Sunday in Lent
Fr. David Curry
Christ Church Windsor NS, AD
“And the last state of
that man is worse than the first”
It is a
terrifying picture really - a picture of the darkness of utter desolation.
It is something which our contemporary culture knows about or, at least,
experiences, in one way or another. It is the sense of hopelessness,
the sense of utter futility, the sense of the empty nothingness of life.
We live, of
course, in a world that is seemingly full of everything; there is a fullness
of images. We are constantly besieged and bombarded by a vast array of
images which flicker and dance before our imaginations in what is presented
to our senses. The consequence is that our sensual imagination is
overloaded. What are these images? They are the images of
violence, pornography and self-indulgence; in short, the crass hedonism of
consumer culture. What is quickly discovered is that they are nothing.
There is a terrible nothingness to this fullness of images. They are,
as it were, nothing worth and quite unsatisfactory. Yet, they consume
us. We are possessed by what beguiles us. We find that we are
strangers to ourselves. We are alienated from ourselves.
What shall we
do? Shall we empty ourselves of these empty images through some heroic
effort of will? Perhaps, but is it really “nirvana” - a state
of empty nothingness that we seek? For in the culture of images even
the emptying ourselves of the images of sensual immediacy is to find
ourselves in vacuum land. (I am reminded of the CBC radio personality
Alan MacPhee, who used to introduce his music programme “Eclectic Circus”
with the words: “Hello out there in vacuum land”). Whether we
are full of these empty images or aware of their emptiness we are
nonetheless empty and lost to ourselves. “And the last state of
that man is worse than the first”.
missing? The what is who. It is God. What is missing is
our appetite for the Absolute, our desire for God. At the very least,
it is misdirected and lost in the relentless pursuit of everything and
nothing. “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in
thee”, in God.
In the Gospel,
there is the picture of the housecleaning of our souls. At issue is
two things: first, how are we going to clean up the mess? and second, for
what end? The point is that without the finger of God the
housecleaning will leave us truly empty, indeed, desolate and in despair.
“And the last state of that man is worse than the first”.
The point is
that the housecleaning of our souls is really about setting our houses in
order so that our souls are places for God. Then we are no longer
strangers to ourselves. We are at home with God, with ourselves and
with one another - in a blessed company. “Blessed are they that
hear the word of God and keep it”.
religion par excellence is not about a flight from the world
and from the images of the world. It is rather a flight to God
in whom there is the redemption of all things - a setting in order of
everything. The Christian religion is, in this sense, full of images
but only as ordered to God and as seen within the pageant of redemption.
It means that the naming of the demons of our souls is by the finger of God.
God puts his finger upon our demons. The finger grace of God has the
housecleaning touch, we might say - far better than any Mr. Clean. But
our souls are put in order by God so that our souls may be places for God.
What does this
mean? At one level, it means that our busyness - here acknowledged as
a kind of empty busyness - has to give place to a restfullness in
God. Our busyness is really our restlessness for God - that is the
positive in our busyness. The negative is that without God - without
our awareness of our need for God, without our desire for God - we are in
danger of despair. In a way, the point is illustrated in another
Gospel story, the story of Martha and Mary. Ultimately, the busyness
of Martha has to be brought into the restfullness of Mary, sitting at the
feet of Jesus and listening to his word. Such a resting is an
attentiveness to Jesus – “listening to his words”. Perhaps the
point is best captured by Aelred of Rievaulx:
wretched and laborious life, brethren, Martha must of necessity be in
our house; that is to say, our soul has to be concerned with bodily
actions. As long as we need to eat and drink, we shall need to
tame our flesh with watching, fasting, and work. This is Martha’s
role. But in our souls there ought also to be Mary, that is,
spiritual activity. For we should not always give ourselves to
bodily efforts, but sometimes be still and see how lovely, how sweet the
Lord is, sitting at the feet of Jesus and hearing his word. You
should in no wise neglect Mary for Martha; or again Martha for Mary.
For, if you neglect Martha, who will feed Jesus? If you neglect
Mary, what use is it for Jesus to come to your house, when you taste
nothing of his sweetness?
It is wanted
not that we be found empty and in despair but full of the grace of God,
attentive to his word and purpose. For only then shall we be in a
better state than ever before. Only by the finger grace of God can we
avoid the terror of that picture of ourselves where “the last state of
that man is worse than the first”.