Sevika Sangham Centennial At Carmel MarThoma Church Boston

One summer day this past July, I got an email from Thankam George, Carmel’s tireless Sevika Sangham secretary. ‘Vinu George’s’ email ID shows up in our in-boxes at least once a week, sometimes more.

But this time was different, the subject line was left blank, and it was addressed only to me.

Thankam wanted to know if I’d be willing to give the Church Calendar’s Annual Sevika Sangham Day message, in September of this year.

Surprised by the request/offer, and even more so honoured, and even flattered by it, I said I’ll get back. It didn’t take me long to think. Just had to run it by one ‘important constituency’. 😉

24 hours later, I accepted it.

Given two whole months to ponder and prepare, and pray incessantly, below is what I delivered, to an unexpectedly generous and warm audience.

A few came just to support, and here’s where my heart thanks all.

Thankam had allotted 25 minutes, 5 for the history of the ‘Sangham’ and 20 for the message. I took 20 total.

After you stop laughing at the ‘what’s a girl like that doing in a place like this’ (not a joke) line, taken from a 1970’s commercial, and get past it, (warning: it is long!) and any meaning touches you, or if any part speaks to you in any special way, I welcome feedback and critique.

Meant every word.

Key admission: Some of the thoughts were ‘lifted’ from our previous Achens’ and Thirumenis’ sermons and Bible studies, and many more of them my own, one seriously from my very own Dad.

Thank you, Papaji. hope i made you proud.

matters not, all God’s Words. Source of infinite comfort.

As always, a good evening…

mercy


halleluiah, padi-dum jnan,

yeshu-vinte, sannidhi-yil,

jeeva kalam, aradhikum, unnathane

athama-vilum, sathya-thilum, nithya kalam  —- 1994 Maramon

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Good Sunday morning, everyone!,

If any of you is wondering what a person like that is doing in a place like this, believe me, I understand, I’m wondering the same.

Just the same, I’m requesting for your earnest prayers radiating my way, for the next 20 minutes.

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On this, the eve of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Suvishesha Sevika Sankham of the MarThoma Church, I feel uniquely privileged to stand here, and speak to you briefly from the Word Of God as IT speaks to me.

The Malankara MarThoma Syrian Church is known in the Indian subcontinent, for being extraordinarily innovative, on a range of persuasive matters that pertain to the issues of the society at large, none more poignant than the idea of empowering women in their own world, and the world outside of it.

Out of this progressive vision of the founders of the church, was born an organization set up explicitly for women, to provide them with a chance to go out of their limited spaces of mostly mundane household duties and chores, and make no mistake – they were mostly chores, and enable them to realize their full and God-given potential, to perform service to the larger community, as well as to their nuclear and extended families, with whatever individual skills they possessed.

Thus started the Sevika sangham.

What is most important to note on this Platinum Jubilee occasion is, this was singularly the brainchild of one Kandamma Varghese, who lived from 1876-1964.

Known as the Traveling Secretary, she hailed from a CMS family in Kollakadavu, near Mavelikara, was a studious student at CMS school, before marrying at age 20, one Varughese Vadhyar, from a MarThoma family in Thumpamon.

Three children and 10 years later, Kandama was subsequently widowed, an event which paved the way for the rest of her life.

A woman of immense faith, she saw this major setback, as God’s Calling and followed it as such.

Sevika Sangham was a product of her tireless efforts and evangelistic fervor, which were then confluenced by the nurturing of a saintly and benevolent Metropolitan, Abraham MarThoma, who shared in equal measure, Kandama’s passion for evangelization.

The organization was inaugurated in February of 1919, literally at the Maramon Convention Pandal.

We owe the both of them an enormous debt of gratitude.

Under the Sevika Sangham banner were also established, the Vanitha Mandiram, a refuge for single older women, Shalem Agathi Mandiram, both of Thiruvalla, the Vanitha Bodhini a print publication, counseling and job training for the needy, and Deppy Pirive, a one-of-a-kind, home-based offertory, these among some of the most notable ones. Many of these initiatives were significantly ahead of their time. Women-centric Bible studies took on great importance, as well.

A Suvishesha Sevika is one who spreads the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by serving others.

And even in a patriarchal society such as arguably ours, folks would have a hard time resisting a church-mandated ordinance, especially if the promotion was coming from the vicar and the church hierarchy.

This mile marker date is particularly remarkable, because it took place exactly one year before the 19th amendment was ratified and added to the United States Constitution, giving, for the first time, American women The Right To Vote.

Imagine that.

And that’s not all, it came nine years at the heels of The Church dedicating a school, just for girls, under the charge of 2 British Protestant missionaries, Mrs Nicholson and Miss Maccabin.

Nicholson Syrian Girls’ High School in Thiruvalla, founded on February 2 of 1910, was devoted to educating young women, with the highest academic standards, in an explicitly Christian, and distinctly MarThoma setting.

A reading of Kandama Varghese’s biography shows, that she was influenced and inspired greatly by the missionary zeal and revivalist style church preaching of these two women.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, women generally didn’t take part in mission activities, nor did they preach in churches. Kandama did both.

I’m a proud graduate of this institution, as are my mother and my sister.

Needless to say, this training, in part, led me to today.

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I thank:

The Almighty for affording me this once-in-a-lifetime honour,

The Church for facilitating it, through Thankam George, who placed her confidence in me, and entrusted me with this task on this date,

-Jeslin Achen for his gentle, spiritual guidance along the way,

-Most profusely and unequivocally my supremely engaged parents, both of them really, who set me on a path of firm persuasion that, our Scripture, from beginning to end is the inspired Word Of God, all Connected and Eternal. The Alpha and the Omega. This is for you!,

-Three girls named Nisha, Yamini, Mekhala, who live on the Continent’s two coasts and in the middle, who resolutely remain the front and center of God’s Plan for me,

-and lastly, and with my heart and forever, my husband, who always keeps my back.

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Let us pray….

Dear Heavenly Father, give us the wisdom to discern Your Word and Your Will for us, so that we may use them for the purpose of advancing Your Kingdom on earth.

This, we ask in the name of Your Son, our Redeemer. Amen.

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The church has designated four passages as this Sunday’s lectionary.

We’re focusing on just two of them today, one from the Old Testament, and one from the New.

They’re both linked by a recurring theme. I’ll condense them into five parts.

1.       Following God’s Plan, and What Happens When We Do.Exodus 1: 15-22 (Sheena)

The midwives were a huge and essential part of the ancient child bearing experience, when death during childbirth, of the mother orthe baby, was an unfortunate and frequent outcome.

A midwife’s job was to protect the life of the mother and that of the baby with the tools available to her, when not too many of them existed.

Their task was not to see to it that the government’s directive was fulfilled.

As a separate thread, this reading could play into certain national debates on ‘Right To Life’ and such, however that’s not the awareness I’d like to underscore here.

This passage is also not about government, versus, private citizens.

It is about God’s plan in human life, versus, human plans at odds with God’s plan.

And this particular verse goes on to claim that, as a result of the midwives’ moral decisiveness, God multiplied the Hebrew nation.

It further tells us, that the women feared God, which provided them with the vital courage needed to stand down a brutal Head of State, and they were given, by God, families of their own. Not just children, but families.

This theme of God blessing a whole people because of the actions of a few is displayed throughout the Bible.

Our individual actions can be a source of blessing for a community, but also may have harsh consequences.

Moses, who gave the world the Ten Commandments, the bedrock of human civilization, a blueprint for how to create a lawful and prosperous society, one principally centered on worshiping God, was an infant thus spared from the malevolent decree of a monarch, by the sheer disobeying of it by 2 women, in this case the mother and sister of the said child.

We now move on to 1500 years later in Biblical chronology, but God’s Words still resonate with the same theme. Which brings us to the next point.

2.       The women followed Him around.          Mark 15:38-41 (Mareen)

Here we see women in a different role, but the message that remains, is of them doing the right thing, often at great risk to themselves.

The women were the last ones at the Foot Of The Cross. And they were the first ones at the Empty Tomb.

By calculation, this led to the shortest duration of mourning period ever known.

This is in precise contrast to the men who had been handpicked by Jesus, who perhaps spent even more time with Him, and who nonetheless had abandoned Him in His hour of aloneness and agony.

If the women had left the scene in a distraught state, or if their debilitating sorrow had prevented them from going to the tomb in the early morning hours when most would be sleeping, they would have had to mourn for longer. Their pain would have extended needlessly.

The women’s desire to be in close proximity to the Lord, and to be of service to Him, undoubtedly diminished the magnitude of that pain.

In our grief, we often tend to leave the unbearable and retreat away from the Lord.

but these women’s steadfast love for Jesus is what enabled them to follow Him all over Judea and Galilee, and subsequently stick around and be present for the Ultimate Visit and be part of The Great Commission.

According to Hebrews 11, “vishwasam enne-tho ashikunna-thinte urappum, kanatha karyangal-ude nishchaya-vum akunnu” …

It is faith that brought them to the grave. They must have convinced themselves, ‘maybe He didn’t die, may be He’ll come back the way He said He would. He did insinuate at times He’d return after three days, didn’t He?’

But they also demonstrated that faith without love is futile. And they loved the Lord.

There is a circumspect opinion in theological circles that the Hebrews Epistle was written by Priscilla, one of the leaders of the Early Church.

By most accounts, it was not one written by Paul.

Point 3: The women served the Lord’s needs by serving His people.

Not only did the women not want to leave a suffering Jesus, they were there to comfort a bereaving Mary, a mother who lost her firstborn.

Matthew and Mark’s Gospels say that they had followed him through Galilee, and cared for His needs.

And Luke says, they had used their own funds to help Jesus and His disciples. They had been through so much with Him and His mother, even taking care of their material needs when possible, now was not the time to bolt.

Any time we’re called to tangibly serve people in church or community with our funds, or food, or presence, we’re serving the Lord.

The women did all this without expecting to sit at Jesus’ right hand, or to be given any positions of authority. Either would’ve been unthinkable for the tenor of the time. Then, as now, societal norms were dictated by existing traditions.

And they were not defeated because their expectation was never about Jesus becoming the King of Judah and Israel.

They were just grieving the loss of a beloved man who had healed them in body and in spirit, comforted them with non-judgmental love, and had given them hope that something beyond what was visible in front of them was just around the corner.

Point 4: Church As A Caring Unit, and Not As An Institution.

The women were physically close enough to the Cross according to John’s Gospel, to hear a weakened Jesus whisper, to Mary and then to John (John being the only male disciple who stayed through to the end), ‘He is your son. She is your mother’. Jesus entrusted their physical care to each other.

Here was the founding of the Church. A caring and care-taking church.

Even as Jesus chose Pathrose as the one on whom the foundation of His Church would be laid, just before He cried out in His final hour, ‘It Is Finished’, before He announced his Earthly Mission completed, He turned it into an entity, where people who are not blood-related would take care of each other as though they’re family.

And let’s not lose sight of the fact that, in the end, it was two women, and not the petrified male guards at the tomb (Matthew 28:4), who were commissioned to spread the announcement to the world, of what they had heard directly from the Angel.

‘Indeed, He’s Not Here, For He Is Risen’, the proclamation on which stands Christendom.

The cost of Eve’s transgression has now been paid in full. and Sarah’s. and Rebecca’s. and Leah’s.

Final point: Equal Access

The curtain was torn from the top to bottom. Not from bottom to the top. The mandate was from Heaven.

The God of the Old Testament, who instructed Aharon, the first high priest of Israel, to set apart the Holy of Holies, where only priests from the Levi tribe were allowed to enter, away from other worshipers, gave way to a New Law and a New High Priest who just opened it up wide, so that each of us believers, is endowed with priesthood of a different kind.

And now, Levites and lepers, Jews and Gentiles, the Saved and the Lost, recent converts and AD 52 Christians, the Chosen and the Marginalized, Travancore Suriyanis and Native Americans, those from the East of the Big Blue Sea and those to the West of it, all have equal access to the Kingdom. And women have equal partnership in this invitation.

In fact, women were the first two invitees to this New Covenant of Grace.

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Thank you all for praying with me, for me, and for listening to me.

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A Deal For A Deal

Good Morning!

First God created everything. And He saw that it was good.

Then He created man. That was the best.

Then He put man in charge of everything. So far, so good. God, in His abode, smiled.

Man was endowed with a superior brain by God, which made him very innovative, and he discovered Poly Hydro Carbons. Oh, ouch.

That was the beginning of the end.

Then he went further and made plastic straws.

Which started to choke and kill some of God’s Creation from Day Five.

Jesus Wept. Again.

Now we began to wonder what happened to man’s heart.

So now you’re thinking, what does this all have to do with me?

OK, Seattle, where our daughter Mekhala lives, has just outlawed the use of plastic straws, the first such law in the country.

From our several visits to the Pacific Northwest, I can say that Washington is at the forefront of environmental consciousness. Good for them.

Here’s where I come in.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I have a serious case of OCD regarding, among other things, the use of everyday disposable items. In fact, I’m receiving treatment for the same as we speak. From my husband. So it’s free of charge.

The slogan Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, for me, is in that order. Reduce first. Then what we have, we try to reuse. Then if it must be in the third category, recycle it.

One small step for a woman. Another small step for mankind.

Are we still wondering where I’m going with this?

OK, You know those little plastic bags at the produce isles of our grocery stores, that weigh zero milligrams, that we all use and discard with all abandon? Yeah, that one.

I have a suggestion. After we bring them home, empty it, place it back in the reusable shopping bags which I’m sure you already use, and take it back to the store to put more veggies and fruits in.

You ask, ok, if I do this, what’s in it for me?

For anyone who takes such a pledge, to continuously and always do this, drop me line to let me know, and I’ll make them a (one-time) favourite snack of theirs.

Of course, the snack has to be something from among the assorted items in my cookbook. Like, if you say, you love Iranian caviar balls served with a touch of Dijon mustard on toasted brioche, and a sprig of sage on the side, that’s not my gig.

I got this idea of reusing these silly bags from our daughter Yamini who lives in Minnesota, (another progressive state), where she does this already.

A tree is always near a fallen apple.

However, my husband is already stressing about the prospect of me getting so many pledges that I’ll be in the kitchen constantly, instead of taking care of him.

Read on for the the following from the Washington Post which is what prompted me to make this post.

Some of my liberal friends are already gleeful that, for a change, my post this time is not about some ‘far-right’ political proposal.
Happy Thursday…keep your cool today. It’s going to be a scorcher along the Eastern Seaboard…

mercy

‘Mahal Sneham’ – A Seat At The Table

This is the third year in a row when I have attempted to do a written tribute to my dad on his birthday. This year would be his 102nd. February 13, 2018.

There is a song in our hymnbook, Kristhiya Keerthanangal, that starts with the lyrics, ‘Mahal Sneham, Mahal Sneham’

Several of our hymn book songs are from over one hundred years ago, a big chunk of them attributed to Sadhu Kochukunju Upadeshi, (who wrote ‘dukha-thinte pana-pathram’ in 1915). Imagine that. Talk about being immortalized. Well, as he should be.

However, there are also melodies that don’t have an author mentioned, or none known. ‘Mahal Sneham’ is one of those songs. And I do have a story to tell about it.

You may challenge me on this. But here is how I recollect it.

We were at the Chepad parish from 1957-1960.

During this time frame, occurred a visiting stay at our home by a particular upadeshi. Sadly, and uncannily, a key element I can’t recall precisely about this account is this upadeshi’s name. It was some sort of a ‘Biblical’ name like Pathrose or Markose. Markose, I’m leaning towards more.

Even with this name confusion, I can recollect Upadeshi’s unmistakable physique. Dark-skinned, a bit short and stout, wearing a white cotton juba-and-mundu ensemble, with a very low-cost towel (thorth) on his shoulder. I remember this part vividly and with my heart.

You see, Markose upadeshi was from the ‘Paraya’ class. This, too, I’m certain of. Why? we’ll get to the ‘why’ a bit later.

This forgotten evangelist wrote the favoured song, ‘Mahal Sneham, Mahal Sneham’. And he, for sure, doesn’t own the copyright to it.

A man with barely an elementary school education and nothing further, expertly knew the Bible, especially the New Testament and its message, backwards and forwards, and this song is somewhat of a summation of Paul’s Letter To The Romans.

Markose upadeshi was an itinerant preacher, (‘upa-‘deshi’, is ‘someone who is not of the local’), and my innovative dad in his ever-Gospel-spreading mode, and bursting with energy, discovered his bio-data from somewhere and invited him to the parish and to stay with us.

A big convention ensued thereafter on the church premises, that drew huge numbers of people from across the spectrum and from long distances, eager to hear first-hand upadeshi’s testimony of conversion.

From Hindu to Christian. From the Paraya caste to MarThoma.

From working with his hands making dried leaf mats in the green lush of South Asia of the late 1950’s, to preaching the message of a First Century Carpenter from the arid wilderness of the Middle East.

The Sabha for its part, I believe, possibly has no record of what I’m recanting, but believe me (I’m not quoting anyone famous here!), this account is accurate.

And there is a story within this story. Two Tales Of A God’s Messenger.

As most of us would acknowledge, there was a caste system solidly in place in India of old. There were rules of conduct for each class that, in the process, separated them.

There were the four castes that ‘counted’, with placement in a particular order, and were reported in history books and Sacred Texts.

Below that, were the ‘untouchables’ and the unrecorded. (The word ‘untouchable’ should be stricken from the English dictionary of idioms. I hated writing it just now.)

(Mohandas Gandhi in his infinite Godliness called them Hari-jans (God’s people).)

The Paraya (‘Pariah’, or ‘outcast’) class was part of this last sect.

Even though this was an edict of the Hindu religion, Travancore Christians practiced it with serious gusto. Those belonging to these castes didn’t eat with us, use our utensils, enter our houses, didn’t address us.

Most Definitely, they were not given A Seat At The Table.

Except: My dad did. Markose upadeshi stayed with us for a few days, slept in one of our spare beds, and most movingly, had a chair at the dining table next to my dad.

In more ways than I can say, my dad was ahead of his time and place. For better or for worse.

In 2018, one might ask, ‘what’s the big deal’?

I’ll tell you what the deal was. And that is the story within.

As much as folks wanted to hear upadeshi speak, many, many were grumbling about this arrangement. Out of earshot of my parents, they would make sneering remarks about this man, and berate my parents (‘how dare they commit such an outlandish act’, ‘thalaku vattano’?’), obviously unaware a little girl was listening.

To this day I remember one parishioner ‘joking’, ‘kochama-ku eneem payku prashnam kanathillalo.’ See the Paraya class was ‘designated’ to make mats out of dried grass. So, ‘my mother wouldn’t have to buy these mats anymore. Upadeshi can make it for us’, is what was being implied. Never mind the man perhaps hadn’t done it in, like, may be ever.

You see, my concern as a child who understood, was not for the poor upadeshi, or for the unfairness of the social strata.

It was for my parents. These persons who were their benefactors turning on them this way. It stung.

My dad had the softest spot for evangelists, (and for household help, a separate story for another day).

He had an uncompromising habit of tithing exactly 10% and not a paisa less.

There was an empty Horlicks bottle, (which in and of itself was a ubiquitous item in many households, the liquid version of which my sister and I were made to drink every single day), on top of my dad’s book shelf, in which this money was kept. This was set aside for these preachers and others like them, and would not be used for another purpose under any circumstance. Markose upadeshi received the bottle’s entire contents upon his visit.

I must admit, missing further from this account is, what set in motion upadeshi‘s conversion in the first place, or when this song crept into our song book. Somewhere in the 80’s or later. It most certainly was not there in the 60’s. My mother, who possessed a photostatic memory, would’ve known if I had asked her before lapses set in.

Thank you Markose upadeshi for this song, on behalf of all those who have ever been moved by its meaning and melody, for the past sixty years, and counting.

Every time our pianist Christy’s foot goes to the pedal on the church piano with notes of the opening lines from this song, or when Achen spontaneously breaks into it, at the start of the communion round, my heart flutters with thoughts of,

a prairie village in a distant place, in a time long ago and long gone, in Alappuzha district along the coastal plains of the Arabian,

and a ‘touchable’ man who was Touched by God, and another one who assisted in the man’s journey.

That and when I see a Horlicks bottle anywhere.

Happy birthday, Papaji.

 

 A great Love that secures you A Seat At The Table.

Mercy

“It Is Finished”: John 19:30

On my own, I chose Saying Number Six.

Here’s what I arrived at.

It is a compilation of thoughts I have absorbed over the years, but a couple of lessons from Sathi Achen and KC Achen figure prominently in this particular piece.

Once again, It was an amazing experience for me as it was last year.

Gave a little. Received back a lot.

This aside, a single blog page wouldn’t be enough to cover my gratitude to these men of God and Cloth, (many more than the ones that are mentioned here), who have given me so incalculably much along my journey and formation:

Intellectual men (sorry, for now it’s only men), with advanced educations in Biochemistry, Biology, Psychology, (boy, do they ever need that! even more than scripture perhaps), and Mathematics and Literature and Accounting, Business and Information Technology, from corners far away from the dusty hills of Judea: men who sacrificed so much relinquishing lucrative careers and more, to tell the 2000-year-old story of a Judean man’s Sacrifice.

That faith alone is the proof.

please read.

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The sixth of Jesus’ sayings on the cross was: ‘It Is Finished’. That He could talk at all at that point seems miraculous.

In order for something to be ‘finished’, it has to ‘start’ first.

So when Jesus uttered, ‘it is finished’, what was it that got started?

It is, what got started with the Creation, the Paradise, the Man, the Woman. Sin. And Punishment.

and what was finished: Redemption. Of the same man and woman. From sin and punishment.

The term ‘Original Sin’ can be assigned many interpretations.

At its base, it’s forbidden sex.

At its core however, it is man willfully turning away from God. Man had everything, he walked with God daily, heck, he even had a partner he gave up his ribs for.

And yet, he risked everything and chose an alternate path.

God, in His disappointment and sadness, (as God always is: sad and disappointed when His creation turns away from Him) ‘punished’ humankind to hard labour, painful childbearing, and with the experience of death.

Some may reject the term ‘punishment’. I understand it as, one having to face the consequences of one’s actions.

But, that is not the end. It is the beginning.

Right after issuing ‘The Curse’, in His next breath, God gave us an ‘out’. He said to the crooked creature: ‘Her Offspring shall crush your head’.

The child the woman bears in pain will save the world. Great gain is achieved only through pain.

The Great Transformation from Eve to Mary is now complete.                                                                                                                                                                                                              

One disobedient and the other, in complete submission.

One that caused The Fall. The other that gave us the Redeemer by answering God’s Call.

From illicit relations, to Immaculate Conception.

In Genesis 3:15, God curses the serpent, “man shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

One of my dad’s sermons that still rings in my ears as though it happened yesterday, he exclaimed, ‘the serpent can only tug at our heels. But the offspring of the woman, ‘sthreeyude sandathi’, would crush the serpent’s head’.

Note that a male is not mentioned here. The child of a maiden.

So it was the death of sinfulness. Jesus’ victory over evil.

We get to choose love over hate. Eternal life over certain death.

We’re offered a second chance. The option of a New Life.

It’s significant to take note in context, the hour at which Jesus was executed.

According to the Gospel of Mark, just at the precise time a lamb was being slaughtered, in the Jerusalem Temple on the ninth hour of Passover for the atonement of sins of the Jews, is when the crucifixion took place.

Not just any old lamb, but a chosen male, baby lamb, a lamb without blemish. In Malayalam, it is called, ‘oonam-illatha kunjadu’.

The young, and sinless one gave it up for us.

The Law was rewritten.

A new Adam and a new Jerusalem were born.

Salvation came from the Jews, but it is no longer something exclusively available to just a few. It is for mankind.

All of us now belong to the Chosen Tribe. The Chosen One from the Chosen People chose us.

Built into Jewish synagogues of old, is a section called the Holy Of Holies. Only the high priest, typically a Levite, of the priestly tribe, is allowed to enter this inner sanctum.

In the other world’s great religion, its oldest really, the Hindu temples also have a similar place in their Ampalam or Mandir, called the Sree Kovil (House of God), where God resides. Only Poojaris of Brahmin descent, again of the priestly class, have access to this space.

So that is what transpired on The Cross.

When the curtain tore in the temple, that separation between man and God was overcome. now you and I can enter the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, the Sree Kovil, through that tear.

Found only in the Gospel of John, the Greek word for the saying it is finished translates into ‘tetelestai’, an accounting term that means paid in full.

Not coincidentally, ‘Kalah’ is the Hebrew word uttered by the rabbi as he sacrifices the baby lamb in the temple. ‘Kalah’ means, ‘it is finished’.

What started in Genesis 3:15 was finished in John 19:30.

The companionship that was lost in Eden is now restored. We have full communion with God. All we have to do is choose it. it’s free for the taking.

It is what is called Grace.

That final offering of atonement by the shed blood of the Lamb is what was finished.

Romans: Chapter 8

Today is my dad’s 101st birthday. February 13, 2017.

In Vedic thinking, odd numbers are more desirable than even ones. I wrote a tribute for his 100th birthday, but the 101st calls for it in equal measure.

Some time in approximately 1958 and 1959, my father, in his ever-activist, ever-innovative mode, embarked on a mission.

He challenged the youth members of the Chepad MarThoma Church (I don’t recall if there were any age constraints as such) to memorize Paul’s Letter To The Romans: Chapter 8. (Paul as in The Apostle and the Letter is the one he wrote to the early church in Rome.) The whole chapter. ‘Roma Lekhanam, Ettam Adhyayam’, as he called it.

In return, anybody who masters this inscrutable piece of scripture would receive from him personally, the gift of a Bible that he would purchase with his own funds, from the CLS  Book Depot in Thiruvalla.

A Bible in those days cost five rupees.

If there is anything, you have to read this narrative in the context of ‘5 rupees of 1959’. Trust me when I say, it was ‘a lot of’ money. It was roughly one twentieth of my dad’s monthly salary. And this is from someone who was reluctant to buy my sister and me any fancy clothes for fear it’d spoil us from being studious. whatever.

So the contest commenced.

To the unanticipated discovery of both my parents, a staggering number of the church youth paraded to him one by one, over the course of days, weeks, or months, and walked away with this coveted Holy Book. To the point it exhausted his funds.

We have to realize that many, if not all, of them were attempting at this unique contest for the sole purpose of owning a Bible. Such was the fervor then.

At that point, instead of casually pulling out of the initiative altogether and leaving the kids feeling let down, he added a condition, that the passage had to be recited without a single mistake. He had not been strict about it prior. even that didn’t stop the eager learners. They kept coming.

Then out of mild desperation, Papaji stipulated a deadline by which the task had to be completed.

Meanwhile, I came home from the Nicholson (Boarding) School, finishing what was then called First Form (equivalent to today’s sixth standard), for what I anticipated would be my lazy days of summer, unaware of the ongoing undertaking. Amma mentioned it first with a great deal of admiration for the venture, and Papaji subsequently extended this most unwelcome challenge to me.

I had already owned a Bible, (a gift from the said parents), a leather-bound one with my full name, Mercy Mariam Oommen, engraved on the front. The School had mandated that we arrive with our own Bibles. This Bible is still proudly displayed on our coffee table.

So ownership of a new Bible would not be an incentive for me to memorize Romans 8.

For one, Papaji just simply wanted me to learn Romans 8.

Secondarily, he wanted to make certain that I could do what any of those youngsters were putting their hearts and souls into. I was barely ten.

extremely reluctant at first, even resistant, I eventually set about the task as if it’d be a piece of cake. After all, rote memorization was my forte, right?

Wrong. And wrong. It was anything but sweet.

A reader, I was. A reader of Paul’s long letters to a bunch of newly minted Christians in faraway Middle Eastern churches, I was not. Tedious in language and cryptic in meaning, this was also without any intrigue as in fairy tales. ‘Boring’ would be another word.

In English, we have countless Bible versions: The KJV, The Revised Standard, The Good News, The New International, The Children’s (wish we had those), to name some. In Malayalam, there was and is, still the One Version. Boy, was it ever a pain?! Torturous, actually.

Summer days were coming to a rapid close. The rains were beckoning from the moisture-swollen Western Ghats. Along with it, Second Form at Nicholson. and I went to papaji to recite. And suffered through the recitation with one or two errors. And was pretty proud of the feat. and even more so, was very sure nobody had done it better.

I mean, how could they possibly?

To my utter dismay, I saw my dad for the first time in my life that I can remember, being a tad disappointed in me as I had never seen him before. I made one or two mistakes. (It may have been more than just two, but hey, who’s counting?) What is the big deal, right? I don’t recall where and which ones. All I remember is my sadness in making him be not proud. I distinctly remember that part.

It came down to this. He considered me the recipient of some privileged schooling, (and I was), in a way most church kids were not. And he simply expected more. And this exercise meant so much to him.

Let me come to the point.

I don’t remember any longer a single verse from Romans 8.

Except this: the words that have stuck all these years: ‘maranathino jeevano, doothan-marko, vazhchakalko adhikarangalko, ippol-ullathino varuvan-ullathino, uyarathino azhathino, karthavaya kristhu-yeshu…’

“for I am certain that nothing can separate us from His love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below-there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Verses 38-39

Thus, I may go astray, I may neglect to attend church regularly, I may forget to pray twice or even once daily, I may occasionally question the Eucharist for how it has evolved over the years, and for the current form in which it is practiced (for my take, I believe what Jesus intended for us was, to sit in a semi-circle, share a meal and treat each other as family, but what do I know?), I may go visit Matha Amrithanandamayi (I have – more than once), I may go to the Sri Lakshmi Temple (been there), I may visit the Shirdi Sai Baba Temple (done that), I have trod the red tiles inside the Jama Masjid, heck, I may even go to Kashi some day and set my foot in the Ganga – something I really want to do in fact,

But nothing, none of it, will separate me from the love of Jesus Christ.

I do not know if scholars will concur on the essential meaning of these lines, nor do I presume to know what Paul Apostle had in mind. It doesn’t matter. (I’ll happily entertain any alt-theories).

And this is my wish. I hope dearly that all those youth leaguers who took heart of these much-quoted verses all those years ago, (and there were so many of them), now in the golden or diamond years of their lives, will also be reminded of the same.

And that they’ll remember my dad with fondness.

Happy Monday the Thirteenth…

mercy

Iraq And Syria

It’s a pity, nobody has called me from Washington yet to get my valuable insight on the grim happenings in Syria, which have clawed its way into a seemingly tranquil Europe.

So you guys are it: my audience.

Nothing further needs to be said about a people, who made available to us the profound ideas of equality, fraternity, and liberty: concepts rooted in a Judeo-Christian ideology.

Never mind, the French may have given up on the Christian part of it long ago, but the tenets remain, etched into the French psyche. The beautiful Notre dame, a structure we visited in 1974 with our infant daughter nisha, is sitting there very pretty and very empty.

So after the killing spree at the offices of the French cartoonists in January of this year, the French were said to be despairing over the stubborn resistance to assimilation on the part of the millions, whom they welcomed to their land, to live and to let live.

The next thing they knew, those very rights they fought a revolution over, 4 centuries ago, had become endangered, or been put on the threshold of being eliminated altogether.

The Bikini or the Burqa.

That clash of values catapulted us to what happened last week.

As we see all sorts of added and painful security measures being elevated all over Europe, and across the Atlantic, questions have arisen over how to handle the refugee migrants from a God-forsaken place called Syria.

Ironically, and aside from the rest of the story at hand, some of us call ourselves ‘Syrian Christians’. I don’t think there are any Christians left in Syria. Perhaps we should rename ourselves ‘Suriyani christhianis’. only the ‘suriyanis’ will know what to make of that term.

Anyway, instead of vilifying the governors and the presidential candidates for suggesting we put a lid on the ‘Great Migration’, I have come up with the following. I’m sure some of you are going to tell me, ‘you’re kidding, right’? and it’s ok to do that, and I am not.

Google came to my aid, and I discovered that there are roughly 350,000 Christian congregations in the U.S.

Assuming most of them possess their own sanctuaries, I propose that each of the churches adopt one refugee family each, and house them right in their sanctuaries. Giving sanctuary in a sanctuary.

If you think I’m being facetious, I am not.

In return for this, this guest family can help the churches with moderate amounts of housekeeping, until they’re on their feet, and can move onward. Kind of like W’s ‘Faith Initiative’. and it’s 340,000 more than what the president is edicting.

and on that note: what’s up with the president going abroad, and going around questioning Ted Cruz’s patriotism? isn’t it the same as when his patriotism was called into question? the Filipinos are probably confused.

All the vetting, that word we’re hearing a lot these days, (initially I thought this meant putting some water over the head of these people ), will be the responsibility of the sponsoring church. And the church will also be liable for any adverse outcomes.

Thanksgiving is fast approaching and I have a story to tell. Just bear with me a bit more.

Once a time long ago, I was the food co-coordinator for my church Carmel MarThoma. poor folks, they haven’t got over it yet, and have not invited me back to repeat the performance.

thanksgiving rolled around that year, and I foolishly came up with the the novel idea of us, the church folks, preparing the whole thanksgiving meal, turkey and the sides, and openly inviting the Hudson townspeople to share it with us.

I was surprised by the resistance to the proposal, on the grounds of safety mainly, and other matters. I’m not blaming anyone. I haven’t invited townsfolk to my house, ever. I’m just suggesting, we have a different approach when something directly impacts our daily lives.

It’s getting a little tiresome to be repeatedly exhorted of our Christian duty to care for the least advantaged. No argument there. It’s right there in Matthew’s Gospel. This may be arguably the most quoted Gospel verse. No problem with that either.

but is it possible, Jesus may have meant, we the individuals, you and I, take care of this? and not putting it on Caesar’s head, and be done with it?

as a fact, Jesus never exhorted Caesar to do anything.

Next point in this business of the blame game is, that of giving preference to ‘Christian’ refugees.

We can opt out of this dilemma by offering to take people over 50, with no extended families accompanying them. No religious litmus test will then be necessary. It will still be better than the ‘all or nothing’ stand.

Some of us are suffering from this malady called, The Bias of Lowered Expectations (BLE). What is good for the goose is not good for the gander. Some are expected to do only the ‘least of their best’.

why don’t we expect Saudi Arabia to take in half the number of refugees, with whom they share a religion, language, and a culture, that are being sent to Europe? Why is it OK for the Saudis to stand idly by, but not for the Europeans? Isn’t caring for widows and orphans mandated in their holy book?

I wonder if Jesus said anything about double standards? WWJS(ay)?

Apostle Paul was a supremely learned Jew, a pharisee, on his way to Damascus in Syria, to kill the newly minted Christians in AD 33 or so, but lucky for us, he had an Encounter With A Good Jew and he had a change of heart. Is it unrealistic to wish that some of the ‘bad guys’ may also have that same encounter with the same Jew, if we all prayed hard enough? Or am I nutty?

Good Wednesday evening…i hope i get at least a few (dis)likes to my post.

mercy