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WEDNESDAY OF LENT WEEK 4

     
Throughout his teaching Jesus specifically tells his listeners to abandon their habitual state of anxiety. He urges them to ‘set your troubled hearts at rest and abandon your fears.’ In the same vein, St Paul says to his fledgling Christian communities that the guide and compass of their whole life of feeling and action should be the peace of God which is ‘beyond understanding’, rather than ceaseless conflict and dejection. We should not and need not live oppressed by fear and stress, anxiety, dread or panic.
 
Living in an age of anxiety reaching levels that are linked to chronic physical and mental illness, depression, obsessiveness and inability to concentrate, insomnia and digestive problems, we might listen to Jesus, thank him for the nice words and think ‘well that’s easy for you to say.’
 
In fact, he is not giving advice but an authoritative teaching and a challenge to make a journey that will seem long and hard. He indicates how this can be achieved: by embracing the gift of peace that he promises to leave behind when he has gone. A peace ‘such as the world cannot give’ – the short-lived reduction of stress created by self-distraction and over-consumption – but his own  peace. But how can you give peace to another person that is more than a comforting arm around the shoulder? He seems to be speaking about a direct and targeted transmission, face to face, heart to heart, of a boundlessly renewable energy.
 
To receive this transmission we have nothing else to do except open ourselves to it and trust it before it appears. Sometimes, however, fear locks us into a paralysed, self-harming pessimism which we cannot escape. We end up craving consolation rather than desiring transformation. No wonder the injunction to transcend the grip of fear is the first step of the spiritual journey in all traditions. The ‘fear of God’ as it is translated from the Bible doesn’t mean fear in the sense of expecting punishment. The fear of God – awe, wonder and peace – is the cure for the fear that blocks us from making the human journey.
 
The Sufi poet Attar wrote an allegory of this journey to God called the ‘Conference of Birds’. Every kind of bird comes to a meeting and decide to set out across the seven valleys to find the king, called the Simurgh. The word ‘simurgh’ means literally ‘thirty birds’. As the time of departure approaches most find excuses not to go. Of those who set out many turn back. In the end only thirty bedraggled birds arrive at the king’s palace having spent most of their lives on the journey. They are met by a servant who tells them they are unworthy to enter and to go home. But when they insist, he tells them that, even should they enter, the glory of the king will reduce them to nothing. They reply that a moth desires to be one with the flame it is attracted to. The thirty birds enter the presence of the Simurgh and seeing him they realise that he is themselves.
 
They see the Simurgh – at themselves they stare
And see a second Simurgh standing there
They look at both and see the two are one.
 
The peace beyond understanding and the end of fear is the disappearance of duality.

Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2024
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