Thursday, 18 February 2010

On balance.

I still agree with what I said yesterday, but it wasn't very complete, made some huge assumptions.

I said if something ceases to be a labour of love, you should stop and re-think. I said self-improvement can be about God, if it means discovering and becoming who we are.

But that doesn't mean we should all just do whatever we feel like all the time.

I may enjoy chocolate and sweets, but I have a body to look after and too much of them won't do me any good. I may love stretching and relaxing but if I don't get up and move around I will become ill. Looking after the body I have been given is somewhat complicated, as it comes with some non-standard variations which in this society are seen as medical problems... but even if I were "healthy", the same would apply. Taking good care of myself means recognising that my instincts may be incorrect, or that I may be so far out of touch with my instincts that I need to base my decisions on some general rules or principles.

I think the same is true of my relationship with God. No, I should not do things that I do not do out of love -- but that doesn't mean that I will always be ecstatically happy about everything I undertake. My short-term will and my long-term goals may be out of sync. My ability to discern God's will for my life may be unreliable, or even absent.

God gives us freedom to ignore God, freedom to refrain from an active relationship with God... in order that we can truly enter that relationship in love, not out of fear.

But that means the relationship can be absent or distant. It means we can go about our merry ways, oblivious. We can become so distracted that we don't listen to God's calling to us, Beloved,, or so wrapped up in our own lives that we don't even think to look at the loving work we could do in the world.

I think that's part of why it's important for many people to spend some time in solitude, away from the clamour of all the things that we allow to make claims on our time and energy, away from the people we serve not because we love them adn they need, but for some other reason. Sometimes in the silence we can hear.

I think that just as surely it is important to be part of human communities, to open our eyes to one another's wounds, to see something of God in the earnest schoolteacher, in the lady who does the church flowers... to see Christ in the people we would classify as "good" or "friends" or "saintly" and in those we might rather avoid: the sick, the distressed, the poor; the ones who have been taught no manners at all; the abusive parent, the alcoholic sibling. Even the people who have hurt us most, the people who are most frightening to us, the people who seem monstrous, are beloved children of God.

We are called to share what we have. That means being honest with ourselves and others about what we have, and about what we don't have.

Learning to look after my body means listening to my instincts, but also observing what happens when I do some things or avoid others. It means consulting people who are experts, at least some of the time, and gathering information from others. I cannot look after my body by ignoring every symptom I have until it becomes crippling; neither can I look after my body by allowing slight aches and pains to send me to bed wailing of my discomfort. There is a continual process of observation, fact-checking, reflection. I have to be willing to find out that I am wrong, that I have been mistaken, if I am to learn well.

So, too, with a relationship with God. I need the reflective solitude and I need the close-knit community and I need the extended fellowship. To discern God's will for me in the world, I need to listen to God and I need to look at the world, and if I neglect either then I run the risk of destroying myself in vain to serve others, or harming others to serve my own short-term whims.

Perhaps Lent is, if anything, a time of examination rather than penitence, a time of exploration rather than contrition. Oh, penitence and contrition will probably come along anyway if we see, in our examination and exploration, how badly we have treated one another. But they aren't the purpose, they aren't the point.

As for the claim that you don't need Lent to do that -- no, but we time-bound humans tend to function well with a certain amount of cyclical routine. I don't need Christmas to learn about Emmanuel, God-with-us, but it helps. I don't need St Valentine's Day to know Sweetie loves me or to tell him how very much I love him, and indeed we often don't do anything special that day, but when we do it is a pleasure. And frankly, I do schedule time to be especially aware of God. I make time for Morning Prayer, why not make time for Lent? I use an alarm clock, why not a calendar?

No comments: