‘Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.’ Perched on the edge of Lent, this call from the first letter of Peter gives us something to aim at in the coming penitential season, gives us something by which to assess the value of our penitential practices and abstinence. What we do or don’t do in Lent is all meant to re-orientate heart and mind to Christ. We are to place our hope in His grace, His redeeming love, and by implication not in the various false gods we currently hope in to our folly.
How do you ‘gird up the loins of your mind’ as the King James memorably puts it? Is it merely thinking clearly? Or does this necessarily involve some freedom from distraction – preventing our mental acuity from being dulled in trivia? We can fill the gaps in any day with an endless stream of news and discussion, but may easily neglect to read sacred scripture or listen to a neighbour. Our very capacity for attentiveness may mean that our attention has been dissipated, split across a plethora of competing interests. Or has a fixed routine dulled us?
Catholic tradition offers a rich variety of spiritual exercises from the repetition of the Jesus prayer to the more complex imaginings by which late medieval men and women entered into the drama of the Passion, visualising the scenes and inserting themselves among the characters. We can also enter into the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and find a quiet, a focus that strengthens faith, hope, and charity.
The poet and artist William Blake wrote of the mental fight that is a neglected part of the Christian striving for the heavenly Jerusalem. This may be in part a struggle with temptation, but it is also a struggle to think at all, to think hard about God’s Word made flesh and profoundly altering the story of our human lives.