Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Dr Philippa Martyr: Let ‘Christ the Tiger’ pounce this Easter

Dr Philippa Martyr
Dr Philippa Martyr
Dr Philippa Martyr is a Perth-based historian, university lecturer and academic researcher who currently works in mental health services.
Photo: Unsplash.

At the age of 32, TS Eliot wrote a poem called Gerontion. As the name suggests, it’s a stream of thoughts from an old man who feels depressed and defeated. He finds no consolation in his memories or the people around him.

Eliot was only 32 years old, but admittedly this was 1920. In those days, 32 was ripe middle age.

But there are lines in this otherwise less-than-Easter poem that have always leapt out for me like enormous coloured flames.

“In the juvescence of the year/Came Christ the tiger … /To be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk … /The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours.”

The idea of Jesus Christ as a tiger is not one that you will see in Christian iconography. Tigers are not nice things in many ways, especially when hungry.

CS Lewis’s Aslan is all very well and good, but lions are pack animals and the ladies do most of the work. This might sound a bit too much like your parish, and not in a good way.

The beauty, power, strength, and grace of a tiger is extraordinary. They are spectacular creatures who hunt alone, and they usually have a huge territory. They are also now an endangered species, with only a few thousand remaining.

All of this makes me warm to the idea of Christ the tiger, springing in the youngest part of the year. He springs in his full power and strength and grace—and he pounces on us.

It’s partly a play pounce, and partly a devouring pounce—but it’s more like the devouring joy of two lovers uniting in the flesh.

Jesus knew why Mary of Magdala pounced on him when she realised he was alive. I think she must have clung to his calves, which is why he joked about her not needing to hold him down like a balloon—he was not yet ascending to His Father (John 20:17).

God is young. God is eternally young. That’s because he has no age. God is infinitely alive. That’s because he is pure life.

God is physical and real to us in the person of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead in his new and vastly improved humanity. And this is the season for pouncing, and so he pounces.

Do you like the idea of being pounced on and devoured by God? Not all of us are comfortable with it.

For one thing, it means we lose control of the process. Most of us don’t like the idea of God simply taking over.

We prefer to think we’ve got God nicely where He belongs. Just as long as he does as he’s told, he’s welcome in our lives.

This is spiritual old age, and it’s not a good thing. If you can imagine the saddest kind of old person—stiff, unyielding, querulous, controlling, depressed, and demanding—that’s the shape our souls get into if we don’t let God pounce on us and devour us sometimes.

It can happen at any age. You can be young and beautiful on the outside, but if your soul is crabby and old and untrusting, it’s awful and it makes you very unhappy.

The scriptures show us the opposite—people who are physically old but spiritually young, “still bearing fruit when they are old/Still full of sap, still green” (Ps 92). That’s a relationship with God with plenty of trust and love and pouncing on both sides.

There are some wonderful old people in Scripture—Noah’s wife (the only sterile creature aboard the Ark), Abraham, Sarah, Anna and Simeon. God pounced on all of them, and they pounced right back.

And yes, we can devour God like a lover, and like a meal. But it’s even more beautiful if we allow him to receive us in Holy Communion. All of us, every single time. Devour us, if he wants, because he loves us so much.

So let Christ the tiger pounce on you this Easter! Let him throw you about with his paddy-paws, and pretend-bite you. He’s only playing.

And you can pounce on him and offer him your little weak self. He can give you a share of his mighty grace and power and strength to make you into a tiger cub of His own, worthy of Heaven.

Allow God to warm and stretch and enlarge your withered, controlling little soul. Let him devour you in joy, and somehow leave you alive and well, and better than you were before. Christ is risen!

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