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Tales of the Gods

I never realized how weird my mornings in India were until I moved to the United States. Imagine a skinny six-year-old trying to sleep through the prayer calls of three different religious groups, the first of which started loudly at 4:00AM. I was woken, hot and sticky, by the muezzin singing the adhan to remind Muslims to gather at the local mosque for prayer. To this day, when I think about it, I can hear him singing “Allahu akbar.” “God is the greatest.” The music and the words transport me to a world of haunting beauty.
Around 5:30AM, I was woken again by Christians singing hymns over the loudspeakers: “…Santhoosham yaneeil poonguthai…” “…Joy is overflowing out of my heart…” I pretended to be asleep so my mom wouldn’t make me get up and study. (Yup, six-year-olds have homework in India.)
By 6:00AM, I could hear my Hindu neighbor playing her morning devotional on her tape player as she moved around her apartment, ringing a hand bell to ward off evil, blessing everything with sambrani incense. Every time I hear the beginning of that song – “Kausalya supraja Rama; Purva sandhya pravartate” – I imagine myself trying to snatch a few more minutes of sleep while heat, the smell of open sewers, the sound of worship and street venders seeped beneath my cotton sheets.
Being woken like this was annoying at the time, but years later I remember it fondly. The religious diversity I encountered as a child has enriched my relationship with God as an adult. I now find it helpful to incorporate the Muslim prayer times into my Christian prayer life. The practice reminds me of Paul’s dictum to “pray continuously.”[1]
The Hindu neighbors of my childhood have also helped me. They used to tell me stories about gods and goddesses that enabled me to understand profound truths mentioned in the Bible but not emphasized by Christianity. I’d like to share two such stories with you now.
Krishna: Manifestation of God on Earth
Tradition says that Krishna, one of the avatars[2] of Vishnu (who is one of the major Hindu deities), often appeared to dance with gopis (cow herder girls). Once while Krishna danced with a group of gopis through the night, each gopi tried to keep Krishna for herself by dancing with him the longest. But just when a gopi thought she had Krishna for herself, he disappeared to dance with another. This happened all night until the gopis learned that God could not be contained in the heart or mind of any one person.
I first heard this story as a child, but even now it reminds me that God is too big for any of us to have all figured out. We are arrogant if we think we can be stand-alone authorities about God, about Love. God reveals a different aspect of himself to each person, so that we really understand him best within the context of community. When we are in relationship with one another- sharing together, growing together- then we learn best how to be in relationship with the fullness of who God is.
I also understand from this story that God is to be shared and not hoarded. Christians should here be reminded of the Great Commission- the call to preach the good news of God’s reign to the whole earth. I have found it easier to talk with Hindus about Jesus and his love when I can reference parallel stories in Hinduism. People of faith can build one another up both by sharing their own stories and by listening deeply to the stories of others.
Some question to consider:
1. What new messages about God have I heard from others within my spiritual
community? Have I listened to them? Am I willing to listen?
2. Have I been greedy with God? How can I be more generous while both giving and
receiving the gifts of the life of faith?
Ganesh: Holder of Wisdom and Knowledge
In another story, the god Shiva (purifier, destroyer) and goddess Parvati (strength, power), had two sons, Ganesh and Murugan. One day, the parents presented a fruit containing the nectar of Supreme Knowledge. Since both boys wanted the fruit, their parents held a competition for them: the first one to travel around the world three times would win the fruit. Murugan started running as fast as he could. But Ganesh, aware that he would not be able to win the race with his stout body, thought for a second and then walked around his parents three times. When he was finished he said, “My parents, Shiva and Parvati, are the Whole Universe. In Them is located the World. I do not need to go any further.”
Shiva and Parvati granted Ganesh the fruit and blessed him with added wisdom and knowledge.
I think my Hindu neighbor told me this story so that I would remember to respect my parents, but since then I’ve also thought about how God reveals creative paths to us whenever our natural abilities are not enough to accomplish required tasks. The story of Ganesh reveals that wisdom is more important than force, speed or physical strength. II Corinthians 8:12 teaches a similar lesson: “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.”
Some questions to consider:
1. Murugan takes on the whole world three times over in an effort to win the fruit of
knowledge, and he wins nothing. But Ganesh, by exercising the wisdom he already has, receives the nectar of Supreme Knowledge. What parallels does this story share with the parable of the talents recorded in Matthew 25:14-30?
2. The world emphasizes force, speed and physical strength to solve problems. How
can I train myself in a more excellent way?
As an adult my understanding of God, knowledge and wisdom, has taken firm root in the stories of the Bible. But as a child, I also learned tales of gods and goddesses; I heard the Muslim prayer calls. I am so grateful to have grown up around people who were not afraid to share their stories- even from loud speakers at 4:00 in the morning. They have taught me many things.
Selin Mariadhas is a product research engineer at The Procter & Gamble Company working on Pantene shampoos and conditioners. She is an active member of the Village Adventist Church in Mason, Ohio.
[1] Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17
[2] A being who descends from heaven to earth

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