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Eyes of Magdalene

Some centuries ago…

She was running away, exhausted, short of breath, and bruised in several places. The shouts of men and women echoed through the streets. She felt the taste of blood and dirt in her mouth. She felt the last moments of her life, and wished it didn’t have to end so unpleasantly. The evangelists mention her as Mary Magdalene, and on the day she almost got killed for being an adulteress, something changed.

Jewish law was very firm about adultery – a woman was meant to reflect an ardour of piety and virtuosity, the psalms clearly define her as the pride of her father and the faith of her husband. Her chastity went before her. If she were seen with another man who wasn’t her brother, father or husband she was to be condemned. The texts don’t mention the act of sin for which she was caught – so perhaps she was a bad example to other young pious girls, perhaps she wrecked a woman’s marriage, or several of them..perhaps she ran off with a man, spoiling her father’s integrity. Whatever the reason, she was condemned to die.

Some years ago…

I was running away, exhausted, short of breath, and bearing a few bruise marks on my hands. The corner of my mouth was bitten and bleeding. The emotions that I felt were close to suicidal.

It was a normal day at work. I was particularly known for being an accounting geek and still very fresh and naive into the career world. It was the mid day lunch break, and I was looking to grab my favorite sandwich from the nearby cafeteria. While walking towards it, a big elderly man came out from a car and asked me to stop. He told me in plain words, not to ‘take him wrongly’, but he was noticing me for a while, and being a skin specialist he wanted to help me with my apparently severe acne problem. Yes I admit, it was severe, my face was covered with it, and this man seemed to be kind enough to come up with a solution. It was like a miracle. He pointed out to the clinic where he practised, and he asked me to accompany him if I don’t mind spending a few minutes, while he examine my face thoroughly. Being an elderly man with complete white hair rendered to me as harmless, and like an innocent fool, I followed. Besides, it was a public place. We entered the public lift into the clinic dispensary, where he spoke to the receptionist in a language that I couldn’t understand. After the receptionist showed no signs of complying, he explained that since his shift was just over,  his room was now being used by another colleague and hence not vacant. I told him politely that I would take an appointment and surely visit him soon, as I was getting late for my lunch. He seemed insistent on helping me. My face questioned his stubbornness, which he assured me that he felt a deep sense of fatherly protectiveness towards me and wanted to help. I waited a bit more.

It was 30 minutes, and the man was getting impatient. Finally I said that I need to report to work, and yet again he insisted he drop me to the door. I couldn’t refuse. He took a private staff elevator, which was apparently unoccupied at the time we entered. He slammed the ‘Ground’ button and after a few seconds, he made a violent grab at me. He knew he had just a few seconds to do what he had planned before the doors opened at the ground level, and also knew that I was too confused to protest any of his advances. His movements were swift, hard and desperate. The few seconds were enough to put up bruises on my arm where he was restraining me, and along the sides of my lip where he tried to bite. The elevator doors opened and he fled off. I was too shocked to move, too sick to report back to work, too frightened to tell anyone or even get into a cab home. I went back to the clinic reception, and asked for the name of that specialist. The receptionist replied, “Oh he’s no doctor – he was just a visitor claiming to be a VIP friend of a doctor who is yet to come for his shift. He was also requesting if he could wait for the doctor in his room, which I told him was not allowed and he would have to wait in the lobby like everyone else.” I realised to my misery, that this molester was obviously a con man. Yes, if this man was to be found, he was really meant to die.

Back to centuries ago…

Just as she was profusely bleeding, a man appears and looks into Mary Magdalene’s eyes. He lifts her up along with her bleeding spirit. His attention was commanding like that of a holy person or a rabbi. The crowd stopped stoning, but continued to echo the judgement. “The law says she ought to die by stoning. A woman of her character is deemed punishment.” The rabbi who stood between the condemning and the condemned was Jesus, and after much thought He looked at them, and challenged them, “Let the one who has committed no sin, throw the first stone”. And they all went away, starting from the youngest to the eldest.

A passerby couldn’t believe that this Jew, who was considered a rabbi by many just broke a Jewish law. He couldn’t accept that it was the same person who just taught the crowds that if your hand or eye or any body part causes you to sin, you must cut it off. It was difficult to digest that this very same man condemned that those who even looked at women lustfully, committed adultery. Then why did He have to show leniency to the one who was just caught in the very act of such a grave sin? It surely left the passerby confused.

Few days ago…

Its been three years since my physical attack, and that experience surely carved me into the person I am today. Like the classic saying, “All things happen for the best”; “Look for the silver lining”, etc, I had made peace with that event and took it as a lesson to make myself more smarter in trusting strangers, took street combat lessons, and shared my experience to lighten up similar attack victims. I had even forgotten how my assailant looked liked, or perhaps I had simply repressed that memory.

The other day, a colleague was having trouble with a client who refused to abide by the payment rules and began to demand for the manager in a very high tone. She asked me to assist her in negotiating with him as our manager was not available. As I walked towards the office, I met the client’s family members – his wife and young daughter who were nervously seated in the lobby area. His voice echoed loudly in the corridor. As I entered the office, my face turned white and cold.

The man I thought I’d forgotten, and prayed never to see again was suddenly in front of me. My assailant was the same, old big man with white hair and the same insistent voice. I knew he recognised me because 0f his sudden nervous silence. He watched me closely and studied my face for any signs of recollection. I asked him what was the problem, politely. He explained that he was conned by a hotel reservation website and upon arrival from his home country, found that the hotel and its location was all bogus. He was requesting for accommodation within our residential premises for a week, but could not pay the mandatory advance as was required, since all his funds were blocked in his international credit card and wouldn’t be accessible until the next day. He went on to say that he and his family had no place to go for now, and my colleagues just refused to understand his situation. His voice was low and didn’t display any anger. My eyes were fixed on him, and a thousand ideas ran into my head. ” I should call the police? I should remind him of his attack? I should call his wife and kids and tell them what a monster they have with them?” The hate I carried for so many years was about to burst in my head. After a long two minutes of silence, I picked up the phone and dialled my manager. I went out of my way to convince my boss that the man was reliable and his payment would be available next day, and to allow him accommodation as his wife and daughter were stranded too. I even took the risk of non-payment upon me. This man watched my every action like a chicken who was awaiting its butcher. Finally with permission granted, I asked my colleagues to show him his new residence. He appreciated me profusely, still sweating, and kept re-assuring that the payment would indeed be made the next day. I simply said, “Sure, I trust you”.

I couldn’t understand what made me carry out my actions that day. I wasn’t scared, hell no! I could’ve reported him, humiliated him, reminded him, but did none of it. Even if he had made a counter attack, I was ready for him, but all I did was simply understand him as another victim of fraud, and he was helpless. I was in a hopeless irony of events that were beyond my control, and I’m sure many of you have found your selves forgiving the most darkest of people despite the numerous plans of revenge you planned for them. Understanding this as a miracle, perhaps would help you understand the fathomless mercy God has for us and for others – super, unexplainable depths of understanding. He may have His commandments, but He will still understand us, our regrets like He did through the eyes of Magdalene.


Part two: Examining your baggage

After completing the exercise of finding the ‘connection’ with God, I was over-excited and religiously followed the routine of meeting God in this ‘secret’ place, sometimes even twice a day. It’s not easy to find enough privacy on a busy day, so sometimes I had to resort to even using the washroom as my ultimate meditation area, where I could achieve golden moments of unperturbed silence. The routine turned addictive at first, as I would get transported to another world with every rendezvous, but I happened to notice there wasn’t anything new to it. I was scared the routine would turn out to be just another fragment of my imagination. On a personal level too, I had not changed – I had the same temper tantrums at home, the same anxiety feelings if things went wrong at work, and a whole lot of spiritual dryness each time I prayed which reflected in my distractions.

Coming across my mom’s bible notes one day, I read an excerpt from her texts which said, “God is never looking for your attention, He is looking for lifelong companionship; He is not seeking a date, but a committed bride.” For all those in love, engaged or married, its easy to relate to this statement and reflect on the time when you first met your partner. I’m sure all of you at some point, after gaining the trust and confidence of your loved one, sat down to confide your secrets – could be about something in the past, a fact about the present, or your fears of the future, or simply something that you earnestly felt your partner should know in order to proceed with the relationship. I realised that the same applied to my own Divine rendezvous. In order to proceed, I needed to examine my innermost, perhaps even darkest facts, facts that not even myself, but only my sub-conscious mind was aware of.

Many of you would disagree with the above, simply because unlike your human partner who is in the process of knowing you for the first time, God has known you from the very moment of your conception. Many of you would even agree, that most of these ‘dark innermost facts’ are already the result of God’s own will for you. But here’s the real catch – unless you spell these out, (however small or gross, or silly or ugly these facts may be) you will never be able to frankly tell God that these are the areas where you need help. We find great solace in reading self-help books and spending hours seeking solutions from shrinks, who eventually come down to the same exercise that we need to do at this point – examining and coming to terms with our past. My Jesuit mentor told me once, ‘God is never interested in the number of times we have sinned, but why we sinned’.

My own history is full of hurts, misconceptions of certain events, and bad habits which I have conveniently chosen not to remember rather than sort it out. Some of my own closet skeletons are shared below:

  • I love my mom a lot, but I still have ego issues, temper tantrums, and simply refuse to get corrected by her.
  • I gossip instead of defending the victim of slander.
  • I have difficulty interacting with certain people who have affected my past, which includes my childhood best friend.
  • I am easily envious of certain people.
  • At every confession I tend to resolve never to repeat any of the above, only to find myself back with the same  list, just an altered vocabulary.

Getting myself to list these facts and many more was not a task I could achieve overnight. I was required to examine every year of my life since childhood in order to arrive at the root reason for such repetitive gestures. Its only when God sees that you are making conscious efforts to eradicate these ‘bad roots’, will He provide you further insight into your history. Is your irritability due to something that you are not happy about? or haven’t achieved? Do you gossip out of fear of rejection or insecurity? Are you withholding an event in your childhood, which according to you should not have happened? or where you felt you were unjustly corrected or treated? Are you envious because you fail to accept how some people are so blessed even though you seemed to have made more sacrifices and honest dealings than them? or have you repeatedly reminded yourself that you have forgiven a person’s wrong deed but the event still seems to disturb you? Have you been part of a crime due to total helplessness or just to imitate someone else?

I noticed that each time I was unravelling a secret or bad habit I thought I had forgotten about, I felt God reminded me more of the event in detail. The exercise was indeed very therapeutic, and at the end I felt so light – like a great deal of excess baggage suddenly been lifted off! Some of my bad habits could not be shaken off at once simply because it had become a part of my being; that’s when God loves it when you acknowledge it to Him, and that without His help, He cannot work through you. I now understood what He meant when He promised “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

After this exercise I assure you, you will find your perceptions more clearer, your bad habits eradicated (you eradicated the root causes after all), your temper controlled and the upcoming Divine journey more exciting to look forward to!

Family feuds

Today I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. The memories of last night’s conversation with my Mother lingered and I was irritated. The reason? More family drama. It is the extended family this time, with the dramatic incidents within my own family quite still for the moment. In this series of melodrama de la familia, it is time for a new episode.

It turns out that an ongoing family feud with my relatives erupted again yesterday, with my folks meeting up with my Uncle’s family to invite them for my brother’s wedding. To cut the long story short, my cousin has fed his parents with an elaborate image of me being an arrogant, rude and flirtatious character who used to talk to men all night long and wore short skirts to work (stories from about 3 years ago, the can of worms which were opened yesterday). This is pretty scandalous in the small and conservative village from where I come. The stories are imaginative and show his true character of being a sexist, suspicious alpha male and depict me as having crossed the line of protocol of all ‘respectable’ women in the family. If the stories were true I would have ignored them but it hurt me that he could cook up stories about my character just to put himself in the good light. Yesterday’s family meeting episode turned out quite theatrical with incidents of  anger eruptions, chest-beating and insults. Yes, the works.

Having vented out all my anger on my husband yesterday and today morning, he advised me to let it go.  At work,  I was amused when I got two beautiful messages by the Lord which which were apt for my current situation. Like I said He’s got my back covered. One was a beautiful Buddhist message (I respect this religion a lot) on my Facebook page which reminded me not to look for the fault in others but to look at my own mistakes which in turn will improve my  patience, tolerance, kindness etc.  In retrospect, I realsied that I did have a part in the problem and however small my role was, I needed to accept it and take responsibility for my part. The second message was from a blog by a Jesuit priest that I love, which coincidentally talks today about forgiveness and how I would feel if God kept a grudge on all my sins. It was as if the veil over my eyes had been lifted and things soon fell into place.

Besides the message of forgiveness I learnt some important lessons from this incident. One being that if you are willing to look beyond the boundaries in your own religion, we can get meaningful messages from the Divine from unexpected places. Even from religions different from one’s own. Like  I did from a buddhist perspective which also spoke on the same message as Christ. The next lesson is that it is necessary to listen to the outlook of the other person before making a judgement. Whether it is your own parents, spouse, friends or children; people often feed you perspectives influenced by their own personal opinions and biases. Our loved ones could be in error and hence we should not be quick to condemn the accused in spite of a possible backlash at our loyalty. Lastly,  we all know this but often fail to implement it- asking God for advice. After all He’s the best there is for one.

Pollock of Light

Twitter: @lluisbusse


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