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Posts Tagged "Lent":

‘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.

‘Giving It Up’: Maggi Dawn

md 001


The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes

Marcel Proust

Of all the traditions associated with Lent, probably the best-known is the practice of giving something up for the six and a half weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday…but why do we give things up? Where did the tradition begin, and what is it supposed to achieve?

There’s clear evidence that for at least 1500 years the Church has kept a period of fasting during the weeks before Easter, and it’s thought that it may date even further back to the very early Church. The word ‘Lent’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Lencten, from which we get out word ‘lengthen’ and it referred simply to the fact that the weeks leading up to Easter were the early spring days that were lengthening after the winter solstice. The oldest traditions of Lent are interwoven with the idea of spring. Greek Orthodox communities treat the first day of Lent as a celebration of the first outdoor day of the new year: spring is the beginning of new life after the death that came with winter, and so we should go outside to greet it.

In medieval Europe, fasting and abstinence were not restricted to Lent. Eating meat was prohibited by the Church at least one day in every week of the year, and Friday continued to be a ‘fish day’ until late into the 20th century as a reminder that it was on Friday that Christ died…the fast has several purposes. It’s supposed to remind us daily that we depend upon God for everything, to draw us closer to God in prayer, to reconnect us to the idea of community, and to help us follow Christ’s journey through the wilderness and on to Jerusalem. It’s all too easy, though, simply to give up some treat or other…and not really engage with the deeper meaning of Lent.

…As we walk through Lent this year, we can explore the idea that there is another kind of ‘giving up’ that we could do. If we’re to draw closer to God, we need to be willing to give up some of our entrenched ideas about God in order to see him more clearly. It’s not so much giving up ‘false gods’; it’s more about identifying false or blurred images of God that have been picked up from the surrounding culture or from our imagination, and allowing them to be replaced. We need to allow the light to be shed on those places where our idea of God is too harsh too weak, too small, too fragile, too stern.

We’ll begin this Lenten journey, then, by looking at the traditions of Lent to gain a clearer picture of what they are for, and what biblical imagery they reflect. Then we’ll see what Jesus said about fasting and what he gave up when he fasted in the wilderness. We’ll look at the way some Old Testament characters traded in their old idea of God for a true encounter, and see how different the real God was from their expectations. Then we’ll see how Jesus turned people’s ideas about God upside down. Finally, in Holy Week we’ll follow some of the events of the last week in Jesus’ life and discover how different he was from the Messiah people were expecting. In the process, we may find that our own preconceived notions of what God ‘ought’ to be like come in for some re-examination.

This Lent, then, whether or not you’re giving up chocolate or anything else, I invite you to take a journey with me through biblical tales of fasts and wildernesses to seek a clearer vision of God. As we travel, let’s pray for grace to be flexible enough in our thinking to allow God to reveal himself to us. As I’ve been writing this book, I’ve been surprised at the way in which my own ideas have been changed all over again. To see God more clearly almost certainly means being surprised at what we discover.

Let’s take the prayer of St Richard of Chichester (1197-1253) as our daily prayer:

Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
For all the benefits thou hast won for me,
For all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
And follow thee more nearly,
Day by day.

Giving it Up
Daily Bible readings from Ash Wednesday to Easter Day

Maggi Dawn


The idea of ‘giving something up for Lent’ is widely known and discussed today – yet how many know that the ancient discipline of the Lenten fast had several purposes? It was designed as a reminder of our daily dependence on God for all our needs, to draw us closer to God in prayer, to reconnect with the idea of community, and to help us follow Christ’s journey through the wilderness and on to Jerusalem. How many of us simply abstain from some treat or other for a few weeks and fail to engage with this deeper meaning of Lent?

This book shows how Lent can be a time for exploring a different kind of ‘giving up’, one that can transform our lives. If we are to draw closer to God, we have to be willing to give up some of our entrenched ideas about him, in order to see him more clearly. In a series of daily studies, Maggi Dawn shows how, throughout Scripture, people were radically changed by encountering the true God. If we follow their examples, we can allow the Holy Spirit to shed his light on our ideas of God that are too harsh, too small, too fragile, or too stern. Then God will graciously reveal himself to us and bring us to an Easter joy that is richer and more profound than ever before.

Contents include:

Section 1: Giving up (Ash Wednesday to Saturday)
Section 2: Jesus in the wilderness and beyond (First week of Lent)
Section 3: Other wildernesses (Second week of Lent)
Section 4: Changing perceptions (Third week of Lent)
Section 5: Changing communities (Fourth week of Lent)
Section 6: Changing your mind (Fifth week of Lent)
Sections 7: ‘The end of all our exploring’ (Holy Week)
Easter Sunday

Global Village House Group for Lent: How it Went

In February I wrote a post called ‘House Group for the Global Village (Join Lay Anglicana for Lent)’: this is the follow-up.

At the bridge table, after a hand there is often a post-mortem, but it is understandable that after every military exercise the similar process is instead called ‘a wash-up’. For some reason, the Americans prefer the expression ‘hotwash’ (perhaps they have been at too many British cold water versions?). At any rate, the military version traditionally begins with: ‘What Went Well’*.

So what went well with our online house group, that is to say the discussion in the Lay Anglicana forum of Mark’s gospel, using Tom Wright’s Lent for Everyone?

  • It happened. Every day, the extract from Tom Wright’s book appeared in a forum post, together with his version of the text. This was thanks to 12 Baskets and SPCK, who had exceptionally given permission for the text to be made available in this way (in the interests of copyright, we will retroactively condense these extracts once the discussions are over). Ernie Feasey, a joint organiser of  Lay Anglicana who is studying for the priesthood (and a fellow Digidisciple) wrote his own commentary every day, in which he teased out the words of the gospel and Wright’s commentary, and offered a few insights of his own. He also posed a question every day for us to answer.
  • It was useful to be able to supplement our own comments with input from the Big Read 12 Facebook page, which we in turn contributed to, and from the Big Bible Project – Big Read website.
  • The ‘usual suspects’ who were already regular contributors to the forum took part: lay Anglicans like Ernie, Joyce, Charlie Farns-Barns and me. But we also had contributions from priests, in particular fellow Digidisciple Dr George Morley whose latest post was cross-referred in the forum: she also became a regular and provided a useful trained eye, if she won’t mind the description. And we had contributions from several new people, including one from New York City and one from an American living in China. We had no trolls or other vexatious persons.
  • There have been 413 posts so far – Tom Wright’s commentary extends throughout Easter Week, so we are not through yet.
  • It has been a good bonding exercise for those taking part, and a good Lenten discipline having to read (and where possible comment) every day.

What Went Wrong?

  • Nothing really went wrong! But one or two unforeseen things happened…
  • We ran into difficulties when one of the contributors objected that Mark’s description of the Pharisees was anti-Semitic. This was an unexpected point, and the contributor was not just making an intellectual point, (s)he seemed genuinely indignant. I put out a plea on twitter for help from someone more versed in biblical knowledge and one person, thank goodness, replied  in the forum. Unfortunately, the original complainant did not return. Two of my priestly friends offered help and advice on twitter, but did not put their comments on the forum. I was better informed as a result, but would have felt uneasy about lifting their twitter comments (which are ephemeral) and copying them to the forum, where they are likely to have a considerably longer cyber-life. I think that the default netiquette position is probably that it is wrong to do this, certainly without permission? What do you think?
  • The other slight hurdle we faced was a distinct flagging of energy around the fourth Sunday of Lent. This must be a general problem, because the Church has already come up with a solution: it is called Rose Sunday or Refreshment Sunday or Laetare Sunday. But we rallied, recovered our energy and continued.

Would I do it again?

Yes, absolutely. Would others join me? I hope so!



The illustration, called ‘Journey of Faith in God’ is by David Perry via 12 Baskets and he asks that this text accompany it: “Imagining the Lectionary: Impassable, impossible or imperative – the improbable pathway to Easter and beyond

* The leader of our Lent group offers this explanation of military exercises in general and the house group exercise as a whole:

Yes, flagging at the fourth Sunday, is correct. It’s interesting that at the start, I was excited to wake and to go to the forum, to read the latest episode (a bit like following a good serial drama on TV). I’ve found it easy to follow my instinct in what I draw from the verses and text, rather than try to seek some deep theological things to say.  Perhaps writing from the heart best describes it.

I’ve found the feedback useful and helpful and while not trying to be provocative, I have sometimes stretched my posts in slightly  different directions, from Tom Wright’s guidance.  It’s been empowering to draw on life experiences to illustrate some of my points.

I would definitely do it again.

And, just a trivial observation, we ex-military types after an exercise have a ‘Hot-Debrief’ followed by a thought through ‘post-exercise (or ‘post-operational’) report (PXR) (POR) where we do a detailed study of what went right and what went wrong and what we can do to get it right next time.  I wouldn’t decry the American experience as a hot wash after a long exercise or operation seems a most neighbourly thing to do, as BO can be a factor in all of it. 🙂

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