On 2 March we enter the season of Lent by marking Ash Wednesday and so begins a time of reflection and prayer for Christians around the world. Of course, this kind of spiritual season is not unique to Christianity; it is similar to the period of Yom Kippur in the Jewish tradition or Ramadan in the Muslim world.
In addition to the spiritual aspects, many more people choose Lent as a time to give up certain distractions or temptations in a season of self-denial—the top three being alcohol, chocolate and in more recent years, social media. Or for many it can be a time to take up something new, to recommit to those new year’s resolutions, to focus on a particular cause or charity, or to focus on bettering one’s health and fitness.
Yet, Lent can be about much more than self-improvement. For many Christians, Lent is a period of sorrow as it prepares us for Good Friday when we remember Jesus’ death on the cross. It is therefore also a time for reflecting on our own mortality and weakness. On Ash Wednesday, there is the tradition of being anointed with ash with the words ‘know that you are dust and to dust you shall return.’ Of course, this is not the kind of encouraging message which helps anyone stay away from the Mars Bars or finally make use of the gym membership!
However, ‘knowing that we are dust’ offers us all an invitation to reflect on the transitory nature of life and to reorient our lives towards what really matters to us. And often, to know what really matters, means we need to ‘go out into the wilderness’ for a season. To strip away distractions and temptations. To switch off some of the noise and step away from the busyness. The challenge is that for many of us we will want to resist the wilderness experience of Lent, because we have been in a state of perpetual lent for the last 2 years. So perhaps we might choose to take stock and acknowledge the losses that we have experienced and the lessons we have learnt during the pandemic. Because whilst we will continue to experience times of sorrow and loss, we are emerging from the wilderness.
And of course as March moves on we will be surrounded by signs of growth and renewal; for nature as spring bursts forth and for us too, if we choose to take time to reflect. This reflection might be focussed on any number of things; on spiritually re-orienting our lives, on recommitting to our goals and values, on refocussing our energies on other people, or on re-awakening our sense of awe and wonder in the natural world.
So as we journey through this month and beyond, may we take time to reflect and may we find joy in the signs of renewal around us and within us. Every blessing to you all,
(Revd Emma Kendall)