Monday, October 8, 2007

The broken hearted.

Dalit brokenness
a. (Near to the Broken and Crushed, Woodcut in The Holy Waters: Indian Psalm-Meditations, Martin Kaempchen & Jyoti Sahi, ATC, Bangalore 1984).

It seems to be especially through woodcuts that Jyoti has given most clear expression to his empathy with those broken by the oppression of the strong and the unjust ways of our human structures of power. In India the Dalit people are these ‘broken ones’, ‘those who struggle and are heavily burdened’, those with whom Christ both identified and whom he invited to become part of his liberating movement: ‘Come unto me, all .... My yoke is easy, my burden light’. In addition to the Psalm-series mentioned above, Jyoti did a series.....

The verse of the Psalm (34:18) to which this picture alludes, is a typical Hebrew poetic couplet that repeats a single theme:
The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.

They have been crushed by cruelly unfair poverty - and in the case of Dalits, by the even more cruel stigma of being treated (especially in rural regions) as ‘untouchables’, as impure by birth and way of life. These poor of the earth (the root ‘dal’ also relates to ‘earth’) have responded in strikingly differing ways. Hidden, maybe symbolic, forms of resistance have been devised, including their rhythmic drum-playing. Their own corporate cultic traditions too have given inner strength. Often, though, there has been little to do but resign themselves to God in hope that a better day will dawn. It was with these ‘poor of the earth’ that Jesus so often identified himself.

The ‘broken’ and ‘crushed’ man here shown sits in typical waiting pose - head down, knees drawn up, hands holding himself together, he waits in the shade of a tree. Pathos marks every part of his posture - and pathos, claimed the Dalit theologian Arvind Nirmal, is the starting point for Dalit God-talk. The leafy branch above him forms a watchful eye, with the crescent moon another sign of hope. Tears flow from this pitying eye, perhaps washing away any imagined impurity in this man seen by some as a tainted ‘untouchable’. This flow of cleansing water, God’s tears, even form a protective cover, like an upturned pot, over the man. He is not completely vulnerable, not utterly forgotten. ‘The Lord is save (and set him free)’.

Claiming Jesus as a Dalit like themselves, as also broken and crushed, has been a powerfully liberating message for India’s Dalit people.

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