I tend to be ambivalent about Lent. On the one hand, why do we need a special time of year to reflect and focus on our faith? Isn’t it a bit too prescriptive? And the danger is that everyone suggests things to read, which could lead to feeling pressured, rather than a sense of finding time and space to be reflective or to pray.
On the other hand, it is encouraging to know that other people are doing just that, and so there is a sense of community – and sometimes we need a season of reflection to, well, actually reflect!
So, I am making use of this season by ignoring most of the suggestions floating around and instead just using a book by Janet Morley called ‘The Heart’s Time’, which I’ve found helpful before – there is a poem a day for the Lent season and some short reflections. Some of them I find resonate with me, and I linger with them and ponder them, others are interesting but little more, but that’s fine. And no doubt some days I won’t manage to read them, but that’s okay too – I’m not going to be legalistic about it!
Do you find Lent a helpful season? If so, what helps you?
Most years Ian and I invite neighbours and friends in at some stage during December for mulled wine and nibbles. Sometimes we have only a handful of people, sometimes lots come and go during the evening. This year, of course, it won’t happen: no cooking up a big pot of mulled wine, no over-catering so that we are eating crisps and mince pies and drinking mulled wine for days, no catching up with neighbours and friends.
Sharing a drink will have to be virtual this year…. but I’m so grateful for the internet and for Zoom. Fifteen years ago a year like this one would have been quite different, much harder, at least for me!
I didn’t have a picture of mulled wine, so here’s one of a bottle of wine!
For several years now I’ve been using, off and on, ‘The Celtic Wheel of the Year’ by Tess Ward as part of my prayers. Each month she has a set of seven different short liturgies for each day of the week. I find her writing often resonates deeply with me, and encourages me, although occasionally I find some of the content a little weird!
This is from the one for Wednesdays in December, slightly changed to be not just in the first person:
Like the moon stippling on the face of dark waters, Like the Spirit hovering over the deep, Like a seed needing the dark to grow in the light, Like the darkest hour coming just before dawn, Like the new life ready within the womb, May God’s face shine upon us as we wait in hope for the returning lightIn the dusky daylight hours of this short day.
Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel of the Year: Celtic and Christian Seasonal Prayers’, p 269.
Yesterday, visiting Tyntesfield, we came across a family with two young children playing ‘boo’ round some bushes, (not far from where I took this photo of bells) as they walked along. They were clearly all having a lovely time having fun together – it warmed the heart! Advent may be about waiting, but there can be times for fun along the way.
In the online St Stephens’ prayer time this morning I was reminded of people who have lost loved ones this year, to Covid or to other illnesses, and of others who have family members or friends who are seriously ill. I then had an email from a friend who is needing to take time out to be with her father, who is very ill in hospital. I’m not sure I really know how to ‘mourn with those who mourn’, or to offer comfort: but to listen when needed, to be there (even if virtually), to pray for those walking through dark times and bereavement, is something, I think. It’s important to know that it’s ok to be sad, and to share in the sadness of others, yet still to look for the moments of light in the darkness. I hope we all find comfort and hope this Advent, whatever we’re walking through.
A couple of days ago I had a lovely walk at Ashton Court in the afternoon. Not so busy as last time I was there, which made it more relaxing, and lovely winter skies with the outlines of trees and that particular late afternoon light. A walk to refresh the soul, even if I struggled a bit up the hill by the red deer park!
I’ve noticed that our neighbours are putting up their Christmas trees early this year. Ours is a real tree in a pot – he’s called Bruce – so we can’t bring him into the warm too early. But I’m enjoying seeing other people’s trees lighting up their windows: it does bring some cheer. It seems that we all feel the need of finding some light and hope at the end of this difficult year.
The photo above is from Treefest at St Mary Redcliffe, where lots of different organisations provide a tree. Something else I’m missing this year. It’s good fun, and I’ve even contributed to it once, when South of the River Quilters did a tree. Above is a photo from Treefest a couple of years ago. I wonder if you have a tree up yet?
I was joining in with St Stephen’s church Zoom prayers a few mornings ago when I spotted some goldfinches in the top of one of my neighbour’s trees. We have small city gardens, but next door have planted a few trees in their space, which encourage all kinds of birds.
So I turned off my video, picked up a small pair of binoculars that sit on my desk for the purpose, and looked at the birds for a moment. They are such beautiful little finches, and seeing them always brings me joy. Then I went back to prayers and a different kind of encouragement…. But when, at the end of the day, I was thinking of three things to be thankful for, that moment with the goldfinches was the first I thought of.
Sometimes one moment of joy is enough to light up a grey day and carry us through.
I’ve been dipping into a little book called ‘The Treasures of Darkness’ by Barbara Mosse. One of the sections is on Advent, and she comments that in all the rush of Christmas activities, we often lose ‘the preciousness of Advent, with its sense of hope and expectant waiting in the dark’. She invites us to ‘enter into the sense of yearning and anticipation’ found in the darkness.
For me, and I suspect for some of you too, it feels easier this year to enter into that sense of longing, in the darkness, for the light to come. Sometimes we need to sit a little in the darkness, acknowledge that it is there, in us and around us, and to then look for the moments of hope. I am often too eager to skim over the darkness, to rush on and find the light…. But sometimes we need to be honest about the dark in order to enjoy the light more fully. Do you agree?