Spring, ordure, simplicity

Spring is sprung, de grass is riz, I wonder where dem boidies is? Dem boids is on de wing. Ain’t dat absoid? De wing is on de boid.

Profound poetry for this time of year. Days are lengthening, and len(g)t(h) gives us Lent. Time for a spiritual detox, a spiritual spring clean. Get rid of what you don’t need any more. What don’t I need any more? It’s funny how I repeat behaviour from my childhood, behaviour that was necessary and productive then, but has outlived its usefulness and is counterproductive now. If I have any defects at all, one of them might be related to this. I could profitably use Lent to resolve to explore the reasons why I react to certain situations in the way that I do. I need to learn to stand outside myself, as it were, off centre, on the edge. I learnt long ago that the view is better from the edge, and it’s easier to see the big picture when standing on the edge that it is when one is in the middle of the crowd. I’m going to try to remember to stand outside myself and observe what is going on in my mind before I react to circumstances that try my patience. And there are many.

I am struck once again by the randomness and unpredictability of life. The hip joints that misbehave. The sun-spots that threaten to disturb our communication systems. The despots of the middle East that get their comeuppance—with heaven-knows-what consequences for the oil supply that feeds our lifestyles. The movements of the earth’s crust that devastate cities. The diseases and other natural events that disturb our lives. We never know when the cells in our bodies will start to behave differently and begin to multiply unchecked. We never know when the bacteria that live in our guts helping us to digest food will find their way to places where they cause trouble. Coping with uncertainty is part of life. We can’t change the past and we can’t control the future. Some people imagine that illness or disasters are brought about by ‘God’ as a punishment. Are they really so egotistical as to think that God plans his activities around their actions? The beginning of Luke 13 is a text that should be wheeled out when people spout this self-absorbed rubbish. Luke tells us that there’s nothing about what happens to us that speaks of God’s judgement. Rather, the point is that life is unpredictable – tragedies occur, in this case brought about by an oppressive governor (Egypt? Bahrain? Libya?) but they say nothing about God. Punishment: no. Consequences of choices: yes.

In the same Biblical text Jesus speaks of the value of manure as fertilizer. Some commentaries go so far as to suggest that Jesus—shock, horror—had a sense of humour. Let me tell you, girls and boys, how deeply satisfying this is to someone like me whose sense of humour extends well into the scatological. When I am confronted by someone laying down the law, I find few things more comforting than imagining that person on the throne of a morning. I spent 30 years earning my keep by teaching anatomy, with my hand in body parts that other hands don’t reach, and any of you involved in politics, especially Church politics, will know how important it is to be able to dodge flying dung. Manure is the product of digestion, the residue of what we take in. Manure is a fertilizer. The baobab tree needs Elephant dung for germination. Rowan berries and others need to go through the gut of a bird to help them germinate. To put this in a psychological context, you might say that we can let the manure of our experiences provide the fertilizer for personal growth.

So this is my suggestion for Lent: let’s take time to use the residue of our experiences and learn from them, allowing them to fertilize growth within us. We might be able to shed old ways of doing things, old ways of thinking, when we see that they have become unnecessary and possibly counterproductive. Like a snake shedding its old skin as it grows, or the pupation of larva to adult. There’s no point in making ourselves miserable by giving up stuff we like: Lent has nothing to do with being gloomy. It’s about letting go of what we no longer need. Happy Lent!

And the product of shedding our old skins …

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free, ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be out delight
‘Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Joseph Brackett 1797-1882 

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