I recently returned from the Holy Land. I was with a group of contemplative pilgrims from many countries who had different styles of expressing their faith; but they were unified by the common ground of the holy land and, even more, by the common ground of being that we touched together through silence in our daily meditation.
Israel is a small, intense country with as much variety in landscape – desert, green hills, vineyards, mountains – as in religious and political opinion. It has been a place of violent contention from the dawn of history. I felt if its conflicts were ever to be truly resolved the ever-divided city of Jerusalem – where King David built the temple, Jesus died and rose again and Mohammed ascended to heaven – would instantly become the Heavenly Jerusalem described in the Book of Revelation. We are assured there will be no need for any temple or religious activity in that transfigured place because God will be all in all. The ‘peace of Jerusalem’ would inaugurate the peace of the world, the transformation of swords into ploughshares as Isaiah imagined would happen one day. Until then we each choose whether we work for peace or increase divisions and violence.
This is a choice we are able to renew in the daily practice of Lent. We make the choice to be peaceful, not on the global but personal level, not through external action but through interior work. It should as Jesus says be a modest and ‘hidden’ work so that the ego has less occasion to hook on it. Whatever we ‘do for Lent’ is a sign of the synergy between the inner and outer dimensions of reality. Personally and collectively we are a microcosm. As we are so will our world be. Be calm and you will create calm. You may give up alcohol or candy or Netflix or gossip or checking your phone before you meditate in the morning. You may make the two meditation periods a non-negotiable part of your day or add an extra short meditation at midday or read the daily gospel at the top of each of these reflections, or choose a book as your companion through the desert of the next forty days (you could do worse than ‘Sensing God’ which is designed for developing meditation this season of Lent). Perseverance and consistency work wonders in our state of mind and for the harmony of inner and outer: and because we are not perfect and not machines perseverance includes starting again when we fail.
These Lenten practices increasingly become sources of peace and delight as we try to be faithful to them. They are in fact among the simple, free pleasures of life – not burdens or bores. Through them, throughout Lent, we remember the virtues that are often downplayed or ridiculed in our culture – moderation, self-restraint, repetition, respect for our limitations. These are elements of universal, contemplative wisdom as we see in the Tao Te Ching: Simplicity, patience, compassion are your greatest treasures. Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.
Give up something and do something extra. This is the heart of healthy exercise, called ascesis in the spiritual vocabulary. The fruits of Lent will not appear if you try to force them or just by thinking about them. They bud and flower and fall subtly, surprisingly and therefore delightfully. This is a wonderful season. I hope these reflections will help you enjoy it.