Giving up or Taking up? Bishop John reflects

Welcome to Lent. Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, a period of 40 days leading up to Easter. It’s traditionally a time of preparation for Christians around the world. We spoke to Bishop John for his thoughts on it this year.

 

“Jesus tells us a curious story that helps me to understand a little bit more what Lent is about. It’s the story of an unclean spirit, that is cast out and wonders in the wilderness, before finding its way back to its home, presumably inside a person, and finds that the home has been beautifully cleaned and swept and polished, and he’s so excited that he goes out and invites some of his friends to come in and join him for a party. Jesus’ point being that we can get ourselves very tidy inside but we can end up being in a worse state at the end than we were at the beginning becuase we haven’t put anything there in the place of the thing that we cast out.

“I suppose that by unclean spirit, Jesus means things that get between us and God, that distract us from God – or things we crave and yearn for in place of God. Things that might enslave us or simply prevent us flourishing.

“In Lent we often make great play of it being a spiritual spring-clean – of ridding ourselves of these distractions, of sweeping and tidying and getting our internal furniture in the just right place. So, for some it means giving up chocolates or biscuits or junk food, giving up that obsessive computer game or more seriously addressing some of the addictions we have.

“The trouble is, that if all we do is to stop something for 40 days and then breathe a sigh of relief that we can get back to ‘normal’, our cravings will simply return, filling up all our internal space, making a mess, scratching the furniture – so that our last state is worse than our first.

“Jesus’ story suggests that in Lent we should take up as well as give up. Do something that you’ve always wanted to do – something that will make you feel good. Random acts of kindness. Or making contact with people who are lonely, someone who is having a hard time. Giving space for study or prayer or a Lent group. Or, for that matter, getting out of the house and volunteering for something in the community. You name it, you can do it.

“In this way, Lent becomes not a 40-day chore but an opportunity to reshape our priorities and to learn new habits that have the potential to transform our lives and the lives of those around us.

“Have a happy and holy Lent.”