Gungor's song 'Beautiful Things' is a wonderful modern anthem for Ash Wednesday. For it is possible to regard this key date in the Christian calendar as a gloomy day, overly obsessed with sin. death, and other aspects of human finitude. It is certainly a time for facing up to ourselves and our world, our limitations, failings and lack of ultimate control. Yet this should only be in order to be re-charged with faith, hope and love, through the grace of God. For Ash Wednesday is about renewing our participation in God's love in solidarity with others. In the midst of our personal and wider struggles, it is a message not to despair but to take fresh heart. As Gungor put it:
All this pain
I wonder if I'll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change, at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come out from this ground, at all?
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found, in you...
I have come across people who really dread the Christian season of Lent. They have experienced it as a dreary time of deprivation and dull hymns. Yet it can be a wonderful time of renewal and opportunity.
The first question when it comes to Lent is ' shall I let something go or take something on?'. Either can be effective. The purpose is to do something that helps to focus our attention and turn us God-ward. So whether it is remembering not to eat meat or chocolate, or remembering to find five minutes in a day to spend time in silence, the outcome is the same.
Great things to let go can be excess time spent on social media, TV or even email as well as more traditional abstinences from sugar or alcohol. Making a little space in our day can enable opportunity for more creative ways to interact with God and God's world.
So think about committing to taking a walk in nature each day, with God as your companion. You might like then to ask questions, such as 'what is God bringing to my attention in the things I see and hear?'. Or perhaps you might like to spend some focused time in such pursuits as reading, painting or gardening. The important thing is the intent. Remember this is time set aside to be more attentive to God.
Other activities that can bring Lent to life include interacting with others in a study group or out in the community, tidying up some waste ground or helping a refugee child to read. For remember that the idea of Lent is not just to mark the forty days in a focused way. It is also about creating habits and relationships that continue after Lent and become part of every day. So for example if you try to focus your attention every time you pass through a doorway and remember that Christ walks with you when you do that, hopefully you will always have that sense of Christ's accompanying in future.
So talk with God about what will be life giving for you and breathe new life into your spiritual journey. Use your imagination and realise that anything pretty much can be used as a doorway to the divine. And talk to others about what you intend to do, so that they can hold you accountable and encourage you. One way to do that is to take part in a Lent group. We will have two in the parish, to be held at St. Francis College, one on a Wednesday from 1.30-3pm and the other on a Thursday 7-8.30pm. The material will be the same, so if you miss a session on Wednesday you can catch up on Thursday. See you there!
The St Francis College site is such an ideal one for contemplative prayer of all kinds and It has been lovely in the last couple of days to have a simple temporary labyrinth in the grounds of Old Bishopbourne, close to the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. This one was created by the School of Philosophy who also use the site and will be an encouragement to us as we explore this valuable contemplative tool in the days ahead. For labyrinths seem typically to emerge as spiritual aids at times of much societal and cultural change. Like the great labyrinths of European cathedrals in the middle ages they are a sign and means of personal and community renewal for us all. Why not pop by and try it out?
Jo Inkpin, Penny Jones, Peter Jeffery, Ann Edwards, Elizabeth McConnell