“(It) is not vengeance that God exacts on us , but a warning inflicted by the Lord on those who are near to His heart”.
How else do we explain the torment the demonic sufferers till the encounter with Christ? He had lived alone, haunted by his demons, in a graveyard, aimlessly shouting – no one daring to approach him. In anguished cries for freedom he destroys whatever means were used to restrict him. In that abject state of hopelessness he has the unsuspected gift of sight. He sees Jesus in his true person; a grace still not granted to the disciples. He is able to see and communicate with Jesus in a unique and powerful way. We recall Peter’s famous plea,“Leave me Lord, I am a sinner”.
It is Jesus who sets him free from what is an infliction given him, in terms of the text from Judith. We question why great calamities occur; we question the miseries that fall upon the innocent; we ask, “Why me” in times of tribulation? Indeed. Why was this poor man possessed by multiple demons? In his darkest hour there is hope, there is grace, there is mercy. He was given the grace to see and hear God’s glory in the most adverse of circumstances. Like the floods that cause misery in so many parts. Yet, the receding waters leave fertile soil behind for the planting of a new crop, harvest and food for the survivors. Like a glorious dawn following a dark night!
The incident would have been recorded as being no different from the several other miracles performed by Jesus had Jesus not instructed the man to go back to his people to be a witness to God’s glorious work. The work of bringing God’s salvation among the untouchables and gentiles is underway.
We sit huddled in a wagon called “Culture”. With us are our belongings of talents, hopes, aspirations, achievement, and all we hold dear. The wagon is poised on an ancient hill that’s overlooking a steep and bumpy road leading to our destined valley of milk and honey, we have named “Civilization”. We ponder. The wagon could hurtle perilously gathering speed down the bumpy track, if unchecked. Or, can we trust the brakes of Responsibility and Wisdom to slow down the descent?
It is indeed right and wise that we interpret and update scriptures and our tradition to mirror the prevailing spiritual consciousness. But, I pause. Do we sufficiently consideration the consequences of what we end up doing? For, while we chip away at the rock on which the Church is built, we expose it to the changing weather, and the rains with eroding floods, that could sweep under the structure. Who will care for the displaced poor in spirit? Well may we marvel at the stately pleasure dome we erect over the rubble. But, will its supports stand up when the rains revisit? There will be a fall of Babel proportions. Our detractors then will mock us. “Where is their God”, They will say?
There was a popular rebuttal during my undergraduate years. It went, “While Karl Marx was calling religion the opium of the masses, he was peddling his own brand of narcotics.” He was not the first to think so; and there have since been many peddlers, off many roofs. Some have amassed amazing wealth on platitudes that could be dreamed up, given the leisure of time and a comfortable armchair.
In vain do pastors strike “mea culpa” over vacant pews (and dwindling takings). The fault lies not in the gestures, rituals or rhetoric, but in a seismic shift in the universal consciousness. No longer are people content to be dumb participants in liturgy, they want to actively participate in worship, with a desire to interact as the heart directs. Nothing new. A frustrated Catholic, John Dryden, complained of “ pious times, ere priestcraft did begin, ere polygamy was made sin …” He goes on to say that people with many multiplied their kind etc. In fact, this restlessness, this primal urge for freedom, goes back to the garden of Eden, when our first parents wanted to feel free and equal to God. This was of course the cause of all our woes; yet paradoxically, it was a grace freely given to humans, as natural as breath and life-giving senses and organs. Being human, we are never content with the gift itself, but feel compelled to nudge the boundaries a bit further by degrees.
With Civilization came cultures; cultures constructed social structures necessary for survival. To dominate the environment and to make it safe and conducive, human inventiveness set a path of scientific and technological progress – the start of our emerging wonderful world. We have become masters of the empirical and the laws of physics. While this “worldly wise” half of our minds developed, it largely neglected the part inhabited by intimations of another life. We call it our spiritual self. A wide chasm has occurred, with each side refuting all that the other side stands for. In hubris, and from relative positions of strength, each side has tried to dominate and extinguish the other. It is a futile exercise for both the creature and the divine are indivisible; parts of the same person that cannot exist in just a single dimension.
Though still in denial, while our physical features and inventiveness evolved, there has been a current of correlative changes in our consciousness. That is inevitable. For, as our material horizons expanded even our psychic perceptions expanded to absorb the the emerging macrocosm. One feeding off the other and yet unable to exist without the other. So, the “Thou shalts” begin to be replaced by sophisticated communications with the Divine. Fire and brimstone, retributions and changes in fortune, based on transgressions, are relegated to past understandings. The drama of Cause and Effect is being played out on a different plane with our consciousness being transformed – now more compatible and reflective of the emerging brave new world. It’s hard to shed our emotions, and lessons of our childhood indoctrination. Yet, what an enriched and fulfilling faith awaits those wise enough to read the emerging natural signs.
“Do not put strange gods before me. Neither in my sanctuary, nor ‘mindfully’ in your hearts. My altar is for the worship of the One whose passion and resurrection bought you life, and offers bread for eternity. It is not a place for Yogis, dancing virgins, minstrels nor practicing Buddhists. Good though they be, there is a time, place and an attitude for every thing. My sanctuary is for solemn worship and communion with the Lord who made you. Worship me here in the reenactment and the glorification of the Last Supper and the traditional forms of adoration.”
The globalisation and expansiveness in our consciousness brings us into contact with cultures and people different to those we were accustomed to. The interactions have been mutually fulfilling and enriching. While some are new there are others, that though new to us, date back into antiquity and have evolved independently and in diverse forms. Exclusiveness and inward-looking beliefs are no longer the norm nor a frequent occurrence. In fact, many find the excitement of experimentation irresistible. Oriental ways have always captured the imagination of those with heightened sensibilities. Scholars have studied the languages, religious customs and cultures of other lands. They have translated texts and made them available to the larger population. Thus many have been deeply influenced by what they find novel expressions, of Huxley’s “perineal philosophy”. Commonalities have been found between “The Koran” and our own Scriptures; a book has been written finding common ground between thoughts of Meister Eckhart and “The Bhagwat Gita”; American ascetics have travelled to sit crossed-legged with Buddhist monks in group meditations. At a consciousness level these interactions have been very enriching.
But. As a humble believer where does this lead me? I can understand that at an intellectual level I find my horizons widened, and it makes me more appreciative of the faith I have inherited from my fathers. But I pause when it comes to transposing such customs into rites and situations they were not intended for. To be fully respectful, to both traditions, we must attribute to each gesture and ritual its original nuances and expression. A gesture or poise of Yoga made before The Blessed Sacrament does not complement the discipline. But, to a traditionalist it is hurtful and it is offensive to the Divine Presence in the tabernacle. Further it’s no more than a superficial folly: to be one day forgotten and relegated to the repository of fashions and passing fancies.
When then we may adopt, adapt, as our Roman forefathers did, we must maintain the uniqueness of the privileges and graces we received at our baptism. It gives meaning to who we are, some solidity to our foundations, and substance to the hope we claim. The apostles perhaps would not recognize the branch they chose in the way as it extends into our world. But, if we are truly appreciative and grateful to them for bringing to us the Kingdom of God, we must strengthen, not diminish that tradition.
For a millennium we were ruled by laws of our own making. Like Neo-Pharisees the faithful sought salvation of their own merit; scrupulously observing fiats of a centralized hierarchy. Which in honest belief acted on divine inspiration, compounding to the plethora of oppressive rules made on narrow interpretations, in lines with predetermined outcomes. It was based on the premise that God was a judge (made in our own image), rewarding or punishing according to laws written on tablets of stone. The few expressions of freedom and individualistic perspectives were dismissed as heresy, and banished from the flock.
There have always been those that desire a personal encounter with God. Far from being a dispassionate judge, God is a loving father, both merciful and compassionate. His love is not possessive, instead, grants disciples the grace to choose their own destinies. The call is always a welcome towards His will that directs us in the way of perfection. The all-knowing God and creator, is aware of our frailties and obsessions. When we fall, He is always there to pick us up tenderly, providing grace and consolations lest we become disheartened. In this the inspirations from the Holy Spirit are double edged. People accept them, according to their belief systems, as either laws written in stone, or, in light of the Son’s new commandments. How did we go so wrong, rejecting our “sonship”, for an unhealthy fear of the Lord and shame for the “Original Sin”? In our preoccupations with purgation and righteousness we forgot how much God loves us; His boundless mercy and tenderness. The prism of our perceptions now throws a gentler refracted ray of light. But, the emerging consciousness has caught us unaware – pride and confusion impede the desired transformation.