LENT HAS a reputation for being a gloomy time of year; its disciplines disturb conscience, its study or sermons shake the mind's dust. It is endured not enjoyed by most. George Herbert, an Anglican priest and poet (1593-1633) urged his readers to welcome Lent as a "dear feast'. He suggests in his poem "Lent" that attitudes to the penitential season are a barometer of how much a person is "compos'd of passion" - meaning the appetites, desires and temper of our physical life as moved by our own self-will.
For Herbert, the fasting of Lent is in obedience to Scripture; the timing of the penitential season the teaching of the Church:
Scripture bids us fast; the Church says, now: Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow To every corporation.
Herbert continues to list the delights of Lent which include "sweet abstinence". "Quick thought and motions at a small expense." There is too, the freedom that comes from a clear conscience which he describes as "A face not fearing light." Furthermore, for Herbert, it is a means of becoming a more Christ-like Christian, for in Lent we walk with Christ in His forty days and as he pointedly remarks:-
Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone, Is much more sure to meet with him, than one That travelleth byways.
Herbert teaches us that Lent is a time to make our best efforts in seeking to be at one with Christ :
We cannot reach our Saviour's purity Yet we are bid, Be holy even
In both let's do our best.
He reminds us that we may hope that
Perhaps my God, though far before,
May turn, and take me by the hand.
We should not abuse Lent, even if others do, argues Herbert, for in that way lies a means to forfeit all our creed. Rather Lent will, if welcomed, "enlarge" the joy of Easter and all that spring "intimates". We should welcome Lent because it is an opportunity to revel not in our parlour but at our door where by acts of generosity and service we may
...banquet the poor,
And among those his soul.
Let us greet Lent with enthusiasm and anticipate the joy and riches it brings and give it all our best that we may find Christ waiting for us.
Andy Hawes, is Vicar of Edenham with Witham-on-the-Hill in
the Diocese of Lincoln
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