Tuesday 31 July 2012

Don Bosco Theology Centre, Kaveraipettai

Antonyraj was going to the new theologate of the Chennai province at Kaveraipettai, and I joined him. Kaveraipettai is some 40 kms north of Chennai, almost at the border with Andhra Pradesh. The province had some land there, and an Anbu Illam. The new theologate was set up on a part of that land, which is just off the highway, and rather low-lying.

You can't miss the building from the highway, but the work is still going on. A new wing is being put up behind the present one. The refectory and kitchen will be shifted into the new wing, which will also hold a small hall and perhaps some rooms. The library will probably be moved from its present second floor location to the ground floor space currently occupied by the refectory. The church is on the first floor, if I remember right.

Several of our Divyadaan past pupils here: Abi, Sathish, Reni, James Sundar, Franklin, Michael, Augustine, as well as Charles Gaspar, Alex, and others. Was good meeting all of them.  

Tool Curry

Chennai is in the process of getting a metro, so there are lots of snarls in the traffic these days. Surprisingly, the contract has been awarded jointly to L&T and a Chinese firm (SUCG or something). I saw Chinese characters all over, and even two or three Chinese looking gentlemen. But the safety boards were fun. One read: WHEN YOU CURRY TOOLS / OBEY SAFETY RULES. 

Monday 30 July 2012

Jeremiah and the Wadi Phara

The Wadi Phara, near Anathoth
This morning's first reading was from Jeremiah: Jeremiah being told to buy a new loincloth, and bury it in a hole. The text says he buries it on the banks of the Euphrates. The Euphrates is hundreds of miles away from the village of Anathoth, which itself is only 7 kms from Jerusalem, and another few kms. from the Wadi Phara. Vernet says he probably was told to bury the cloth on the banks of the Phara, which is remarkably still flowing today, even after 3 years of bad rains.

Loincloth: it's like being told to buy a new brief today, and then being told to bury it somewhere so that it's completely ruined - though the meaning structures would be significantly different. Still, the point is about clinging to the Lord like a loincloth clings to the loins of a man.... Israel is a failed loincloth, a useless thing. Israel does not cling to the Lord. 

Sunday 22 July 2012

Sleep tight

As the demands on our waking lives increase considerably, so too does the need for quality sleep. Try getting eight hours' sleep a night - even for one week - and see how both your energy levels and your ability to deal with stress improve. (Penelope Sach, The Little Book of Wellbeing: Looking After Yourself in a Busy World [New Delhi: Penguin, 2003]) 

Prayer, mediation, Christ, and freedom

Just preached at this morning's Sunday 'religious' mass.... And now I am browsing through Lonergan's "The Mediation of Christ in Prayer" (CWL 6), trying to trace Fred Lawrence's opening and closing citation at my recent Boston lecture... And it struck me, that somehow I, we, expect God's intervention, grace, to be something 'automatic,' something that somehow transforms and changes us and our situations. As I listened to the Word of God being proclaimed, spontaneously there came to mind the situation at the Holy Sepulchre, the situation of division, of strife, of scandal, and I shared my own feeling of somehow being comfortable with it.

There is more of course. One thing is not being scandalized, another thing is to idealize, justify, rationalize. The cracks and fissures, the sins and the injustices, the scandals and the meannessess of history cannot be justified or papered over. My thing was: I think of God smiling down upon his messy children, upon humanity. But: what is God doing about it? That doing of God, I realize, is not something automatic. It is love, but it is also an appeal to our freedom, to my freedom. A phrase from Lonergan: "it is by relying on, adverting to, the precepts, the example, the love of Christ that we attain our own self-mediation with reference to him in this life of prayer" (CWL 6:181). There is a mutual self-mediation, but there is definitely the element of freedom. 

Saturday 21 July 2012

Richard Kearney, "Transfiguring God," and ... the Land

I am dipping once again into the Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology, in search of matter on 'gift' - and I find, once again, John Milbank's extraordinary "The Midwinter Sacrifice" which is the piece that has the most extended reflection on gift and sacrifice, moving through Mauss, Derrida, and Marion at least.

But the other interesting and intriguing discovery is the piece of Richard Kearney, "Transfiguring God." What caught my attention was his mentioning a visit to Tabgha and Capernaum - and then, reading around this, I found him describing a visit to the Holy Land with his wife and daughters. (387) Visiting such places as Abu Ghosh (the abbot!), getting thoroughly scandalized and dispirited by the scandal of division in the Holy Sepulchre and the idolization of great churches in Nazareth and Tabor. (388) Kearney obviously is more at home with the humble traces - a faded icon of fish at Tabgha, the ruined walls of Capernaum "where Jesus and the apostles took refuge after their expulsion from Nazareth", the "hill-caves of Sitve and Avdat" where the "Christian Napoteans" (Nabateans I suppose) "rested on their passage through the Negev desert". (389)

But I can't help registering my own take on the Holy Sepulchre. I love the Holy Sepulchre - ugly, dirty, often black with soot. For some reason I love especially the very Oriental, dirty, sooty, lamp- and thurible-filled places belonging to the Orthodox churches. And I fail to be scandalized by the divisions, even the fist-fights that sometimes occur between the huge Orthodox priests and the equally huge Franciscans. I think of God looking down upon his world, and upon the Sepulchre, and smiling. I am learning to love. This is God's world, these are God's people: Christians of all colours, Muslims, Jews.

(The Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology, ed. Graham Ward. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.)

Thursday 12 July 2012

Humanity everywhere...

Very touching: the great iconoclastic Jean-Paul Sartre writing an affectionate note to Simone de Beauvoir from the warfront, and ending by saying that he will now write a little note to his parents. Going for holidays with his parents. And also the fact that Simone was not quite welcome in his parents' house. (Claude Francis, Fernande Gontier, Simone de Beauvoir: A Life... a Love Story) .

(In a review I've been reading on the net, Francis and Gontier's work is described as excellent. I would say it's good, but certainly nowhere approaching excellence. Very prosaic sometimes. Certainly not a work of art. But informative, and, as the review says, sufficiently distant from the subject to give us an 'objective' view.) 

Living free

I was thinking of Phyllis Wallbank this morning during meditation: a wonderful example of living without expectations. No unnecesary pain when people do not live up to or meet our expectations, but much joy at everything good that happens, big or small. Phyllis is 93, lives alone in a beautiful little cottage near Eton, has two cracked vertebrae, needs to be helped to eat, but still manages to get out to Slough every day five days a week, and is enormously grateful for everything. "Aren't I lucky," is what she keeps saying every day.

Living without expectations: how much of my pain is because I have expectations. So and so has not called up; so and so has not come to see me; so and so does not care for me despite everything I have done.

People who have been principals, rectors, provincials, parish priests, or just simply anyone at all who has done any good for anyone, all of us fall easily into the trap of expectations. It would be wonderful instead to just do whatever has to be done, do good, help, be kind, and then forget completely about it. God sends his rain upon just and unjust alike, he makes his sun shine upon deserving and undeserving alike, and he does not sit down to count who it is that says thank you and is grateful. So let go!

And Jesus is here a model as ever. He does not trust himself to those around him (the extraordinary sentence in John), but he loves them, and even calls them friends. Not a word of reproach escapes his lips after his resurrection, though before we find him able to speak out his mind. He is completely free: this is what I love about him. Perhaps because he is absolutely filled with love, with his Father's love. But this does not mean that he passively accepts everything, that he is a wishy-washy do-gooder who cannot call the shots and call a spade a spade. He is able to say quite directly: why did you slap me? for which deed of mine?

I like to think that his cross is not the suffering that comes from a sense of having been let down, his expectations not having been met. So in what did his suffering consist? Perhaps it is the suffering of one who truly loves, one who loves with the love of benevolence, one whose whole and entire concern is for the wellbeing of his friends. Such a one suffers when he sees that his beloved is going to ruin. (And perhaps Thomas has something enlightening to say, as ever, on this as on other matters.)

Lose that tube

No matter what your age, it’s never too late to lose that extra ‘tube’ around your waist. Avoid beer and wine for six weeks, replacing them with mineral water with a touch of lime, vodka and tonic or Campari and soda. (Penelope Sach, The Little Book of Wellbeing: Looking After Yourself in a Busy World [New Delhi: Penguin, 2003])

Talk s-l-o-w-l-y

Make a conscious effort to talk more slowly than usual. This automatically slows down your breathing and heart rate, and also allows you to clear your head and clarify your thoughts. (Penelope Sach, The Little Book of Wellbeing: Looking After Yourself in a Busy World [New Delhi: Penguin, 2003])

Interesting, Ajoy was sharing something similar at mass this morning: the first pledge in a 30 day pledge being propagated by one of the survivors of the Taj attack of 26 November of some years ago is: slow down; learn to relish life. 

Saturday 7 July 2012

"The country of the Gadarenes"

The cardo maximus in Jerash / Gerasa - which is not exactly Gadara, but is certainly one of the cities of  the Decapolis

Another view from Jerash
The gospel reading the other day was about Jesus going to the 'country of the Gadarenes,' and his healing of the two demoniacs who came to meet him out of the tombs. The country of the Gadarenes: I suppose that means the region of the city of Gadara, one of the ten cities of the Decapolis, in the region beyond the river, in what is today the country called Jordan. The Decapolis, cities that had accepted and adopted Greco-Roman ways, seen also in the fact that someone had a large herd of pigs, which one gospel describes as numbering 2,000.

Jesus wandering in the Decapolis is especially striking, now that I have seen the ruins of some of the cities, and heard something about them. Crossing boundaries, as he was constantly doing. Not for him a strict mission only among the Jews, or only in Galilee of the Gentiles; but constantly crossing over the boundaries between man and woman, Jew and Samaritan, chosen people and Gentile, saints and sinners.

But even more extraordinary is that when the people of Gadara hear about the miracle, they come out of the city and beg Jesus to go away and leave them in peace. Here economics is more important than the sign, obviously. They had suffered a loss of 2000 pigs. So Jesus is inconvenient. And he has to go.

Are there situations in which I also ask Jesus to go away? I think immediately of Augustine's fascinating prayer: Lord, give me chastity, but not yet. Fascinating because so utterly honest, and so true. And Francis de Sales, who wisely pointed out that we have to not merely stop sinning, but also pray to get over our fascination for sin. He gives the example of the sick man who cannot eat a particular food, and he does not; but all the time he is longing to get well so that he can eat it; and when he gets well, he will.

The fascination for sin: that is the point. And I have to pray: Lord, give me a fascination for you. Take away my heart of stone, implant in me a heart of flesh. 

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Rogers on student centred learning

Back in Nashik, for a stint of teaching. I probably begin classes tomorrow: Hermeneutics II for the MPh, and Methodology II for the First Year MPh class. As I begin teaching again, I note here the following excerpt from a forthcoming article by Kenneth Pereira:
[Carl] Rogers describes the traditional mode of education in the following words:
 The teacher is the possessor of knowledge, the student the expected recipient.The lecture, the textbook, or some other means of verbal intellectual instruction are the major methods of getting knowledge into the recipient. The examinations measure the extent to which the student has received it.The teacher is the possessor of power, the student the one who obeys.Rule by authority is the accepted policy in the classroom.Trust is at a minimum. Most notable is the teacher’s distrust of the student. The student cannot be expected to work satisfactorily without the teacher’s constant supervision.The students are best governed by being kept in an intermittent or constant state of fear.Democracy and its values are ignored and scorned in practice.There is no place for the whole person in the educational system, only for his intellect.[1]
By contrast, the student-centred mode, which Rogers advocates with passion, turns the tables around 180 degrees. The educator in this mode is less a teacher than a facilitator. By his manner of being present unto the class—congruently, caringly and empathically—he creates a facilitative learning climate. He shares with the students, and possibly also parents and community members, the responsibility for the learning process. He provides learning resources from within himself—his own experiences—and from books, while encouraging the learners to add resources that they know of. The students’ learning from each other then becomes as important as their learning from books or films. Students, in pursuit of their own interests, develop their own programme of learning, alone or in co-ordination with others.[1]
 We notice that when the educator adopts the student-centred mode, his primary focus is on fostering the continuing process of learning. A course is said to be successfully ended not when the student has learnt all that he needs to know, but when he has advanced significantly in learning how to learn whatever he wants to know. To this end, self-discipline replaces external discipline. Even the evaluation of the extent and significance of the student’s learning is done primarily by the student himself, after receiving feedback from other members of the group and from the facilitator.[1]
Rogers vouches that student-centred education generates a growth-promoting climate, in which “the learning tends to be deeper, proceeds at a more rapid rate, and is more pervasive in the life and behaviour of the student than is learning acquired in the traditional classroom. This comes about because the direction is self-chosen, the learning is self-initiated, and the whole person (with feelings and passions as well as intellect) is invested in the process.”[2]
Will it be possible to do something along these lines? A challenge.

[1] Cf. Rogers, “The Politics of Education,” CRR 327-328.
[2] Rogers, “The Politics of Education,” CRR 328.

[1] Cf. Rogers, “The Politics of Education,” CRR 327. 

[1] Rogers, “The Politics of Education,” CRR 323-325 passim.

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