Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine’s day : A spiritual explanation of a popular celebration

Valentine’s day has over the years become a celebration used to sell cards, flowers and goodies meant for couples to exchange. Many shops convert entire floors into Valentine’s themes with red being the dominant colour. There are also many groups which come out against the celebration, calling it a Western import and a blot on Indian culture. This being the case it always comes out, with or without the story of St. Valentine, as an unwanted and avoidable youth celebration.

But just like Father’s day, Mother’s day and even Independence day and Republic day celebrations are a remembrance of several things, Valentine’s day is also a remembrance of something. From that perspective Valentine’s day can also be a learning for age groups other than the young and single.
Love and relationships are also cornered as something which single women and men do and it is seen as having nothing to do with married couples and the aged. So much that love is not seen as a significant aspect of marriage but instead fidelity, faithfulness, morality and longevity are. This brings me to the point that celebrations about love should be seen as an opportunity to reenergize and reevaluate existing relationships.

The criticism of celebrating Valentine’s day is always centered around the fact that it has nothing to do with a marriage or a serious relationship going towards marriage but is rather a non-serious attempt of couples professing their love to a losing cause. This is why Valentine’s day is looked at with animosity and this is also why love marriages are looked at with animosity by traditional families. Even though times are changing, this animosity still exists and parents are worried about such celebrations. But if such traditions become part of family exercises in which the aged, middle aged and young are a part of, then this animosity will change.

What does the bible say about love? 1 Corinthians 13:13 says “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” and it shows that love is the foundation of all religions. 1 John 4:7 says “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” again suggesting that without love we cannot know God and this is a clear message to families who are against love. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” meaning that our very salvation is based on the fact that God loves us. The basis of every family and church thus must be love. We must do everything on this basis and whenever we question love, we are questioning God God’s self. Learning from this, we can question commercialization in society but we can’t question love, we can question erosion of true love but we can’t question love, we can question love which ferments abuse in relationships based on gender and caste but we can’t question love.

In today’s culture perhaps the biggest problem is that religion overall and Christianity specifically is adjusting itself to popular notions of security, gender relations, caste, race and class. A Valentine’s day celebration is an opportunity to pray and write that love is not a problem but the abuse of love in unequal relationships is. We need not jump onto the band wagon of love haters and groups which question love but rather need to read the bible closely and meditate on what God wants us to do.

In this context a Valentine’s day prayer would be
Lord of love, help me to pray for love that I may preach and live the gospel of love which Christ Jesus did. God of love, help me to be in active relationships of love in my house, school, college, work place and church which will make me sacrifice for the benefit of others. Holy Spirit, help me question love haters who reject couples and relationships, and thereby lead us together to spread the love of God on the cross. Amen.   

Picture credit: 4mygodsglory.wordpress.com

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A prayer for the new year

Loving God, may this new year be one which realizes our potential and does not seek to satisfy others. It is not new resolutions that we need dear God, but the fulfillment of your promises. Inspire us Lord to be compassionate, merciful, understanding and adjusting. Offer the year 2017 for us and make it perfect enough for each of us in a special and different way. Instead of pressures give us challenges, instead of dejection give us new possibilities and instead of negative thoughts give us positive vibes of your wonderful energy. We pray gracious God that every day of this year 2017 be a new beginning and that these beginnings will give the passion to work hard in our lives. Help us to be formed by you and not just educated by society. May this formation offer the guidance of the Holy Spirit to recognize what is right and wrong.  Merciful God, form us to be you, so that 2017 need not be the most perfect year, but just perfect for us. Amen.  

Monday, December 26, 2016

The cries of children from Bethlehem: An inspiration to fight for good

St. Matthew 2:16-18
One of the most tragic incidents mentioned in the bible and that too in very few words, is the killing (cold blooded murder) of children two years and below in and around Bethlehem by Herod. The usual reaction to the story is wondering about the cruelty of Herod and about why the birth of Jesus led to the killing of several babies and how justified is such a birth of the savior of the world. It has parallels to the saying “mother killer” when a birth of a baby leads to the death of the mother due to some birth complication.

The association comes for many people and the more one thinks about it, the more one is perplexed by the association of how this can happen. This association is what prevents us from raising our voice and doing good. We think that if we say something and that leads to something happening to someone, that we are responsible for that. It is though a very naïve understanding of the situation. We have to sometimes say things for the common good and for the benefit of society. We are not opposing a person but the evil in a person which even he/she may or may not be aware of.

Herod was a leader and the birth of Jesus needn’t have bothered him too much. Yet he is surprisingly rattled. The birth of a baby upsets him! This also makes us think what kind of a leader he was. But what he ends up doing through the murder of innocent children is that he reiterates that he is inherently evil. So who was the reason of the deaths?  Herod or Jesus? Many a time we think that if not for Jesus the children would not have died.

One must come out of the understanding that Jesus was responsible for the death of the children. There was only one planner and executioner and that was Herod and perhaps his advisors. If we do not accept this, many of us will step back from doing any good because we will think that others will be sacrificed in the process of what we are going to do. The thought is always “I can sacrifice whatever but why should others be affected?” This thinking is not helpful because it will prevent us from doing any good even though we are capable of it. The celebration of Christmas and the time which follows up to new year will be like this. It is a time to not just remember the birth of Christ, but to do what he did. In the process we are bound to ruffle feathers, bring discomfort to others and be a thorn in the flesh to many. This is why we must understand that celebration and dejection go hand in hand. There was wailing and sadness in Ramah and mothers were crying because they had lost their young ones. But we need to cry only if Jesus lead to the death of the children. Contrary to this he did not. It was Herod who had planned and implemented this. Jesus was only a ploy he used.

There are many leaders who do likewise. Someone else is made out to be the reason of a cruel decision. It appears so in the case of the death of the young here as well. But that is where we err and we must know that the birth of Jesus leads to the birth of courage and expression of views and opinions in a culture that cannot express itself. The murder of the babies is the cowardice of Herod and nothing else. The women wailing are made to think that the reason is something/someone else. But as soon as they would have known who the conspirator was, they would have stopped crying because the children died cruelly at the hands of a dictator.

Civil wars rife in Syria and Iraq and international conflicts like in the case of Israel and Palestine and internal conflicts in many parts of the world all lead to genocide and the brutal killing of children. The killers will always say that it happened because of some rebels and external forces. The truth though is that it happens because the regime wants to quell dissent in various forms. The killing of the babies by Herod reminds us of the danger of regimes who will justify their actions and use religious symbolisms to say that they are right. The killing of the children instead should remind us of the birth of Jesus who went against the shrewdness and injustice of repressive regimes and instead stood with the people and fought for life and human dignity.

The birth of Jesus is not a time to cry but a time to raise our heads and question countries and dispensations that are anti people and oppress people. The people of Syria and Palestine among many other countries deserve to have access to their mother land and live a life of dignity there. We must not allow the creation and continuance of Herod like figures who use the birth as an excuse to take life instead of encouraging life and dignity. The innocent children died a violent death due to such sinful characters and this should not continue to happen during the commemoration of Jesus’ birth narrative.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A prayer for Christmas

A baby is born, he is crying in the manger. It is not a cry of fear, but one of life and life in abundance. Christ is born so that the poor may be exalted and the proud may be humbled, he is born for you and me, outside an inn he is born. We may not hear the cry because it is not harmonized to our liking. We may not see the baby because we are used to looking inside swanky buildings and not stench filled streets. Christmas is here and Christ is born.

Loving God, allow us to close our eyes and listen to the cry of the baby and be inspired to be what Jesus stands for on earth and in heaven. Jesus, hold our hand and walk us through places we avoid and allow us to feel your birth in every step we take and in everything we see. Holy Spirit, help us overcome the fear of the unknown and as we be a part of the service of nativity may our sins be absolved as we try to reach out, smile, help and be with those around us. Amen.
Wishing you a blessed Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The birth of Jesus: How Fr. Shibu and Kairunnissa are outing the inn (in)

St. Luke 2:6-7

The birth of Jesus is important not for cakes, decorations and celebrations but to be assured that humans are created in the image of God and will therefore live life loving and helping all that God has created. This is God saying that God has created human beings to reflect God’s self on earth. The birth of Jesus is indeed a happy event because it reminds and inspires us to do good even when everyone and everything around us does not. It is not to follow the world but to follow the voice and will of God.

The birth in unusual circumstances shows that the people of God cannot be limited to buildings and walls but should extend everywhere and anywhere because that is the real birth of Christ. The interpretation of no place being there in the inn is a reflection that God lives with the most ordinary of ordinary. Most of the things we have built on earth are an aberration of God's creation. It takes us away from the real birth of Christ. The church by moving into comfortable environs to celebrate the birth of Christ suggests our moving in to comfortable inns while the baby is denied a place inside the inn! The image of God is absent in such acts of celebration of the birth of Jesus. We do not have an affluent baby Jesus because a baby cannot be affluent by herself/himself.

The church has become too affluent for Jesus but all is not lost for the church and the people of the church. One can get rid of the affluence and try and make the birth of Jesus meaningful for everyone. Fr. Shibu K.Y., a Jacobite Christian priest donated one kidney to a Muslim woman Kairunnissa yesterday. By doing that he has challenged the affluent church to shed its affluence. Many were disturbed and uncomfortable with his decision and even suggested it was wrong to give away what God has given us to live a comfortable life. The argument that we need two kidneys because that is what God has given does not go along though with the fact that God was meant to be in heaven but chooses earth, was meant to be in the inn but ended up outside it and did not have to be crucified but was anyway. God gave up so that humans and the world would have and that is the birth of Jesus.
Fr. Shibu K.Y.

Fr. Shibu and Kairunnissa are offering us the opportunity to understand the birth narrative. We have gone far away from the born Jesus. This is an opportunity to come back to the narrative of what the birth of Jesus means. It is God loving and giving us. God need not but God does because that is what God is. The love of God encompasses everything we know. Fr. Shibu by giving and Kairunnissa by suffering and now receiving show us that Christ is born in them. We are getting an invitation to pray with them during Christmas. Of course we are not used to what they have done and so their spiritual invitation will also be difficult to accept and do. Never the less they have woken us up from institutional and individual slumber and we must thank them for that. From my facebook contacts I have also learned that Prof. Sakhi John is doing the same for Shaju Paul and they are following several others who have preceded them. Such individuals are challenging the church and the people in church to live Christmas or the birth of Jesus. The liturgy of their merciful church is not known to us and we haven’t heard the songs they are using. But there is a language of love that they are using and this is something all of us can follow if we take the effort to do so.
Prof. Sakhi John

St. Luke 2: 6-7 tells us that Mary and baby Jesus do not get space in the inn (‘in’). It is also that space in the inn is mostly not available to everyone as the inn has become institutional. It represents all churches which are not welcoming and loving. But Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus do not give up. They make the ‘out’ their home and that then becomes the place which the shepherds and the elders come to and see Jesus. Fr. Shibu and Kairunnissa and Prof. Sakhi and Shaju Paul among many others have not got a place in the inn (‘in’). But they did not give up and made the ‘out’ their inn. We can now join like the shepherds and see the birth that has happened. May the star lead us and the angels rejoice.