On the night of pancakes

So Lent’s rolled around again, as evidenced in the pancake displays in supermarkets across the land and the sudden deluge of church press releases on a variety of lenten campaigns.

People are doing the annual self-deprivation thing. Colleagues are giving up alcohol, connexional biscuits and taking on morning prayer, walking to work, making time to spend with God; my sister’s giving up shopping for unnecessary items; facebook friends are going veggie or even giving up facebook!

Two years ago in one of my early blog posts, I ranted on the subject of giving stuff up for lent, so I won’t repeat myself. I still feel quite strongly about the subject and I’m not giving up anything or taking something new on because actually I don’t think that’s the point, and I’ve got a lot of my own missions/resolutions going on:

I’m still continuing my ‘advent mission’ to give up free papers on my commute & read proper books. It’s going well so far, though the idea was to get through my pile of Christian lit, which hasn’t really happened yet, although I am alternating fiction & non-fiction. But I can recommend Dawn French’s biog Dear Fatty and Alice Sebold’s The Almost Moon. (Wasn’t quite so keen on Lionel Schriver’s The Post Birthday World, though probably just because its London geography was flawed.) My current read’s Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go which 40 pages in is holding my attention.

My new year decisions (not resolutions!) are going strong. I’m keeping up with the one year Bible, though inevitably there have been days when I’ve had to do 3 lots in one go. My mystery decision has been acted upon, though I’m still procrastinating about the next step. There’s also my random decision to not think about something from Feb 1st – April 1st. I’ll say no more, but it’s hard & it’s not going well!

However, despite my cynicism about the practice of ‘giving up’, there is sense in remembering why this season exists in the first place. The temptations in the desert were a time of testing, of getting closer to God and listening. So maybe it’s just time to get back to what Lent’s really about: prayer.

I’m not good at it. But, just as I’m gaining a new liking for daily Bible reading, maybe I can get better at the prayer thing too. I was quite inspired by something Carla wrote today about the power of prayer in getting on with work. It sounds so obvious, but we don’t always think of it – or, at least I don’t.

We should count ourselves lucky that prayer is at least something we all have the freedom to do. One of my vivid memories of the ‘holy sites’ bit of my trip to Israel Palestine was our experience of the monastery on the Mt of Temptations. In the very place where Jesus was tempted (or believed to have been), an orthodox monk forbade us from praying because none of us were orthodox. Therefore I prayed, hard, under my breath. Probably not best to pray in revenge…but I had to pray in that place, right then.

Anyway, my point is Lent = prayer. End of story.

Lent fast approaches

I realised yesterday that lent starts next week, which means I really do need to buy a new frying pan so I can make pancakes on Tuesday. This also means that the annual “so, what are you giving up…” conversations have begun.

In the pub on Friday we were discussing the pros & cons of giving up alcohol. One of my friends has done it for a couple of years and last year took part in the Thirst for Life campaign. I really admire people who do that – especially as this particular friend always has his birthday in lent. I’m not sure if I’d like to give up alcohol. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with it! I’ll have you know that I currently have a lot of alcohol in my flat that’s been there for ages: bottle of pinot grigio from before Christmas; Strongbow that I bought about 3 weeks ago; red wine acquired 3 weeks ago…. See, not a problem.

I have given things up in the past. There was the year of giving up fizzy drinks (I think I was 12), which meant drinking a lot of milkshakes instead. Then there were the many years of giving up meat – which I’d like to think of as a mini teenage rebellion, except no one cared! But I can’t give up meat anymore cos I don’t really eat it.

As I was brought up by two vicars, I know all the get-out clauses for lent:
– Lent is 40 days not 46, therefore Sundays are holidays.
– If you follow Jewish law, the Sabbath (ie Sunday) starts at sundown (Saturday) and finishes at sundown the next day. This means that you can have alcohol/meat at dinner on Saturday & Sunday lunch.
– Mothering Sunday is a particularly special holiday & you should make the most of it.
– You can take something on instead of giving something up.

I tried taking stuff on – usually reading the Bible more – and that never really worked. Two years ago I was given Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” which is designed to be read over 40 days. Great idea I thought, but by day 15 I was 5 days behind.

The latest idea I’ve come across for lent is from two people who work at MCH – a Minister & someone in the media team. They’re going to avoid spending money unnecessarily during lent. Great idea. I love the concept. I love the fact that their blog is http://www.nonewshoes.blogspot.com/ – I could do with not buying any shoes during lent. But I couldn’t do it, and that makes me feel guilty. It bans eating out, buying alcohol and buying lunches. That’s what I do for fun! If I was to follow the rules I’d have to constantly invite people round for dinner, but that would involve a lot of me cooking, and not even being able to buy wine to go with it. I suppose I could just spend lent watching endless Friends repeats on E4, but that wouldn’t be a lot of fun.

So instead I will endeavour to keep lent by diligently doing my theology homework in the week (rather than just before my class on a Thursday); preparing for my home group, and trying very hard not to eat biscuits. But hey, if I forget – no big deal, God still loves me.

Cheesy I know, but true. What is the point of all this lent hoo-ha? It’s almost like people show off just how good & Christian they are (I know that’s not their intention though). Surely it should be part of our day to day life to try and be who God wants us to be – avoiding temptation and not doing things we know we shouldn’t and making sure we do the things we should.

Just something to think about. Here endeth my longest & most spiritual post.