Take a look at the first picture. This is an illustration by my friend and Leeds based artist Si Smith, based on the story of the temptations of Christ in the Wilderness. In this picture, Christ is tempted to turn stones into bread. What strikes you? I like the fact that the speech bubble and the stone are similar…the difference between idea and action perhaps?
We are now towards the end of the season of Lent, a period of reflection and repentance preceding Easter. Even in a mainly non-religious culture, many people still give up something for Lent, a hark back to the days when it was normal to fast for this period. A friend of mine always gives up chocolate and alcohol, which I find exceptionally impressive, especially considering that her birthday always falls in Lent. In the biblical story that Si’s picture shows us, Christ has been fasting for forty days when he is tempted. A recent speaker on Radio Four’s Morning Service commented that ‘he was hungry. He thought about food; he imagined food; his stomach rumbled. He probably licked his lips when the tempter mentioned… ‘bread’.’
As part of my lenton reflections, I’ve been thinking about the decisions we make on a daily basis. We always have a choice, but it’s not always as straight forward as ‘this is right, and this is wrong’. The speaker on Radio 4 talked about the choice as being not a stark as good or evil, but more perhaps good or better. It was good to have food and nourishment, but at that time, it was better to go hungry. One idea, another action, and one action informed by the idea.
The second picture is called Christ in the Wilderness – The Scorpion by Stanley Spencer. The tenderness with which the Christ figure cradles a potentially lethal creature is enigmatically moving. Various interpretations have been made of the picture, including the idea that Jesus, who is at this point at the beginning of his public ministry, is contemplating his own nasty death which will be at the other end of it. But I wonder whether this picture is actually a literal depiction of that thorny problem also known as ‘sin’, the difficult choice we make daily to live well.
Pope Francis’ Lenton message this year echoes the idea of choice. Some of the choices he talks about are not as straightforward as good or evil but a choice between an understandable course of action and the better way.
I do often feel angry, and I don’t think this is wrong. I also feel sad, and I think it is right to feel that when we see such injustice in our world. But perhaps what Pope Francis is getting at is the motivation behind these emotions. As the tutor of a course I’m attending says, ‘choice not reaction’. Anger without purpose becomes uncontrollable rage rather than something that can lead to action for right. Sadness which turns in on itself and refuses to see the good in the world becomes an unhealthy depression. Just as in the story of the temptation, when eating of itself was not wrong, in fact it was the healthy choice in the circumstance, maybe sometimes what we think is the obvious course of action is not necessarily the appropriate one at that time. Later in the biblical story, Jesus received care and sustenance from angels and so his needs were met – delayed gratification, it seems, was the order of the day. Best or better? Here are Pope Francis’s words to help us think this over.
Fast from hurting words and say kind words
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude
Fast from anger and be filled with patience
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope
Fast from worries and have trust in God
Fast from complaints, contemplate simplicity
Fast from pressures and be prayerful
Fast from bitterness, fill your hearts with joy
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate
Fast from grudges and be reconciled
Fast from words; be silent and listen
Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:
- how can we choose to live well?
- what is best and what could be better?
- what fast would you choose?
You will need a pen and paper
- choose one of the ‘fasts’ that Pope Francis writes about. How does it challenge you? what choices do you need to make to act on it?
- write the ‘fast’ on your paper and decorate.
- place somewhere in your home for the rest of Lent to remind you