Tuesday, 17 May 2016

An Encounter With the Faulty Philosophies of the Modern World

In my work as a Catholic volunteer, I come across all kinds of people, and attitudes, and perspectives. The other day I got into an animated discussion with four young British teenagers or 20-somethings who were visiting India as tourists. As we talked I realized that I was coming face to face with a lot of the faulty and not very well thought out philosophies of the modern world, not just reading about them on blogs. Here are some snippets of our conversation.

************

"What do you believe? Do you believe God is a person? I don't believe god is a person, but that god is in each of us, and each of is god, but we just don't know it yet. Have you read the Alchemist?"

"Ah.. Paulo Coelho."(thinking, 'I knew that philosophy sounded familiar')"Sounds like we believe two very different things. But one of us has to be wrong."

"Or both of us."

"Or both of us. The question is- are you willing to consider the possibility that you may be wrong? That God really is a person?"

"No. I can't believe that."

"Then you're not really open minded, are you? The only way to know if something is true, is to test it. All you would have to do is say 'God, if you are really a person, if I'm not just talking to myself, can you reveal yourself to me? Can you show me that this is true?' What would you have to lose?

"My time!"

"Um.. okay" (We had an hour-long discussion, so maybe time wasn't the issue.)

***********

"Why do you need church and all those rules? I don't believe that love has rules!"

"Well, to explain rules.. imagine that you were married."

"I don't believe in marriage."

"Okaay. Expand your imagination, and imagine that you did. Would you cheat on your wife? No, if you really loved her, you would follow the rule 'Do not commit adultery.' So... rules are just what you will and won't do out of love."

"That doesn't make sense- you're saying rules are not rules?"

My challenger's two friends tried to explain to him what I was trying to say.


************

"Do you believe you should follow the head or the heart?"

(Tongue in cheek) "You know it's not really the head and the heart but it's all the brain, right?"

"No! It's the heart! That's where your feelings come from."

"Um, not really. That's the brain."

His three friends go "She's right," and try to convince him it's biology, while he tries to convince them that if you had a heart transplant, you would have another person's feelings. Hmm.

Me, laughing, "It's okay, it's okay. I was just kidding. I know what you mean."

One of the friends "Anyway, what DO you believe- head or the heart?"

"Both. Follow your heart, and take your brain along with you."


*************

"Do you believe you can choose the person you love?"

"Ooh, tough one. I think you can't always choose who you fall in love with, but you can choose to stay in love, and continue loving a person, despite your feelings."

"Wait, so you'd stay married to a person even if you weren't in love with them anymore?"

"Feelings change, but I believe real love means choosing what is best for the other person no matter what my feelings are. Some people go through times in their marriage that are hard, but the ones who stick it out and persevere and choose to love in spite of how they feel in that moment, are often the ones whose marriages are stronger on the other side."


"No, that's just wrong! How could you stay with a person you didn't love? You'd be resentful!"

"You can choose whether you'd be resentful. That's up to you. Life doesn't just happen to you, you choose how you respond to it."

"But you should feel what you're feeling! That's not healthy! People can't do that."

His friend: "Actually studies prove that it's healthier to let go of resentment"

"But you should be true to yourself, and do what your heart tells you at any moment."

"You might call that being true to yourself, I would call it being selfish. Very often the emotions of the moment may not be the kindest choice to make.' (another tongue in cheek moment) 'I might at this moment feel like punching you, but I won't do it, because I know that would hurt you."

***********

One girl told me she grew up in a Christian family, but didn't consider herself a Christian. 

"What has Jesus done for you? Do you ever doubt your faith? Why do you believe? Why did Jesus say 'turn the other cheek'? How does God speak to you?"

I answered those and many others, and she looked thoughtful. 

"Do you think it is good to ask questions?" 

"Of course I do! If you don't ask questions, how do you find answers?" 

"My parents didn't encourage us to ask questions."

*************

"Do you really think people have questions and find answers in Christianity? Do you think everyone is searching for something?"

"You tell me. Are you searching for something? Do you have questions you need answers to?"

"I don't know."

"Well, that's a good thing to think about, wouldn't you agree? Search your own heart. Do you have questions about why you exist, what the point of this life is, if this is all there is to this life?"

The guy who asked the question looked thoughtful. It seemed like he had never considered those questions before. It looked like maybe he would now.

**************

Towards the end I told them, "Maybe you walking into this church and having this conversation wasn't a coincidence, but an invitation from God. But it's your choice now whether to keep searching, or to close the door on this encounter. "

"Maybe," said the girl.

**************

There was a LOT more. I asked them if I could have their names so I could pray for them, and they gave them to me. But I was left thinking, 'Why don't they teach Chesterton and C.S. Lewis in schools? Or at least logic and rational thinking?'



I recommended Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis to them. I wish I had recommended Jennifer Fulwiler. Here are some of her articles I really enjoyed-

Explore your doubts but do so in peace

The ignorable God

Doubt after atheism

Finding God in 5 Steps

Sunday, 17 April 2016

How I Know I'm Growing Old

So remember that time when I said: "I know there are times when I'm going to be depressed and melancholic, struggle with self-doubt and probably old age at some point.. achy bones and gray hair (that still seems a long way off though)."

(that still seems a long way off though).

(that still seems a long way off though). 

Yes, I really wrote that. Cue ominous music.

Fast forward to two days later, and one of my team mates is doing my hair for a party.

"Oh, look, I see the effect I'm having on you!" she chirps.

"Are you implying what I think you're implying? Do you see...?"

"Um.. gray hairs? Yeah, you have a few!"

 "What??!! I do??"

Another team mate chips in, "Yeah! Of course you do! I always thought it made you look so distinguished."

"I've had gray hair FOR A WHILE and no one thought to mention to to me??!!!"

Early to mid-20 year old team mates exchange worried glances and stay tactfully quiet.

I HAVE GRAY HAIR!!!!!  IT'S BEGINNING!

Now the question is-

Pluck them out one by one as they appear until I'm bald?
Or dye my hair bright pink?
Or flaunt my gray hair as a sign of my maturity and wisdom?

Decisions, decisions.

*******************

When I meet new people, I introduce myself and ask them what their name is. (Or I re-meet people, and apologize for not remembering their name, and ask them to tell me their name again.) And all I hear is "My name is Blah." Between asking them their name, and hearing their name, my brain freezes and refuses to accept any new information. Not even three seconds does their name get retained in my head. Old age... or ADD?

******************

I saw a kid throwing an empty chip packet on the street, and I stopped him and told him, "You're making India dirty! Don't throw trash on the ground." So he picked it up, got on to his bicycle, and clutching it to his handlebar (he didn't have anywhere else to put it) rode off, casting a worried glance at me.  Old age... or busybody?

******************

I have unashamedly worn socks with slippers when the weather was cold enough.


******************

Just asked my (young) roommates how they know I'm old.

"It's the way you dance."

(Sorry I asked.)

"Sometimes when I act silly, you give me looks."

"You aren't peer pressured into dancing in sarees in front of video cameras at weddings."

"Your mannerisms... your wise comments about everything."

"You don't make rash comments. I make rash comments."

Ah, old age.

Thoughts of an Introvert at a Party

I got invited to the birthday party of a friend of a friend, and inspired by the enthusiasm of my roommates and the promise of jiving, I rashly said yes, even though in the past three weeks I have been living in a whirlwind of social occasions.

Pre-party:

"A party that starts at 8.30 pm? That's almost bedtime! Why would any party START at 8.30?"

"I'm so tired. So tired. Sooo tiiired."


"Didn't I just read an article about introverts that said introverts can survive on two to three social occasions per week.. I've been in four social situations JUST TODAY!"



Trying to pep myself up:

"I can do this! There'll be dancing and it's fun to look cute!"

Moment of panic as I arrive and see a bunch of strangers walking into the house:

"What am I doing here? Why am I doing this to myself? Why am I voluntarily putting myself in a social situation with a bunch of people I don't know???"

As I walk in and see one of my oldest friends:

"PRAISE YOU, JESUS! I KNOW SOMEONE!"

Sitting awkwardly in a sub-room of the main party hall, staring into the distance. Small talk, making a small effort to introduce myself to people, then lapsing into silence again.


 "The underneath of that couch looks like a good place to hide. Whoops, introvert thought. At least I haven't located the bathroom."

Moved to main hall with disco lights and blaring music. After making small talk for a while, I find a plastic chair to be my Comfort Zone, clutch my Sprite and settle back into introspective silence.

"Ah. So this is why I usually hate parties."

"How come the other introverts I know don't seem to be bothered by this setting? It's like they've accepted that this is how life is. But it doesn't have to be!"

"How would I optimize this party? The lights would be brighter, but not too bright, so that you can sit in a corner without feeling like you look awkward. No disco lights, that's so overstimulating. The music would be softer so you could actually have conversations without yelling. There would be some kind of game that would make it easier to talk to people you don't know, without having to randomly go up and introduce yourself by yelling over the music. And there would be some way to encourage all the guys who are able to dance to go up and dance with the girls who are longing to get on the dance floor. We don't want commitment, WE JUST WANT TO DANCE!"

"Why is nobody dancing? What kind of boring old people are you?"

"Oh my gosh. I'm at a party with 30 and 40 year olds. I'M SO OLD!"

"Wow. Indians are really socially awkward. No one is initiating conversations with anyone. Except the people that they came with."

See my roommates dancing crazy in the corner:

"I could join them. On the other hand, my Plastic Chair of Comfort is getting more comfortable. Let's just stay here. I'm beginning to enjoy my Recluse persona."


Finally get asked to dance:

"Oh yeaahh! This makes it all worth it!"

Lose my dance partner, but at least a few other couples are dancing now.

"This wall looks like a great place to prop myself against while I wait for someone else to dance with. It's not socially acceptable for me to only dance or be silent at a party? Says what Party Police? I make my own rules! Rebel, that's me!"


Finally decide to create my own fun by teaching my girl friends how to jive:

"Oh yeah! Parties are fun! Dancing is fun! I'm fun! More parties! More dancing!"

 My friends are making going away noises. It's past midnight, but I just got asked to dance again.

"I don't want to go home! I love dancing! Let's dance the night away!"

Finally respond to the fact that our ride really wants to leave. Photos, goodbyes, and a ride home. Back to normal life. No more parties for a while.

P.S. I'm not an extreme introvert, so real introverts don't hate me for being a faker. I can often be the life of the party, have lively conversations at parties, and enjoy being with people. Just not always.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

The Strange Effect Weddings Have on Me



Since last July I have been in the Age of Weddings. One of my closest friends married my cousin, another friend married another cousin, and then another cousin got hitched, and an uncle and now a brother... You get the idea. I used to think weddings were super fascinating, with all their details- bridesmaids' dresses and choice of hymns, first dance, colour schemes, bridal entourage photo shoots, etc. Partly coloured by watching too many Hollywood rom-coms at a young age, no doubt (Runaway Bride, 27 Dresses, The Wedding Planner... for all the broken marriages, looks like Hollywood is still pretty obsessed with weddings).

And then I went from a vague idea of what weddings are like to reality- which apparently involves a LOT of organization... excel sheets, to do lists, schedules, meetings, choices, family discussions, hard work, creativity, meltdowns, compromises, communication, Whatsapp groups, practices, family time, and so on. Not all sweet dancing to romantic music as you can see.


Still, I mostly thought that weddings were fun... until I got to the actual wedding. And then I began to notice a pattern. This is what I saw:

At weddings, I turn into a raging melancholic introvert (and avoid everyone).

Even my closest friends. I just get overwhelmed by all the people and social situations and expectations and loud music and my introspection volume turns up to loud and I'm thinking about my last romantic disappointment and feeling sad and dissatisfied and plus I want to dance but no one asked me, and I'm hungry but the starters missed me again, and life is nothing but disappointment and pain.

 Speculating on my future

I develop a painful guilt complex.


I don't just sit in a corner and avoid everyone. I sit in a corner and feel horribly guilty, because look, there are so many great people that I know who I should be spending time with, and so many opportunities to network, to connect but I JUST CAN'T DO IT. Or maybe I'll talk to a couple people, be very distracted, and then go hide again. Most unsatisfying social interactions ever.



But I also turn pretty and get compliments/insults.

 So as most people who know me IRL know, I don't often dress up. So at weddings when I put on a little make up, wear a pretty dress and get my hair done, people are ASTOUNDED and AMAZED. Almost too much, if you ask me... I'm hearing, 'I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU COULD ACTUALLY LOOK HALFWAY ATTRACTIVE OCCASIONALLY, SUE!' In fact, one auntie told me, "If you dressed like this more often, maybe yours would be the next wedding!" I'm sure it was well-meant, but aargh. And my eight year old niece's first words to me were "You don't look like Sue!" (And this after I put on the lightest level of makeup) A very small part of me remembered Meg from Little Women being dressed up for a party- 'They've turned you into a doll", but I reject the implication, and mostly just enjoy the feeling of being the pretty girl.

Wedding hair. I shed pins throughout the evening.

Post wedding I turn into an emotional drama queen

This is the effect of tiredness plus melancholy. I come back home from weddings wanting to obsess about everything with my sister, and then we talk too late, and I wake up after too few hours of sleep feeling sucked dry, and emotional. And then I'm mad at everyone, can prove logically that everything in my life is horrible, and burst into tears, and sob for really no good reason except that I'm single and tired. And life sucks. I basically turn into my eight year old niece when she's tired.



Thankfully, life returns to normal pretty soon after. The transition point is the BIG FAT NAP I take after the wedding, and the quiet personal prayer time. Nothing like prayer and sleep to get life back in perspective. (This time I broke my own introvert record by sleeping for the first hour and a half of the family party we organized the day after the wedding. I'm sure no one noticed.)


So weddings... not all they're cracked up to be. However, I will say that the food, the jiving and the flash mobs make weddings mostly worth it. Oh, and the sacrament.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Lent Project #10 How To Die

Brothers and sisters: Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. 
Romans 6:3-4

This reading is one of the MANY Easter Vigil readings today. Some people think there are too many, but it's SALVATION HISTORY! It's the story of victory, of salvation, of triumph, of spring, after the long dark winter.

But how does our heart rejoice fully on Easter Vigil, if we have not tasted the death that Jesus suffered? And what is this death we were baptized into?

Death to the sin in our lives

We CANNOT get comfortable with our sin. We CANNOT compartmentalize our lives. We have to be willing to do whatever it takes to fight the sin in our lives, and allow it to be crucified on the Cross with Jesus. That's painful! It can be a bloody, bloody fight. Like fighting in the ring, being knocked down, and getting up again and again. And again. Whatever it is, you know your own sin. It's fighting the lack of love, the obsessive self-centeredness that shadows our every decision.

Practically it could look like:
  • Being willing to accept that yes, you really are a sinner, and yes, your sin is UGLY
  • Waking up and facing the people who've hurt you and loving them and smiling at them again and again.
  • Dragging yourself to Confession after yet another lapse into impurity (of any kind)
  • Refusing to give up on hope that yes, you can be different, one day you WILL be different

  • Making yourself vulnerable to people who can help keep you accountable
  • Dealing a deathly blow to your pride and asking for forgiveness when people confront you with your sin, instead of justifying it or brushing it off
Saying yes to the crosses He offers us

It's the invitation to 'choose what we did not choose.' To accept the painful or annoying or frustrating circumstances of our lives with grace and patience, believing that He will redeem EVERYTHING one day, wipe away every tear, make all things new. That includes our own weaknesses, our pasts, our family issues, our struggles with anxiety and depression, the death of loved ones. You can't run away from them, but are called to embrace them, in trust.

Practically it could look like:
  • Waking up and going to the job you hate, under the unfair tyrannical boss who takes every opportunity to put you down, and letting go of resentment, and patiently praying and loving him or her
  • Accepting that anxiety or depression are a part of your life, and taking the medication you need, praying for healing, and keeping on keeping on
  • Loving and living with difficult family members and their weaknesses and issues without exploding with frustration every five minutes
  • Accepting the hormonal craziness of PMS or menopause and offering it up instead of turning into a furiously grumpy maniac (This has NOTHING to do with me or my life. Nothing.)

 Dying with Him to lessen the burden of a suffering world

This one is a little harder. It's a whole re-orientation of our lives, the careers we choose, the way we spend our money, how we react to poverty and suffering in the world. It is a constant moving away from our comfort zones, in order to lessen the discomfort of others' lives. THIS IS FREAKING PAINFUL.

Practically it could look like:
  • Giving up luxuries like new phones or expensive holidays or alcohol in order to have more to give those who are struggling to even pay for their children's education
  • Living in a lower middle class instead of upper class apartment in order to be closer to people who deal with the struggles and  challenges of a less privileged comfortable life
  • Running a summer club for kids from poorer backgrounds even though they're rowdy and it's hot and sometimes you don't know what you're doing
  • Responding to appeals for help even though you think you've done enough 
  • Living sacrificially, being quick to offer to serve, or say yes when someone asks you to serve even when it's not convenient

Choosing the discipline of holiness

Fr. Robert Barron says, "People can be fascinated by the spiritual and the religious, drawn in by a charismatic personality or an intense experience, or by trauma. But when they lack the discipline of a religious tradition, they become in time vaguely spiritual. Nothing in life that is taken seriously subsists without discipline and perseverance."  Loving God involves sacrificing me-time to go deeper into Him.

Practically it could look like:
  • Waking up early to spend time in prayer
  • Investing time in reading the bible, the Catechism, the lives of the saints
  • Dropping in to an Adoration chapel for some spiritual radiation
  • Going for weekday Mass
  • Fasting and sacrificing (not only at Lent)

Our celebration of the Resurrection is going to be transformed from a long church service to a GLORIOUS reminder of the ultimate victory... if we allow ourselves to participate in the DEATH of Christ.

Recommended listening: Baptized Into the Death of Christ by Fr. Nathan O'Halloran SJ
[^^I cannot recommend this highly enough. I wish every Christian would listen to this talk.]

Friday, 25 March 2016

The Lent Project #9 How to Spend Your Good Friday

There is a part of me that for many years shrank from Good Friday. It just seemed like an unnecessarily mournful day, where we'd feel guilty if we laughed or were lighthearted, kind of like when you're at the funeral of someone you're not close to, and feel the need for somber faces without any inner disposition toward somberness.

Then some years ago as I began to go deeper into my faith, my heart came to know that

It was MY infirmities that he bore, MY sufferings that he endured, he was pierced for MY offenses, crushed for MY sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes ME whole, by his stripes *I* am being healed. 

It was not the suffering of a stranger, but One whom I know and love, One who looks at me with a gaze of such tender love, even as He is bruised and bloody, and the suffering still isn't over. One who knows my ugliest sin, and has not only loved me and forgiven me for it, but has made a way for me to be holy, to be different, by taking on the sin that I hate, and fighting it for me.

But what could I do with that knowledge? What does He want from me?


In the Passion of the Christ, I saw Mama Mary living it with Him. She didn't look away. How comforting, how consoling it must have been to be accompanied by the ones you love into the darkest valley you have tread. I've felt it, when I have struggled the most, no one could take my suffering away from me, but their presence, their silent entering into my suffering, their sympathetic gaze took some of the sting away.

C.S Lewis depicts it so beautifully in 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe', as Lucy and Susan walk with Aslan on the night before he is taken captive by the Witch, and then watch with deep grief as He is mocked and killed in the hour when evil seemed to triumph.


Fr. Raneiro Cantalamessa talks about his indignation when he hears some people say that the joy of the Resurrection should be proclaimed, but we should avoid returning to a certain kind of spirituality that is too oriented towards suffering.
'It is true we should emphasize faith and the joy of the Resurrection to the extreme, but the balance does not lie in scaling back to moderate doses of self-denial and of the cross. That is an entirely a human way of thinking. The balance comes only in carrying both to extremes: fully accepting the cross in the depths of our souls so that we can fully experience the Resurrection in the depths of our souls.' Sober Intoxication of the Spirit
So on this Good Friday, let us walk with the Lord. Let us fast, and embrace the hunger, offering it to Him as a sacrifice to console Him. Let us bear patiently the heat and the long Good Friday service. Let us be extra gentle with the people around us. Let us take on the little extras to be with Him- the parish Way of the Cross, spending an hour in prayer, reading Good Friday reflections, praying the Divine Mercy chaplet at 3- the hour of mercy on Good Friday! What a powerful hour to pray for the conversion of souls.

Just be close to Him, tenderly speaking with Him through this day, keeping a place of silence within you, where He can rest.

The Lent Project #8 The Strange Effect of Foot Washing

All over the Catholic online world, people were either shocked or excited about Pope Francis saying that women could be part of the liturgical foot-washing on Maundy Thursday (Mass of the Lord's Supper)- first day of the Easter Triduum. Some felt he was disgracing the tradition which was supposed to focus on the institution of the male priesthood, while others felt that he was focussing on the call to charity and humble service for all of us.

 Sometimes I feel like we miss the forest for all the trees.

In India, authority is often abused. I have come across many, many leaders who lord it over those under them. Authority is seen as a place of privilege, where one has won the right to be served. Very often leaders think it's okay to put down the people under them, to mock, to belittle. They think it is normal and expected for people to jump at their command, to be subservient, and keep their opinions to themselves.

Even in the more kindly of leaders, there is still a sense of standing upon their rights, of a boundary of 'This is my place, and I am graciously condescending to you from it, but please don't presume too far, or cross the line, or think that my familiarity means that I am really on the same level as you.'

Power corrupts so easily, it makes one feel like perhaps after all one IS God.

And how does GOD, the only true Authority in this world, use His authority? He bends down, giving up his privilege to take the most menial of tasks, washing the feet of the ones under him. We're so used to the story, it almost doesn't hit us.


But sometimes I think about it- I think about a Bishop sitting on the floor of a home in the slum and eating with the family. In India, that is a strange, strange thought. I think of a principal of a school playing hopscotch with the kids. Never! I think of a priest making and serving chai himself to the labourers in the church compound. I think of a rich woman hugging and eating with her maid. I'm telling you, these things don't happen in India.

People think that they will be taken advantage of if they don't push people around a little bit.

They forget that Jesus got taken advantage of a lot. And that He still calls us to be radically different from the world's way of doing things. He said- I came not to be served, but to serve. If I your teacher and master have done this for you, you also must go and do likewise. Can you imagine a world where a leader was a servant? Where Catholics were known for their humble service to the deserving and undeserving alike? Such a revolutionary idea could change hearts, could break barriers, could heal wounds.

I know, because it happened to me. At a retreat with the community I grew up with many years ago, we were encouraged to wash the feet of anyone the Lord led us to. It's not that difficult to wash the feet of someone you don't know at all. But I was at the retreat with my family, my siblings. The same ones with whom I've shared years of rivalry, competitiveness, one-up-man-ship, and egotism. None of us would ever admit we were wrong to each other. We would argue to the bitter end. And I, as one of the oldest, set the tone for sarcasm, mockery, and looking down on each other.

Not as bad as that, but still pretty bad

And then God called me to wash their feet. Oh, the painful humility. There is something VERY intimate and humbling in the act of washing the feet of another, especially when he or she is someone you have thought yourself better than. And it is just as painfully intimate and healing when someone who has hurt you washes your feet. It is the ultimate pride-killer. Tears flowed with the water, and SOMETHING changed that night. A healing began in the relationships between me and my siblings.

Jesus came to turn the values of the world upside down. But we can ignore it, or allow His action to profoundly change us, to re-orient our hearts.

Lenten challenge: Who are you in authority over? Can you choose a humble act of service to them? Perhaps even ask if you can wash their feet? What about someone in authority over you whom you resent? Someone you work with? A family member? Choose humility and love today.