Tagore is writing in the last years of the XIX Centuryfrom Bengal, a region today split between India and Bangladesh.
Why is there always this deep shade of melancholy over the fields and river banks, the sky and the sunshine of our country? I came to the conclusion that it is because with us Nature is obviously the more important thing. The sky is free, the fields limitless; and the sun merges them into one blazing whole.
In the midst of this, man seems so trivial. He comes and goes, like the ferry-boat, from this shore to the other; the babbling hum of his talk, the fitful echo of his song, is heard; the slight movement of his pursuit of his own petty desires is seen in the world’s market-places: but how feeble, how temporary, how tragically meaningless it all seems amidst the immense aloofness of the Universe! The contrast between the beautiful, broad, unalloyed peace of Nature—calm, passive, silent, unfathomable,—and our own everyday worries—paltry, sorrow-laden, strife-tormented, puts me beside myself as I keep staring at the hazy, distant, blue line of trees which fringe the fields across the river.
Where Nature is ever hidden, and cowers under mist and cloud, snow and darkness, there man feels himself master; he regards his desires, his works, as permanent; he wants to perpetuate them, he looks towards posterity, he raises monuments, he writes biographies; he even goes the length of erecting tombstones over the dead. So busy is he that he has not time to consider how many monuments crumble, how often names are forgotten!
From Glimpses of Bengal Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore.
The war in Ukraine should remind us that monuments do crumble and most names are forgotten. So are we and our desires tragically meaningless? We are certainly strife-tormented, but is the Universe aloof, or is it just that so much of our works look trivial set against Creation? Christians assert that behind ‘Nature’ or the ‘Universe’ is a loving Creator whose Spirit hovered over the Deep and will fill our hearts with Love, if we allow it to happen.
The Spirit may inspire some to study and contemplate the stars and galaxies which do make our works look trivial, but it is these very works – the telescopes, the computer-driven maths – that give us that sense of wonder, of littleness, and please God, of humility. The Spirit inspires others to practical love of fellow human beings or to revive and restore our living but damaged planet. We are given the power of reason to use as humble, fellow creators, not to despait, nor to amass a personal fortune, because there is nothing better to be done in a melancholy world. We are people of hope!
Come, Holy Spirit and kindle in us the power of your Love.
This life is short, and we are not important. Art by Saint Dunstan, philosophising by Tagore.
What a to-do there is over this tiny bit of life! To think of the quantity of land and trade and commerce which go to furnish its commissariat* alone, the amount of space occupied by each individual throughout the world, though one little chair is large enough to hold the whole of him! Yet, after all is over and done, there remains only material for two hours’ thought, some pages of writing!
What a negligible fraction of my few pages would this one lazy day of mine occupy! But then, will not this peaceful day, on the desolate sands by the placid river, leave nevertheless a distinct little gold mark even upon the scroll of my eternal past and eternal future?
Glimpses of Bengal Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore.
*Commisariat ia a military term for the supplies of food and equipment.
Did Saint Dunstan count it a lazy day when he spent his time engrossed in drawing this picture? It is a peaceful picture, with the saint content to be close to his Lord, touching the hem of his garment. (Luke 8.44) Against the events in history that he was involved with as abbot and archbishop, he chooses to show himself as a stocky, insignificant monk, seeking the grace of God to sustain him in all his works.
May we value the quiet moments that come our way, and find time to put ourselves in the presence of God when they arise … not that He is ever absent when life is hectic.
Tagore also recorded an instance where he himself showed great respect to a person that someone in authority might have disdained to take any notice of. Tagore also knows how to tell a story well, so enjoy! KALIGRAM, 1891. Yesterday, while I was giving audience to my tenants, five or six boys made their appearance and stood in a primly proper row before me. Before I could put any question their spokesman, in the choicest of high-flown language, started: “Sire! the grace of the Almighty and the good fortune of your benighted children have once more brought about your lordship’s auspicious arrival into this locality.” He went on in this strain for nearly half an hour. Here and there he would get his lesson wrong, pause, look up at the sky, correct himself, and then go on again. I gathered that their school was short of benches and stools. “For want of these wood-built seats,” as he put it, “we know not where to sit ourselves, where to seat our revered teachers, or what to offer our most respected inspector when he comes on a visit.”
I could hardly repress a smile at this torrent of eloquence gushing from such a bit of a fellow, which sounded specially out of place here, where the ryots* are given to stating their profoundly vital wants in plain and direct vernacular, of which even the more unusual words get sadly twisted out of shape. The clerks and ryots, however, seemed duly impressed, and likewise envious, as though deploring their parents’ omission to endow them with so splendid a means of appealing to the Zamindar.
I interrupted the young orator before he had done, promising to arrange for the necessary number of benches and stools. Nothing daunted, he allowed me to have my say, then took up his discourse where he had left it, finished it to the last word, saluted me profoundly, and marched off his contingent. He probably would not have minded had I refused to supply the seats, but after all his trouble in getting it by heart he would have resented bitterly being robbed of any part of his speech. So, though it kept more important business waiting, I had to hear him out.
ryot, raiyat: peasant farmer, or agricultural worker.
From Glimpses of Bengal Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore.
Saint Augustine, as we heard the other day, was insensitive to the dignity of the Welsh bishops who came to visit him. This was hurtful. I imagine this set back Christian unity in these Islands when mutual respect would have healed many rifts. And Augustine was a saint; we lesser mortals need to be vigilant not to be careless in dealing with each other.
Nationality and race are not the only stumbling blocks to the unity of Christians or the unity of all people, but they matter. If they are not respected, especially by those in authority or power, people will feel hurt and insulted and will be disinclined to co-operate. Here is an eloquent example from 19th Century India. Tagore was by no means intemperate, unlike the man he describes.
Let us pray for the grace to see other people as fellow-children of God, brothers and sisters to be respected and loved as equals.
CUTTACK, 10th February 1893. He was a fully developed John Bull of the outrageous type—with a huge beak of a nose, cunning eyes, and a yard-long chin.
The curtailment of our right to be tried by jury is now under consideration by the Government. The fellow dragged in the subject by the ears and insisted on arguing it out with our host, poor B—— Babu. He said the moral standard of the people of this country was low; that they had no real belief in the sacredness of life; so that they were unfit to serve on juries. The utter contempt with which we are regarded by these people was brought home to me when I saw how they can accept a Bengali’s hospitality and talk thus, seated at his table, without a quiver of compunction.
As I sat in a corner of the drawing-room after dinner, everything round me looked blurred to my eyes. I seemed to be seated by the head of my great, insulted Motherland, who lay there in the dust before me, disconsolate, shorn of her glory. I cannot tell what a profound distress overpowered my heart. How incongruous seemed the mem-sahibs there, in their evening-dresses, the hum of English conversation, and the ripples of laughter! How richly true for us is our India of the ages; how cheap and false the hollow courtesies of an English dinner-party!”
From Glimpses of Bengal, Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore“.
Please remember in your prayers this Sunday our sisters and brothers in the Eastern Churches. Many of them face hardship and persecution, as they did in the earliest days of Christianity, which unfolded in the Middle East. This post from FACE tells us about the day of prayer and is followed by a letter from Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald, former Papal Ambassador or Nuncio to Egypt.
Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians – 9th May 2021
What is the Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians?
The Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians is an annual day of prayer which enables Eastern and Western Christians to come together in communion through prayer. The event unites Latin rite dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe with dioceses of the Eastern Catholic Churches in union with the Bishop of Rome.
When is the Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians?
The Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians will take place on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 9th May 2021, with the participation of Christians from all over Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and India.
Why is the Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians on the Sixth Sunday of Easter?
Sunday after Sunday, during the Easter celebrations, Eastern and Western Christians hear the Acts of the Apostles which witness to the first preaching of the Gospel. These readings remind us of the origin of the Eastern Churches and the history of the first Eastern Christians, who brought the Gospel to us. Nowadays, many of these Eastern Christians are oppressed and persecuted, and struggle to survive and to pass on our faith to their children, in their own lands where Christianity was born and first spread.
A day of communion through prayer.
On the Sixth Sunday of Easter, we invite Western Christians to recite the following bidding prayer for Eastern Christians:
Let us pray for peace in the world, especially in the Middle East. May the Christians in these lands be strengthened in their faith so that they may continue courageously to give witness to Jesus Christ.
How to celebrate this day?
We ask you to say the prayer as part of the International Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians
We ask you to share this intention and the prayer with your family and friends
We suggest that parishes include the intention of Eastern Christians in the Prayers of the Faithful during Mass on the Sixth Sunday of Easter.
Who are the Eastern Christians?
The Eastern Christians in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa are direct descendants of the Early Christians and trace their roots back to apostolic times. There are more than 26 million Eastern Christians living in the Middle East and surrounding regions. For Western Christians, they provide a direct link to the Apostolic Church, leading us to the roots of Christianity and showing us, through their tradition and witness, a living faith in Christ.
How can you help Eastern Christians?
Pray for Eastern Christians. You can use our prayer for Eastern Christians (above) or join our prayer group to receive a monthly prayer, a reflection and information on an Eastern saint. Please do sign up to our prayer group: https://facecharity.org/prayergroup/
Engage with Eastern Catholic Churches. There are several Eastern Churches in the United Kingdom. You are welcome to participate in their liturgies and share your common origins. You will receive a warm welcome.
Support Eastern Christians through our projects in education, healthcare, pastoral support and inter-religious dialogue, which are organised under the patronage of the bishops and religious communities of the Eastern Catholic Churches. You may support these projects here: https://facecharity.org/give/
Letter from Cardinal Fitzgerald
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians is fast approaching. It will take place on the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Sunday, 9th May 2021), with the participation of Christians from all over Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and India.
This Day of Prayer – promoted in the UK by Fellowship and Aid to the Christians of the East (FACE) in partnership with the Congregation for Oriental Churches – will offer Eastern and Western Christians an opportunity to be united in prayer during the time of Easter.
It will offer us in the West an opportunity to think of the Eastern Churches and to give thanks to God for all that we owe them: the first preaching of the Gospel, the origins of the monastic tradition, the early Church Fathers, and above all the witness of the Eastern Christians down the centuries, which has been, and still is, an inspiration to our faith. This Day could also be an occasion to give thanks for the recent pilgrimage of Pope Francis to Iraq and to draw inspiration from its message of solidarity, fraternity and hope.
The Eastern Christians were the first evangelisers without whom Christianity would never have spread to the UK. Today, the Eastern Christians, many of whom are suffering from the effects of war and from discrimination, now face the added crisis of the Covid epidemic, with its threat to their livelihood, health and well-being. This is a crisis within an already existing crisis! They deserve our prayerful support.
In commending this Day of Prayer to you, may I suggest that you bring it to the attention of your family and friends, perhaps sharing with them the following prayer:
Heavenly Father, we pray today for peace in the world, especially in the Middle East. By your heavenly grace, strengthen the faith and hope of Eastern Christians. May they be blessed with peace and prosperity in their countries. May we be inspired by their devotion and witness to the Gospel, by their love and compassion for all in their communities, and by their courage, their endurance and self-sacrifice. Through their charity, tolerance and friendship, bring peace and reconciliation to those troubled lands, where Christianity was born and first spread. This we ask of you through Christ our Lord. Amen.
I trust that this Day of Prayer, despite the restrictions caused by the current pandemic, will bring comfort and assurance to Eastern Christians. In our solidarity and communion, may we all be renewed by the hope we place in the Risen Christ.
With the assurance of my prayers and with my warmest wishes for a joyful Eastertide,
More news from USPG, supporting the Global Anglican Church.
A Church of South India school has won a national prize for its work on the environment. CMS school in Vechoochira, Kerala has 430 students. They beat thousands of other schools to win the prize, which was organised by the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi.
The school has been championing the Green School Programme in a variety of ways since 2014. Students avoid using plastic bottles or throwaway plastic. They use pens made from waste paper. Each pen has a seed embedded in it. When the ink runs out the pupils ‘plant’ the pen so that a seedling will germinate.
The school is also active in the community, encouraging waste management and recycling. And it owns a biodiversity park and has a kitchen garden to grow its own vegetables.
Joined up thinking which should cause us to ponder. The school has a mission, well-understood, to educate the children in care for creation. But the children also have to live out that mission in their school and family lives. Watching a seed grow is a response to ‘Consider the lilies of the field’ (Matthew 6:28) which was an invitation to all who have ears to hear. In our day that command takes on the second meaning of ‘show some consideration for the lilies of the field’. Laudato Si!
Diwali is celebrated in these cold Islands, far from India where it originated. People from the Subcontinent also ended up in Trinidad and Tobago across the Atlantic where this reflection comes from. Follow the link to an interesting Independent Catholic News article by Leela Ramdeen, who grew up a Hindu father and Catholic mother.
‘I came here and saw that I could help. Love is the most important thing to help with. If you love a person you will be loved too.’ Sukanta, L’Arche Kolkata
Stories are our lifelines. They run through us, helping us to make sense of who we are and where we have come from. L’Arche Kolkata in India has been holding, and telling, people’s stories since it was founded in 1973. This year, our Easter Appeal tells the story of L’Arche Kolkata.
The Community is home to fifteen people with learning disabilities, nearly all of whom were orphaned, sometimes found on the streets or on train platforms. It is a place of sanctuary, belonging and joy for some of the most marginalised people in society.
Every day L’Arche Kolkata welcomes a further fifty or so children and adults with learning disabilities into their workshop and daycare. As well as supporting people to develop new skills and take part in therapeutic activities, L’Arche Kolkata is a place where each person’s story is known and celebrated.
L’Arche India also reaches out to some of the poorest families who are caring for children with learning disabilities. They provide vital medications, and services such as physiotherapy. Our Communities are a sign of hope in a hurting world.
We have received a newsletter from the Asha Vani community in India, which bears witness to a different way of interfaith meeting. Please follow the link to read it all.
The newsletter opens with Ten rules for life to become more human, by Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche:
• Accept the reality ofyour body • Talk about your emotions and difficulties • Don’t be afraid of not being successful • In a relationship, take the time to ask “How are you?” • Stop looking at your phone. Be present! • Ask people “What is your story?” • Be aware of your own story • Stop prejudice: meet people • Listen to your deepest desire • Remember that you’ll die one day
Very good advice, but do read the rest of the newsletter!