The Outgoing Tide - Thoughts at Sunset

Msgr Alex Rebello

Claretian Publications, Bangalore; ISBN No. 978-81-89851-48-4; Price: Rs 120/-

Available in Mumbai at St Paul's Bookshop and Pauline Publications, Bandra

In typically Celtic humour, one asked what had happened to the Irishman who sat gazing at the setting sun. . . It finally 'dawned' on him. This so aptly describes Msgr Alex's state of mind and heart,as he consciously takes a stroll on the shores of life, sits in solitude and gazes into the horizon. 

For one accustomed to seeing with the eye of the heart, the vision is transformative. In a Fast Backward glimpse of his life, he reveals much of what we are familiar with from his previous writing, but with new eyes. This makes this book a not-so-easy-to-put-down opusculum, as he would like to call it. What it lacks in length is more than made up for in depth, so that, with the Psalmist, he asks that we may learn to know the shortness of life in order to gain wisdom of heart.

We are snatched, so to say, out of chronological time and inserted into Sacred time. Living in the former, we are wont to see the events in our lives as discrete occurrences, seemingly unconnected. Transitioning into the latter, we realise there have been no mistakes, only learning experiences. "The love of God may have been hard at times, but nonetheless marvellous; it will not be broken because of our sins." As Dag Hammarskjöld said in his spiritual diary Markings, "Somebody placed the shuttle in your hand; Somebody who had already arranged the threads."

This is the awareness that permeates the entire book. The sometimes arduous ascent is forgotten when one gets the view from the top. Chapter 2 is a veritable acrostic which clearly lets us know that death is but an event in LIFE itself. Participating in the race, it easily dawns on us that Msgr Alex has run the distance, not for his own sake, but so that someone else might break the record. The zeal and enthusiasm and sense of dedication that he has brought into his ministry over the years has no doubt made others scale spiritual heights by raising the bar.

From a literary point of view, the book reveals the author's talent for writing, first spotted by his English professor, Fr Patrick Herne, SJ of Irish descent, during his seminary days. This Celtic thread perhaps finds its resonance in the weaving of this tapestry, as ten of the author's eighteen book shave been written in Wales. The ability to surprise you with titles that keep you guessing, the references to both secular and religious literature, quotes from lyrics originally Indonesian, and the wisdom of the ages allows the book to become a Kaleidoscope. The resulting mix of colours provides us with an insight into the ways we can learn to die before we die, so that we are not afraid to die when we die.

The COVID-19 pandemic and Msgr Alex's own accidental fall during that time did indeed bring life's unpredictability into focus. Perhaps it was instrumental into his thinking that he might end up like the great music composer Schubert, with an unfinished symphony. But the greatest take-away from the book is the realisation that there is no 'unfinished' business, only transition; that we must move from argument to mystery, from independence and control to interdependence and co-existence; that discipleship gradually morphs into companionship; that the duality of relationship mutates into the non-duality of Union with God.

In choosing a text from the Gospel of Luke to be read at his funeral Mass which highlights the last words of Dismas crucified alongside the Lord, he reveals his own sentiments – sentiments of longing, awareness of the ebbing tide on the shore of his life, as he pays attention to the 'sunset' – which translates from the Greek 'Dismas', in the full knowledge that a sunset at one point on the earth's surface is but sunrise at another. He knows full well that the world will not end today; it is already tomorrow somewhere else.

Christopher Mendonca