It’s a good bet that any time we turn on the news we will hear of an atrocity, a tragedy, a horrible accident or a crime that reflects the worst mutation of human nature. Ireland, I notice, is particularly fond in the daily news of car crashes and murders. These things happen and we should not be in denial about them. But if we are exposed to them so disproportionately in the media it must be either because the media are trying to depress us or because we derive some satisfaction or stimulation by hearing about them. The little scraps of good news items we are thrown at the end of the broadcast only highlight the overall gloom of existence on this planet.
It is hard to respond to the question, often asked by someone you haven’t met for a while, ‘so what’s been happening in your life?’. You start scanning and feel helpless. How and what do you select from the flow of events and impressions? How really interested would your questioner be in an answer that tries to represent the diversity of happenings, or in anything more than the usual evasive answer, ‘everything’s good, fine, thank you’.
It’s easy to feel that only big things and dramatic outcomes (good or bad) are worth talking about. There’s something in this, in fact, as talking of minutiae and trivialities or the small things that went wrong can be boring. ‘Well, yesterday I was making a cup of tea and turned on the kettle. It took ages to boil and then I realised I hadn’t shut the lid of the kettle properly. It has a new failsafe mechanism that won’t let the kettle work unless it’s tightly closed. Even saying ‘amazing’ won’t make that interesting. Boring is the really bad news.
We can also, however, experience liberating meaning, beauty and wonder in something generally deemed dull and ordinary. This is really good news. If you have been genuinely moved by a change in the weather, for example, rather than seeing it as a sign of how uninteresting your life is, people will be grateful for you sharing such a discovery. The very English poet George Herbert shows this in his great poem The Flower:
And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing
This is the kind of deep news found also in the great scriptures. What is amazing is how dull religious people can be in possession of such a treasure. Even if, for example, it happens to be wrapped, as in tomorrow’s gospel, in a miracle of healing, it’s not just the cure that is interesting. It’s how the cured person’s experience of life is changed and what they do with the little extra time for living it gives them to see the depth dimension of the ordinary.
Lent should be attuning us to this kind of deep news that really makes us new.