It's official! The season of Lent began/begins on February 26th (on Ash Wednesday), a season when the Christian Church invites participation in forty days of preparation before Holy Week and Easter. The commercial world (in some quarters) would prefer us to concentrate our time and effort on the conspicuous consumption of Easter chocolate – which has little obvious religious symbolism, but helpfully provides illustrations of new life and new beginnings in creation.
So, what is the point of Lent? Traditionally, I think it has been understood as a time of abstinence – cutting down on or excluding rich food from one's diet; giving pleasurable things up to concentrate more fully on the spiritual life or taking on a discipline of prayer or reading to deepen one's relationship with God. The period is said to mirror the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted to be and do that which would give him power and status in earthly terms, but which were not in keeping with the kingdom of God that he came to establish. Apart from hearing the Bible readings that the Church, over many years, decided were the correct ones to be read in this 'run-up' to Easter and perhaps attending events or services organised by your local Churches Together group, what does Lent look like for you? Does it still have any resonance with our twenty-first century lives?
One only has to look on the shelves of the local library or bookshop to see the vast array of literature in the self-help genre. Much of the writing and reflection around such subjects is about taking time out; thinking through one's priorities; deciding what will 'spark joy' and so on. The aim of the therapist discussing 'self-compassion' with a client is about rebuilding that which is damaged or better understanding a life that has had too much stress placed upon it. Much of the psychological work of caring and restoring has parallels in the Way of Life set out in the gospels: of listening; being alongside; changing unhealthy practice and the encouragement to love ourselves before we can learn to love others.
Perhaps, just perhaps, we need to concentrate less on what we might (half-heartedly?) give up for the period of Lent and far more on what our motivations are that lead to inappropriate actions, words or thoughts. Perhaps, just perhaps, we need to give up our prejudices – social, religious, political and take some time to be outside our comfort zones (in the wilderness?) in order to understand more fully the rhythm of receiving from God, of being transformed by God, of letting go so that God, through the Holy Spirit, can offer us new insights and encouragement for changing days.
A period of reflection and reprioritising is good for each and every human being whether we regard ourselves as being religious or not... May your collective spirits be fed in the coming time of preparation and may your bodies be appropriately fed by the chocolate gifts of the coming Easter season.