Starting from August 2007, I'll be staying in Kerala until May to experience our rich Syriac Orthodox tradition and become "keralized". On a random basis, I'll be posting my thoughts and experiences. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Journal 7: Man & Nature

My stay in Kerala is fast coming to a close as I have less than a month. I hope to write one more journal after this; therefore I’m at the point where I have to pick-and-choose my topics. There’s so much to say but not enough time and patience to write!

Why is Mother Earth Crying?

Mother Earth is the term sometimes used to describe our home. Why so? The relationship between man and nature is, in a sense, like the relationship between child and mother. Earth is our mother, our provider. We eat, breathe, drink, and live from that which is given for us from our mother. In creation, God makes all things for man first and then he creates man, instructing them “to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).

Nowadays, nature is in a state of unrest. Weather patterns are constantly changing in an unpredictable and erratic manner. Read the paper or watch the news to hear about a natural disaster taking place in some part of this Mother Earth. I’m writing about this because a month back a strong rainstorm hit Kerala destroying most of the state’s rice fields. It’s not suppose to rain but it rained. Farmers were devastated. Of course the government promised help (to read about Kerala politics, read journal 5) but it couldn’t cover the tremendous loss. So reports such as this heartbreaking picture were seen on the front page:

This farmer could no longer provide for his wife and three daughters, so he chose death over life. Who is to blame?

Speaking of weather changes, for the past several days the climate’s been HOT, extremely HOT. Now when I enter a house or visit a church, the first thing I look for is not my host or God, but a fan! And since the bishop I’m staying with lived in America for a few years, he too can’t survive without an AC in his car. Thank you God!


Each culture has its unique clothing typically based upon their climate. India is usually known for their sari for women. For men, less known clothing is the mundu:
It’s basically a long piece of decorated cloth that’s tied around the waist in a particular way such that it stays on, no belts or accessories required. I stayed away from it since I’m at ease with wearing pants. But then came along three Americans from California visiting Kerala to study the Syriac Orthodox Church. One of them, about my age, asked me about mundu’s. I pretended like I knew what I was talking about. Then he wanted to purchase one. If a Californian’s wearing it, why not me? He showed me the value of appreciating, and more importantly, participating in the culture we live in.

Getting back to the hot weather in Kerala, mundu’s are ideal for this climate. Of course, I wore something underneath, just in case. But then I was told that I won’t get the full effect this way. So after a few weeks, there I was wearing a mundu and nothing underneath (my hands were definitely on high alert)! I must admit that wearing a mundu this way was definitely freeing and cooling.

Our Own Mother

Kerala is going through a cultural transition; some would say a cultural warfare. The old vs. new . . . traditional vs. modern . . . East vs. West. I saw a picture of a family that showed this best. The older daughter is wearing the traditional Keralite clothing while the younger is wearing jeans and shirt. This is the cultural divide. As each year passes, Keralites are becoming more and more like the younger daughter. This change is one of the effects of globalization. Cultures are disappearing into one culture. Clothing, language, food, etc. are very slowly becoming one.

My focus on this current transition is the area of parental care in Kerala. The old traditional way of Keralite culture places emphasize on the family. I wrote on the last journal about how this is so in arranged marriages. Rewind a generation back and the typical household included grandparents, their married children, and the grandchildren, all under one roof. The thinking went something like this: the parents raised their children, so the children have the responsibility in return to take care of their parents. In fact, it was considered a blessing to look after one’s parents until their death.

This is the old; then came the new with each household now consisting of dad, mom, and children. As the numbers decreased and responsibilities increased, there’s little time left for the grandparents. What I’m saying is that the changing culture is changing family dynamics. So now you’ll find certain houses in Kerala with grandparents only. Their grown-up children have built their own houses to meet their own needs. Nursing homes like America have not taken hold here because it’s considered disgraceful. Instead, there’s a trend gradually starting, especially for the middle and upper class, where grandparents are alone with maybe a servant to look after them. I’ve visited a few of these houses on my own and with the bishop. As you can imagine, these grandparents, deep inside, are hurting. This transition basically shows the dwindling relationship between mother and child.

Where am I going with this? Going back to my original point, if children are taking less care of their own mother, what about Mother Earth?

Holy Week

I was able to do a detailed study of the year’s Holy Week services since I had a teacher/translator. An all too common theme that keep coming up in the songs and readings was the profound relationship between man and nature. For instance, on Monday evening, there’s a beautiful song, split into 28 stanzas, that narrates the first murder in the Bible, where the older brother Cain kills his younger brother Abel. A rough translation is given below:

Like killing a young lamb,
Was, oh no, the younger one killed.
When this murder was seen,
The soil cried.

Sun lamented,
Mountains made loud noises,
Nature frightened and trembled
With the first blood on earth.

Now we’ll fast forward to a song for Friday’s afternoon prayer. The cross/tree on which Christ was crucified speaks to us! Listen to one stanza in Malayalam:

Tree says, why do you make me suffer?
My Creator is crucified on me, why, oh, why?
Rain and sun He gave me.
My Nurturer. I now torture Him?!
Alas for those who crucified the Messiah!

Songs like this, found in many prayers, give nature or Mother Earth human qualities: rejoicing, trembling, lamenting. It’s completely Biblical (see Matthew 27:51-4). One sees from this that actions of humans lead to reaction in nature. Is this still true today?

Today’s market economy is mainly about maximizing profit. If you delve into the actual mission of a company, the CEO and top executives are concerned about making stockholders happy, meaning increasing vale of shares, meaning increasing profit. How can I/company make more money? There’s less and less concern about long term effects/consequences.

Let me give you small examples of this in Kerala. Near my uncle’s house is a stream where we always go swimming. So this is the first thing I wanted to do when I got there. But then my cousins told me that they don’t swim there anymore because the water’s becoming contaminated. Local farmers and companies are slowly but surely putting poison into their soil to maximize production, affecting even the nearby stream.

One of the main reasons I loved visiting Kerala when I was young was their food! My taste buds were ready for action when I landed. There’s so much delicious food and with the conversion rate, it’s very inexpensive. A well-prepared meal costs about one dollar. And an even tastier meal prepared at my aunt’s home is free! But who would have thought that even the fruits and vegetables would not be the same? Bananas and my favorite fruit, mangoes, don’t have the same taste anymore, something’s missing.

This is one small example. Add to it pollution, waste build-up, deforestation, etc. and then think about why there’s natural abnormalities. Our mother can only take so much; she eventually has no choice but to react to her children’s actions.


On a more positive note, I was able to spend a couple of days at a monastery called Malecruz, which literally translates to “cross on a hill”. This is one of those places that’ll impact every visitor. Below is a distant picture:

When you reach the top, the weather’s far different. The wind is comforting; there’s an unexplainable atmosphere of peace and stillness. And then there’s this monk:

He lives in this monastery in a small room secluded from society. Eating something light one time a day and taking small naps with no bed in his room, he’s constantly in prayer and meditation. He strictly follows the ancient tradition of the church of praying seven times a day: 6am, 9, 12pm, 3, 6, 9, 12am

One afternoon he calls me into his room. We step in, he says a prayer. As he prepares tea, he leads a song. As I sit on the floor to eat, another prayer. As we clean up, a prayer and song.

Furthermore, this monk is very strict about not leaving the monastery. Now listen to this: he didn’t even leave the monastery to see his mother who had died! Many people passed their judgment on this; I, on the other hand, only want to show the extent of his strictness. It must be mentioned that when he was first told of this news, he said he already knew and was praying for her.

Conversing with him was not a problem. He speaks English far better than I thought. I later found out that he’s well-educated, speaking many languages. People constantly come to see him. No office hours or appointments needed. Just knock, remove your shoes, and he’s always there, day or night, to listen and pray.

During the afternoon’s, he teaches children staying at the monastery during their break. So there I was with six others sitting down, listening to him teach. During prayer, he had them read different selections in Malayalam. If they made any mistakes, he would instantiously correct them loudly. And when he asked me if I read Malayalam, I instantiously nodded no! I knew that if I started reading, he’d get so tired of correcting me that he’d break his vow and leave the monastery!

He repeated the point that each of us has a calling in life. We all have a purpose. We are to first find it and then carry it out.

Before leaving the monastery, I told him of my plans to write about him in my online journal. He quickly responded, “Who am I? I am nobody! A sinner only! It is Christ who matters not me”. That’s humility . . . that’s CHRISTianity. His soft-spoken words are heard loudly because he lives by it. As St. Francis said, "preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words".

1 comment:

Joby Chacko said...

Truely touched by the statement “Who am I? I am nobody! A sinner only! It is Christ who matters not me” and also loved your Blog. Would love to talk personally and if possible visit this monastery in Kerala.
Thank you once again.
Thanks & Regards,
Joby Chacko