Friday, July 9, 2010
As Bizarre As Lion Eating Man
Ok. So the title doesn't have much to do with the post, but it does slightly correlate. I had a follow up interview yesterday. It went well, I got the job! It's only two days a week… but I hope they will be able to give me more hours as the weeks go on. :-) Thanks for the prayers! Sometimes God chooses to answer them in unexpected ways… haha, anyway it keeps you on your toes at least!
Recently I have been reading a novel which a friend recommended to me during the school year because of my interest in India. It is called Life of Pi, written by Yann Martel.
It is a story about a man called Pi, yes, as in the number 3.14, and his journey. As a child he grew up as the youngest son of a zookeepers family in Southern India. Later in life he ends up in Canada holding two degrees of higher study, one in Zoology and the other in Religion. Pi is India. He was born a Hindu, yet has a peculiar religious fascination that spurs him on to discover and explore other religions in an attempt to truly love God.
One day, while on a family vacation, Pi has an encounter which will change his life forever, he meets Jesus Christ. I will quote sections from this chapter. They were very encouraging to me as they helped me to see things from new eyes, more Indian eyes, and they showed me just how beautiful the message of Jesus is. It's a little long, but I think it will be worth your time.
"First wonder goes deepest; wonder after that fits in the impression made by the first. I owe to Hinduism the original landscape of my religious imagination, those towns and rivers, battlefields and forests, holy mountains and deep seas where gods, saints, villains and ordinary people rub shoulders, and, in doing so, define who and why we are. I first heard of the tremendous, cosmic might of loving kindness in this Hindu land. It was Lord Krishna speaking. I heard him, and I followed him. And in his wisdom and perfect love, Lord Krishna led me to meet one man.
I was fourteen years old – and a well-content Hindu on a holiday [in Munnar, Kerala] – when I met Jesus Christ...
There were three hills within Munnar. They don't bear comparison with the tall hills – mountains, you might call them – that surround the town, but I noticed the first morning, as we were having breakfast, that they did stand out in one way: on each stood a Godhouse. The hill on the right, across the river from the hotel, had a Hindu temple high on its side; the hill in the middle, further away, held up a mosque; while the hill on the left was crowned with a Christian Church.
On our fourth day in Munnar, as the afternoon was coming to an end, I stood on the hill on the left. Despite attending a nominally Christian school, I had not yet been inside a church – and I wasn't about to dare the deed now. I knew very little about the religion. It had a reputation for few gods and great violence. But good schools. I walked around the church. It was a building unremittingly unrevealing of what it held inside, with thick, featureless walls pale blue in colour and high, narrow windows impossible to look in through. A fortress.
I came upon the rectory. The door was open. I hid around a corner to look upon the scene. To the left of the door was a small board with the words Parish Priest and Assistant Priest on it. Next to each was a small sliding block. Both the priest and his assistant were IN, the board informed me in gold letters, which I could plainly see. One priest was working in his office, his back turned to the bay windows, while the other was seated on a bench at a round table in the large vestibule that evidently functioned as a room for receiving visitors. He sat facing the door and the windows, a book in his hands, a Bible I presumed. He read a little, looked up, red a little more, looked up again. It was done in a way that was leisurely, yet alert and composed. After some minutes, he closed the book and put it aside. He folded his hands together on the table and sat there, his expression serene, showing neither expectation nor resignation.
The vestibule had clean, white walls; the table and benches were of dark wood; and the priest was dressed in a white cassock – it was all neat, plain, simple. I was filled with a sense of peace. But more than a setting, what arrested me was my intuitive understanding that he was there – open, patient – in case someone, anyone, should want to talk to him; a problem of the soul, a heaviness of the heart, a darkness of the conscience, he would listen with love. He was a man whose profession it was to love, and he would offer comfort and guidance to the best of his ability.
I was moved. What I had before my eyes stole into my heart and thrilled me.
He got up. I thought he might slide his block over, but he didn't. He retreated further into the rectory, that's all, leaving the door between the vestibule and the next room as open as the outside door. I noted this, how both doors were wide open. Clearly, he and his colleague were still available.
I walked away and I dared. I entered the church. My stomach was in knots. I was terrified I would meet a Christian who would shout at me, "What are you doing here? How dare you enter this sacred place, you defiler? Get out, right now!"
There was no one. And little to be understood. I advanced and observed the inner sanctum. There was a painting. Was it the murti [statues or images used in Hindu worship]? Something about a human sacrifice. An angry god who had to be appeased with blood. Dazed women staring up in the air and fat babies with tiny wings flying about. A charismatic bird. Which one was the god? To the side of the sanctum was a painted wooden sculpture. The victim again, bruised and bleeding in bold colours. I stared at his knees. They were badly scraped. The pink skin was peeled back and looked like the petals of a flower, revealing kneecaps that were fire-engine red. It was hard to connect this torture sence with the priest in the rectory.
The next day, at around the same time, I let myself IN.
Catholics have a reputation for severity, for judgment that comes down heavily. My experience with Father Martin was not at all like that. He was very kind. He served me tea and biscuits in a tea set that tinkled and rattled at every touch; he treated me like a grown-up; and he told me a story. Or rather, since Christians are so fond of capital letters, a Story.
And what a story. The first thing that drew me in was disbelief. What? Humanity sins but it's God's Son who pays the price? I tried to imagine Father saying to me, 'Piscine, a lion slipped into the llama pen today and killed two llamas. Yesterday another one killed a black buck. Last week two of them ate the camel. The week before it was painted storks and grey herons. And who's to say for sure who snacked on our golden agouti? The situation has become intolerable. Something must be done. I have decided that the only way the lions can atone for their sins is if I feed you to them.' [***this is a fantastic illustration!***]
'Yes, Father, that would be the right and logical thing to do. Give me a moment to wash up.' 'Hallelujah, my son.' 'Hallelujah, Father.'
What a downright weird story. What peculiar psychology.
I asked for another story, one that I might find more satisfying. Surely this religion had more than one story in its bag – religions abound with stories. But Father Martin made me understand that the stories that came before it – and there were many – were simply prologue to the Christians. Their religion had one Story, and to it they came back again and again, over and over. It was story enough for them.
I was quiet at the hotel. That a god should put up with adversity, I could understand. The gods of Hinduism face their fair share of thieves, bullies, kidnappers and usurpers. What is the Ramayana but the account of one long, bad day for Rama? Adversity, yes. Reversal of fortune, yes. Treachery, yes. But humiliation? Death? I couldn't imagine Lord Krishna consenting to be stripped naked, whipped, mocked, dragged through the streets and, to top it off, crucified – and at the hands of mere humans, to boot. I'd never heard of a Hindu god dying. Brahman Revealed did not go for death. Devils and monsters did, as did mortals, by the thousands and millions – that's what they were there for. Matter, too, fell away. But divinity should not be blighted by death. It's wrong. The world soul cannot die, even in one contained part of it. It was wrong of this Christian God to let His avatar die. That is tantamount to letting a part of Himself die. For if the Son is to die, it cannot be fake. If God on the Cross is God shamming a human tragedy, it turns the Passion of Christ into the Farce of Christ. The death of the Son must be real. Father Martin assured me that it was. But once a dead God, always a dead God, even resurrected. The Son must have the taste of death forever in His mouth. The Trinity must be tainted by it; there must be a certain stench at the right hand of God the Father. The horror must be real. Why would God wish that upon Himself? Why not leave death to the mortals? Why make dirty what is beautiful, spoil what is perfect?
Love. That was Father Martin's answer. … I couldn't get Him out of my head. Still can't. I spent three solid days thinking about Him. And the more I learned about Him, the less I wanted to leave Him."
(Martel, Yann. "Chapter 17." Life of Pi: a Novel. Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt, 2001. 63+. Print.)
Again, sorry about the length. I cut several parts out, but if you're interested in reading the whole chapter you might be able to find it through Google Books. I think this shows the contrast that exists when Christ is seen in a Hindu context. I also love the illustration of the zookeeper feeding his son, Pi, to the lions in atonement for their sins. What a fitting analogy. A captivating book. I'm not even close to finished yet, but I enjoy it so far!
Please feel free to leave comments or email me if you have any thoughts on this.