A few blocks from where I live is a huge cemetery bordered on one side by small houses, built mid last century and on the other by an expressway and a huge freight yard.
The cemetery itself dates back to the early years of the 20th century and has a large section of military graves, in among the massive pine, spruce and other trees.
In the midst of the city, and so close to the expressway and freight yard with all the rumbling trains, oddly enough it is an expansive place of quiet where I enjoy walking, praying, as I did today, on one of the first sunny, and not bitterly cold, days in almost two months!
In Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale”, Act 2, Scene 2, he has the character Mamillius state: ‘A sad tale is best for winter. I have one of sprites and goblins.’ To which Hermione replies: ‘Come on, sit down, come on, and do your best to fright me with your sprites. You’re powerful at it.’
A fair description of what our modern news media tends to do, and what many of us do, in this culture of the negative, the accusatory – witness the obsession with celebrities falling apart before our eyes, or our only being truly aware of our oppressed brothers and sisters when blood runs in the streets.
How much attention paid to Yemen or Libya before the recent chaos?
Walking among the graves – actually mostly assuming where they are as I walked the ploughed paths, we have had so much snow already this winter most of the headstones are buried under the expanse of whiteness – I found myself reflecting not only on the coming season of Lent and what my prayer focus should be, but also recalling a novel, somewhat based on the above play of Shakespeare, and on this year’s Lenten message from Pope Benedict.
Obviously my musings are nothing if not eclectic!
The novel: “Winter’s Tale” published in 1983 and written by Mark Helprin.
Without giving too much away it takes place mostly in a New York City locked in the depths of arctic cold, wind, incessant snow and one night the main character, now adult, middle aged, of orphan background, attempts to rob what he assumes is a vacant house only to find therein a girl who is dying and……….eventually by sacrificing his life for a child the world changes.
I find in that novel not only faint echoes of Shakespeare, also some of C.S. Lewis’ allegory, but mostly the recurrent theme in so much of 20th and now 21st century literature, film: the perennial hunger for a Messiah.
Sadly across so much of the world, numerous are our brothers and sisters who either do not know, or have chosen to forget, the Messiah, Jesus, has already dwelt among us, laid down His life to redeem us, IS with us always across the ages.
Indeed from time immemorial in oral story, song, poetry, in written word in all its forms, in myth and ‘religion’, we either tell our shared hunger for love and redemption, freedom from tyranny, hold up heroes who will rescue us, from Robin Hood to Superman, or scare each other with tales of ‘of sprites and goblins’, a paradoxical expression of genuine fear of all that is dark and evil yet often denying satan does exist and we need be protected from him and his minions – here too only Jesus can rescue and protect us.
The hunger for freedom from oppression, so powerfully unfolding in the Middle East these days, is actually rooted in the deep hunger for true redemption, freedom from evil.
It is a hunger in every human heart and soul, there since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden.
Each Lent the Church places the whole truth of human history before us, culminating, in case somehow we missed it throughout Lent, in the nine powerful Readings of the Easter Vigil.
So yes, this Lent I intend to pray intently for the release from all forms of oppression of all the peoples of the earth and that as political freedom is achieved everyone will come to know and open wide the doors of their being to Jesus and yes too that we will all, by placing other before self, like Jesus lay down our lives in loving service for: “In Christ, God revealed Himself as love….The Cross of Christ…manifests God’s saving power…given to raise men and women anew and bring them salvation: it is love in its most extreme form…” [Pope Benedict’s Lenten Message 2011].