It feels like it’s been a long winter. I know it’s not been especially harsh in terms of snow and ice, but it has been dismal and bleak. People seem to have been unable to shake off colds and chills. There have been days when the sun has hardly raised itself from its slumbers.
I don’t think I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) but I’m very glad that March is here and spring is almost upon us. I know that the weather can still be a bit yuck right through April, but at least we have the promise of the summer. Snowdrops are peeping out. Daffodils and bluebells are coming into bloom.
Recently I’ve been reading about how, during Christianity’s expansion in Europe after 300 AD, Christian festivals and culture overlaid earlier Roman festivals and gods. It’s fascinating stuff. In
rural areas, for example, devotion to a female fertility goddess – who blessed the grain and so on – took centuries to dislodge. Even then the fertility goddess stories were often turned into stories of female Christian saints.
Most famously it’s been argued that the name we use for the greatest Christian festival – Easter – is derived from the ancient name for the fertility goddess Eostre. Insofar as this is true, it’s a reminder that the age of Christian European expansion was a time not only of colonization, but also when Christianity had to adapt to local conditions in order to thrive.
When Christianity spread across Europe, most of its inhabitants lived in villages and were closely tied to the land. It was hardly surprising that the Church would appropriate the rituals and practices of the community to tell the story of Jesus. Even to this day, we use images of eggs and grain springing into new life as metaphors for Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb.
We live in a very different context to that in which Christianity spread. Not least we are all, basically, urbanites and city dwellers. As Lent progresses and we move towards Easter, I wonder how
well any of us still relate to the images of new life and the hopes for good harvest embedded in the old agricultural practices?
Those of us who live in cities – and in the UK that’s most of the population – can feel both alienated from nature and from the rituals and practices of religion. Sometimes I think, as we shove another bag of pre-washed salad in the shopping trolley, we fail to appreciate how miraculous and fragile creation is.
I sense that right up to the Industrial Revolution, the people of the so-called West had a stronger and closer relationship with creation than we now have. For most people on the planet
outside the privileged west, that sense of both the bounty and also the danger of creation is still alive. I think that we have some lessons to learn here.
So I have an invitation to you this Lent and, indeed, a personal challenge to me. It’s to attempt to be more aware of the world around us. That is, to attempt to be more aware of the liveliness
of creation, even in our stark, urban surroundings. I know that sometimes we can think that there isn’t much ‘nature’ happening in the city, but it’s there in every moment. I just think that, in our busyness and hurry, we often don’t notice what is directly there before us.
We have come a long way from the agricultural world in which Christianity first took root in Europe. We cannot, nor should we, go back. We live in the here and now. But God is as present and
as vibrant as ever. Perhaps we just need to be more attentive to the work God is doing and reconnect once again.