How I Keep Lent

I hate Lent. All the spiritual books say ‘Now is the time for you to be slowing down, Lent is for prayer and living in the present, smelling daffodils’. Lent is for revitalizing your spiritual life, giving up nice things, taking up extra burdens and all that.

All this slowing down is fine for us to preach, fine for us to recommend to the congregation as we seek to encourage them to take their faith out from Sunday and into Monday but it is appallingly hard to practice for any who minister in church.

I’ve finally finished reading a vast wadge of General Synod preparation papers. I’m almost ready to give the next four hours of lectures but I’m not ready for all that extra spiritual stuff that Lent throws in: Ash Wed, Lent courses, Mothering, Maundy, Good Friday. And I’m not ready for our APCMs. There’s reports to be written, accounts to be accepted, people to be persuaded into being Churchwarden, Treasurer etc. APCMs might come after Easter, but all the graft happens before it. It’s exhausting but all this has to happen whilst we are also being extra spiritual.

Of course for students there’s essay deadlines. I mean why are you (if you are a student) even reading this? You should be working on correcting your footnotes and cutting yourself some slack. And we wonder why traditionally Clergy take the week off after the Resurrection. Just as Jesus is starting to empower and breathe His Spirit on His Church, we are seeking a small cave where we can be left alone for at least three days.

My advice is to eat like Zwingli. He went to one of those Light Lent Soup Only Lunches only to find that some fabulous person had brought some sausages and he tucked in. Good for him. He then got in trouble with those to tutt tutt about that sort of thing. But I think, on this issue anyway, Zwingli got it right.

Eat like Zwingli. Fast between the endings of one module and before the next one starts. Don’t turn Lent into a Work. Luther wouldn’t have approved. He would have told you to get a beer, sit for a while and watch the world go by. Or follow Aquinas: Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine. Ok he didn’t quite say it like that but his Summa Theologiae (question 38) does sort of say that, except for the wine bit, there you will have to look to Luther for support.

Don’t get me wrong (which you probably will have done having given up reading this and taken my advice to get back to your essays), I do love a bit of ash, I love all the extra work that Lent throws at us. It’s just that I struggle with the extra burden that on top of all this extra work, I must also make time to be extra calm. So now I have extra guilt. What I needed was a little space and grace.  This I suppose is why the Lord has sent me not one but two flat tyres this month: To literally make me slow down. Thank you, Lord.

Ooh drat, I’ve run over the word count that Guido set me. Even more guilt, and no time to go back to editing as I have to nip off and do some parenting.  Take home point: Zwingli had it right with his sausages.

James Hollingsworth is Associate Tutor in Church History and Ecclesiastical Law, Vicar of Barcombe, and a member of General Synod.