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 giving 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.