Mind The Gap
February 27, 2016 | Reflections From Sr Mary
At the end of these couple of weeks full of light, celebration and so much joy, it is difficult to begin to talk about Lent. But, St Benedict does tell us in RB 49 On the Observance of Lent to "look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing." It is what Lent is about… it is a time that cuts through the reality of our days with its incessant call to "come back", "come home", come from wherever you are to "live deeply our new life" with "joy and spiritual longing". It's all about newness, life and therefore joy.
So, today, even though it might seem that Ash Wednesday is bringing us down to earth, in another way, perhaps our reflections on Lent could be seen as just a deepening of all that we celebrated over the past weeks – a deepening of our light, a deepening of our longing, a deepening of our call to live as monastic nuns in this foundation of Jamberoo Abbey. "Come back to me with all your heart" is really why we are all here. As St Benedict says, "The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent" i.e., one full of "joy and spiritual longing".
I would like to place our reflections on Lent within the context of what we have been discussing over the past few weeks. Those reflections have been set in the context of the Year of Mercy, beginning with opening our holy doors to a new year and then moving on to opening our hearts to the embrace of God's mercy.
Before I continue, I would like us to pause for a few moments to think back over the past weeks and recall any moments of God's mercy or God's touch that we have experienced or remembered or perhaps things we might have written or drawn in our journals. Where has God touched you this past week?
During the Christmas holidays, I read an interesting article written by the ABC medical journalist, Sophie Scott. She began with the following:
Last year, at work and at home, I had been feeling increasingly disconnected and anxious and I didn't know why. While writing and reporting on public health, I had ignored my own.
She went on to explain that she came to a point where she realized that she had been working too hard, drinking too much, not spending enough time with her family and friends, not doing any exercise.
All of this left her feeling disconnected, vulnerable, anxious and far from what she calls her "authentic self". For too long, she had ignored those feelings and just kept on keeping on until she realized that something was wrong. "When you shut those feelings off", she says, "you are disconnected from what brings meaning to your life… straying from the path of your authentic self doesn't happen in one day or even a week. It's little by little that behaviours become habits."
She then quotes a phrase made famous by the London underground "Mind the Gap"! The gap, she says, is the disconnection between values that are important to us and how, in fact, we are living our lives, day to day. To quote her again, "Mind the gap is a daring strategy. We have to pay attention to the space between where we're actually standing and where we want to be. We don't have to be perfect, just engaged and committed to aligning values and actions."
It strikes me that what Sophie Scott was writing about is exactly what Lent calls us to!
Long have I waited for your coming home to me
and living deeply our new life.
Lent calls us to "mind the gap"… to take the time to have a honest look at our lives and see
- where we might have strayed
- where, over time, our initial zeal and desire for God might have waned,
- where our earnest commitment to our vows and to living the monastic life has dimmed a little… or a lot
- where and how, somehow, our values and actions have gone out of alignment
- where we have lost our way
- and above all, how we can close the gap and get back and come home to ourselves and to God.
Last week, I asked us all to take the time to immerse ourselves into the depths of God's mercy. I also mentioned that I hoped this whole year would be filled with a growing awareness of God's love and mercy for each one of us… mercy that is like a well, never running dry. "If we but knew what God is offering…" So, as we prepare for Lent and reflect on the need to "mind the gap", let us call on that mercy again and again. To God, it does not matter how far or how long we have strayed from our authentic selves, from our ideals, from our hopes and dreams, or how big the gap is….what matters is that we come back, come home and start living "our new life" with God again.
Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.
We would normally think that there is a big difference between the New Year and Lent! One is celebrated with fireworks and champagne while the other is normally greeted with a sense of despondency and is generally not liked at all! Perhaps it is a throw-back to the strict Lenten disciplines of old with its focus on giving up and depriving ourselves. In essence though, I think the New Year and Lent have much in common. Both invite us
to look back and
to look forward,
to re-claim our spirit of hope and optimism,
to open new doors in our lives,
to set new directions.
I have been thinking for some time of asking each one of us the question, How can I live a more healthy life? By health, I mean whole… holistic.
How can I live
a more healthy life?
What would help me, help you to be your best self? What brings me to life, life in its fullness?
Am I living that now or do I feel like I am just plodding along day to day?
Where are the gaps?
How can I address them?
Those of us who have done the Enneagram or read about it, will be familiar with what are called the "arrows". They point to those areas which we have to move towards: these are the practices and attitudes which bring us life and help us to be our authentic selves. Then there are those we have to move against: these are the attitudes and practices which are sometimes called our "compulsions", things that take us away from our best selves and lead us astray.
But really, we don't need to have done the Enneagram to know deep within ourselves how we are going. Last week, I invited us all to be real: to strip away all pretense and open our real selves to our God in humility, honesty and integrity. It is only then that we can begin to re-discover our authentic selves and to live a more authentic life where our values and actions align. As we prepare for and journey through Lent together, let us continue to be real, to steep ourselves in God's mercy and move towards a place of health and wholeness.
Sophie Scott ends her article with these words,
"Each day, ask yourself:
are your choices enriching your life and spirit? And what are the practices,
interactions with others
that really raise you up?"
Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.
Some Questions for Reflection
How whole or healthy is my life?
Am I living a balanced life?
What crutches are holding me up?
- Do I eat too much… or drink too much?
- Do I exercise enough… or not at all?
- Am I obsessed with my health and reliant on too much medication?
- Do I make sure I get enough sleep so that I can enter fully into each monastic day or am I up late reading or watching something?
- Do I consciously try to engage fully with others, coming to recreation often or do I avoid it and spend the least amount of time there that I can?
- How do I use my lectio time?
- What place does silence have in my life?
- Do I give myself fully to my portion and my work?
- Do I work too much and use work to justify my lateness to the Office or lack of time for community life?
- How selfless am I?
- In what ways am I selfish?
- What activities and practices enrich my life and my spirit?
- What energises me and raises me up?
How might I "MIND THE GAP" during this coming Lent and align my values and vows with my actions?
How might I…… LIVE MORE HEALTHILY?
This reflection is the homily given by Abbess Mary to the community on Ash Wednesday, 10 February 2016.