Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us
as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
Psalm 123 (124) Vs. 6,7
One of the great gifts of Lent, as we considered yesterday was that of disconnecting in order to discover our disconnectedness. Jesus goes out into the wilderness on a journey, not so much of self discovery, but of the affirmation of his eternal identity as the Son of God.
Of course part of that journey was necessary, for from all eternity he had not occupied space in the flesh. Was it possible that the Son of God might take on flesh? The tests Jesus faced were ‘of the flesh’ – bread for the hungry; concrete evidence of his Father whom he could not see; and the temptation to lose that which he could not sense in order to gain all that his eye desired. All of these in their different way are very much temptations of desire – and our desires lead us away from our true identity.
Think of the prodigal, blind to who his father was, he sees the allure of the world.
So trained are we in thinking that our ‘selves’ are our minds, we easily fall prey to the temptations of the flesh, for our brains are more than capable of rationalising any action of the body, any act of unfaithfulness, any . . . I could go on. More than that our mental capacity is readily trained in serving the flesh in this way and if we call ourselves Christians, of dressing it up in theological language, taking the name of God in vain.
So ‘Retreat’ should always include elements of disconnecting, in order to unmask these unruly appetites of the flesh. But that use of the word, ‘flesh’ does not designate our bodies, only reveal what happens when we allow our bodies to master us. For our bodies are now, and always will be part of us, and as St Paul reminds us, we eagerly await their redemption. Death is not an escape from the bodily realm. The Risen Christ is flesh and blood – he lays a fire, he eats and invites us to touch his hands and side.
As I said yesterday, there is great gift in disconnecting from artificial light . . . as Christians we should be more wary than most of that which ‘masquerades as light’. On retreat I slept whilst it was dark, and I worked whilst it was yet light. This is a much undervalued way of life in a world where artificial light teaches us that our lives are without bounds. Burnout, stress, working every hour of the day and night is only possible because we have extended our sovereignty, even over the night.
It would be worth considering how different our lives would be did we not have light 24/7 in our homes. Would we be as tired? If previous generations managed to do that which God asked of them in the hours of daylight, who are we working for when we ‘burn the candle at both ends’? Our forebears in faith knew this, even before electricity made our lives so very frenetic
‘It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.’
The Lord gave day and night. they are gifts. The day for work – and then only 6 in 7 – and the night for sleep. The Scriptures call the twelfth hour, 6pm, ‘the last hour of the day’. The Anglican divine William Law says ‘This is a time so proper for devotion that I suppose nothing need be said to recommend it as a season of prayer to all people . . . . As the labor and action of every state of life is generally over at this hour, so this is the proper time for everyone to call to himself to account and review all his behaviour from the first action of the day.’
For closure of the day.
Are we more wise than our forebears who almost throughout history did not work in the dark? Of course we like to think so, yet if our disconnected minds should trick us into thinking this is so, our bodies betray us. Or perhaps we are betraying our bodies, which are now and always will be, part of us?