SATURDAY OF LENT WEEK 1
Today’s Gospel is: Mt 5:43-48 Love your enemies...
One of our common human traits that Lent (and the protracted Lent of the pandemic) highlight is a hunger for novelty. Desert monks felt it periodically after the 'first fervour of conversion’ wore off. What seemed fresh and hopeful at the beginning loses the bloom of youth and its sweetness even turns sour and repulsive. When a victim of this 'acedia'- or spiritual entropy - offloaded their discouragement, restlessness and angry sense of betrayal on their teacher he or she would hear encouraging words and receive a gaze of understanding. The teacher would conclude, "Now go back and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything". And so, if they could, they would and the cycle would resume.
Growth is cyclical. We go over the same ground many times. There are traits or attachments we can’t shake off and have to learn to live with. Then, with acceptance, we may be freed. None of this is a merely mechanical repetition. Failure, or giving up on the work of letting go, may cause the cycle of growth to stutter or stop entirely. Yet failure is an occasion for grace and a new beginning. If we stop and start again wholeheartedly, we pick up again at a deeper level. This catches the ego off-guard and so helps keep it in check.
The craving for novelty is built into our entire metabolism. We are not machines. Nor are we like pets content to eat the same food every day. (Their owners project their craving onto the animal when they buy them expensive treats). Sexual desire and performance is similarly conditioned by a need for variety.
We need to confront and master this restless search for novelty by separating it from our innate creativity. Creativity – what is truly new – arises spontaneously after hard work. Much of our hunger for change is not actually for something truly new. Before the new can appear, a death must intervene and, as we know, we avoid dying like the plague. Our craving is for variations on what we have become bored with once its appeal has been discharged. We don't really want the 'new and improved' of marketing ruses but the same, with a slight twist or new packaging. Changing one's personal style in hairdo or clothes, the internet series we get hooked on, the car we drive or the subscriptions we take out are temporary satisfaction of this craving.
Sitting in your cell, learning directly from it, is the best way to find the real new. It is like finding a spring of fresh water after long digging. Once found, the hard work, the backache, the struggle with obstinate rocks and acedia, our embarrassing impatience and self-distraction vanish from memory. The truly new is ever-present. We don’t need memory anymore. Now we know it was, is, always there waiting for us to be present to it.
The truly new is forgiving. Its healing effect begins in the instant of discovery. Old patterns may return and tug at us with familiar cravings. But the power of the real new is the power of the eternal now. It makes the craving for novelty seem childish and old-fashioned. The times of meditation and digging with the mantra are our cell. It needs to become regular and serious work in order to shoot us out of the orbit of the ego and into the spontaneity and joy of the new creation, the paradise that this life, in this world, can be if we see what is now in reality for what it truly is.
Lenten Reflections 2021