in God?

While I haven’t yet found any ‘logical’ answers to the above questions, the following is ‘my current thinking on this matter’! May be, my definition of equilibrium is a bit too ‘static’. May be, my compulsion to reach equilibrium (even a ‘dynamic equilibrium’) is coming from a hidden desire for predicting and even influencing God’s actions (which is a dubious endeavor - as I have discussed here and here).

May be, all my beliefs about God (including the belief that such beliefs can work!) have to be destroyed before true understanding of God can emerge. May be, once the mental chatter/clutter from all these beliefs and hopes is cleared, knowledge of God would emerge from that silence! May be, this is also a belief and/or hope. May be ...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Manna!

Manna, is the name of the food that God provided for the Israelites during their journey through the desert (Exodus - Chapter 16). It was available six mornings a week. The Israelites were instructed to eat only the manna they had gathered for each day. Manna stored up for the following day "bred worms and stank" the exception being the day before Shabbat, when twice the amount of manna was gathered, which did not spoil overnight.

What makes me think about manna now? It is because I have noticed some interesting parallels between ‘my relationship with God’ and ‘relationship of the Israelites with God’ – in the matter of God providing for human needs.

For all the 40 years in the desert, Israelites received manna. But they received it in such a way that they could gather only that much manna that they could eat in a day. They were specifically instructed not to store manna. But some of them did store manna with the result that the stored up manna “bread worms and stank”. Similarly, by the Grace of God, I have always had enough in my life so far. Sometimes, it did seem as if I won’t have enough, but when the day/situation arrived I did have enough. Logically speaking, this should be a strong enough signal for me to believe that God will provide for my needs when the occasion arises. But still have a strong desire for storing up some ‘manna’.

Possibly, it has something to do with the excessive discomfort that I experience when I feel that I am not in control of my life – that I had mentioned in an earlier post. I don’t want to control anyone. I just want to be in control of my life. This is partly coming from the compulsion that I feel for being responsible and reliable (and possibly, comfortable). The crux of the matter is that the arrangement of daily provision of ‘manna’ (with no storage rights and advance provision) would mean that one has to be dependent on God on an ongoing basis. May be the solution is to find a way to be responsible and reliable (and comfortable) without necessarily being in control. Possibly, this solution also requires a higher level of awareness (about God, about myself, about my relationship with God, about the meaning of concepts like dependence, control, responsibility, reliability & comfort and about how all these come together), than what I have at this point.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hoshana!

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday. I was feeling quite depressed in the morning – having been under a lot of stress during the past few days. In our church we have the tradition of going around the church singing Hosanna on Palm Sundays. I remember telling my wife “I don’t want to go to Church today. I am not in a mood to sing Hosanna”. My understanding of Hosanna was that it was purely ‘a declaration of praise’ and I was in too grumpy a mood to sing praises. While I did ‘know’ that one should praise God in all situations, I was feeling reluctant to do so. Nevertheless (by the Grace of God!), I did end up going to the Church.

During the sermon, the priest talked about the origins and meanings of the word Hosanna. It was quite a revelation for me. While the Greek word ‘Hosanna’ is indeed the cry of praise or adoration shouted on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (“Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!” – Matthew 21:9), the Hebrew word ‘Hoshana’ is a cry for salvation. ‘Hoshana’ means “please save” or “save now”. So Hosanna/Hoshana is both a cry of praise and a cry for salvation at the same time! So singing Hoshana was precisely the right thing to do for me (who was torn between the requirement to sing praises and the reluctance to do so because of the state of mind – a depressed mind crying out for salvation) at that time. I am amazed at how perfectly and beautifully God can engineer situations!!! Thank God I went to Church that day!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Divine Example

In the previous post, I had described how my assumptions (beliefs) about God were 'proved' to be inaccurate (one by one - over a period of time - through hard experience) and how that in turn forced me to think about what kind of belief (if any) would be appropriate for me. I had also said that any assumption, belief or any definition of God will limit God and hence it might not be a good idea to have any such beliefs or definitions and that 'pure faith' (without any beliefs) might be the answer. I was thinking about examples of such pure faith. Initially, I was not successful in this endeavor. Then I came across (during a sermon in my church) what I think can serve as an excellent example - based on the behavior of none other than Jesus himself.

There are seven sayings of Jesus on the cross (seven short phrases that Jesus uttered at his crucifixion immediately before he died, gathered from the four Gospels). The fourth saying was that "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?". And the last (seventh) saying was that "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit". Now, here we have a Man, who after having felt that God had forsaken Him, again saying that He is committing His spirit into God's hands. Can there be a better example of pure faith - after all the beliefs had been broken down!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bargaining with God

I have been trying to bargain with God – for a long time. And, I have failed – consistently and miserably. I am a reasonably good negotiator (going by the standards of the world); but that didn’t really help – actually that might have made the matters worse.

I thought I was making a good offer. And I did revise the offer – many times – when the previous offers seem to be getting rejected.

The initial offer from my side was ‘I will pray to you and I will keep away from major sins and in return please keep me away from major problems’. For a while, it seemed to work, and then it failed. So, I deduced that immunity from major problems in life was not a realistic demand. Hence, I revised my offer to “I will pray to you and I will do the best I can and in return please don’t give me any trouble that I can’t handle”. This also didn't work. Then I tried a variation of the same. "Please give me the strength so that I can deal with any trouble that I need to handle". The variation also failed to do the job. Then I realized that the rationale behind the last two offers was that while I was prepared to face major problems, I was scared that if I was hit with something that I couldn’t cope with I will lose control. And I was mortally afraid of losing control. This offer was also ‘rejected’. Hence I realized that ‘not losing control’ or ‘not being broken’ was also not an acceptable demand.

Now I am not sure what to bargain for. I do have some ideas- like asking God to “make me fruitful in my land of suffering” or to ‘be with me in my suffering’ or to ‘show me the meaning of my suffering’ or ‘to show me the light at the end of the tunnel’. But, I have a nagging suspicion that ‘God does not want to negotiate with me at all’! It might be that any offer that I come up with (and even the very attempt to negotiate) will based on a certain underlying belief about God. As I had mentioned in the previous post, any belief or definition of God will limit God and hence it might not be a good idea to have any such beliefs or definitions. May be pure faith – without any beliefs – might be the answer. But is that also a kind of belief??!!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

One thing that I know...

"Is there something that I learned from my life so far in the domain of spirituality?" - This is a question that has been popping up in my mind quite often these days. A few years ago, I thought that I knew quite a lot in this domain. I am not so sure any more. It is in my nature to 'doubt' and to 'question' - any sort of knowledge/conclusions. May be, the way towards faith for me is through 'doubting my doubts' (e.g. 'how do I know that I don't know?').

Let me come back to the original question that I started this post with. There is nothing that I am absolutely sure of - in the sense of having arrived at my final unchangeable conclusion. I feel that one's answers to fundamental questions in life should (and do) evolve throughout one's life. This also means that one's knowledge/conclusions also evolve. Having said this, there is something (among the list of inferences that I have drawn from life so far) that is quite high in terms of degree of conviction - at least at this point.

The inference is something like this. I can't understand God in the scientific meaning of the term 'understand'. In science, when one tries to understand a 'phenomenon', it is usually with the objective to use the understanding to predict and possibly influence (or even control) the phenomenon. Now, any definition of God will limit God and hence can be problematic. Also, if one is able to predict what God will do or if one is able to influence God's actions, that can also limit God. While I do think that it is possible to get connected to God, to catch a glimpse of God's mind or even to feel one with God, I think that these are hugely dependent on the 'Grace of God'. While one's readiness/preparedness/actions can be a significant factor, it is definitely not a sufficient condition or even a necessary condition!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Jesus and simplicity on the other side of complexity

There is a post on 'simplicity at the other side of complexity' in Prasad's blog. This is the kind of simplicity that is arrived at after working through the complexities in life. This simplicity helps us to deal with the complexity by understanding and leveraging the patterns that underlie the complexity. It also follows that a relatively simple set of principles (based on the patterns mentioned above) and their interactions can generate responses complex enough to effectively deal with a wide range of complex situations.

I feel that the following response from Jesus (when he was asked the question - ' Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" ) embodies this simplicity in a most elegant and profound manner. "Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)".

This response from Jesus is much more than a neat summary of the commandments. For example, this response/principle transcends the problem of 'having to choose between code ethics and situational ethics - and all the issues associated with code ethics and situational ethics' . However, this does not always mean that it would easy to act according to this principle. Since this is a 'principle to live by' and not a 'prescription for a standard response to situations', we still have to formulate our responses to individual situations . The principle would guide our actions/If we consistently practice this principle, we would develop a state of mind that would enable us to respond appropriately to all situations. Of course, this is easier said than done - and that is why we need the grace of God!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

My newfound love for history

When I was in school, I never used to like history much. My favorite subject was physics. In the last couple of years I have found myself getting increasingly attracted to history. Initially, I did not know why this was happening to me. Now I feel that I might have a clue about what is going on. There are two factors involved - my changing perception about what history is all about and a better understanding about how my mind works.

Earlier, I used to view history as a description of a series of events/happenings . Now I am beginning to see the connections between these events and also the underlying patterns (social, cultural and psychological) - the forces that cause/ shape these events*.

Again I have realized that I have a 'connection seeking and pattern recognising' mind (my top two strengths in Gallup 'Strength Finder' are 'Ideation' and 'Strategic') - whenever I get an idea (a connection between two apparently unconnected things) or recognize an underlying pattern in apparently random data, I get a jolt of energy. I feel more alive and happy!.

I also realize that my love for physics is also largely because of the fascination with 'laws of physics'. A law in physics is nothing but a statement of the patterns underlying a set of phenomena. Earlier, I was viewing the events in history only at the phenomena level - as discrete happenings. Now I view history at the idea level - in terms of connections and patterns - in terms of the underlying principles of sociology, cultural anthropology and psychology - and hence my newfound love for history. By the way, understanding of the patterns* in the past events would also help us to make predictions about the future - making the study history even more useful!

I don't feel that the discovery/addition of 'pragmatic reasons' for doing something takes away anything from the original pure/aesthetic reasons for doing that thing. While it can be argued that 'engineering is prostitution of science', no one can argue that the the tremendous benefits derived from engineering has hurt pure science, so long us study of pure science does not get neglected because of the pragmatic reasons for studying engineering. After all, pure scientists would also need computers/databases to easily access relevant information related to their field of study, funds to support their research and aeroplanes to go to conferences !

*Note: I realize that many of these 'patterns' or 'trends' are retrofitted (i.e. they emerge only in retrospect). Now, if one looks for 'patterns' one is likely to find patterns - if the data set (or database) that one is looking at is sufficiently large. Some of these patterns would be purely accidental - and hence might not mean anything. So theorizing (especially theorizing that involve establishing cause and effect relationships) and predicting on the basis of these patterns can be problematic. From a 'scientific method' point of view, it is a much better approach to 'create a hypothesis first and then look at the data set to test the hypothesis' as compared to proceeding the other way around. Of course, hypotheses don't come out of nothing - often they are triggered by observations. So what one should guard against is the tendency to look only for data that confirms the hypothesis as opposed to looking at all the available data to test the hypothesis. So I understand that some of the patterns that I see don't mean anything. But that does not reduce the pure joy that I experience when I see patterns or the importance of pattern recognition in my life - as pattern recognition is a very key part of my individuality. I think I can safely indulge in this activity in its pure form (even without the precautions mentioned above) so long as I am doing it for intrinsic satisfaction and not for deriving actionable inferences!!!