Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Opening eyes, ears, heart

Published in the Fiji Times Wednesday, January 27, 2010

THE term "navel gazing" refers to some religious practitioners who stare at their navel to enter a deep meditative trance.

It is certainly true that some meditation poses place people in a prime position for navel gazing and contemplating one's navel can have powerful connotations in religions where people view the navel as the centre of life or as an energy source.

A specific term has even been invented to describe religious navel gazing omphaloskepsis from the Greek words for navel and inquiry. The term can also be applied to people who seem to be extremely self-absorbed or unaware of their surroundings because they are too focussed on their own issues.

In this sense, the term is generally meant to be derogatory, implying that someone needs to open his or her awareness a bit to think beyond the current situation or to consider others. In this sense, navel gazing is viewed as rather self indulgent.

In an attempt to ensure that my own navel-gazing is not considered the second of these definitions, I make a constant effort (and I admit that sometimes it is an effort) to pay attention to what is happening in the world around us. As we observe world events, the patterns of power, oppression, peacemaking, justice and reconciliation become clear and help us focus our attention and intention during our navel-gazing. As I looked from my navel to the world, this is what I saw:

The World Council of Churches has called on the international community to cancel quake-stricken Haiti's foreign debt, hunger, racial violence, natural disasters, the continued destruction of eco-systems by pollution and an increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots. The latest figures on the impact of the global economic crisis show more than 80 per cent of families in the most vulnerable communities in Tonga and Tuvalu do not have enough money for food.

As I returned my gaze from the world to my navel I thought how small, how solvable our problems are in Fiji. It reminded me of a story a preacher shared in church some time ago.

One day a man complained to God that his cross was too big and heavy.

God took the man to a large warehouse with a small door and said: "Go inside and leave your cross by the door. Inside, you will find crosses of different sizes and shapes. Take whichever one you like."

Leaving his cross just inside the door, he went into the warehouse. Inside were hundreds of crosses and, yes, some were bigger than the others but even the smallest one he could find was much bigger than the cross he had been carrying.

After searching through the crosses for several hours, the man headed back toward the door in disappointment. Nearing the door, in a darkened corner, he saw a small cross. It was smaller than any other cross he had seen in the warehouse. Joyfully he picked it up and carried it through the door and showed it to God.

"See what I found!" he cried with joy as he approached God. "It is just the right size for me. I can carry this cross."

"I'm glad you can handle it," God replied. "It is the cross you brought here."

The start of the national dialogue process is another opportunity to attain mutual understanding on how to move our nation forward. As citizens of Fiji we all need to accept that for any exchange to take place, those sitting at the table on which the future of Fiji rests need to practise active listening, take onboard what other parties are saying, rather than merely waiting for their chance to speak.

Participants in the national dialogue forum are given the responsibility to genuinely enter into dialogue with those they may not normally sit at the table with. This may be a cross to carry but compared to the other crosses being borne around the world it is a small cross.

The weight of this cross can be made lighter by active listening. The reward of this cross is that understanding can be achieved. Jiddu Krishnamurti (Indian theosophist philosopher, 1895-1986) said: "When we talk about understanding, surely it takes place only when the mind listens completely -- the mind being your heart, your nerves, your ears -- when you give your whole attention to it."

As we raise our gaze from our navel, as we engage with other human beings, let us make an effort to open our eyes, ears, and minds.

Let us recognise the common soul-force within our different physiologies, let us speak to each other the common language of love. Let us set free the power of the positivity within us, caged by fear.

* This article is the opinion of Reverend JS Bhagwan and does not necessarily represent the views of this newspaper or any other organisation or institution Padre Bhagwan is affiliated with.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What Are Friends For?

Published in the Fiji Times 13/1/10

My late father once said to me, “Have many acquaintances, but only a few friends.” According to my Facebook Profile, I have 1,061 “friends” – some who I have only met through this online social network. If I were to take the title of the Terence Hill and Bud Spencer movie, “He who finds a friend, finds a treasure,” to heart, I would consider myself quite wealthy! When my father died I found out that he had not followed his own advice, as those who in expressing their condolences considered him a friend were literally in the hundreds.

This past weekend I was co-celebrant in the wedding of the president of a prominent Suva-based club. At the wedding rehearsal, the day before I was informed that the groom, instead of having one Best Man and a number of Groomsmen, would in fact have one Groomsman and four Best Men. Today one of my closest friends, Sevanaia Tora, Fiji’s original Disc Jockey, percussionist extraordinaire and incidentally the Best Man at my wedding, celebrates his birthday. From all your soul brothers, and soul sisters: Happy Birthday Yo!

As I reflected on my own wedding and my choice of best man and the impact that my friends have had in my life, I realised that perhaps we use the word friend too loosely, or perhaps without an understanding of the gravitas associated with this word.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “friend” has its roots in the Old English word “frēon,” which means” to love,” and “frēo,” which means, “free.” It defines a friend as “one attached to another by affection or esteem;” “one that is not hostile;” “one that favors or promotes something (as a charity);” “a favored companion.” There is also “Friend,” which refers to someone who is “a member of a Christian sect that stresses Inner Light, rejects sacraments and an ordained ministry, and opposes war,” known in some circles as a ”Quaker”. I do not know how many readers would consider their “friends” in this last category, but you never know.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the poet, novelist, musician, and playwright wrote, “Depth of friendship does not depend on length of acquaintance.” From experience I understand this to mean that a soul connection doesn’t need to grow, it can just be a transmission of the divine spark of love. The Christ said of friendship, “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends” (John15:13). How many of us would be willing to lay our lives down for our friends? We are quick to accept this responsibility for our family members; but for our friends? When we talk about laying down our life, we usually assume it means to die a physical death. But this isn't necessarily so in all cases. For we can put our life on the line by standing up for what we know is right, and in many cases this might seem harder than dying. It takes real courage to take a stand that is unpopular. Those for whom we stand are our friends, whether we acknowledge them or not. Even taken metaphorically, this statement by Christ requires us to re-evaluate the way we value friendship. It also calls us to revaluate who we consider to be our friends.

Our friends are those who accept us as we are, not as we see ourselves or wish we could be. They are those who look beyond our foibles recognise the spirit of goodness, the capacity for loving and being loved (however we chose to express it). Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, "If you judge people, you have no time to love them."Too often we set criteria for friendship based on material and social compatibility. In doing so, we deny ourselves the opportunity to engage with people who are not only like-minded but kindred spirits. We miss out opportunities to foster understanding, for it is our friends who truly understand us.

It is our true friends who rally us on, offer us a shoulder to lean on, or cry on. Our true friends encourage us, challenge us and admonish us out of their concern for us. Our truest friends can be our biggest critics if they see us taking a wrong turn. Our true friends act out of their love for us, not merely in response to our love of them. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light, peace and joy of true friendship.

Rev. James Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty of Davuilevu Theological College and is an Associate Minister at Dudley Methodist Church in Suva. This article is the opinion of Reverend James Bhagwan and does not necessarily represent the views of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, any other organisation or institution Padre Bhagwan is affiliated with or this newspaper.
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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Soul Brother has left the building ... moce Kavai

I was blessed to be able to witness the love of a community for a man of love today. As I listened to the tributes, the sermon and story of the last days of Kavai’s life – I reflected on those who had died in this time of celebration between 25th December, 2009 and 1st January, 2010. Could it be that his soul had learnt all its lessons for this life and was ready to move on?
Standing at Vatuwaqa Cemetery, while all heads were down, listening to the words of comfort from the pastor, or in deep introspection; I looked up to the sky and watched the clouds form perfect circles and even a heart. One journey for Kavai had ended, but another was just beginning. The evolution of the spirit had outgrown the physical limitations. United in the Christ-consciousness, he is now forever with Sara, their children, his family and all his friends and colleagues. His love-force will envelope and indwell with them, giving them strength and blessing them in turn with the vision, compassion and humanity with which he himself was blessed with.

Sara, souls united in love can never be separated – this is not just theology, this is a law of the universe. In whatever form the next life takes, we will all be able to recognise each other’s love-force.

To my brothers and sisters in the media – let Kavai’s love-force remove whatever fear prevents you from loving yourselves and others with all your heart, mind and strength. He lives through each story in which you not only write, report and broadcast – but also learn a life lesson from. He experienced the simplicity, serenity and spontaneity of life. We all can.

God bless you.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Published in The Fiji Times, Wednesday 6th January, 2010

Happy New Year!

As we approach the end of the first week of 2010, many of us are already struggling to maintain our New Year’s resolutions. This year instead of making a “resolution”, I have decided to go with instead, an “affirmation” to submit to the divine plan of God. From a Christian scriptural perspective this can be found in the Letter of James (the saint, not the fellah writing this article): "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." (James 4:7).

2010 will be another year of challenges for Fiji, but I also sense it will be a year of opportunities in terms of peace-building and replacing the climate of fear (within all leadership structures) with the unconditional love that allows us to be free to manifest God's will in our lives and recognise the other as part of the one. This may happen easily for those who are prepared to do so, but I also recognise that it may be a difficult and painful process for many.

I would like to share with you two prayers which have given me peace and courage to face the future without the fear of the unknown. The first is by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). It has inspired countless people seeking peace and strength in times struggle, despair, and uncertainty since it was first written:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

I have read that the intention of the Serenity Prayer is to bring peace, faith, and certainty to the mind and heart of those seeking God's support. It asks God for the wisdom and ability to gracefully accept "what is," (what cannot be changed) and for the willingness to manifest, with God's support, that which is in one's highest good. (Courage to change the things which should be changed).

The Serenity Prayer was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and has also been used in Narcotics Anonymous and other Twelve-step programs. It has also been use by well-known singers, songwriters, and artists such as Neil Young; Whitney Houston; the 70's rock group, Boston; Sinéad O'Connor, the once famous bald singer of the 1990s and even well-known rapper, 50 Cent raps the first two lines of the serenity prayer in his song, Gotta Make It To Heaven.

The second prayer is a well-known prayer by the 13th Century saint, Francis of Assisi. The last time I heard it used was Ratu Epeli Nailatikau’s prayer of dedication when he was sworn in as Fiji’s 4th President last year. I have been told that the late Tui Nayau and former Prime Minister and former President of Fiji, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara also used it as his prayer of dedication.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

St. Francis' prayer is a bold one, asking for strength to give of ourselves to meet the needs of others. He recognises that it "is in giving that we receive", that as we give of ourselves, we receive the peace and blessing of the Christ.

As you begin the journey through this year and as you face situations that require peace, consolation, hope, light, I encourage you to pray these prayers, to use these positive affirmations. Pray them; share them; and live them. This year let us be instruments of positivity and peace.

This article is the opinion of Reverend James Bhagwan and does not necessarily represent the views of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, any other organisation or institution Padre Bhagwan is affiliated with or this newspaper.
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