Stephen Gill: Christ quenched his thirst for peace
The writer is a pacifist poet. Born into a Christian family, he recounts his personal rediscovery of faith, after a past of full of doubts and spiritual pain. Born in what is now Pakistan, he experienced the division of his family. Today he lives in Canada, where he encountered various religions, until he realised that only Christ is the “Prince of peace".
Cornwall (AsiaNews) – Stephen Gill, an Indo-Canadian pacifist poet, describes his conversion to Christianity like a new birth as a believer in Christ. He spoke about it during an exchange with one of his graduate students, who asked him about the origins of his family's Christian faith and his age. On this last point, he said that his "age has nothing to do with my writing." On the first, he delved into his life story, marked by doubts about religion and the pain for a family split by the partition between India and Pakistan.
Gill was born in Sialkot, now in Pakistani Punjab, before the division of the British Raj. He spent his childhood with his family in New Delhi, far from relatives who stayed in Pakistan. The Hindu-Muslim violence of that time, which also forced thousands of Christians and Parsees to flee, profoundly left its mark on him. For years, he was a restless soul in a never-ending search for inner peace, the same peace which he put into words in his compositions.
In all, he has written about twenty books, including collections of poems, short stories and literary criticism, in more than a thousand publications. He has been the subject of at least 12 critical studies.
A graduate of Ansted University, he writes mainly in English but his poems are also in Urdu and Hindi. He is a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada and a fellow at the European-American University. He received numerous awards, including the Sahir Award of Honour from the Indian Sahir Cultural Society, and the Plaque from the World Council of Asian Churches (Canada).
Gill says that since childhood he has always been searching for God and for this reason, he looked at different religions. None fully satisfied him. In the end he came to realise that it is Christ who quenches his "thirst", in particular the "thirst for peace".
Below is his story published on the Pakistan Christian Post.
My life is an open book, and I want to keep it this way. Concerning my religious inheritance, my mother used to tell me about our relatives. According to her my grand-parents were Christians, and also my great grand- parents. It seems that my great grant parents became Christians because of their contacts with missionaries. It seems that missionaries arranged the education of my mother for teaching profession at primary level. I met only my grand- mother for a few days when I was in my childhood. My maternal uncles and others were farmers. Unfortunately, I do not remember their names. This story is from my mother’s side. I do not know anything from my father’s side, except that my grand- parents and great grand- parents were also Christians and farmers. I have some knowledge of my mother’s sisters and her brothers. I met my father’s only brother a couple of times. He was in military. I do not remember much more than that. I don’t know how he went to military and anything else. I remember that physically, he was very strong. He lived mostly in a village and was of fair complexion, as my father was.
Though I was born in a Christian family I had my doubts. I used to think that why Christians are persecuted everywhere. There must be something wrong with Christianity. I left Christianity for years and remained a nominal Christian with doubts when I was in Canada. Before dwelling on doubts and my apostasy, I would like to make it clear that I did not study Christianity in any religious institution, where I could solidify my inherited faith. I did not move in Christian environment either. At home, we did not study the Bible and prayed, except attending Catholic Church service on most of the Sundays. We did not have special celebrations on Christmas and Easter. Most of our relatives were Christians, but they lived far and after partition they were left in Pakistan. What I want to say here is that I have not inherited any strong Christian background and influence. I write in the preface to Songs Before Shrine about those days of my growing in New Delhi:
“For us children there were no aunts, no uncles, no cousins to greet and be greeted on weekends, because they lived now on the other side of the imaginary line that was drawn by religious robots. Years later when my mother told us about our relatives, we used to listen as if they were fairy tales. (viii). As a result, I began to read religious literature to find out if Christianity was really bad. There had been times when I began to hate all religions. I began to be more sympathetic to the Marxists and Socialists because of their antipathy to religion.”
I was so much frustrated seeing sufferings and the suffering of my family for no reason that I became an atheist. About the environment in which I had to live, Dr. P.C.K. Prem in his article in An Interpretation of the Mind and Art of Stephen Gill, edited by Dr. Anuradha Sharma and released by Sanbun Publications in 2011, says:
“The poet is relentless in describing atrocities and mind-boggling pictures of brutalities committed during those days of communal hatred... As expected, the poet is deeply hurt and wounded as he was also the worst sufferer during those dark days. He raises reasonable questions. Why acts of barbarity and terror take birth and men suffer from obsessive depravity? (p. 140)”
I moved in the company of Marxists and atheist, read their literature and attended their gatherings. I found a good collection of literature on atheism. Somehow my father came to know my interest. In my absence, one day, he burnt those leaflets and books, and watched my movements to keep me away from the company of atheists. I was not a fully committed atheist as I was not a fully committed Christian either. Logically, I was still thirsty. My interest in peace continued even with more vigour. I started though gradually coming back to God but my quest for a religion that showed the way to peace never slowed down. As a result of my prayers to God and even otherwise some miracles began to happen in my life. The main miracle was getting out of India that was certainly impossible.
In Canada, I began to take interest in Jewish, Buddhist, Baha’i and Muslim religions even more. There was a time when I contacted Jewish clergy to follow their religion. Baha’i began to appeal to my intellect because of their solution to problems in a peaceful way. I discussed and studied their literature and approach to peace. I still have a good collection of books on Bahai faith. Eventually, I became a Bahai and received a card of my membership. Gradually, I came to know they do not encourage their members to participate in political activities. Good Bahai’s do not use their right to vote. They believe that the political systems are corrupt and therefore abstinence from political activities is the way to defeat this system. I fully agreed with their view, but not with the method of pacifism they use. For this and other reasons I left these good people.
However, I continued my search for the faith that has the key to peace and also to unconditional love. I continued my search not to become a religious preacher. My goal was to convince my own intellect. Eventually my studies convinced me that the teachings of Christ is the way to achieve peace and this way to achieve peace is the way of the Almighty. Because Christ’s way is the way of the Almighty, and because of his spotless practical life, Christ is called the Prince of Peace. Instead of calling myself a Christian I began to call myself a follower of Christ. I became a born-again follower of Christ because of my studies and mystical experiences. After studying the life and teachings of Christ closely for decades and objectively I can say that Christ is the embodiment of unconditional love and unconditional love is the mother of the peace that is beyond human understanding.
I would like to add that Gospels in the Bible mention that wise men from the East came to honour Jesus at his birth. As per legends, one of these men was from India. I would like to add further that according to some scholarly papers, books and doctoral dissertations, Vedas prophesize the birth of Jesus. As a son of India, it was not difficult for me to accept Christ as the Prince of Peace. In Indian thoughts, Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om, and in Christianity, God is the King of peace. In addition to this, I am a confirmed supporter of the ideology of live and let live. It is also an Indian thought. In Cornwall Seeker of January 28, 2018, Melanee Morin, a scholar, says that “Although he was born in Sialkot, now in Pakistan, the main themes that run through all of Gill’s work are the embodiment of Canadian values: peace, tolerance, and freedom.” These values are the embodiment of Indian values, particularly the ideology of live and let live. These are the pillars of Christian values.
As far as my age is concerned, I would appreciate if you would not let me bring it to the public domain. Moreover, my age has nothing to do with my writing.