Here we are in Lent
Lent is traditionally a time for stripping away and letting go and also it is a time for perseverance.
When Thomas Merton writes about perseverance in faith he says that it is not about hanging on to some course which we have set our minds on, and are refusing to let go of. It’s not even about getting a bulldog grip on faith and endlessly sticking with it through thick and thin; rather, Merton writes, he is beginning to think that God loves those who as Merton puts it:
‘are so beat and have so much nothing when they come to die that it is almost as if they have persevered in nothing but had gradually lost everything, piece by piece, until there was nothing left but God. Hence perseverance is not hanging on but letting go.’
Lent is then a time of exposure and weighing up where we are and who we are before God. In an earlier book The Four Steps of Love I wrote about the four steps that St Bernard of Clairvaux described in the twelfth century. The four steps are:
We love ourselves for ourselves
We love God for what he gives us
We love God for himself
We love ourselves for God’s sake
They were written as part of a spiritual journey of deepening awareness; what he describes as a ladder taking us closer to God – a way of thinking about our love and our relationship with God. He is suggesting that being alert and having a growing awareness of these frames of mind way is the reason and task for us in this life.
St Bernard teaches about the idea of continuous conversion – conversion as an ever on going and deepening process. If, we can hold to the idea given to us by Abbe de Tourville that ‘God’s action towards us is a masterpiece of partiality and love’, then, we can begin to grasp the immensity of the changes that can happen to us in a life of faith. We are gradually drawn ever closer to God, and the realisation of the centre of a different sort of reality than that which we thought we knew. And in the process of persevering with this other things that at times seemed so important are sloughed off and left.
Over the next weeks of Lent I’m going to refer to these states of mind – or emotional stages and link them to questions that we are asked about our relationship with God.