My father and I had a discussion on a piece of wood ( of all the things we got to talk!). It made me realise that much of our church’s tradition and practices remain unexplained, despite the deep meaning, and its operating in the symbolic world, which most of us prefer. Did you know that there is a rectangular piece of wood, the size of a tabloid newspaper folded into half, kept on the altar of the churches of the Syrian tradition? Sorry for the newbies, I’ll explain that Syrian part sometime. In the sanctuary of the church, the ‘saucer’ in which the ‘sacramental bread’ is keptand the cup of wine (Chalice), are placed on this wooden piece. You can’t see it because it is wrapped in special cloth and placed over the altar. After the bread and the wine are placed on top of it, another special cloth called ‘sho-sha-ppa’ is used for covering it ( the symbolism which stands for mystery!). Why are we really talking about this wooden piece? Because of its symbolic meaning: Waving your palm, means ‘bye’, beckoning with your finger towards you means ‘come here’, your arm around your friend’s shoulder shows your friendship or your love – in short, we depend on symbols and symbolic gestures. What’s that unseen wooden piece – of which, perhaps, you haven’t heard – mean? Why is it there if it’s not seen? That rectangular wooden board symbolises a couple of things. In old testament times, animals and birds were sacrificed on stone altars, as an ‘offering’ to God in order to get rid of their sin. Jesus’ death on the cross, was symbolically a sacrifice. An offering to God for everyone’s sake. He died for the sins of everyone in this world and, that ‘sacrifice’ was on a cross ( which is made of wood). The wooden piece is a means to commemorate that act – the last sacrifice done. Once. And. For. All. Thus all the songs of praise and the prayers of thanksgiving offered to God in the church, are symbolically an offering to God. All done, on a wooden piece. Secondly, this wooden piece is a portable altar. Yeah. Who ever said portability was a modern idea? For close to 20 centuries, this wooden piece has been taken and placed wherever an altar is set up ( all of this is in the Syrian tradition, not other Christian denominations). If, the Holy Communion is celebrated in a house, or a house warming service is conducted, or a healing service for the ill is done, this wooden piece is taken along, wrapped in it’s cloth and kept on the table where the crosses and candles are set up. for the service. This portable altar is a symbol of the presence of God. A symbol. Just to remind us about the pervading, unstoppable presence of God. In a life where everything explicit gives meaning, we have some things in our tradition which remain subtle and carry depths of meaning. What you see, isn’t only, what you get.Finally, the name of this wooden piece, in Syriac is Thabaleetha.
“Surrender don’t come natural to me
I’d rather fight You for something
I don’t really want
Than to take what You give that I need”
- Work in a Christian institution or organisation for a while
- Apply for Seminary this year through the Church, to become a priest
- Apply in a Seminary to study theology privately, leaving me a theology graduate and not a priest
- Apply for a Ph.D or M. Phil
Today I lack the determination with which I left Bangalore for vacations to Kerala, after my exams. I am thoroughly demotivated to set out on my own thinking of problems that might crop up at home. An elder brother of mine said that if that’s what you are called to do, they will come around to it.
I am not convinced yet. I am still holding on to myself. I have not surrendered. The use of ‘surrender’ is deliberate. Your wishes stand aside to the wishes of the church. You go where the church sends you. You minister where they place you. Of course, merit matters, but not always. You could study further, but you have to be in parishes and lead the Parish mission, Women’s Fellowship, oversee Sunday School and youth league (if time remains after the committees of the church and the previous two organisations). But the influence you have on people is immense. I’m not talking in terms of power, but the ability to make people think and change the course of their life so that they can live their purpose in life and be part of Kingdom building. If my father were to read this, he might ask, don’t you want to give back anything to the church which gave you so much and made you what you are today. True, I can’t be ungrateful. By the way, I don’t want to be ungrateful in the first place. But this isn’t the only way to pay back. Plus, I don’t think God expects a pay back. Which parent gets the exact pay back for bringing their children up and all the sacrifices they make in the course of it? You just can’t , so you just pass it on to your children. I guess the same principle works here. Now if anyone’s doubting me being a true Mar Thoma christian, must now that I am a hard core Mar Thomite. May be the best way or the only way to repay need not be becoming a pastor.
So where’s God’s will in the whole game? That’s the elusive part. I am sure of a calling for Christian mission work – that my life is to be spent sharing the news that Jesus loves you and wants you to know and get closer to Him so that you could have the gift of eternal life with Him in heaven, after you begin pushing up daisies. But which way? What route?
I’m tired. I have to admit it in spite of believing that God has His place and time to reveal things. Lately, this thought has been coming to me, subtly but strongly: Take whichever route and He will bless you.
So all the strong feelings I have about what to do are not to be trusted, according to my dad, because they are feelings. Most of the things I dislike is what I am called to do or at least seems to. “Don’t you think God must be speaking through all these people?”, asks mum trying to make me talk. I can see people asking the customary, ” Monum achenaakaanalle?” ( Isn’t he going to be a priest, too?), often with connotations – “…like his father”, and a smirk.
Seems like the next best thing in town. Just because He’s calm and a silent and talks less to people He doesn’t know and isn’t so mischievous, publicly, he might be on his way to becoming an ‘achen’ (Pastor). And to count that as God speaking through people . . .and, I’m tired.
This is the point where I begin to feel guilty. Aren’t I asking for everything my way? The fact that I don’t like to be in Kerala for too long and can’t even imagine serving in parishes and being busy trying to calm down committee members while wanting to go after the youth out there perishing, not knowing Christ? To be wanting to work in a multi-cultural setting like an urban environment . . . Is this where I am going after the ‘good life’ than serving God?
( Isaiah 62:10)
Now I didn’t really think that the camp would be so great. Many friends weren’t coming but a few friends who mattered were there. On top of that the messages at the Diocesan Youth Conference held at Quiet Corner, were of top quality and I could literally feel that God had brought me to the camp ( No, I haven’t had the privilege of hearing the Voice yet). I’d argued with my parents to go for this one. I’d just attended another one in Kerala the previous week which was also wonderful, giving me a different experience and a lot of friends.
Surely, I did need to get back to basics.
And how could I thank the cool God who brought Rev. Biju George, Dr. Sunny Philip and Mr. Philip Cherian!
I made loads of friends and the camp was crazy with six games – Signs, Ping Pang Pa ( Thanks to Lammy, and Dan for it’s Australian version). Logic and Dave’s World ( Crazy Chennai gang), the Mafia and Picnic played on the bus.
This is what I call a camp. Praise The Lord!
I’d been long wanting to play some music. It had been a while and I was just waiting. I saw the unmanned drum kit at the inaugural session and prayed ” Hey GOd, if you can’t find a drummer, I don’t mind playing…’
There you go – their drummer was busy with work. At the next session “Is there a drummer in the house?”
I waited for some other drummer to show up as I could hear another name out there, but her refused to come and I wanted to go and my friends push,. There I land on a drum kit. No practice, no preparation. But that’s how God’s worked many times in my life.
It was fun praising God again with a team of enthusiastic singers and great musicians like Ron.
No, practice, so, don’t mind the slipped beats!
Ron was juts fantastic and he could make any tune sound heavenly with his keyboard! I was blown off when Rev. Biju concluded his first Bible Study session with the Song ‘Take me into the Holy of Holies’ by Petra, which was superbly complimented by a piano,dual toned with a layer of strings. I’d never heard such terrific and blessed live rendition in recent times – surely only two blessed people could do that and that was just what we saw.
( to be cont.)