Monday, May 31, 2010

The power of positive prayer

Prayer in its present form is an inseparable part of a human being who is part of an institutional church. In its various forms it is human being communicating with God and with oneself. In its natural and raw form, prayer is like breathing, without which human beings can’t survive. This natural prayer does not have a form or pattern but is interwoven into the existence of every human being.

Today Christians all over the world are competing with each other with written prayers and extempore prayers, each trying to outdo the other with the words used and the emotion extracted. Kerala has been going through a prayer revival of sorts, with prayer conventions in the open, inside closed doors, vocal and silent. Wherever one looks, one is faced with the overbearing presence of prayer.

Prayer as already pointed out is a communication with God and self and as such cannot be wished away. But what is the end result of prayer and is there a way to pray? Prayer is for individual and community needs, both selfish and selfless. Selfish in the sense that we pray for our own needs and wants. We expect God to provide these needs and wants. Many a time prayer for us follows this pattern. Selfless prayer is for peace, love, justice and equality in the world we live in. This overshadows our personal needs and even keeps us exposed to insecurity and inability. The first prayer sees God as an all conquering and all providing God, who sits in heaven in front of a computer, answering prayer requests coming in every second. The second prayer seeks to struggle with the God on the cross, the God who gave up everything despite having it all.

This opens up the question whether there is a negative prayer and a positive prayer. The negative prayer is the prayer in which we pray to God to annihilate our enemies and tailor make a world just for us, as if no one else exists. Positive prayer on the other hand is very Lord’s prayer-ish. It seeks forgiveness of short comings only if we have done the same to others. Negative prayer is all about us and what we want. Positive prayer is what we have done for others and looks at our lives from the perspective of others.

Churches today are faced with the challenge of understanding these two kinds of prayer. People find it convenient to hide behind the word prayer. So much that if someone says “I am praying”, he/she is then covered in a veil of holiness. Kerala is praying. But what kind of a prayer is she praying? Prayers increasingly reflect contempt, hatred and competition while it should reflect sacrifice, compassion and love. This is why we should de-construct and re-construct our notion of prayer and know that if our framework is flawed, then our prayer is too.

The church has to wake up to this fact. Prayer has to be a selfless act and not a selfish act wherein it is used to subdue and subjugate the other. Prayer for the destruction of another human being is no prayer at all. There is no perfect prayer but there can be a framework which leads to positive thoughts and positive prayer which starts with the other. Welcome to the world of positive prayer!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

From Thiruvalla to Bangalore: A trial of a horrific murder

One cannot fathom the dissection of a murder after it is committed. Everyone is an expert and they offer expert opinions on everything under the sun. The Bangalore murder of a 24 year old woman from Thiruvalla came as a shock to all. The reasons were several. One, how a strain occurred between a couple who were married for barely a week? How could a murder be committed within minutes of the couple arriving in Bangalore and being left by the boy’s parents just to get breakfast? Weren’t there tell tale signs that something was wrong? Didn’t the parents or other family members see any signs of an impending tragedy? How was this wedding arranged? Weren’t the facts implored and the couple given enough time to get to know each other?

There are two versions flashing around in the public post mortem. One is that the girl was too “forward” (meaning smart and confident on a positive note and ruffling a few traditional feathers on a negative note) for the boy and therefore this was a murder waiting to happen! One should think about this statement in slow motion to let the damage of this to sink in. Interestingly, the ammachi’s (grandma’s) and aunty’s (middle aged mom’s) are the ones who are spreading this version of the story. It is very sad that when the girl’s family will be looking for some solace all it is going to get are these behind the back comments from friends and near strangers, all claiming to know everything there is to be known. The other version is of the boy and that he had psychological issues even before the wedding. This is the opinion of few of the people in Bhopal who knew the boy’s family. What was an open secret for people who knew him remained a mystery to everyone else. Does this mean that Syrian Christians hide behind their history and tradition while in reality they face a host of important issues which they are not willing to discuss?

For me what is shocking is not the murder as such but the utter disregard for the two families and those involved. Kerala’s Christian population in its effort to move as far as possible from the tragedy is blaming everyone apart from itself. Priests, bishops, culture changes and even globalisation are blamed. Very convenient, considering that it sends everything back to its normal path and eases people into their comfortable existence. But this habit of time and again asking the wrong questions should be done away with and more relevant answers should be sought for relevant questions. Obviously the church has to discuss the question of what should be followed before a couple gets married. This includes offering pre marital counselling, taking a proactive interest in the wedding, giving an opportunity for the couple to speak and understand each other and for a couple to decide whether they like each other before they get married. But this is possible only with the help of the people in the church. Take for instance how a synod directive on how marriages should be conducted will be treated by the people. Some will be seen as unpractical, some against culture and some against family traditions and practices. Church members will then reject such directives.

The church population in Kerala has been quick to pinpoint the cause of the murder even before the investigation and the court trial. The media has reported based on hear say rather than investigative journalism. The usual reasons found were ‘the girl had a better salary’, ‘she was not happy with the wedding’, ‘she taunted her husband’, and ‘she refused physical intimacy’. All this suggests that the girl had murder written all over her face. What a travesty of facts. Fortunately rare voices begged to differ saying that the deceased girl was a confident young woman. Does this mean that by blaming the girl we can keep our Syrian-ness intact? We are definitely going to be found wanting on this front.

This being the case, what is the step forward? Are we willing to accept that the Christian population in Kerala is following one official faith but living another practical life? Are we willing to discuss the fact that both women and men should be given the space to take their own decisions and live their lives with respect and dignity? Do we have the courage to bring to the table the fact that the Syrian community has serious issues and we should be open about it rather than being closed and reserved? Does the church have an option of providing help for those who are going to get married, need help after marriage and want help in talking to and understanding each other at any point in their married life? Let us talk about these things and leave the bereaved families alone for the time being.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Thiruvalla Premier League and the festival of St. George

The battle lines have been drawn and the daggers and spears are out. The BCCI is waiting to see what Lalit Modi will do with its show cause notice. Lalit Modi meanwhile is in a huddle with his lawyers and friends, waiting to make the next move. May 11 and following could restart the IPL debate on national television in India. Those who were friends with Modi have now turned foes and new friends have emerged to save his skin. What is the fuss many may ask? Modi has brought entertainment to India and in the process has got thousands of youngsters to get interested in the game and make a living out of it.

I learnt to play cricket in 1985. My introduction into Thiruvalla, a small town in Central Kerala known for its middle east millions, and cricket was a side by side act of fate. The decision of my parents to come to live in Thiruvalla was largely taken to make sure that their three children would get a sniff of the Mallu morals and grow up to be fine individuals. Whether they were successful in this is a totally different matter! The mind of the ten year old boy wandered and stopped at a near by field where young boys were playing a game that was alien to him. His instinct to crash into the cultural setting there made him learn the game. He realised the boys who were from different communities were playing a game with a coconut branch, wonderfully crafted into a cricket bat, or atleast sort of. The ball too was a make shift one made of a small base of a premature coconut seed, covered with newspaper and tied with a thin rope which one got from the recycled ration shop supplies.

Each and every space was a cricket pitch. The backyard, someone's uncultivated paddy field, or a small stretch of road. We would play till someone came and shooed us off our makeshift pitch. We would start when the natural sunlight came on and stop when it went off. Everything was gleaned off what we could find and there was a style in our lack of training. Each one would put a hand over the other shoulder and care nothing about caste permutations and class divisions. Everyone was welcome to play.

The raw cricketer in me turned into the semi professional cricketer after 1991, showing up for team selection for the Pathanamthitta district team, of which Thiruvalla was a part. What little leg spin bowling I knew was put on test and I was expected to be decent with the bat as well. I was picked for the under 19 and under 23 squads and there started my cricket journeys going to Trivandrum and Alleppy to play the district level cricket tournaments. Lets face it. I was not a brilliant cricketer, but I enjoyed being part of a then poor team which went on to ruffle a few feathers here and there. My short cricket career came to an end with a totally different innings of studying to become a priest.

I was in Thiruvalla recently for the St. George festival. It is a vibrant festival celebrated by church members of mainly the Jacobite and Orthodox churches in Kerala. St. George happens to be the patron saint of many countries. His appeal stretches beyond cultures. The picture of the soldier slaying the dragon is what many of us remember from our childhood days. At the time I thought that St. George was a dragon slayer. Today I realise that he is much more than that. For those who suffer injustice, he is a symbol of a fight against such injustice. This makes people feel that he is their protector and that he intercedes for them in times of trouble.

Thiruvalla has changed. My parents and several others would never let their kids out to play cricket. Today I have come to notice that parents drive their children to cricket grounds to attend expensive cricket training camps. Earlier we never had a cricket kit but would rather make do with what we found. Kids had fun. Today 8 year olds have to carry around huge cricket kits which are bigger than them. The look on their face is the look of an office goer. Not at all enthusiastic. Its as if cricket is a job for them.

With all the goings on of the IPL now, St.George makes a triumphal entry for me. Obviously he is not carrying a cricket bat. (It would be quite a picture though!) But he still has something to say. 'Stand for what you believe in no matter what'. Its even worth dying for! Cricket today has lost its innocence. It has become a career and a job. It has become big money. But times like this should make us think that cricket after all is also just a game. But its a game which can teach us lots. Its something that makes us women and men learn that life in India is stuck in caste equations and unjust structures. But that does not mean that we remain in it. We learn that coming together makes us better than staying away. Earlier cricket made us fight these injustices and run from our homes to be with our friends from all communities. Today we are taken to glorified stadiums but have forgotten the true learning that we should have from this great game.

I am not going to come on a horse with a spear, ready to annihilate the wrong doer of the IPL. I am just saying that the IPL has robbed me of my innocence (what little of it that is left!). So I hope that we can all look up to someone like St. George. Someone who will stand up for what is right. I am not looking for the BCCI to punish some scapegoat. I am rather hoping that they see the essence of cricket and hand it down to future generations.