Category Archives: Faith & Spirituality

NPM ’11: Day 22 – Sunday’s Comin’ [a Good Friday spoken word] (Post #17)

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Heard this last year at a Good Friday Service and loved it, so I’m sharing it here:

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NPM ’11: Day 18 – The Marriage of Heaven & Hell (Post #15)

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Photo Credit: lpinc.1988

I’m currently reading Rob Bell‘s new book, Love Wins, which, as you may or may not know, is a dialogue of sorts about heaven and hell, the afterlife, and the nature of God. The book has been the talk of the town for a while now and it gained a pretty significant amount of attention from Christian scholars, bloggers, laymen, etc. even before it was officially released. Now I have to be honest – I’m not a huge Rob Bell fan. Not to say that I hate the guy or have anything against him; I’m simply…indifferent. I mean, I know who he is, am aware of the fact that some absolutely love him while others completely hate him, and have a general working knowledge of his beliefs and teachings. But I haven’t quite jumped on the bandwagon that he’s some heretic, nor do I choose to align myself with his teachings as absolute gospel truth. However, I like a good controversy, especially if that controversy is within the Church, so when I heard that people were freaking out about his new book, I decided I had to read it. I’m only about three chapters in and so far so my opinions are…well, a bit non-existent. It’s too early to say anything at this point. Except I will say right off the bat that the dude uses WAY too much passive voice for my liking! But that’s irrelevant, really. :-) That said, the subjects that Bell addresses in Love Wins have been on my mind, so I figured for today’s poem, I’d post something that discusses the very same topics. Which brings me to William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Now I’ll have you know that I don’t agree with Blake’s “point” in this poem (and neither did C.S. Lewis, whom I admire and respect quite deeply and tend to consider a ‘mentor’ of sorts when it comes to my own theological musings and beliefs). But, much like Rob Bell’s book, I think The Marriage of Heaven and Hell generates some interesting and much-needed discussion about topics that many of us would like to avoid all together. And, of course, if you’ve read Blake’s piece in its entirety, you know that this poem is far more than just a poem about heaven, hell, and the afterlife. I would encourage you to get your hands on a copy of the full text at some point. And then, to cool your senses a bit (no pun intended), go on and read C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce – an all-time favorite of mine that aggressively and wittily counters Blake’s claims.

So, without further ado, here is an excerpt from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
Prudence is a rich, ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.
The cut worm forgives the plow.
Dip him in the river who loves water.
A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.
Eternity is in love with the productions of time.
The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
The hours of folly are measur’d by the clock; but of wisdom, no clock can measure.
All wholesome food is caught without a net or a trap.
Bring out number, weight and measure in a year of dearth.
No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.
A dead body revenges not injuries.
The most sublime act is to set another before you.
If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.
Folly is the cloak of knavery.
Shame is Pride’s cloke.
Prisons are built with stones of law, brothels with bricks of religion.
The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.
The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.
The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.
The nakedness of woman is the work of God.
Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps.
The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of
eternity, too great for the eye of man.
The fox condemns the trap, not himself.
Joys impregnate. Sorrows bring forth.
Let man wear the fell of the lion, woman the fleece of the sheep.
The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.
The selfish, smiling fool, and the sullen, frowning fool shall be both thought wise, that they may be a rod.
What is now proved was once only imagin’d.
The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbit watch the roots; the lion, the tyger, the horse, the elephant watch the fruits.
The cistern contains: the fountain overflows.
One thought fills immensity.
Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.
Every thing possible to be believ’d is an image of truth.
The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn of the crow.
The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.
Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.
He who has suffer’d you to impose on him, knows you.
As the plow follows words, so God rewards prayers.
The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
Expect poison from the standing water.
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.
Listen to the fool’s reproach! it is a kingly title!
The eyes of fire, the nostrils of air, the mouth of water, the beard of earth.
The weak in courage is strong in cunning.
The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow; nor the lion, the horse, how he shall take his prey.
The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.
If others had not been foolish, we should be so.
The soul of sweet delight can never be defil’d.
When thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of genius; lift up thy head!
As the caterpiller chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.
To create a little flower is the labour of ages.
Damn braces. Bless relaxes.
The best wine is the oldest, the best water the newest.
Prayers plow not! Praises reap not!
Joys laugh not! Sorrows weep not!
The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands and feet Proportion.
As the air to a bird or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible.
The crow wish’d every thing was black, the owl that every thing was white.
Exuberance is Beauty.
If the lion was advised by the fox, he would be cunning.
Improvement makes strait roads; but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius.
Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.
Where man is not, nature is barren.
Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ’d.
Enough! or too much.

Endless Questions & The Oprah Magazine

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DISCLAIMER: This is more or less an exaggerated rant written for the primary purpose of getting my thoughts out in an uncensored fashion. Please don’t e-mail me with questions about my sanity or overall well-being. As Orlando Bloom’s character in Elizabethtown said, “I’m fine.”  =)

***

Yesterday I was standing in line at the grocery store, and this caught my eye:

Due to lack of time, however, I didn’t bother picking it up. (Okay, and maybe secretly I didn’t care, since this is, after all, Oprah—and yes, for those wondering, I’m not a fan.) Regardless, the title got me thinking.

Calling.

I sometimes detest that word. Thank you, church culture, and—more importantly—thank you, Northwest University! In all honesty, though, the general overuse of the word is not my problem; my problem is the lack of clarity when it comes to its definition.  Forget asking the question: ‘What is my calling?’  What the hell is a CALLING, anyway? If I were to ask a handful of people, I’m positive I’d get a handful of definitions (in fact, this has happened already). And therein lies my issue with the concept of calling.

Four years ago, I thought I knew what my calling was. But four years ago, my definition of ‘calling’ was synonymous with my definition of ‘vocation.’ And while I’ve learned that the two are separate entities, I still haven’t quite figured out what ‘calling’ means.

All I know is this: as of this very moment, I’m not where I should be. If the ultimate goal is to love God and love others the way I love myself, then I have quite a few miles to travel—especially since I don’t love myself right now.  I look at the person I’ve become and cringe; I’m often bitter, full of doubt, angry (at myself, at others, and sometimes at God), unmotivated, and overall uninspired.

What happened?

What happened to the girl who made it her mission to push through the harsh circumstances? The girl who once embraced life’s challenges and still managed to walk forward? Where is the girl who had dreams, goals, and aspirations, who once knew how to set goals and move toward them? Where is the artist who looked at her life and the lives of others and found raw, creative potential there?

And where on earth did this person come from? This person who always wants to hide, who tells herself constantly that she’s never going to be good enough, whose eyes are suddenly on herself and hardly ever on others? How and when did I become this person? And how do I find my way back to the right path? (Whatever that means.)

Perhaps I’m thinking too hard again, and perhaps I’ll one day look back at today and laugh, but right now, this all feels just as unpleasant as a sleepless, insomnia-infused night.  It’s like my very soul has insomnia, and no matter how much I toss and turn, the restlessness refuses to retire.

I have more questions than answers, and the more I seek out answers, the more complex my questions become. And as a result, I find myself shying away from everything—questions, answers….everything—until I’m completely numb and hopelessly immobile. But immobility is a dangerous disease, a type of cancer, really. And I loathe myself for getting to this point.

Once again, there’s a pretty significant chance I’m just thinking too hard. I do that often.

Anyway, I was reading Amitabh Bachchan’s blog earlier, and he opened his entry with these words. They really caught my attention:

“It is the simple things in life that move us the most. It is the common things in life that affect us the most. It is, I have discovered, life itself that touches us the most. I wait patiently for life to present itself to me. I wait till it summons me to notice. I wait in expectation of that which shall unfold itself, and having found it, expect more.”

Thinking too hard or not, I seem to have caught some sort of strange amnesia when it comes to being moved by the simple, common things in life. The “big things”—life altering circumstances, etc.—keep pushing me down. And my general expectations—for myself and for others—are terribly low.

But I’m so damn tired of that! I’m tired of crawling out of bed each morning with the sole purpose of making it through the day. Simply surviving. I want to have higher expectations and I want to be able to find meaning in the small, normally unnoticed aspects of life. Only then can I discover and grasp the bigger notions: my purpose, my calling.

Fear will paralyze you if you let it, and I certainly have. But it’s now time to arise, to make new discoveries, to move toward something new and fresh, whether that “something” is big or small. Head held high, no turning back.  But the daunting question remains: how?

***

“Wake up, O sleeper,

—rise from the dead…”

orphan (says the heart)

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You need to write a blog.

Those words have been echoing in my mind for weeks. But every day procrastination overtakes me. I am naturally a procrastinator. Most people know that. But this time is different. This time I’ve been procrastinating on my writing because of the subject matter at hand:

the death of a parent.

On Friday, August 27, 2010 I lost my Nani, who was very much a parent to me—even more avidly than my actual parents. Cancer and several other health issues are to blame.

Grief is a strange (and, in my case, very foreign) concept. I’m practically an expert when it comes to other emotional phenomena: anger, bitterness, excitement, even depression. But grief is unfamiliar and therefore scary.

In all honestly, I half-expected Nani’s death to send me back into depression; I know I’m in a completely different place (both spiritually and emotionally) than I was in 2007, but I guess I thought that the shock of losing someone I loved so dearly would drive me back into that deep, dark hole again. Fortunately, though, it didn’t.

I’m not depressed, just confused and…well, lots of other emotions I haven’t really processed yet. I’m often quite scared to be alone with my thoughts, because whenever I am, I find myself missing Nani so much that it literally, physically hurts. I finally understand what that phrase means: “I miss you so much it hurts.” But I wish I was still ignorant to it, ‘cause I’m telling you: it sucks. Am I in denial when it comes to my feelings? Perhaps. Will time eventually break/heal me? That’s for God to know.

And how is my relationship with the Lord? That’s a touchy subject. Let’s just say that grief has a way of coloring your faith in hues you didn’t even know existed.

I still love Jesus, but—to put it lightly—I’m frustrated with Him. However, I promised myself that no matter what, I’d stay with Him and tell Him how I really felt. After all, what’s more meaningful in a relationship than total transparency and honesty with your companion? I could’ve cut myself off from Him like I did a few years ago, but I refuse to wander down that path again. Besides, He’s a big God; He can handle my brutal honesty.

At this point my main focus is to survive each day, despite my grief. Not an easy task, by any means. But thank God for coping strategies! What is my current “coping” strategy, you ask? Old Hindi films. Haaaa!

When you really think about it, though, it makes perfect sense: Nani was a daily—and very vivid—reminder of my Indian roots, something I otherwise ignored (sometimes unintentionally, but other times purposefully). For example, I always called her “Nani”—the Hindi word for your mother’s mother. If I really wanted to, I’m sure I could’ve called her “Grandma”; after all, I call my mother “Mom” and my father “Dad.” But “Grandma” just never seemed to fit her. Nor did it fit the relationship I had with her (a relationship that was definitely driven by some cultural undertones). So she was and will always be my “Nani.”

Also, these movies bring back memories of a better time; I remember being five or six years old and watching them with my mom and Nani…and then running around the house, singing all the songs and reciting the dialogue! While everyone else was watching The Little Mermaid, Star Wars, and The Princess Bride, I was watching Amar Akbar Anthony and Hum. (Ok, fine, I watched the aforementioned English movies, too, but they still pale in comparison to the aforementioned Hindi titles. Am I biased? Maybe a tad bit!) Even now, though, I can hear Nani’s amused laughter in my head when the oh-so-amazing Amitabh Bachchan does something ridiculous on screen…oh, what I would give to [literally] hear her laugh again!

And finally, the most shallow reason for making this coping strategy my personal method of choice: Amitabh Bachchan is effin’ hilarious. Seriously, Hollywood’s finest comedians–past and present–have nothing on this guy. I’ve been watching several of his flicks from the 70s and 80s, and all I gotta say is: Eat your hearts out, Steve Martin and Betty White! And thank you, Mr. Bachchan, for making me laugh so genuinely, despite the current heaviness of my heart…also, thanks for reviving my interest in the Hindi language and for giving me a newfound love for Hindi music! =)

I miss Nani terribly. I know she’s in a much better place, but that doesn’t eliminate my constant longings to have her physically back in my life. I hate going downstairs, seeing her things and her living space, and knowing that she’ll never inhabit that space again. Of course, then I find myself thinking about the amount of pain she was in during her last days, and I feel like smacking myself; why would I or anyone in their right mind ever want her to suffer like that again? ‘Cause at least now she’s free of that pain.  And, so, the cruel cycle repeats itself. (Oh, and did I mention that my insomnia’s back? Yeah…stronger than ever, too. Uggggh!)

But regardless of the current cloudiness of my mind and emotions, there are two things I know for sure:

First, that my grandmother was a beautiful soul and a true saint. She set the bar higher than anyone else I know, and I can only hope that I’ll one day leave behind a legacy that’s as rich as hers: a legacy of unconditional love, complete perseverance through any and all circumstances, and childlike faith that never wavered.

Thank you, Nani. You don’t even know how much you’ve impacted my life and faith. You are the ultimate example of godliness. Who needs the Proverb 31 woman when they have you to look up to?

The second thing—and I’ll close my entry with this: Amitabh Bachchan kicks ass!

Sainted Faith: a poem of remembrance

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[Wrote this for my grandmother, Subhabya Devi Mudaliar, who passed away on August 27, 2010. R.I.P., Nani. Love you and miss you terribly.]

***

Subhag; Amma; Nani—

How can we express in words (a failed medium) our gratitude?

For your life, your love, and most of all, your faith—

Your faith in us, your faith in others, and most of all, your faith in Christ.

Time strangles and limits all that needs to be said, but we want you to know

That we’ll never forget you—

Your life, your love, and most of all, your faith—

Your faith in us, your faith in others, and most of all, your faith in Christ.


We’ll never forget the times when you suffered,

How you quietly took the abuse

Of a husband who was supposed to love and protect you.

We’ll never forget the times when you got up early, body battered and bruised

Yet you cooked, cleaned, and took care of your family.

We will never forget.


We’ll never forget the time when you left everything behind

And moved to a new country—

How you answered the cry of your hurting daughter & grandchild.

We’ll never forget your love, or your selflessness,

Or your unwavering loyalty to others.

We will never forget.


We’ll never forget the day when you forsook the idolatry of your forefathers,

When you gave your heart to Jesus;

How you prayed and how He answered.

We will never forget.


We’ll never forget the times when you cradled little children,

How you fed them, changed them, wiped their tears,

And shared with them the incredible love of Jesus.

Yes, this, we will never forget.


And we’ll certainly never forget all those times

When you held us in your arms and in your heart,

How you laughed with us, how you encouraged us,

How you cried for us

And how you prayed for us.

And most of all, how you always pointed us toward the One

Who will always hold your heart and ours.


Thank you, Amma, and thank you, Nani,

For all the times and in all the ways that you lived and loved

And displayed your faith in Jesus.

We will never forget you.

Never will we forget your life, your love, and most of all,

Your faith in Jesus.

We will always remember.

***

Life lessons from an old cliché.

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“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” <– An overused cliché, yes, but it’s true.

Since it was Good Friday and Easter this weekend, I decided to go to the services at Westgate Chapel. I hadn’t been there in, oh, maybe a year? Perhaps longer? But I really wanted to attend church with my family this weekend.

As expected, it felt strange and kind of surreal to walk through those doors again. But more than anything, it felt familiar and safe. For the first time since I’d left the church, I realized how much I’ve missed it. Over the last few months, I have visited a handful of churches, but while I was sitting in my seat this morning, this newfound appreciation for my old church suddenly snuck up and overwhelmed me. I sat there, thinking a number of thoughts, but mostly the following two:

First, no one delivers a sermon like Pastor Alec. I’m sure if he read this, he’d reprimand me for saying that; he’s just the type of guy who wants as little recognition for himself as possible. (I love him for that!) He realizes his role—to be a messenger of God’s Word to God’s people—and does whatever he can to stay within the boundaries of that role…NO self-glory involved. But man, I’m tellin’ ya! I don’t know what it is (other than the obvious anointing of the Holy Spirit), but that man has a serious gift. God has truly called him to preach the Word. And he does an amazing job of fulfilling that calling. So hearing him speak again—and not through an online podcast—was a great delight.

Second, it feels good to be home. Truth be told, this particular thought caught me off-guard. I don’t know, I guess I was just so convinced that I didn’t belong at Westgate anymore. But today, it just felt right to be there.

This isn’t to say that I’m suddenly going to drop my commitment to Westside and come running back to Westgate. I truly enjoy Westside. And I believe that God took me there for a reason. But today served as an eye-opener of sorts; it proved to me that (a) I was harboring bitterness towards Westgate, even though I had convinced myself that I wasn’t. (Denial much?) (b) It also confirmed for me the fact that God has helped me to finally let go of that bitterness. In other words, I guess I finally admitted that I had certain negative feelings towards my old church, and in return, the Lord helped me overcome those feelings. Thus, I felt safe and very much at home again and was able to actually appreciate the service.

Basically, today gave me the closure that I needed in terms of my relationship with Westgate Chapel. ‘Cause that’s really what it is: a type of relationship. And from now on, instead of dancing a dance of avoidance and pretending that Westgate’s a stranger in my life, I can say, “Hello, friend. It’s good to see you again.” This attitude could not have developed in my heart if it weren’t for my absence from Westgate (and God’s work in my heart, of course). So, while the statement is cliché, it nonetheless rings true: absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

P.S. I was able to bring a couple of friends to church with me. That was a lot of fun! They both seemed to enjoy the service, too. =)

On Evangelizing…or not evangelizing

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It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship.

How many times have you heard this once-witty-now-cliché statement? I swear, people—Christians—toss this one around like it’s a beach ball! I know I’m guilty of it.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about religion. It started out pretty harmless; she was asking about my parents’ arranged marriage and how the hell my parents ended up as a couple. So I gave her the reader’s digest version of my family’s history and my mom’s desire to marry a Christian…how my grandfather very sternly promised her that he’d disown her if she ever made that request again…and how he proceeded to find her a husband who was the farthest thing from a Christian: a Hindu priest in training. (Way to go, Grandpa!)

My friend then asked, “what’s the difference between Hindu and Christian beliefs? Don’t all religions have the same basic foundations of love and treating people how you want to be treated, etc?”

My initial thought was, “Yes.” Because she has a point if you really think about it. But the next thought that popped into my head was this: “It [Christianity] isn’t a religion; it’s a relationship.” And then I wanted to shoot myself, because I’m so flippin’ tired of hearing people say that! What does it even mean? I mean really?

The rest of our conversation consisted mostly of me rambling like an idiot about why I think Christianity is different from all other religions…but you know what? In that process of rambling, I realized how utterly pathetic I am when it comes to witnessing (with my words, I mean). Here I am: a Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, Christian school-attending, church-going person, and I don’t know how to witness. I don’t know how to tell someone my reasons for believing what I believe.

Why am I a Christian?

…because God is alive, and I see Him in the world around me.

…because He created me for the sole purpose of worshiping Him, and through worship, I can reach my full potential.

…because I’ve realized the incredible sacrifice that Jesus Christ has made for me.

…because life without an intimate relationship with Jesus is meaningless.

But seriously…how does one convey those ideas to someone who just doesn’t see Christianity as anything other than a religion? How DO you convince a person that Christianity truly is about a personal relationship with Jesus and not merely a list of ritualistic rules or dos and don’ts?

I have no idea. Honestly. I don’t.

I walked away from that conversation feeling rather miserable and wondering if I had failed God. Yeah, yeah, I know I didn’t fail God, but I couldn’t help feeling as though I had. And sure, I can pray for my friend to truly know Christ—for God to have a supernatural encounter with her that will leave her wanting nothing more in life than Jesus, and I will; I will pray. But here’s the thing: it really bothers me that we Christians have become so caught up in our Christian sub-culture…our Christian t-shirts, CDs, and bumper stickers, and our Christianized/sermonized/“Jesufied” church lingo that when it comes to talking to real people with real questions about faith, we just become tongue-tied. I’ve always had this pet-peeve, but this conversation was a fresh reminder of said annoyance.

Now, I know that God is ultimately the One who can speak to my friend’s heart. It’s ultimately not my witticism or excellent rhetoric (or in this case, lack thereof) that will change her mind about God or faith or Christianity or religion. But I still think we could be trying a lot harder. I’ve been at Bible college for five bloody years, and before that I was heavily involved at my church, my youth group, and my Christian school. But have I ever really learned how to explain my beliefs to someone who may be searching, or even just curious? I can’t say that I have.

It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship. While I believe that statement to be true, I still rather detest what it stands for, or the overall attitude behind it. And as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t accomplish a whole lot in terms of practical evangelism. At least not in my experience.

So, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, let me close this rant by asking you perhaps the simplest/most complicated question that exists: how do you tell people about your faith?