Sunday, September 23, 2018

Modelling Calm in Storms

The gospel narratives of the evangelist Mark are more vivid than that of others. He mentions that when the boat with Jesus and the disciples faced a severe storm, Jesus was at the stern and was asleep on a cushion at the stern (Mark 4:38). Stern is where it would be shakier and the wind hits more strongly. However, Jesus was fast asleep, not disturbed by the sound of the wind, the spray of water or the tossing of the boat!
No wonder, the disciples shouted at Jesus when they finally succeeded in waking him: 'Do you not care that we are perishing?' The truth is that if they perish, he would also perish with them. But he was still sleeping.
Was he tired so much to sleep through a storm like that? Maybe but I don't think that it is the right answer. Jesus wakes up and very calmly orders the sea and the wind to calm down. 'And there was a great calm.' I am led to believe that Jesus was in control even when he was fast asleep on the stern. Or I think Jesus slept because he was perfectly calm inside though there was a raging storm around.
Why then did Jesus sleep when it was raging outside? Why didn't he wake up to help his friends to scoop out the water that was entering the boat? Mark has made it clear that 'the boat was already filling.'
I am led to believe that Jesus was not uninterested in their misery, nor unwilling to help, but he was modelling calm. He was showing them how to be calm in the midst of storms in our lives.
I wonder, when there are storms rage in my life where is God in all these! At times, I ask God why are you far off. Why God seems not to be interested? However, I am beginning to learn now that his apparent absence is a way of teaching me to trust. He is not unconcerned or uninterested. But his apparent distancing from my struggle is a way of teaching me that storms are times when we have to learn to be calm. He can calm the storms but can also model for us how to be calm in our storms.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Processing pain and suffering.

Growing up on the country-side in a farm, accidents were regular events in my life. Sometimes, it was a thorn that got stuck on my feet when I explored the farm barefoot, or a broken arm when I fell off the branches of a tree that I tried to climb up. The most difficult part of life is the process of healing. Sometimes, my older cousins acted as surgeons who removed the thorn with a needle. Sometimes I had to be rushed to the hospital to put the bones back together and a cast which lasted for weeks. Enduring the pain was part of the healing process. Without endurance, there is no healing and recovery.
Suffering comes with two choices. Either get out of it through the shortest route or endure it until healing. One of my relatives chose the first. She hurt her finger when cutting vegetables. Everyone advised her to go to the doctor but she refused. She knew that the doctor will give her an anti-septic shot, tabs and probably stitch it up. Moreover, the injury did not appear to be big, the pain had stopped as the bleeding stopped as well. However, it got complicated. She had cut a nerve on her finger. For the rest of her life, she was not able to move that finger. If she was willing to endure, life would have been better for her.
The issue in the Book of Hebrews is more than hurting a thorn that stuck on the feet or a finger-nerve that was hurt. But it was life and death issues. It was persecution of the politically weak and socially insignificant minority of Christians somewhere in the Roman empire. Their property was confiscated, many of them were arrested and imprisoned and some were even physically tortured.
The writer of this epistle encourages them to hang on! To endure it and endure it more. The writer said, you are suffering but you are still alive, so go ahead suffering until death! That is what Hebrews 12:4 says: 'In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.'
What is the secret of enduring pain and suffering? The secret of enduring pain and suffering is to process it as the discipline and not as punishment. Though discipline and punishment may sound synonymous in the English language they are not strictly so. Punishment may make us remorseful, guilty and even ashamed of our actions. We can go through the pain of punishment if we accept our part in it. However, there are times when we suffer for reasons that are not of our own. You can call it innocent suffering, or at least the pain for which we have no explanation. How do we process such situations?
This is why imagining pain as the discipline is important. The difference between discipline and punishment is evident. Punishment assumes that a wrong is committed. The goal of punishment could be correction but need not always be so. It is most of the time the natural consequence of the mistake; every wrong act has to be punished either to stop it repeating, or to warn others not to do the same. However, discipline is not punishment.
Discipline has to be understood more as a pedagogical method. It is more close to training a person than punishing a person. Discipline equips a person, sometimes ironically to face worse situations. We learn through discipline. Thus when suffering is considered as preparation for enduring harder realities of life, it becomes easier.
I once met a young man carrying a heavy backpack. He told me that he is carrying some heavy rocks in that backpack! Every day, he adds more stones to make it heavier than the previous day and walks longer carrying it. He was doing some strength training. To develop his own strength he endures more and  more pain.
Discipline becomes a lighter and enjoyable when we know the reason for it. Discipline becomes more enjoyable not only when we know the reason for it but also when we realize who is behind it. The Bible uses an earthly model or us to understanding it. Our earthly parents do disciple us. Though the discipline is painful we still 'respected them' since we knew that the purpose of their action was our good. So, the Bible asks, 'Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits land live?'(Heb 10:9).
God does lead us through pain and suffering out of his fatherly concern for us. What is his fatherly concern for us? Discipline is lighter when we discover the motivation behind it. It is motivated by love. That is what the figure of the father suggests. The father disciplines the children he loves. 'For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Heb 12:6).
Love is not the only reason, but it also has another long-term goal, that is our holiness. God's act of disciplining us, passing us through pain and suffering is to make to purify us, or holiness. Achieving new levels of holiness is almost irreversible act. Through the process of pain of being disciplined we learn new ways of knowing God and his moral standards. Knowing God and him becoming more and more real to us is the greatest achievement in life. Though it is difficult, suffering has greater benefit when we know that God is behind it and we are in God's plan. That realization makes pain and suffering lighter and enjoyable.

Master's Voice

Sometime back, I took a team to the elephant park in my town. There are about 40 elephants belonging to a temple. Each elephant is assigned ...