This week we have reflected on how to discern illusion from reality. Diadochus has been advising us that this comes as a gift rather than a result of study or just our own mighty efforts. But he also emphasises that a deliberate choice is needed to direct ourselves only towards what is real and to consume the attraction to illusion with our attention to what is good. As spiritual knowledge grows, he says encouragingly, through effort and grace combined, we become more confident in our quest for love.
I have suggested, predictably, that this profound advice can be put into practice through meditation. Somehow, anyway, we have to find a way of balancing the effort needed on our part with the gratuitousness of grace to bring the change we desire and need.
If you are not a particularly religious person, you may be more attracted to the idea of effort. You don’t need a lot of talk about God helping you. Nevertheless, the truth is that the essential shift happens at a level where our conscious will disappears. If will there is, it is more about seeing and consenting to the truth than trying to achieve it. If, on the other hand, you like the idea of the active presence of God in your life, you may think you don’t have to do very much, just hang loose, be passive, and let God do it all. The bonded elements of the human and divine, in this ascent to reality are both involved. Together they reveal more than either of these extreme attitudes (self-sufficiency or leaving it all to God) about effort and grace. Grave and human effort should not be separated because their separation promotes illusion. Christ makes all this make sense. He is the marriage in the paradox.
As in a good relationship, each side of the human-divine partnership slides into and back from the other, imperceptibly. They form a whole greater than we can imagine as the sum of the parts. This wholeness, which is Christ, sheds light on the distinctiveness of the human and divine but also on the cosmic need they have for each other. They are, at least from our perspective, incomplete without the other. Does this mean that God needs us? Technically, no, of course but lovingly, because God became His own creature, why not?
This is what is at stake in our Lenten reflection based on the personal practice we have committed to for these forty days. We don’t want to get too heavy about it (or we will lose the spirit of truth) yet it is sacred and most important to us. Life will go on if we don’t reflect on it and if there is no insight from our sustained practice: Trump will Twitter, Brexit will happen, the Cardinals will squabble, the economic forecasts will change, some will be cured and others won’t, Netflix will invent more series. Yet Lent does matter. Not only to ourselves in our separate digital universes, but to us as a whole, as we awaken to the great meaning of the human which God has risked on us and whose outcome the universe eagerly awaits. This is why it is important that we learn periodically to wipe our lenses and see clearly what is real and enduring and what is illusory and ephemeral. Because we matter.