Saturday, July 31, 2010

Blessed are the poor in spirit

Yesterday, the Friday Fellowship (which started as a weekly time of praise and worship, but is now spreading its wings) team visited the girls home run by the local church. There are about 60 children there and we had a wonderful time of singing, sharing, skits and a message, followed by dinner. The thought of children in need has been staying with me for the last few weeks, ever since I watched the movie 'The Kite Runner'. Having (to my embarrassment, I must confess) not yet read the book, I was quite moved at the presentation of the grim realities that face so many children on our planet. Amy, who has read the book, tells me that it is even more graphically presented there. But the time in our orphanage was certainly not what I expected. The children all looked so happy and really encouraged me with their effervescence and excitement. There was none of the doom and gloom that were depicted in the movie - rather, I left there with a feeling of having been blessed.

As I sat and let my mind wander during the message, (which being in Khasi, went right over my head), I was reminded of John Bradford's famous words - There, but for the grace of God, am I. Bradford was a Christian reformer who lived in Britain in the early 1500s. Known and beloved by all as a devout and compassionate Christian, he was so obviously set apart that in college at Cambridge, he was called 'Holy Bradford'. (And this was not in the disparaging sense that present day young people use it - in my college days the actual term used was 'white mafia'!!). After his studies he was ordained a priest and became a roving minister preaching the gospel. When Mary Tudor, a Catholic, came to the throne of Britain, persecution of the Protestants became very strong and Bradford was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was there for nearly two years, spending the time preaching, writing and systematically studying the Bible. During his imprisonment, he is said to have seen a group of prisoners being taken for their execution and made his now-famous remark - There, but for the grace of God goes John Bradford. He too was destined to suffer the same martyr's fate and it is said that just before being burnt at stake, he asked for forgiveness of those he had wronged, offered forgiveness to those who had wronged him and then remarked to the person tied to the stake with him, 'We shall have a merry supper with the Lord tonight'. Though there are some doubts about the attribution of this quote to him, it is now commonly used and has been modified by many, including Sir Winston Chrichill who said of the pompous Sir Stafford Cripps (known to all of us Indians for his infamous Cripps mission), 'There, but for the grace of God, goes God!!'

The powerful Bradford confession while conveying humility and gratefulness, also implies the tendency to think of oneself as better-off than someone else. While in college and blessed with the idealism of youth, I believed that nothing was impossible to anyone who had a dream and worked hard towards it. So much so, that I even invited 2 older boys from the village we had our community posting in, to stay with me in the hostel for a few days, so that they could experience the feeling of being in a medical college and be inspired to study hard and get there themselves!! I like to believe they had a good time, but with the realism (some may say cynicism!!) that comes with age, it is difficult for me to believe they actually made it to a medical college somewhere.

And yesterday sitting in the childrens home, surrounded by eager and excited faces (and not the dull and sunken ones I had expected), I realised that God's blessing to His children can never be counted in the material terms that we humans often base our lives on. His blessing is His love to our hearts that makes us sing whatever the circumstances (see Pradeep's latest post for a similar thought). While everything that we are and have are certainly His gifts, the mark of a true follower is the inner joy and peace that shine out whatever the circumstances. While I may never understand why those 66 children need to spend their lives not knowing the protection of a human father, never being able to utter the word 'Mama' and always knowing that they were not the 'same' as the majority of their classmates, I do know that their joyous faces and voices shone forth the love of God in a way I may never be able to do. As I sat there I knew in my heart that those little children were touching the heart of God with their songs and their smiles, while I, with my fancy education, so-called accomplishments and perceived stability was just a pretender who had a long way to run to His open arms. How hard for the rich man to enter the Kingdom.....

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2 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your story, reflections and experiences. I read and re-read them to receive the content and the spirit...the Spirit is causing some seminal stirrings in you..

    This afternoon a retired army officer came to my room with photographs of drift wood carvings he has done over the last 40 years, over 800 of them and he looks forward to cross 1000 before the new year. He held exhibitions and have been written about for his original work. When I asked him to show the piece of art he liked most from what he carved, he pointed to a carving of a baby on a lovely pale white wooden piece. When, I asked him why that was the most special, he referred to the verse from the Bible, saying of Jesus,' become like little children..' which he heard from his school Principal, in the Catholic school he studied in. He told me that his longing is to be a child with all the openness, playfulness, enthusiasm and learning attitude. it was interesting that he came just after another visitor had been, who spent all the time telling me about his achievements and was fully absorbed with his importance.

    All these conversations take place against the backdrop of a picture on the wall of a shepherd carrying a lamb, which I took while the four of us were on a Saturday afternoon outing to the hills beyond Otteri lake. The lamb is resting quietly cared for and carried by the shepherd.....that is often the story with children as well, when they are young.

    It was good for me to be brought back to this reality and certainty. It has been true in the past and even in the future we have the certainty of being cared for and carried. May be now I am returning to Erickson's seventh cycle of human formation, which is beginning the cycle of life again from infancy.

    In fact I had not noticed it till this afternoon that all the six pictures hanging on the wall in my room are about the beginning of life. May be there is also the message of another beginning - eternal life

    As I met with the first year students today for their first 'lecture', I saw in their faces a longing for acceptance and affirmation. I came back from that session overwhelmed by the 'life' that they are given with all the possibilities ahead. When one of them asked me whether, I would do the same thing if I had a chance to begin another time, I said, instantly, it could not have been better, so why choose another way !I chose Kolencherry as an ideal place for retirement, but I arrived at Pondicherry. But for this grace of overruling my preferences through life, I would have been still drifting......To feel carried, is indeed a gift

    Thinking of both of you often and enjoying the little conversational contacts with you on the phone. Hearing Amy encourages me and hearing Arpit comforts me. With lots of love... May you be guided into all God's good purposes for you.

    M.C.Mathew.

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  2. Thanks for sharing !
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