This week's eMag reflection comes from our curate David Bagnall Lent begins this week, and I wonder if I’m alone in thinking that I don’t particularly feel like fasting this year? The thing is, it does rather feel as if we’ve had about enough of fasting. We’ve had enough of fasting from the warm company of our friends and familiarity of our loved ones. We’ve had enough of fasting from the easy bustle of busy coffee shops and friendly chats with checkout workers at supermarkets. We’ve had enough of fasting from full churches, and impromptu lunches afterwards. In short, we’ve had about enough of fasting from normality. It’s not hard to fathom, then, why many of us might be inwardly groaning at the prospect of Lent on the horizon, and yet before we begin to grumble too heavily, it’s worth thinking about what Lent is really all about. You see, in our culture, we often associate Lent with grim ideas of self-flagellation and sacrifice. It’s as if God, for some bizarre reason, delights at the sight of me trying in vain to limit my pringle intake to three tubes per fortnight, or attempting to forgo an evening drink on days of the week beginning with the letter ‘T’. And yet, to see Lent in terms of how much we can deny ourselves is somewhat to miss the point, for although self-denial and forms of abstinence are undoubtedly part of Lent, it’s ultimate focus is more on growth and regeneration. The prophet Isaiah is indeed explicit about this, and warns against the temptation for fasting to become too introspective: ‘Is such the fast that I choose a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?’ (Is. 58.5).
It’s no coincidence, then, that we observe Lent at this time of year, for the word itself is from the Old English Lencten, which means springtime. Like the bulbs which already are springing up around us, then, we observe Lent so that we might grow and mature in holiness so that when Easter comes, we are ready to celebrate the full meaning of Christ’s victory of life over death, meaning over chaos, and love over hatred. This Lent, then, why not focus on those things that will enable you – and those around you – to grow and flourish in your walk with God? This might mean having a go at contemplative prayer, or committing to writing to someone you know to be lonely, or even simply sitting down and forgiving old wounds. Whatever it is you chose to do this Lent, my prayer is that it might enable you to grow and flourish, and that you would know – as Isaiah continues to say – that in all things The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.