Planning ahead

Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House

Has Lent caught you on the hop this year? If it has, you are not alone. But what’s your excuse?
If you have not done anything by the way of organizing Lent study, fast or worship, there must be a reason. Is it because you are reliant on other people to get you started: a friend, family member or the vicar? Or is it because you have a different attitude to the things of faith than to, say, holidays or the dentist?

It does not surprise me when even mature Christians are so un-businesslike about their spiritual life. Their reasons for this do vary, but there is perhaps something in our social context that is a block to being businesslike about the work and business of prayer.

If there were as many adverts for Holy Week services as there are for beach holidays in Spain, I expect more people might book in advance; as it is, people in general seem to be more ‘last minute dot com’ than advanced savers when it comes to organizing their spiritual life.

I might be something of a professional in these things, but the first things in my diary each year are a monthly quiet day, my clergy cell meeting dates, my confession date for Lent and my annual
retreat. I know very well that if they do not get down on the pages first, something else ‘more important’ will fill them instead.

All of this may sound totally ‘unspiritual’ to those that follow the line that spirituality is all about the wind of the spirit and living in the moment. To be blunt, that is absolute tosh! Any reading of the New Testament reveals that Our Lord was not averse to planning ahead and that the apostles worked hard to ‘keep all in good and seemly order’ [1 Corinthians 14.40].

Jesus had the disciples organized in an efficient way. They had a common purse, of which Judas Iscariot was the treasurer. He made sure that everything was ready well in advance for the Passover in Jerusalem – he had already booked a room and had arranged for a man to meet the disciples to show them the way. It was not all made up on the spot. There was forethought and planning.

Prayer needs an ordered day, an ordered week and an ordered year. If some readers feel this is too monastic, there is little I can write in response except to say that certainly in the Anglican Tradition there is a strong emphasis on regular prayer, morning and evening, and on religious observance by feast and fast of the liturgical year. It may go against the spirit of these times, but this not the spirit we are seeking to know and relate to.

For anything to grow, it needs protection and structure, and the same is true of our spiritual life. We may think of the analogy of a person who sets off on a long journey without a map or anything to eat on the way. Only a person of crazy irresponsibility would do that – but that is exactly what many folk do in their spiritual life. To my mind, alarm clocks, diaries, notebooks and a place set apart are essentials for the Christian life. Have you thought about your plans for Holy Week and Easter?