This week marked the beginning of lent, that time where typically Christians enter into a time of self-examination and penitence. As I prepared for a short online Ash Wednesday service, I was reminded of how much we have all sacrificed over the last twelve months…when thinking about ‘giving something up,’ as is so often the focus, what else is there?! I have heard so many people on the radio talking about the last time they had a hug from their friends or family, how much they look forward to being able to do that again. There are some people I know who have not left their homes or villages for the last twelve months, because they have been shielding. I have also been concerned about a report I read in one newspaper that people are, on average, working 25% more in this lockdown than they previously did before the pandemic. It seems that we have lost the gift of time, given up the gift of exploration and travel and needed to sacrifice sharing space with our friends and family…what else of significance is there to give up that would not break us?
It is at this point that I am reminded why lent has typically been a time where we give something up. This practice has historically encouraged people to move aside those things that get in the way of our relationship, or our encounters, with God and seek to forge a better relationship with God – one that sees us moving towards prayer first rather than as a last resort. Over the last ten years or so I have noticed a move towards taking something up…hopefully something which helps to restore that relationship with God.
As the years move on, I am ever aware of the rhythm of my relationship with God…I seem to find myself moving towards God, or moving away from God. Lent therefore is one of those points in our calendar where we might be more purposeful about moving towards God. Ever aware of the many, many, sacrifices which have come about as a result of Covid, I am asking myself what will help me move towards God? Interestingly, the answer – for me – does not seem to lie in giving anything up, or really in taking anything up.
I find myself yearning to spend time in prayer, to honour the time I give to Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, to continue to take time in the middle of the day to be still and aware of God’s presence and to not rush that or let other pressures crowd it out, and to end the day before I sleep with Compline. This has been my pattern for some time – through most of lockdown – and I find myself wanting to make sure I am giving of my best at each of these times, and honouring the time I spend before God, with God. I want to sit lightly to the things that concern me, or the things that cause me to feel pressure; sit light rather than let them weigh me down. For me, the lament and hope of self-examination are in the continuation of routine – of holding onto planned times to be with God, of hanging loose, or more loosely(!) to all that occurs in those between times.
In such times as these, where the level of sacrifice seems high, what will help you to move towards God, gently and carefully in a way that does not cause further pain, but rather offers something of a relief amidst an age of uncertainty…? Just try and do that. My prayer for each of us is that we lose ourselves enough within those routine activities to give way to ourselves and SEE God. Amen.