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Lent Retreat - ASH WEDNESDAY

Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Lent is best known as a time for fasting, when people give up something. The point of the fasting can, however, be lost to sight. One year I gave up chocolate but decided I was still entitled to keep my share of whatever was going. On Easter Sunday I had a drawer full of chocolate, which sustained a week of self-indulgence in honour of the Lord’s resurrection. The letter of Lent may have been observed but there was no sign there of its spirit! Fasting and other spiritual disciplines are like the preparation of an athlete for a contest. We are trying to get in shape, to become fit again as believers, to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter and for a renewal of Christian living.

Besides fasting the two other Lenten disciplines are prayer and alms-giving. Prayer is rarely an easy task. It is difficult to know whether it is something we do or something we allow to happen, something God does in us. I suppose it is both. Prayer is our attempt to remain in conscious contact with God, opening our hearts to God’s wisdom and love. Prayer means receiving God’s gifts and allowing God to work through us and to bring about the changes He wants for us.

True fasting, Isaiah says, is not some kind of endurance test for the human body but a fasting from sin, injustice, corruption and deceit. To keep Lent truly means to live our religion truly and true religion for Isaiah is very practical. It means ‘taking care of widows and orphans in their need’. Recognising injustice, protesting about it and supporting its victims, is another traditional Lenten work.

These are the tasks of Lent then: fasting, praying, alms-giving. The forty days we observe is in memory of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism by John. There he was tested. Was he really serious about the mission to which he was called? Did he love the Father with all his heart, all his mind, all his strength? Was he, at heart, the servant for whom Israel longed, serious about serving God fully? We are tested in this way by life. Through temptation we learn about our weaknesses, about the depth of our commitments, about the extent to which we are really ready to serve God. In Lent we consciously invite this kind of testing, placing ourselves in the firing line, as it were, as we hold our lives up to God’s scrutiny. We have not just the example of Jesus to guide us, but also his company and the help of his grace, as we seek to return to God with all our hearts.

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