Published in the Fiji Times as, "OFF THE WALL with Padre James Bhagwan," 29th October, 2008, page 7
Happy Day-after Diwali!
The smoke has cleared from the sparklers, rockets and other legal firecrackers from last night. The last sweet is digested or leftovers shared for morning tea this morning.
For many of our Fijian brothers and sisters that are Hindu, yesterday was especially significant. For the rest of us, the sweets, lights, and the fireworks were are bonus to the public holiday.
For me, with a heritage that includes relatives who are Hindu, Muslim and of many other religious backgrounds as well as Christian denominations, the fact that Fiji recognises the special days of all its people is one of the positive features of our country.
I remember co-producing a short documentary on Diwali during my days with the Ministry of Information's Film and Television Unit a decade ago. We filmed the preparations and rituals in the days leading up to Diwali and the actual day and night of Diwali. During this period I met and filmed people from many different ethnicities and even religions celebrating and commemorating this day and what it means from their respective points of view.
In particular, I remember filming a special Mass in the Hindi language at the Sacred Heart Cathedral, in which Indian cultural adaptations were used. That service and many others that I have attended and participated in during this particular time of the year in the Methodist Church's Indian Division focus on the Christian perspective of celebrating light, particularly Christ as the Light of the World. Incidentally, the Indian Division often uses the diya (a small earthenware lamp) as its symbol to symbolise the Christ-light.
For those of us who are not Hindu and have enjoyed the revelry and delicacies of this festival, it would do us some good to reflect on the need for light in our lives and in the life of our nation.
During a sermon I preached at Dudley Church in Suva, some time ago, I said to the congregation that while we like to have light to help us see, to illuminate our path or work, sometimes we find light uncomfortable. One of the reasons why we find light uncomfortable is when we have been in the dark for so long that we are no longer used to the light and when it is given to us, it hurts our eyes. Even though we have been stumbling around in the dark we cover our eyes when the light is turned on or shined on us. It takes time for those who have been in the dark to get used to the light.
Another reason why we can find the light uncomfortable is that the light sometimes illuminates that which we would prefer be kept in the dark. Things, actions and thoughts which we wish to hide from others, and sometimes even from ourselves.
If feel that this is a reflection that can take place on a number of different levels: personally, in one's relationships with others and also, given our country's political and social crisis, what this means at a national level.
Perhaps, Monday's Political Forum was a start of the political leaders of Fiji to get used to seeing the light together. However, the light is a gift to all and as such must be shared with all. That means that our leaders – elected, appointed, ordained and those who have taken the reins of leadership or had leadership thrust upon them must not let those whom they lead be left in the dark. That is one of the responsibilities of the person who bears the torch. They must hold it high enough to be seen and so that others can see.
For Hindu's, special prayers offered to the Goddess Lakshmi last night were for wealth and prosperity. On another level, as the world reels from the global economic crisis, Diwali is just as significant for it give us an opportunity to shine the light on what we value.
A friend of mine recently shared his thoughts on the economic crisis. His view was that while everyone will be affected by the crisis, those hit the hardest or to put it in his words, “those with the most to lose” were those whose investment was in 'virtual' wealth as opposed to 'physical' wealth. I am not a economist, in fact matters of finance are often well beyond me. But what I gathered from his statement was that a lot of people had based their future on a finances that were only on paper. Those whose wealth is in the land, livestock – physical stocks will be deeply affected but not as much as those who placed all their bets on speculated stock increases.
I'm not sure if I understood him correctly, or if he was a hundred percent right on his analysis, but he did make a point for me. Or rather he made me ask myself, what is it we value? The Anglican priest at my nearest church said, this Sunday, that those who valued themselves only by their monetary value were now founding out just how poor they were.
This global economic recession will only add to our national and personal financial struggles. Many people who work for multi-national or trans-national companies may find their wages cut, or worse find themselves out of a job. The spin-off this crisis will go all the way down the line as people have less money to spend on essentials, let alone luxuries.
But of Fiji and the Pacific are rich. Not just because we have, natural resources or small cottage industries which often flourish during these financially trying times as we have seen in the past. We are rich because we value so much more. We value relationships – our extended family, our community, our friends, our neighbours. We value goodwill, something often undervalued by economists, in other parts of the world at least. We understand and practice reciprocity. We value human dignity, despite our weaknesses which often lead us into discrimination.
The light has the potential to shine through the shadows of ignorance which keep us apart, shining its beams on our commonalities. Our common humanity, our common struggles, and our common future.
So despite the dark clouds; despite the shadows; despite the night – the light prevails, shining through, to give us hope. Hope for a brighter day. Hope for the truth to be revealed. Hope for better tomorrow. Hope for us to see the future together.
Perhaps this is a Diwali message for all of us, regardless of our religious, cultural or social background.
May the rest of your week be bless with peace, love, hope and light!
Reverend James Bhagwan is an award-winning radio and television producer and writer. He is currently on leave from the Methodist Davuilevu Theological College where he is a member of the Faculty. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organization that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org