It’s funny, here in the UK, despite our mostly secular culture, the tradition of ‘giving things up for Lent’ continues. When so many other Christian traditions have fallen by the wayside, indeed, when knowledge of Christ’s story has been largely lost, I wonder why this ‘giving things up’ continues? Is it because we all know, somewhere in ourselves, that gain comes at a cost? Is it because we relate to the notion of sacrifice leading to better things? I don’t know.
I have already stopped eating dairy, due to lactose intolerance, and for the past month or so I have been avoiding refined sugar and white flour. I somewhat regret that I had already made this decision, as Lent would be the ideal time to give up refined sugar, but that would be somewhat missing the point of the exercise! As my two lovely girls ate breakfast this morning they were asking me what Lent is about, so I explained how traditionally people gave up eating sweet things and meat for the duration, and how they fasted until the evening. My girls had a little difficulty in grasping the notion of giving up something they like (don’t we all?). Fluff said she would give up meat because it was ‘meat free week’ at school this week. I reminded her that Lent is for 40 days. Maybe not, she said. Chip announced she would ‘give up sugar’ (because she knew I am avoiding it). I asked her whether she would mind not having any of Daddy’s birthday cake? She said she would, so maybe she wouldn’t do it after all… I reminded them that the purpose of ‘fasting’ or removing something from one’s life during Lent, is so that every time we experience the barb of temptation we recall the reason we need Christ. I also said it is not necessary for them to ‘give up’ anything, as it is primarily a spiritual exercise, and if they don’t have a real understanding of why they do something, it’s not necessary for them to do it. Instead, we will be sharing some Lent-focused bible reading during our Table Talk sessions.
As Ann Voskamp says in today’s blog post, Lent is a time for us to focus on our need for God, a time to reflect on our brokenness, our fallen nature, how even when we sincerely desire to do good, often it eludes us.
‘For I do not understand my own actions [I am baffled, bewildered]. I do not practice or accomplish what I wish, but I do the very thing that I loathe [which my moral instinct condemns].’
~Romans 7:15 (Amplified)
This experience sparks repentance, a sense of mourning, of loss.
‘Grief is what cultivates the soil for the seeds of joy.’
~ Ann Voskamp
We must not lose focus, however, in this acknowledgement of darkness. Knowledge of sin is what cultivates our soul to grow, like the seed first germinating in the cold earth. The death of self, the planting of the seed, is something that needs to happen regularly – Lent is the perfect time to focus on this, before the sorrow-turned-joy of Easter. We are prompted to turn, to seek something from without (because it does not – cannot – come from within). So we begin the search for light.
When we spend these weeks germinating in the bitter dark, first we begin to understand our deep need for Grace, then as we begin to grow ‘shoots’, we also begin to long for, to pine for the Light. Come Easter and we will comprehend the sorrow of the painful, humiliating abandonment and death, we will tread the path the disciples trod, in those bleak days between the death and the Rising… and then, miraculously, we will burst into the sunlight (Son Light?), truly reborn.
Today is the first step on that journey. Today we begin to reflect and to repent, remembering, as the Anglicans say, “that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.”
Jesus answered them… ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit… Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.’
John 12:23-26 (NRSVA)
Images from ‘How to Plant Bush Green Beans’