Lent in Lockdown
The first lockdown began in Lent last year. Since then it has seemed (with a few respites) like one long Lent. It has been a year of restrictions, of imposed disciplines, of deprivation. It is indeed Lenten like if Lent is understood in a negative way; as a time of a diminished and poorer way of living. Many people experience Lent in this way, seeing it has a time of trial. This is not a very healthy or happy way to approach Lent.
George Herbert’s poem ‘Lent’ famously and eloquently challenges this view of Lent. ‘Welcome dear feast!’ he begins and then extols the benefits of living under the authority of Scripture, of the ‘cleanness of abstinence’ and points out that in ‘treading the path that Christ has trod’ ‘we are more surely to meet Him.’ It ends with extolling Lent as a time for ‘banqueting the poor’ and includes in that ‘our soul’.
Our Lenten rule must begin in seeking the most powerful motive in the Christian life – responding to the love of God. We are called to fast not just to control our appetites and in doing so strengthen our will. Fasting sharpens our awareness of the richness that comes to us through our physical senses. All our physical needs and appetites are met by the boundless generosity of God. Fasting, in any of it expressions, sharpens our appreciation of the goodness and beauty of God’s creation. The centre of our lives moves away from our own physical needs and desires to God the giver of all good gifts. Fasting makes us more thankful for all the things we deny ourselves.
The same is true with penitence, particularly as experienced in the process of making a confession. The more we come to grasp the reality of our own self-willed denial of God’s will and purpose in our life, the more deeply we come to know in a powerful way how much the Lord loves us. Those who experience the forgiveness of God are liberated to generous loving service. In all other classical Lenten disciplines the same is true: seek within them a response to the love and grace of God in Christ and the experience of that love and grace is increased. Lent is a time of open hearted giving to Christ, and he promises ‘give and gifts will be given to you, pressed down, running over poured into you laps’. (Luke 6:38)
Alms giving, reading and prayer when they become a response to the Love of God become a source of joy – something to feast on. Lent, being a six week long period, does give the opportunity to establish new patterns of life, with new priorities, to really come to grips with new insights revealed in study and prayer.
There is one governing rule for our observance of Lent: it will prove frustrating and fruitless if it does not find its origin in prayerful reflection and consideration. In the same way as the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness we must ask the Lord to guide us and lead us into disciplines which will renew our experience of and response to the love of God revealed to us in the good news of Easter.