I started Lent with a rather spontaneous decision not to buy anything new for the period. It was born of feeling too preoccupied with what I “needed” for the house. As I write on Easter Monday, that practical decision was, not surprisingly linked to a bigger story that has been gestating over the Lenten period.
During the first part of my 30 day retreat last year I was impressed at one point with the image of a clam shell. I took it as a symbol of my own fierce attachment to certain things. But the magic of that time wasn’t that the clam shell opened, and I walked free (happy movie ending). It remained stubbornly closed throughout the retreat. The real script revolved around the transformative encounter I wrote about in September.
Deciding to cut out spending was a spontaneous decision, I saw it as a small step to letting go of my attachment to “stuff”. And the benefit? At one level space opened up in my mind, and I found myself with more time for exploration. Waking up on a most glorious sunny March morning, I decided to go out early with Selkie and drive to a place upstream along the river Dart. I was blessed in spades with my first sighting of the year of a kingfisher. At first I saw it as a streak of colour, but later couldn’t believe my luck as it posed on a branch long enough to get a half decent photo.
As Lent progressed, I noticed at a slightly deeper level, a microscopic step towards internal freedom, along the the notion of not being defined by consumption. I had practical experiences of understanding the difference between “choice freedom” (I can have what I want when I want it) and “response freedom” (I can live without that or, it’s not that important).
And then I began to piece together the underlying meaning of that spontaneous decision. Yes the Lenten decision was about consumption and freedom, but it also had to do with the real purpose of the spiritual journey. In an excellent book written from a Sufi perspective, (Living Presence) the author, Kabir Helminski, says (about Sufism) “It is and will remain a critic of worldliness – by which is meant everything that causes us to be forgetful of the Divine Reality.”
Richard Rohr gave me a clue too in a timely piece in early March: “You can’t accomplish or work up to union with God, because you’ve already got it. You cannot ever become worthy by yourself; you can only reconnect to your Infinite Source. The biblical revelation is about awakening, not accomplishing. It is about realisation, not performance. You cannot get there, you can only be there.”
Trying to piece all this together into something meaningful (and if you’ve lost me already, just enjoy the pictures!) I can only liken it to turning a kaleidoscope and seeing the pieces in an entirely new way. In the new picture, the spiritual path is simply (!) about reconnection to the Source of Life rather than a constant striving for Self Improvement, through this or that book, meditation practice, church group, good work, kind thought, generous giving (these being natural outcomes not required behaviour).
Our “work” is one of being, not doing: to be willing to let go, surrender (not renounce) anything that separates us from the Centre, the Source of Life, Divine Reality. That’s where the clam shell comes into the equation: whatever I hold onto in a clam like way, whether positive (attachment) or negative (aversion), prevents that reconnection that Rohr talks about.
As ever Thomas Merton gets to the heart of the matter with these words, “The real freedom is to be able to come and go from that Centre and to do without anything that is not immediately connected to that Centre”.