and lent on line

Lent Thoughts from Week One welcome.


Hands-free Web surfing may be on its way. New technology enables a user's nose to direct a cursor. A Webcam takes a snapshot of the user's face, focussing on the tip of the nose as the guide point. The cursor is then guided by the nose as the head moves from side to side. The eyes also play a part – a blink of the right or left eye corresponds to the right or left click of a mouse button. Experts are not sure whether the nose-steered mouse, or "nouse", will catch on. ‘Noses,’ said one, ’were not made to be used in this way; people baulk at doing things that require them to look silly and there is ample room for looking silly here.’

It does pay, if we don’t want to look silly, to use things for the purpose for which they were intended. The same is true of our lives. We feel most confident and well-balanced when our work and leisure activities reflect the particular qualities and skills we have been given.

Jesus went into the desert to decide the purpose for which his life was intended. He was tempted to make choices which would have taken him in different directions to those that were in tune with who he was. Let’s today reflect on what we see as the purpose of our lives. The process might tempt us towards some attractive but inappropriate options. But, if we stay true to our deepest convictions, it will help ensure we are being the people we were made to be.

Imagine a busy city street stripped of all markings, barriers, traffic lights and even kerbs. The "naked street" idea has won rave reviews in Europe. Instead of the standard array of road markings to tell drivers and pedestrians what they should be doing, they will be encouraged to use their own reactions in a "shared space" to take greater responsibility for their behaviour.

Roadside instructions can be frustrating but they also give a sense of security. We assume that others will obey the same rules as we are following and that this will make everything run safely. Anyone who ignores a one-way sign, or fails to give way where they should, incurs the often noisy wrath of other road users. Busy roads are no place for people to be doing their own thing.

Making up his own rules is just what people thought Jesus was doing. He incurred the wrath of his contemporaries because he ignored the conventions of behaviour. His apparently cavalier attitude to Jewish laws made people feel unsafe. It also put pressure on him. Being set free from an obligation to follow established rules sounds freeing, but having to thinking through every move from scratch is much more demanding.

Let’s look today at how we use our freedom to decide how to behave. We can choose to do what’s conventional but that can stop us thinking for ourselves. We can imitate Jesus who shows us a life lived only by the rule of love. Such “naked loving” won’t necessarily make us popular but it is a fulfilling, if demanding, choice.

Great Totham in Essex had its very own Pied Piper. A red-faced police inspector accidentally switched on a “Follow Me” message. Traffic built up after 5 law-abiding motorists obeyed the sign and tagged along behind his car. “No harm was done,” said one of the drivers, “I just feel a bit of a fool”.

Most of us feel a compulsion to follow the instructions of those in authority. The people in Jerusalem in the week of Jesus’ death were similarly susceptible. Jesus warned them against being too willing to accept some of the Pharisee’s profoundly unjust behaviour. Perhaps it was some of them doing what they were told that led them to cry “Crucify him” in the courtyard of Pilate.

Authority in our generation is not easy to locate. In our pluralist society, there are a wide variety of different sources of influence to choose between and most of us choose different ones for different areas of our lives. Perhaps today it is worth thinking through whether there are any which we are blindly following. Friends, the values of society and instinctive assumptions can all, if their guidance proves unreliable, make us look foolish, or worse.

Car drivers may eventually be able to purchase a new gadget. An in-car eye-tracker and steering-wheel movement monitor will determine the time lag between the eye looking at a new direction of travel and the hands beginning to turn the wheel. It will then be possible for the device to tell you if you’re too tired or too drunk to drive. If you ignore the warning, the computer may then either inform the police or slow down the car.

There’s something attractive, perhaps more in other areas of life than this, in being warned in advance that you’re about to do something inadvisable. Retrospective awareness of faux pas, or stupidity, or clumsiness is too late but it is all we humanly have. Something that would restrain us from making really serious mistakes in our lives would be a great comfort.

God has a characteristic to which theologians give the highfalutin’ title “prevenient grace”. It expresses the confidence that God is there in our lives before we know it or ask for it, working to turn our lives in the right direction. This may happen through the words or actions of people around us or through more direct influence on our interior lives. But this restraining energy does not force itself upon us. We can ignore it and of course, since by definition we don’t know that it is God who is shepherding us in this way, we often do.

Maybe today we might practice being aware of such promptings by listening carefully to what others say and by trying to be in touch with our inner selves. We may not recognise God’s voice, or even believe that this is what it is, but whether it is God or not, such awareness often stops us doing things which we might later regret.

A divorced couple in Trento, north east Italy, could not agree whose house their son should stay at over Christmas and took their argument to a family disputes court. The judge said there wasn’t enough time before Christmas to convene the tribunal so she tossed a two-euro coin for ‘heads-or-tails’. "I certainly couldn't do like Solomon,” the judge commented, “and divide the child. So I trusted to luck".

We are involved in making judgements of varying degrees of importance all day every day. We don’t normally leave the ones we are conscious of making to the toss of a coin. We would prefer to have the kind of imaginative, creative and decisive approach displayed by Solomon.

Solomon saw his wisdom as a gift. He had had a dream in which, in a conversation with God, he chooses to be given wisdom rather than long life or wealth. It’s often our experience that an awareness of what the right decision is comes to us like a gift. The struggle of thinking everything through is ours but the answer can sometimes seem to come as if out of nowhere.

Perhaps today as we make our choices, we might self-consciously try and allow ourselves to receive the answer. There’s no escape from the hard grind of analysing various options but if we open ourselves to the possibility of help from beyond, we may be more likely to be given the clarification we seek.