Thursday, 14 February 2013

Lent for extroverts 2: Ash, then Love

To peruse the table of dates for Ash Wednesday and Easter Day in the front of Common Worship is to watch your life slipping by, year on year, ending abruptly in 2030. From time to time Valentine's Day falls in Lent, for instance, 2002; 2005; 2008; this year and in 2016. 

In 2018, 2024 and 2029, Ash Wednesday will fall on 14th February itself, occasioning an interesting liturgical/cultural dilemma for church-going couples: those giving up chocolate and other delicious things for the sake of their spiritual life will be unable to eat the Valentine's gifts brought by their devoted partners to celebrate romantic love. Observant C of E partners will no doubt go straight from the sombre evening's Ash Wednesday service of ashing to their romantic candlelit meal, not knowing whether to feel spiritually chastened or celebratory/sexy.

There's always a cultural/spiritual mix of things going on at Lent. Plenty of non-Church-goers seem to want to deny themselves things for some reason not clearly specified, but which is possibly a mixture of any of the following: hoping to lose weight; introduce some self discipline into their lives; save money; save the environment; think about others who have less, make up for not having been to church for years and prepare for major chocolate gorging at Easter. Conversely there seems to be a trend in church circles to take up something for Lent - are there suddenly more extroverts in the church who want get a positive spin on what they fear will be an otherwise mean-spirited and spiritually un-focussed spirit of 'No' pervasive through Lent?

I like that Valentine's is in Lent this year. Self discipline without love is surely 'a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal'. The spirit of mean rule keeping that characterised the Pharisees was not upheld by Christ, who routinely broke the Sabbath to bring healing and wholeness to people. Doesn't denial through Lent need to be in order to contemplate Love more clearly?

At a very low point in my life, which roughly coincided with Valentine's Day 1999, a family member sent a Valentine's card to our house. On opening it, a host of small red and purple paper hearts spilled out in a shower from the envelope to the floor, making us laugh and cry at the same time. In the true spirit of St Valentine, whose life was marked by sacrificial love of Christ and his church, we felt and knew we were divinely held and loved even in the saddest time.

Ash one day, love the next. A propitious calendar combination.

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