It may bear next year. If not you can cut it down.  (Lk 13:1-9)
Recently I was listening to an inspiring woman speak about power and gender. She reminded us that when a man is strong in handling power he is called decisive or people say he knows what is needed and he goes for it. A woman who does the same will often be accused of being bossy. Behind the inequality and under-representation of women in most areas of society (except midwifery and primary education) there lies a prejudice, a caricature of male and female power. Behind the caricature is an assumption that power is force used over others: acting responsibly and leading effectively require an external force to make people do something.
The speaker had successfully held many positions of power during her career, dealt with prejudice and bullying and often been the only woman in a room of decision-makers. Meditation had also helped her to be aware of another kind of power used not over but with others, an energy coming from a personal interior space rather than in the political forces controlling external relationships. This more inward power, in her experience, connects us to another, higher source of power beyond the individual. As she described this, I thought of Jesus saying to Pilate, ‘you would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above’.
Seeing power as force is an uncreative understanding of power because it locks into the egoistical vision of reality. Lacking the creativity of the higher connection it becomes destructive. It uses a left-brain model of how power should be accumulated and stored. It ignores the fluid nature of time and attempts to hold and possess it, leading to self-deception. Reality is in continuous flow. True power also flows from a source beyond the individual, which combines the male and female aspects of power: strength and gentleness, decisiveness and patience.
The fluid nature of power unites the impermanence of reality with the freedom of knowing that ‘here we have no abiding city’. What we have accumulated might evaporate in an instant. We can be derailed at any instant by accident, sickness or death. Time flies but every second of existence contains the truth of the beginning of the universe.
Meditation is the best teacher about the nature of power and how to use it. In the desert Jesus was tempted to use his already profound knowledge and relationship to reality for his own purposes. He knew how powerful people can be misunderstood by those who feel its influence and that power perceived as force leads to abuse. Autocratic leaders fall into this trap of linking crowds and power.
The power to strike down an unproductive fig tree is one kind. The wisdom of giving it more time and using failure as manure to nourish is the other kind. It may look like an abdication but it is the only healthy way of using it.
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2022