Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Of course I should have noticed much more quickly the link between the previous post, the fact of Shrove Tuesday, and a hidden element in my article for the Bruderhof. For this is the day we celebrate the gifts of life before a period of reflection and discipline involving (in a world where the word seems only to carry a threat at the moment) abstinence.

Bread is, indeed, for sharing, and thus becomes a spiritual matter in material form. A few years ago I wrote some IBRA biblical cameos on precisely this theme. This is the first part. The second part is here.

The other Lent link is in the Does Christianity kill or cure? article. When I first quoted Dennis Potter I remembered what he said incorrectly as "God is the wound, not the bandage." I think that's true in it's own right. But what he actually said in his moving final interview with Melvyn Bragg, as he was dying and swigging morphine to quell the pain of cancer, was "religion is the wound, not the bandage."

That is even more knowing. Potter remembered what many of us forget, which is that the word 'religion' comes from the root religio, meaning "to bind". Of course religion can be, in the colloquial use of that term, "a bind". It can be a source of oppression rather than liberation, slavery rather than salvation. This is why theologians such as Karl Barth have often -- if a little too easily -- tried to distinguish and separate 'religion' and 'Christianity'.

But Lent reminds us of the true meaning of religio. In being freed from things that really do ensnare and bind our lives, like money and possessions, we are freed to be 'bound' to God -- but by the ties of love freely entered into and expressed, not the compulsions of possession or the need to be 'right'. This is St Paul's paradox: his discovery that servanthood turns out to be perfect freedom, as Christ showed.

That isn't something you neatly work out in your head. It is a discovery of the heart and a work of life. And, of course, it is a gift which can be corrupted -- as when people use Christian faith to bind others or themselves to things less glorious than God, but often (ab)using the name of God. This is why religion can be a terrible thing. Lent is a time when we can resolve that it shall be, instead, Good (though not undemanding) News.

Comment on this post: FaithInSociety

No comments: