Belfast Telegraph

Lent reminds us that Christianity still has a crucial role in our secular world

By Alf McCreary

However you intend to mark Lent, by losing weight or some other discipline, or just continuing to behave as usual, some local churches and Christian groups are underlining the real meaning of this religious season.

Several Protestant and Roman Catholic speakers will be giving weekly talks in St Anne's Cathedral about 'The Art and Form of Prayer'.

The series of talks, which begin on February 23, will take place on Fridays from 4.15-5.15pm and will be followed by Evensong.

However, I am intrigued that people can devote five hours to speaking about prayer. I believe that the art and form of prayer is seeking the silence of an empty place, waiting patiently and then listening to God's guidance, with an open mind.

Meanwhile, as well as the St Anne's talks, some 21 churches and Christian groups in North Belfast will stage a programme of 40 days of 'ReLENTless prayer'.

The initiative is being taken by the Church of Ireland Lower Shankill ministry team, headed by the rector Canon James Carson and his wife Heather, the parish development officer.

Canon Carson said: "We are great believers in partnership, where we can have a much bigger impact in north Belfast than if we do it alone."

The Lent season is preceded by the fun of Shrove Tuesday with its pancakes, which is a throwback to times long ago when people ate as much as they could to sustain them during the long Lenten fast.

This year I had no pancakes but on Ash Wednesday, which coincidentally was also St Valentine's Day, my wife gave me lovely a card and a colourful present which brought sunshine to a day of stormy weather.

Lent is also the run-up to Good Friday and Easter, and we could do with much more prayer for our Province which remains in an unholy political mess. Sadly, however we continue to pray for peace and we then vote into power the main parties who inevitably end up in conflict. I wonder when the penny will drop.

These special seasons like Lent give a particular shape to our annual calendar, but they are also a reminder that Christianity is not just for Sundays, and that true religion still has a crucial role in our everyday secular world.

A good example of this was the intervention by the Anglican Bishop Harold Miller who has asked Belfast City Council to defer its decision on a proposal that Belfast Marathon, which is held traditionally on a Monday, should be transferred to a Sunday.

Harold Miller is a man of the real world as well as a man of the cloth, and he is no spoilsport. He points out, however, that many race participants go to church on a Sunday and therefore would not be able to take part. As well, the churches along a Sunday marathon route would be inconvenienced.

Bishop Miller has asked that the marathon should be kept open to all. Those who want to stage the race on a Sunday claim they want to generate more revenue and bring in more visitors, irrespective of people's deeply-held religious views.

In one sense they want to maximise the marathon but there is more to civic life than making money, and Bishop Miller is right to protest at this latest marginalisation of Christianity.

If you doubt that this marginalisation by secularists is taking place, I refer you to the Sunday Times which carried last a week a mock up of the Prime Minister and her Cabinet colleagues seated around a table in the manner of Leonardo's painting of Christ and his disciples at the Last Supper.

No doubt that this was seen as a great way to get a political message across to the secular world, but the paper would not dare print a similar caricature of the Prophet Mohammed.

It would not do so because of the inevitable outcry from Muslims, but Christianity remains a soft target because Christians are commanded to turn the other cheek to satire and insults.

So it is good that Lent reminds us of other, more important values. A world totally run by politicians and people interested only in making money is reminiscent of the wise comment about those who know the price of everything, but the deeper value of very little.

Belfast Telegraph

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