Reflection for the start of Lent
It’s now Lent in the church year, the time recalling the forty days and nights Jesus spent living very simply in the wilderness, facing temptations and reflecting on his future after his baptism. Following his example, Lent was traditionally when people fasted, gave up things that tempted them and reflected on their journey through life. Intended to strengthen the spiritual aspects of faith, it sometimes became just a battle with food and ended in disappointment when people quickly gave up as the biscuits won or excuses were made. I still remember the story of a child being asked by her mum to hull some strawberries while she went out. Knowing that her daughter loved eating them, her mother told her to turn her back if the devil tempted her to eat the berries. On return, seeing the telltale stains around her mouth, her mum asked why she hadn’t done this. The daughter replied that she had turned her back on him, but the devil had then pushed her onto the strawberries and made her eat them!
This Lent, whether we believe in the devil or not, so much has already had to be given up through being in lockdown and many people have had to live without seeing their family and friends or doing what they want to do when they want to do it. Realising that we can’t always have our own way or liberty can highlight how much we take for granted and how fortunate we may have previously been. However, this has been going on for much longer than forty days and part of the temptation has been to ignore the restrictions or become dispirited. For many, it’s been a desert experience of profound loss and the way ahead uncertain so, rather than only give things up for Lent this year at an already harrowing time, why not also take on something that will create fresh hope as the vaccines are given and a new, safer way of life becomes a possibility?
There are many online and media resources currently available for doing this but one local possibility could be using the new booklet about Welsh saints which includes Melangell. It’s a bilingual study resource which has been developed by the Methodist Church’s Learning Network Cymru Wales: Pilgrimage in Wales – walking with the saints. It focuses on the theme of pilgrimage and is based on the lives of four of the best-known Welsh saints, David, Winefride, Illtud and Melangell. Suitable for Lent, it can be downloaded without charge from walesworshipweb.blogspot.com and the booklet is helpful for Zoom discussion groups as well as individual use. It’s also available as a free A5 size paper booklet by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Wherever your journey takes you this Lent, may the desert experience brought by the pandemic teach us that, in following in the footsteps of Jesus and the saints down the ages, the wilderness can be fruitful when we learn how to survive in it and resist the easy temptations that are part of it. For that reason, the Lenten altar at St Melangell’s carries the traditional purple array, sackcloth and ashes as a sign of repentance and regret – but there is also a burning candle and some snowdrops as a sign of light and blessing. The loss and cost has been great but the new life bursting out in the flowers, trees and beauty all around us after the dearth of winter also testifies to re-creation and fresh hope – whether or not we can find the Lenten discipline to persevere. God bless us all in our wandering, wondering and seeking of the way ahead.