We have tested and tainted too much lover
-through a chink too wide comes in no wonder”
This morning brings us Ash Wednesday, and throughout the world for over a billion Catholics, this marks the beginning of Lent. To some it may seem as the biggest diet club around as the junk food is hidden at the back of the cupboard until Easter Sunday, but the next 46 days can go much deeper than that and offers a rare opportunity for all.
For me, growing up, Lent meant no chocolate, sweets, after dinner biscuits or Sunday ice-cream. Even as an adult, if I wasn’t “off” chocolate, I sure didn’t eat it in front of my mother. Oddly, my most successful Lents were when my conscience was standing in the kitchen, and now when I fail at Lent, I always feel I’ve let my Mum down, not because she is strict or would be angry at me, but because I want to live up to her standard, be the person she raised me to be and be able to follow through on something I committed to.
From my Mum, I see Lent for 2 things: Discipline and Simplicity.
There can be scoffing at the idea of abstaining from certain foods, and the connection between Lent and dieting was far from Jesus’ fast in the desert as a sacrifice to bring him closer to God. However, try and abstain from certain foods, and one can see, just how hard it is. It isn’t about losing weight, I believe, it’s about checking in to see where our addictions are, what are our demons, what has a hold on us? Is it tea, chocolate or just mindless eating throughout the day? Is it alcohol or cigarettes, television, computer games, or even a lack of time for or friends, spouse, children, colleagues? Lent affords us a time to see what it is we think we can’t live without, can’t be better at, and disciplining ourselves to realise, we are more than that. We can do better. We are not consumers or reactionaries, we are persons, people; we are children of God.
By paring back on all the clutter, the extra stuff that takes up our day, we can now focus on that which matters. Meals are not about being stuffed, but about savouring a nourishing meal. Spend a week on holiday, eating out all the time and we welcome the home cooked meal when we get back. Luxury can be too much. I forgot until Monday night when I was too tired to cook how wonderful a plain cheese toasted sandwich tastes. I am surprised again and again when I mind my nieces how good a jam sandwich tastes. How special 5 minutes in silence can be instead of an evening in front of the television. Move away from the clatter of everyday, the usual gossip, the worries about money, the stress of the future, the ticking clock on the to- do list, and concentrate on the little things. Live simply. Look at now. What needs to be done now? It is much less than you think. It is not easy to do, live simply. It takes discipline to block out the magazines telling you what you should be wearing or the news telling you what you should be fearing, the DIY shows on how your home should look, how your kids should behave, how you should have kids, have a spouse, have a retirement plan. It takes discipline to give the time to those things you deem important: do you sit and read with your child or get on with the laundry and the dishes and packing tomorrow’s lunches? Do you take time to pray or do you get an extra 5 minutes or 30 minutes sleep? Do you face your fears and join the team, volunteer for the community or stay in the background wondering. Simple, yes. Easy, no.
Lent is a time to pare back the clutter and see that we are stronger than we think. What do we need and what do we want? It takes perseverance and discipline, but it asks us to be compassionate with ourselves. Jesus told us not to go about looking drawn from fasting and loudly giving alms, but to do so quietly. We do not need the world to watch as we fight our inner demons, we don’t need their judgement on whether we are succeeding or failing, it is for ourselves alone. But come the joyous morning on Easter Sunday, we may be a little more relaxed, a little more nourished physically and spiritually and in a better place to appreciate the wonder of our own lives