In the Company of the Ever-present

Cut off from the wider society, individuals and small families are experiencing isolation like never before. But a Christian is never really lonely even when alone

Isolation. Distance. These words have occupied centre stage of our minds and our social lives for past many months. Though hordes of populations have not been forced to live with these realities for years, these concepts themselves are not new.

Hollywood flooded us with many blockbusters with the theme of isolation even before Covid-19 was on the horizon. From Cast Away to I am Legend, Gravity, All is Lost, 127 hours, Into the Wild, The Martian, the list can go on. Music industry too has its share of songs that scream “leave me alone” in the face of individuals who have betrayed one’s trust or societies that seem to be expecting too much from individuals.

The subject of Hollywood-style isolation has generally been peripheral in Bollywood that is dominated by social dramas. Of course, societies such as India has its own understanding of “isolation” and Bollywood looks at it through this unique cultural lens. City Lights is an example, where the plot revolves around isolation of a villager in the glitzy life of city (who knew these migrant workers from villages would be forced to evacuate the cities one day), whereas movies like Trapped, describe isolation in a more Hollywoodish fashion.   

Isolation. Distance. These words have occupied centre stage of our minds and our social lives for past many months. Though hordes of populations have not been forced to live with these realities for years, these concepts themselves are not new.

Hollywood flooded us with many blockbusters with the theme of isolation even before Covid-19 was on the horizon. From Cast Away to I am Legend, Gravity, All is Lost, 127 hours, Into the Wild, The Martian, the list can go on. Music industry too has its share of songs that scream “leave me alone” in the face of individuals who have betrayed one’s trust or societies that seem to be expecting too much from individuals.

Strictly speaking, privacy and personal space are modern caricatures that are connected to the rise of mechanistic and highly individualistic worldview

The subject of Hollywood-style isolation has generally been peripheral in Bollywood that is dominated by social dramas. Of course, societies such as India has its own understanding of “isolation” and Bollywood looks at it through this unique cultural lens. City Lights is an example, where the plot revolves around isolation of a villager in the glitzy life of city (who knew these migrant workers from villages would be forced to evacuate the cities one day), whereas movies like Trapped, describe isolation in a more Hollywoodish fashion.     

Movies and songs, as important indicators of our cultural life, reflect much that remains unsaid otherwise. These cultural indicators describe our tryst with ‘isolation’ as a bitter-sweet affair. Isolation is a tricky concept—on the one hand, we long for it, and on the other, we fear it.

In many ways, “leave me alone” could be a sign of cultural angst, wherein society begins to dominate individuals, and demands that they fall in line with its standards. Our discourse of revolt against it then revolves around words such as ‘personal space’, ‘privacy’ and ‘choice’. This is the theme of myriad of movies, especially apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic, where the fear of ‘systems’ taking over ‘individuals’ is highlighted.

There is definitely a genuine struggle of being able to express, decide and being just ‘me’, because in some societies any such thing would be a wrong ideal in the first place. This was expressed in many Bollywood movies, especially those belonging to the two decades between 1980-2000, where individuals demanding ‘freedom’ from close-knitted social and family life, finally realise that their desire was a carnal sin, and when they repent of it, they are forgiven and embraced back into the family, much like ghar-wapsi of our own times. Of course, Bollywood has come far since then in recognising individual’s right to be different. Taare Zamin Par, for instance, described a child’s dyslexic condition not as a sin, but just a fact of nature.       

But there is also the other side, wherein, like the modern man in Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, individuals demanding ‘self-isolation’ abhor it the moment they actually have it, because either they fear facing the sight of their own inner darkness and misery (The Machinist), or they quickly recognise that humans were not ‘designed’ to be isolated beings to begin with. Generally speaking, this too has been the theme of many Hollywood movies. One of the powerful narrations of these two sides of “isolation” is seen in Into the Wild, which recounts the real-life self-isolation experiment of Christopher McCandless, the man who went hitch-hiking across North America in the ’90s.

In short, isolation, distance, and other such terms are very elastic, and may mean different things to different people. For some it may mean time to pause, rejuvenate and reset, for others it may mean loss of livelihood. For some it may mean that suffocating feeling of being alone, for others it may mean a gust of fresh air of freedom.

For a Christian, however, isolation is not a part of her story. As Srikant of The Family Man taunts, “privacy is a myth, just like democracy,”—not in a technological sense where all your data is sold to multimillion companies, but because, God is omnipresent. Strictly speaking, privacy and personal space are modern caricatures that are connected to the rise of mechanistic and highly individualistic worldview. But not so for Christians. If God is everywhere, how do you even imagine a private place?

It was not so for Joseph. When tempted by Potiphar’s wife in an empty house, he was mindful of the presence of God (Gen 39:6–9). Speaking through Jeremiah about false prophets, God says, “Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him?” (Jer 23:24). David in his psalm 139 speaks about it like no one else. In verse 7–12 he says the following,  

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
  even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

For many this could be a painfully fearful reality; for a Christian, this is a joyful realisation.

  

Movies and songs, as important indicators of our cultural life, reflect much that remains unsaid otherwise. These cultural indicators describe our tryst with ‘isolation’ as a bitter-sweet affair. Isolation is a tricky concept—on the one hand, we long for it, and on the other, we fear it.

In many ways, “leave me alone” could be a sign of cultural angst, wherein society begins to dominate individuals, and demands that they fall in line with its standards. Our discourse of revolt against it then revolves around words such as ‘personal space’, ‘privacy’ and ‘choice’. This is the theme of myriad of movies, especially apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic, where the fear of ‘systems’ taking over ‘individuals’ is highlighted.

There is definitely a genuine struggle of being able to express, decide and being just ‘me’, because in some societies any such thing would be a wrong ideal in the first place. This was expressed in many Bollywood movies, especially those belonging to the two decades between 1980-2000, where individuals demanding ‘freedom’ from close-knitted social and family life, finally realise that their desire was a carnal sin, and when they repent of it, they are forgiven and embraced back into the family, much like ghar-wapsi of our own times. Of course, Bollywood has come far since then in recognising individual’s right to be different. Taare Zamin Par, for instance, described a child’s dyslexic condition not as a sin, but just a fact of nature.       

But there is also the other side, wherein, like the modern man in Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, individuals demanding ‘self-isolation’ abhor it the moment they actually have it, because either they fear facing the sight of their own inner darkness and misery (The Machinist), or they quickly recognise that humans were not ‘designed’ to be isolated beings to begin with. Generally speaking, this too has been the theme of many Hollywood movies. One of the powerful narrations of these two sides of “isolation” is seen in Into the Wild, which recounts the real-life self-isolation experiment of Christopher McCandless, the man who went hitch-hiking across North America in the ’90s.

In short, isolation, distance, and other such terms are very elastic, and may mean different things to different people. For some it may mean time to pause, rejuvenate and reset, for others it may mean loss of livelihood. For some it may mean that suffocating feeling of being alone, for others it may mean a gust of fresh air of freedom.

Isolation is a tricky concept—on the one hand, we long for it, and on the other, we fear it

For a Christian, however, isolation is not a part of her story. As Srikant of The Family Man taunts, “privacy is a myth, just like democracy,”—not in a technological sense where all your data is sold to multimillion companies, but because, God is omnipresent. Strictly speaking, privacy and personal space are modern caricatures that are connected to the rise of mechanistic and highly individualistic worldview. But not so for Christians. If God is everywhere, how do you even imagine a private place?

It was not so for Joseph. When tempted by Potiphar’s wife in an empty house, he was mindful of the presence of God (Gen 39:6–9). Speaking through Jeremiah about false prophets, God says, “Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him?” (Jer 23:24). David in his psalm 139 speaks about it like no one else. In verse 7–12 he says the following,  

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
  even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

For many this could be a painfully fearful reality; for a Christian, this is a joyful realisation.

This does not mean that a Christian never feels lonely. It simply means that even in those lonely times, she can look up to God and confidently acknowledge with the psalmist that God is her “ever-present” help (Psalm 46:1). He is not just available any time, but also at every place—in darkest time, and in strongest storms; He is everywhere—accessible and open.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Previous Post

The Undeserved Tragedy

Next Post

Madhu Babu of Odisha: A Champion of the Nation and Its People

Related Posts
Total
0
Share