Lent is misunderstood, even by those of us who should know better. Sadly, we are just as likely to see giving up chocolate as a sufficient response. In fact, Lent is about preparation, which involves examination of our lives and where we should be allowing God more power, which may mean giving up some things and beginning other things. And it is about power-the power we cling on to-God does not overwhelm us, instead wanting a response of love and surrender.
During Lent we remember Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness-he did not respond with force but by complete dependence on God. Throughout Jesus’ life we can see he spent many hours alone with God in silence, not just because he was the Son of God but because he chose to have a relationship through prayer with God. He expects us to do the same, although we are weak- remember how he chides the disciples in Gethsemane when they fall asleep as he struggles in prayer ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?’ Matthew 26:40.
Most people find silence very hard as it forces us to face up to what is really in our minds and sometimes it can be the sheer triviality of it all that appals us. Once we manage to still ourselves, we realise our minds are full of the small events and chores of the day, the constant noise of the media in all its forms and our own grudges and resentment often surface as well.
Silence and sitting in the presence of God must be cultivated and there are many books and resources to help us do this, not least the rich heritage of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, which unlike the Protestant tradition never lost the knowledge and practice of contemplative prayer.
The world is full of overwhelming noise and pressure, antagonism and poisonous hatred which seems to be becoming mainstream. A group of people living in the 3rd to the 5th centuries thought so as well and began to live in the deserts of North Africa to get away from it. Known as the Desert Mothers and Fathers, their spirituality is being sought out again by Christians desperate for a way to live the gospel of peace. One of their number, St. Anthony, said ‘A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us’.
The desert might be metaphorical for us today but it is more necessary than ever to go into it willingly and seek to be transformed for the sake of the world that God loves.
In undergoing this transformation, we empty ourselves and show the beauty of God’s love and bring peace to our world. We can do this by taking Lent to be more mindful of what we buy, how we spend our time, what we read. We can bring God’s peace with a smile, a listening ear, a loaf of bread baked, a donation made, a letter written, a job done for someone who cannot repay us. There are a thousand other ways God will show us if we stop to listen in the silence.
This week's blog has been written by Kirsty, Parish Administrator for All Saints and also an ordinand in training.
This blog was written by Adele Jarrett-Kerr. Adele and her family attend All Saints, she is a writer, home educator, breastfeeding counsellor, feminist, and Christian. Her frequently updated blog is a great source of support to families thinking about home-schooling, and also a place where ideas are shared for simply encouraging family well-being. You may also like to take a look at soulfarm.co.uk which is Adele and Laurence's community supported farm that helps growers and the community work in partnership to develop sustainable local agriculture.
Some years ago, a friend of mine shared a meme on Facebook that read: “Don’t let your disappointment with people turn into disappointment with God.” I remember feeling at the time that the phrase let both people and God off the hook.
If the Church represents Christ’s hands and feet, at what point do we say that institutional damage goes beyond the individuals and right down to the roots? Yet I see inside the Church the same capacity to heal and harm that exists outside of it, just clothed in different language. Both within and without, we are struggling, where we make the effort to struggle, to find language that will make sense of a world in which we can no longer pretend to have universally shared beliefs.
Even as I talk about “the Church”, I’m aware that it’s an idea that means different things to different people who potentially fall under its umbrella. Depending on your theology, the term can be surprisingly expansive or limited in its reach. Who’s in? Who’s out? What assumptions can be made about someone who uses the label “Christian” or connects their spirituality with the Christian tradition?
Choosing not to let our disappointment with people turn into disappointment with God could mean brushing off actions that should not be ignored, avoiding difficult questions because we’re actually a bit afraid of what the answers might be.
The Bible is full of people being real with God about their rage, despair and agony. God can handle our big questions. We can handle them too. If the Church is to remain a source of hope and a place where real community happens, we must face the shadow and ask big questions of it too.
This is where I find myself, disappointed with the recent statement on marriage and sexuality from the Bishops of the Church of England. There is nothing pastoral in its tone, nothing to indicate care for any it hurts or to understand the perspective of the people whose humanity it ignores - people who are part of the Church of England too.
I was initially relieved to see some attempt to reign it back in with an apology (probably because I am personally unaffected as a cisgender woman in a heterosexual marriage) but ultimately this too misses the mark when the statement didn’t just upset feelings. It represents a fresh betrayal when the CoE has been conducting a lengthy study of gender and sexuality, the results of which have not yet been published.
Many inside and outside the CoE called the statement out of touch. Many others claimed it was right that the CoE should remain at odds with the wider culture. We’re called to be different. Should that mean disengaging from the reality of the lives around us, refusing to listen to people who are bravely, and even generously, showing us where the hurt is?
We’ve never worked out our understanding of God and the Bible in a cultural vacuum. It’s disingenuous to say that personal stories and social shifts have had no part to play in our readings. Historically, we have collectively changed our minds about things, from slavery to marriage to religious practice.
Change can be scary. It can feel destabilising. It can trigger a domino effect. Choosing to rethink long held beliefs can threaten to take apart all the others. We’re exposed. We wonder what’s left.
I believe we can sit with this discomfort. God will enable us to do the hard things. Whatever we feel in the face of these issues is little when compared to those who have suffered at the hands of the Church’s teachings on gender and sexuality. We can learn to de-centre ourselves and listen, really listen. We can decide to move beyond the safety blanket we’ve made of only talking about sex and instead have full-bodied conversations that also acknowledge identity and love.
I realised when I read the Bishops’ statement that disappointment can reveal what we hold in high regard. I’m disappointed because I care about the Church of England. I’ve chosen to worship here and to find community here, hoping that my children are safe, hoping that anyone who wants it can find shelter. By staying, I hope I am playing a part in making it so. The Bishops are not the Church after all. Mingled with uncertainty, my disappointment points to my hope.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.