The New Year is well and truly progressing. As February, the shortest month of the year passes we enter Lent. Lent and consequently Easter are late this year. Speak of Lent to many people and the first thing they may well ask is: What are you giving up? The thought in many people's mind is that this is a season of self-denial and austerity; a self-imposed time of strict rigour and hardship. As Lent focuses and draws inspiration from Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the wilderness there is some basis for the question and for that assumption. Discipline and self-denial are tried and tested Lenten practices. What is less often asked is why do any of it and what is the real purpose of any action we might choose to take?
The danger with focusing on giving up things or embracing a self-denying pattern is that the actions themselves can become the end rather that a means to something better. Simply focusing on giving up things sounds rather negative and perhaps sets us up in a way that makes failure inevitable. Inversely if we manage to stick to the disciplines and succeed when others fail the whole thing can become self justifying and self congratulatory. Neither of these extremes can be deemed as doing us good.
How then can we make the best of Lent? The gospels record that Jesus returned from the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit and empowered for service. It was for him therefore a time and place for growth and renewal. It was a time that at its core was positive. It was about becoming equipped and ready to be more effective. If that becomes our aim also then the questions of what we do or don't do have a context and purpose bigger than the actions themselves. In a previous diocese we always encouraged each other to make the reading of a book as a companion a part of how we travelled through the season. Joining a lent group
and Bible study is another way of using Lent positively. There are many good books and courses from which to choose. This year Tom Wright has produced a book that takes the reader through the lectionary readings in Matthew's gospel. Come Holy Week and Stephen Cottrell has a book entitled 'The Things He Did.'
Whatever you choose think about spiritual growth and make Lent positive.
A letter from the Bishop of Ludlow