I am writing this letter for our website as we enter Lent, a time often associated with giving something up. The internet provides lists of the most popular items to be put on one side including, of course, chocolate, alcohol, cake, and a more recent addition – social media.
The past year might, however, feel like an enforced period of giving things up. Many will not have seen family members for a long time, let alone enjoyed a meal out, or been able to engage in simple human contact through hugging or shaking hands.
A call for an additional period of deprivation might be distinctly unwelcome, and instead another Lenten theme of taking something up, or holding on to something of value, might be more useful.
In Church services, Lent begins with a focus on the forty days spent by Jesus in the wilderness just prior to the start of his public ministry. In this environment, basic comforts were left behind as Jesus affirmed his willingness to take up the life which was set before him, a life to be lived in the service of God.
In the version of these events in Mark’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus “was with the wild animals, and angels attended him”. Mark uniquely notes the presence of wild animals which could be interpreted as an indication of the danger of the desert, but could also indicate the oneness of Jesus with the created world, an interpretation which I much prefer! And the presence of angels speaks of Jesus’ closeness with the things of Heaven.
A greater appreciation of the natural world around us, and a desire to deepen spiritual lives, have both been noted as unexpected consequences of “lock down” and the events of the past year. Whilst we long to return to a life more “normal”, Lent could serve as a time in which we reflect on those parts of life which have become more important for us, and which will need to be valued if we are to hold on to them in future days.