Many years ago, before I
was ordained, I was visiting a friend's church and it was hosting a flower festival. The theme of the festival was ‘The
Church's Year' and there were some magnificent and unusual arrangements, with Easter and Christmas, Ascension
Day and Harvest Festival, Pentecost and All Saints Day, all picked out in a riot of colour and many different types of blooms.
And in the midst of all this vibrancy there was ‘Lent': a large tray of sand with some bare twigs and stones dotted
around. My friends, the vicar of the church, was a bit dismissive of it, his argument being that it was a flower festival,
and maybe ‘Lent' could have somehow been envisaged in flowers and foliage, even if it was subdued. A few sticks
and stones in a tray of sand, he thought, wasn't what people were paying money to some and see.
I sort of understand his point. But I've always remembered that ‘arrangement'
more vividly than the ones for Trinity Sunday or Epiphany or Candlemas because it was so striking and different to everything
This month we start our journey through the weeks of Lent,
looking towards the love of God found in Jesus Christ hanging on the cross and risen from the tomb. It's a ‘season'
in the Church's year that should feel different to others, even Advent. That's why we don't use alleluias in worship,
remove flower arrangements from the church and have a more penitential feel to the services we plan. And that's why we
try and make a special effort during these weeks to look at our lives and our faith and think about what is hampering both
our growth towards God and our blossoming in love, joy and peace.
stripping back of things in worship and in our lives (eg by fasting, or giving something up) is not about acts of discipline
to deny ourselves things, so we can pat ourselves on the back come Easter Day and say ‘didn't we do well!'.
It's about clearing things away that maybe obscure a better or different view, and about re-arranging the priorities in
our lives to ensure that we consider who and what is most important in our journey of faith. Have you ever redecorated a room
and at the same time moved the furniture around into a different configuration? Sometimes we realise that things are much
better with that chair over here and the rug over there and that bookcase on a different wall. Sometimes we wonder why we
didn't do it before as it's so much better. And sometimes we think, actually, it was interesting to try, but it was
better as it was. Lent is a chance for us to do this spiritually.
There might be things in our spiritual lives that need re-arranging and re-orienting,
just as there might be things that don't, but we only realise they don't when we've moved things around and realise
what we miss and why. Our love for God - and our understanding of his love for - us can become taken for granted or stuck
in a rut: sometimes we need to be ‘unsettled' to grow, just as poppy seeds that have lain dormant for years can
be encouraged to grow after being disturbed in the soil.
a prayer/poem by Jean M Watt entitled Unadorned which envisages ‘Lent' as a bare tree and compares
it to the fully decorated trees of ‘Christmas'. She says
Christmas which decrees
the setting-up, the dressing-up of trees,
Lent is a taking down, a striping bare,
a starkness after all has been withdrawn
leaving no hiding place, only an emptiness
between black branches ... Lest we should miss the stars.
Re-arranging our lives, our worship, our attitudes, our priorities - all the things we might do as
part of our Lenten Discipline - are so that we see the stars of God's love more clearly and so we can embrace Easter with
a new confidence in, and perspective, of his generous call and gift to us in Jesus Christ.
May we all be content with some bareness and stripping back in our lives of faith so that we do not miss the
With my prayers,