For those of us in the Christian tradition, we are in the most solemn season of the year – Lent.
Lent has been traditionally used as a 40-day preparation for the celebration of Easter (this year on April 4th). A time of forty days is chosen because of the story of Jesus time in the wilderness preparing for his work and ministry. Lent today is particularly focussed on the disciplines of Fasting, Praying, and Almsgiving (charitable service). It has become quite common to ‘give something up’ for Lent as a kind of fasting, coffee, alcohol, chocolate, smoking or the like, but it’s not required. In fact I think that this year, it feels like we have already given up so much of our ‘normality’ that it’s like we’ve been in Lent for a year now, and giving up something else could be completely unnecessary, or even unhelpful.
The idea behind what are called the ‘Lenten Disciplines’ of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving is not that they are an end in themselves, they are doorways that encourage us to connect with God and one another – fasting to take away distractions, praying to listen and talk to God, and giving charitably (of our time, energy, or money) to remind us of compassion for others being a way of seeing God in all people. If we only concentrate on giving up stuff for the sake of giving up stuff, or some kind of self-denial, we might not be doing ourselves any good at all.
There is an alternative to giving things up that might be a healthy alternative to an austere Lent – taking up something new, something life-giving, something that is good for us. It could be something we’ve put off, reading a book, taking more time to rest, learning how to meditate, listening to music, walking, learning to sing. It might be reconnecting with friends or family, or taking up a new hobby, something that involves being kind to ourselves, and to others.
One of the reasons that Christians observe Lent is to learn to look at the world differently – both our internal world, and the world around us; learning to see God at work in our own lives and the lives of other people. Most of us, though, can benefit from taking stock of where we are, taking time to assess our lives, and think about how we can be better to ourselves and to others and to the world around us. We often think of judgement as a negative thing, but Christians pray to have ‘right judgement in all things’ – meaning an honest look at ourselves, but done with compassion and care for ourselves. Most of us judge ourselves harshly, so perhaps a better Lent discipline is to learn to be kind to ourselves.
Again, though, being kind to ourselves is not an end in itself, but something that is a doorway to a new way of seeing and being. When our attitude is based in compassion for ourselves, it can enlarge our thinking and create more compassionate attitudes towards others, and to the earth itself. The purpose of these disciplines is not some kind of self-help insularity the , but to free us to be ourselves in order that we might offer more to the world around.
This Lent, I hope that you find time for yourself. I hope that Dr Henry’s words ‘Be calm. Be kind. Be Safe.’ are words that you can take to heart and find both comfort and inspiration in.
The Ven. Alastair Singh-McCollum is Rector of St. John the Divine Anglican Church in Victoria and Archdeacon, Diocese of Islands and Inlets. He has a passion for the Gospel, motorbikes and bike culture, worship, philosophy, theology, guitars, single malt whisky, real ale, cinema and all things French. You can find Alastair at the church website: www.stjohnthedivine.bc.ca and on his blog: fracme.blogspot.ca
You can read more article on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, March 6th 2021