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CHRISTMAS MUSINGS
Vinod Anand | 12 Aug 2011

When, E.M. Forster wrote his 'Two Cheers for Democracy,' he reserved his good three cheers for love ? a beloved Republic as he called it. This is perhaps his own inimitable way of saying that liberalism is not enough.

THIS TAKES us beyond the pale of human relationships which form the staple of his writing. Here is a call, subtle and sensitive, to grasp in concrete form a way of human affirmation shaped by centuries of historical ? and Christian-experience. Here is an ambience that sustains creative insights in an unbroken continuity from Shakespeare down to E.M. Forster himself.

An orthodox or doctrinaire Christian may not be equal to an awareness or an understanding of this history. A purely oriental mind, not at all.An ideal Christian is more of a doer than a thinker. Not so Christianity as a religion. There is as much of the institutionalized credo, mind-boggling scholasticism dogging its steps throughout his tory. But in terms of the individual, the Christian way is the unfolding of a concrete ethical understanding and it is, at all times, a human undertaking. It can not be counted as an accident in history that there is an Albert Schwitzer or a Mother Theresa, and saints of that kind in the 20th century. There were others treading the same path earlier.

But still, one wonders what that unfolding will be in an age when the shabby genteel of yore is replaced by the iron-souled bureaucracy, and technology is the new god in the human pantheon Institutionalized religions did worship Power and the Mammon at one time or the other, but there was a creative human essence in this tradition, which survived. In the 20th century, the Christian faith lived enduringly in the parish church, in the faraway corners of the globe rather than in the historic abodes of the great cities. Even in these quieter suburbs of faith, the spirit seems to have been ebbing. The feeling recalls a situation in a poem by Philip Larkin, the English poet, a casual enough scene in a church congregation with a man, may be the poet himself, taking off the cycle clips in a gesture of 'awkward reverence' an attitude all too typical perhaps.

Pity would be no moreIf we did not make somebody Poor.As one reads the lines of William Blake, the irony of humanitarian piety without a living spirituality is realized straightway. But one also realizes that Blake had a kind of intensity not unlike what is found in the New Testament, and his despair is the despair of love, not of disenchantment. It makes sense to say that the songs of innocence and experience are not understandable without the Chrisitian setting.It times of war or adversity bringing in its wake death and distress, men turn to the light that was never on land or sea. The Christian faith is born in adversity and here, suffering, not salvation, is of the essence. The Cross is not only symbolic but it is also suffering in the flesh and death for our own sake. It is significant that the extremity of suffering is undergone by another human being, however exalted his spiritual status may turn out to be.Nearer home; the mind recalls a scene of twenty-five years ago, which gives credence to what millions have held over hundreds of years to be the essence of a living faith.

It was late December in a remote village where men and women dishevelled and stricken with fear, huddled together in a ramshackle house with none but a young anglican doctor to lead them on in a muted prayer. They were the homeless, fleeing across the borders for a largely unknown destination. But the memorable impression was of the group breaking into a song and of the suddenly brightened up faces of men and women in a setting of sunset and the distant river.To return to the theme of E.M. Forster, the heart has always had the stronger reason, and this is where every Christmas should strike a sympathetic chord.