Mr Trump’s Hair and Other Weighty Matters by Bro Duncan PBGV

Human Beans never cease to surprise me. Up here in Beyond, where all is light, joy and peace, we smile over the preoccupations of Below. The number of column inches devoted to Mr Trump’s hair or the Winter Olympics cheerleaders from North Korea, the fuming and fretting over the government of the day, the feud between Brexiteers and Remainers, it all looks very different from here. So do your preparations for Lent. They are all so very serious! What you really need to do is to learn to be more simple and more dog.

Learning to be simple is natural to us dogs. We have a thought for each paw: food, food, sleep and food. Everyone is our very best friend, and we don’t hold grudges. We live in the moment. BigSis used to say that the sacrament of the present moment is the most neglected of all, and it’s true. You Human Beans are always regretting the past or worrying about the future and ignoring what is right under your noses. You make life complicated and never really enjoy anything because you are too busy having guilt trips. We don’t do guilt. Instead we do joy, lots of it! And our joy is infectious, because it’s impossible to look at our big noses and constantly wagging tails without feeling more cheerful. That’s why God gave them to us, and us to you.

BigSis says that joy is the key to making a good Lent: doing everything with the joy of the Holy Spirit. I asked St Benedict about that and he said she was quite right. Nuns always are. Then he coughed and looked a bit self-conscious and I realised he was thinking about his sister, Scholastica, whose feast day is tomorrow, and who taught the Father of Western Monasticism all about prayer and stuff. So I gave him a big Peeby kiss and looked very understanding until he was himself again. We chaps have to stick together, don’t we? Even Fathers of Western Monasticism have to put up with twin sisters who know and understand some things better than they do.

Anyway, the message to take from all BigSis’s spouting about preparing for Lent is this: Lent is meant to be a time of joyful simplicity when you Human Beans run free on the road to salvation. Of course, some parts of Lent are a bit like doing obedience work, but Easter itself is wonderful. It’s all about banquets and endless food and drink, a foretaste of what you will experience when you get Beyond. St Benedict says you Human Beans should look forward to it with the joy of spiritual longing. If you can’t manage that just yet, take a good look at your nearest dog and try to be more like him. We have the secret of eternal joy. Perhaps that’s why God lets us share his holy name in reverse. Perhaps.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Preparing for Lent 4

The three traditional penances of Lent are

  • prayer, which helps re-establish a right relationship with God;
  • fasting, which helps re-establish a right relationship with self, especially our bodily self;
  • almsgiving, which helps re-establish a right relationship with others.

St Benedict was keen on three-fold patterns, and we can see how this one addresses all the important activities of life.

Prayer
When Benedict talks about prayer in the context of Lent, he concentrates on the idea of making good the negligences of other times (cf RB 49). We all know occasions when we have been half-hearted or done our best, like Jonah, to escape the Lord. Lent provides us with an opportunity to try to do better. For some that will mean trying to go to Mass daily or to pray some part of the Liturgy of the Hours in union with the rest of the Church. Even if it’s just the Benedictus in the morning and the Magnificat in the evening, we shall be trying to maintain a structure into which all other attempts at prayer will fit.

Setting ourselves an unrealistic target, a certain quantity of prayer to be got through every day as though we were engaged in some kind of competition, will quickly end in failure and disillusionment. So will piling on devotion after devotion. What we need to do is to quieten ourselves down, to listen; and to do so with regularity. Learning to love the Lord in silence and poverty of spirit is one of the gifts Lent offers us, and we should seize it gladly. In a later post I shall say something about the practice of lectio divina,  but for now it is enough just to highlight what our Lenten prayer is meant to do: bring us back to God.

Fasting
Fasting is not dieting, although in our crazy world the two are often confused. To deny ourselves some food and drink, some pleasure of the senses, is to remind ourselves of our total dependence on God and our own dignity as temples of the Holy Spirit. The body we have been given is holy, perfect; but we do not always treat it as such, nor do we always exercise the kind of restraint that its holiness demands. Lent is a time to do just that. But our fasting isn’t meant to impose burdens on others (I will have just a little brown toast and honey, if you please, but it must be this kind of toast and that kind of honey, served on good china, etc, etc) nor is it meant to improve our bank balance. If we fast and save money or time, what we save should be given to others in almsgiving.

Even more than with prayer, fasting can be undertaken with one eye on its effect on others. It can become a source of what Benedict calls ‘vainglory’ — inordinate pride in our own achievements — whereas it is meant to remind us of our creaturely condition. Few of us in the West ever experience real hunger except by choice. That cuts us off from the lived experience of millions of people living in less fortunate conditions. It is good for us to be really hungry from time to time, but even if we can’t fast from food and drink, we can fast from some of the other little indulgences that make our existence comfortable. Think of the ways in which we waste time or are profligate in our use of resources. So, how about not speeding in the car, not spending so much time on Netflix or computer games, not leaving rubbish for others to clear up but dealing with it ourselves? Add to these fasting from anger and bad temper and all the other negativities to which we are prone, and you will see that the traditional discipline can be reinterpreted in ways which make painfully clear that (a) we are not self-sufficient and (b) we have a tendency to misuse the gifts we are given. What we mustn’t do, however, is to fall for the temptation to be vague about fasting, fasting in a general way. We need specifics, a firm commitment, something that challenges.

Almsgiving
With almsgiving, I think we come to the most difficult of the three Lenten disciplines. It is comparatively easy to pray, or at least to observe times of prayer; it is comparatively easy to fast, or at least to omit something from our meals; but to give of ourselves, to go out to the other, to be generous, that requires much more. It means we have to be open to others, on the watch for opportunities to be of service, ready to take risks. Many use Lent as a time for planned giving to various charities, but it is the unplanned opportunities the Lord puts in our way that can be most costly. Small acts of kindness go a long way towards making people feel valued and loved. The trouble is, we have to be alert to the possibilities but how often do we lament, ‘I didn’t know’ or ‘I didn’t realise.’ Perhaps we should all try to make this Lent one in which we keep our eyes peeled, as it were, for the needs of others.

The Joy of the Holy Spirit
One final note: Benedict says that everything we give up or take on during Lent should be done ‘with the joy of the Holy Spirit, looking forward to the holy feast of Easter.’ One of the great attractions of Lent for me is that in community we live with great simplicity, and that simplicity is always suffused with joy. Jesus in the desert was not plunged in gloom, nor should we be. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving set us free from what binds us at other times, and such radical freedom must surely be a joy. Allow it to be so.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Ash Wednesday with the Joy of the Holy Spirit

A little smudge of ash from last year’s palms to remind us that the victory is already won; a fast to clear our minds and focus our hearts; and the sense of a fresh beginning as we turn back to the Lord from whom we have strayed: Ash Wednesday is here. With it comes a wonderful freedom. Whatever we have decided to ‘do’ for Lent, we do with the joy of the Holy Spirit (RB 49.6). We are indeed ‘looking forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing,’ as St Benedict says (RB 49.7). The particularities of our penances melt into insignificance beside the fact that the Lord has invited us to make a Lenten journey with him and to him. He has spoken to us the words of the prophet Hosea, ‘I will lead her into the wilderness, and there I will speak to her heart.’

We know that Lent will be hard. It will have its longeurs, times when we feel empty, tempted to abandon everything. We shall have some spectacular failures. Some of them we may not even register because it is when we think we are doing ‘all right’ that we are most in danger of getting things wrong. But it won’t matter provided we hold fast to this simple truth: God desires our love more than anything else. He is in charge of our Lent, and his ideas are infinitely bigger than ours. We will certainly find that the ‘penances’ he gives us to deal with are much harder, but also more fruitful, than anything we might think up for ourselves. Our job is just to go on, lovingly, patiently, attentively, as best we can. We cannot cut out any part of the journey on which we start today. We must enter Jerusalem with Jesus in a moment of fleeting triumph; we must pass through the agonies of Gethsemane; die on the Cross with him; experience the bleakness of the tomb with him. Then, on Easter morning, before the sun is truly risen, we must rise with him and know, as if for the first time, the joy of the Resurrection and life everlasting. That is where Ash Wednesady leads. That is why we begin Lent with such great joy.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail