Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Rules of Prayer

"I shouldn't be coming to you, just when I need help." As I was reading those lines, I was struck by how similarly or differently people talked to God. It reminded me of my own idiosyncrasies when talking to God.

Heard of the butterfly effect? When a butterfly flutters its delicate wings in the depths of the Amazon, it may set off a typhoon in Japan. Events are preceded and are the sum of a countless number of variables which at first glance will have absolutely nothing to do with the final product. In my zany little mind, this forms the basis of my explanation of the power of prayer.

God is like a chess player playing against himself in the park, having all the fun with the infinite number of pieces and infinite number of moves. We couldn't even begin to fathom the grandiose nature of such a game. But wait, suppose each of the infinite number of pieces starts asking Him where they would like to be placed in the next move, or 12 moves ahead or 47 moves ahead. He must have a hard time answering each and all requests while abiding by the rules of the game (the laws of physics which we have yet to figure out)?

So, I used to pray for only 3 things every night. (I figured out 3 must be limit as all the stories I read had 3 wishes and no more) By the way these three did not include the default requests like taking care of my family or make them happy. As each prayer was answered I replaced it with another one. Usually it takes a few months to years for them to be answered. It was a year ago that a 13-year old prayer was answered. It was only last month that a 1-week old prayer was fulfilled.

When the lights go out, I sit up and make sure that my fingers are together in the midline, my back is straight, my eyes are closed, my mind is clear and I am relaxed. Then I speak.

Thank you for everything. Thank you especially for doing ___ or not doing ___.
I'm sorry for ___ and I will try to ___.
Please take care of everyone, my friends and family
(and a stranger I met that day.)
Then I list my 3 things.

After that I make the sign of the cross making sure that my fingers touch the exact spot or I repeat it until I do.

Then God will take into account that billions of requests, process it and make his moves accordingly. Sometimes it's not obvious. At others, it is very obvious. Of course, I also had to do my part and get as close to the position I want to be in and He will figure out the rest. Logically (ahah) it therefore didn't make sense to pray after any exams as the moves were already made. But I didn't labour the logic with Ammachi when she said to pray hard for my results.

"Ammachi, pakshe exam kazhinjittu pradhichittu karyamilla, athinu mumbayirunnu pradhikendethu--" (Ammachi, there's no point in praying after the exams. You should have prayed before the exams-"

"Appol nee pareekshakku mumbum pradhichille!?" (So you didn't pray even before the exams?!

It was after I spent a summer almost 13 years ago, reading the Good News Bible (the one with the really thin pages) that I made up these routine. Afterwards, I did not find much meaning in going to mass or saying the rosary as a means of prayer. For me, God was everywhere. It didn't make sense to have sculptures and pictures and the customary kissing of the cross at Easter and of the baby Jesus model in crib at Christmas. It always reminds me of the broken tablets when Moses came down from the mountain and found his people worshipping the golden calf.

That same summer I read the Rajagopalachari Mahabarata and Ramayana. It was really the stories in both the Christian and Hindu scriptures that prompted me to read them. But it was only after my uncle gave me Gandhi's Experiments with Truth bought for 10 rupees at a book fair in Kanakakunnu Palace that these stories and teachings were put in perspective.

We also had a subject called "Moral Studies" in school. What I didn't particularly like was that they split the class into Christians who would read Bible stories while the others would be taught generic morals in Moral Studies. I used to read the stories in my friend's textbook, all about good deeds being rewarded and baddies being humbled or punished. Later on in secondary school, I had a great many discussions with friends from all corners of the world about religion where my ignorance would show. Other than the mention of Zoroastrianism or Jewish holidays in the stale brown pages of quiz books, it wasn't until high school that I read up about the world religions.

What confused me then were the different breeds of Christians. We were a particular breed of Catholics - ones that were seen making the sign of the cross when passing a church, saying the rosary every day, going to Sunday school, having prayer meetings, having appam and stew on Easter, making wine during Christmas and greeting priests with "Eesho mishihayikku sthuthiyayirikkatte." (Praise Jesus our saviour.) and returning the greeting with "Eppozhum eppozhum sthuthiyayirikkatte" (Let us always praise Him.) I had no reason to think that not all Christians were Catholics, until I started meeting distant relations which were Jacobites, Marthomites, Knanayas and a million others. It was then explained that there were us Catholics and all other Christians were Protestants.

But what really bamboozled me were the subspecies of Catholics within our family - like Latin Catholics, Syrian Catholics, Orthodox and even Jacobite Syrian - I'm sure there are more. So I found it funny later when I started meeting people describing their ancestry as being "half-black, half-Chinese, half-Indian, half-Latino," I thought back to similar conversations in the family talking about "half Jacobite or half Syrian and half Latin.."

I can imagine a confoosed Malayalee Christiani at the US airport..

"I'm sorry, sir but there's no option for part-Syrian, part-Latino, part-Roman."


usha said...

just bumped into ur blog, while bloghopping.. pretty neat blog, u've got here!

btw, did u go to HAC Tvm, by any chance?? the moral science/ Cathechism divide is what made me wonder so..of course, there could be other schools which implemented that.. but still??

Shanks_P said...

Hmmm Moral Science and Cathechism was one thing which followed the same rules in myschool as well.

There are examz also but never bothered to remember anything read or taught there! But all those morals makes sense NOW! :)

nmouse said...

Welcome usha, thank you for your kind words. Although I didn't go to HAC, text books would be passed down (my favourites being the english and moral sciences books containing lots of stories!). All my relatives and friends had the same experience of Bible classes vs. moral science classes if they went to a Christian institution. By the way, I'd be curious to know if someone like Sr. Angela took the moral science lessons or a non-Christian?

shanks_p: It was funny how those exams tested recall, e.g. fill in the blanks, etc. rather than an understanding! (Not that it was any different for other subjects, though you'd have expected "morals" to tested somewhat differently.) Somehow everything was always either black or white but never grey. Possibly to discourage tharkutharam and challenging authority; where authority of elders had already been instilled in kids as being absolute by parents. So when the economics, history and civics teacher opened up the floor and invited challenges to the textbook version of history/civics, we were enthralled and keen for a lively 40 minutes of discussion with him. Forget about morals... his are the lessons still most vivid in my mind!