Seasonal Stocktaking

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!

7 thoughts on “Seasonal Stocktaking”

  1. Another Spring activity is Spring cleaning. That includes clearing out the clothes that are looking worn and tired and that are now out of fashion, so that we have room for more up to date articles. Is it time for a Spring clean in our personal spiritual lives and in our church lives?

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    1. I would urge caution with the Spring cleaning, Pavel!
      Garments which were once deemed out-dated and the height of naff have a habit of coming back as ‘vintage’ fashion. Check out the pretty print dresses with modest necklines and hemlines which our female newsreaders are now wearing. How elegant and dignified they look. Even old-fashioned furniture and household items become ‘retro’ and are suddenly in demand again.
      Surely you wouldn’t expect a person of mature taste and sophistication to swap their Chesterfield sofa for something from Ikea? And those of a certain age are treading a very fine line between ‘dedicated follower of fashion’ and ‘oldest swinger in town’!

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  2. While Lent used to be a time of fasting (there would be little left of the last harvest anyhow), as Josie points out this has been largely forgotten. During the current Plague I suspect many feel we are already suffering. But how much are we really suffering? Money is difficult for many without jobs. But many have learnt to love, or be loved, by their neighbour.
    As I am going deaf I get my news from the BBC News App. There is usually good, bad and interesting news. This morning there is news of the fighting in the Yemen. A boy and his brother out on a task for their mother, fell foul of a sniper. His brother was killed and he was wounded. Children are being regularly targeted.
    What can I give up for Lent? More time in prayer? Donation to Medicins Sans Frontiere?

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  3. As with Pavel my hope is for a new beginning, for change if necessary, for a church that inspires love in our ever changing world. Sometimes change is necessary, but many find this difficult to accept. In every society there are those who feel they have to control events and in particular control other people and they respond by creating hierarchical power structures – with themselves at the top of course! The Pharisees in Jesus’ time had formalised “faith” into a power structure based on a male dominated pietistic drive for “righteousness” that excluded the powerless, the poor, the stranger, even women. Jesus sought to deconstruct this, in particular by overturning the money tables in the Temple, and this event led to his death. Now I fully appreciate that we have to have formalised structures to organise society, but in the church this becomes the “tradition”. But life is incessant change, nothing is set in stone and we should always keep in mind the spirituality that motivates structures that alienate. Historically the church has been forced to change. to be inclusive and refrain from supporting the Crusades, witch burning and slavery. And in our lifetime come to terms with women in the pulpit, racial prejudice, same sex marriage and LGBTQ.
    God’s love for us is unconditional and therefore inclusive of all people. So our love for our neighbour should be unconditional and inclusive, and this requires eternal vigilance towards the need for change, for the church and for us, the people in it.

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  4. I was in your camp once, Robert. I sneered at the pious and bashed the traditionalists. I was convinced I had a ‘better’ plan than all the ordained clergy, and wondered why they were so slow to act on my superior wisdom. I didn’t have a dramatic encounter like Saul on the road to Damascus, but I thank God every day that He found a way to remove the scales from my eyes. He made me see that my ‘inclusive’ church included everyone as long as they were progressive and liberal (like me!) and not traditionalists or fundamentalists (like them!)
    God moves in mysterious and beautiful ways, and I have become that which I despised. I am as pious and devout as they come. I have even joined Keith Nester’s Rosary Crew! Jesus was an educated Jewish Rabbi after all; he had no problem with organised religion. He only had a problem with hypocrites. Nor was he as poor as he is often prtrayed. The Roman soldiers wouldn’t have drawn lots for his garments if he was wearing rags.
    I don’t see you as the ‘other’ Robert, just as another follower of Jesus who has a different point of view, a different way of expressing his faith, a different calling, and a different spiritual path to mine.
    May God bless you and accompany you on your journey through Lent and beyond.

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