Lent presents countless opportunities for us to deepen and enrich our faith. It can take us far beyond the common (and not to be belittled) practices of giving up chocolate or alcohol. It offers us ways to enrich our Lenten ‘fast’ by taking on something new as well as giving something up.In this month’s letter, as we press deeper into Lent, I want to reflect on and encourage us to consider some of these options.
Firstly, a word about some of the things I hope we’ve all considered at this time of year. St Nick’s has, for a long time, held Lent study groups. This year there is one in the afternoon and one in the evening. Both explore Lenten themes through the prism of the film ‘I, Daniel Blake’. It has to be said that it is a challenging film, exploring the problems faced by those who fall foul of the benefits system. However, I know these sessions have also been richly rewarding. They are open to all. Please consult the weekly newsletter for updates on meetings or drop me a line.
There are many other ways we can keep a holy Lent. Most fundamentally, in prayer. Each of us will have our own patterns and disciplines of prayer. During Lent I switch from the usual Church of England daily prayer to the pattern established by the Northumbria Community. I find its simplicity and directness incredibly powerful and challenging. I hope that, even if you feel many forms of Lenten discipline are beyond you, prayer is a place of possibility and enrichment. For those of you who are technically minded, do try the Church of England Lenten app, ‘#LiveLent’. It’s full of good and useful material.
Many of us feel moved to be very practical during Lent. There is an abundance of options. One of the most popular is ‘Forty Days Forty Items’. This draws attention to the way in which many of us ‘horde’ and ‘gather up’ loads of unnecessary ‘stuff’; each day, the practice encourages us to find an item we no longer need and add it to a bin bag. At the end of Lent one gives this haul away to charity. It can be way of helping both charities and finding a less cluttered way to live.
Or, you might want to try ‘Forty Days of Thankfulness’ – this is a way of reminding people how much you care for them by sending them a note, or ringing them for a chat, or dropping them an email or electronic message. One Lent, I sent a postcard every day to someone around the world. It felt like a powerful way of connecting with others.
This year the Church of England has begun a new project that I’m quite excited about. It’s called the ‘Lent Plastics Challenge’. It aims to cut down on the use of single-use plastics. I suspect anyone who has watched TV programmes like ‘Blue Planet’ will know that the planet is facing a crisis around plastics use. The Lent Plastics Challenge offers new ways to cut down on their use as each of the weeks of Lent progress. For more information see: http://www.churchcare.co.uk/images/Plastic_Free_Lent.pdf. Please, as ever, do consider giving to Burnage Food Bank as it prepares for whatlooks like being a very busy Easter period.
I tell you about all these practices because I think Lent gestures towards more than forty days of preparation for the joys of Easter. Prayer and action are things we are called to pursue all year around. I hope that, as a church, we can commit to taking up elements of the Lent Plastics
Challenge all year around, especially as Manchester Diocese looks to become an eco-diocese in years to come.
As you read this, then, I hope you think there’s still time to consider exploring Lent’s possibilities. More than that, that there’s time to think about how we can live more disciplined and holy lives throughout the year. During March, let us look forward to a joyous Easter, but do so with hearts and minds prepared to receive God’s goodness and love.