Gospel today: Mt 23:1-12. The greatest among you must be your servant
The Promised Land is the journey and the journey is the Promised Land. Accepting this gradually detaches us from illusory ideas about what the goal we think we have to achieve by endurance, personal virtue or willpower might look like. The goal in fact is to let go of the images and even the will to succeed. Faith is not will-power. Practice becomes more authentic as the faith it embodies grows deeper.
The purpose – this is important for traditional believers doing Lent - is not to strengthen the will but to transcend it. The will is too implicated with the ego and has taken too many bribes from it to be trusted not to be corrupted again.
Does this mean we just give up and do nothing purposefully? That would mean being without faith, which gets us nowhere fast. If the will (in tandem with the ego) is not used at all, it atrophies and we become like bed-ridden people who lose muscle tone. The will has to be exercised in a manner that wears it down until it can be transcended. People who understand why it is they say the mantra, understand this experientially.
Then we pass from will to obedience, doing what we should do because we know it to be right. Adopting this approach is hard for everyone because it is hard for the ego which always tries to partner with the will. It is especially hard for Type A’s. They feel they will not be so competitive if they become obedient rather than intensifying their will. In fact, the obedient person works and achieves just as much, if not much more, than the ego-driven will; and they retain their peace of mind and balance.
So, where’s the proof of this? ‘Experience is the best proof’, said Francis Bacon, a founder of the scientific method. ‘Experience is the teacher’, said the desert fathers and mothers.
The first proof that the promised Land is about realisation, not invasion and conquering, is manna. The Israelites in the desert were fed on manna, a ‘light white flaky’ substance which they found on the ground like frost in the morning. I’m told it’s on the menu of a New York restaurant as a kind of sweet, nutritious sap that oozes from certain plants and bushes. The facts are less important than the truth because as we know now there are always ‘alternative facts’. The truth is that this delicious food not only sustained them but delighted the desert pilgrims. As for many Christians does the Eucharist, however it may be served.
In other words, the food for the journey is a direct fore-taste of the destination of the journey. The end is not nigh, then, but nearer to us than we are to ourselves. We can taste it now. The Latin word for wisdom means ‘taste’. What greater proof is there than taste? Especially if it both delights and nourishes, and keeps us going in the realisation of who and where we are here and now.
What is your experience of manna?
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2021