Gospel Lk 11:14-23. ..then know that the kingdom of God has overtaken you
One of my disciplines for Lent is to keep these daily reflections to less than a page. At times, or maybe too often, this means omitting connections between ideas that might make the point clearer. Sorry.
Yesterday I moved in a few awkward leaps from saying how ungraspable truth is; and how wanting to make everything explicit and measurable makes us miss the mark. (‘Missing the mark’ is the literal meaning of the word ‘sin’ in Greek). The result is that we are left hugging an abstraction, a handful of dust. Like the hero in the film Bladerunner 2049 whose girlfriend was a computer program that/who was terminated when the chip was broken.
I ended yesterday by speaking of John Main’s connection between what we do in meditation – which is giving up trying to be explicit – and waking up to the implicit, revolutionary insight of the teaching on the kingdom of heaven. It’s not easy but it works. Just when you give up what you thought was the best way to get somewhere or to achieve a goal, you suddenly see what it’s really all about. The goal is there all along. “Idiot, why didn’t I see that before?” This is what I mean by the success of failure.
Nowhere is this more painfully obvious than in the goal of happiness. Today, we are told endlessly that everyone should seek to be happy as their first priority. This means that politicians and others are over-concerned with being popular by making people happy in the short-term. In fact, what everyone wants is just to be free from pain, which is perfectly understandable. To want to be in pain or to enjoy inflicting it is unnatural and if it gives pleasure it is not happiness.
Of course, we do all want to be happy, as well as to have pleasure and be free from pain. This is a tall order and sometimes we’re fortunate. But if we pursue happiness as a goal, explicitly, we inevitably miss it. Missing it makes us feel discontented and unhappy. This doesn’t mean that God or the universe doesn’t want us to be happy. It suggests instead that happiness is found in our having the right disposition towards the way things are (pleasant or painful as it may be in any one situation).
The right disposition means an accepting and realistic approach. This depends on how our mental and emotional furniture is arranged and how we approach circumstances. ‘For the joy that lay before him he endured the Cross,’ (Heb 12:2). This doesn’t mean he wanted to suffer or enjoyed it. But he understood what the suffering was a bridge to. He was prepared. We need to be trained to be happy.
There are connections – between happiness, joy, suffering, peace and the other qualities of the kingdom of heaven experience which fill the pages of the gospels. Knowing them in our own experience is what makes its implicit truth leap from the page and the brain straight into the heart.
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2021