Lent it must be said is Hard Work. Yesterday I mentioned the dryness that comes when trying to write everyday, but also that in that sense of 'Nothing left', what was uncovered was the reality about our lives - and that Reality is a Great Gift. 'It is very good to become disillusioned,' as someone once told me, 'for it only goes to show that you were living under an illusion, an illusion which you have now lost.'
The Wilderness is the place of confrontation with Truth, nowhere to hide and nothing to fall back on, the illusory life disappears like a vapour. In disciplines of prayer and fasting and almsgiving, we are stripped back to reveal the reality of our hearts and lives - and there we confront something that we have avoided - which is just how Hard this Christian life seems to be.
As GK Chesterton puts it, 'Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.'
What Lent often does, is to reveal to us the ways in which we avoid the Hard business of beginning the Christian Life - yes, beginning. The plain truth which often comes to us is that so enamoured are we of our own lives, that we barely notice there is little or nothing in them which is consonant with the Gospel. We have dreamt dreams about the glories of Love and Forgiveness, of Truthfulness and deep community, of Hospitality to the Stranger, to the one who is not like us, and Abundant Generosity towards the undeserving. But it has been just that, dreams, just dreams. And in the cold light of day, when we face the challenge so to Live ourselves - we find it difficult and so do not try, but we continue to allow the dreamlike illusion to be our comfort. We come up with a hundred and one very plausible rationalizations, usually along the lines of 'life is not as Simple as that'.
But in fact Life is Every bit as Simple, that is why it is so terrifying, because we cannot live it.
We can barely love our friends with deep sincerity, let alone our enemies, we cannot forgive ourselves, let alone others, we hide from the truth and justify deceit in the name of compassion - and so on.
Lent is a good teacher - it reveals the Truth, but then if we will let us it teaches us more. It is in itself an invitation to life, because we have to learn this Life we call faith - it is not just a dream or a set of doctrines or an idea, it is a life. and like our first life it doesn't come naturally at first. When we learnt anything in life - be it to walk, or write, or read, or ride a bicycle, we may well have seen others competent in the Way and thought 'I can do that', and then promptly and sometimes literally fallen flat on our face!
The thing is this - we didn't give up. We pressed on - and now, not only do we do them with ease we actually find enjoyment in them.
The Life revealed to us in Christ is the same and MORE. If we do not give up - if we do not hide behind our 101 reasons why we live a Christian life that is a pale shadow of what we know it ought to be - if we make the effort and look to the author and perfector of our Salvation, THEN we discover, that little by little, bit by bit we learn it - we learn to Perform faith. AND what is more, the more we do it - the more we discover it Really is Life in Abundance, Through our Practice of it we grow into a deeper and deeper apprehension of its Glory
Let us consider for a moment the Practice of Community - something we truly know so little of in the Western World, where we live such self sufficient lives. What Community requires is Openness of life - living lives where All that we are is known. Lives that are not carefully whitewashed tombs, but lives where our hearts, our joys and our sorrows, our sins and our small triumphs are known - that we are Known. To put it another way, lives where we are Loved.
Of course if we are pious, we might say 'ah well I am known to God', which of course is true, to a point. But our hearts deceive us. For to be Fully Known goes against the grain. Often our 'God' in nothing more than a reflection of ourselves. If God Knows us, why do we fear being known by others, why do we hide??
The truth is that we do Not know the Joy of being fully Known by God for we are scared of revealing ourselves to others and our very selves are closed up tight. We are afraid to be Known and we marshall our 101 reasons why it is not necessary to Live Openly, why One Shouldn't! Things we have been told, that due to our inherent desire to flee and to
Hide (as did our First Parents) we think the epitome of Wisdom.
So we are challenged to allow that Knowing to be incarnated - in friends and neighbours. Not to Hide, to be Open. And it is Hard. Very Hard. But as we press on, as we refuse to allow the Lies to have the LAst Word, believing that Reality is the God who is Love in Community, we discover that there is more Life there than we can ever have thought possible. For in the Sharing of ourselves we Give to others. How foolish we are to think we know that it is those things we are happy to share that are gift to others. No. It is the things of which we are ashamed or hide. It is in the revealing of our Hidden selves, that are weak and fearful and as yet ill formed, that others are truly blessed, for they too find the courage to step out into the light themselves - and to begin the journey towards their own growth.
And it is so with all of the other practices of the Christian Life. We are well defended against them - we all too readily choose to live a Christian life that fits and reflects us, having made God in our own image. But if through the practices of Lent we discover that we have been looking not at God but in the mirror, then we may find Grace to Press on into this Life of God - through Lent - Holy Week, to the Cross and then the Resurrection - Pressing on deeper and deeper into Life.