Lent a work of heart

The Gospels tell us that Jesus was ‘driven by the Spirit’ into the wilderness to encounter the enemy in his time of trial. As we begin the season of Lent we do well to remember that, unless the Spirit provokes, prevents and goes before us in our Lenten devotions and disciplines, it will prove to be fruitless and frustrating.

‘Spiritual discipline’ is exactly that—to be under the teaching and guidance of the Spirit. Paul writes to the Galatians: ‘[I]f the spirit is the source of our life, let the spirit also direct our course.’ The Spirit may indeed fall in line with ‘what I have always done.’ The Spirit may well have led the vicar to set up a particular Lenten study series, but that is nor the same as inviting the Holy Spirit to lead you in your own personal journey through Lent.

It is true that the Holy Spirit—being the comforter and bringer of grace—can graciously come alongside us and make any rough-hewn beginning to Lent something pleasing to God, but it would be much better to begin with an honest and open prayer for discernment as to what to take up, and what to put down, in Lent. The Holy Spirit knows the ‘reins of the heart’; it can help us discern God’s call among the cat’s cradle of motives at work in our spiritual life. I would advise that the best way to find the optimum route through Lent is to prepare to make confession. Invite the Holy Spirit to aid you in an examination of conscience and consciousness and open your heart and mind to the ghostly counsel that is part of this healing sacrament. It is theo-logical that we shall find our spiritual syllabus for Lent on our knees.

This highly personal and hidden approach to discerning a Lenten rule places the emphasis on the right area of spirituality. There is indeed a place for learning and deepening knowledge; there is also a place for renewed and sacrificial giving to those in need and the mission of the Church. However, no amount of spiritual reading, and even the most sacrificial giving, will inevitably lead to spiritual renewal.

We pray on Ash Wednesday, ‘make me a clean heart O Lord, and renew a right Spirit within me’ Above all else Lent must be a time for the heart—the centre of consciousness and being. Being a work of heart, Lent is a time of openness and vulnerability to the ‘full extent of his love’ [John 13]. Lent will be fruitless if it is not a loving lent. Lent is exactly the write context to contemplate the teaching of 1 Corinthians 13: ‘I may give,’ ‘I may offer,’ ‘I may speak,’ ‘I may sacrifice’—but all this ‘without love is nothing.’ ‘Love is my meaning,’ the Lord said to Julian of Norwich, and love is certainly the true meaning of Lent. In his poem ‘Lent,’ George Herbert makes two references to love—and he shall have the last words.

‘Welcome deare feast of Lent: who loves not thee, He loves not Temperance, or Authoritie, But is compos’d of passion.’ And later:

‘The humble soul compos’d of love and fear begins at home, and layes the burden there.’

Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House