Our Blog this month has been written by Vicky Starling
I am sitting on a train.* I say that – there are strikes on. More accurately, I am waiting for a train, but frankly that didn’t sound as good. Anyway, it’s pretty cold on this station platform, given that it’s presently the end of January. This is, of course, the most depressing month of the year and the one we’ve collectively decided to make more depressing, because the biting cold, dark, and contrast to December didn’t make it quite depressing enough! This year in the Starling household we have given up meat, alcohol and tried to cut down on the desserts. For those experiencing IBD (a.k.a. Crohn’s) this list has been adjusted to: alcohol, chocolate, tea, raw veg, yoghurt, baked beans, custard, lentils, spicy food, chips (WHY, LORD, WHY!?), citrus fruit, seeds, brown rice, any interesting form of bread, and butter. I currently travel with a jar of honey, dairy-free butter and an EpiPen in case of emergencies. Worst of all, this list continues indefinitely. You can imagine, then, that when Julie suggested I write about Lent, I wilted a bit at the reminder that it’s coming.
Because who in this day and age, wants to give up more? Granted, most of us in Bearsted have most of the things we need (give or take health), but I suspect the thing we really lack is enthusiasm. Money’s tight, prices are rising, and don’t get me started on the job market. Frankly I’m proud of us for getting through the day. Worse still, across the country people are giving up little luxuries or, increasingly, necessities to make rent on time and the debts are still building. Under all this strain, what could we possibly gain from fasting?
Luckily, you’ll always have the option to give up something you didn’t like doing in the first place. This nugget of wisdom was taught to me by a girl at cub scouts, who dutifully promised to give up baking for Lent. Her mother (also the cub scout leader) scoffed and reminded her she hadn’t baked a day in her life. Technically speaking, she’s doing a fantastic job. Still, deep down we all know that this is cheating and given it’s a God-led celebration, I reckon that’ll just lead to 40 days of feeling a bit guilty.
Now comes the twist required by all Christian writing – have you considered Jesus? Life may be tougher in the absence of chocolate, yes, but the poor guy went without any food, water, and vaguely sympathetic facial expressions for that length of time. But while he didn’t have good old mum passing through with an electric fan with a timer attached to it, so that he could leave it on when he went to sleep, Jesus really wasn’t alone. The man, busy as he was, would regularly set aside nights during his missionary to chat with God. It’s pretty unlikely that he sat there just twiddling his thumbs in an Ancient Roman edition of 127 Hours, only seven and half times over. The man prayed. Jesus may be the only person in history able to pull off such a feat, but he pulled it off by drawing close to God. Lent isn’t just the predecessor of Dry January, it’s a period of prayer and drawing close to Jesus to help you get through it.
That said during the Reformation, many protestants argued that Lent shouldn’t be celebrated at all, as God doesn’t mention it once in the bible. Christians started doing so in 325 AD, almost 300 years after Jesus casually took the upgrade from persecuted itinerant messiah/martyr to acknowledged God-King of the universe. It’s certainly a great idea to walk a short way in Jesus’ shoes to get a real sense of what he sacrificed, but as far as His guidance goes, it’s not nearly as important as Baptism and Communion. What Jesus does teach us, is that prayer and drawing close to God are habits that we should strive for every day of the year, not just when the church calendar gives us a good excuse to. Fasting is a great way to do this – but if it doesn’t work for you, perhaps just causing suffering and resentment instead, then maybe leave it out. Alternatively, you don’t just have to give up foodstuffs. As my good (if slightly misguided) cub scout friend suggested, you can give up something that you like to do. Say you spend too much time on your phone. You could ‘fast’ from your phone, even if it’s before 10am in the morning or a particular app you feel you use too much. There are several different love languages, and only one of them is the sacrifice of food. Granted some, like hugs, aren’t readily available to Gods.**
So after a bit of thought, I propose a third way. Sometimes worship on a Christian holiday isn’t so much about what we do but why we do it. Lent is ultimately an expression of love. We try to put ourselves in Jesus’ shoes, we try to draw close to him and remind ourselves of everything he has done for us. There are a lot of love languages. When money and/or health seem a bit thin on the ground nobody stops loving the people around them. They just express it in different ways. And a key way – more valuable than money alone – is time.
Cue a call to arms. Celebrate Lent by volunteering. Volunteering through charities, volunteering through our church, and volunteering by getting up to pour the tea when everyone is terribly comfortable and doesn’t want to move. There are so many valuable ways to serve others in the community and Jesus told us (see **) that every time we serve another, we serve Him. People are the receptors for the displaced affection we can’t show God directly. Feel free to disagree with me – or better yet, let’s discuss it! – but I’m going to celebrate this Lent not by giving up, but taking up, and bringing God along with me.
Here are a list of volunteering opportunities I could think of. It’s not nearly exhaustive, so do suggest more:
Volunteer with Shelter
Fundraise with the Young Lives Foundation
Donate blood, or better yet, bone marrow with the NHS
Sign up for coffees, kids, bible reading or welcome at Holy Cross!
Write for the Church blog? (wink, wink)
If you’re housebound, the Hackney Literary Pirates let you teach kids to read and write from your own home!
The Blackthorn Trust are always seeking gardeners, bakers, charity shop enthusiasts etc.
* Fun Fact: there is a piece of music of a similar name where Alvin Lucier records himself saying something to the tune of, “I am sitting in a room.” He then plays the recording in the room and records it. He then records the new recording. And so on. It’s like an hour long. Completely irrelevant to this blog but it makes me feel better about taking a music degree for four years.
** That said, given Matthew 25:40 (“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”) you could take the indirect route with the people around you.