So, Lent. We've been getting up early, when the alarm clock goes off (mostly), and saying Morning Prayer together. It's strange how you can say the same thing every morning, and every time it strikes you afresh. The Invitatory Psalm, Psalm 95, has the line "Forty years I endured that generation," and every single morning that line jumps out at me. I'm still within my first forty years, though I'm on the wrong side of 35, so each time I hear it I think, "I'm still being endured," and it's a comfort. I don't how it will strike me after I turn 40, but I have four more years until I have to cross that bridge.
But it's Julian of Norwich who is pulling me through Lent. I read a section or two of The Revelation of Divine Love (long text) every day. Julian is the kind of spiritual writer I find very beneficial, who presents theological ideas in ways I'd not considered before, and who is able to reveal the unimagined depths beneath the simplest concepts. In section 37 she writes about mercy:
And mercy is a work which comes from the goodness of God, and it will go on operating as long as sin is allowed to pursue righteous souls; and when sin is no longer allowed to pursue, then the operation of mercy will cease; and then all shall be brought to righteousness and so remain for ever.I had never considered before that the work of mercy is temporal, although the effect is eternal. But the same is true of faith and hope, as we know from 1 Cor. 13:13 -- they abide, but in heaven they are fulfilled, while the operation of love is perfect and eternal and ever new.
Another passage I've been pondering has to do with Christ's thirst:
For regarding Christ as our head, he is in glory and beyond suffering, but as regards his body, in which all his members are joined, he is not yet in full glory or beyond suffering; for that same longing and thirst which he had on the cross -- a longing and thirst which it seems to me had been in him from eternity -- those he still has, and shall have until the time when the last soul which is to be saved has come up into his bliss. (31)Now if Christ's resurrected body is perfected, can he still suffer? Or does this refer to his body the Church, "in which all his members are joined", which does indeed suffer and is not yet in full glory? Or does this refer, in ways I can't even fathom, to the mystical union between his resurrected body and his body the Church?
For as truly as there is a property of compassion and pity in God, so there is as truly a property of thirst and longing in God. And because of the strength of this longing in Christ it is for us in turn to long for him, and without this no soul comes to heaven. And this property of longing and thirst comes from his endless goodness, just as the property of pity comes from his endless goodness; yet, as I see it, the longing and the pity are two separate properties; and this is what distinguishes the spiritual thirst which last in him as long as we are in need, drawing us up to his bliss; and all this was shown as a revelation of compassion, and his thirst will cease on Judgment Day.
Thus he has pity and compassion for us, and he has longing to have us, but his wisdom and love do not permit the end to come till the best time. (31)Last week I felt the Lenten stumbling block in the form of a black mood descending. I'm not generally a moody person, and although I'm not prone to think of things in these terms, what it seemed like was a spiritual attack, hitting me right in the everyday where I'm trying to practice love and discipline. During this day or two when I felt bitter and hated everything, these words of Jesus to Julian were an anchor for me:
Look how I loved you. Look and see that I loved you so much before I died for you that I was willing to die for you; and now I have died for you, and willing suffered as much as I can for you. And now all my bitter torment and painful hardship has changed into endless joy and bliss for me and for you. How could it now be that you could make any request that pleased me that I would not very gladly grant you? For my pleasure is your holiness and your endless joy and bliss with me. (24)Thus I reasoned: if I ask for patience, that is surely pleasing to the Lord, and so he will grant it to me. If I ask for love, he will grant it. If I ask for mercy, he will grant it. If I ask for joy, he will grant it. And so I slogged through my unhappy day in constant prayer, far more than I ever pray in the course of a more regulated day, and eventually the cloud was lifted and I was restored to equanimity, and my amount of prayer went down again, and I skipped a day or so of reading because I was distracted, and generally squandered the spiritual benefits of normality.
Ah, well, there are still several weeks left in Lent.
And finally, a request. Our parish has been having extra confession times on Friday night, which is great because the Saturday lines always seem prohibitive. Usually, when I'm examining my conscience, I work through the Ten Commandments, but I feel like I've grown too used to this metho and am not really digging very deep any more, so if anyone has a better system, please feel free to share it.