Tag Archive: death


Breaking the Chain of Hate

AMDG

download1I read a book a few years ago which had a profound effect on me.  ‘Forgiveness – Breaking the Chain of Hate‘ by Michael Henderson looks at the lives of dozens of remarkable people of many nations and faiths who have been able to break the chain of hate through repentance and forgiveness.  They included survivors of the Burma Road, the Siberian Gulag and Nazi atrocities.   This for me is the key to life of Nelson Mandela which is being celebrated today.  One of the most eloquent testimonies has been Archbishop Desmond Tutu, you can watch it below, but for me he identifies this remarkable inner transformation that took place in prison. To my ears it is similar to the transformation that can happen in the silence of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.   ‘The crucible of prison added a deep understanding of the human condition and a profound ability to emphasize ….. like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the Earth – The Madiba who emerged from prison in 1990 was virtually flawless.  When you thing that he went to prison as an angry young man and he emerged as an icon of magnanimity and compassion‘.  The whole interview is below: the first few minutes are dynamite! 

AMDG

Jeans or Sari? In the cities the growing use of Western Style dress is a hot topic for debate

I have just spent a busy 24 hours in Bangalore accompanying one of students who may be getting surgery to straighten her spine.  As I had other jobs to do, we took one of her teachers with us so that they wouldn’t be alone.  It was a bit hectic, we had to rush around the city in rickshaws, meeting the doctor, getting an x-ray, going to a hospital to sort out the post-op care.  Both the teacher and the student were only visiting Bangalore for the second time,  and it was clear they preferred small town or village India to big city in India.  What was particularly interesting was their commentaries and chatting about the amount of girls and young women they saw in Jeans or western style dress.  There was a big discussion about Sari v Jeans and Sari definitely came out top in their eyes. This lead to a few long conversations about the role of women in India and it certainly was sobering and the question of fashion soon seemed to become irrelevant.

Back in March 2010, the Economist ran a striking cover story about what it called ‘Gendercide‘ responding the famous Indian Economist Amartya Sen claim that 100million baby girls have been killed through sex-selective abortions.  Because of a variety of factors, the dowry system, traditional prejudices, need for physical labour, inheritance law, girls are clearly seen as less preferable to boys. As well as this ancient preference for a son, there is a modern desire for smaller families and cheap and widespread availability of ultrasound technology. This combined factors has led to a dramatic rise in sex selective abortions.

Unlike China, India’s democratic roots  and civil service have set up an impressive infrastructure for elections and also data gathering, particularly through the 10-year census.  The data is seen as reliable and detailed.  It also very revealing.    Currently in India the sex ratio according to 2011 census is 914 women per 1,000 men. It was 927 women per 1,000 men in 2001. According to The World Factbook this is the third most distorted sex ratio in the world after China and Armenia and it seems to be growing.   The census data also reveals how cultural prejudices affect this.  In both rural and urban India the Sikh community has the most distorted ratio (895  girls per 1000 boys).  This is followed by Hindus (935),  Muslim and Jains (940),   Buddhist (955).  It is only the Christian community that has more girls than boys (1009), but indications suggest that even that may be dropping.

Obviously the effects of this ‘gendercide’ could be profound on the community.  In Northern States in India where the practice of sex selective abortion and also infanticide seems most common, they are already having to ‘import’ brides from other states.  Son preference is most prevalent in an arc of countries from East Asia through South Asia to the Middle East and North Africa – however it seems highest in Asia. In fact it is only South Korea that seems to have recovered it sex ratio to from that equivalent to India in 1990 to approaching a more normal level today. The economic rise of South Korea, the only country to go from being an aid recipient to an aid donor in one generation, is well known. But is a change of culture that is leading to girls to be valued more.

This is another reason why education is so important, and the work being done here in Manvi so impressive.  But there is still a lot to do, the Jesuits here have set up an impressive network of womens groups in the villages, such as the Devadasis pictured on the right.  They value education more and will encourage the girls to go to school.  But still there are deep problems.  In a dramatic incident last week our social workers who have been developing a malnutrition programme had to rush a seriously malnourished baby girl to hospital.  There is a lot of confusion around the case, they suspect food provided for her had been sold on, that the child may have HIV, and that the grandmother seemed to be blocking any effort to help her survive. From the (foriegn) social workers perspective, the family seemed happy to let her die.  There is no proof to any of this, but it would not be a surprise in a culture where the difference between a boy and a girl can have a big effect in the lives of the poor. What is needed is faithful presence and the slow continuous work of changing hearts and minds.  The British Governments arm for development (DFID) are offering large amounts of funding targeted at getting girls into and keeping them in education. It is called the Girls Education Challenge, and in a new departure funds that would usually go into government budgets and be wasted due to corruption are now being offered to the private sector.  The Jesuits who already educate over 9,000 girls in Karnataka state, with over two thirds of them being from low caste and vulnerable backgrounds are well placed to use this funding to expand their educational work.  In fact that was my other business in Bangalore.

AMDG

No Ambulance, No Doctor but a photographer on hand…….. “He was taken aside and given a key to hold as we felt he had an attack of fits. There was no ambulance around but we gave him some basic first aid.’’ Mahesh (Physio) From Deccan Herald

The news this morning from Bangalore was a sharp contrast from the weekend’s news in England. A young footballer yesterday died on the pitch of a cardiac arrest (click here). In England everybody has been relieved to see Fabrice Muamba begin his recovery, with the incongruous sight of Premiership footballers calling people to prayer. Here in India the family of Venkatesh Dhanraj are mourning and stunned that he died so suddenly and with no medical facilities to resuscitate him. His father said “After he collapsed on the ground, I knew something was wrong. The referee noticed it and called for medical attention. But, I saw no one. Forget an ambulance, it’s a luxury for football players in Bangalore, there was no stretcher and no doctor.” The league has been suspended with the Karnataka State Football Association accusing Bangalore District of breaking rules on medical provision. Shockingly it is the second death at the stadium in 8 years, after the Brazilian striker Cristiano Junior. Perspective is so often lost with sport…. but these tragedies out it right back into perspective. I was reading Alex Ferguson praising the rapid reaction of the medical staff at the Tottenham / Bolton game where Muamba collapsed. Money is clearly the difference.

the call to prayer……

Unfortunately not all medically trained understand their work as vocation but more as a career. Fr Eric the Jesuit director here in Manvi trapped a nerve in his leg two days ago. In great pain he rushed to the nearest hospital in Raichur (80kms away) and the doctor after a cursory inspection suggested an operation which would cost 50,000Rupees ($700). This seemed ridiculous so Eric went to Mangalore (200kms away) to the Catholic Hospital where his sister works – he had an MRI scan for 2000 rupees and was discharged after the nerve had slipped back in to place. As long as unscrupulous doctors are just working to get as much money as quickly as possible then the idea of public service takes a backseat. This is why an education system that inculcates the values of service, especially for the least is so important and the only way to transform a country. Two of the Dalit children here told me that their dream is to become doctors…. I hope they make it and remember the love and care they have experienced here at the Xavier High School in Manvi.

The place of Death

AMDG

One of the differences I have observed about the different villages are the place the dead are given.  It is almost an indication of how ‘christianised’ the villages have come.  There is documentary and oral evidence that successive missionaries encouraged people to build a cemetery outside of the villages, but they never insisted on it.  The dead and the spirits of ancestors play a significant role in these mountain tribes.  In nearby Bontoc region  - where some of my companions are – is famous for the hanging coffins in some of the caves.  In fact – according to Lonely Planet – different from the 9 other different cultures that practice of mummification – here in the Cordillera they are unique in that do not touch any internal organs. Corpses are dried in the heat of a fire, embalmed herbally and then over six months smoke is blown into abdominal cavities to dry out worms and preserve organs. Here in Tunadan – at least in the remoter villages – the dead are still buried next to the houses of the family.

This means as you can see in the picture that graves are interspersed amongst the dwellings – sometimes even underneath homes. In some houses when the family gather to eat, they will call on the name of the dead relative to join them as they believe that the spirit is still roaming about their former habitat.  Again whether this is practiced or not would indicate the level of ‘christianisation’ that has happened.  The old lady who was explaining this to me assured me that in her eyes was superstition and then gave a very impressive exposition of how important belief in the Resurrection is now for her family. I hope she wasn’t just saying it to impress the priest!  The other fascinating detail she told me was about  the tradition of mourning.  It used to be that a widow would not cut his hair for a year, and then could cut it only if he went to an enemy tribe or village and came back with a head. The old lady, laughing, assured me that this expectation was commuted long before she was born, to hunting a wild boar or deer for a day and a night, and coming back with its corpse to be shared in a feast.

It has always fascinated me the different ways we cope with death – in the UK very poorly I believe!  It is a peculiarly British habit to quarantine death with pragmatism, etiquette and control.  That is definitely not the case here. I was very fond of the HBO series Six Feet Under for this reason and  I have put on my Amazon Wish List (hint hint!) a fascinating book called Making An Exit: From the Magnificent to the Macabre. How We Dignify the Dead by Sarah Murray  How we deal with death often is more about how the living cope with loss and the values that underpin that.  And it is clear to me that the people here have such a strong collective identity – which seems to be both positive and negative.

AMDG

So we have arrived in the fourth and final week of the Exercises…. hopefully still intact!  The Third Week really stretches your compassion as you attempt to accompany Christ through his passion and suffering, not just as an onlooker but as a friend and companion who is suffering too. The third week really plunges you into the mystery of evil.  However after a ‘tomb’ day, now the retreatant can rejoice with Mary and the Disciples as we live through those first history-changing moments of the Resurrection. Ignatius points out how in the third week Christ allows His Divinity to be hidden – now His Divinity is manifested in full glory. And you watch as Jesus brings the consolation of his risen presence to his mother and his friends. Of course sharing in someone’s joy seems a lot easier than sharing in their pain and suffering – but it seems that somehow the depth of this joy is linked to the depth of our compassion.

As Kahlil Gibran once wrote -

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

The rest of this beautiful poem is here

When I was a teacher and chaplain I used to like standing in the school hall and telling startled year groups of 200 boys that if the Resurrection wasn’t a historical fact, i.e. if i didn’t really happen than I was the biggest idiot in the hall. As you can imagine some of them quite liked that! But for me it is true – without the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, Christianity is a sham.  In the second week we were using our imaginative contemplation to follow Jesus in his ministry so that we could know, love and follow him – or as Richard of Chichester once said ‘ know him more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly’ - we arrive at the truth and destiny of His and our lives in the resurrection. A love that destroys death and suffering. A light that cannot be swamped by the darkness.

This Easter Joy is celebrated every year by 2billion+ Christians but here in the Exercises it is experienced with a particular intensity. This Easter Joy is the dynamo of Christianity. It is why at every funeral we place the Easter Candle by the coffin of the deceased.  It is a privelege and a joy to share in the Joy of that first Easter – its what makes life worth living for and death worth dying for too!

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