David Soward writes…
‘Lent is not meant to be miserable’, ran a headline in the Church Times. Rather, the author suggested, Lent should be about ‘clearing the decks’, as Jesus does in the wilderness (which ‘represents solitude, rest, and a profound trust in God’). And instead of setting our own agenda – what we will give up, what we will take up – we should leave the agenda ‘entirely to God’.
Waiting on God
It is Shrove Tuesday, after all, which is for being shriven (confessing and then receiving absolution); Lent should be a positive engagement in life, maybe a re-focusing, a time for ‘waiting on God’, and also a celebration of spring flowers and what the Mowbray Lent Book for 2017 calls ‘Glimpses of Glory’. It was hard to be entirely miserable at the Ash Wednesday service at Ascott, with the churchyard and the lime walk blooming with crocuses in the early spring sun!
In that spirit, we might give more time in Lent for joy, for listening, for embracing a change in our routine, a limit to our normal personal comforts, but all in a positive frame of mind. Laurie Vere in her article suggests that ‘people might value shorter sermons, briefer intercessions, and more times for shared silence and reflection’. We will have our Lent suppers and our weekly services but we could also attend a Jesus Prayer, a Meditation or even a Quaker meeting.
Count your blessings
Christian Aid is urging us this Lent to ‘count our blessings’ and to think of Matthew 25 and be there for our neighbour. When Wychwood Circle talked about homelessness recently we had the image of a white homeless man begging on a pavement and holding a notice which read, ‘I used to be your neighbour’. That seemed as poignant as the discussion itself. Our homeless neighbours are of course not just on our own streets, and many of them are not white and are seeking refuge after losing their homes far away.
So if we are putting money aside from reducing our consumption or if we are changing our habits, we should perhaps make a point of expanding our consciousness beyond what much of our national press would like us to consider and think of the thousands of homeless refugees – on our own doorstep, both literally and metaphorically.
Everyone needs a safe place
At a time when for many the situation is every bit as challenging, Christian Aid Week this year will see the charity going back to its original purpose in 1945 of supporting refugees across Europe – and beyond. 65 million people across the globe are thought to be without a safe place. That’s about the size of our own national population.
But for now we have Lent and we have Easter and we have our own wilderness and our glimpses of glory. You can download the ‘Count Your Blessings 2017’ calendar from the Christian Aid website. Or you can sponsor Revd Kate Stacey (Wychwood Benefice) who is running the London marathon the Sunday after Easter to raise funds for Christian Aid and is still short of about £500 to reach her target.
And love is the meaning of Lent
There is an echo of a Lenten clearing of the decks in an Ash Wednesday meditation by John Bowker where he says that what we should be giving up, or maybe just seeking to identify, is ‘whatever there is that is blocking or impeding or standing in the way of [a] direct conversation with God.’ For him the clearing out might include a ‘burning out of all that is dead’, as a result of which ‘there will be great warmth and light for others … – one might even say love. And love is the meaning of Lent’.