Of Graven Images and Styles

“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.

Man was not made for the Sabbath

  

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.

 

 

Only Thinking Makes It So

And so the unending debate rages on: knowledge and law Vs wisdom and mercy. The former providing information based on learning assimilated through access to large libraries and the storehouse of tradition. The latter, illuminating revelations to the mind, gateway to the heart and residence of the soul. Preference of one over the other would be tempered by cultural factors. Who are we to judge the primacy of one or the other? Happy are they who find a comforting balance.

Personally. I see knowledge as the product of human effort; burning the midnight oil, seeking references and carrying heavy loads of data (printed or on the web). Assimilation depending on one’s ability to access, store and compute information. Most of all one must be able to disseminate all this effectively and persuasively. However, knowledge cannot be absolute. No sooner is the thesis presented another scholar is ready to refute the premise and put forward another theory he/she considers more meritorious. The list of doctors and saints is unlimited. To preserve a legacy, institutions resort to clothing their position in dogma, constitutions – any stonewall that will inhibit dissension or challenge. At a time and place in our history this may have been necessary. Only thing lacking is the lesson from Prometheus, who stole the fire from the zealous Mt. Olympus to the betterment of humankind. It is part of human nature to question and challenge opinions, especially when they represent any form of authority. It is a form of purgation that prevents “one good custom from corrupting the world”. The fruit of midnight-oil burning labours, themselves, remain subject to the whimsical wind that continues to blow and threaten, and will not be shut out.

On the other hand, protagonists of the counter argument believe knowledge understates the quality of mercy. Wisdom cannot be contained by graying hair and heavy burdens of law. They are impatient with the furniture and sartorial splendour of high office that dictates what they must think, read; when to eat and the dress code etc. They stand, question, and decide if it is worthwhile participating in gestures and ceremonies that have no place for their own sentiments or opinions; arrived at what they perceive as justified positions. They turn to the Lord and ask, “Is this why you challenged the ‘doctors of the law’ in your time? Why You valued the wisdom given to children over the mill-stone of law?  Why Mary exalted the foolish over the wise; the weak over the strong?” They challenge the doctors of the law to show them their faith, and in return they will show them their actions.

With apologies to the bard, well may we may ask, “Where does true faith live; in the heart or in the head; how begot how nourished?”

Progressing Spirituality

Do not reduce my Church to a bunch of clichés that can be grasped thus. We are prone to jumping on the bandwagon of novel expressions. But, neither the Church nor the world is in danger of being liquefied. Truisms that stood as rocks of stability and security for the past millennium now show their fragility in the face of cultural and scientific advancements. We cannot shut the world out in a weekly retreat into aging gestures and symbolism, uplifting and beautiful though they are.

 

We return to realities that cannot be wished away. We live in a more pragmatic environment that scrutinizes all things with a microscope. More so, we question any signs of autocratic authority. We listen respectfully to Sunday sermons, but draw our own conclusions. Sometimes we are even critical of what we hear in the light of our own experiences.  Some are inclined to ask, “What does he know; he does not have the same experience as the flock he is pastor to?” Who is he to judge?”

 

So when one who is expected to be a pillar, in turn asks, “Who am I to judge?”, we are disconcerted. It shakes us to the very marrow. Being so used to the security found in papal utterances we are confused when we are given the responsibility to trust our own consciences.  We are being entrusted to be guided by rules, and not governed by them. Are we mature enough to handle our spirituality, and turn down the temptation to read this as an open cheque to a laissez faire society?

 

We are confounded by the open flouting of our moral compass. People are misreading the word “Freedom” as license to act as they please, where they please, regardless of consequences in relationships and the social bonds that make society safe and a place of nurturing. In realizing our individualism, the temptation is to become narcissistic. And, given our material advances, we can be become over ambitious and consumeristic. Like wanton kids, we revel in the openness of thought, uninhibited behavior, and experimentation with our sexuality. The negativity in this is so obvious. In such an environment, is it folly to be wise, or, do we see new challenges to “The Way”?Being disciples is to tread the narrow path that leads to the small gate. Discernment – as the Holy Father  advises

 

Let There Be Love

 

Fire. Once the prime means of illumination, heat and industry, has been replaced by more sophisticated means of heat transfer, and the everyday conveniences in our homes. Moral of the story? Our faculties and consciousness are progressing with an ever evolving macrocosm. We cannot say to the world “Let me down!”

Love of Bach and tradition are a luxury in a generation impatient with the “Old stuff”; and like a reckless infant, wants to experiment with new toys, new ideas and newly discovered sexuality. What is the point of lighting a candle when a new Caxton, Adam Smith and Einstein are born each minute? You cannot gather the benefits of scientific and technological advancements without picking up the flip side too. As they say in the East, the Ying goes with the Yang. Finger pointing and self-righteous disdain for the apparent slide in morality and the wilderness of our unbelief, can be at best be self-satisfying. But, it does not bring salvation for the self-centred righteous. For too long we have tried to use tradition to subject humanity to our own values and world vision. To what success? The moment we feel we have stamped down one thing in one place another sprouts up to mock us in another place. It is futile to use muscles. To persist is to one day find ourselves in the land of the dinosaurs.

Creatures of the mind can only be countered by a positive disposition and an open mind. Action, as the textbook says, every action gets an equal and opposite reaction. So, let us give passive resistance a chance. We cannot fight the devil without understanding what makes him so formidable. To turn our backs to him is to offer him a larger more vulnerable target.  Meeting him face-to-face will give an understanding of what gives him oxygen. Let discernment deliver more lasting alternatives. Let us give peace a chance, together with love and compassion.

Love That Makes Us Free

“What is Truth?” Pondered the Pagan, as he condemned Christ to the horrors of the cross. It was the interpretation of “truth” that brought Christ before Pilate for judgement – the Truth that came to set us free!

A Rabbi himself, Jesus was paradoxically a non-conformist too. He did not wish to change a letter of the law, yet transcended it with his gift of love. Love that truly sets us free. St Paul, St Augustine   etc etc were great minds, but they were also great servants of the Lord. The servant is not greater than the master: just a marker on the way. Their contributions, a crucible through which our own spirituality must be filtered and refreshed. Over emphasis and attachment to their words is like attachment to the world. Jesus exhorted us to view the world with all its wonderful manifestations; yet remain detached from it. God’s image is Omnipresent; it takes discernment to acknowledge and glorify Him through all things.

We take the world with us, with all its wondrous glory, for the sole purpose of placing it with gratitude at the feet of God. Our sole purpose being to love, serve and to glorify Him, as our Catechism says.

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Is Being Good Good Enough?

To be good is good enough for most people brought up and nurtured in our secular society. They shoulder-dress against “practicing” folks and affirm that they are as good – if not better than some. Morality, is the measure of their confidence. But, is being morally good good enough? Especially, when we see morality change forms with every generation and whim of fashion. The generation of my parents would shudder at our adopted social positions. Now, if you are “politically correct”, you have license to form your own judgements as to what is acceptable. But, are we not limiting our existence to the sum total of empirical measures and formulae? As Tennyson would say, “For what are men better than sheep or goats, if knowing God, they raise not hands of prayer, both for themselves and those that call them friend…”

We have that extra extension to our personalities that raises us above creatures that learn from traits, trials and errors. We conceive beauty and are able to admire and appreciate it. We form attachments that are above the level of survival and habit. We are able to conceive a level of consciousness that transcends worldliness. We are gifted with imagination that allows us to conceive a creative power that transforms all things in an ever evolving process towards a more perfect state. Since primal times humans have had this awareness. Like growing children, we forget our origins; where we came from, and the predetermined finishing point. If we ignore this, we are indeed no more than sheep that eat and bleat, and then they are no more. From slithering things to two legged things that raise their eyes heavenwards, we are co-creators in this symphony of evolving grace. Missing, therefore, in “goodness” are the forgotten seeds of humility, gratitude and love – the graces required to see ourselves as both human and divine.