Seek The Living Among The Dead

Today, we live in a world impacted by pandemic and natural disasters.  We are all going through a difficult phase of our lives.  Many are coping with complex personal environments and circumstances.  This is where we need spiritual support to fill that vacuum left by the absence of God in us. 

When the going gets tough, the tough get going” was the catch-line during our tough five week-long Commando training, considered amongst the toughest in the world, designed to push the trainees, testing our physical and mental toughness to an extreme.  Our training began at 2 AM with physical training, obstacle crossing, long marches up to 40 km, and ended at midnight with night navigation marches, raids, and ambushes – all while carrying our personal weapon – the rifle weighing over 5 kg and a 30 kg backpack.

This was where I needed someone to hold my hand, pat me at the back, encourage me to complete the tough tasks, push me from the back through those long endurance marches, etc.  Here my faith in Christ helped endure through it successfully.  I found our Saviour, the Resurrected Christ there when and where I needed Him.  Whatever physical and mental turbulence I was going through, He underwent many times more and emerged successful. 

Timothy 2:3 says, “Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” The bible does not offer you space to complain or crib.  St Paul was beaten, persecuted, betrayed, drowned, and thrown into a prison, still he never complained.  Paul endured his perils by holding to his faith and belief in Jesus Christ. Did Jesus Christ ever complain even while He was dying on the cross?

The essence of resurrection is contained in the verse Luke 24: 5 where the angels at the tomb said to the women who went to anoint Jesus’ body: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  It happens to be the first spoken word after the resurrection of Christ.

This question led the women to understand the reality of resurrection.  We must realise how pertinent it is in our daily lives. Resurrection celebrates the moment death was defeated and hope came alive.  If you are looking for Jesus among the dead, you will not find him, because he is not there.

We often end up failures, dissatisfaction, or burnout after the long and treacherous hours we put in.  Often our efforts do not bring us a sense of achievement and fulfilment.  This could be due to the lack of realisation as to how our effort may have helped others and not us. We place an unrealistic expectation on returns that will lead to frustration, anger, and disappointment. It is a way of seeking the living among the dead. Here we are not looking at the joy and happiness that our action has brought to someone else (living,) but we are more concerned about what we will receive in return (dead.)

We look for the dead weighing our success based on our achievements like bank balance, grades scored, promotions achieved, the brands of the clothes we wear, the car we drive and so on.  We keep looking for self-worth in our personal image and some end up finding relief in drug and alcohol abuse, leading to addiction (further death) not liberty or freedom or solution to one’s problems (mirage of living.)  For some, it leads to anxiety and fear, rather than joy and fulfilment of life.

Looking for the living among the dead also means looking for a spark or a ray of hope when everything around is grim and bleak.  While on a military mission, driving on a Himalayan mountain road at about 12,000 feet above sea level, the pickup truck with two soldiers ahead of me suddenly toppled to the side, because the road caved in.  The pickup with every tumble lost each of its wheels, finally rested on a tree at bout 1000 feet below. I ran out of the Jeep with my driver and two of my radio operators and we reached the vehicle to see the two soldiers badly injured, bleeding profusely.  Upon seeing the state of the vehicle and the tumbles it took, I did not expect any survivors.  Here I was ‘Looking for the living among the dead’ as hardly anyone survived such accidents in that area. We carried the two injured soldiers up the steep slope, evacuated them to the nearest first-aid post to be evacuated by the Army Helicopter and they survived.

Until today, I do not know how we rolled down that steep slope, brought those soldiers up the mountain.  Everything appeared to be a miracle, where the Resurrected Christ gave me the strength to execute the task.  It saved the lives of two soldiers, but for us who participated in it, it was all some bruises left on our body by the bamboo which grew on the mountain slope.  No one complained. We were all happy that we could save two lives.  That is what soldiering is all about – Risking one’s life to save others.

Whenever I passed on that road again, I felt the Resurrected Christ appearing before me.

This Easter, we must all look for our resurrected living Saviour, one who brings joy and life and hope, the one about whom the Prophet Isaiah said: “Those who hope in me will never be disappointed.” 

Psalm 91 : The Soldiers’ Psalm

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During our childhood, we recited Psalm 91 as part of the evening Family Prayer (Click Here to Read More about it).  In those days I never realised the meaning of the words we recited and did not visualise that it will impact my life. During my first stint at the Kashmir Border, sleeping alone in my bunker, the very same words rang in my ears.  These words I realised helped me tide over the difficulties and uncertainties that lie ahead for any soldier in  high-altitude terrain, mostly snow covered icy heights, prone to avalanches and blizzards and  bone chilling cold.  I recited Psalm 91 every evening, (in Malayalam, the language in which our father taught us the Psalm,) before I retired to bed.  Psalm 91 has for ever been one of my inspirations and a prayer.

There is a story in circulation by the modern evangelists that during World War I, 91 Infantry Brigade of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was preparing to enter combat in Europe. Because their commander was a devout Christian, he assembled his men and gave each of them a little card on which was printed the Psalm 91, the same number Psalm as their brigade. They agreed to recite that Psalm daily. After they had begun praying the Psalm, 91 Brigade was engaged in three of the bloodiest battles of World War I – Chateau Thierry, Belle Wood and the Argonne. Other American units that fought in the same battles had up to 90 percent casualties, but 91 Brigade did not suffer a single combat-related casualty.

The truth about this story of 91 Infantry Brigade and the Psalm 91 has been cleared By Mary Jane Holt in an article ‘The truth about the 91st Psalm.‘  The article refers to a communication the author received from Mike Hanlon, Research Editor of Relevance, the Quarterly Journal of The Great War Society: “There was no 91 Brigade with the AEF in World War I. The Brigades’ highest number was 84.”  This story appears to have been churned out by an evangelist with a view to cash in on the sympathy the soldiers world over enjoy.

The Bible historians believe that Psalm 91 might have been written by Moses, even though most Psalms are authored by King David.  Moses might have written it to inspire the enslaved Israelite soldiers to fight against their Egyptian masters.  Hence, Psalm 91 is known as the Soldiers’ Psalm and is also referred to as the Psalm of Protection.

There are many testimonies of NATO soldiers keeping a card size print of Psalm 91 in their pockets and also reciting it during their deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Psalm as is, will be applicable to all soldiers irrespective of their faith or religion.

The Psalm begins by stating that there is no need to fear because of who He is. Then is a more personal relationship to God as the Almighty is referred to as ‘My refuge, My fortress, My God in whom I trust.’  Thus the personal relationship we have with our God enables us not to fear at all.  It follows with an affirmation that He will come to your rescue in case of any difficulties and that He will protect you as He will cover you under His wings like a mother bird.

Then is the declaration of guarantee by  God that He will protect you from all that a soldier may confront in a battlefield like ‘the terror of night’,  ‘arrow that flies by day,’ ‘the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,’ and ‘the plague that destroys at midday.’  He also provides you the protection while you rest that no disaster would come near your tent.  The God vows to protect the soldier even though thousands may fall on either side.  God has commanded the angels to guard you so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

The Psalm further says that you will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.  This act can only be done by a soldier in a battlefield and the soldier has to move ahead facing the enemy’s bullets and nothing can stop him from carrying out his divine duty.  For God’s sake, don’t even let the thought about these actions come to anyone else’s mind or even in the mind of a soldier in peacetime, as the wild life protection laws of no nation will ever spare you and please do not expect God to come to your rescue!!

The Psalm concludes with a God’s promise to a soldier ‘He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honour him.  With a long life I will satisfy him, and let him behold My salvation.’

In Bhagawad Gita, Lord Krishna exhorts Arjuna to fight by saying “O son of Kuntī, either you will be killed on the battlefield and attain the heavenly planets, or you will conquer and enjoy the earthly kingdom. Therefore get up and fight with determination.”  Here again the Lord guarantees a soldier the grand honour of the right to heaven.

Matha Pitha Guru Deva (Mother Father Teacher God)

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माता पिता गुरु देवा * மாதா பிதா குரு தெய்வம் * മാതാ പിതാ ഗുരു ദൈവം

‘Matha Pitha Guru Deva’ translates into most Indian languages as ‘Mother Father Teacher God’. It owes its origin to the Vedic times and is said to be the greatest truth. It is the order of reverence as laid down by the Hindu philosophy.

First comes the mother (Matha), obviously as she is the one who carried us in her womb for ten months, developed as into a human being from a mere cell, who gave her essence to create us and brought us into this world.

Then is the father (Pitha), as he has contributed 23 chromosomes. Nearly half your traits are inherited from the father. The mother and father then take us to the teacher (Guru), and it is the guru(s), through their teachings, develop our minds and channelize our thinking. All the three have a very important role in identifying our Gods (Deva) and bringing us closer to the God.

As per Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati received a ripe mango. Their children Ganesha and Karthikeya, both wanted it. To break the impasse, Lord Shiva asked them to go around the world and the one who returns first would win the mango. Karthikeya immediately set off to encircle the world on his mount, the peacock. Ganesha realising that his mount, the rat is no match for the peacock, went around his parents once and claimed the prize saying that the parents are the whole world to him and by going around them once, he had in effect gone around the world. The happy parents gifted the fruit to Ganesha. When Karthikeya returned after going round the world, he saw Ganesha with the fruit in his hand. His non-understanding of this simple truth upset him so much that he is believed to have gone away to live alone and meditate in the hills of Palani in Southern India.

Based on my earlier articles about our teachers at Sainik School and the National Defence Academy (NDA), Brigadier (Retired) Azad Sameer expressed his views. He said that many of our teachers are unsung heroes who have mentored a generation of students and taught them values and ideals which are everlasting. He is reminded of many of teachers in school, specially those associated with English, maths, physics, boxing, football and so on. Besides the subject proper, many of them taught lessons that one carries for life.

Brigadier Sameer is of the opinion that essentially this reverence for teachers is born out of a typical Indian value. A special bond between the teacher and pupil. 5000 years of Indian history will bear testimony to this special bond and special value system. Elsewhere in the world, he wonders whether one get to see this emotional connect between the teacher and the taught.

In my opinion, in case such an umbilical cord between the teacher and the students did not exist in the entire world, we would never have had the novel and then the movie like ‘To Sir With Love’.  The reverence for teachers exist in all the societies across the world.

Jesus Christ in the bible is referred to as Lord, Savior, Master, and Redeemer. In the four Gospels, out of 90 times Jesus was addressed directly, 60 times he was called Teacher. As per St John (13:13), Jesus is supposed to have said that “You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am”.

The reverence for their teachers what students demonstrate here in Canada is very much the same as what the students do in India. Most of the Indian guru-shishya (teacher-student) relationship of today is mostly hypocritical and that was what many of my classmates on leaving our school realised. We always addressed our teachers as Mister Raman or Miss Murphy; we never added the typical ‘sir’ as what most Indian teachers expect the students to. When our class mates reached their universities, they addressed their teachers in the same way and they faced castigation not only from the teachers, but also from their class mates. Many took offense to addressing the professor as ‘Mister’. The teachers here in Canada, expect the students to address them as ‘Mister/Miss’ and some even insist on being addressed with only their first names. The teachers in Canada are much more straightforward in their relationship with the students. Here the teachers earn the students’ respect rather than forcing themselves on the students.

I feel that the teachers in Canada give more freedom to the students for developing their ideas and thoughts.  The teachers are much more approachable and appear to be multi-talented and many have both formal and informal qualifications and experiences in varied fields other than the subjects they teach. The students discuss anything and everything with their teachers. We were lucky during our school days that we had similar teachers as in Canada.

The importance of high school teachers for the students are much more here as they need at least two teachers’ recommendations for the university admission.  For any job as a teenager or even later, two high school teachers’ recommendation is mandatory; even if it is for an assistant’s job at a coffee or burger shop.  Our son Nikhil needed it while applying for the job of swimming instructor and life guard at the city’s swimming pool and also when he applied for a volunteer position at the city hospital.

About 70% of a high school student’s assessment is done by the teacher throughout the semester. The assessment is based on various assignments, presentations, written submissions, tests, quizzes, etc. The attitude and aptitude of the student and his organisational ability is also reported upon. The final semester examinations generally carries only 30% of the marks.   This demands real effort from the students to maintain a healthy relationship with their teachers.

The teacher-student relationship is celebrated here during the valedictory address by the student valedictorian of Grade 12 and also at Grade 8 during the graduation ceremony.  You must have watched many valedictory addresses posted on the YouTube or social-media.

Teachers play an important role in nation building by developing young students into responsible citizens. Teachers through their perseverance, love and sacrifices has shown us the right path in which great men have built the nations. Any strong and powerful nation is endowed with committed and dedicated teachers, without whom these nations would never have achieved glory.

In the modern world of information overload, we may even define it as ‘Matha, Pitha, Google, Deva.’