Monday, April 12, 2010

Understanding the cry and joy of nature: The power of backward thinking

Yesterday I was a fortunate person with nature filled care
Yesterday I was lulled by the wind and caressed by the rain
Yesterday I dreamt of a life, of happiness, love and joy
Yesterday I had everything…today I have memories of yesterday

There can be no development without destruction. This is the truth we are faced with. As we build our joy in the form of buildings and structures, we seldom realise that we trample upon the lives and the joy of others. We construct our happiness by bringing others to tears. Based on our theme, we bring nature to tears as we jump with joy with our additions of steel and cement.

The cry and joy of nature
India has been ravaged and defiled in the quest for money and power. A complete misreading of the voice of Isaiah has taken place. If Isaiah meant his prophecy that ‘the valleys will be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low’ to prepare the way of the Lord, it is questionable whether the hill killing and valley filling now has anything to do with this. Rather the natural is being made unnatural and the right wrong. The lure of high real estate prices and the greed of making quick money have led to digging out our history and building new histories today.

We have to make sense of the cry and joy of nature with this. The oppressed people in different parts of the world are usually wiped out by challenging, attacking and destroying their history and memories. The same happens with nature. We question nature’s existence by challenging its role, attacking its existence and destroying its glorious past. With no memory left, nature itself becomes a reconstructed notion of what is in front of us. Therefore, the unnatural becomes the norm of the natural.

Reversing the trend
But what can we do when we are being sucked into a culture of forced forgetfulness? If nature is crying, it is to keep us happy! Can we pull back? We should be able to as otherwise we will be faced with total destruction. To undertake this we have to scratch out bits and pieces of our history and learn from the knowledge of our ancestors. This calls for a total slowdown and going backwards. It is funny considering the fact that governments of the world have over the past year and a half, tried to infuse the world economy with one stimulus package after the other to fight the self induced recession.

The power of backward thinking
Thinking backwards in our culture is also seen as thinking negatively and so not apt. The world is going fast and so one either keeps pace or drops behind. But our scriptures and religious traditions also talk of a slowing down and of a going backwards. One would say that this is preposterous. In a way anyone who is firmly placed in the present culture of growth, stimulation and progress would find this totally untoward and unacceptable.

Wray Herbert points out an interesting thought of backward thinking. He refers to an experiment which asks some people to walk towards the front and others backwards. Finally they are asked to identify certain colours against their names. The people who walked backwards perform better in the test. This may be because they were able to identify with their past and bring out their primal instincts. We have the over assuming habit of seeing our ancestors as backward and primitive. But these are the very people who lived in harmony with nature and had simple but effective solutions for sustainable living. Their way of life was at an optimum speed and had an approach of caring for the coming generations, unlike our attitude to life.

Learning from primal communities
Our lives often revolve around what we can teach others and seldom around what we can learn from others. What we fail to understand is that nature precedes us and so do certain communities of people like the adivasis and tribals. They are the primal people of this land and it is they who have always lived with nature, taking what it offered and never snatching what was not theirs.

P.V. Rajagopal relives his experience of working with adivasis in India. Once he gave a talk on the nirdoom choola, a smokeless cooking system. A woman present tells him that she already knows about this. He questions her maintaining that this is a new system and it is impossible for her to know about it. She asks him, “How does smoke come?” He replies saying that smoke comes when we cook something over a fire. She tells him, “For us smoke does not come because we never cook anything as such. Everything is had just as it is.” This is the wisdom of primal people. They are the pioneers of environmental justice and sustainable living. And yet we call them illiterates and backward people! What a travesty of events!

Re-inventing traditional concepts of the church for the new generation
We have to look at traditional celebrations, festivals and lents and re-invent them in the line of the concept of the cry and joy of nature. The amount of fire crackers used can be reduced and car and bike rallies can be made into walks by the people. Church buildings can make use of solar, wind and other renewable energy forms and even work towards reducing their carbon foot print. The lenten season can be used as a time to slow down and switch off by which we slow down and also reduce our energy consumption and become more compassionate towards nature. The people and the clergy can concentrate on things like this to prepare themselves during lent instead of just following a few diet restrictions.

Conclusion: Making memories come alive
The picture is crystal clear. We have memories of the joy of nature. But if these remain as memories, they will be replaced by the cry of nature. It is nature’s legitimate right to cry if we continue our aggressive development policies and heartless war against what is natural. Just as the joy is a celebration, the cry will be an instant gloom. We are already seeing signs of it through nature’s way of protest. Temperatures are rising, glaciers are melting and rains are washing us away. Maybe it is time to stop looking ahead and start looking back. It is a time to bring back our memories of the good times and learn from communities which we have pushed behind. This is the call of Isaiah. Things have to change. For the better hopefully!

(This blog post was published in Gurukul Jyothi 2010, the college magazine of the Gurukul Lutheran Theological College, Chennai)


AKKU said...

Dear Achen,

Good work ! a very interesting and thought provoking article,The concept of " slowing down and looking backwards" is kind of buzzing around in the recent past for quite sometime be it in movies(the famous bollwood -3 Idiots " life is not a race ") ,in fashion-the season captured images of 80's and retro style or evolving around sustainable living with the recent market developing for eco friendly houses.As the saying goes Man's desires are high what extent it can be controlled is left upto the individual.In the present world the very thought of slowing down only refers to a temporary break from the fast life ( in litral sense a vacation )and the world expect u to be back in action with even more zeal to achieve higher targets let it be in proffessional or personal life.I being a hotelier by proffession when transfered from a city hotel to a resort, i was extremely happy .For,all i wanted was to be as close to the nature as possible...a month after thoughts changed all i want now is to go back to the Huzzle buzzle.Adapting to the change is easy but sustaining with it needs a lot more.

Fr Jerry said...

Thanks for the comment. Slowing down is so difficult as going back to our roots is. But the point is that if we cannot opt for a sustainable way of life, we won't be able to carry it on. I know many people who relax by working! It is their way of life. But whether it is good or not is a big question which has several answers to it.

Being in the world that we are, going backwards will never be accepted in our every day life. This is a very complex thing. We have so much to learn.

fr bobby tharayany said...

dear achen,
great effort and goodwork.

fr bobby

Fr. Jerry Kurian said...

Thank you Fr. Bobby. Hope the concept of the article is helpful during the lent season.