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‘Giving It Up’: Maggi Dawn

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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

2 comments on this post:

Joyce Hackney said...

I’m a fan of Maggi Dawn’s writing. One of the first books I ever pre-ordered online was ‘Beginnings and Endings.’ It felt like being in the realm of the science fiction I’d read as a child. Little did I know e-pub and Kindle were to come.
I like selected Bible readings with sensible commentaries. Thank you for putting this on here. I’ve just started reading it thanks to good old Kindle.One click to i-church,another click to ‘books’ another click to ‘amazon’ so that i-church gets a few pennies,a click to ‘Maggi Dawn’,click on the title and the book’s there in less than the time it would take to ring Waterstones and wait for the postman.
The book is thirty bob cheaper on Kindle. BTW, Kindle apps from the site are free of charge for the computer,phone, tablet etc. I love Kindle purchases : you can get books instantly and there’s no p and p to pay. does Kindle now too which saves all the weeks of waiting for out-of-print books to come from the British Library – a boon to nosey parkers like me when a theologian refers to a less than recent source.

Laura Sykes said...

Thank-you for this, Joyce, and for the tip about getting Gutenberg stuff on Kindle as well, which I hadn’t realised.

08 March 2014 20:22
08 March 2014 19:53

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