The Australian Catholic Bishops began their series of online reflections for Lent 2011 yesterday. Catholica editor, Brian Coyne, spent a bit of time last night reflecting on the reflection, and on how we deliver the Gospel message, and why his daughter is unlikely to be listening to bishops but more likely to be 'tuning into' someone like John Croft. Do you have thoughts on any of these things?
This year's reflection on the Temptation in the Desert…
The Bishops' Reflection yesterday [LINK] did not have as great an impact on me this year as the series last year. I ended up watching this year's reflection through twice and then went back and had a look at the opening reflection from last year's series (which is also available on the vividas website where this initiative from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and the Broken Bay Institute is domiciled).
The readings were essentially the same — Christ's temptation in the desert. Last year's was Luke's version of the story and this year we are hearing Matthew's version.
I've been trying to analyse what the difference has been. Has it simply been my mood? Was it because the initiative was fresh last year — the first time the bishops had attempted this? Was it the difference in format? Last year one had a sense that a lot of other people were assembling around the country and the world participating at the same time. This year it seems more targeted at an individual level — tune it at any convenient time to you during the week to reflect on the Gospel reading — and there is a sense it is a more solitary experience this year? Perhaps it's the presentations from the bishops themselves — this is just another responsibility they have to fit into their busy schedules and the presentations come across this year as more "wooden" and "going through the motions"? I'm really not sure. Perhaps it's just that I have a sense that "I've heard that reading before and I'm not able to grab anything new out of it much this year", I've exhausted its meaning for me personally?
A changing understanding of "temptation"...
I honestly don't carry a sense in my life any longer of being tempted by some Devil — some Evil Force in the world or the Cosmos. To me the sense of temptation I contend with more today are "internal temptations" — giving in to ego that is constantly needing to be "stroked", or being tempted by fear and anxieties of all the things that might befall me, or my loved ones. With those sort of temptations it is not like having some picture of some "Tempter" sitting or standing in front of me inviting me to have "just one more chocolate, or one more drink, or to engage in some immoral activity". The internal "temptations" are far more subtle. Do any of us really understand the force that our ego, and our anxieties, exert over us? I'm not sure that any of us can fully understand those forces. You've made it into "saint" territory when you have finally mastered the art of understanding those internal forces of temptation.
Similarly, to me at least, the voice of God is also largely internal and subtle. God is not some "booming voice from the heavens" nor some "voice from a burning bush" but somehow this Mystery we condense into the word "God" does speak to us and guide us in the decisions we have to make. I can't explain it. The best personal explanation I have is that it somehow occurs in the sub-conscious or unconscious and later manifests itself in the conscious. Where do our ideas come from? Artists, musicians and writers often experience this. They write, compose, draw or sculpt something and later find themselves asking themselves "where did that (idea) come from? It seems to have an origin both external and internal to us at one and the same time."
When I think of "temptation" today it is more in the realm of learning to stem the cacophony made by our egos and our anxieties to enable that "creative voice of the Divine" — the fresh ideas from the sub-conscious (perhaps the soul?) to surface and enliven our lives.
What did you think of the reflections this year? What are your thoughts on the ideas raised in the actual reading — or on any of the points made by the bishops?
An alternative view...
My daughter sent me through a link to another video yesterday that has also been exercising my mind and I'd like to share that with you. It's from John Croft, co-founder of the Gaia Foundation. I suspect John would more properly see himself in the role of a facilitator rather than as a teacher — asking questions trying to provoke us into thinking and asking questions rather than trying to provide us with ready-made answers. I've found myself mulling on the bishops' style of presentation and wondering if there might be a better way of trying to stimulate reflection on Gospel readings, or important social or personal issues. John Croft in this video is essentially another "talking head" also, like the bishops, and I've been asking myself why is my daughter sending me this video with an urgency saying, "Dad, you've got to watch what this guy says", and its extremely unlikely she'd be sending me a video from a bishop saying "Dad, you've got to watch what this guy says". What's the difference? Is it the content — or the delivery style?
What I also finding fascinating in John Croft's video is that he is addressing a question I first raised back in 1982 or 1983 when I was attempting to get a television project called The 1984 Project off the ground. Are we entering another Dark Age? I think it is a fascinating question and, in part, if you listen to what John Croft says, he suggests it very definitely has a "spiritual dimension" to it? To me I think the probabilities might be as high as 50/50 if civilization enters another dark age or whether the advance that has been the pattern since at least the beginning of the Agricultural or Industrial Revolutions continues. In the long run I have confidence that the ascent of humankind will continue but life also has cyclical patterns built into it just as the weather does and things like global climate change.
How does John Croft's message fit into the Lenten or Eastern story? Is thinking about something like a Dark Age some kind of "temptation of pessimism", collective or individual? Are the threats to our well-being that John Croft addresses things we ought be worried about? Are these things that exercise the minds of bishops? Or the person who attempts to live in "Hughie Time"? Some of the bishops addressed that in their reflections, Mark Coleridge in particular, with his comment that Jesus himself placed himself in the Father's care and rejected the temptations coming from elsewhere.
There's much to think about in all of this. If you care to share any of your thoughts with us, I'm sure others would value reading them.
Brian Coyne, 08 Mar 2011
What are your thoughts on this commentary?