When I joined a convent school as a snotty kid, I believe many tongues clucked, many fingers wagged, many foreheads creased with deep frowns. This was seen as a detriment to my religious development. It was predicted that I would soon forsake my own religion - my Krishna, my Vishnu, my Ganesha, my Rama; and adopt their Christ. After all, our religions were so different, the tongue-cluckers and finger-waggers murmured. Here we were – our Gods are powerful, handsome, bejewelled and bedecked. Our Gods fought wars and destroyed the evil Rakshasas – be it Kamsa or Ravana. But look at Christ – look at the suffering on His face, and He’s been nailed to a Cross for crying out loud. Why did my parents not put me in Saraswati Vidya Mandir where we were allowed to put bindis and wear bangles and necklaces – the way a Hindu girl should look like? Could my parents not see that I would be instilled with ‘Christian values’? Clearly my parents were upstarts and were ‘acting very smart’. It is another matter that no one had an answer when probed about what ‘Christian’ values were (as against ‘Hindu’ values).
I completed my schooling unscathed – without losing sight of my own religion, but at the same time, embracing Christ too. My tongue did not wither away when I sang English hymns instead of Sanskrit shlokas (and I did both). Indeed it still hurts when some idiot insults Krishna or Christ. As for values, I believe I’ve imbibed the values that make me a decent human being, if not a saint.
Life is the greatest teacher. But therein is the problem. The more we look around, and open ourselves to new experiences, new cultures – we can either become more enriched, or more cynical. Technology and science have made great strides – so much so, even ‘love’ has been analysed down right to a chemical reaction. So it is no surprise that we often find ourselves questioning the relevance of ‘Gods’ we grew up with. But perhaps no other saint/Messiah has come under so much scrutiny as Jesus Christ. Did Jesus really walk on this planet or was it all a myth? Did He really perform miracles or was it all imagination? Was He married or was He a bachelor? Was He coloured or was He white? And all those scrolls and reams and reams of nitpicking documentation on what He actually said. All those conspiracy theories. It’s so tiresome...all this so called ‘establishing the truth’. Does it really matter? What matters is what Jesus, or Krishna, or Rama means to you. Personally. Spiritually. If you believe Jesus is a Saviour, then, He is your saviour. If you think Jesus was a smokescreen created by political strategists, then that is your truth. If you equate the life of Christ to your own – and compare Him with your society – then sure, you will find a million faults with Him, as with Rama or Krishna.
Christ says, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me’ (Revelations 3.20). It’s as simple as that. Strip off all the paraphernalia – the questions and debates and interpretations, and focus on what He embodies. To me, He is THE symbol of faith, forgiveness and the power of prayer – three powerful virtues. It might sound silly, and the rationalists might snigger – but faith is comforting; and can indeed move mountains. Forgiveness has a tremendous healing power – but so difficult to achieve; to let go, to cleanse all those negative emotions and start afresh. We’ve seen the futility of nuclear missiles and blazing guns fuelled by hatred; perhaps it is time to try forgiveness? And prayers – they bring in the light of hope into our souls – and what is life without hope?
Yes, Christmas is all about retail these days. Given a chance, I think they’ll fix up Christ in some Versace. Nonetheless, even if Christmas represents only shopping and wine and roasts to you; no matter how strong an atheist you are, no matter how strong a rationalist you are... become a child this Christmas. Regain that naive, innocent mind where belief and faith entered unquestioningly, easily – a time when you could hear an inner voice in the silence of your mind.
I wish you a blissful Christmas. And I pray that you are able to bear your Cross with dignity and strength.
© Sumana Khan - 2011