Christmas: The Mystery of Faith
Growing up as a child in Juhu’s Theosophical Colony, the beach was my front yard and I wandered on the sands, marveling at the mystery of the sea. My grandfather told me the sea is a connector and that on the other side was another country where some young guy like me was being told the same thing by his grandfather. I always wondered how the equivalent of me on the other side of the ocean lived. Did he eat the same food; did he speak English, Gujarati and a smattering of Hindi? Was there another Bombay on the other seashore?
Those days I was a student at the colony’s Besant Montessori, where I had many friends, also from the same exclusive (not about wealth) community. An older boy, Freddie, if I recall…it’s been too long and the memory may not be exact…used to take me for long walks on the beach to Versova with someone older. I cannot remember if the older person was his father or older brother or uncle. I do remember it was breathtakingly beautiful, like Goa’s Morjim beach today.
They used to catch crabs, bring them home, boil them in an aluminum container and that was dinner. I couldn't for the life of me understand how people could eat these horribly ugly creatures. But Versova was gorgeous. So when we said our morning prayer at the Besant Montessori: “Thank you God for the world so sweet…,” I always said “Thank you God for Versova.”
Freddie (and I’m not even sure if that was his name; it’s been so long) was a Roman Catholic from Goa, who used to go every Sunday with his family to Juhu Church for something called “Mass.” In Gujarati, the word refers to meat and having seen him eat the crabs, I figured that’s what it was all about. Later, when I was much older, when we went to live in Christ Church Lane in Byculla Bridge, most of my friends were Goan Catholic. I got to know the Catholic belief in Jesus, how he was born of a virgin and how he died for our sins. They too used to go Sunday to church to affirm the belief.
Much later, when I befriended a woman, a Goan Catholic, who became my wife, I went to Christmas Mass with her and have done so ever since. Knowing the Jesus story, I felt kind of cool with the whole ceremony. Each time, the priest said, “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.””Faith?” Transcending reason? That was not in my vocabulary. Over the years, this “mystery of faith” concept lingered in my consciousness. I knew in the back of my mind that in the run-of-the-mill sense, faith has to do with superstition and human relationships.
What struck me at Christmas Mass today, where I held my granddaughter in the chapel at Delhi’s Vatican Embassy, the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See, was that she was the “mystery of faith.” It was her first Christmas and she looked upward and saw my wife, who was in the balcony, singing with her choir. She waved, yelled “oy” loudly, much to the embarrassment of her parents and her aunt and cousin; but when she blew her a kiss, almost everyone melted. It was like “Joy to the World.”
So what is this mystery of faith? We had no time to ponder these philosophical issues when our daughters came along. We just soldiered on, bringing them up the best way we could. Decades later, I am beginning to understand. The faith thing is about the continuation of the species in general and the family in particular. We don’t know, other than in the biological sense, how children attain consciousness. There is some sort of an app in the human genetic code that when the biology is done, the child develops a personality and asserts her individuality.
This is the mystery of faith.
True, Maria Montessori studied this early childhood development by observing children from birth. True, there are biological explanations of how children learn and all that. But holding my granddaughter in church today and have the Nuncio (Ambassador) proclaim the “mystery of faith” while the choir sang “O Come All Ye Faithful,” I experienced an epiphany: faith is about unconditional love. My mind went back to my wedding day; the birth of my daughters. Yep: it is about love and it is boundless.
As the page of my life turns golden, I do think every now and then about mortality. When I held my granddaughter at the Mass tonight, I realized faith is also about eternity. It’s easy to love our own daughters and we did and do. Bringing them up was an existential challenge. To hold my post millennial granddaughter in my arms while listening to the proclamation of faith and its mystery was a spiritual experience
She just plain showed up in our life and gave me a glimpse of immortality.
PS: When the Mass was done, there was really no “Silent Night,” the granddaughter was all over the place, long past her bedtime, hanging with other kids like a party animal, using her limited vocabulary and her limitless cuteness to stir things up. Finally, when her mother picked her up to take her home, she protested. The cry of a future yet to unravel! A glimpse of immortality. The mystery of faith!