25 December 2022

Isaiah 58: 6-12 and the meaning of grace


['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Scroll down for previous articles]

A few years ago, I was requested to write a weekly column for ‘Happinez,’ a tabloid for youth offered with the ‘Sunday Morning.’ I had, in a previous journalistic avatar, written a weekly column titled ‘Notes for a Rebel,’ where various aspects of rebellion were discussed based on personal experience, observations and the reading I had done in my youth. I told Shailendree Wickrama-Adittiya, the editor of this magazine that I can’t repeat all that. I suggested a more general delve into rebels and rebellion in poetic form. She agreed.

In my ignorance, I thought the structure of the Old Testament would offer a convenient framework for chapter separation. I knew only of ‘Genesis’ and ‘Exodus,’ two words I knew I could work with. Following the structure faithfully, I wrote 50 verses under ‘Genesis,’ 4-6 verses every week, and got quite a long way in the 40 that would correspond to the number of chapters in ‘Exodus.’

At some point, I realised that I had erred badly.  Thirty nine books, 929 chapters in total — I would have needed around three years to complete it. I knew I would have to sweat to work rebel and rebellion into ‘Leviticus’ and ‘Deuteronomy’ or any other chapter-title, but I was confident that poetic license would come to my assistance. I would have, I’m sure, found a way to the historical, poetical and prophetical in chronological order. I never got to find out. And now, having abandoned the structure, I am left with the substance, some of it written and much of it unsaid. So far.

All this is preamble. Tomorrow is Christmas and I won’t go into issues of authenticity, the lost-in-translation and historical veracity. Instead, I revisit one of my favourite sections in the Old Testament: Ch 59: V 6-12.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loosen the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

“Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"

Christmas is a holiday. A day of celebration. It’s also one of those market-days, a moment for commerce and the raking of profits. The ‘temple’ for some is a marketplace and few reflect on Jesus’ word on such phenomena.  I did, a few years ago and came up with a ‘Christmas Advertisement.’

And so they went
from one store to the next
                to the next and next
all bedecked in Christmas color
melodied with Christmas cheer
the fake mistletoe, the red-nosed reindeer
and Santa too
the glitter and shine
the bells and lights,
all screaming ‘Purchase!’
all carrying the soft small print tag
‘In the name of Jesus’
(or was it the other way about?),
all laid out for them folks
armed with crisp currency notes
and easy plastic.
And they came,
they saw
they were glad too,
for they went away
duly garmented
while the raiment of the Savior
so visible all over
remained unvisited.
The eyes of the faithful
were fervent in prayer,

This Christmas falls on a Sunday. Sabbath for Christians. A day of religious observance and abstinence. An abstinence or fasting that could include reflection on loosening the chains of injustice, untying the cords of the yoke and  freeing the oppressed with the Lord as rear guard as righteousness goes before you. Obviously not only at Christmas or on Sunday.

That’s an option, one among many, and something that can be thought about (for a change) during the réveillon that’s not atypical this time of the year. The Sabbath of the Lord as explained by the prophet Isiah is all about prayer, of bringing hands together, bringing people together, making the world that much more tender. It’s about rebels and rebellion no doubt, and one doesn’t have to be a Christian or a theist to see its grace.


Other articles in this series:

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart 

The allegory of the slow road



Pat Pathinayake said...

Well researched and beautifully constructed with pearls of wisdom for the erudite but not for the street dwellers pedalling drugs at the street corners.
I really wonder who reads these painstakingly and superbly written your anecdotes in Ceylon (Please forgive me Malinda, for calling my motherland Ceylon). It nurtured me to a higher degree, where now I can earn my daily crust in an icy faraway land without bowing to corrupt Politicians and their cohorts.
I have to congratulate you for keeping English alive for the future generations in Ceylon. There are writers who think they produce master pieces in English, however when taking a closer look their writing one can see many grammatical and spelling mistakes in their writing. Do they ever subject their writings for proofreading or give it to a higher echelon to proof read, I wonder.
Stark errors of Punctuations, Spelling and juxtapositions are rife in their writing. However one can be forgiven for their own writing styles. These are unique for every writer because rivulets of words flow unhindered through their brains yet one must follow BASIC ENGLISH GRAMMAR RULES. Unfortunately, some do not take a blind bit of notice even when pointed them out.
The saddest fact is, people who are with lesser knowledge of English will not know any difference but accept it as the norm and keep reading erroneous writing. This leads to another generation of contaminated half-witted people.
Neither a scholar of Christianity nor a pundit in English language, yet I deeply admire and appreciate your well composed eulogy for those who deserve it.
The old Royalist Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe, the current president, has promised that he is going to impose English teaching right from kindergarten. If this is true, I am simply overjoyed to see a brighter future for our nation. As my father repeatedly reminded me, “English is the key to the World” and how right he was.
I am very glad that you have become a stalwart spearhead to rejuvenate English in Ceylon. Please keep up the good work and continue writing because my Motherland desperately needs people like you. If you need any clarifications of my humble writing, please do not hesitate to call or contact me, as you know where I am. Wishing you the very best of luck with the fast approaching New Year, 2023.