David Goatley


Pages from David Goatley's Journal
with Accompanying Paintings

Chapter One: In India; The Power of The Words





































The Headman
oil on canvas




From the balcony of my hotel, with its choking fumes of insect repelling smoke, I look down on a small, trash strewn, garden. Beneath a tree, at a haphazard angle in its mounting of decay, sits a crumbling shrine. Every morning a half-naked man washes both himself and this unprepossessing pile of rubble below me, before garlanding it with flowers and leaving a small food and drink offering for his god.

Out on the highway I pass a group of brightly painted trucks corralled like monstrous beasts beneath the trees, panting in the shade. Their drivers are gathered around a shrine, unselfconsciously making their obeisance. Further along I see three women, vivid in reds and pinks, doing the same thing at a humbler site. There is no shortage of shrines. No lack of worshippers anywhere I look. Religion is in the very air you breathe.

In the market, among the produce and household items are many stalls selling flowers strung into garlands and necklaces-flowers for the hair of beautiful girls and disturbing, ugly, gods. I pass a barbershop whose occupants turn and stare at the westerner going by, a quick flash of a smile amid the shaving foam. On the wall Hanuman, the monkey god, keeps company with the elephant headed Ganesh. Here sits the astrologer, surrounded by a panoply of multi coloured, many limbed portraits of the creatures of the spirit realm.

God-or gods-are everywhere. And some of them are devils. You can see it in the eyes of the people you pass in the streets. The resignation to the fatalism engendered by the whims of so many capricious spirits, the inevitability of the indignities heaped upon a soul by the ever-turning wheels of Dharma and kharma, the certainty that, somehow, life, however wretched is deserved. Better luck next time. Oh, to come back as a Brahmin and rise above my fellow man. A God who loves us all equally, who knows no favourites, who keeps no list of transgressions to be paid off in future lives and who came to earth as a man like ourselves to experience life and the cruelty of death as we do is a very liberating concept. Perhaps too liberating-for after all, a people free of the notion that the horror of their lives is an unchangeable accident of birth may not accept grinding poverty as readily as many Indians seem to. At least, this is how it seemed to my uninformed eye.

The gospel is consumed greedily, with shining eyed enthusiasm here, especially if it is made clear that it is not a western religion, that Jesus was a brown eyed dark skinned man who lived very much as todays rural poor do in India. I picked up a wooden plough in a village of 'untouchables' and reflected that it could easily have been made in a carpenter's shop in Nazareth. The woman drawing water at the wells could be Mary or Martha. The wandering holy men one sees everywhere could almost be disciples, but for the different light in their eyes. The Gospel is the same Good News here as it was there and the hunger for it is perhaps even greater. The truth does, indeed, set them free.

You want proof?

A friend of mine told me that a brother I met goes every Monday to the small village hospital and clinic I visited, there he prays for the sick and shares the gospel as openly as he can [preach too openly here now and you can risk a beating, stoning, or worse] His faithfulness has seen blind eyes open and tumours dissolved, deaf ears hear and the lame dance. Recently an old lady whose back was bent almost double for 22 years walked away straight and proud with tears in her eyes, returning later that day with almost her entire village to hear about The One who had healed her. This is the living Gospel. This is the power of The Words, in any language.

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