by Josie Smith.
Another Monday, sandwiched between St. Valentine and the beginning of Lent. I still have the first Valentine card I ever received in my early teens. There was a boy of my own age in our little group, with whom I played cricket, picked blackberries in season, and once or twice went to ‘the pictures’ as we called it in those far-off days – but he was a boy and he was a friend, not a boy-friend. The card was actually the beginning of the end. We had never even held hands, let alone kissed, and we soon went our separate ways. Happily he went on to academic, professional and sporting success, is now a grandfather, and remains for me a warm memory.
St. Valentine is not only the patron saint of lovers, but it is on his day that birds are reputed to begin nest-building in preparation for finding a mate. Disney has a delightful scene in the film ‘Bambi’ where the little faun observes the birds going a bit mad, ‘twitterpated’ he calls it, and then the other small animals likewise, as he looks around him bemused, watching their antics. He is determined that it won’t every happen to HIM, and then, inevitably, along comes a little female faun and he goes all ‘twitterpated’ too. In the Spring a young deer’s fancy, etcetera!
So now let’s feel the Spring in our own step, and look ahead.
Daylight is appreciably longer, the Spring bulbs are – well – springing, as they always do at this season, and nature is encouraging us to hope again. Whatever is happening outside your windows at this moment, the earth does go on turning, and it won’t be long before all living things in creation are visibly responding to the strengthening sun. Last year I came across a lovely poem in Italian by Irene Vella, translated widely on social media, called La primavera non lo sapeva, which said that Spring didn’t know about the pandemic, so just got on and sprung. This year is going to be the same. The earth is the Lord’s, eternally, and no virus is going to change that.
Tomorrow, traditionally, is the day for eating pancakes (I like mine with a little sugar and lemon juice) before the start of the Lenten Fast beginning on Ash Wednesday. My father once unknowingly hurt one of his staff by pointing out gently that she had a smudge on her face. She was a devout Roman Catholic and had come to work straight from the ashing ceremony, and she burst into tears. My father didn’t know what he had done. The church we attended as a family – a Methodist mission church in a big city – did not use many of the practices of other denominations. Indeed, my grandmother used to tell the story of a Spring wedding where the organ was not available for use, and it was explained that it was ‘because it’s LENT’. Someone among the guests asked in all seriousness ‘Who’s borrowed it?’
We have been living with the pandemic for over a year now, and with the Christian faith for a couple of millennia, and perhaps it’s time for a review of the former in the light of the latter.
We have ‘given up’ a great deal in the last year since Covid-19 reached this country, notably the freedom to leave our homes, mix with our friends, hug those we love, attend our church, follow our pursuits, eat together, go on holiday. Lent is a penitential season. Not many people fast in these days (we have much to learn from Islam about that particular discipline) but there is still a residual practice of ‘giving something up for Lent’.
Many people believe now that rather than giving up things for Lent we might take on things, give more to charity, do more for our neighbours, be more loving.
There have been all sorts of positives around the pandemic. We have seen self-denial among people who put their own safety, even lives, at risk to help others. We have seen people wrestling with unfamiliar technology to keep in touch on line with those they can’t physically meet. We have seen people raising money in imaginative ways for good causes. Even simple things like shopping for infirm neighbours, making regular ‘phone calls to housebound people, and supporting local food banks, have all brought out the sheer goodness of people in the face of adversity.
And after Lent will come the glorious eternal truth that is Easter!