Of Mercury and Meteorites

Yesterday a meteorite injured hundreds in central Russia and Nasa scientists showed off a new map of Mercury remarkable for the complexity of the geological and chemical forms it reveals. Meanwhile, the media were concentrating on the passage of an asteroid 17,000 miles away from earth. There is an irony in that. We know so much about the universe we inhabit, and yet so little! The course of the asteroid was predicted, but the meteorite took everyone by surprise; and as for the Mercury map, its sheer beauty and the questions it poses will keep us occupied for a long time to come.

The parallel with the spiritual life is clear. Two thousand years of Christian experience have provided us with pointers on which we can rely, but always there is something more, something for which we are not prepared. If Lent is doing its work in us, we are being gradually opened up to the wonder and beauty of God in new and unexpected ways, and, contrary to what some popular books on prayer suggest, that can be a painful and contradictory experience. It can feel like being pulled apart — destroyed even — rather than growth.

Tomorrow’s Gospel invites us to go out into the desert with Christ and face down the temptations to pride and self-sufficiency from which we all suffer. Implicit in that invitation is the understanding that temptation will come to us again and again, in ever more seductive forms, but so too will grace. Our job is to be on the alert, ready to respond.