Thursday, 12 November 2015

Sermons from the Classics

Finding Grace in the Kafkaseque World 

Once sermons used to move a man to tears; some would even die listening to them as has been reported about Gousul Azam (RA). Now hearts seem to have hardened and preachers don’t seem to carry great conviction, although they may be eloquent and can quote chapter and verse from many books. Friday sermons used to be great education (occasionally they are still and we have some Friday imams or speakers in Kashmir whom certain people don’t ordinarily miss to attend); now most people avoid reaching mosques much before scheduled prayer time so that they are not “bombarded” by sermons. Although one can still get greatly moved by some classics of sermons like those of Gousul Azam and Eckhart and some pieces from such contemporaries as Zulfiqar Naqshbandi and Ahmed Javed.
      It is said that once a great Zen Master was going to deliver a sermon in presence of great gathering. The moment he arrived at the podium, a song bird was around singing. He along with his audience became all ears for it. And once the bird finished and moved off he also left the podium without delivering speech. When asked why, he replied that courtesy the bird’s song “the sermon stands delivered.” Thanks to the song. Great sermons call us to these sermons that nature is ceaselessly delivering. Great writers don’t sermonize but nevertheless open us to “sermons in the stones” besides “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks” and smiles and tears around us. Great sermons delivered by Life when its profound depths are given voice by great art are always needed and they are freely available if we care to heed.

      Great literature is the best antidote to fanaticism. Whenever one encounters a fanatic, most probably, he is illiterate in classics. One must read classics from as many cultures as one can to see how humans believe and feel essentially in a similar manner. Tears and smiles, sighs and ecstasies, love and desperation for being loved, are everywhere of almost identical hue. It has been noted by one of the great writers that when we weep, love, express joy, sleep, care and suffer loneliness, we can’t be distinguished in terms of creed or ideology or status. We all share one limbic system. Our story of exile from the homeland of Spirit/Heaven is essentially similar. Kafka tells us, as does Beckett, our sordid tale of exile made almost unbearable in absence of grace/love. Reading them is to suffer in purgatory and live all the horror of the dark night of soul which is necessary preparation for entry into heaven. Thus read modern classics constitute a wazeefa for most of modern educated people too intelligent to digest popular narratives that appeal to other class. Great writers help us to identify the Master to whom one may wholeheartedly surrender.
      Today we read Kafka on the most fundamental thing we all seek – joy – and in light of the statement from one of the our greatest “sermonizers”, the philosopher and theologian Peter Kreeft “Read a great book to better meet and know and glorify God.” Kreeft also says: “Joy is more than happiness, just as happiness is more than pleasure. Pleasure is in the body. Happiness is in the mind and feelings. Joy is deep in the heart, the spirit, the center of the self.”  One can read seemingly sceptical or God abandoned Kafka to better know about God. Kafka devastates us as he explores our loneliness. He post-mortems, like Beckett, mortal connection of pleasure and happiness while desperately seeking joy that God is, exposes how heartless is the world – bureaucratic managed corporate controlled world – where we no longer are loved but used, dodged, passed over in neglect. He helps us to live and love even in such a world as our hearts that can be uplifted and other humans who need us and God’s creation to which we turn for blessings can’t be snatched by any force. For Kafka “ a book should serve as the axe for the frozen sea within us.” He is indeed such an axe and few can afford to be sawed by him. For Kafka the secret of youth is ability to see beauty. One can thereby fight old age. Kafka was not a saint and although he advises us for finding all gestures holy and against despair and says the beginning of wisdom lies in readiness to die, he exhibits saintly concentration in squarely facing horror of life lived without consciousness of terrible reality of guilt and life ‘s ironies.

      Responding to the statement of Charles Juliet that “I believe an artist's work is inconceivable without a strict ethical sense.” Becket, another “artist of failure” said: "What you say is true. But moral values are inaccessible. And they cannot be defined. In order to define them, you would have to pass judgement, which is impossible. … You cannot even speak about truth. That's what's so distressful. Paradoxically, it is through form that the artist may find some kind of a way out. By giving form to formlesssness. It is only in that way, perhaps, that some underlying affirmation may be found.” Becket also seeks, like other great writers misperceived as pessimistic, as Juliet remarks, “an underlying affirmation – why else would he continue? – while all around him hacks and inattentive culture-vultures chatter about "the absurd"; a value judgement to speed their fiercely middlebrow lives beyond anything distressing like the inaccessible.”

Post Script:
       Kafka is, like many other big names in world literature, not a good model to emulate in life. He failed to live up to his own vision and was a “problematic rebel.” He had such an overwhelming sense of guilt that he ordered destruction of his great writings and thanks to a friend that was prevented. Let us note, however, that great writers as great writers and because of the art they serve and most often not because they embody greatness in personal lives. The models worthy of emulation are prophets and saints and not writers who have notorious things to their credit.

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