Armageddon and Ash Wednesday
Armageddon and Nukes are trending on Twitter again today and so it seems synchronistic that this week we observe Ash Wednesday in the church. Ash Wednesday is a reminder of our human mortality and the need for reconciliation with God and there is nothing like the threat of Armageddon to prompt us to think about that!
Equally there is a need to take a beat. For those of us vulnerable to anxiety; satire can feel factual. I have to admit to diving into the stream of nuclear consciousness online and found it to be pretty vacuous; filled with humour, irony or conspiracy. The take-away being that Twitter is not history, it’s commentary and pretty poor commentary at that. The difficulty of dealing with modern media is that we cannot and must not appraise all that is out there but take resolute steps for self-preservation amidst the media hail-storm.
I feel like I have been reflecting on my impending mortality for the last 2 years and so this year I want to use Ash Wednesday in a slightly different way. Where it has been traditionally a moment to stop and remember that you are going to die, I want to stop and remember that I could live. The question really is, what sort of living?
At the heart of Ash Wednesday is not a spirit of despair, but a sort of grounded humility that makes you want to appreciate each moment, recognising (that it probably won’t be) but could be your last. In contrast, the barrage of ‘end of the world’ headlines we face everyday leaves me living scared, fatigued and generally apathetic to the more immediate needs of others: “No point helping you with that…we will all be dust by the end of tomorrow…”
"Teach us to care and not to care"
I love T. S. Eliot’s prayer; “Teach us to care and not to care”. It places the priority on the immediate action of caring, careless of the consequences. In many ways it is an inverse to my statement above: Don’t care (about people) and care (about nukes and Armageddon). Of course this is hard to do when the alarm bells of anxiety are ringing in your head, but that is why Christian spiritual practices are so important. They call us back from the instinctual and into the work of the Divine. And so, if you have the privilege of hearing these words: “Remember, that you are dust and to dust you will return, ” - resolve to really live.
Three things to help you with the news:
1. You can still care and pray for the people impacted by an event (including Ukraine) without getting locked into endless news cycles and social media threads. Try to be really discerning about who and how much news you expose yourself to each day. Remember that earlier is better as it gives you some processing time. Try to avoid reading the news late in the evening or it could impact the quality of your sleep.
2. Seek to be fully present and fully caring of the people in your sphere of influence. We may not be able to influence global events, but we can impact local ones. Every person is created in the image of God including the homeless people on your street or the family in need at your local school: Make a difference to them and you are doing exactly what God has called you to do.
3. Let go of control. Remember that when you focus on negative future events, you don’t change them, you change your present moment: You become pessimistic or anxious. Jesus calls us to acknowledge that he has our future in his hands and we have his present at our feet. Let’s step into it with the confidence and assurance of ones whose life is hidden in God.