March 2012 Letter

The Traditions of Lent

The one thing almost everyone knows about the period of Lent which runs up to Easter is that there is a tradition of ‘giving up some-thing for Lent’. Often it seems like a good time to revive some of the New Year diets which fell by the wayside in the face of that left-over Christmas chocolate! And it is sur-prisingly true that giving up some small com-fort like cake or sugar in tea or an evening drink can, if we take it seriously, teach us a lot more about ourselves than we might think. Sometimes these little things are the cotton-wool we use to pad ourselves against things in our lives we need to be facing. Not that cot-ton-wool is always a bad idea; and there are times in life when being kind to ourselves and hiding behind a cup of tea is exactly the right thing to do, but for some of us, this Lent might be the time when God gently helps us to take some of the padding off and lets a wound breath and heal.

But ‘giving something up’ is only one of the three traditional Lenten disciplines of Self Denial, Prayer and Giving Alms. In fact, one of the purposes of denying ourselves some small luxury is to give ourselves a little extra time for prayer, or a little extra money to give away, so the three work best together. And this can also make the Lent experience seem more positive than just ‘giving something up’, and less self centred than just using it as an excuse to lose a few pounds.

‘Giving Alms’ is perhaps self explanatory. We try to put a little extra money aside to give to charity, or to the local church. I know from the response to these articles, and from the people who I speak to about weddings, funer-als and baptisms, just how much people in these villages value their beautiful churches. But they often don’t realise that they are sup-ported entirely by local giving. Not only do we receive no money from the central church or the government, we also have to raise a substantial sum each year to pay into the central pot which covers things like the ministers’ stipends, training of new clergy, and all the essential legal and other support which en-ables us to function in a safe and professional manner. All churches have a ‘regular giving scheme’ which works either by standing order or by weekly envelopes, and is open to all whether or not you come regularly to church. If everyone who hopes the village church will still be there to baptise their grandchildren gave even £1 a week it would make a huge difference! And churches also have a ‘Friends’ organisation which helps to raise money for the church fabric. Lent might be a good time to say ‘thank you’ to God for the local church in a very practical way.

The one about ‘Prayer’ might seem a bit daunting or only suitable for the exceptionally holy among us! Most of us have a fairly nar-row image of what constitutes ‘prayer’ – maybe an image of kneeling by the bed as a child, or sitting in a church service. But prayer can be anything that helps us open communication with God, anything from reflective gardening or running to more traditional activities. So I have come up with a couple of practical suggestions to start our imaginations going.

There are two activities taking place at the moment which might fit the bill. The first is our Lent Course, advertised elsewhere in the magazine, which is exploring some of the wide variety of prayer and spirituality. And the second is the monthly Craft Group which now meets once a month, on the third Thursday afternoon at Exton church. For many people, creativity is an important part of spirituality, and the quiet repetitive work of knitting, spinning or other craft work can often be the one quiet and reflective space in our busy lives, and I wanted to start a craft group that would allow this to hap-pen.

The idea is that we meet together, bringing whatever it is we are working on or planning to learn from each other. For 5 or 10 minutes as we work, we listen to some kind of thought-provoking reading on the subjects of crafts and spirituality – anything from why Mahatma Gandhi encouraged his followers to spin to why a number of medieval paintings depict the Vir-gin Mary knitting with four needles! Then we listen to a piece of reflective music – and then the coffee and biscuits come out and we continue into the usual chat and friendship that makes craft groups so enjoyable. It is an idea that proved very popular when I was a curate and I hope it will be equally popular here. It is not at all ‘churchy’ and all are welcome.

So why not try to find some way of fitting those three elements into our preparation for Easter this year, and give the Holy Spirit a chance to change our lives in some very practical ways. There is a reason why these old traditions have stuck even among those who wouldn’t consider themselves churchgoers. God is always on the look-out for someone who is opening the door of their spirit even a crack to welcome him in – and there is something in us that knows that we will never be complete unless we find a way of doing that.

Rev’d Karen Spray 01392 877400 church@revdkaren.org.uk


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