March 2013 Letter

Falling down and getting up again

 

I always find, when I go into schools or talk to people who don’t have much to do with church, that if people have heard of Lent at all, the one thing they know about it is that you are supposed to ‘give something up for Lent’.  It is one of those traditions we take for granted, a bit like making New Year Resolutions.  I used to have a boss who drank like a fish all the rest of the year, but he would give up alcohol entirely for Lent – mostly to prove to himself that he could, I think!   And no doubt it gave his liver a bit of a rest.

 

Originally it comes from the fact that the church declared Lent a period of fasting in memory of Jesus’s 40 day fast in the wilderness, and as a spiritual preparation for Easter.  ‘Fasting’ in the Lent sense didn’t mean going without food altogether, but eating only very basic food; no meat, no milk or eggs, and certainly no luxuries like sugar for the duration.  In medieval times the idea was taken still further by those who were strict, and husbands and wives were even discouraged from sleeping together! 

 

These days, it is often a little luxury we give up – chocolate; biscuits, coffee or tea; unnecessary purchases of some kind.  I have been known to give up buying or borrowing books, so that I revisit those I have read before or catch up on the ‘must read this’ pile.  People sometimes ask me if it really ‘counts’ if you have an ulterior motive; if you give up chocolate because you are hoping to lose weight, for example.  I don’t see why not.  After all, living God’s way is supposed to be good for us in body, mind and soul.  God is interested in us as whole human beings, not just the spiritual bits.

 

But apart from those extra motives, why do we put ourselves through this?  And why has the tradition stuck so firmly?  Saying ‘No’ to ourselves may be uncomfortable or even painful at times, but in practicing it on these small things we build up our spiritual muscles so that when a real big temptation hits, we are more able to resist.  Just as physical fitness makes us feel more alive, so does spiritual fitness.  It gives us more choices; choices how to spend our money; choices of what kinds of food to eat; choices where our health or our integrity are at stake; choices that could ultimately make a huge difference to how we live. 

 

There was a famous psychological experiment in which a group of children were offered a sweet to eat now, or told that if they didn’t eat that sweet now, they would be given two sweets later.  Then the children were followed up as they grew to adulthood, and it was shown that the children who had been able to resist eating the first sweet and wait for the two were markedly more successful in their later lives. 

 

Lent is a practice pitch for our spiritual fitness.  We try, and we fail perhaps, and we pick ourselves up and try again.  It isn’t the succeeding that does us good, but the trying, and the perseverance that stretch us and build those spiritual muscles.  We practice on things that don’t matter, but the benefits will be real.

 

So have a very blessed Lent and a joyful Easter!  Don’t forget that there is a Lent Group happening every week in Lent, with a different topic each week.  All are welcome.  And there will be an additional session on Wednesday 27th from 2-4pm (with a break for tea) at Exton church – something really different - a reflective storytelling on the life of St Francis.  There is no charge for any of these sessions.  Please do come along.

 

 

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

 

 


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