Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Blue Mountain Mama's 'Wordless Wednesday' has refreshed my irritation. Here's what I mean:

There's a haunting lament by the musician Damien Rice which, today I can't get out of my head. In it he speaks of cold, cold water surrounding him. Of course it's a metaphor, but something of his aching and longing for something lost has stirred my soul. I don't know where this journey began - I think my first visit to Africa - but what I do know is that I now suffer from a condition that Scottish writer and campaigner Alistair McIntosh calls communalism. Such an idiom brings us to questions of identity and belonging - in short, our search for community.

Generations, most of which have now passed away (I am remembering particularly my grandparents), speak of a time of interconnectedness, a time when there was an interdependence on one another for survival. A time of sharing what little they had and not demanding anything in return - I suppose the Biblical simile would be that everyone was their brother and sister's keeper. It is something the social thinker Ivan Illich calls the 'vernacular economy', which explained in mortal speak is a way of doing and being that is learned, naturally, through our culture, which allows equality within society.

As with anything important, we realise just how essential something is only when it is gone. Something I think we (as a global community) need to address with some urgency is an economy for people and not profit, which at its deepest level I would describe as mutuality. This is something which most of Africa and the developing world have had to live with for too long. Need should lubricate our relationships. Surplus should be for sharing before trading and happiness should come from giving rather than accumulating.

Historical and sociological insights urge theologians to look hard at situations where church praxis is worked out. Ideas in isolation are not enough. Theology needs to be seen in relation to the events that shape it. Ubuntu, Xhosa expression, is one such example. It is an ancient African word meaning 'humanity to others'. Like many African words it has numerous translations, another is ''I am what I am because of who you are.'

Where am I going with this? Well, I read the story of the feeding of the 5,000 for the first time in a while the other day and I tried to get beyond the basic narrative and burrow under and inbetween the text. I've always had a nagging suspicion that there was more to this story than Jesus performing some kind of magic trick to feed hungry people. And after a while of pondering the text, it hit me. These were not hungry, starving people in front of Jesus and his disciples at all (maybe a little peckish at most). Many were proud Jewish women and their children and I have never met a Jewish mother who doesn't make sure her family isn't more than well fed.

This miracle is not about feeding starving people. As an aside, most Jews in Jesus' time had 200 calories per day more than the World Health Organisation prescribes as necessary for the minimum sustainable diet for people today. These were not starving hungry people. The point is this; who with thousands around, is going to share? the crowd is experiencing a late lunch because of a silly concoction of politeness, social reserve and selfishness. In the face of all this prissiness, Jesus accepts the naive offering of a young boy who has the courage to share his lunch and with this shames 5,000 people into opening their boxes.

Am I undermining the authenticity of the miracle? No, not for a minute. What I am trying to do is underscore its credibility and importance for our time. For Jesus to transform the fish and loaves would not be impossible. I have no difficulty whatsoever with that. But for Jesus to feed 5,000 people when no one but a young boy is prepared to make any individual suggestion that they have food is an astounding feat, because he is taking on human selfishness.

What makes it more incredible? (If indeed we believe Holy Scripture kind of transcends time) That Christ should feed a non-starving crowd out of kindness? Or that we in the West should be aware of the perilous state of millions of our fellow human beings and have to wait until skeletal children appear on our television screens before we are generous? Or are we finally going to wake up to the fact that we are 'Ubuntu', we are interconnected, that we need one another - that we are our brother's and sister's keeper?

Sobering isn't it?

* as a sub note, anyone who says my thoughts are not accurate with the exact text - take a history lesson on how much the New Testament text has been fiddled with to say what a bunch of men wanted it to say - you'd be surprised


mister tumnus said...

yo CS.

thanks lots for this.

in a couple of weeks' time i am scheduled to be singing julie lee's 'stranger no stranger' (based on those words of buechner) in a mother's day service at a local church. because of this i've been thinking a bit lately about those words which also relate to what you're saying: that we need each other, that we are each other's keepers. i loved that take on the feeding of the 5000. love it!

Anna said...

You have such a way with writing Paul. I like how you tell it like you see it, with no need to be wordy. And somehow point it all back to Christ. Thanks for that. We are indeed each others keepers and need to start realizing that truth...myself included.

Both your post and bluemountainmama's have hit me pretty hard today...very sobering indeed.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

Mr T,
gonna have to hear that voice someday!

am sure there will be many who think it blasphemy - but as you know I love questioning and wrestling with God - it's the only way to know him/her

how's your wee one?

it is sobering - these beautiful children will now be teenagers and be working the hard land of Ghana - i think of them often.
i like being drunk on life but know the need for sobriety too

ps, this shot was taken before my digital days!

The Meaning Weakened by the Lies said...

'We must demand more not from each other, but more from ourselves' - Jewel Kilcher

bluemountainmama said...

harbour- i really like what you said about the gives it a whole new meaning for me.

i get overwhelmed sometimes watching documentaries about and seeing photos of hurting people, especially children. i weep and call out to God to DO SOMETHING!!!

and then i try to figure out what i can do from my little corner of the world....rural appalachia, US. it all starts in your own community and then trickles from there, i believe.

but i also think we need to be reminded on a daily basis of how the rest of the world is living. it really puts things in a different perspective....makes you rethink how you are living.

i agree about community. and until we return to that sense of community....and not this independent isolationism(is that a word?) that is so valued in our society, it is going to be an uphill battle to make a difference.

bluemountainmama said...

oh...and i was going to add about has always been such a "village" society. but with the aids epidemic....several generations at a time are being wiped out.

before, if a child was orphaned, an aunt or grandparent would take them in. now, young children are being left as the head of the households b/c not only their parents are dying, but their extended family.

i read somewhere that the orphan crisis will be the number one humanitarian crisis by the year 2010....and a lot of this is due to aids in africa, and the wars and genocide that have been taking place in areas such as darfur.

i've always wanted to go to older sister did a mercy ships excursion there. and i believe, like you said, once you've been in a thirld world country, you are never really the same.

Awareness said...

So eloquently written, Paul. Again, your thoughts and words ....your wonderful interpretation of feeding the 5000....your insights on issues pertaining to poverty in Africa...have generated many thoughts in me......

All week, I have been thinking a great deal on the subject of community.......actually if I stop and think about it, it seems like it has been a theme of sorts in my writing for a long time and bluemountainmama's comments here have both broadened my thinking tremendously.....

I can't seem to think linearly tonight........stirred emotions on this topic.....? Yes

We have much to learn from the youngest members of our community as they too learn how to share. their need for love and belonging, their dependence on the grown ups in their lives, when provided unconditionally allows them to develop a foundational sense of security that will hopefully feed their understanding of community.

We never lose the need to feel the sense of interconnectedness. It grounds us, and allows us to fly and falter and to fly again. Our search for community where acceptance, not judgement reigns seems to be the impetus for the surge in the numbers of people looking for a spiritual home, perhaps?

Like Bluemountainmama, I too have always wanted to visit and work in Africa....... it has always been a dream of mine, though shelved for many years.....

Are you returning there again?

Mata H said...

Ahhh, m'friend - I am surprised you didn't quote the other Boss's lyrics :






The Harbour of Ourselves said...

some very thoughtful and provocative comments on something i believe to be vital for our survival

wise words from Kilcher indeed - couldn't agree more

if isolationism isn't a word - it should be
I saw something of the results of the pandemic whilst in Tanzania 2 years ago - the fear for the mothers affected was not how painfully they would die, but rather the anguish at leaving their small children to survive in a cruel brutal world alone - the lost helpless look in their eyes still haunts me

Dana, love this, 'We have much to learn from the youngest members of our community as they too learn how to share. their need for love and belonging, their dependence on the grown ups in their lives, when provided unconditionally allows them to develop a foundational sense of security that will hopefully feed their understanding of community.'

so true

do i plan to return, yes - i have a friend who works with street children in Durban - i plan to go next year to try and raise some awareness and hopefully funding too for his remarkable charity

this year it's Israel/Palestine.......

how could i miss 'that' boss?

not many say it better.....

bjk said...

There is so much to be done I get overwhelmed. Even in and on a local level....our church has just been given land by a chief in South Africa for us to come over and build ...everything with and for them...they want to know Christ, they want a church....our first thing is reaching out to our community asking for help, looking for people with interest and qualifications in sanitation, agriculture,'s a huge undertaking....this is a village of 7000 people with 3 spigots of water and probably 120+ orphaned children from the aids epidemic. At first glance it's hopeless....but as we begin to talk about it to any and all who will listen...and pray about it and let our youth dream of HOW they could help....well who know....they are the ones who are going to change our world and we are responsible to empower them to do it....

MJ said...

I really love that you are is the mark of our shepherd.

St. Kevin & the Blackbird said...

This is a refreshing take; it puts the edges back in a story that had become well-worn through familiarity.

Niki said...

I'm doing a module on miracles in religious philosophy; there's so much I learnt about interpreting them in the past few weeks - thank you for your take.
As always your blog is eloquent and coherent; must ask you to teach me some day.

KH said...

Great to be reminded of 'ubuntu' just as I have been sitting around with friends drinking wine and discussing how we can build community and support one another in our quest to find a way of worshipping that touches our souls once again.

'Ubuntu' is really hard to define but a friend of mine who has spent time working with street kids in South Africa once told me:'I can't really explain ubuntu but it means that as long as I have food you will never go hungry'.

Take care Paul.

melanie said...

Very sobering thoughts indeed.

bhattathiri said...

Your website is beautiful, informative and Excellent.

Article by M.P. Bhattathiri, Retired Chief Technical Examiner , to The Govt. of Kerala. Humble request that it may be published in your website and magazine after editing if necessary

Let me bow to Indian Maharishi Patanjali with folded hands who helped in removing the impurities of the mind through his writings on Yoga, impurities of speech through his writings on grammer, and impurities of body through his writings on Ayurveda.

The American justice Dept. have recently approved the power of yoga and meditation vide a recent judgement in the American court."Man Who Slapped Wife Sentenced to Yoga, It's Anger Management, Says Judge." First there was house arrest. Now there's yoga. A judge ordered a man convicted of slapping his wife to take a yoga class as part of his one-year probation. "It's part of anger management," County Criminal Court at Law Judge Larry Standley said of the ancient Hindu philosophy of exercise and well-being. "For people who are into it, it really calms them down. " Standley, a former prosecutor, said the case of James Lee Cross was unique. Cross, a 53-year-old car salesman from Tomball, explained that his wife was struggling with a substance abuse problem and that he struck her on New Year's Eve during an argument about her drinking. "He was trying to get a hold of her because she has a problem," Standley said after the court hearing. "I thought this would help him realize that he only has control over himself." The sentence came as a surprise to Cross, who was told to enroll in a class and report back to Standley on his progress. "I'm not very familiar with it," Cross said of yoga. "From what I understand, it may help in a couple ways, not only as far as mentally settling, but maybe a little weight loss." Darla Magee, an instructor at Yoga Body Houston in River Oaks, said she would recommend that Cross take a basic yoga class emphasizing breathing and including a variety of postures -- forward bends, back bends and twists. "Yoga can help us to get rid of many emotional issues we might have," she said. "It's a spiritual cleanse." Prosecutor Lincoln Goodwin agreed to a sentence of probation without jail time because Cross had no significant criminal history
Yoga which is one of the greatest Indian co tribution to the world has got vast potential in all fields. In Tihar jail India Yoga is experimented among the inamtes and found successful. Their criminal mentality is changed. This study aimed at investigating the effect of Vipassana Meditation (VM) on Quality of Life (QOL), Subjective Well-Being (SWB), and Criminal Propensity (CP) among inmates of Tihar Jail, Delhi. To this effect the following hypotheses were formulated. 1. There will be a significant positive effect of VM on the QOL of inmates of Tihar jail. 2. VM will have a positive and significant effect on SWB of inmates. 3. Criminal propensity (CP) of inmates will decrease significantly after attending the VM course. 4. There will be significant difference in SWB and CP of experimental (Vipassana) group and control (non-Vipassana) group. 5. Male and female inmates will differ significantly in SWB and CP, as a result of VM. In the famous "Time" magazine the importance meditation and yoga, an ancient Indian system, is high-lighted that the ancient mind- and spirit-enhancing art is becoming increasingly popular and gaining medical legitimacy. It is a multi billion dollar business in US. In many Universities it is accepted as subject and included in the Syllabus. In the latest famous book "Inspire! What Great Leaders Do" written by Mr.Lance Secretan recently published by John Wiley and sons, the benefit of meditation is elaborately described for good corporate governance. By practising transcendental meditation, or TM, many people have got relief from back pain, neck pain, depression. The mind calms and quiets, . What thoughts you have during meditation become clearer, more focused. Anger, anxiety and worries give way to a peace. In the world exhorbitant medical expeneses one can definitely make use of meditation. Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and Sri Ravi Sankar are poplarising this. The Iyengar Yoga institute in US is famous.
In Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna has inspired Arjuna to rise from his depression by preaching Gita in the battlefield and to rise from the depression to do his duties. In Holy Gita we can see, being hidden by the cosmic overview of any institution beset with myriad problems, not the least of which is its lack of moral probity, there is a groundswell of educated people seeking answers to deeply personal but universally asked questions. Chie Executives taking lessons from yoga, meditation and learning how to deal with human resources equations in an enlightened manner. Individuals from every walk of life can get ideas of how to be better human beings, more balanced and less stressed out.
Medical studies continue to show regular meditation working magic in reducing blood pressure and stress-related illnesses, including heart disease. Brain images show that regular meditation helps calm the most active sensory-assaulted parts of the brain. The ancient Hindu sage Patanjali who had mastered the secrets of the human mind has written a book "Yogasutra".In this book we can see how super powers can be achieved by meditation. It has both cosmic relevance and cosmic resonance. In spite of its universal appeal, for most people total control of mind remains an elusive goal and daunting task. From time immemorial, there have been many attempts throughout the world to unlock the mysteries of the mind and to achieve total control over it through a variety of techniques. One of the most powerful of these techniques is meditation.
Many spiritual leaders, sages, saints, and holy people such asSri. Buddha, Sri Ramakrishna, Madam Sarada Devi, and Swami Vivekananda have practised this. One of the ways to control physiological reactions to psychological stimuli is meditation, Yoga, Zen Buddhism etc. The scientists take Transcendental Meditation (TM) as the uniform technique, and base their observations on the study of the subjects engaged in this form of meditation. In summing up the results the scientists have come to conclusion that the effect of meditation is a "wakeful, hypo-metabolic state". They have found that: 1) Yogis could slow both heart rate and rate of respiration, 2) Yogis could slow the rate of metabolism as confirmed by decreased oxygen consumption and carbon-di-oxide output. 3) Electro-Encephalo-Gram (EEG - recording of brain activity) in Yogis showed changes of calmness in the form of "alpha rhythm" during both eyes closed and eyes open recordings. 4) Th ir skin resistance to electric stimulation was increased (indicating increased tolerance to external stimuli). Our usual 'defence-alarm' reaction to emotional and physical stress is in the form of "fright, flight, and fight" mediated through over-secretion of certain neuro-transmitters and neuro-modulators, namely adrenaline and dopamine by way of stimulation of sympathetic nervous system. Under the influence of these chemicals and hormones, we reflexively become panicky or aggressive, our blood pressure rises. Thus stress and anxiety is the end result if we allow our natural age-old sympathetic reactions to act and to come to surface. We try to run away, become fearful, or fight the situation. But today these 'defence-alarm' reactions have no place in our lives. Rather, they should be replaced by more calm and serene reactions of equanimity and fearlessness. The need is to just 'face the brute, and it will go away'. Such desirable reactions of non-aggression and peaceful attitude are generated by Y ga and meditation. EEG Studies on Yogis and The Zen Meditations: Yogis practising Raja-Yoga claim that during the state of samadhi they are oblivious to the internal and external stimuli, and they enjoy a calm ecstasy during that state. A study was undertaken to record the electrical activity of their brain during this state by means of a regular and useful test known as electroencephalography EEG. Physiological and experimental studies have demonstrated that the basis of conscious state of brain, among other things, is due to activation of "reticular system" in the brain-stem in response to internal and external stimuli. These stimuli bring about various changes during sleeping and wakeful states of the organism and these can be studied by EEG. The study was carried out on four subjects during the state of concentration and meditation. Effects of external stimuli, like a loud gong, strong light, thermal simulation, and vibrations were studied. The results were compiled and analyzed. It was observed that two Yogis could keep their hands immersed in extremely cold water for about 50 minutes (raised pain threshold). During state of meditation, all of them showed persistent "alpha activity" in their EEG with increased amplitude wave pattern, both during 'eyes closed' and 'eyes open' recording. It was observed that these alpha activities could not be blocked by various sensory stimuli during meditation. It was also observed that those, who had well-marked "alpha activity" in their resting EEG showed greater aptitude and zeal for maintaining the practice of Yoga. Similar observations and results were obtained when EEGs were recorded in persons adept in Zen Meditative technique. Can we say that only those persons who exhibit such recording of "alpha wave rhythm" in their EEG are fit for Yoga? and be designated as right candidates for meditation and Yoga practices? (Such experiments are indeed very few and the number of yogis examined is also very small. Therefore, scientifically and statistic lly these observations have only a tentative importance. Further research is definitely called for, albeit it will have its own limitations.) It is said that in the unknown period of Lord Jesus Christ , He was under meditation.
Ref. Yoga magazines
Newyork times
Time magazine