The chapters of the book are:
“…Essays like the Circle of love, Pledge to Protect the Environment, Lifelong Single Life, Euthanasia and Morality, The Triveni Sangam, Sister Alphonsa rejoiced in her suffering, Christmas reveals God’s Love, Good Friday and the Cross, Why some Marriages fail, and Shoes and Footwears thrown into Temple, are some of the essays which perspicaciously bring out the challenging nature of love.
“In our times this challenging nature of love has more relevance because we live in a restless age and so the author asks a pertinent question: “In this difficult situation of restlessness how can we light the candle of peace?” and he gives the answer by the free rendering of those insightful lines from the Gujarati poet Yoseph Macwan: “Among the crowds of people,/Who sell their souls,/I have kept/My candle lighted. / I have not allowed it/To be blown out/In the crowds. / I go ever forward/With the belief/That someone/Will light his/her candle.”
BOOK CHALLENGES, INTERROGATES & PROVOKES
‘Love is a Challenge!’ is a deceptively simple book. Written by Varghese Paul SJ, this slim volume of essays (144 pages to be exact) published by Gujarat Sahitya Prakash (P.B. 70, Anand 388001, Gujarat, India) in 2010 is modestly priced at Rs.80/-. It is very easy to fall into the trap that this book is only about the challenges of loving without the expectation of a return. Most reviewers have noted the relevance of a book in this age of globalized injustices but it seems have been deceived by the apparent simplicity of the book. The book can be seen as a complex presentation of a Christian world view coming to terms with the socio-political context of a world that is grappling with forces that challenge, interrogate and even provoke.
The essays are apparently disconnected and there is no connection and coherence between them. While it is true that each essay stands alone as an independent entity, to the more discerning reader there is an underling thread of unity. Only when read in the context of the exciting and ongoing debate about globalization and fundamentalism that the true relevance and significance of the book may be gained.
The connection between the violent forces of religious fundamentalism and the more secular picture of a technologically sophisticated, rapidly globalizing world is not lost to Varghese. His keen insight into the role of power, wealth and greed that drive the modern world systems is apparent throughout the book. He is keenly aware of how religious fundamentalism may be a kneejerk response to what is perceived as a materialist assault by the liberal or secular world.
In Section I entitled ‘Love in Practice’ the reader is made aware that the Christian notion of Love goes beyond emotions. Love is the basis of the two commandments given by Jesus and it is manifested in practical life through how we interact with people and the environment. Varghese makes a strong plea for tolerance and he is able to tackle the contentious issues of the Gujarat riots and the controversial remarks made by activist and critic Ganesh Devi. (The Problem of Existence)
In “Experiences of Love”, the second section, the note is more personal and the author’s version of a love that reaches out to people in all walks of life underscores the fact that it is love that is a true unifier of a fragmented world.
It is in the sections ‘Religion and Love’ and ‘Love is Faith’ that some of the complexities inherent in Varghese’s vision surface. As a Christian he shows remarkable knowledge of other traditions. There are reference to the story of Prahlad in the Puranas, Diwali and Shabari. But there are tensions is some of the essays namely on ‘Why wise men show Ignorance’, ‘Islam-A Religion of Peace’, ‘The Triveni Sangam’ and ‘Why Some Marriages Fail’ that bring to surface the challenges faced by believers and non believers alike.
In conclusion, one can confidently state that Varghese’s book is a bold attempt to provide an alternative vision to the secular attempts to bring about interdependence and integration. Love is the axle on which the world must revolve. This Love is the highest kind of love exemplified by Lord Jesus Christ. The essays ‘Two Specific Resolutions’ and ‘Shoes and Footwear thrown into Temple’ provide a vision of love that is truly the highest expression of humanity. It is a choice “There is a choice between two things: either curse the darkness or light a lamp. It is better to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness”.
What is not said but it seems to be well understood, is that the kind of love described in the book is possible only through Grace. It cannot be willed. It is possible only to those who heed the call of Jesus. It is noteworthy that Varghese’s book kindles in his readers a desire for this kind of love that can go beyond the ordinary. Love of this kind is possible only through Jesus. Through this book the invitation is open to all. Let all the readers respond…
Jayashree Palit, WRITERS EDITORS CRITICS, Editor-in-Chief, Prof. K. V. Dominic, Thodupuzha, Kerala