Monday, April 5, 2010
Week 17: Easter Time
The Good Friday procession pictured above involved walking about a mile while observing the traditional stations of the cross. Most folks were eager to trek after having spent the previous 3 hours in Church (in addition to the three hour service the night before)! Children had lots of energy and most adults were grateful for a chance for them to get it out of their system! The mood was celebratory yet solumn. What little talking was done in whispered Malayalam – including many comments (I later learned) critical of the priest for taking so much time in Church!
Living this weekend with my colleague Stany Thomas and his family (eight people plus us!) has been taken by all in stride. ``Auntie`` Kris has become immensely popular with the three children of the household who enjoyed doing artwork with her, coloring Easter eggs for the first time, and (the best of all!) searching for the eggs after Mass on Easter morning. I am the ``Uncle`` Michael who is a little crazy (so true) but still fun. I think it was mostly the kids and I who enjoyed the loud explosions at the church (used to wake up every one within a mile or so: to be at church by 3am) – yes: for another three hour service! The explosions kind of reminded me of the IRA bombing campaign during the summer I spent in Northern Ireland so many years ago… Ka BOOM!
I confess that the highlight of the long Easter Mass for me (and for many others, judging from the murmuring) was when the electricity went out – leaving the priest without a sound system to be heard, and us all enveloped in the pre-dawn darkness. A little time for peaceful meditation seemed a relief from the powerful amplifiers and (shall I add) tone-deaf singing of this particular priest. I wonder if his being tone deaf is at all related to the dynamite-strong explosions used to wake us? Ah yes: we had several more of those ignited just outside the church building, along with traditional firecrackers, to celebrate the rising of Jesus from the dead. No doubt neighbors who are Hindu or Moslem are especially amused – though I am told they have as free a reign to be as loud as they want to be during their religious celebrations!
Whatever sarcasm may be found in my comments so far should not overshadow the transparent spirituality that pervades our host family and their community. All in the household gather (yes, religiously) every evening of every day at 7:30pm to say prayers for a half hour before dinnertime. If any loved one is having problems, all are there to provide moral or other support. Yesterday I went with Stany to visit an uncle with severe liver problems. No less than ten cousins and others came to visit that hospital room during the hour or so we were there. Family is central to this society. Far more than material wealth and possessions, people here are often rich in family and other relationships. Spirituality contributes to these relationships. We could all learn much from the closeness that is rooted in their traditional practices.
An invitation to share an evening earlier this week in a Hindu household left the same strong impression. Before driving us to his home, Murali took Kris and I to visit two nearby Hindu temples. In addition to seeing images of God to which devotes may pray, we were told of a story about how a particular tree was said to be inhabited by demons that would suck your blood should you harm the tree: now there is a twist for the traditional environmentalist! ``Harm the tree and you die`` leaves a very strong message as to the value of the tree! Another tree variety had a cloth wrapped around it so that it could be literally hugged if one desired to do so! No demons there in that one, just respect for nature. Raama and Krishna, the two most popular incarnations of Vishnu (the creative aspect of God), both lived in the forests and both loved and were loved by all of nature – so why should not we? At his home Murali and his family treated us to a vegetarian feast, noting how their faith tells them to treat every guest as if they were God. Even as Raama cares for each of us, so each of us should treat others as if they were Raama returned to visit... God is always present all life.
This Easter week was also noteworthy as having our last classroom lectures prior to the student presentations and examinations to come. The wednesday before Easter was a little like Good Friday in that my PG 2 (post graduate, second year) students met for the last time after having studied together for two years. The prospect of future separation had many in a somewhat sad and emotional state. The simple ceremony held during class time had the feeling of a wake for the death of a loved one. I was honored to be among the living memory of their experience together. Many photographs were taken of friends together, the whole group as one, and almost everyone seemed to want an individual picture taken with me!
India can be a very humbling place. Materially rich in comparison with most people we meet here, Kris and I are almost constantly showed with the hospitality and kindness of those who are more spiritually centered. Regardless of faith tradition, they value the love of family and friends far about material possessions. To be included in their circle of relationships both warms the heart and makes it ache. As was true of the students, separation will bring sadness when we move on with our lives and space and time take their toll. Hopefully the relationships we have here may be nurtured over the distance that divide us and these relationships cab remind us of where our true wealth is to be found.