Re-framing Regret Rumination.

It has been a month since I left Houston, I was supposed to have been back in Houston 10 days ago. But I am stuck here in India because during my trip to India, in following some immigration procedures, my visa was put on ‘administrative processing’ status. I cannot travel back to Houston until I get cleared. I have had 5 different visas before, but this has never happened to me. A 10 day delay may not be the worst of things, but I am responsible for some very time sensitive, critical work in Houston which I cannot do effectively from here.

 

Waiting time!

Waiting time is interesting because the kind of regular life activities that structure most people’s lives ceases to provide structure. It is like the GPS has stopped working so I am having to do extra work to locate myself. What I found is that this provides interesting data on the self.

In the Bible from Abraham to Moses to Paul involved periods of waiting, sometimes long sometimes short. All Christians experience some form of waiting time at different life seasons. We us some tried and true cliches like, ‘waiting time is not wasted time,’ which is helpful. But sometimes such cliques wear thin, they crumble under pressure.

Even as I kept myself occupied doing work remotely… preaching at different places, churches, a bible school, a radio station etc., I was crumbling under the pressure, so to speak. I found myself struggling to keep my mind from regressing back into a place of regret.

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Photo by omar alnahi on Pexels.com

Regret Rumination
The problem with thoughts of regret is that it is like opening a Pandora’s box. Once it is opened, it cannot be easily closed. It brings up a whole host of other regrets from the past. My mind keeps regressing into a rumination, regretting things that had nothing to do with the current visa situation, wondering about all the different roads not taken in points of prior life choices.

Kierkegaard says, “I say of my sorrow what an English man says of his house: my sorrow is my castle.”

Sometimes regret (sorrow) seems like an intimate companion, so we can allow ourselves to become too comfortable and familiar with it and retreat into it as though the sorrow and the ensuing self-pity is castle that protects us from the vagaries of the world around. The problem with regret is that it is like a dark pair of shades that colors that I see with a dark hues. Regret is like unwelcome moisture corroding and eating through the inner strength, the resilience.

Regret is a way of re-channeling the pain of the loss. Behind all regrets is perceived loss. When we make a life choice and lose something, we begin to regret the choice we made, wondering if a different choice may have obviated the loss. In my case I was wondering if I hadn’t made this trip to India, then I wouldn’t be in this soup (because I already had a valid work visa there). As the regret was corroding me from within, I was finding myself getting frustrated. My ability to enjoy movies and reading books was starting to take a toll. Knowing myself, when my heart is unable to drawn to a well told story, I know something is really off.

I know God works all things for the good, BUT that did not bring me to a place of peace for some reason. Why?

As I was thinking about why God’s assurances did not seem to be able to get me out of the pit. Then I realized that I was searching for a ‘why’ – a ‘why’ that would help me to endure the wait.

How did knowing the ‘why’ help me get out of this pit of regret rumination?

It happened while I was at the Church praying. I had the sense of the Holy Spirit reminding me of the truth that I needed to remember. The truth is this – God was using this unique, never before experienced, situation to teaching me the ALL sufficiency of Christ even in this situation. Only when we experience a loss of some kind we get the opportunity to allow our self to experience Christ’s all sufficient calvary-love in the space left by the loss. This was the ‘why’ I was looking for to make sense of my waiting time – My waiting time was happening so that I get experience the all sufficiency of Christ’s calvary-love in deeper ways.

The poet Christian Wiman says, “if crisis helps me get closer to Christ, then bring it on!”

My initial problem was that waiting time was becoming regret rumination time, drawing me into the pit of despair. But the Holy Spirit promptings helped me to re-frame my waiting time as a time of experiencing the all sufficiency of Christ’s calvary-love in deeper ways than before, moving me to a place of hope in becoming Christ-like.

How did I get to this sense of insight of the Holy Spirit speaking into my predicament?

It happened through 3 processes.

1.Being comfortable with lament:
Lament is about pouring out our hearts, along with its pains before God. Sometimes people say when they face disappointments in life, they have to respond with praise as an antidote. This is only a partial view of how the Bible deals with disappointment. When we look at the Psalms, we find that in the Lament psalms, David does not start with praise, he starts with his pain. He pours out his pain to God using language that makes sense to him. Then in the second half of the Psalm, after his pain has been poured out to God then he is free to praise God for who he is. The lament Psalms end with a renewed trust in God’s all sufficiency.

Applying this to me, when I was going through frustrating situations and the pain, I wrote down my own sense of laments in the form of the psalm…
a) pour out my pain
b) meditate on God’s character
c) receive God’s presence with grateful trust.

2.Asking for prayer from friends:
In addition to praying for myself. I asked my friends to pray for me… Prayer is the way of trust. It is a posture of faithfulness to God. A lot of the friends I asked prayer for are living all over the world so I asked them prayer over emails or texts. The spiritually attuned among them prayed and spoke the Gospel, reminding me of God’s nature. One of my friends shared in the email about how when she was waiting for something in her own life, God showed himself to be good no matter what. The phrase God is good no matter what spoke to a part of my regretting psyche that needed to hear that at that point. Getting me a step closer to getting to the ‘why’ of this wait.

3.Listening to the Holy Spirit:
John 14:26, Jesus introduces the Holy Spirit by saying that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth who reminds us of the Truths of God to counsel us and to comfort us. This is why it is important to be in a posture of listening. When we listen to the Holy Spirit we are looking for something new, rather, as John 14:26 says we are looking for the Holy Spirit to remind us of a Truth we know deep within, but have forgotten.

A mind clobbered with regret has difficulty remembering the truth. In my case,  going through the 3 steps above helped me to open up to the Holy Spirit reminding me the truth of the all sufficiency of Christ’s calvary-love in ALL life circumstances. This is the way to Christian maturity. Even Jesus waited 30 years to start ministry. His wait wasn’t just arbitrary. Hebrews 5:7-9 says that Jesus grew and matured in wisdom and learn obedience during the time of waiting.

As I am waiting on my visa admin processing to complete one of two things can happen. The admin processing may successfully complete and I may go back to the States and resume my life there. Or there may be a rescinding of the visa in which case, i will have to say goodbye to my life in the States.

Whichever way things go, in as much as I rest in the all sufficiency of Christ’s Calvary-love for me, I will be fine. This gives me hope! In as much as I do not rest in Christ’s all sufficiency, I will regress in to castle of regret. 

In one of the renderings of the myth of Pandora’s box  at the bottom, after all the evil has been released, the final thing to get released is hope.

Life a journey of reckoning the all sufficient calvary-love of Christ. And during this journey there are periods of spurt growth interspersed with periods of dormancy. Times of trial and crisis become times of deep dependence on Christ, if we are able to lament the loss, ask for prayer and listen to the Holy Spirit to find how to re-reframe the regret into hope. Right now, through this time of waiting, I am going through a period of accelerated growth in learning what it means to rest in the all sufficient love of Christ, maturing to become more Christ-like,  creating in me a hope to face anything tomorrow will throw my way.

What is the Best Antidote to Poisonous Worry?

Seeking God’s kingdom is the antidote to poisonous worry. The solution to worry is not to try to think or strategize oneself our of it or to escape from it by seeing tv shows or eating food or drinking liquer, but to perform an action seeking the kingdom of God. When we seek the kingdom of God we become sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s comforting presence! Then we will not get caught in the quick sand of catastrophizing-worry.

Seeking God’s kingdom is the antidote to poisonous worry.

Sometimes a sense of worry sets in, a worry about future safety. Your Boss was critical of you a couple of days in a row and you worry fearing if this would go south and you will lose your job and if you will have enough money for retirement. Psychologist call this way of thinking “catastrophizing” – meaning one small thing goes wrong and from then on your worry takes over and builds a mountain out of a molehole, before you know it you are dying on the streets homeless!

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The problem with this poisonous catastrophizing is that it robs us from enjoying the grace of the present moment because we are so worried about some extreme future scenario. It is this kind of catastrophizing worry is what Jesus talks about in Matt 6:25-34 asking, “will you be able to add one hour to your day by worrying?” Conversely, by this king of catastrophic worrying you end up loosing hours in the day.

I lost over an hour in my day. I was worried about something and I started try to think my way out of it, which made it worse because it kept making me go down into the quick sand, deeper into my catastrophizing-worry. Then my other strategy was to escape from catasrophizing-worry by seeing 2 episodes of Big Bang Theory, quite mindlessly I should add.

Then I caught myself and asked, what can I do get out of this mind rut?  Good new is that Jesus provides the answer in verse 33, but seek first the kingdom of God.

To seek the kingdom of God is NOT merely a cognitive exercise. Seeking is an activity. The antidote to catastrophizing-worry is not to think oneself out of it – it is to act oneself out of it, seeking God’s kingdom in the present moment. This is what psychologists call “behavior activation.”

Seeking the kingdom at the moment of catastophizing-worry is to do something, even if small, increasing our sensitivity to what the Holy Spirit is doing in our life. For some of us, this seeking can take the form of going for a quick prayer walk, or listening to a worship son that increases our sensitivity to the Spirit of God, for me, yesterday, this meant reading Mme. Guyon’s book Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ.

Matt 6 is a part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount, describing the kingdom ethic for Christians. How to deal with worry about future is a key part of kingdom ethic. So Jesus addresses this deeply existential issue of worry by asking us to seek first His kingdom.

Seeking God’s kingdom is the antidote to poisonous worry. The solution to worry is not to try to think or strategize oneself our of it or to escape from it by seeing tv shows or eating food or drinking liquer, but to perform an action seeking the kingdom of God. When we seek the kingdom of God we become sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s comforting presence! Then we will not get caught in the quick sand of catastrophizing-worry.

 

Spirituality as Purging Beauty

The question this lays in front of Christians is this – do we wanted to be shaped by a consumerist style of beauty of the world or by God’s Wabi-sabi style of purging beauty? To appreciate this sparse spiritual beauty one has to step away from one’s frenzied narcissistic time into deep time which is the realm that God operates in slowly, patiently, Wabi-sabi style, removing all that is non-essential, charging us with a new Christ-like character, created through purging beauty!

Disclaimer: This is my 3rd and final reflection on my road trip to the Grand Canyon last May. Special thanks my friend, mentor and cheerleader, Doug for lending me one of his cars to take on this trip. The first post was on deep time, the second one was on renouncing frenzied time.

Wabi-sabi, the Japanese art style, is one where art follows the way of the natural world. When a tea cup is made wabi-sabi style, hot water is poured into the cup, over many days in some cases, to have its color change gradually. Then some parts of the cup is chipped off, presumably to give it a unique character! It takes a deeply intuitive eye to be drawn to such beauty. When I was at the Grand Canyon, created over hundred of millions of years, by erosion from the forces of water and wind, I couldn’t help but realize that at the Grand Canyon, God had engineered the forces of nature to play some wabi-sabi.

Opposite of the Wabi-sabi style is the western consumerist style, which is being adopted all over the world today. In the consumerist style of decoration things are beautified often by addition. The consumerist style is a way of seeing beauty in plenty, whether it be adding notes to a chord, color to canvas or cosmetic lather on skin. The wabi-sabi style of beauty is one of seeing beauty in the purging.

When I went to the Grand Canyon this Summer, I wasn’t quite prepared for the stunning beauty of a purged landscape. I couldn’t quite grasp the idea of how something can becomes so beautiful because it had purged off stuff through millions of years of sculpting erosion. The purged beauty of this landscape was such a paradigm shift to my consumerist sensibilities of beauty. My eyes were being re-trained to appreciate a new form of beauty… purged beauty!

I am not alone in appreciating this purged beauty. The Desert Father and Mothers, who are the founders of the monastic movement that kept Christianity alive through the medieval times knew how to appreciate this beauty by removal. Like Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, the desert fathers and mothers spent much of their lives communing with God in the desert, allowing their spirituality to be shaped by the sparse landscape, devoid of the distractions of the world.

These Saints stood for the principle that when the excess trappings of life are removed, this purging makes space for a new kind of deep spiritual beauty that the consumerist world can never grasp. This counter-cultural beauty was their way of witness to their Roman world; it worked! In our world our excessive consumerist sensibilities have caused us to be unable to appreciate the beauty of purged simplicity because to seeing beauty in the very process of loosing things goes against our survival instincts.

The purging process of beautifying the Grand Canyon attests to one key aspect of the way God makes His children beautiful. Grand Canyon became beautiful Wabi-Sabi style – by taking stuff out, not adding stuff to it in the consumerist style. Jesus in the Gospels often talks about self-denial (Matt 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23) which the purging beauty of the Wabi-sabi style aligns with. In fact, the Desert Fathers and Mothers followed Jesus’ way of self-denying desert spirituality – sometimes to a fault! Their counter-cultural work bore great fruit that we still read and talk about them.

Appreciation for a simplistic beauty brings a key question – do we wanted to be shaped by the world’s consumerist style of beauty or by God’s Wabi-sabi style of purging beauty? To appreciate this sparse spiritual beauty one has to step away from one’s frenzied narcissistic time into deep time which is the realm that God operates in slowly, patiently, Wabi-sabi style, removing all that is non-essential, charging us with a new Christ-like character, created through purging beauty!

Deep Spiritual Roots of Silence

Trees are spiritual because they have deep roots, roots that are unseen but their strength comes from their deep roots. Just like the trees, the deep roots of my own spirituality are not seen outside but it is those deep roots that strengthen me. The trees are also a place where many living things find their abode. . Christ is the one in whom I find my adobe and rest in. If I am deeply rooted in Christ, and grow out of Christ, then I will become an extension of Christ’s love that points people to the rest in Christ. The tree is a deeply mysterious being which reflects God’s nurturing and life giving side. So being among big trees in the evening was to be mystic presence of God.

Below is my account of a 6 hour spiritual discipline of silence that I followed from 5pm till 11 pm at the Memorial Park in Houston. I choose that place, because trees move my spirit to a place of wonderment about God. Trees are a place of deep life and consequently deep spirituality. Just like God showed His presence to David by the stars in the sky, for me, God manifests His presence to me by the trees. Perhaps, it shouldn’t surprise me that Treebeard (the guardian of all Trees) is my favorite character in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (of course no surprise either in that Tolkien channeled himself into Treebeard!). 

Trees point to deep spiritual truths. They have deep roots, roots that are unseen but their strength comes from their deep roots. Just like the trees, the deep roots of my own Christ-centered spirituality are not seen outside but it is those deep roots that strengthen me. The trees are also a place where many living things find their abode. . Christ is the one in whom I find my adobe and rest in. If I am deeply rooted in Christ, and grow out of Christ, then I will become an extension of Christ’s love that points people to the rest in Christ. The tree is a deeply mysterious being which reflects God’s nurturing and life giving side. So being among big trees in the evening was to be mystic presence of God.

As always being alone and silent, my anxieties came up. I did not want to get stuck in my state of anxiety and so walked around looking, deeply looking, and meditating on the tree. There was this one tree which was so exquisitely beautiful – its dark branches that had fractal precision were like a painting of God across the light sky. Looking at the tree, carefully observing how the branches were shaped by God’s providence and design, I was drawn out of my self-absorption. Below is a picture of that tree.
 

 I was walking among the trees looking at them I found myself moving from a state of self-absorption to a place of self-transcendence. I sat at a bench and looked at the trees. I took more picture of the dark ominous spiritual beings. As I was there, I did not know when it started but I realized that I was actually singing the song, “Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me…” Somehow even before my conscious mind was aware of it, my sub-conscious mind was reveling in the presence of God in that spiritual space. 

After a while, as it got darker, I realized that I could see the moon above. I lay on the bench to look up at the moon. Dark clouds came between me and the moon but still the light of the moon couldn’t be dimmed off completely. I could see the moonlight form designs in the beautifully shaped clouds. I was reminded about how brilliant God’s design was. I kept watching the moon and the clouds back and forth, I don’t know for how long. 

Then I went back to watching trees and taking pictures of trees which looked interesting… Then after a while as I was sitting on the bench looking at the trees, my body started swaying gently the way it usually does when I am in deep prayer, filled with the Spirit of God. I enjoyed being in God’s presence there. I felt like I did not want to leave that spiritual place, it was like the mountain top transfiguration experience that the disciples did not want to leave. 

Of course, I had to come back to the real world. But there was an interesting difference. As I was back in the “real world”, the real world was now different because I was carrying with me the presence of God with me. Because of God’s presence being with me, everything I did where it was going to the gym or reading a book, it was now different – I was living out of a much deeper place in my soul, centered in Christ. The spiritual roots that I had had gone deeper into the soil of my being and was drawing it sweet nourishment from the deep source of God’s presence deep in me and that is what made the world come alive in a new way.

What does it mean to love God with our Souls?

I did not quite understand the answer to this question until I was walking down the Jamaica beach in Galveston at 2:00 am on a Saturday morning. I realized that to love God with my soul is to be deeply moved by a sheer display of His brilliant majesty in a way that bypasses my heart and mind and reaches deep into my unconscious, my soul, to lift it up into an ecstasy (in the truest sense of that word) to a posture of absolute submission and worship of God. 

We are called to love God with the heart, soul, mind and strength. I have at times wondered what it means to love God with the soul. 

I think of loving God with my heart to mean that desires are being shaped to love God. This happens when I read, say, Kierkegaard or Tolkien or Dostoevsky. Loving God with my mind is like reading Alvin Plantinga, Charles Taylor or Jamie Smith. To love God with my strength is to love him with the works of my hands.

So what does it really mean to love God with my soul? 

I did not quite understand the answer to this question until I was walking down the Jamaica beach in Galveston at 2:00 am on a Saturday morning. I realized that to love God with my soul is to be deeply moved by a sheer display of His brilliant majesty in a way that bypasses my heart and mind and reaches deep into my unconscious, my soul, to lift it up into an ecstasy (in the truest sense of that word) to a posture of absolute submission and worship of God. 

I was spending the weekend with some friends from Church at a beach house in Galveston. Before I was about to sleep, I realized if there was something worth loosing sleep over, it would be to experience what it feels like to talk a walk along the beach at 2:00 am in the morning. There were a few words welled up from within my unconscious, my soul. I have tried to capture that elusive feeling in words, as pitiable as the attempt may be. If there was something worth allowing oneself to be made a fool of it is to attempt to express the experience of beauty that so moved ones heart. So here I go with my words of folly!

Rhythmic roar of the deep waters!
White lines of foam sliding over
Reaching out from the dark water
The ominous shaped clouds afar

So full of sound and fury
Yet signifying something
From beyond the Horizon
Yet so near, Lord of hosts!

Who set the foundations of Earth
And the boundaries of furious waters
An encounter with awesome Nature
An encounter with the almighty Creator

Un-curving my inwardly curved self
Shattering my self-importance
Saving the puny me from myself
By a sheer display of His vast Majesty

To stand still and look with my eyes
To be enchanted onto my knees
To be moved in my soul. To sing Hallelujah!
Over the rhythmic roar of the deep waters.

 I took this picture the next morning...
I took this picture the next morning…
 While drinking coffee on the beach!
While drinking coffee on the beach!

Reality is Hard, Truth is Sharp

Reality is hard, truth is sharp and facing it head-on broke me and cut me deep but I know (better) who I am.

Reality is hard, truth is sharp one who faces it head-on will be broken and cut deep but he/she will know who he/she is.

I had a room mate for a brief period. One day he bought himself a bottle of liquor and was treating himself to it. I asked him what was up. He said that whenever he went through stressful or sad times he liked to have some liquor to soothe himself. For this friend liquor was a coping mechanism.

There was a phase in my life where I was going through some very lonely times. It then occurred to me that because I did not want to depend on coping mechanisms as liquor or wine, I was faced with the prospect of facing life head-on. It meant I may realize how fragile I really was. It meant that I might get depressed. It meant that I might break down. 

I had two options, 

1. Use a quick coping mechanism, of that sort that helps me escape reality, to get by the rough phase.

2. Use this experience of getting close to the edge to map out the pathos of my psyche – it longings and disappointments – by journaling and praying so that I get a better sense of who I am.

I chose the latter, and so I know myself better than I would have had I chosen the former. Reality is hard, truth is sharp and facing it head-on broke me and cut me deep but I know (better) who I am.

A New Adventure

After 10 years of working in the Software field, here I, on my last day of work am looking back with happy contentment and looking forward with an anxious excitement! Looking back to the cherished times I enjoyed working in the twilight zone between human beings and  technology. Looking forward to the adventurous journey of going to Seminary to pursue my call to become a Theologian, Writer and Preacher, where I will navigate through the world of timeless ideas to bring new meaning into the lives of people.

After 10 years of working in the Software field, here I, on my last day of work am looking back with happy contentment and looking forward with an anxious excitement! Looking back to the cherished times I enjoyed working in the twilight zone between human beings and  technology. Looking forward to the adventurous journey of going to Seminary to pursue my call to become a Theologian, Writer and Preacher, where I will navigate through the world of timeless ideas to bring new meaning into the lives of people.
 

Looking Back:

Looking back, there are three things I have cherished in my work life in the twilight zone.

1. Being a software Project manager, I have enjoyed working in the area of interface of people and technology – computers on one side and human relationships on the other, facing the best and the worst of both worlds (depending on the day :P).
2. Being a Subject Matter Expert in some specific domains, I have enjoyed helping people get to where they want to get to using the SME knowledge. There is a deep satisfaction in acquiring knowledge and then using that to help people achieve their goals.
3. Having started my work life in India, and then moving to Houston I have had the opportunity to build relationships at my work life with very diverse group of people. I have enjoyed having conversations with them about a lot of things ranging from politics to movies. Those are conversations and memories I will carry with me.

If there is one thing I will miss the most from my past 10 years of life working with/at MphasiS/AIG, it will be the people. (And of course, the easy pay checks too. :P).
 

Looking Forward:

Since the time I was in my late teens, the deeper questions of life have beckoned me to come explore them. I have been enthralled by the deeper questions pertaining to the meaning of life: Why is man the way he is – as Pascal calls him, “the thinking reed”, incredibly special but inexorably fragile; “a wretched angel” with so much good and bad comingled? How can man live the FULLEST life as Thoreau said, “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life”?

I always knew that at some point, I will have to embark on a journey into the world of ideas to explore my way through them and make my mark – the mark pointing to the Truth and bringing it to bear ‘fruit’ in the lives of people. Yes, ideas change people, starting from Pythagoras who talked about Truths being eternal to Foucault who said all truths were relative – mere tools in the hands of the powerful to manipulate the weak. As for me, to make my journey into the world of ideas, I choose Theology, or I should say Theology chose me! For it is in theology that philosophy, history and psychology blend with Revelation and Redemption into a strong portion that gives me the fortitude to wrestle with questions that bear fruit in the lives of people.

Being a Tolkien and Lewis fan, if I may borrow analogies from them to describe my venture, I would say that my new adventure is not unlike the adventure that Samwise Gamgee embarked on to rescue Middle Earth from Sauron and restore it to the true King. Nor is it unlike Sastha (from Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia – ‘Horse and His Boy’) who found himself hurled into a journey in the unknown realms to discover at the end that the point of his journey was to save his Father’s kingdom.The call to go on this journey has been indelibly written in my DNA. Like Bilbo (in Tolkien’s Hobbit) who with initial reluctance yet lasting resoluteness gives-in to his Tookishness (Took being his adventurous ancestor) to set about on a journey with Gandalf to rescue the lonely mountain from the Dragon Smaug, I too, with a resoluteness that has overwhelmed my reluctance am giving-in to my Call to go on my journey to glorify the King!

From a corner of my conscience
There has been a call
Steadily building into a crescendo
To build in the Kingdom, a castle

Not one of brick and mortar
But one of ideas and emotions
Of hearts and the minds
Of life and eternity

So I embark on an adventure
To explore deeper, that corner of my conscience
And build the castle that is comfort to the weary,
Built not on sand, but on the Rock!

The Rock that is the stone
The stone that will become a mountain
A mountain that will become a Temple-city
Filling the Cosmos in a crescendo of Praise!

(I am not so much of a poet. I know the last stanza may seem cryptic. Clue to interpret the last stanza: Imagery from the Book of Daniel and Revelation.)

PS: It is interesting that my last working day at my job is Oct-31 which is Reformation Day, the day when Luther nailed 95 thesis on the church door which got the ball rolling for the Protestant reformation movement. Of course, it is also All Saints Day when the Saints are celebrated as a symbol of the powers of evil being overcome – which actually has morphed into what we call the Halloween (for the good and the bad of it).

Dementia of the Other Kind

I pray to God that, my demented self, which remembers the vain trivia of this world but forgets the Lord would be turned to the dementia of the other kind, the blessed one, like that of this lady of old faith, which forgets the vain things of the world, but as the Philosopher of ‘vanity of vanities’ commends, “remembers the Lord”.

My Saturday afternoons are normally my book reading time – I like to crawl up in my introvert shell and meditate on timeless wisdom of the ages. This week, I had to debate on whether I had to change the plan to be involved in a ‘service project’ instead. I decided to get out of my introvert bubble and risk extroversion by helping out on the ‘service project’ because of two reasons – One, I feel strongly about ‘acts of unconditional compassion’ being one of the key ‘fruits’ of a Christian life. Two, the service project plan, to go door to door and offer to help with anything in house that may need ‘fixing’ is something that has deep historical precedence in the tradition of the Christian monks of the medieval world.

The Christian monks, the modern caricatures not withstanding, were in many ways than one, the ‘social safety net’ of the Medieval world. The monks who were into compassion ministries, helped poor widows cut firewood, established good agricultural practices and turned their monasteries into hospitals to take care of sick. I strongly believe, that the modern civilization, fragmented and dysfunctional as it is, needs a reinvigorated application of the principles of medieval monastic ministries of compassion. Enough of my rationale for dragging myself away from my world of books on a quite afternoon.

Anyways… a few of us, friends from First Presbyterian Church go together and split up to groups 3 groups of 4 each (yes, were were a total of ‘twelve’… surprise, surprise). My group went knocking door to door. None of the residents wanted our help. Some were suspicious, some skeptical some were pleasantly surprised and wished us well. So much for my exalted rationale of giving up my time with books to sow seed for recreating a new monasticism (Parched humor if you will… :P). As our group did a full circle and was getting close to where we had started, we found another group toiling hard in the yard of a house that looked kind of old.

The front and back yard was covered with dry leaves. The group that was working there told us that there was an old lady in the house who did not seem to have anyone around to help her clean her yard. It looked like none had touched the yard in like 10 years. As we started work on the yard, further details were filled in. The old lady had dementia. She kept forgetting what she had just said and kept asking the same question again and again. She had to be reintroduced to the person who she had met just 10 minutes ago.

As we were toiling along, one pragmatic observer said, “you know, we do this cleaning up, but she may not even remember this at all”. It was indeed a discouraging thought. Not that the point of helping is to be remembered, for to expect that would be ‘conditional’ compassion, but to ‘remember’ is to have a relationship. All relationships are a form of remembrance. When we think about someone we love, we do not so much have some ‘abstract’ thoughts about the person as much as we remember something we did with them in ‘concrete’ terms – like the one time we took a picture posing like crazy in a photo booth, or that of having a drink over a meal and funny conversations, or the time when we lost track of time talking about the happenings of life.

As I was toiling away, I wondered what it meant to not have memory and the meaning it brings. After all, there is no meaning without memory. Memory of events and people gives us the context to find meaning within. To have toiled at cleaning up the yard, but to be unable to give the old lady a ‘memory’ of this seemed to sap away the meaning of this act of compassion. On the other hand, an act of compassion for the sake of an act of compassion was good enough too, so I kept tarrying on… As were the fellow toilers.

Every now and then we stopped to chat a bit about how sad the state of existence of this lady was. Her house had holes, the roof was cracked etc… etc… Someone was hatching plans to find more about the lady by talking to the neighbors to see how else we could help her. After all, the poor lady couldn’t be trusted to remember her own story. The pity of the old lady became the fuel driving us harder to clean up the place.

As we were in this pity induced mission work, one of the ladies in our team who had met the old lady said something that brought a paradigm shift. Apparently the old lady had prayed that morning to Jesus that He would send someone to clean up the yard. And we were an answered prayer. I couldn’t help but wonder that in spite of all ravages that dementia had brought upon her, she had not forgotten to pray. At that point, my pity of the old lady turned into admiration for her. This old lady who forgets left, right and center still remembers to pray. She remembers the one relationship that truly matters. She remembers the one thing that truly makes life meaningful – her memories of her relationship with the sweet Lord.

This paradigm shifting revelation was one of those powerful moments in life when you pity someone and condescend to help them, only to realize that you are the one to be pitied. If there ever was a dementia in which one would forget everything except the Lord and what He does for us, then that would be the most blessed kind of dementia. In fact, if one thinks about it further, one realizes that everyone is demented in someway or another. A few weeks back Facebook and Twitter were buzzing with the people’s thoughts on the Emmys and then it was about NFL and now it is about Sochi Olympics next week it will be about Valentines, all this remembering is great, but if all these distractions lead us to a place of not remembering to pray, and consequently about forgetting the Lord, then that would be the kind of dementia that is the worst of all.

As people get older, they are increasingly consumed by fewer and fewer things. At that point, it is blessed to be possessed by a ‘remembrance’ of ones relationship with the Lord. The lesson to me from this experience was that I needed to build my life-memories around my relationship with the Lord, so that when I get old and senile and forget everything that I have read in my books or talked with my friends, that I would remember my relationship with the Lord.

At the end of our clean up by which point we had filled up 30 thrash bags with dry leaves and twigs, that old lady walked up to the door to thank us. As I beheld her tiny hunched physique, all I could see and be astounded by was the burning Spirit of the living God in her. If I had spent my 4 hours of Saturday afternoon with my books, warped up in my world of eternal truths, I wouldn’t have been any close to encountering the sort of real life wisdom that I found manifest in the faith of this old lady who has dementia, but of the other kind, the kind that reduces all distractions and focuses her to truly ‘remember’ her Creator and find meaning in that sweet memory. The sweet lady of old faith may not remember us, but her ‘remembrance’ of the Lord would be sweeter for her prayer was answered through the work of the twelve on a Saturday afternoon.

I pray to God that, my demented self, which remembers the vain trivia of this world but forgets the Lord would be turned to the dementia of the other kind, the blessed one, like that of this lady of old faith, which forgets the vain things of the world, but as the Philosopher of ‘vanity of vanities’ commends, “remembers the Lord”.

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them” – Ecclesiastes 12:1.
 

Ps: As I gathered from a note today (Monday) sent by one of the girls who had arranged for this service event, and who visited with the lady today, the lady whose house we cleaned had the fondest memories of our help and had ‘gushed’ about all that we had done to her family. This good news makes the whole experience sweeter still. 🙂

A Part in the Story of the Kingdom of God

One of the most fulfilling experiences in life is in observing a life that is being transformed. It is precisely for this reason that watching children grow and transform into adults is an enriching experience. It is worth all the sacrifices involved in parenthood. The Scriptures say that the Lord gave His life on the Cross to transform our lives to better reflect His glory. This is so spectacular that even the Angels are eagerly looking to see how the Lord brings about this transformation and cheer, from the stands in the Heavens, every addition to the Flock.

Often, it is through the experiences of pain, suffering and confusion that the Lord draws people to Himself to start this transformation. Paraphrasing C.S.Lewis, “Pain is the megaphone the Lord used to get our attention”. When a gentleman walks into the Teen Pregnancy Centre with the damsel he has got in distress, he finds himself at this point of inflexion. He feels the tug of the Transcended law of love written into his conscience by God. On the other hand, he feels the drag of the ‘fallen’ world overwhelming him into making a choice that is selfish. Some men are visibly shaken, others put up an aura of masculine strength. But deep within they all are anxious and confused wanting a sense of certainty and direction. The male counsellor finds himself looking into the troubled eyes of such a man. Feeling inept, the counsellor prays and allows the Holy Spirit to guide the conversation. At some point the Holy Spirit causes a ‘click’ in the troubled mind and the clear-sighted light of dawn emerges.

To be able to witness this transforming work of this Holy Spirit first hand, is most fulfilling for the counselor. My most recent experience of such a fulfillment was a couple of weeks ago. I woke up on a Saturday morning, ready with my weekend plans. I wanted to go sit at a Starbucks and read Michael Horton’s “Gospel Driven Life”. But deep within, I felt a tug to go to the Teen Pregnancy Center instead. I did so. There I had the privilege of counseling and presenting the gospel to two gentlemen. Seeing the Light of the Gospel dispel the anxiety and confusion in them made the Saturday one of the happiest days of my life.

Looking back at the experience, my reward did not come from a sense of satisfaction of having done something good. After all I did nothing, except to show up at the Teen Pregnancy Center with empty hands. The Holy Spirit did all the heavy-lifting. The Holy Spirit creates something Good out of Nothing. He builds the Kingdom of God. My reward was of a different sort. My reward was in being draw me closer to the Lord as a witness of the transforming experience. Witnessing the Kingdom building work of the Lord the Holy Spirit renewed my trust in the power of the Gospel of the crucified Lord. The Kingdom of God is like the most treasured pearl. The Bible says that a wise merchant would sell all of his possessions to acquire the pearl. All I did was to spend a few hours on a Saturday morning volunteering at the Teen Pregnancy Centre. Yet, by the Lord’s grace I was given a part in the Grand Story of the Kingdom of God that the Holy Spirit is working on.