For those of us who live by school or university terms, Lent arrives at the worst possible time, in the coldest month, when the dark is grindingly awful and we're tired and behind in our work. I don't want to make it sound worse than it is, but Ash Wednesday creeps up on me unawares like it never did in the Caribbean. There, the excesses and explosive beauty (and sin) of Carnival pointed strongly towards the season of repentance.
So I've caught myself just in time wondering what I might usefully do in refreshing my Kingdom discipline. What follows is not what I've decided to do (yet!), but some of the musings about a creative approach to the season, a series of prompts that might encourage you to do the same.
- The tyranny of the internet - this comes in so many
shapes and sizes, that it's difficult to know where to begin, but there
are several possible starting points:
- for those who struggle with internet porn, perhaps it's time to find an accountability partner. Visit Covenant Eyes.
- if you are held prisoner to the need to answer instantly, or to check (yet again, on your mobile phone) in case that really, really important email has come in, a fast from email looking might be appropriate. Put in place a cut-off hour of the night beyond which you won't look, and maybe a period during the day too.
- inboxes can become millstones. If you have 12,364 emails in your inbox, set aside an hour a week for the discipline of clearing out and tidying up.
- The agitation of hurry - like you, I know that in an ideal world I would be more measured about the way I live, but I haven't got there yet, and am not sure that I can take on the world of church or academic busyness single-handed. However,
- for me, it's becoming increasingly important to build in five minute (or even two minute) pauses several times a day when I do nothing but sit, catch my breath, listen to the world, recollect myself for the next race, and pray. I think this is one of the key issues that I must address to punctuate a busy schedule with sabbath space.
- alternatively, you might consider a fasting walk once a week at lunch time. There's nothing worse than sitting down wishing your stomach would shut up. The virtue of walking is that you can no longer hear, or feel, the insistence of the gut!
- The allure of fulfilment – I remember a speaker on the subject of happiness saying some years ago that we are biologically wired for desire, but not for fulfilment. At the time it felt true, if overstated. Certainly, the ‘instant gratification’ of our consumerism in all its aspects leads to dullness or increased desire. Whether abstaining from chocolate or alcohol is a good thing for you, only you can judge. Don’t use fasting as an excuse for dieting: if you need to diet, just diet. But fasting is a discipline primarily intended to help us remember that the Kingdom of God is both now and not yet; that the battle against sin, the flesh and the devil is won on the cross, but the war is not over. So fast:
- from something where you need to separate want from need;
- from an innocent activity which is too dominant in your life;
- by giving something to someone else that you would really like to hold on to.
- The seduction of the ugly – having just finished reading Umberto Eco’s book On Ugliness, I am struck by the difficulty of defining beauty and ugliness, and have come to wonder whether they are opposites or part of a bigger picture. However, he’s made me more aware of beauty that corrupts and ugliness that tells the truth. In Philippians 4, the apostle Paul encourages us to learn to think and look in a new way: at the honourable, just, pure, pleasing and commendable or excellent elements of life. Perhaps there’s a final, ‘add-on’ discipline which I need to pursue:
- by committing myself to a weekly act of creativity or appreciation (which could even be a Lenten trip to a museum!);
- by indulging myself in my latest exploration of praying through the lens of a camera and recording it on the 365 Photo Project;
- by reflecting on and attempting to practise Paul’s stricture in 1 Thessalonians 5.22, using the language of the KJV: Abstain from all appearance of evil.
Finally, if you have any other bright ideas about encouraging us all in the discipline of Lent, do comment below on the blog or send me your ideas to be added at my email address..
With every blessing for a godly and holy Lent