I was recently reminded that the beginning of Lent is also the start of a new journey. For the biblical scholar, Dr Meg Warner, the season is “a journey towards a new place that God will show you.” ( Warner, M., Abraham: A Journey through Lent, (London: SPCK Publishing, 2015))
And for me, more than in any other year, this Lenten journey has an added significance, because as a third-year curate I’m in the process of ending one journey to look towards another as a priest in a new parish.
So, I’m actively using this season of Lent to discern where God might be calling me to bring the Good News of the Gospel to his people. And I’m hoping that my Lenten practices will enable me to deepen my relationship with God in a way that allows me to begin to hear more clearly what he specifically wants me to be and do.
And about what I have chosen to do, well I’ve usually given things up or have sometimes taken things on. But because a lot of the normal business around Lent in church isn’t happening this year, I’ve made the decision to explore things I’ve never done before.
Therefore, because of the possibilities it allows, I’ve decided to fast. But I’m doing so carefully and I’m putting no pressure on myself because for me what’s important is that I accept the challenge in a way that will make me even more aware of my need for God.
Needless to say, there is enough time and space for me to observe the season – albeit that the demands of being a priest during lockdown and the difficulties that come with home schooling is never very far away!
But as important as extra time is, it does amplify the fact that once again this is a different Lent from what we are used to. Because having more capacity and the solitary nature of the season has come at the expense of us being together as a worshipping community in the way that we would want to. I particularly missed being with others in person on Ash Wednesday but it was good to be able to conduct the imposition of ashes, even though in a different way. Also, we have had to rethink the way we journey the Stations of the Cross without losing its essence.
But I’m grateful that our online worship and zoom groups have provided new ways of connecting with people through this season. It has enabled us to maintain a sense of togetherness. And I’m also excited that within my community we continue to adapt and take new opportunities to reach others beyond our immediate groups.
So, it’s good to feel that whilst the season is different, it is still Lent. And therefore, doesn’t lessen the need for us to faithfully journey towards Easter and its commemoration of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.
Neither does the difference stop us from identifying with Jesus in the wilderness. And my own reflections on this have led me to appreciate how blessed I am to have had three years of training in a great parish.
And though I’ve had some real challenges and there is still a bit more that I could learn, I do feel that I’m now well within my comfort zone.
But of course, our journey to the kingdom is not about being comfortable. It’s about moving beyond our ‘happy place’ to transform our lives and then the lives of others.
Lent gives us the opportunity to figure how we might do this. Because the season forces us to think about where are in faith, where we are going and how we ought to get there.
So, I’m praying that this time of preparation will give me the wisdom, strength and tenacity I need to journey towards living out the gospel in a community beyond Woodside. Yet, I’ll also be guided by St Peter who encourages the need to “humble yourselves … under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6)
And that’s what the season of Lent allows us to appreciate. It invites us to understand that ultimately we’re not in control. We do what we do simply by God’s grace. And that it’s through our relationship and our every encounter with him that our journey become clearer and our lives are indeed transformed.
But naturally, as this year has demonstrated, things won’t always go the way we want them to. Yet our efforts are no less important, because God will always be waiting to celebrate with us whatever we do in his name.