Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Deliver us from evil

For Mass I ended up at the Cathedral of the Holy Name on Wodehouse Road in South Bombay. This was the parish I first started going to Mass at regularly, this very Sunday evening liturgy. The church was pretty full, and a few minutes before the service started the celebrant tried to get the congregation to sing a few special hymns for this Mass that was being offered for the souls of those killed in the bombings, including a special version of Psalm 124 (123) that had been composed after Tuesday (more on that later). No one seemed inclined to join in the singing, apart from a few high pitched female voices emanating from somewhere up front of the congregation.

I was glad to get to Mass. I’ve had a strange sort of restlessness all weekend. I think it’s got to do with the short amount of time I always get in Bombay on trips to the subcontinent. Exigencies of family geography – folks in Baroda, brother in Delhi – dictate that Bombay is always visited in a hurry, with rushed visits to friends being the focus. Since I left, I think the most I’ve spent in the city is maybe 5 or 6 days at a stretch. Now, I want to stay longer, to rediscover the city of my college days. This time, the irritations and headaches of the clogged metropolis haven’t gotten under my skin, the way they have on every prior visit. [Why, less than two weeks ago, I wrote on here that I couldn’t imagine living in Bombay! Now that feels like treason. Or adultery.] It’s as if something from the past, which I’d taken for granted – something important, solid, a bedrock of sorts – has suddenly been shown to be incredibly fragile.

Maybe I’m just romanticizing an ideal past, now that life has planted me elsewhere, on the other side of the globe.

As Mass progresses, my thoughts keep going back to the horrific, heart rending stories we’ve all heard about in the newspapers, online, in conversation. “How close did this come to you?” is inevitably, how most conversations have started recently. The wife of the slain diamond merchant, who refuses to believe he is dead. (The family lives in the same building as my uncle. “I saw his body. One side of his face was a black mess. They couldn’t find one arm.”) The brother of a priest in Bandra, whose body was found only from the waist up. So many families for whom “moving on”, less than a week after their worlds were shattered, is a cruel joke at best.

I’m afraid I don’t recall much of the homily. This time, I’m not focused on the quality of the music or the lack of preparedness of the lectors. During the General Intercessions I pray for the deceased and their loved ones. I try to pray for the perpetrators, but I find it impossible. Lord forgive me, if we find them, they should be hung, drawn and quartered.

And then, during the Lord’s prayer, those brief sets of petitions that Jesus taught his confused, tottering disciples, those words we repeat, often so mindlessly and rote like: deliver us from evil. As I repeat them, I feel like I’ve been slapped. Suddenly, I’m awake as if from a stupor. In a world where so much is out of our control, when the illusion of security is rudely stripped away, when the fragility of life is underscored in bright red, when evil seems to be victorious, yet again, what else can the fearful heart say? In the words of the embolism after the Lord’s Prayer,
Deliver us Lord from every evil and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ.
And for the coming of His Kingdom. When death shall be no more and every tear will be wiped away.

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