Just Chill???.. No. Be Still

Text: Psalms 46: 10

 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

    I will be exalted among the nations,

    I will be exalted in the earth.”

Message:

My mother says that the word that I used the most when I was a child is “Bore Adikyuvaa” (I am getting bored). I just could not sit in one place. It was a nightmare for her to take me to church as I found ‘sitting still’ impossible. Instead of Worshiping God, she was busy policing me. She says “Whenever I used to take you to church, due to exhaustion, the next day I would inevitably fall ill.” ‘Being still’ was an art I knew nothing about. But I realize that this word ‘Bore’ has gained currency in a time when there are so many options that cater to release us from our boredom. But when we look back there is no word for boredom in ancient or Biblical Greek. Some suggest that this word came into English dictionary only after the Industrial Revolution. In a world of smartphones, ipods, ipads, micro-slim televisions and play stations we have learnt the art of getting bored. Why so? It is said that the man today has become so distant from himself that he dreads being alone or doing nothing. The culture around has put so much emphasis on ‘doing’ that ‘doing nothing’ is wasting time. Sitting still is unproductive. You need to perform. You need to prove yourself. This emphasis on activity and productivity is what has made us look at old age, disability, and sickness with such dread and disdain. Humans are sadly being defined by what they produce and not by “Who they are”.

But what happens to people if they are alone or they are in solitude. Psychologist Mihalyi Csiksentmihalyi (pronounced as chick-sent-me-high) has done research on people where people are asked to set their alarm on a random time when they are alone. People are asked to write what they are thinking, doing or feeling when that happens. His conclusion on how people respond to being alone and still is very revealing. “When people are left alone, undistributed by noise or activity, their mind naturally drifts toward an awareness of discontent, a sense of inadequacy, anxiety about the future, and a chronic sense of self- preoccupation. Contrary to what we tend to assume, the normal state of the mind is chaos. When we are left alone, with demands on attention, the basic disorder of the mind reveals itself. With nothing to do, it begins to follow random patterns, usually stopping to consider something painful or disturbing.” He further adds “To avoid this condition, people are naturally eager to fill their minds with whatever information is readily available, as long as it distracts attention from turning inward and dwelling on negative feelings. This explains why such a huge proportion of time is invested in watching television, despite the fact that it is rarely enjoyed.” If this diagnosis is precise which I feel is true, then our greatest fear is to be with ourselves. We do not avoid people or situation as much we avoid ourselves. Our addictions to gadgets, televisions, Twitter, Facebook, all help us to avoid knowing who we really are. We are strangers to ourselves.

It is in such a scenario that the Psalms 46: 10 says “Be still, and know that I am God…”. For us who have lost the art of ‘being still’ is it a wonder that we feel God is too distant and far away. This is why sitting down and reading the Bible is such a herculean ordeal. It is boring. This is why praying is not easy. Prayer is a time when we become aware of the thoughts that bother us. Prayer is the time when we become aware of our anxieties. It is uncomfortable. Prayer is not just an endless litany of our needs. It is also a time to open ourselves to listen to the voice of God that says “Be Still, and Know that I am God..” It is a time of knowing ourselves. It is the moment of surrender where we tell God “Take me as I am.” It is a time where we set apart the mask that we carry around. It is the moment where we are aware of our vulnerabilities and woundedness. Herman Hesse says “We hate in others what we hate in ourselves the most.” When we see the trait in others that we dislike in ourselves, we transfer our hate to others. We have found a scapegoat. We will keep running away from ourselves. Prayer is the time where we become available to God and ourselves. As a child I remember a story that has left a deep impact on me. This story I heard when I was in the Standard 3. So it is adapted according to the way I interpreted the story as a child. “There was a boy called Jim. It was his practice to come back from school and go to the nearby chapel and pray. He did this very regularly. The sexton of the Chapel noticed this boy coming every day after school to the Chapel. He was pleased to see the devotion of the boy. But he also noticed that Jim just spent 10 seconds at the Chapel. The sexton thought of confronting the boy on the duration of time he spends in prayer. Next day Jim comes to the Chapel. He kneels down and after 10 seconds he was on his legs. At the door he had the Sexton waiting for him. “Hello sonny”. Jim smiled back. Sexton continued “I see you come everyday to the Chapel. Very good. But I see you pray just for 10 seconds. That is not very good. Don’t you have more time for the Lord?” Jim smiled and replied “Uncle, I do not know any long prayer. I come here and surrender myself to the Lord by praying ‘Jesus, this is Jim.’” The sexton did not know what to say after listening to Jim. Days after Jim continued coming to the chapel to pray. One day when he was on his way back, Jim met with an accident where he suffered from a head injury and fracture in the right leg. He was admitted in the hospital. One day when the doctor came for rounds he asked the Nurse “Two days back when I came for rounds, everyone around was blaming us and cursing. The mood here was very heavy. But now I see smile on the peoples face in this ward. What exactly happened?” The Nurse replied “Ever since the boy Jim came to the hospital, everyone just sees smile on his face. He has a head injury and a fracture. But still he keeps smiling and his smile has become infectious.” The Doctor approached Jim “My boy I am happy to see you. But I wonder with the pain that you have how do you manage to smile?” Jim replies “Doctor, everyday I pray to my Jesus saying ‘Jesus, this is Jim.’ In my hour of pain, in the time when I am alone I can hear Jesus saying to me ‘Jim, this is Jesus.’

We live as if everything will remain as it is now. But we ‘will’ face sickness. We ‘will’ get old. We ‘will’ lose all things of ‘doing’ that define us today; our job, our beauty and our possessions. Then we will be left only with ourselves. But we dread ourselves. It is time we surrender our fears in prayer. It is time we come as we are in front of our God in prayer.  Let us discern the presence of God. Let us ‘Be Still’ and Know that He is God. 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati

 

 

 

 

 

Who Defines Us?

Text: Luke 6: 27- 31

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.

 Message

Before we go into the message let me share a story narrated by a gentleman David J. Pollay that will set the tone for the message.

“. I hopped in a taxi, and we took off for Grand Central Station.  We were driving in the right lane when, all of a sudden, a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by mere inches! The driver of the other car, the guy who almost caused a big accident, whipped his head around and started yelling bad words at us.  My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy.  And I mean, he was actually friendly! So, I asked him, “Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and could’ve sent us to the hospital!” And this is when my taxi driver told me about what I now call, “The Law of Garbage Trucks.” “Many people are like Garbage Trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it, and if you let them, they’ll dump it on you.  When someone wants to dump on you, don’t take it personally. Instead, just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. You’ll be happier because you did.” Wow.  That really got me thinking about how often do I let Garbage Trucks run right over me? AND, how often do I then take their garbage and spread it onto other people: at work, at home, on the streets?  It was that day I resolved, “I’m not going to do it anymore.” Since then, I have started to see Garbage Trucks everywhere.  Just as the kid in the Sixth Sense movie said, “I see dead people,” I can now say, “I see Garbage Trucks.” 🙂 I see the load they’re carrying … I see them coming to drop it off.  And like my Taxi Driver, I don’t make it a personal thing; I just smile, wave, wish them well, and I move on.”

Now this story is a very inspiring one and is in sync with the Bible passage set before us. But before we go any further let us imagine that we are sitting in Church and announcement is going on. One of your friends is sitting just behind you and kicks you for fun. What would be your first reaction and the first word on your tongue? I know my answer and I do not want to reveal too much here. What Jesus is saying in the passage has been a huge stumbling block for many believers. Having faith is abstract but practicing the above said is very very difficult. So how is this ever going to be possible? For that we need to look at Jesus himself. Jesus loved his enemies and blessed those who cursed him. He prayed for his oppressors on the Cross. Reading the Bible one thing stands out when you study the life of Jesus. Jesus was deeply aware of who he was. “I Know who I am. I testify for myself.” (John 8: 18) If I ask myself ‘Who am I?’ on a plain surface it is easy to answer but I seriously do not know the answer yet. Therefore people and circumstances define me. If somebody is rude to me I just react and get back being ruder. But the other person has defined me and my behavior. If the circumstance is favorable I am in a good mood but if it is hostile I change accordingly. So the power to define my behavior and attitude does not rest with me but other people and circumstances define me.

Jesus was deeply aware of His identity and his mission in life. Therefore what people told about him did not define his behavior. “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ (Luke 7: 24). If I had such an accusation against me I would have tried my best to prove otherwise and get my reputation on track. “Loving your enemies” is a choice that we have as people of faith to set ourselves free from hatred of people that defines us. I have a choice to love. But it is a tougher choice. Growing with God is a practice that we will perfect. With all our blemishes and shines, by the grace of God we will be comfortable in our own skin. Experience of the deep love of God and the knowledge of being “His Beloved” will enable us to say along with Soren Kierkegaard  “ Now with God’s help, I shall become myself.” I still remember that when I did my first session of counseling in Navjeevan way back in 2005, the children started to run at the very sight of me. They did not like this dude who thought he knew what their problem was. These children just avoided me and hardly tried to talk. This was deeply upsetting. I felt very angry and thought “I have come all the way to understand their problem and they are not even ready to talk to me?” One day when I was all upset Moni Achen, the then  director of Navjeevan understood my predicament and told me “You cannot compel anyone to love you. You as a counselor, remind them of their past that they would love to forget. Therefore they do not like you. You have to give them that freedom. All you can do is, you can choose to love them.” That made complete sense.

These days I am reading the book “ The Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela. His life is a complete inspiration. As a man of faith who truly believed in Biblical justice he sacrificed his life for the people of South Africa. The Apartheid Government of South Africa made all the possible inhuman laws to deprive the Africans of the basic human dignity. In pursuit of the freedom of his people to live like humans, Mandela was imprisoned in Robben Island for 27 long years of his life. The best part of his youth was snuffed out by the Afrikaaner government. In his release in 1990 he strove for a multi-racial platform and was elected the President of South Africa in 1994. There were many in the African National Congress who wanted to eliminate the opponents who oppressed them on the basis of color. There was a worldwide fear of a Civil strife. But once he came to power he formed a Government of National Unity. He set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission where the white oppressors confessed of their wrongs in court and the black oppressed hugged them and reconciled. This move of “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” was hugely a success because of the life and message of Mandela. After losing the best part of his life he had every right to be bitter with his opponents. He was in a position to settle scores and take revenge. But his example of reconciliation and forgiveness became the foundation for a South Africa that was just being born. Nelson Mandela stands out as a shining example of practicing Jesus commands where hatred did not define his actions. He defined the situation with love and forgiveness. These days where he is struggling with life and death, I sincerely pray that Nelson Mandela’s life inspires us to make a choice between liberating power of love and the imprisoning trap of hatred. I pray like him we choose the former. Amen

 

Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Guwahati