Friday 28 February 2014

In need of a good Lent

Ash Wednesday is around the corner. I have to say, I am looking forward to it. I am, although to many ears it may sound strange to say it, in need of a good Lent.

You know when your house gets all messy, begins to look tired around the edges, and is generally in need of a good spring clean? I reckon that is how I feel, spiritually, as I approach this Lent. There's a lot of junk that has been collected that should be recycled or thrown out; there's some new essential items that would make my heart a more welcoming place to be; and, a good clean and a lick of bright new paint around the place would not go amiss.

The question is, how to go about this 'spring cleaning' operation over the next 6 weeks. Today I prepared a retreat workshop for our Whole School Retreat on Ash Wednesday (I have written about this event before, here). In it I have thought of a thousand little graces to offer each day. My suggestions range from ringing someone you love but with whom you are out of touch, to experimenting with prayer, to writing a daily list of everything you are grateful for. I suppose I am asking students to look at the contents of their heart, examine them and tidy them up

I wish my advice were as easy to take up as it is to dish out. I've been trying to work out what my own spiritual practices might be for this season. 

The truth be told, I've turned a little lazy. Now I do not have to be out of the house until 7.30am, I rarely wake before 6am and I never take the time I used to for prayer in the morning. I guess when I had the long commute I needed the strength of mind prayer gifted me to get through the day. I still do, but these days I neglect it. So, the morning routine has got to change, somehow, someway, and in it I need to make some space for God, faith and me. Confession will form part of this change in relationship with God, and as GK Chesterton put it, I'll go through that process which will make me 'five minutes new', a new creation free of past mistakes and blunders.

In school we fast on Ash Wednesday by asking students and staff to make the most delicious soup known to all mankind and scoffing it down with bread a cheese. It is so excellent a lunchtime meal I look forward to it all year round. But, perhaps, there are other things I could give up / refrain from during the season: Friday night wine, for example. There's a challenge. I was talking to students about the rationale behind fasting during Lent today. They thought is was all about self discipline and control. I acknowledged that point of view, but also spoke about the need for us to make room. If I give up wine this Lent it will not be a pitched battle between temptation and self control so much as it is a way of making room for duties and responsibilities that might otherwise go unnoticed, for example, writing letters to loved ones, planning and preparing for the future, reading a good book.

There will be a thousand initiatives to raise money for those in need during this Lent. I will make sure I support one of them in a generous fashion, giving just more than I feel comfortable giving. The funny thing about living, as I do, in the richest 5-10% of the world's population is that I fret about giv
ing too much away. Then, once it is gone, I hardly notice because I already have enough food, heating, wine and entertainment to keep me satiated. I am more aware of this fact in Lent than I am at any other time.

That's it for me then, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. A time to clean up and get the priorities right. A time to weed out distractions, and focus on that which brings vitality. A time to wake up, and in the cold, biting wind of an early March prepare for new growth.

I must recommend that you cook up leek and potato soup with smoked applewood cheddar. It is great for the season. I'll scoff it on Ash Wednesday. If I locate the recipe soon, I'll post it here.

Sunday 23 February 2014

The Real Pilgrim Journey

'We'll walk this one through together, like true pilgrims'

I have been on some amazing walks of late. It is part of the reason my writing here has been so lax. Instead of pondering around at home thinking about where life is going to lead, for the last few months and years I have been quietly walking the real pilgrim journey with the man I love.

At the break of the New Year we set out on a stroll up Buckden Pike. Buckden Pike is a majestic looking mountain at the head of Wharfedale in the Yorkshire Dales. The summit is at 2, 303ft, and on a cold January day, with gale force winds that could pick up up and throw you down again, golf ball hail stones flying horizontally in the breeze, and climbing steeply and slowly past disused mine shafts, this walk cannot be described as 'easy'. But, sheltering crouched behind an old stone wall, sipping sweet coffee and appreciating every small mouthful of a warm sausage sandwich saved from breakfast, I was happier than I have ever been. We had decided, a few days previously, that for the rest of our born days we would walk together. 

Last week we were up at 2, 087ft, walking Kinder Scout in the High Peaks. Once again our journey was no walk in the park. The steep ascent up Jacob's Ladder had me gasping for breath and begging for mercy. On the other hand, the warm thrill and relief of a picnic at the top, followed by jumping and skipping across the lunar landscape of the winter moor summit was a bliss that cannot be compared. Returning to the valley floor we took the steepest path I have ever faced, and cautiously crawled, putting one exploratory foot on the ground whilst holding the other back, hooked sideways into the land to prevent a tumble. On several occasions one or other of us would have to reach out to ensure the steady footing of the other. On reaching the level path our normal pace seemed like a jog, and weary bones felt light.

Walking it through, together, like true pilgrims.