This Sunday marked the first Sunday in Lent.
Traditionally, a period in time where we give something up… In our lives of busyness and chaos, living in a society that “wants” constantly, we can get so swept up in hearing what is going on ‘out there’ and not have the space or the time to listen to what is going on inside of us. So, lent is seen as a time to give something up to get in touch again with the inner voice, to reclaim your spirituality. Pope Francis says that whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, and I would add – even our better self! The quiet joy of God’s love is no longer felt, and the desire to continue to do good just fades.
So Lent is traditionally a time to fast – to take away something and give something up in order to focus on ourselves. But, what if – instead of giving something up, we took something on board? What if we take up something that we wouldn’t normally do? I’m not asking you to shift your life around completely and turn things inside out to add something else to the juggling balls you’re only just managing to keep in the air.
I’ll leave you to think of that for a while and I’ll come back to it soon.
The kids talk this morning was one of growth – what happens when we watch something grow? We work with it, we wait, we are patient as we watch life appear… More often than not it isn’t something that happens instantaneously, but I would tend to disagree if we are talking about children – they seem to grow instantaneously!
But in using the metaphor of plants, like we did just before, we work the land, we tend to the soil, we water the plant, we nourish the earth with fertilizer, we watch and wait and see what happens. And then when life appears, we use it to nourish our bodies and those around us.
And then the plant nourishes others – whether it is a rose with a beautiful scent, whether it is parsley that adds to a dish, whether it is a sunflower to brighten someone’s day. The plant, once grown, enriches and nourishes life surrounding it. I found this to be quite a profound way to look at ourselves.
But what happens when the plant is choked by weeds, by competing plants around? And what happens if you tend to forget about the plant for a bit, because you’re busy with life, and the plant struggles for a while, but then doesn’t quite make it…?
Our inner selves can be like this too. We can be surrounded and constantly “needed” by so many aspects and facets of life, we can feel as if we are being choked. We can forget to tend to ourselves, leaving the inside of us dry and gasping for water. We can forget about that side of us, and then wonder why we haven’t heard the voice of God in a while. We heard today about the covenant of God – God spoke of the covenant of the rainbow, and in Peter we heard about the covenant between God and ourselves in Baptism. So, if God is constantly aware of the covenant that was made between God and us, I don’t think it’s the Divine that’s causing the distance. We, as people, can very easily forget about working on ourselves. And I think that this time can be a wonderful time for getting in touch with who we are.
This season of Lent, I think that the traditional way of giving something up has been about selfishness – in a good way. It is about clearing away the debris to make clear the path for something new. If we think about it in the metaphor of a garden again – before we plant new plants, we can’t just plant over the old, we have to clear the earth to plant the new seeds. We have to tend the earth, we have to prepare the ground and allow the seed time and space to grow.
If we allow it, our Lenten disciplines are supposed to ultimately transform our entire person.
Rumi speaks about fasting from food and draws a beautiful illustration. It’s up on the screen.
There’s a hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness. We are lutes, no more, no less. If the sound box is stuffed full of anything, no music. If the brain and the belly are burning clean with fasting, every moment a new song comes out of the fire. The fog clears, and a new energy makes you run up the steps in front of you…. ~Rumi
Now, maybe it won’t be a physical running up the stairs, but energy comes in so many different forms. Energy for life, energy and vitality for others, energy through ideas and creativity… You can think of more.
So, how can we clear this space? Well, you can give something up – be it chocolate, coffee, lollies, bad habits, meat… Or you can take something up. You can take up intentional prayer daily. You can take up self-care: going to bed earlier, or eating healthier. You can take up a positive attitude. You can take up meditation.
Because, if we do this, if we take something up, then we are committing to change within ourselves. If we take something up it will be something that will bring us closer to the Divine, to make ourselves more aware of God within us and around us. And we need to remember that real change always has to start with oneself.
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said in his Easter Message a couple of years ago that:
“It is important to remember that the word ‘Lent’ itself comes from the old English word for ‘spring’. It’s not about feeling gloomy for forty days; it’s not about making yourself miserable for forty days; it’s not even about giving things up for forty days. Lent is springtime. It’s preparing for that great climax of springtime which is Easter – new life bursting through death. And as we prepare ourselves for Easter during these days, by prayer and by self-denial, what motivates us and what fills the horizon is not self-denial as an end in itself but trying to sweep and clean the room of our own minds and hearts so that the new life really may have room to come in and take over and transform us at Easter.”
I would really like this image of Easter and Lent to be one of fruitfulness and growth. I have adopted the idea of taking something up for Lent, and I invite you to do the same. I also invite you that as you plant your little pot plant at home, concentrate on what you are planting within yourself. As you watch your little potplant grow, as you nurture your little plant, allow it room to grow and flourish, do the same for yourself. Nurture yourself, allow yourself room to grow and flourish. And as you share your parsley with others, watch as you yourself feed and nourish others.
One thing I have taken up for Lent is generosity. Small acts of kindness: they don’t have to be big things, just small things – for people I know, or random strangers. I’d like to share a clip with you that shows the ripples that occur when you do something kind…
When we partake in a random act of kindness, we ourselves are fed. We ourselves are nourished. So it is a big cycle. When we nourish ourselves, we feeds others. If we take care of ourselves, we do have more energy to care for others. And when we have energy to do something kind for another, it feeds and nourishes us, and so on…
But it must begin with us.
The seed that we will watch grow in our potplants is a symbol of what will happen inside us if we allow it to.