My lenten blogging has been a bit hit and miss over the last couple of days because I’ve spent numerous hours with a Bible in one hand a copy of Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd’s The Time Paradox (Rider, 2008) in the other – all part of trying to write some Bible study material on discipleship through life for a project at St Peter’s Saltley Trust.  I’ll blog about that separately another day.  But one aspect of the book has resonances with today’s ‘Forty Days of Yes’ reading – Philippians 4:11-13 (‘I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content’).  The underlying theory behind The Time Paradox is that we all have a default way of joining the dots between past, present and future, and that we may view each of these three more positively or negatively, so that we lean towards past-, present- and future-orientations in different degrees.  Those who are more future-orientated may, for example, be more than averagely willing to sacrifice present comfort in order to achieve future goals (either within or beyond this life).  Those who tend towards a present-orientated existence may be either ‘present-hedonistic’ (live for the moment) or ‘present-fatalistic’ (it’s useless to try and change anything, since what will be will be’).  Reading this in parallel with Philippians 4:11-13 really challenges me as to my general level of contentment.  This is not to imply that I’m mostly unhappy – that’s not true.  But I do often find future hopes, concerns or goals looming somewhat larger over my experience of the present than may necessarily be healthy.  A wise vocations adviser once recognised this in me before I recognised it in myself, and gave me Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s classic The Sacrament of the Present Moment (alternatively titled ‘Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence’) as a dose of spiritual tonic.  Learning contentment is not to advocate some sort of pietist quietism which is indifferent to the struggles and injustices of life and the world or to God’s call to participate with him in the missio dei (Paul, of all people, can hardly be accused of that).  Moreover, some of the most faithful and effective Christians I know are also some of the most fun to be with, as they love life, and embrace every gift, opportunity and blessing which comes their way.  Barbara Brown Taylor writes (following Julian of Norwich) that ‘paying attention requires no equipment, no special clothes, no greens fees or personal trainers.  You do not even have to be in particularly good shape.  All you need is a body on this earth, willing to notice where it is, trusting that even something as small as a hazelnut can become an altar in this world’ (An Altar in the World, Canterbury Press, 2009, p. 34).  If this Lent  can learn that making a difference and knowing contentment are not polar opposites but go hand in hand, it will have been a Lent well spent.

Advertisements