Lent can be a little directionless. Maybe I am just speaking as a Northern Irish Presbyterian. We are not taught in the art of Lent. It seems to be all about giving things up. A chocolate/chips/alcohol fast for six weeks. It can end up as little more than a New Year's resolution. Perhaps I'll lose a little weight, but is that the point?
Lent should have more of a spiritual intention. Leonard Cohen sang the words of poet F R Scott:
From bitter searching of the heart,
Quickened with passion and with pain
We rise to play a greater part.
A searching of the heart. The Psalmist puts it well at the end of Psalm 139:
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Now this seems more like it. A time of reflection and soul critique. Yet, not only a looking in, but also a looking forward to the changes the searching should bring.
For me, Lent has much more potency in this particular year. These strange times give a near-perfect context for some serious Lenten practice.
Here are six weeks to look back at the "old normal", tossing it up in some winnowing and seeing what chaff is blown away by the Holy Spirit and what valuable grain falls back into the fan basket of eternal value. That will help us to begin to shape what might be called the "new different".
I remembering as far back as last April interviewing Deacon Blue's lead singer Ricky Ross for my blog. I was asking about how the lockdown impacted his work and life.
After telling me about the work that was on hold, he went on: "What we are experiencing changes everything. It changes what we thought was desirable and what we deemed as necessary. It changes our expectations of life and the degrees in which we find satisfaction."
We have had longer to ponder the "old normal" than we thought. I fear that we might lazily find ourselves out the other end and have nothing nearly as exciting as the "new different" might be.
Let us not just shine up the old tack, but rebirth an entirely new way to live.
So, let me invite us all to take Lent 2021 seriously. There are so many passages in the Scriptures that can help us unravel this great possibility.
Most of Jesus's teaching can speak directly into this very time. Jesus was asking the same questions of First Century Galilee and Jerusalem.
The focus of Jesus's teaching was our desires and ambitions. The things we put our life energies into. The goal of Jesus's teaching was that we would find ultimate soul satisfaction and find the deep secret of living as human beings.
So, I am giving up the chocolate and the dessert. I pray that makes me physically more healthy for a binge of Easter eggs on Resurrection Sunday. However, my real yearning is to be spiritually healthier.
So, let us get down to challenging all the values of the "old normal" and create something so much more spiritually fulfilling and, therefore, socially valuable in the "new different".
Rev Steve Stockman is minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, Belfast
Apt Bible readings
Some Scripture suggestions for the week ahead:
Monday: Psalm 139:23-24
Tuesday: Psalm 51:10-12
Wednesday: Matthew 6:19-21
Thursday: Matthew 6:25-34
Friday: Romans 12:9-16