Spiritual Formation: Gandhi and Loving God as Truth

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Spiritual formation:
Gandhi and loving God as truth

As one puts oneself in the way of God, several theological questions necessarily arise: what is God? How does one engage, experience, and enter into the way of God? For the Christian seeker, the questions become more specific: is this God the sky God Yahweh? Is Jesus of Nazareth the incarnation of this God? Is God only interested in self-described 'Christians,' or is he for all? For Mohandas K. Gandhi, Hindu spiritual seeker, Indian political leader, and pastoral guide for millions around the world, the answer is simple: God is truth. Though at first glance this statement almost seems to manage to bring the question into the realm of the empirical, one finds that the question quickly becomes more complicated. What, after all, is truth? As Gandhi himself says, "...as long as I have not realized this Absolute Truth, so long must I hold by the relative truth as I have conceived it. (1971, p. xiv)" Our own conceptions of this relative truth must be built on our own personal experiences. Whether these experiences are informed by scripture, prayer and reflection, mentors, or other influences, the conception of truth that they help to construct will shape our approach to our spiritual lives, to pastoral care, spiritual direction, and every aspect of our ministries. That loving God as truth was a practical approach for Gandhi seems clear, whether or not it will be equally practical for myself personally, and in my own ministry, is the question I will attempt to answer in this essay.

Gandhi's autobiography, "The Story of My Experiments With Truth," was originally published in two installments, the first in 1927, the second in 1929. Born in 1869, Gandhi had lived a very eventful sixty years by the time of the publication of the second installment. He had grown up in Porbandar, Gujerat State, India, he had been educated in London as a lawyer, championed the civil rights of Indian people in South Africa, and played a major role in the campaign against British rule in India. Indeed, he was a national hero in India, and an international figure of distinction. Even so, some of his most stunning achievements were yet to come. Bearing all of this in mind, his honesty and candor in this account are all the more touching. He appears to hold nothing back, except perhaps the trivial. His childhood reminiscences are peppered with what, for him, seem to be the most painful revelations. He shares with the reader the things that one might most want to hide. This level of honesty seems to be an important part of Gandhi's relationship with God as truth. The odd thing is that, though his genuine sense of shame is evident in some of these tales, to the modern Western reader the acts themselves do not seem so worthy of the embarrassment he obviously feels. Gandhi recounts the tale of his youthful experiments with meat eating as if he were confessing to some sinister crime. His confession to his father of having stolen a piece of gold from his brother's bracelet is particularly moving. The astonishing thing though, is that he stole the small piece of gold from his brother's bracelet, not for selfish reasons, but rather in order to absolve the same brother's debt! Today, we might easily see this act as a cause for praise, not shame. We discover later on in his story that this same integrity informed Gandhi's adult ministry and put him on moral ground firm enough to challenge both his supporters and his opponents.

Though he complains repeatedly of his shyness, and the cowardice of his youth, over and over Gandhi recounts tales of his own heroic bravery. He traveled to England to be educated even though he was terribly shy, had poor English skills, and though the very act of living among Western people caused him to be excommunicated from his caste. His campaigns in South Africa caused him to suffer beatings, abuses, and to put his life at risk on...
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