We’re barely half-way into Lent and I was starting to think ‘what’s the point of it’ and ‘shouldn’t I be feeling more spiritual and Lent-like’ (whatever that’s supposed to feel like). And I’ve already broken my Lenten alcohol fast three times!
No. 1 International Women’s Day: Yim Soon said that merited a bottle of wine, and who was I to argue! No. 2 Visiting my friend Adrian when I was in Kildare, and whose (very nice) bottle of Australian red, drunk in front of a roaring peat fire, was mentioned in the last blog. No. 3 The Ethnic Chaplains’ meal at the Italian Chaplaincy: the Italians always lay on a feast, and it would have been rude to refuse the constant refills of the wine glass! Yim Soon’s birthday is coming up soon as well, so lapse No. 4 is on the cards! (I can say, in my defence, that in ancient Irish culture; also, interestingly, amongst the very ascetic desert fathers and mothers of the 3rd Century onwards; a fast would always be broken in order to offer hospitality to a guest and to share food and drink with them!)
Maybe I was just feeling a little bit cranky, and ironically it was after a long weekend staying at a monastery so I thought I should have been feeling completely at peace and, well, ‘Lent-like’! I was reminded of a comment made to me one time by a monk who I’d got to know quite well having visited his monastery many times over the years. He was speaking to me just after Easter and said, with a rather pained expression, “by the end of Lent I wanted to start throwing things in the refectory”! Welcome to the human race brother!
So what is the point of Lent? We make such a big deal of it in the Church; there must be some point to it! Perhaps it’s good to remember what we are remembering during this season: Jesus going into a desert for a long period and being tempted: by things it’s easy to be tempted by, e.g. power and prestige. I guess there are times when we just have to face our demons! But it’s worth noting as well that deserts, as well as being bleak and inhospitable, can also contain great beauty if only we are able to see and hear.
I have enjoyed reading a daily Lenten reflection by Brian Draper; so too the comments, pictures, poems and songs (even Facebook links) from his worldwide community of readers. Brian has been encouraging us to take a ‘mid-day moment’ i.e. a time to stop, be still, and simply notice. I haven’t usually managed to do this at noon but have tried at other points in the day. One of the most special moments for me during my monastery stay was hearing an owl hooting in the middle of the night, then looking out of the window and seeing a clear starry sky with Orion and the winter triangle directly above.
Once when leading a retreat in the Spring-time at Minster Abbey in Kent I suggested that the participants walk slowly and mindfully around the garden (which the nuns keep beautiful and colourful all the year round) and to see the colour yellow as if for the first time. Recalling that, I’ve been revelling in the forsythia in full bloom in my own garden and thinking ‘wow, that’s the most amazing it’s ever looked’ and ‘it’s the most yellow it’s ever been’, and I suppose I think that every year! Likewise when I went out early in the morning the other day to find a late frost and delighted in the incredible patterns it makes on the cars I thought it was the most amazing frost I’d ever seen. And it’s fitting perhaps that the word Lent comes from an old English word for Springtime. A little bit of penance probably can’t do us too much harm. But rejoicing in the beauty and the new life springing up everywhere, and in the daily unexpected gifts that are presented to us, might do us a lot more good.
Eyes to see and ears to hear: This is a common theme both in the Old Testament and in the teachings of Jesus. What will we see during this season of Lent, and what will we hear? And will it be the most amazing thing we’ve ever seen and the most amazing thing we’ve ever heard?
Happy Lent to All