(Neil, again.) I think that the last few paragraphs of the Right Reverend Geoffrey Rowell’s “Credo” column in today’s Times can serve as a very helpful reminder of the importance of Lent (they have another context as well). They also make me think – not for the first time, oddly enough – about the theological possibilities of the concept of magnetic fields. If this interests you at all, please do let me know in the comments box.
The Christian tradition holds strongly to the worth and value of each human person. It knows also that as human beings we are desiring animals, and that our desires — “the natural instincts and affections implanted by God” — must be hallowed and directed aright. It speaks of our human condition as fallen or flawed. The violence, hurt and addiction that form so much of our daily reading in newspapers point to that condition which the Christian Church calls original sin, a magnetic field which distorts and warps our judgment. Nations and societies can be caught up in such distortion, as was the case in Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia and the addictive consumerism of much popular, Western culture. When St Paul cries out: “The good I would I do not, the evil I would not that I do,” and asks “Who is there to deliver me from this body of death?” he reflects a longing for salvation, for a transforming grace.
One of the great Prayer Book collects addresses God as the one “who alone can order the unruly wills and passions of sinful men”, and prays that “we may love what you command and desire what you promise”. The devices and desires of the human heart need to be set in order. Against the magnetic field of distorted desire, there must be set the greater and counterbalancing magnetic field of grace and goodness, which for Christians is the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life.
The Christian faith proclaims that we cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, cannot find the way of wisdom and human flourishing without the grace and the love of God. To be loved is to know oneself valued, to know the love of God is to know the secret of eternal life, the only life that really matters. “In thy light shall we see light,” sings the psalmist. “Be you transformed by the renewing of your minds,”’ writes Paul. As Ash Wednesday comes next week, and Lent begins, we are called “to turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ”, to know our need of grace that we may have a right judgment in all things and so find in the stress and rush of life that enduring peace of God which passes all understanding.