As I write, the UK is effectively at war with Libya. We are told it is to ‘deliver’ the people from an oppressive regime. Since we are not at war in Bahrain, I suppose we must assume that the Bahraini regime is not oppressive. That does not seem to be what the Bahrainis think. In my previous life I spent some time in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. I was not over impressed by the liberty I encountered in Saudi: women prohibited from driving; women spat at for not having faces covered; shopkeepers in trouble for trading during prayer times; religious police beating women’s ankles with sticks if bare skin is showing. If we deliver Libyans from oppression, why not Bahrainis and Saudis too? The answer is a three-letter word, oil. It drips and trickles over the sensibilities of our politicians to produce a bar of hypocrisy. And we are expected to swallow it. Consider a few vignettes. (1) You live under a regime that imprisons and tortures your relatives because they disagree with those in charge, and say so. (2) You work for an organisation that presents circumstances to the advantage of those in charge, and belittles or ignores your experience. (3) You are mature in years and live alone. You are distressed by the begging letters, the hard-sell language, the appeals to emotion and better nature, the manipulative tone suggesting that by not responding you are cruel and inhuman. (4) You are angry that, despite the recklessness and financial impropriety of the last few years, you are still being shafted by banks and bankers, your taxes funding their bonuses.
What have all these in common? The answer is the abuse of power. The powerful dumping on the powerless. It can be amusing to say there’s no point in having power if you don’t abuse it and yes, I hope only for a laugh, I’ve said it myself. But the more power we have, the more responsibility that comes with it. The abuse of power stems always from the abuser’s need to bolster up her or his ego, to disguise the fear and barrenness within. And when we abuse someone else, we stop growing and harm ourselves. Miss Havisham wrapped herself in the cocoon of grief, living the same day over and over again, in the dark, and infecting Estella. The witch in Hansel and Gretel wants to consume the children rather than let them grow free. How many children suffer abuse like this from parents who can’t let them go? Gollum, obsessed by the ring of power that perverts him and all around him. We retreat into these self-generated enclosures, living behind the gates that insulate us from the world. In the words of Psalm 17, ‘they are inclosed in their own fat: and their mouth speaketh proud things’. We put on masks that hide our true selves. We make ourselves feel good by ignoring the truth and thus harming others.
To reach resurrection (Easter), we must pass through crucifixion (Good Friday). We take up our crosses and deny ourselves. This is not self-flagellation and making ourselves miserable. It is that we must break out of the cocoon of our enclosed self-obsessedness by confronting our fears and accepting them, loving those parts of ourselves that we try to cover with egocentric behaviour. Pulling down the walls that money can buy. This is the way to eternal life, what Christ called the Kingdom of God—nothing to do with life after death, everything to do with quality of life here and now. The Kingdom is experienced when we acknowledge the futility of egotism and all the things that we allow the ego to build around us. ‘My Kingdom’, said Jesus, ‘is not of this world’. It is an inner kingdom. In order to enter that kingdom we might try to rid ourselves of these spiritual cosmetics to become naked before the Divine.
This is taking up your cross: recognising the props for what they are. This is laying down yourself, laying down ego. This is spiritual nakedness. This enables the butterfly of resurrection to escape into the stratosphere. ‘Made like him, like him we rise’. And when we do, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
We have no power. We are powerless. We are absolutely dependent upon the Divine (laws of nature if you like). This means being like children – or rather, as unlike suspicious adults as it is possible to be. We need shed the skins of suspicion that have grown up around us as a result of the experiences of this imperfect world. We emerge from the cocoon lighter, less encumbered, more lovely, more delightful and more delighting. Easter is liberation – salvation – spiritual nakedness. Happy nakedness!