Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Lenten meditation - The Temptation to be Spectacular

One of the gifts this stripping away that Lent offers us, in its reduction of our lives to the Essence of Life, is that it reminds us of the Ordinariness of life. It teaches us that life is mundane, and that it is in the seeming small things, the seemingly lifeless land of stones and sand, that Life is Given and Found. 

Abandoning the many many distractions available to us, something at which our society more than any other before has become adept, life is reduced to simple keepings - the trivial round, the common task. Keeping a Holy Lent is dull, frankly. Church has no flowers. All our treats are firmly locked away in the cupboard. All we have is life in the Ordinary.

And herein we discover something of our rejection of the Life that is offered us - for we find 'life in the ordinary' to be Not Enough. Frankly, we are bored - we long for excitement - we long that life would be More. Like the children of Israel in the Wilderness, our heads are spinning with dreams of metaphorical fleshpots and groaning boards. And so conditioned are we to our 'fallen life', we fail to recognise that those dreams are actually false remembrances of our captivity - for they were phantoms of 'Egypt'. We'd rather be slaves to fantastic dreams than live the Life that is Gift.

We thirst like the children at Meribah. We thirst for thrill, for exictement, for the Spectacular. But instead we are handed a life stripped to its bare essentials, to learn true faith - Trust in the Ordinary things of Life.

A fellow priest spent several years working in difficult circumstances - the soil was rocky and there was little response to his preaching and ministry. But his words spoke of this Life in the Ordinary. He said, 'You know? When all the world seems paved with concrete, you really begin to see and rejoice in the sheer beauty of one blade of grass' ( I guess that is why there is so much joy in heaven over the one sinner who repents :)  )

We need not bid, for cloistered cell,
Our neighbor and our words farewell,
Nor strive to find ourselves too high
For sinful man beneath the sky.

Religious people have always been faced with the temptation of trying to avoid the Ordinary and build a spectacular life. The ways of Spectacular religion are well trod and are of course encouraged by the world in which we live, which feeds of a religion which reflects its own worst instincts. 
But this also happens at the individual level. The disciplines spill over the edge into a means of feeding the ego. We speak of abandoning the world, but we take the world with us into our 'Righteous acts'. (As the desert father and all Wise folk know, you take the World into your cell). In so doing, in choosing the false life of Spectacle, we miss the spectacular Life that is under our nose

The trivial round, the common task,
Will furnish all we ought to ask;
Room to deny ourselves, a road
To bring us daily nearer God.

Satan in the wilderness challenges this 'Boredom with the Ordinary' - he tries to incite Jesus to a Spectacular life - throw yourself off the Temple!  As we follow Mark's recounting of the story of Jesus in this year of the Lectionary, we find Jesus confounding our understanding of life. He does precisely the opposite - he rejects All attempts to Go Public. His ministry is hidden, as Life is. Buried in a field, lost under the furniture, discovered whilst feeding pigs, Revealed in a naked dead Jew nailed to a Roman cross. Here is Life. All here in the Ordinary.

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