The bridegroom’s companions would not think of mourning as long as the bridegroom is with them…

(Matthew 9:14-15)

On Friday a member of our Bonnevaux business meditation group gave a beautiful, personal account of her life, terrifying and funny in turn. Until forty, she said, she had been focused entirely on success and having fun, and she accomplished both. Her ambition to be John McEnroe’s ball-girl at Wimbledon was not fulfilled but all others were. Then her mother was diagnosed with severe cancer and her life began to disintegrate. Her body was the messenger of what was happening as she lost control: pain in muscles and joints, insomnia, breathing problems, memory blanks and panic attacks of increasing frequency. The body never lies. At last, after a horrifying incident of amnesia with her children at the mall, she accepted ‘I need help’. The inescapable humility of this was the turning point in her life that led her on a gradual process towards other-centredness. She now successfully helps others recognise these symptoms and face them in time to avoid the worst. Not everybody survives the worst as she did.
She said that when she began to make time for stillness and silence – which she had never done before in her whirlwind of unmindfulness – she began really to notice other people. Sitting in the park just looking at people, for the first time she saw not just a parade of faces but expressions, feelings, communicative signs. Meditation is now a pillar of her new more joyful and meaningful life and all the stressed executives she helps are introduced to it.
Many of the stories of Jesus show him at meals or wedding-parties. He often uses these events to illustrate his teaching as in today’s gospel. One cannot imagine he would have been a miserable or gloomy presence at any event where people would have been having fun and wouldn’t he have joined in the dancing? His brief teaching today recognises that life is not all fun and games. Nothing we can perceive is not a mixture of light and shadow. To deny it is to repress what we fear to face. Repression eventually explodes, through the body or our behaviour. Truth will out. (If we notice we are attracted morbidly to news stories or movies about what we fear, we should ask why it is unconsciously cathartic for us).
The word for ‘mourning’ is penthos in Greek: the spirit of lamentation in mythology and an important element of mystical theology. In his major teaching on the Beatitudes Jesus says ‘happy are those who mourn for they shall be comforted’. We shouldn’t be afraid if at times meditation has a feeling of mourning or grieving. Lent can be a time when we acknowledge this as a healthy aspect of our being a work in progress (as this woman describes her life now). Progress towards fullness of being and true happiness. An early sign of which is our capacity to notice the expression on other people’s faces and to pay responsive attention to what they are communicating. For Isaiah, in the first reading today, this active compassion is the meaning of justice. Without it, fasting and almsgiving and all that stuff are only shadows of what they are meant to serve.

Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2021