Church Times – Interview
BY TERENCE HANDLEY MACMATH
23 September 2016
God was prompting me through my friends to write a book. I had thought that I’d write it maybe five years from now, but there was confirmation after confirmation that I should do it now; so I began. After I began to write, I realised how my story would speak to people from all backgrounds, faiths, and cultures.
Found by Love is primarily about hope — about life restored at the deepest level. I unpack the question of identity and becoming a priest, which in Hinduism is a complete forgetting of your identity. When you leave the faith, someone gets your ordained name immediately, and your speeches and work are deleted from the system. It’s about a relationship with God, not a religion; grace, not having to earn God’s love.
My family is ethnically Gujarati Indian, but we came to the UK from Kenya, where my grandfather and great-grandfather had settled. In our culture, growing up, education, family, community, and faith were of a very high priority, and becoming financially successful was seen as a huge blessing from God.
Everybody in my family and extended family is Hindu by faith. My elder brother is still a Hindu priest, based in New York. My dad recently has begun to read the Bible and pray to Jesus and allows me to pray for him over the phone. My mother is a staunch Hindu. There is no connection with my brother, as he is not allowed by the organisation to contact me. I talk with my dad regularly, which is very nice, but matters with my mother are still a bit itchy.
My first experience of God was through my former Hindu Guru. He was God on earth for me and all the community. I would have a sense of elation from his mystical stare, his care, and the sense of attention and recognition that he gave me. He would easily bring a smile to my face.
Other than that, outside of his presence, there was not really an experience of God of any sort, except the satisfaction that I’ve done my morning puja prayer, visited the temple, not eaten meat, and so on. It was a lot of doing for God and pleasing him, which was very far from experiencing him, as I know now.
My first experience with Christ was outside of any theology I knew about God. It was a deep, tangible, and very physical sense of peace and joy. There was a physical connection with something deep inside me that began to bring me a very deep sense of comfort, rest, and change.
The peace of Christ is not absent in any of the chaos in my circumstances and doesn’t derive from a constant meditative thought-process of self-convincing like I used to have to do as a Hindu to derive peace. It’s tangible, very real, and ever-increasing.
I became a Hindu scholar through six years of intense training in a monastery in India, situated in the middle of the Gujarat desert.
We woke up at 4.30 a.m. daily and didn’t sleep till late at night — midnight, mostly — with a lot of study of Hindu philosophy and doctrines in between. There were intense exams every two weeks, which would be three-hour papers. We had six to seven hours of classes a day, with three or four hours of homework and revision. In between, there were four to six hours of prayer, worship, and sermons, and one or two hours of chores.
After my training, I was placed in London to develop the congregation and temples across Europe and Russia.
After many doubts, questions, struggle, and inner turmoil, I left the organisation I was serving for 20 years. I realised that God was not there at all, although maybe a few aspects and dimensions of God were in some of the wonderful people I worked with and met. I dressed back into civilian clothes and came to London in December 2011. I had a very hurtful departure, and so I parked the whole idea of God and spirituality, knowing that there would always be some sort of spiritual dimension to my life.
I left at the age of 40, with nothing. As I said, when you join the Hindu priesthood, you are stripped of your former identity. If you leave, your identity is erased again.
Three weeks later, I was walking to South Kensington Station, when I turned my head rather abruptly and saw the Holy Trinity Brompton Church in Onslow Square. I thought it would be nice to visit and sit for a while, as I had done in Rome many times. It was a Sunday morning, 11.15.
I walked into the church, and the presence of God touched me in the most beautiful way. I stood in the entrance, rooted, with a blanket of peace upon me, and a very silent whisper in my left ear said: “You’re home.” That was it. After that encounter, I gave my life to Jesus.
It is important what faith you belong to, as all roads do not lead to a Father. There are beautiful dimensions and aspects of God in other faiths, but the deeper healing of orphanhood, and rooting of identity as a son or daughter, comes only from communion with Christ. So, living life from a place of sonship, and enjoying the deep rivers of joy from a Father, can only come through Christ. Jesus aligns us beautifully with the Father through the cross, his blood, and the washing of our sins. Many faiths, with their Gurus, believe that their leaders have not sinned. This is not true.
The main differences between Hindu and Christian political and religious organisations are the aspects of grace and mercy. The Kingdom of God has this sense of receiving daily grace and love, and so is able to give it away from an overflow, without having to conjure it up or manufacture it. Other than that, the challenges within an organisation — of lack of time or resources or channelling the right resources — are all very similar.
Now, my typical day starts with prayer and worship from 6 till 7 a.m., and I work full-time in a perfumery from 8.30 a.m. till 6 p.m. During the day, I spend a few minutes here and there in the secret place with God, and enjoy communion.
I think that what Christians could learn from Hindus is to place more time in the day with God in their diaries. I don’t mean this in a religious way, but out of romance. We have a beautiful and very romantic God; we are not in religion but a relationship. What Hindus do out of religious duty, spending time now and then with their gods all alone during the day, we can do too, but with a deeper, tangible and real connection.
The most surprising thing is that I’m loved as I am, and there is grace every day, regardless of my mood. He is faithful with his love whenever and wherever I may want it. That blows my mind.
The hardest thing for me is the cultural side of things. I’m now in a completely different community; so, at times, I wonder which aspects of my new life are cultural, and which are deeper Kingdom ways of doing life. I feel there could be a mix at times. There are beautiful aspects of the Indian culture that I do miss a lot. The whole extended-family dynamic and support is the first thing that comes to my heart, and the way children are supported. I don’t have any of that any more.
The best thing besides spending time with Jesus is the authentic friendships I have — friends who I can be very vulnerable with and who has access to the deeper areas of my heart. I can trust them, and I’m not judged. This is completely alien to the background I come from.
Different people have influenced me, but when it comes to understanding the deeper revelation of a loving Father, it would be Bill Johnson from Bethel Church in Reading. How and when I spend time with God and developing deeper intimacy, comes from Heidi Baker, founder of Iris Ministries.
Before that, J. K. Rowling had the most influence over my heart. Her books are about self-sacrificial love and real friendship, not witchcraft, and they changed me deeply. I met her once and gave her a copy of my book because her books gave me a thirst for love which I never knew. In the end, the enemy is always defeated by love.
I pray mostly for intimacy with Jesus. Then it would be for marriage and a home of my own, and more time in my week to write.
If I found myself locked in a church for a few hours, I’d love to be with
J. K. Rowling.
Rahil Patel was talking to Terence Handley MacMath. Found by Love is published by Instant Apostle at $XXX