Ash Wednesday is the start of the 40 weekdays of Lent.(Monday through to Saturday) of the Lenten journey,that takes us to the eve of Easter Saturday. Sundays are not included because they are celebrated throughout the Christian year as ‘Little Easters’.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of a season of reflection and penitence. The reading from Joel for this day sets the tone, “Rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful,slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love”(RSV). Though the scenario is  grim and stark, it also contains the hope that we shall come out at the other end of Lent, a more focused and faithful people because of our experiences.

Lent is more than just  a season for giving things up. The Rev Harry Williams, the radical theologian, wrote in his book, “The True Wilderness, “It is a pity that we think of Lent as a time when we try to make ourselves uncomfortable in some fiddling but irritated way. And it is more than a pity, it’s a tragic disaster, that we also think of it as a time to indulge in the secret and destructive pleasure of doing a good orthodox grovel to a pseudo-Lord, that  Pharisee in each of us we call God and who despises the rest of what we are”. A more positive approach to Lent, is to engage in discovering  those things that are  inside us and around us that need remaking and reshaping. Wilderness experiences strip us bare of the clutter that accumulates in our lives and  opens us up to new God filled opportunities, both for ourselves and for the world.

Robert Herrick’s poem, “To Keep a True Lent” , though of another age, strikes for me the right note.

“Is this a Fast, to keep
The larder lean,
And clean,
From fat of veals, and sheep?

Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish?

Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragged to go
Or show
A downcast look, and sour?

No; ’tis a fast, to dole
Thy sheaf or wheat,
And meat,
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife,
From old debate,
And hate;
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent,
To starve thy sin,
Not bin;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.”

Above all, Lent is a time to slow-down. The very busyness of much of our modern lives allows us  little time for reflection and contemplation. We need to  ‘take time out’ in order to recapture a spiritual perspective and reunite ourselves with the rhythm of God

“The Lord is my Pace Setter – I shall not rush –
He makes me stop  for quiet intervals.
he provides me with images of stillness which restore my serenity.
He leads me in ways of efficiency through calmness of mind
And his guidance is Peace
Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day
I will not fret,
for his presence is here
His kindness now, his all-importance, will keep me in balance.
He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activities
By anointing my mind with the oils of tranquillity,
my cup of joyous energy overflows.
True harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruits of my hours,
for i shall work in the pace of my Lord
and dwell in his house for ever.

                                                              ( Toki Miyashina.)

PS:  Having today cleaned out our larder, the result was Pancakes for dinner.  All the rich fatness disappears on Shrove Tuesday and the spartan existence begins.  As they were so delicious I am wondering if, with the blessing of the ecclesiastical authorities, we could possibly have a couple more Shrove Tuesdays each year. 

John R


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