In the cycle of the Churches year, perhaps none is less modern, or more embarrassing than the season of penitence and amendment of life. The season of Lent, however, is a particularly important part of the cycle, not only of  church, religious and Christian life: it is fundamental to spiritual growth and to all truly human beings. This is a discipline well worth looking at again. This is not something designed just for 'high' Anglicans, it is a fast kept by the whole world wide communion, part of our practice and discipline. But it is wise to look at it in practical terms, not of outrageous asceticism, or even saintly attempts at abnegation and purification. It is a time for setting apart things that may already trouble us in life, and seeing them in a new context. That of the sanctifying rhythm and season of life itself. The suffering and sacrifice we already have may point to an area of spiritual growth, may have meaning beyond that of the simple, 'giving up of sugar' of earlier times. Time for Contrition and Amendment, amendment of life and, perhaps, a new understanding of the meaning of trials which, for us, already exist. 

Ash Wednesday

Withdrawing into the Wilderness

He withdrew into the Wilderness and fasted there
for forty days and forty nights.

Once upon a time it used to be fashionable to give something up for Lent. Perhaps it should still be so, and perhaps, among some, it still is. At the very least this is time for a reminder, a reminder of who and what we are. Be we never so noble, well bred, well educated, finely intelligent and morally perfect, be we never so blessed by the holy spirit and meticulous in charity; be we never so evil, dark, or even, God bless us, barely mature; neither we, nor our fame. is everlasting. We are dust. Whatever our beliefs and our path, this mortal life is just that. Mortal. 

Perhaps it behoves us to remember two things on this Ash Wednesday. One is that this is, above all, a time to take stock. Here, in the Southern Hemisphere, it is the culling season anyway. A time to pull our horns in for the beginning of winter. In the North it's the time of the grand clean up, to make way for new growth. Both these Seasons are good ones in which to take stock and to realign ourselves and our ways. 

The second thing is this. Remember that the Wilderness is, and was, already there. It will be there in your life, as it is in mine. Whether by way of physical illness, human poverty, a constant heartache, a permanent grumble, or an attitude of mind. To withdraw into the wilderness then is to go where the pain already is, and to see what we, with the Lord, can make of this. Whether it is something to be cut out of our lives, whether it is an addiction, whether it is indeed a pain that can be offered and transformed into a special gift, or a spiritual way it will in the end be a gift of real joy, both to him, and to us.

While it is most certainly true that we should be working at overcoming our sins and weaknesses all the time, I suspect that such a way of life is a human impossibility - without special spiritual graces, and awareness,  I mean. Still, so long as the rain falls on the Just and the Unjust alike, the difference must surely be one of attitude. Humility is not a simple conclusion that 'I'm always wrong and might just as well give up', it is the conclusion that I need help here. 

As the old hymn has it, Just as I am, without one plea. 'Here I am Lord', I shall be praying today, ;help me to see where that is, exactly, and what you want me to do with it'. Lenten discipline may well entail my giving thanks for a few things I hadn't noticed as assets, as well as throwing away a few things I've been clinging to as if they were necessities.

So there it is. This is the time for self assessment, with the help of our Lord. It is the time to take on board that we are growing up. "But it hurts, but I don't want to", won't save us from the pain, though they may save us from the growth. This is the time for listening carefully to Him. Perhaps what we most dearly wish he would take from us, it is his will for us to keep. That then, be our wilderness, the place of our exploring. 

Above all, this Lent, let it be a time of awareness. (grin) Awareness that though we are important enough to die for, our good self opinion isn't that important. After all, rather than let us stay guilty all our lives, He rose from the dead. 

Giving up sugar may well remind us of what we need to remember, but it is Grace, after all, who teaches us to find the path. 


To Palm Sunday
To the Site map
Back to Candlemas
Remember, O man, that Thou are dust, and unto dust thou shalt return