In today’s gospel Jesus calls us, as he called the fishermen by the Sea of Galilee, to follow him by self-renunciation. He wisely doesn’t tell us how to do this. It is for each of us to decide: i) shall I listen to this call? ii) does it lodge in me somehow and not go away? iii) how can I ‘lose my life’ so I can fulfil it? His concluding question then puts every person in every generation on the spot: iv) what’s the point in gaining the whole world at the cost of ruining your true self? Lent is about listening to these questions so attentively that we don’t have to answer them: the power of attention itself makes the answer pop. Of course it may be a slightly different answer on different days but this is not because the truth changes but that every day is different and so calls forth the truth in different guise.
Seen like this our life these next forty days itself becomes a pilgrimage in a holy land. When I was in Israel I thought what a tiny piece of real estate, without oil or natural resources, and with such huge pretensions. It has the lowest place on earth – the Dead Sea. And during his forty days in the Judaean desert Jesus was swept up to the top of the temple parapet to view and be tempted by all the kingdoms of the earth. The three faiths that try to co-exist with each other while waging their own internal conflicts have stories and myths that still drive global politics. Here details matter for life and death. Every pebble and drop of water claims significance and indeed they are meaningful.
When we are really on the spot, making the land holy because we touch it here and now and not in our fantasy or through ideology, something amazing happens. We see how everything, however small or insignificant, is connected to everything else through all dimensions of reality. The smallest and the greatest respect each other. There is hierarchy of course – some things demand more of our attention than others – but there is no power-game, no oppression of the small and vulnerable by the great and mighty. This is a contemplative vision of reality and if enough people in the world could share it for a moment at the same time the world would begin to change without the need for force.
During Lent as we try to harmonise ourselves – inner and outer, mentally, emotionally and physically – we should try each day to observe our role in the power structures of the world, work, family and in public spaces. Harmony with ourselves makes for integrity and so for peace of mind. But the consequence is a greater integrity in the world we live and work in – politics, business, education, medicine, science or finance. In all of these we hear the words of Isaiah warning us not to let our spirituality become self-centred and ego-dominated. If you can steer clear of this (hard in our age of spiritual materialism and false ideas of integrity) the quality of action changes. Don’t oppress your workmen or strike the poor with your fist. Instead break unjust fetters and let the oppressed go free, share your bread with the hungry and shelter the homeless poor. Build bridges not walls.
Then, he claims, you will feel the guidance of the Lord giving you relief in desert places. Remember, for Lent we focus on the microcosm in order to better understand the cosmos. These things are true and they prove themselves in the holy-land experience of our daily lives. If we take a time each evening, after meditation, to examine what the day was like, we will usually be surprised by the meaning that emerges. It’s endlessly surprising how self-renunciation restores us to ourselves and our place in the wholeness of things.
Read other Lent Reflections 2019: Week 1