SATURDAY OF LENT WEEK 3
Gospel Lk 18: 9-14. Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
We are on the home-stretch now, in the middle of Lent. On Ash Wednesday as we began our forty-day trek through the desert we remembered our mortality. This was not to instil fear but to become free from the often repressed fear of the passage of time and of our eventual exit out of this realm of existence into the unimaginable. Remembering that we are dust is a well-known spiritual tonic in all wisdom traditions. It prepares us for death, reduces our anxiety about it and allows us to relish the wonders of life more intensely by seeing how the unimaginable already permeates the present.
The end of the third week of Lent then, is a good point to look back and see the footsteps we have left behind us. Where are we standing now compared with then? We might be self-judgemental about how we kept our resolutions. More importantly, we should reflect on what we have learned. We often squirm when put on that particular spot: ‘Have I really learned anything? What do you want me to say?’ Yet we cannot pass through time without learning something, even if it is to understand why we think we have learned nothing.
Ideas and experiences are also mortal. And so, if we limit what we have learned to what we have read or listened to or to events, we feel discouraged. Ideas, films, encounters, emotional highs or lows do teach us, of course; but their impact fades. Isn’t it amazing how we can struggle to remember what once overwhelmed us? All experiences on the river of time are borne out to sea. Do we learn anything, then?
To feel that we are learning nothing is depressing. To misjudge what we have learned is an unnecessary mistake that slows us down. Learning, at the deeper level, is not about keeping up with the flow of information. Education today is largely restricted to information and skill sets which have an economic value stuck on them. In some countries at this time, children going back to school after the shutdown are deemed only to have ‘fallen behind’ in the race for examinations and qualifications. What they might have learned from their painful experience of Covid is more urgent. Shorter holidays and longer schooldays are being proposed to help them catch up. Will they have learned how to live better, more wisely and resiliently? Is the opportunity being missed to ask the fundamental question of what education is really about? One of the greatest artists of the 20th century, the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, received an evaluation from art school which told her she lacked talent and would have ‘no future in sculpture’.
Whatever we learn, even what we quickly forget, is useful. But it is secondary compared to life as a school of becoming fully human. Real learning consists more in what can be called intuition – the source of all creativity, genius and courage. What we learn in the heart is that, we will always be searching how better to understand and express the most important truths we discover. The more we know them the more we need the contemplative gift of unknowing.
As a way of the heart, meditation teaches us how to learn and how to live.
Lenten Reflections 2021