On the Edge of the World

Living in rural Herefordshire after living in Oxfordshire is a little like living on the edge of the world. Everything is different. Instead of chalk downland we have the red soil and oak-covered sweeps of the Golden Valley, with the ‘blue remembered hills’ of Shropshire to the north and the grey Marcher castles to the south and west. Instead of the bustle of Oxford and its honey-coloured stone, we have the quieter, more sedate streets of Hereford. Even the diocese is different in character, Cardiff being less populous than Portsmouth and Welsh rather than English. At times, one can feel quite ‘out’ of things, a mere spectator, no longer in demand as a speaker or interviewee on TV or radio — what one old nun, now dead, called ‘holy asparagus’ — but I must admit, it has its charms. At the heart of what I’ve called living on the edge of the world is a glorious paradox: to be closer to what genuinely matters because more distant from what does not.

To be on the edge, at the margin, is to experience a tremendous freedom. It is to understand what drove the prophets and the first monks and nuns into the desert. By disengaging from much that the world considers valuable or important, one can enter into a much deeper engagement with God; and one necessarily carries with one the pain and suffering and hopes of humanity. It is thus not only a tremendous freedom, it is also a tremendous privilege, one that monks and nuns are able to live every day of their lives. Those who have to worry about their families and their jobs may not find it so easy to live with such intensity, at least not all the time, but Lent gives us all an opportunity to ‘go to the edge’ as it were, and experience the desert for ourselves.

As we begin thinking about our preparations for Lent, may I suggest that we do not start with what we are going to give up? That puts the emphasis on us and often leads to confusion, e.g. fasting is not dieting, however much we would like our abandonment of some particular food to do good to our waistline! No, I think we have to start with the marginality of the desert, the place where Christ struggled with the demons and where we must learn to alter our focus. Before we even begin to think about what we shall give up, therefore, let us pray for our eyes to be opened to what needs to be changed in our lives and ask God’s help to do what is necessary. Lent is God’s gift to us. Let us use it as he intends.

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8 thoughts on “On the Edge of the World”

  1. I know exactly what you mean. We lived in Cardiff for over thirty years, watching as the city grew out of all recognition from a rather large kind of village where you always bumped into a friend when you went shopping in the centre and the butcher cashed cheques, very handy before cash machines! Now it is really unrecognizable. When we retired we moved to Bavaria and bought a tiny flat on an island in a lake near the Alps. A greater contrast there isn‘t. Everything became refocused, different priorities and perspectives in every way. Different language, too. But I would never return to the hustle and bustle of being at the centre of things, as it were. Here there is time and space to simply be, and God is close.

  2. Thank you for the clear perspective in this post and the re-focusing of our attention on to what, I believe, God would have us focus, that is, what do we need to change in our lives so that His Love may abide in us more completely and flow through us unhindered to do its transformative work both in us and through us.
    Thank you for sharing. Peace be with you.

  3. You have reminded me of the Buddhist aphorism, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Even in the wilderness, Jesus could not avoid his demons any more than we can, because we carry them within us. Only regular and profound spiritual/religious practice can see them off. So I thank you for the reminder.

  4. We all live on the edge of something – poverty, death, disease, deprivation, disaster (both natural and created), loneliness, homelessness, wars. All of these have their deleterious impact on the human condition and most are avoidable if we really listen to and abide by God’s message of peace and love for each other.
    Lent is that time of the year for us all to reflect upon what we can do to help others and to make the world a better place for everyone. Knowing that, at the end of Lent, our dear Lord Jesus died to save us all. This was all part of God’s great design for the world to not destroy itself but to love and move away from eternal misery.

  5. Can you make any recommendations from the list of those first prophets, monks and nuns that would be accessible to a lay person to better prepare for Lent? Please bypass the old ‘holy asparagus nun’…I still don’t get? Thanks for posting your reflections.

    • I think you could take any of the Old Testament prophets and derive great benefit from reading them, but perhaps choose Isaiah for a first ‘taster’. As to the early monks and nuns, there are various collections of sayings from the desert. However, as you will see from one of the posts I’ll be writing nearer Lent itself, I’m a great believer in following the daily Mass readings rather than setting oneself a reading programme divorced from what the rest of the Church is doing; I shall also be posting suggestions for books of scripture to be read in accordance with St Benedict’s programme for Lent. So, whatever you decide to do, be encouraged. God can use anything to get through to us.

  6. Such truth and direction. Re-focus and re-purpose our lives by clearing the clutter to enable the Hôy Spirit a place to dwell within. Thank you for these words. Peace unto you in this season.

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