Unlikely Contrasts

A reflection at the beginning of Lent

These last few days have been a time of unlikely contrasts. Personally, as the start of the season of Lent was not only marked by a celebration of the Eucharist, but also by a iPGCE residential organised by Buckingham University, filled with lectures about marking, lesson planning and essay writing.

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I have been surprised by the lack of acknowledgement and conversations about the horrid shootings in Florida earlier this week, despite being together with over 300 teachers and educational specialists. Does it show that this kind of news tragically has become too ‘normal’, or does it show that we are so focused on our own targets, that we lose interest in what is happening around us? And if the latter, does it imply we are losing compassion for those who are further away than the immediate?

This feeling is well represented by the photo I took this morning of some sheep in a field just down from our conference centre and next to the Silverstone racing circuit. As I approached the sheep on a morning walk, I felt I was trespassing on their territory, and I wondered if not too often we are oblivious to our surroundings, and think only of ourselves, our own goals and our own achievements.

The season of Lent offers us an opportunity to start seeing things differently. Although in some sense we start by self-examination, this should not turn into an obsessive inward-looking. Equally so with self-denial. Our Lenten fast, whatever it is, is not about obtaining a righteousness that makes us feel better, but it is to give us the opportunity to pause so that we can see where we are.

Seeing who we are and where we are, that is the particular opportunity that Lent offers us. It means moving our focus away from, not towards ourselves. It does not mean seeing ourselves with self-pity, but regarding others with compassion. Not to talk ourselves down or boost ourselves, but it means to encourage others in what they are doing.

Of course, we cannot do this on our own, we need others to journey together. From the many Lenten resources available,  may I just suggest a few?

Salisbury Diocese: Praying Together
A pattern for shared prayer as we renew our hope in our homes, schools, workplaces and churches during Lent each year

Malcolm Guite: The Word in the Wilderness
For every day in Lent, Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Janet Morley: The Heart’s Time
An anthology of poems, grouped into a succession of week-long themes for the seven weeks of Lent, and preceded by an introductory ‘engaging with Lent’ selection.

 

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