One of the blessings for me of going feral is that it releases me from the obligation of joining in the church’s activities around the major Christian festivals. There is a downside to that of course, but there’s an upside too. Advent for example has come alive for me because I have both the time and the energy to explore it myself in a way that was never possible as a parish priest when I was primarily focused on the needs and expectations of others. With that in mind, I offer some ways in which Lent and Holy Week might be marked by those of a feral disposition.
Lent marks the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness reflecting on His sense of God’s call following His baptism. I aim to use Lent similarly, both to reflect on my calling and to nourish it: and by doing so to deepen my relationship with God and God’s Creation. Last year I mulled on what signs I could discern pointing to where God might be calling me in the coming year. This year I’m re-reading the blogs I’ve written over the past ten years, looking for themes and& developments that God has led me to explore during that period, and wondering what has happened to them.
I’m also hoping to nourish my relationship with God in a number of ways. The Visual Commentary on Scripture offers a series of Lenten reflections drawn from a range of works of art. They won’t all speak to me, but some already have. I was overwhelmed by the recent Cézanne exhibition at Tate Modern in London, and I’m spending time each day looking at reproductions of a number of his paintings. I’m dipping into a collection of poems by Louise Gluck, some of which are just wonderful. And I’m making sure that I listen to music every day. None of these activities might seem especially Lenten when the focus is more usually on self-denial, but I remember that Jesus spent time opening the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, and the arts do that for me, and thus nourish my soul, which is the God-spark within me.
It's traditional to use Holy Week to reflect on Jesus bearing His cross. Jesus called His followers to follow Him and that in part involved taking up their own crosses. Now we need to be careful here. He didn’t call them to find as many crosses as they could and get their backs under them. Neither did He expect them to carry His cross. Indeed, he didn’t literally carry a cross until the very end of His life, but His response to God’s call led Him to choose some metaphorical crosses, such as leaving home, being homeless and poor etc, and following Him must have led to his followers to choose likewise. Increasingly, I find myself drawn to reflect on the crosses that I’m called to bear, and to draw insight from the way that Jesus bore His cross as to how I might bear mine. I see Holy Week less as a time to ponder on what Jesus’ suffering did for me, rather as a time to reflect on what I can learn from Him in handling mine. That in turn may well sharpen my awareness of those around who are also carrying crosses [i.e. just about everybody] and impel me to support them in whatever ways we can.
The other issue that I struggle with at this time, is a fact that I’ve rarely heard preached about. Namely, that it was the religious authorities of His day that connived at Jesus’ crucifixion, and they did so from a concern for the preservation of the religious structures of which they were a part. ‘Better that one man die than the religious institutions perish.’ Now, religious institutions are a fact of life, and there is much good in them. But they do seem inevitably to end up being more concerned with their own preservation than with the aims and teaching of their founders. I don’t see how it can be otherwise, and that’s a problem.
The danger for me in the services and activities that churches facilitate during Lent and Holy Week is that they tend to focus on the past rather than the present: they tell the story and tend to neglect what the story might be calling us to be and do in the present. The story of ‘The Man who invented fire’ makes this point [see ‘The risk of religion taming the untamed God’ in our ‘Open Forum’.
Comments about the site
Just wanting to say “yes” to this. You will be speaking for, and to, many. I will certainly be passing this on to others, and will contribute some thoughts myself later.
So, I was delighted to see Feral Spirituality make an appearance. I'd think you could find many wanting to join in