The streets are strewn with flowers, and the drums don’t cease…
By Dr Anu Rose, Christian Medical College, Vellore, South India
Someone, unfamiliar with the culture of rural India, reading the title of this, will imagine I am describing a festival, or, like the biblical passage describing Jesus’s entry to Jerusalem -the welcome into a village of an important person… But in India, in the rural areas, a death is announced by drums, with a very specific beat. During a funeral procession, the mourners strew the path to the cremation ground with flowers, usually bright marigolds.
I travel 2 hours to a clinic run by Christian Medical College, Vellore, South India, in a tribal belt. Lately I’ve been going to the clinic 3 days a week, and every day, when we traverse a village, we hear the drums and see the path to the cremation ground marked by fresh bright flowers…
It has been more than a year since the pandemic hit. The second wave is much worse than what we anticipated. The people are frightened, tired, and hope of an end to this is waning. People are faced by situations which 2 years ago will seem fictitious…bodies floating in the river Ganges… the loss of close family members, loss of livelihood, fear of more death and illness and prohibitively high costs of treatment, unavailability of vaccines, terrifying images on the TV news of people, rich and poor alike, pleading for treatment, admission to hospital and Oxygen. Long lines of bodies waiting to be cremated, crematoriums working through the day and night… loved ones being buried or cremated in mass graves and pyres… no closure or chances to say goodbye, to touch a loved ones hand in farewell , or look upon a beloved face one last time…
And the traditional methods of comfort and support are all gone. No visits to a family member or friends house to console or to encourage. No church service on Sunday mornings….
How long Lord? Why Lord? Why us Lord?
History teaches us that periodically human kind has suffered immensely. The world wars, the famines, the influenza pandemic in the early 1900’s…and yet we survive. And we flourish.
In the book of psalms, King David exclaims in entranced wonder ‘what is man that you are mindful of him , the son of man that you care for him”.
But now, our feelings resonate more with Job’s rendition of similar words. Job said, “what is man that thou should magnify him? And thou should set thy heart upon him. And that thou should visit him every morning and try him every moment. How long wilt thou not depart from me, not let me alone….”
Job’s words are a description of what many are feeling now, the circle of human suffering, ‘my days are swifter than a weavers shuttle, and are spent without hope. ‘when I say my bed shall comfort me and my couch shall ease my complaint. Then thou scarest me with dreams and terrify me through visions … ‘
Again, why Lord. Why now? We were a blessed generation. Human flourishing has never been so evident. We have mapped the universe you created, we think we understand our ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ selves as we have mapped our genome, we are exploring new planets to relocate to, in this vast universe you created. Yet we have been brought to our knees by a miniscule microbe, the whole world is being held hostage.
May be this is an indication that we have not spent enough time on our knees. Is that why Lord? In our rush to conquer the universe, we have left many of your children behind. We spend enormous resources on finding other planets to live in, while many among us have no homes , we use our fruits and vegetables to produce products to change our external appearance, when our hearts don’t change enough to realize these will be enough to feed a family in many places. The pandemic has given us time away from self-made hectic schedules to introspect, and we are ashamed Lord… So like the plagues of old, are you punishing us? Job said, ‘Happy is the man whom God corrected, therefore despise not the chastening of the almighty…’ Stop Lord, we have learnt our lesson.
Or as Job admonished his wife, “shall we receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil? What you choose to send us, Lord we cannot escape from, be they blessings or a curse…We are created beings, small, powerless, dependent on your providence, prone to sin, and with numbered days. Can we question your actions Lord. Can we dare to question your omnipresence when your children are pleading for mercy, yet receiving no answer? Can we wonder at your compassion Lord, in the face of all this suffering, or are we validated in our thoughts that you are an unchanging God and your anger and fury described in the old testament are still a part of our current generations.
Do not be angry with us Lord, for our poor understanding of your purposes and our feeble attempts to make theological meaning of the events we are living through. While human kind is ravaged with suffering, the rest of your creation is flourishing. The forests are greener, with fewer footfalls and littering, the skies are clear, we have been too immersed in our suffering to pollute it. The animals have become bolder, glimpses of them are seen in urban areas, they seem to hope that now some of the earth belongs to them too. Like Jobs three friends, we are trying to understand and attribute meaning Lord, and we are tempted to simplistically attribute everything to being punished for our sinful ways. Help us to accept Lord- there are things too wonderful for us to understand, as Job accepts.
While we mourn and weep with our fellow brethren, in our time of sorrow, we are drawn closer to you, to seek you to trust your wisdom and know you are in control. Let us not ask where you are in the midst of our pain, but where we are, do we trust in you ,our Creator, or lean on our own understanding. While we are tempted to find explanations we wait for you to speak Lord. We seek, and you will deliver us from our fears. We cry out to you and you will save us out of our troubles. As you have been merciful to the generations of humans before, you will be Gracious to us, as You are an unchanging God and deliver those who fear you.
We will trust and wait with hope for the dawning of the day when we will come to you in the silence of the early morning, and the only sounds we hear will be the joyful noise of the birds as we join your creation in giving thanks for the new beginning.