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‘Thinking About Lent’ by Ann Lewin

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Bruegel the Elder 1559

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Bruegel the Elder 1559

Most people think that behaviour matters and prayer helps it. The truth is that prayer matters, and behaviour tests it. Archbishop William Temple

Fifty years or so ago, at each of the weekly confirmation classes I attended, the vicar read some verses from Philippians 3. In the Authorised Version, just about the only version available at the time, the words weren’t very exciting. But they stayed with me, surfacing from time to time, and coming to life anew as different NT translations appeared: ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection’ (Philippians 3.10). On good days, when I’m asked what I really, really want, I know that’s my answer: to know Christ, to be open to receive the gift of the risen life, to live it to God’s glory and the benefit of my fellow humans.

Not all days are like that, thought. There are all kinds of things that distract me from that focus. Paul knew about that too, and wrote about our need for discipline as an athlete needs to keep in training. Lent comes as a timely reminder, so I shall select one of my self-indulgences and attempt to show it who’s mistress. But Lent isn’t primarily a time for self-improvement, although that may be a spin-off. It is a time to grow, and my real aim, as it has been for some years, is to do less, and to be more: to spend more time doing nothing, being still, listening, looking, waiting in expectancy for God. And that kind of prayerfulness doesn’t only operate in the times we label payer, nor does it stop with the end of Lent, but grows in the whole of life, through Easter and beyond. It’s another way of expressing what the Benedictines call conversion of life: a steady, continual turning to focus on God, opening up to God’s Spirit, so that Christ can live his risen life in us.

Quite a challenge. And responding to it will keep me going for the rest of my life, let alone my Lents. But Lent comes to remind us to make space, paradoxically, to work at doing nothing, to make ourselves available to receive God’s gift of life. For it is all gift. The risen life is not something I can achieve by my efforts, nor is it something I can do better than anyone else. We are not in competition over this, as we sometimes are over our Lenten discipline (is it more merit-worthy to give up chocolate or alcohol?) Receiving the gift of life means letting God free me to be ‘God’s work of art’ (another phrase from Paul in Ephesians 2.10, this time from the Jerusalem Bible); it is coming to know deep down that I am precious in God’s sight, and honoured, and loved  (Isaiah 43.4). My response will be tested out in engagement with life, as I seek to enable others to receive God’s gift, with all that implies of involvement with issues of social concern.

For me the question is not so much how I can best use Lent, but how I can best let God use it in me.


This extract from the works of Ann Lewin is taken from Seasons of Grace.


Seasons of Grace
Inspirational Resources for the Christian Year
Author(s): Ann Lewin

Ann Lewin draws on her extensive experience as a retreat leader and writer to provide a feast of spiritual nourishment for the entire Christian year. Her minimalist style is… …read more
ISBN-13: 9781848250901
ISBN-10: 1848250908
Publisher: Canterbury Press Norwich
Published: 31/08/2011
Format: Paperback
RRP: £14.99
Stock: This item is currently in stock and will be dispatched within 48 hours.

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