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 reflection is based on Luke 12:49-53
“I have not come to bring peace but cause division”
All throughout Jesus' ministry we find tough passages which seem to sit in contrast with what we would like to hear and what we think of as Jesus message.
All too often we skate over them but we shouldn’t.
Jesus came to earth with a two-part mission; to bring God’s message of love for his creation and that he desires for us to love and to love one another; and to give ultimate act of love in his sacrifice of himself on the cross.
However, this message of love does not come without disclaimers which can feel very contrary to this. Here Jesus’ disclaimer is warning us to expect division.
This is not ‘Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild’, this is the Jesus who turned the tables in the temple.
Today we see division all around us.
Our country is deeply divided, the wounds of Brexit alone are far from healed and I fear they will continue to carve deep for generations to come.
We are not alone, America is similarly divided by President Trump, gun laws, abortion laws, immigration policies. India’s Hindu leadership seems intent on discriminating against their Muslim citizens, and in South Sudan, two sides claiming to be Christians continue to battle against each other.
Why are we surrounded by such division? Because we are being asked to make a choice. As the old hymn goes; “Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide, in the strife of truth with falsehood for the good or evil side.”
When tough choices have to be made there will be division.
This isn’t a case of do you like tomato ketchup or brown sauce, this is more vital than Remain or Leave. This is whether we have faith in God or not.
When we make the decision to follow Jesus we set ourselves apart and that will inevitably cause division. It is how to deal with that division which is important. We are called to love one another, love our neighbour, our enemy, even though division.
There are ways in which we can express our many differences, in love. With patience, listening, trying to understand, why people think the way they do, even if you don’t agree. Some of the best discussions can come from two people who are certain of why they think the way they do, and actually talk to each other about it, not shout at each other or put each other down. Not by picking holes or calling them names but in respectful conversation.
You only need to spend 10 minutes online reading the comments on any hot topic to see how quickly and easily it falls into a dark nasty place of name calling, condescension, and even people calling each other evil. So, I come to wonder if because Jesus tells us these divisions will be there, is it in these divisions we need to place ourselves and show love and react with love.
There is a famous saying my Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor from the last century;
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Division is often where injustice is found and we know we are called to act against injustice. So yes, I think where division lies is where we need to take ourselves and to ask ourselves what side would Jesus be on? Where would he sit on immigration, gun control, a fair wage for all, fair access to health care, discrimination, those demonized and those attacked just for being who they are?
Rabbi Michael Adam Latz gives an alternative to Niemöller’s poem.
First they came for the African Americans and I spoke up--
Because I am my sisters’ and my brothers’ keeper.
And then they came for the women and I spoke up--
Because women hold up half the sky.
And then they came for the immigrants and I spoke up--
Because I remember the ideals of our democracy.
And then they came for the Muslims and I spoke up--
Because they are my cousins and we are one human family.
And then they came for the Native Americans and Mother Earth and I spoke up--
Because the blood-soaked land cries and the mountains weep.
They keep coming.
We keep rising up.
Because we Jews know the cost of silence.
We remember where we came from.
And we will link arms, because when you come for our neighbours, you come for us— and THAT just won’t stand.
I think is how it should go.
This is where our mission should be, discerning well what side of the division we should be, easing the pain, showing the love, reacting with patience and grace wanting to find understanding.
We shouldn’t be scared of division, it is to be expected, and we are to love through it, not avoid it.
Mrs Lydia Remick LLM
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.