Steering an age-old course for Lent
Y SMALL Anglican community here is
steering an oldfashioned course for Lent. That means we are keeping the Gesima Sundays and are already wearing purple for Mass.
This has always seemed to me to be a sensible introduction to Lent and gives time to prepare for what the Church from earliest days has set aside as a period of intense spiritual exercise. So we are considering what extra services we can attend this year and what special reading we can do.
We have two courses of instruction geared to the personal needs of the congregation. I have always felt that this was the right thing to do if the Christian life was to have any chance for the rest of the year. Miss Lent and you are struggling by the summer.
Yet I am aware that I am the odd man out round here. Lent for all local churches seems to be an extension of local
ecumenical effort. A course of lectures is being run on Soviet Russia, The Third World, secular society, and so on — all worthy subjects but nothing much to do with a Christian struggling with his sins or prayer life. No doubt similar activity is going on elsewhere — the Church and the Bomb is a hardy annual,' the Church and the miners to be topical perhaps, and even let's get the Belgrano affair straight this Lent!
Everybody struggling to be relevant! One diocesan course sends people to chat up strangers on the street corner or to sit in a circle and gaze into one's neighbour's eyes.
cathedrals have the Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday. Remember, 0 man, that you are dust but don't ponder upon it over-, much. Tell people they need repentance but don't pursue the subject. Sin is scarcely mentionable these days. Just follow your own nose and all will be well. Remember all those mission services of old when we were called back to God and told to take a good look at ourselves.
Today we are hurried through life without even seeing ourselves. We are never alone because we draw in company all day long from TV and radio. The whole concept of the spiritual life with its reaching out to God seems to have disappeared. Extra Mass, Stations of the Cross and self-denial used to be part and parcel of Lent and we mostly felt better for it, emerging on Holy Saturday rather like ending a drastic course on a health farm. But now if anything is done at all it is a last minute frantic effort in Holy Week.
We can no longer see the sharpedged battle before us of right with wrong, and so we drift with a monochrome piety which cannot utter the words, the good that 1 would, I do not and the evil I would not, I do, to quote St Paul.
We are so used to being called the Easter people that we forget the Cross is the prelude to risen life. Admittedly Good Friday used to dominate the spiritual life overmuch but we now seem to have swung to an opposite extreme.
Some years ago I wrote a small book, What Happening to Our Discipline. It was a time when some of the disciplines were disappearing. I took note that the new emphasis was on the glorified Lord in our midst rather than at the end of a long painful road, but I said that if we were to have this Easter everyday religion we needed just as much discipline to keep close to the risen Lord for He is one who makes demands and imposes standards.
Frankly we find it difficult to live this Easter life if we are still weighed down by those same weaknesses and failures which through the ages the great spiritual writers have feared.
Are we that different from our forefathers who kept Lent so strictly? Perhaps all this modern progress has so levelled church people with the rest of the nation that the only difference between them is that one goes to Mass and the other does not.
So I think I will attempt another old-fashioned forty days here. Excuse me if I go away to air my hair shirt and return the TV to the rental shop. And, if I don't answer letters for the next few weeks just reckon I have given them up for Lent.