What I intend to do – is to give a first introductory talk, than have a break during which we will all keep silent and in a rather flexible way because keeping silent together is something which requires quite a lot of training and of the habit. The sense of having a neighbor who thinks hard and is silent next to you maybe a very disturbing thing. On the other hand, if the silence is something which we can achieve, collective silence may be an extremely endeepening and enriching experience. So we will just see how it works. We can either stay where we are, or as you were told, wander away. And I suggest that we could perhaps try first of all to stay where you are to see whether we can help each other in this recollection in silence and then if we feel that our neighbor’s silence is too fidgety then try to escape his silence and go into our own or at least into our own way of fidgeting.
I would like to make a first introduction into the subject by explaining what I will do. The subject, which was suggested to me, is “From Lent to Easter.” And the parallel which comes quite naturally to one’s mind is the original journey from Egypt to the Promised Land – Exodus, – because Easter is the Passover and what we are meant to do in this months in this weeks of preparation is to go from our state of enslavement into our vocation of freedom.
So that I would like as a basis for our thinking to take the scheme extremely simple and simplified for the occasion – of Exodus, – to begin with our state of enslavement, which we can call “Egypt” to begin with, to move towards the wilderness, and we will discover that on our way there is also a Red Rea to be crossed, a point at which decisive action is taken which leads us out of the slavish securities of Egypt into the total and scorching insecurity of those who begin to learn what freedom is in the wilderness. Then move on to the Promised Land and discover again that there is a line of demarcation between the wilderness and the Promised Land which may be defined in two terms biblically – on the one hand, Sinai, on the other hand – the crossing of Jordan. And again this crossing of Jordan is a decisive event in which we take our destiny into our own hands and give it to God.
The process which I would like to follow is however slightly different from a simple analysis of the book of Exodus. I should like to attempt with you a parallel between this scheme of Exodus and the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer considered no longer simply as a prayer which is addressed to God but is an ascent step by step which the Lord gave us, not only as a cry of our heart but as a scale beginning with our enslavement and the necessity we are in to be free from the evil one and ending with a discovery of Salem, of Jerusalem, of the Holy City of God.
I would also like to put into parallel with the three stages, which I have outlined in Genesis and this ascent shown in the Lord’s Prayer – the Beatitudes. And all this of course is simply a very short scheme which I would like you, if you wish to, if you find it helpful, to examine in the course of Lent step after step not in terms of simple intellectual or emotional meditation but checking yourself by each of the steps trying to find out whether you have anything to do with the step above or whether the first words of the first petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are simply courtesy to God and at best wishful thinking while you are still, or we are still, in the land of Egypt unwilling to escape because it has got its own attractions.
But before we come to this point, I think we must understand what we mean by this quiet period and by the silence which is attach to it, which is at the core of it and which is essential in it. We all live in a world of activity. When we are defeated in this world we come easily or comparatively easily go to our own senses and to the Lord. But when by chance, I was almost about to say – for our misfortune, we are successful then we must make a much greater effort not to confuse our success with God’s victory, our hopes and wishes with God’s will and not to become drunken by the progress we are making in one direction or another. This applies to a very great extent to all the progress we are making in our church relationships. But it also applies to those periods, those smooth periods of our spiritual life when things seem to be alright. Those are moments when we must hear the words which the Lord Jesus Christ addressed to his disciples after their first missionary journey, when they came so full of enthusiasm, because they had discovered the power of their Lord and all they could do within this power. Christ took them and said, “And now go alone into the wilderness and rest.”
It was not a matter of just having a rest, a matter of unwinding after an exciting and strenuous time. It was a matter of remaining alone face to face with themselves, face to face with the Lord God and face to face with the wilderness. And these three things are very important for us also. We must learn to disengage ourselves not only from our activities but also from the passionate interest and concern which we have even in the destiny of the world, even in what God is doing in the world. We must go and rest. It means that we must take a step that leads us away not only from agitation, not only from things wrong, but also from things right, simply to be away from all things accept the Lord Himself. Then we must be able to settle and this is one of those things which we find extremely difficult. If you try to settle in silence, to relax, to remain alone, you have an impression that you are stagnating, that you are not doing what you should be doing. And this is one of our greatest mistakes. So we must learn to stay where you are, to learn to stay put, to relax and do nothing except be in God’s own presence.
I have used the word “relax”. This is also a very important thing to learn. Silence, isolation, disentanglement must lead us to that stage when we can be at peace, quiet and simply be happy to be in God’s presence. If I may, I would remind you of this word of a French peasant who was asked by his parish priest, a saintly man – what he did for hours sitting in church without praying, without using his rosary, without doing anything, which seem to be an act of worship. And he answered, “I look at Him, He looks at me and we are happy together.”
This is the kind of relaxation I have in mind, the state in which we can settle in God’s presence and be perfectly content with nothing but this being together, the way in which we are so happy to be together with people whom we love, when we do not need talk or do anything to establish the contact, when the contact is there at a depth that requires no kind of expression, which is self-sufficient. The wilderness, in which we are called, is a little bit more difficult to imagine while we are sitting together here. It does not look like a wilderness and even if we think of the temptation of Christ in which we are told that He was with the beasts, we cannot feel that we are exactly in that position. Yet, every one of us possesses a wilderness. We do not need a wilderness outside. We do not need dereliction, we do not need being abandoned, we do not need being desperately lonely. If we only take a step into our own self – we begin to discover a wilderness. For one thing, we discover how barren the ground is, for another thing, when we look at this inner self we see, because God has made it such, that it is both stern and great much greater than we imagine when we simply think of our social self. It has the greatness of the image of God. It is stern also because it is barren where it should be a Garden of Eden. When we walk into this realm of our inner self, of our inner life – we discover that we are solitary, that we are alone and solitude surrounds us, because our inner self is a sacred place. Beyond the social self, which is common ground, which is that ground on which everyone can tread, that ground which everyone can prospect and inhabit, there is in each of us a deeper self, not simply a romantic walled garden, but an earnest deep, self which is defined in terms of Scripture in the book of Revelation in those words in which we are told that each of us will be given a white stone with a name written on it, which no-one knows but God and he to whom this stone is given. There is in us a central core which is known only to God, which is unknown even to us, which God can reveal to us, disclose to us, which God may make into life with our cooperation if we are open to Him, but which is the mystery of our own person. This is the wilderness into which we must go. And this wilderness as all the wildernesses of the Old Testament, as the desert and the place of Christ’s temptation, this is a place where we can meet God face to face, veiled or unveiled. We may meet him in the fight of with the angel in the darkness of night. We may meet Him as Abraham met the three Strangers – this Old Testament revelation of the Triune God, we may meet Him in a variety of ways, we may meet Him in dreams and discover that the place we were sleeping on is Beth-ell – the house of God. It is the place, a place of vision, a place where God makes himself known, because no-one but God Himself can enter this sacred core of our self.
But apart from God there is nothing. And if we are incapable of meeting God in that wilderness then we shall meet nothing but desolation, barrenness, emptiness and then we will perceive that we are alone in a vastness and that we have got to face ourselves, no-one else but ourselves. And this is the point at which our present evening can be an introduction into an ever-deepening experience. When we are in search of our deeper self the one who knows God, the one which is known by God we are always in a hurry, we imagine that we can cross vast stretches of this wilderness and come to the point where God is. The only thing which we so often forget – is that God is there everywhere but we do not meet Him because we have no eyes to see Him, we have no perceptiveness to see Him. When the first Russian astronauts came back from outer space, one of our priests was challenged in Moscow by someone who said, “Well, I have been now in outer space and I have not seen God. What shall you answer to that?” And the priest said, “There is nothing surprising for me in that. If you could not see Him on Earth, you could not certainly see Him in outer space.” And this is a very relevant point, because if we cannot see Him in one place – He is nowhere for us to be seen.
When we are thus left alone in this barren, solitary, unwelcoming vastness, we are confronted first of all with ourselves. And if we have courage enough to look at it – we see how great we are called to be and how small we are in fact. This is something we do not like to notice but this is something, which is essential for us to realize. We are too small for our own scale of vocation. The second thing – if we settle in this wilderness – is a short period of a sense of rest, because the rustle of life is now farther, because the outer incitements to tension and worry seem to be less, because we have moment of quiet around us, – but if we continue in this wilderness, we begin usually to be fidgety. We are fidgety first of all because we are not used to be alone and we are not used to be alive from within. Most of us and almost all the time, we do not act – we only react. We respond to incitements but we do not live actively. We are acted upon and as a result we act in response, but how seldom we act from within, in complete freedom, although there is no reason why we should act one way or another. Again most of the time we live a reflected life, light falls on us and we shine it back, but we do not shine with life. I was told this morning of a definition which a child gave of a saint. He had seen saints only on stained glass windows. And he was asked what a saint was, and his answer came, “A saint is a man who lets light through.” It was a good description of a stained glass saint but it is also one of the best definitions of a saint theologically that this is also our vocation. We should let light through, we should shine with light, let it be God’s own and not our own. But we should not be like dense, opaque pebbles which are hit by light and shine it back, because this way of shining light back in reality is re-jecting back, is throwing light back and not at all shining in an active and real way.
And so when we are left alone without any action calling for re-action, without any incitement calling for re-flection of light, of color, of movement, we discover with an increasing sense of worry that there is no life in us. You say that regularly in the prayer of the Prayer Book, yet we do not always realize how true that is. There is no life, there is borrowed life, almost none of our own. And so this is a frightening discovery. It begins with a sense of being bored with oneself. If we only could reflect one moment on what it implies and realize that it is such a clear explanation for us of the reason why others are so bored when they are with us. But this conclusion we do not draw. The only thing is that we are bored and then we turn to others not because we love them, not because they mean something for us, because they are part of a mystery of love, but simply because we need them to feed on them, we prey on them.
If we resist the temptation then boredom usually turns into fear and into anguish. And if we have courage enough to pierce through anguish and fear then only do we come to that depth where there is life and there is life because God is there. As one of the writers of the 6th century Ephraim of Syria puts it, when God creates man, He puts at the core of his being the whole Kingdom of God. It is enough to go deep enough to find it, or if you prefer the words of St John Chrysostome, “Find the key to your deepest self and you will have found the key to the gate of paradise.”
Now, all this means that we must learn to be silent. We must learn that state of our whole self which is a compulsory and later (?) a compelling in mobility before God – be in His presence. We’ll have now to face in fact an attempt at doing this. How can we for ten minutes, perhaps, be truly, actively silent? First of all, we must make an act of faith, a real and earnest act of faith. We must believe that we are in God’s presence, while most of the time we forget that He is present. We can put ourselves in His presence irrespective of the fact whether we perceive this presence or not. Whether we perceive it or not God is present to us and we are present to Him. The sense of the divine presence indeed is a help but the awareness of the divine absence – or what we perceive as divine absence – is very important for us also: God cannot be caught into the net of our desire, God is free. And we can establish with Him a relationship because we are both free to engage into a dialogue but He wants us to engage in earnest, to have gone through the heat of the day before we come the cool of the evening.
So, the first thing we need – is an act of faith. Faith is defined by St Paul or whoever wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews, as certainty about things unseen. Let us ask ourselves at the outset how certain we are and what does our act of faith really mean? Are we certain at all of what we profess to be certain of? And if we are not – this will be a concrete and real beginning while otherwise we will build on a delusion. If we have no faith, let us ask for it. If we have nothing to offer God, then let us grope in the dark in search of something, but let us not deceive ourselves that we make an act which we are incapable of making. The second thing is that to go deep into silence requires training and requires peace inside us. And this is something which we cannot always afford at the outset. So that very often, more often than not, we need some sort of help to support our quivering attention, our hesitating feelings. And the simplest is to place ourselves in God’s presence and to do what the Gospel says, “knock at the door”. God doesn’t say, “Stand by a door and make long successful discourses to convince the One who is inside to open.” He makes it quite clear that the Judge who is inside is immune to discourses. What He is not immune to is to the trouble it creates to have someone knocking endlessly at one’s door. And I think that is that is a very consoling and helpful thought because we can stand before the gate, before the closed door of the apparent God’s absence and say, “Lord, have mercy, Lord have mercy.” The way in which we would knock at a door using the same knocker without changing, without looking for tunes in which we can knock in a variety of ways, but just knocking and knocking, and knocking, knowing that monotony is more difficult to accept and to stand then a variety of sound. So let us simply tell God that we need Him in a short crisp, insistent, stubborn way. That must not swallow up all our attention, it must God must be the object of our attention. But we must also use these words in earnest, quite earnestly and ask Him. This prayer will be live or dead according to the degree of true need it corresponds to. If we really need God, we are in no position to find thousands of words but, indeed, we are in a position to ask insistently, endlessly and knock without end. If we call upon God out of real desperation, because we cannot live without Him, then we will also find in our own despair the impulse, the impetus to call upon God. And yet calling is not enough. One calls in order to receive a reply. And if one calls too much one may never hear the reply. In that form it may sound very unrealistic, I will just end on an example, which I hope will convey to you what I mean and a little bit more then what I have said so far.
When I was ordained a priest very soon, about a week later, I was sent to an old people’s home to take services. After my first celebration an old lady came to me, very old indeed, she died a few years later at the honorable age 102, and she said, “I would like to have advice about prayer – what should I do about it?” So I said, “You go to someone who knows and you ask.” She looked at me and said, “You see, I have asked a lot of people who know and never got any sensible and useful reply. So as you have just been ordained and probably know nothing, I thought you may tell me something useful.” I thought that was a good reason and a very adequate way of defining the situation. So I said, “So what is the matter with your prayer?” And she said, “It’s years now I have been praying practically unceasingly to God and I never had any sense of His presence. What should I do?”
So with the directness and the simplicity of ignorance, I said, “But it’s very simple – if you speak all the time when do you expect God to be able to put a word in?” “Well,” she said, “but how should I go about that? If I stop praying, I am not praying. And if I pray, you say, God come speak – what?” And I so suggested an exercise which was not thought of as being very pious, but which as it has proved came useful.
I advised her to go to her room after breakfast, tidy it, light the little lamp she had in front of her icon, place her armchair in a good strategic position that would allow her to see all her room comfortably in the best possible way, that is, I mean avoiding those corners which are less hm-m, well, which people don’t like to look at particularly where brooms are and disorder is kept hidden, and I said, then settle down and knit a quarter of an hour before the face of God but be careful not to have one pious thought and not a word of prayer. So she said, “Alright, I’ll try,” and one could see obvious that she thought it was wrong. So she did.
And the next day she came and said, “Do you know that it works.” I said, “What works?”- “O, what you said – knitting before the face of God.” So I got interested and I said, “Well, what happened to you in fact?” And she explained that she had settled in her armchair, looked round and for the first time she thought – what a nice room, and the sunshine, and the little lamp, and how quiet it is. Then she became aware of the ticking of the clock. And it underlined very nicely the silence around. And then she remembered that she had to knit before the face of God, so she began to knit. But she was an old experienced knitter so she did not concentrate all her attention on knitting she just went on, looking round and became aware also of the ticking of the needles on the arms of the easy chair, and then she felt happy. And then, she said, she became aware of the silence in the room because the ticking of the clock and of the needles only underlined that it was so quiet. In the same way in which when we talk to someone who is very close to us, we can talk at times out of silence without breaking the silence. The words do not jar, they just express the silence or something which is so deep, that silence remains completely unruffled. And then she said something which George Bernanos had also expressed in one of his novels, she said that the silence became more and more dense, more and more substantial. And that she realized at a certain moment that this silence was a Presence after which she did not need any of my explanation or anymore of my spiritual teaching, she went on with her experience of silence and of a Presence which was God’s own presence.
Well, this is what I suggest we try to do now. I suggest that in this first (?) we give ourselves about ten minutes during which we will just settle down knowing that God is here in our midst, not only because He is everywhere, but because He has promised to be where two or three are gathered in His name. That we will sit quietly and peacefully knowing that we have all eternity to sit, because if we do not die within 10 minutes, we have plenty of time to do other things afterwards and if we die within these 10 minutes – there is nothing to worry about afterwards. So that all eternity is just in front of us and let us just be within this silence. Afterwards we will try in the process of the exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, which I would like to attempt, we will try to face ourselves within this silence. But before we have gone into silence, we can do nothing within it, so let us just know settle down and be quiet. Let God look at us, look at Him and be happy together.
I think that I would suggest to you to meditate actively, that is, blending it with life itself, the Lord’s Prayer in three periods – during Lent, excluding Passion Week, Holy week, Egypt and the wilderness. In Holy Week – the Promised Land, after Easter – our return from the Promised Land into the world which God has so loved that He gave only His Only-begotten Son to the end that it might be saved. This will become much clearer, I hope, in the little I wish to say about each of these periods.
From what I have already said, you may already have deduced that my intention is to make an examination of the Lord’s Prayer as a way of ascent beginning with the lowest possible ebb – the end (“Deliver us from evil”), and ending with the glorious revelation of the son’s of God. But this is only half of the way. This is a necessary way for us, but when we will have reached the city of God, have become truly or more truly the body of Christ, the dwelling place, the temple of the Spirit, the son’s of the Father, then in the strength of the Spirit sent by the Father, as the Body of Christ, we will have to go all the way down into the valley, all the way down into the wilderness and to the land of slavery to meet those who have not yet heard that there is a way out of prison into the light.
Let us then begin as this lowest ebb at the Lord’s Prayer – “Deliver us from the evil one.” This cry of our is possible only if, to begin with, we are aware that God is King, that all power has been given onto Him in Heaven and on earth, that He is our King and the King of all things and that we are not in His Kingdom for two reasons – the one that we are enslaved by sin, by evil, submitted to the adversary, Satan; and on the other hand, because we have not yet begun to realize that the absolute, unavoidable condition to make a start is in the first Beatitude, “Blessed our the poor in spirit.”
I will be very short in all my commentaries, because I wish you to think and I wish to give you now only a sort of framework for meditation throughout Lent.
Poverty is not coincidental with the fact that we do not possess. It is not the man who has not, who is poor, it is either the man who is greedy for more, or the man who clings to the little he has. However reach you are, if the only thing you want is a thing which you do not possess, your factual, your actual richness avails nothing. You are in misery and you are poor. This applies to greed in all its forms but it also applies to the most subtle and the finest human relationships. One can be poor while one is surrounded by good friends because there is only one person one longs for to have as a friend or as a bride, or as a bridegroom. Again, one can be poor not because one has much or little, but because the little one has has captured us completely. There is a Persian story which, I believe, can lighten us about it. A man comes after a journey despoiled of all he had – money, clothes. He comes on foot because even his horse had been taking from him. And his friend said, “But how did that happen? Couldn’t you defend yourself?” And a man says, “How could I defend myself? I haven’t got a free hand – I had got a sword in one and a pistol in the other – I couldn’t fight.”
Well, the story sounds quite stupid. But it is not as stupid as that, because if I put into my hand a farthing and shut my hand on the farthing in order not to lose it, not to be dispossessed of it, what is left to me is only one hand. And if by chance I have two farthings, I am like this traveler. I have no hands at all to do nothing. All I can is to be a man who moves on two legs and drags two farthings in two hands. So that poverty in that respect cannot be defined in terms of what you possess or what you do not possess but by the attitude you have to what you possess. And again it is not enough to be poor in order to enter the Kingdom of God otherwise the greediest would be the first and the most destitute would come before anyone else. This is not what Gospel calls poverty of spirit. Because to have nothing, to have come to the awareness that not only possessions are not ours because they can be removed however hard we cling to them – but that our life, our existence, our health, our intelligence, our heart, our will, there is not a thing of which we are masters. To be aware of this is no bliss, and a Beatitude is a way of being blissful. There must be something else in that kind of poverty which makes it poverty of spirit and opens us, opens up to us the Kingdom of God. There is either desperation or abundant joy in poverty. Have you ever thought that whatever you can appropriate to yourself, becomes part of you and cuts you off the mystery of love. Whatever is not mine and is given me is a sign of human or divine love. Whatever I can call mine and not a gift seizes to be part of the mystery of love.
And so poverty in spirit is that attitude of mine which keeps poised two apparently conflicting statements. On one hand, I possess nothing, on the other hand, I am possessed of all things provided my hands are open. On the one hand, I depend totally on God, on the other hand the fact that I am so rich is a prove, the prove of a continuous, live, intelligent, perceptive love on the part of God. To have nothing and to be surrounded and possessed by all I am possessed of and surrounded with introduces me into what is the Kingdom of God, the incredible joy of being loved and the incredible joy of becoming a partaker of the mystery of love, because I also can love as God loves, – generously, giving, sharing out what ultimately is God’s own. It is only at the moment when we discover our total, our absolute poverty and the fact that absolute poverty is the condition of this relationship of love, that we discover what the Kingdom of God is – a Kingdom, where there is nothing but love. But then if we turn this discovery against ourselves, we discover that we are prisoners of corruption, prisoners of possession. We are rich onto damnation, we are rich outside of God, which does not make us any richer because it is an illusion and total unreality. And this is the point at which the devil comes into it. Because what is characteristic of the devil is that he creates a world of illusion in which one cannot live, which is totally unreal – unreal relationships, unreal situations, situations and relationships which imply death because the only thing that is reality is love.
So that we are prisoners, we are slaves of Egypt, we are bent towards the ground, we spend all our efforts acquiring what will be taken away from us by our Master, what will escape us by the nature of things. But now, can we say in all honesty, that we are prepared to say, “deliver us from the evil one?” This is a question and I will ask similar questions at every step. Of course, if anyone of us asked, does he wish to be the devil’s slave, he will say “no”, but there are many ways of being enslaved to the devil to which we say “yes” at every moment. Can we honestly say this basic or fundamental thing, word, petition of the Lord’s Prayer? And if we cannot, then we are still outside the Kingdom of God whatever way we are labelled, whether we are labelled Christian or minister of religion. We are still outsiders and we have got all the way to go. Can we honestly say, “I want to be delivered of all those things to which I cling to so tenderly or passionately, or greedily, or hungrily? Have I got the courage to say that because I have understood that love is the only thing that matters?
This is the first point for our Lenten meditation because there is no point in going farther or imagining that we are proclaiming the Lord’s Prayer from our heart if at the every step we are below everyone of its requirements. You may say, how often it has happened to me to feel so desperate about the way in which I’m held down by this or that? How often I have bewailed my miserable state? Yes, blessed are they that mourn, they shall be comforted, but not simply because they mourn. It is not enough to sit and mourn.
Again, meekness of which the third Beatitude speaks is also as state of in which we are broken in by life and by the power of God. But are we? Does the first word “blessed” apply to the way in which we are poor, to the way which we mourn and to the way in which we are held in the hand of God? – questions which I’m asking you. And there are moments when the pain is so great, the mourning is so real, the sense of being, yes, subdued in the end by God become so concrete that we are prepared to say – deliver! But can we then say that day in and day out we can sustain this attitude? Can we day in day out remain firm in our determination to be delivered? Don’t we continuously turn back and remember the food of the land of Egypt? We wish to be free and yet we look back and we remember how nice it was to sin. Perhaps am I a pessimist and do I describe only my own soul? I wish it would be so, but I have a shrewd suspicion that all of us, we are in the same state, and that all of us at times having turned away with a real sense of conversion, of change of mind, then we look back and we move sideways away but in such way that are sideways movement may bring us, perhaps, nearer to the point which we left originally. And then we are in a desperate need of this second word, “Lead us not into temptation.” – Do not allow us to fall a prey to temptation. Do not submit us to the test because I know that I have put my hand to the plough and yet – I’m looking back, I’m looking back – help me to look forward, ahead of me.
This was the condition of the Jews in the land of Egypt in the beginning. They became aware of their total misery and that their Lord was the Lord of all, they were the people of God and yet they were the slaves of men. Then they cried for deliverance, then they wavered because they were as cowardly as we all are, then they prayed God to sustain their good intention, then in the end they were about to cross into the wilderness but at that point there is a decision which must be taken which is absolutely essential. The Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive as we forgive.” If we want to go out of the land of Egypt into the wilderness, we cannot take with us all the corrupt goods which we enjoyed in the land of Egypt. We must go into the land of Egypt with our hands free and not drag into it all the impurity, not drag into the wilderness all the impurity of the land of Egypt. Speaking practically, it is our relationships that are at fault. There is very little we can drag with us apart from bitterness, from hatred, from resentment, from unfriendliness and so forth. But if we take any of these things into the wilderness, we have taken our slavery into it, we have taken our chains into it because this is the very thing that is characteristic of our enslavement, of our corruption, so that if we wish to move into the wilderness, we stand before this absolute claim – we must leave behind all that one could call negative feelings, all that is un-love, all that is rejection of the other – false love and greed, preying. One can find innumerable ways of characterizing that. And unless we do this, we may be in the scorching sunshine, we are not yet the other side of the Red Sea. We are still moving on the ground of Egypt, the same prisoners as we were only that we do not see the bars because we look at things differently. And at this point salvation is in our own hands because the Lord says, “As you will forgive – I shall. Whatever measure you will use to measure I will use for you.” At this point all our salvation is in our hands. So that if we wish to move into that wilderness in which we may begin to meet God, we must make ourselves free from the characteristics of the slave. Again, look into each of your relationships, everyone and do not consider there are things big and things small. Remember what the Apostle says that a horse is a very big animal but it is enough to put a small bite under his tongue to be possession, in control of all its body. One does not need to be a prisoner of sin, to be a prisoner one of the great and spectacular sins. One little sin is quite sufficient to make us a prisoner. Obviously if one shoots at you with a heavy machine gun, you stand a good chance to be killed. But one can poke into you with a penknife and kill you all the same. There are no small things in that respect. Well, you have time in Lent. Look through all your relationships, to everyone and do not get beguiled by the fact, o, he is a friend, I love him so. O, our relationship is so happy. Look in to it, ask yourself what there is in this relationship which is good and which is enslavement because so often we love people exactly in the way in which we say, “I love strawberries, provided I can devour them or him.” But this is a devil’s way of loving. Christ’s way of loving is different. Ask yourself that and so sort that out, because there is no wilderness creative, life-giving ahead of you if you are at this side of the Red Sea, even if you are in the interior desert.
And then you come into the wilderness. What is characteristic of the wilderness physically is thirst and hunger and is the desperate need one man has of the other. Here are two Beatitudes – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst. Blessed are the merciful.” If we engage into this journey, we must be hungry and thirsty after righteousness, after what are God’s own categories of living and not be content with any food that we will find by chance.
And we must also realize that this journey is not my own journey only but a journey which I have undertaken with many others. And how merciful we must be to each other, because how difficult this journey is in the scorching sun, in the loneliness, in the nightmares of the past, the terrors and the uncertainty of the future and so on. But here bread must come to us not as it came in the land of Egypt from men who had subdued the Jews as a reward for their enslavement more then as a reward for their work. It must come from the one who will feed us on our way by the word, by the sacraments, by the waters of baptism, the Bread and Wine of Communion, by the vision of the fire of the Spirit moving ahead of us still and leading us to the place where we can meet darkness divine, divine light.
“Give us today our daily bread.” Hunger, thirst, mercy and the bread of God. And all that leeds us to a point which is decisive, the point where we meet with a new situation – we have escaped enslavement to the law of men, to the lawless law of men and we are now confronted with the divine claim – the law of God – Sinai. But this law of God is not given apart from a meeting with God. It is the first confrontation face to face for those who cannot stand the meeting God appears as darkness, for the one who has sufficient faith He appears as the divine light. Entered into, this darkness becomes brightness. And the one who believes brings to those who are still unable to sustain the meeting God’s own word – a law. We have a tendency to make light of the law. We live now in the time of grace. And we are mistaken, because the law is simply a limited way of loving. The law of the Ten Commandments is love to God and love to men on the scale of our frail capabilities. If we are incapable of fulfilling the law, we are incapable of living beyond the law, because the law means love with limitations, while our call is to love without any limitations.
So that we must face the fact that then we are confronted with the Commandments and pass them by – we are witnessing to the fact that we have nothing yet to do with grace. Too soon. Let us learn first to be faithful in things little before we claim to attempt things great.
This is what I suggest as a meditation in the course of Lent. And now, a quick word about the Holy Week.
The Holy Week, I think, corresponds to the period when the Jews entered into the Promised Land as the people of God, as a colony of Heaven, alien, rejected, unacceptable to those who were already on the land. It is a conquest and the conquest which (?) corresponds to rejection. Strangely enough this crossing of the Jordan by those who have received the Law and have accepted to be faithful to love within their capabilities, these people are confronted with the period which is a ascent to the promised city and this ascent corresponds simultaneously to the tragic Beatitudes. They come into the land – the Promised Land, – which is occupied those who are not God’s people. And they come into this land, not to conquer it and annihilate the people but to make this Promised Land God’s own. They come with God’s peace, but God’s peace is intractable as love is merciless. It is absolute, it knows no limits, no compromise. It claims totally the person. And this claim is laid first of all on those who bring it – those people who on Sinai have seen God, those people who now walk in an increasing awareness of God because they have begun to discover the law and the mystery of love, whose hearts are begging to become clean so that the vision, dim and primordial they had, grows bright and deep.
“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Those people who, because they had seen and excepted the Divine law, can walk into a realm which is God’s own by right to bring it divine revelation and peace but at a heavy cost for themselves. “Blessed are the peace-makers for they shall be called the sons of God,” in the image of the only One, the only Son Who is the Prince of peace. And then, the cost of it, those who suffer prosecution, those who suffer insult and calumny. Those are the people who can say, “Thy will be done,” because they paid the cost of it. They can say, “Thy Kingdom come,” because they are paying the cost of it. They can say, “Hallowed be Thy Name,” because they paid the cost of it. They are within the mystery of the Prince of peace, of the Son of God, Who has come to earth to bring peace, but a peculiar peace, God’s own.
As you see, “Thy will be done, Thy Kingdom come, Thy name be hallowed,” which seem to be such glorious declarations, can be true only if within our life they can be sat against the tragic Beatitudes. Apart from this they are wishful thinking, they are not even profession of faith.
And when that is done, when we have gone through this, which is the tragedy, the agony of the Garden and the tragedy of Calvary, then we come to the Resurrection, then we come to the discovery of Easter and then we can, from this central point of all things, go back run after run (?), step after step, but now as the body of Christ, now as the living temples of the Holy Spirit, now as the sons of God, indeed, in the words Irenaeus of Lyon, “in the Only-begotten Son, like the only begotten son.” Then we can walk with the Kingdom of God within us in order that it should become reality around us. Then we can come with the name of God shining and hallowed and sanctified within us, to build the Kingdom, to ensure that God’s own will, which is salvation and love, should be fulfilled. Then we go back into the land towards Jericho, towards Jordan within the tragic Beatitudes, then we walk into the wilderness to cross it again although we know, it’s tragedy, to cross it again with a new thirst and hunger for righteousness, that others should receive God’s own good news, in the solidarity which bounds us both to God in each other, in mutual mercy, with clarity of heart. Then we can, having forgiven, free, come back to the land of Egypt which can no longer enslave us, because it can enslave only those, who have not forgiven, and live in this land as witnesses of freedom, as a colony of Heaven, in order to teach others to forgive, to call others to escape temptation and to stand the test, to call others to realize the kingship of God and ask for deliverance. Here is a double movement. But before we go back – we must have gone away. This is the absolute condition of all the spiritual life. We must make ourselves free before we can come and become solid with those who are enslaved without becoming slaves also.
That is the vision of Easter coming to us – the Kingdom within spreading without, the victory of Christ being made concrete and real in us and through us for others.
What I suggest therefore is that in the course of these weeks you should look into each one of these petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, that you should measure yourself by this petitions in the light of the corresponding Beatitudes. Find whether you stand on one ground or another or again on the other. Do that again and again because it is not in one meditation that we can go into the depth of self, judge ourselves and come out new. And if you do this – if you move from Egypt to the wilderness, to the Promised Land and back with Christ, you will have experienced, to the extent to which each of you can, the depths of his fall, the beginning of his redemption and the measure to which he has understood the call of God.
I suggest now that we
spend the rest of the time we have again in silence and quietness, perhaps,
gone through these words.
 Laughs and laughter in the audience