The long, dark days of February are over, catkins swing merrily from the hazel trees, the horse chestnut sticky buds are almost ready to burst into fresh green leaves, and I can breathe in the anticipation of spring. As we’ve plodded on through these winter months, heads down, I’ve been taken by surprise that Lent is suddenly upon us, bringing with it not only the hope of Easter, but the gift of a few weeks in which to quieten my heart, declutter my soul and re set some bad habits and attitudes.
We are quite low key in the way we observe Lent. However, I like the Anglican/Catholic tradition of burning palm crosses from the previous year and placing the ash on the congregation’s foreheads. As a Baptist church, we don’t usually do this, but this Sunday we did, and I found the symbolism quite poignant.
Lent is heralded in by pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, and the annual discussions as to what we will “give up”. Chocolate and crisps are often on this list. However, it’s about more than this. Traditionally Lent is a time of penance (saying sorry) and fasting and alms giving. I also feel it’s a season where we can lean into God’s grace as we intentionally try to make space to hear his voice and draw close to Him.
As so often, I’m challenged and inspired by our boys. One of them has decided not to switch on his phone until he’s read his Bible in the morning. The other one is not going to look at his phone in bed, thus getting into the habit of a screen free start and end to the day. This inspired me to have phone free mornings. I find that checking in on my messages is not only distracting, but addictive. So, after I’ve looked at all I need to around breakfast time, I will put my phone aside and not pick it up again until after lunch. We are all aware of the constant noise and bombardment of multiple voices, and HWH has thus decided not to listen to the radio in the morning. This is also a tough nut to crack, but I stopped my morning listening early on during the covid situation and found such freedom in using my own ears and eyes to assess what was going on around me, where the needs were and where the joys and blessings could be found.
So, are there any other ways in which we mark out Lent in our seasonal rhythms? As always, this changes over the years. I find it visually helpful for the decorations in our home to reflect the seasons we are in, just as churches change their alter cloths and flowers. Once all the Christmas decorations are taken down (which in our house doesn’t happen until well past Epiphany!) I don’t replace them with anything else until Holy Week and the lead up to Easter. The clutter remains the same unfortunately, but there are less bits and bobs and bunting around the place. We sometimes read a story or devotional together. Amon’s Adventure is the one which has stood out most. I usually have my own Lent reading. I’m so enjoying my small stack this year and find peace as I sink into the words, even if only for a few minutes.
I hope that, wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you too can carve out some space for yourselves this Lent to reflect, refocus, reconnect and be replenished.
My Lent books this year
“God so Loved the World” Elizabeth Goudge
“A Feast for Lent” Delia Smith – a daily devotional
The Peace of Wild Things” Wendell Berry – thought provoking and beautiful poems I’m dipping into.
“Stour Seasons” Ronald Blythe – I often like to have a book whose chapters are divided into months, therefore giving me the opportunity to take a whole year to read it! This one exudes peace and stability as the author depicts the seasonal flow of rural life in Constable country.