Sunday, April 27, 2008

Qurbana (Thinking about Entropy)

Matthew 9:13 Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

None of our Lord's words in the flesh drive home to me the theme I have attempted to convey in this series as much as these. As I have repeated throughout this series, we cannot help but destroy; the only question is whether what we break down is offered to a higher order. But our sinful condition, deprived of the assistance of God's grace, is such that much of what we do is stupid, pointless, or evil, an act of sacrifice to our cherished idols rather than God.

This is why sacrifice has always been inseparable from Christian worship, so much so that many rites call it qurbana or qurbono, which means "offering." In a world in which we can do nothing right, the only thing left that we can do is to abandon ourselves entirely to God. There is no other source of hope or meaning in human existence but to give our lives to Christ. This is the pure offering (Mal. 1:11) prophesied in the Scriptures. This is the offering foreshadowed by offering the lives of animals within the blood back their Creator to be consecrated in His holiness. This is what is taught in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which says (Hebr. 9:22-23) "Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these." To approach God's holiness, one must render to God the things that are God's (Matt. 22:21), to "continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name" and to "not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God" (Hebr. 13:15-16). As St. Paul says, "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom. 12:1). And elsewhere he says of himself, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain," (Php. 1:21) and "Even if I am to be poured as a libation upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all" (Php. 2:17).

Nor can we forget that it is only in Christ that we are able to make this qurbana "for there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time" (1 Tim.2:5-6). Just as Christ is the eternal mesites (Mediator) of the divine Love in the Trinity with the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son as the bond of love between them, so does Christ through offering of Himself on the Cross establish the bond of love between God and man, so that we may becomes one spirit with Him. So also testifies the Epistle to the Hebrews: "Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant."(Hebr. 9:15). The Letter goes on to say:

For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Hebr. 9:24-28)

The Epistle to the Romans says:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:1-4).

And the Epistle to the Colossians testifies also:
He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:9-14).

We offer our entire lives to God through the Holy Mysteries, particularly those Sacraments of Initiation into the Church: baptism in which we are buried in Christ, confirmation in which we are sealed in the life of the Spirit, and the Eucharist, which is the qurbana of the Church as the one Body of Christ.

Rom. 6:3-14 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Rom. 7:1-4 Do you not know, brethren -- for I am speaking to those who know the law -- that the law is binding on a person only during his life? Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.

Rom. 8:10-18 But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh -- for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Col. 1:21-26 And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints.

Col. 2:9-3:4 For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fulness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him. Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" (referring to things which all perish as they are used), according to human precepts and doctrines? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh. If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

1 Cor. 6:14-20 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, "The two shall become one flesh." But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Gal. 2:19-20 For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Thus is the entire pattern for Christian life defined:

Matt 19:16-22 And behold, one came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which?" And Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The young man said to him, "All these I have observed; what do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.

Luke 14:26-33 "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, `This man began to build, and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

But if the only offering that we can make is uniting ourselves to Christ in the Spirit, the worst that we can do is to spurn the opportunity to make an offering of ourselves. So Jesus says it succinctly: "Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" (Matt. 12:31-32). His words are echoed in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?" (Hebr. 10:26-29). Be mindful of the warning of St. Paul, who says "By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, among them Hymenae'us and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme" (1 Tim. 1:19-20).

For this reason, Scripture constantly enjoins us to use our time wisely, since even in merely subsisting in existence, we are destroying something and wasting time if we do not put what we have broken down to another, better use. As the Gospel of Matthew puts it, "I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Numerous examples of this call to watchfulness can be found, particularly in those Scriptures read during the season of Advent. In a way, the Son of Man is always here, coming on the clouds to judge the sins of the world according to the condemnation of sin in the flesh on the Cross (Rom. 8:3; cf. 1 Pet. 4:6). Thus, the Scripture says that not even a generation passed from Jesus's time on earth before this was realized (Matt. 24:34), and while it was most graphically illustrated in the temporal judgment and destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, the power and judgment of God is now constantly shown in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Early on in the life of the Church, this was believed to refer to the imminency of the temporal Second Coming, but with the lessons of history, we realize that this is a constant fact of Christian life. Each Christian personally lives at the end of the age and passes on to the next, and each one faces his particular judgment that will eventually be summed up and recapitulated in Christ at the end of time (1 Cor. 15:20-28).

In addition to this sense of constant watchfulness as temporal beings, we have been given one gift in particular that exemplifies sacrificial self-giving and participation in divine work even at the natural level. That gift is the gift of human sexuality. Even though our rational activity is in the image of God and all sins against nature debase our rationality and lower us to the levels of beasts (2 Pet. 2:12), no particular human act is so intrinsically suited to God's use than the one that makes us coworkers in the special work of divine, creative love (viz., the special creation of the human being, body and soul). It is precisely because the generative power is the most purely sacrificial act that the misuse of this gift is one of the gravest offenses against God. Sexual sins are acts of anti-sacrifice, taking what is by nature ordered to cooperation with God and seizing it for one's selfish use.

Those who dismiss the tradition of Christianity to condemn sexual sins as being based on crude biology completely miss the connection Jesus draws between mercy and offering to God. It isn't a question of human life actually residing in the seed, as if spermicide were homicide, but in recognizing the nature of sexuality as an offering to God and its importance in His creative work. Even if one were to dismiss the numerous explicit references to the gravity of these sins made by the Apostle Paul, it would miss the forest for the trees to think that Jesus didn't address them. To say, for example, that "Jesus never said anything about homosexuality" is to miss the necessary implications of His teaching about charity and sacrifice, His explanation of marriage, and His condemnation of adultery. It is not without cause that the Jewish tradition condemned "wasting the seed." Just as in the case of wasting time, the sense is having this power given to us for a specific purpose that can be squandered, a lesson writ in the very nature of finite being.

I have had cause to think of this perhaps most seriously since I recently completed my thirty-third year. At this point, Jesus had nearly poured out His entire mortal life. And as my wife pointed out to me, "doesn't it make you feel bad when you think about how much Jesus had done by this age?" Indeed, it does, and it should. Most of my life has been spilled out to no purpose, as I am sure many people have experienced. But I find some comfort in the teaching of St. Augustine that God can save even this, so that even what we have wasted can yet be turned to our good and redeemed in the man who perceives God's purpose and ordo for creation. And I have hope in this: that even though we are built to die, Christ has made death the door to the Holy of Holies, the path to God.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Killing the Meme Softly

I wanted to have a bit of fun in between the more serious mood of this "Thinking about Entropy" series that I should finish shortly. Hence, I'm adding my contribution to Arturo's meme. But I am not tagging anybody, because I don't feel like thinking that hard right now about who would actually want to fill this in. I'm not following the rules, so there! >:P

1) What I was doing ten years ago
Engaging in a prolonged, intensive liver workout that happened to coincide with graduate school in physics. More specifically, my friends and I were following the Red Wings Stanley Cup run and consuming prodigious quantities of beer and Mexican martinis (residents of Austin, TX, will recognize the latter).

2) Five [non-work] things on my to-do list:
a. Build our IKEA kitchen table (how has IKEA not made the "Stuff White People Like" list?).
b. Learn Latin, koine Greek, and Thai.
c. Read the New Testament in at least one of those languages.
d. See Elton John in concert on Saturday.
e. Root for the Ducks and Lakers in the playoffs.

3) Things I would do if I were a billonaire
a. Quit my job and hang out with my kids all day.
b. Pay off all of the family debt.
c. Buy a place in Dana Point with an ocean view that is close enough to walk to church.
d. Move my parents, brother, and sisters out to California.
e. Donate some ridiculous amount to my parish, to Catholic charities in Orange County, to the 12th Man Foundation, and to the physics departments at Texas A&M and texas university.

4) Three bad habits:
The Falstaff trifecta: Sloth, gluttony, and drinking.

5) Five places I have visited:
TJ; Montreal; South Bend, Ind.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Miami, FL

6) Five jobs I’ve had:
Movie theater usher (best kid job ever!); cleanup of construction sites in Louisiana in the summer (best job for convincing you to stay in school); teaching assistant; research assistant; patent attorney. What's weird is that is probably every job I have ever had.

7) Five snacks I enjoy:
At the risk of reinforcing one of my bad habits...
a. Chips and salsa, ideally with a frozen margarita w/ salt and a sangria floater to wash them down.
b. "Mmmm, donuts." My favorite kind is chocolate covered and "custard-filled" in Krispy Kreme parlance. Where I come from, they didn't have Bavarian creme, so we called them "creme filled."
c. Beignets. I had to mention them separately to distinguish them from donuts. I freely confess to being a beignet snob. I can't stand it when someone drops powdered sugar on a sopaipilla and pretends it's a beignet (not that I've got anything against sopaipillas, but come on, people!). And I don't like to eat beignets with inferior coffee.
d. Twix, the only candy with the cookie crunch and the staple of the long workday.
e. Edamame. I had to put that one in just to note that I don't eat only junk food.

8) Five places I’ve lived:
This will look like cheating, but it says "places," not "cities."
a. Louisiana. Spent my whole childhood in Lake Charles with the exceptions of brief stints in Metairie and Houston and summer outings in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
b. Texas. In descending order of likeability, College Station (aka, Aggieland), Austin, and Dallas.
c. Massachusetts. The one I'd most like to forget. I find it hard to believe that I was a Celtics fan growing up (at least before Rick Pitino turned it into the University of Kentucky at Boston). Since living in Cambridge, I get physically ill at the thought of any pro team from Boston winning anything. Suffice it to say, football and baseball have been pretty painful for me lately. I'm hoping that the Lakers beat the Celts in the finals this year, because that would be the most painful outcome for Boston fans.
d. Manhattan, staying across the street from Battery Park with the missus. It wasn't even a year, but I fell in love with the City. I don't think I will ever have another experience like waking up to sunrise over the Statue of Liberty every day. I can remember how surreal it was when I went looking for the tower of light 9/11 memorial, and it turned out that it was projected from the cinema where we went to see movies several times. But the best part was that we came home with my first child, my little baby daughter.
e. The O.C. I was reminded of how much I love it when I read a post by M.Z. Forrest. He remarked "The story went that one could make more money elsewhere, but the cost of living would be higher. This argument was that things basically equal out. I still think that there is some truth to this, but there are a lot of things that don’t equal out. Trips to Disney World cost the same whether you are from Chicago or Escanaba, MI." I would just point out that trips to Disneyland are a hell of a lot cheaper when you live in Orange County. So are trips to the beach, to Sea World, to the San Diego Zoo, and to L.A. (if you actually wanted to go there for some reason, like a Dodger game). Not to mention that my commute is half what it was in Dallas, and based on the reduction in property taxes and utilities and more favorable lending terms in California, I'm actually paying only slightly more per month for my condo in California. Granted, it's a much smaller space, but in SoCal, you can go outside in absolute comfort pretty much year round, so you needn't spend nearly as much time in the house anyway. The only drawbacks are (1) family is halfway across the country and (2) you never know if Sacramento is going to pass socialized health care, a 50% income tax, or some other nightmarish piece of legislation that will ruin our lives.

OK, that was fun and reminded me why I like life so much. Now I can go back to grim and cheerless esoterica.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mar Thoma (Thinking about Entropy)

John 20:26-29 [RSV]
Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."

During the Mass remembering Doubting Thomas this past Sunday, I received an exceptional gift: the gift of clarity. In part this was due to a well-spoken homily by Fr. Chris Heath, one of the excellent priests of our parish. But that homily brought me to see that many of the themes that I had been pondering this Lent (and to some extent, my whole life) were recapitulated in the person of St. Thomas. I hope to express how my own little epiphany, pale shadow that it was of St. Thomas's own, still something of the same quality.

Fr. Chris's homily contrasted the moment that caused St. Thomas to receive his dubious nickname, Doubting Thomas, with the remainder of his life as the Apostle to India, where he is called Mar Thoma. While St. Thomas was the last one to accept the Resurrection, not believing until he had seen it, the people he converted to the Christian faith were probably those least likely to have near experience of Jesus. It is even said that he converted Hindu Brahmins to his faith. Kerala, where St. Thomas was supposed to have arrived in India around A.D. 52, was something like Alexandria in Egypt, viz., a port city that included multiple cultural and religious tradition. To this day, the people from this region are called Nasrani (Nazarenes), because of the identification of the ethnic group native to Kerala with Christianity having a distinctive Syriac-Hebrew emphasis. While there were some Jewish settlers, both previously resident and recently arriving in response to persecution, the culture of the region was no doubt remote from Jerusalem, and St. Thomas's evangelical success could not have come easily. But as Fr. Chris suggested, perhaps it was because St. Thomas knew the struggles with doubt so intimately that he was so successful at convincing those who had not seen to believe.

This struck me personally because I had a realization of how much of my life had followed the path of Thomas in some way, apart from the rather obvious biographical connection of having been baptized Catholic (chosen as a disciple) and then becoming a doubter before returning to the faith. St. Thomas could practically epitomize Western empiricism in the passage from the Gospel of John quoted above, so I can hardly claim to be different in having embraced the attitude "show me, and then I will believe." But what suddenly became overwhelmingly apparent to me in a way I had never seen before was the connection between St. Thomas and India, which brings together several disparate areas of my own life.

My experience of Christianity has probably been similar to many people's experience, and it goes something like "NOW it all makes sense!" I don't mean that in an exhaustive sense, as if everything gets explained. On the contrary, it is more like the idea of having finally stumbled upon the key that unlocks the possibility of explaining everything, where you had previously been facing a locked door. But as the mysteries continue to unfold, there are always new and surprising levels of awareness, and this blog is intended in large part to share those realizations as they come to me. One could liken this picture of Mar Thoma to a kind of meta-realization in that regard, bringing together several themes that had emerged previously.

The first theme is that I have always been drawn to various aspects of Indian religion on a personal level throughout my life. I have mentioned before that my childhood religious upbringing (to the extent I had one) centered around the comparative mythological studies of Joseph Campbell, particularly reflected by George Lucas in Star Wars, and Hindu mythology was a significant part of that theme. Even in Catholic life, I have significantly benefited from the teaching of Thomas Merton, and I am particularly fascinated by the brief period before his untimely death when he had a closer contact with Buddhism than he ever had ever been before. On the more mundane level, my best friend in Orange County (whose birthday we are celebrating tonight) is Buddhist, and we have had many discussions about the common elements between Catholicism and Buddhism. In some way or another, I have always been interested in the Eastern religions that originated in India.

Turning to a theme more directly pertinent to my current state, I have never felt more "at home" in any liturgy than I have in the Syro-Malabar rite of Holy Qurbana, which I attended several times when I lived near the Syro-Malabar mission in Garland, TX. I credit that feeling as having no small significance in light of the fact that I was culturally quite uncomfortable, not because the people there weren't some of the most friendly and gracious people you could meet, but because I and whomever I managed to drag with me to "Indian Mass" were the only white people there. When I say "the only white people there," I mean that literally. They had Sunday school classes for the kids upstairs, and one time I was there, a girl who was about four or five excitedly exclaimed "Look, mommy, white people!" Those kids were learning Malayalam so that they could understand parts of the liturgy, including the Gospel reading; lacking that training myself, I had to look it up when I got home. Afterwards, I had to stammer some sort of response to "Please have some coffee and donuts, and why exactly are you here?" I couldn't really explain, because I didn't really know. I'd been to other rites before and since ... Byzantine, Tridentine, Maronite ... and the culture shock is common to all of them to some degree, but I never felt drawn to them in the same way. Now, I wonder whether it wasn't the fact that it was a land converted by Mar Thoma, a whole culture that never saw but believed, that I instinctively recognized.

Lastly, the connection with India touches on the physical/metaphysical theme that has been running through this series of posts. Put quite simply, I think pagan Vedic philosophy has a better handle on the concepts of destruction at the heart of this series (and to some extent, modern science) than pagan Greek philosophy does. Compared to Kali, the Manichee principle of matter and the Gnostic archons look pretty pathetic. Here's an interesting aside: when Latin America was attempting to express its religious independence from Spain and Portugal, various groups adopted the story of St. Thomas in India as their own, going so far as to cite him as the origin of the god Quetzalcoatl. It is surely an interesting cultural phenomenon that the legend of St. Thomas adapted so well to the inheritors of the Aztec culture, another culture that confronted destruction in a far more graphic way than Western culture. It is another example of the unlikely reception by a culture that had not seen Christ of the witness of St. Thomas. It seems that these cultures who have seen the dark side of life more immediately find something that resonates in the disciple who doubted but then gave the most remarkable witness.

I believe my perspective here has also been influenced by my professor E. C. George Sudarshan (articles available at this website), who taught me quantum mechanics in graduate school. Professor Sudarshan is from Kerala, India, the same place Mar Thoma arrived in the first century. He studied physics at the (Anglican) Church Missionary Society College in Kottayam, Kerala, which now has a center named after him. He also has the rather dubious distinction of having had the Nobel Prize in Physics twice given to other people for his work, first in 1979 and more recently in 2005. (The latter case was egregious, because the prize winner Roy Glauber had actually accused Sudarshan of committing an error and only after Sudarshan corrected him did he accept and disseminate what is now known as the "Sudarshan-Glauber representation" or more briefly "the Sudarshan diagonal representation." Personally, I think the paucity of Indian Nobel laureates in physics might well have something to do with the reluctance of Westerners to admit that Indian culture might originate scientific ideas outside the ambit of Western culture.)

I respect Prof. Sudarshan because he seems to have found the golden mean in recognizing the importance of philosophy for science without falling into the trap of making science into philosophy. As far as I know, he is not a Christian, but he is well versed in Vedic philosophy and knows something of Christianity as well (one might note his description of natural law here: "The 'word becomes flesh': sabda entails dravya."). Several of his Seven Science Quests involve fundamental questions in our knowledge of the world, and I have already recommended his book (with Tony Rothman) titled Doubt and Certainty, which explores these themes in some detail. Even in the secular understanding of physics and metaphysics, the ideas were from the same cultural milieu where Mar Thoma's Gospel was received.

I find it comforting that all of these themes of science, of philosophy, and of religion can be brought together in the Christian witness of Mar Thoma. I find it comforting because the Church in India has always given me a sense of hope. The St. Thomas Christians were treated badly by missionaries of both religious and political stripes. But somehow, Malabar and Malankara Christianity has survived intact, and that survival is testimony that Christianity has lasted and can last with an authentic character, one that can be reconciled with the Holy See and the later ecumenical councils even when culturally and historically remote from both. Like the Maronites (another Syrian Christian rite), they witness to the fact that separation is not insurmountable, that there is no historic Christian witness opposed to unity. And from the text of John's Gospel, itself a message passionately devoted to the theme of Christian unity, the words of St. Thomas echo through the legacy of his own life. They reverberate with this theme: the hope of uniting all things in Christ.