The writing of the Curate’s Letter comes amid the frantic throes of working out just what is required for the season of Lent as well as working in the preparation for not one but two baptisms at Easter and also confirmation classes. I have a mound of chocolates on my desk so I won’t be giving them up for Lent. I need something to keep me going at my desk.
We have been brought up in the understanding that we have to give up something, or fast for Lent. This often is in the form of something materialistic such as chocolate or alcohol. Something that we can hold, and see, and look forward to delighting in on Easter Day. Traditionally, the day of Shrove Tuesday is when the last of the flour and eggs stored from earlier in the year are used up. So Lent then becomes a lean period where one does not have access to nice pastries and breads to eat. Our culture of having what we want and when we want has put paid to that idea.
So what can one give up? By now new year’s resolutions’ have passed and, in most likelihood, have probably disappeared only to be remembered post-Christmas. How about those things that are internalised? That never really see the light of day unless they’re triggered in some way. Sometimes we can beat ourselves up about these things, or we can look at them objectively and critically, and identify what emotions we dislike about ourselves. It is often said that what we most dislike about someone else is what we dislike in ourselves. In Matthew 7:3-5 Jesus speaks about logs in one’s eyes, and the temptation to point it out.
“Why do you see the speck (read: attitude) in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log (read: behaviour) in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.”
Jesus turns the phrase on its head and tells us to take the speck out of our eyes first, before turning to our neighbour. So it is therefore plausible to change what we don’t like about ourselves. It isn’t up to our neighbours/families/friends to point these things out to us. It’s up to us to change. Of course, God is right there to give a helping hand when we need him. We only need ask for his help and it’s freely given. God gives us the choice to ask for his help. That help comes in many different guises, from reading and studying the bible; sitting in contemplative silence; engaging with family and friends; through to seeking professional help. For example, in the form of counselling. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. Knowing our own mind and knowing our limitations helps us identify what we need.
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8
We can change the way we think. We can effectively re-wire our brains. Scientifically, this is the field of epigenetics where groups of genes can be switched on or off based on our choices and subsequent reactions. Mindfulness works in a similar way, where we train the brain to think positively. Pope Francis has taken a prayer attributed to St Francis and rephrased it as follows:
Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
Fast from worries and have trust in God.
Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
Fast from bitterness and fill your hearts with joy.
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.
A strong recipe of fasting to suit the season of Lent combined with positive and mindful intentionality that will change one’s life. As family and friends see the changes in attitude and behaviour, they too will be changed. Not by the pointing out of behaviours but by the gentle inner transformation that will be life-changing and not just for this season of Lent.
I pray that you enjoy this penitential season of Lent. That you have time to walk with friends and family. That you take time to be with God and discern his moves in your life. That you have hope and joy every day and that you can be reconciled to God.