Lent can be seen as a season of the church where we speak of the denial of self in order to bring about change in ourselves! On the one hand we come to an acceptance of our mortality and our need for God, and on the other, confidence to know that in Christ, we are offered new life in the here and now. This leads to a real transformation in our outlook and attitudes – it gives us a sense of hope no matter the context in which we find ourselves. The word “Lent”, after all, is derived from the early English word, “Lencten”, the time when the days begin to lengthen, and the season sees new growth. Lenten transformation is about allowing ourselves to be shaped by God’s grace, just as the warming sun germinates and stirs nature into new life.
If this is true, why has the church repeatedly affirmed the Lenten disciplines of self denial? At its most profound level, acts of self-denial serve as an emptying of ourselves, enough to allow God in turn, to fill us. They are a means to an end. They prepare us to be transformed, just a little more, into the full image of ourselves that God intends, an image that conforms more truly to His own.
The early Church understood this when it developed the traditional disciplines of Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Firstly, prayer enables us to establish, maintain and strengthen our relationship with God. We will want to ask for the things we deeply need for ourselves and for others – healing, understanding, patience, humility, strength, insight, a better knowledge of God, an ability to detect his love and to reflect it in how we live. When we do this, we can begin to see the world as Christ sees it. This is the first, most foundational Lenten practice. If we do nothing else during Lent, the practice of daily prayer (preferably silent and contemplative – a few moments in the day, walking, sitting quietly somewhere – thinking about God and His presence around us). Lent is the perfect time to reignite our prayer life.
Secondly, fasting (what we typically mean when we talk of ‘giving something up’) is not about doing without something we like, but doing without something we need and the point of fasting is to recognize our dependence on God’s provision of life. Traditionally, fasting from everything except basic food, is done once or twice a week, from sunset to sunset on Mondays to Tuesdays and Thursdays to Fridays. Few of us do this now but I have several friends who adopt a vegetarian diet through Lent or use at least one day as a day of fasting. To feel your own need of something that is basic to life, does allow us to appreciate and focus on those in our world who have nothing, not of their own choice but out of circumstance. At its most basic level, Lent offers a time to reassess how we consume things without much thought – food, drink, clothes, the material things in everyday life. It sharpens the conscience and reminds us of the double standards that erode a proper sense of who and what we are, as we stand before God as part of one human family.
Lastly, when we offer our own money to help others in need (almsgiving) we are aligning ourselves to God’s will. Almsgiving can be planned or spontaneous. Either way, it is one of the most countercultural things we can do; it runs away from the default position of human self interest and travels directly towards imitating the generosity of God, from whom we have everything in the first place. This could be a time perhaps to reassess what you give to the Cathedral – never an easy or comfortable question to ask! During this Lent, will God indeed prompt you to review your giving in such a way as to enable the Cathedral to breathe easier and begin to fund its ministry in a new way? Ever since my own ordination, I have chosen to give sacrificially to the churches in which I have served and do so now. I have found it a totally liberating thing to do – unconditional generosity finds its blessing in so many ways.
In the end, whatever one does during Lent, it is between the individual and God. However, it is an opportunity to have an ambition and practice for ourselves, engaging in disciplines that remind us of God’s boundless grace, rather than gestures that try to make us the saviours of ourselves.
Events for Lent
Lent lunches are being held in Prebendal House, entrance is £6 payable at the door, proceeds to the Lent Appeal which this year is supporting Cardiff Food Bank. We hope you can join us
Wednesday 8th March hosted by Mothers’ Union
Wednesday 15th March hosted by Church Wardens and Friends
Wednesday 22nd March hosted by Bellringers
Wednesday 29th March hosted by Cathedral Staff and Clergy
Wednesday 5th April hosted by Social Committee
A Meditation and Discussion Group – is being held in Prebendal House by Rev’d Dr Mark Dimond. The group will meet from 7.30-9pm on Tuesday 14th March (Wisdom), 21st March (Patience) and 4th April (Joy). Places are limited, if you wish to attend please sign up at the back of the Cathedral or email: firstname.lastname@example.org