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THURSDAY OF LENT WEEK 1

I have a confession to make. I have deceived you or at least some of you. This week’s photo that I took of a goat eating the road in the Canadian Rockies is in fact not of a goat but a Canadian or Bighorn sheep. I would like to thank the meditator from Alberta who corrected me. In fact, it’s a happy fault because the point of the reflection was to say that the judgement and separation of sheep and goats in the gospel of that day is not the whole picture or last word. It can sound disturbingly dualistic and punitive even though the difference between sheep and goats in the parable is about the compassionate level of response to the suffering and needs of others. (‘Lord when did we see you hungry and give you food?’)
 
I suggested that there is a step beyond this judgemental separation in the all-embracing, non-punitive love of God which is apportioned equally to the good and wicked. The merely moralistic, dualistic mind doesn’t like this kind of God at all or the prayer that awakens us to Him. This love creates a transformation of the two into one. Goats become sheep and sheep find themselves in goats. Maybe the moment of this unity is always coming round the bend of the road but we can’t see it until it thunders into us.
 
The power that effects this unified consciousness and metanoia is the same grace that supports and edges us into detachment. We live and move in grace as we do in the earth’s atmosphere which is an envelope that contains all the gases we need to survive. We take it for granted but, consciously or not, we receive it with every breath and movement as a free gift. All we have to do is receive it even if we don’t feel gratitude. Thankfulness awakens when we understand.
 
A young couple preparing for marriage may have different kinds of spirituality. Yet they can share a profoundly unitive sense of the mystery of their love and the strange coincidences and patterns that led them to meet and to love deeply enough for each to see him- or her- self in the other. Turning inward as the wilderness experience, the desert, has us do, we find in that boundless inner space as large as the external cosmos the ‘love that moves the sun and other stars’.
 
The hungry and war-weary human heart finds peace by seeing that the peace beyond understanding is always there. At first it partially delivers a new kind of happiness. But in the Sahara Desert night temperatures drop an average of 42 degrees Celsius. As the mystics discover, God is also an imageless desert we learn to adapt to. Adaptation is metanoia to what we cannot do without and yet cannot control. At times it is a  roller-coaster of desolation and consolation, soaring and plummeting. The great poet of the inner journey, George Herbert, describes this in one of the most beautiful of English poems, the Flower:
These are thy wonders, Lord of power,
Killing and quickening,
bringing down to hell
And up to heaven in an hour
 
Turning the goat and the sheep in us into one is hard work. And we still think meditation is just about reducing stress?

Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2023
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