A not especially holy Lent

On Ash Wednesday, the parish priest issued 'in the name of the church' an invitation to observe what is termed a holy Lent.

It is a time honoured phrase, heralding the beginning of the penitential season of 40 days, traditionally marked by self-denial, fasting and prayer.

But now it is almost the end of the 40 days and for some reason, I do not feel especially holy this year, nor have I kept Lent in a particularly holy manner, having lapsed on one of the pleasures I gave up for the season, within a week of it starting.

Sundays, as I learned only in the last few years, are not counted as part of the 40 days. Indeed, some argue that it is a sin to fast on The Lord's Day. For years, I would give something up for the entire period before Easter, as this is much easier than giving it up in the week and treating myself again on the weekend.

But I have been in church every Sunday morning, except one. It is something of an achievement as invariably, I am completing my last taxi journey of the night past three o'clock in the morning.

This last Sunday, I was delivering safely home in the pitch darkness down a track off the A420, two charming customers and one who slept all the way – with the constant worry of him waking up and being sick.

Dr Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, preaching in Abingdon last year, offered this guidance to those he had newly confirmed that night in the Christian faith: "Read the Bible, say your prayers, come to church. Boring, obvious, true."

This is as true for those who are starting the journey as it is for those like me, who have been on it for 30 years or more. These things I have done, though I still don't feel especially holy this year.

On the fourth Sunday in Lent, kept in England as Mothering Sunday, there were flowers and songs which speak to the soul of grace and redemption and love. It is always a difficult occasion for me, as my own mother departed this life more than 23 years ago.

It is possible to try and avoid it altogether by going and doing something else, but sometimes, just being in church and letting it all go on around me, is enough. Grief is a peculiar thing, even after more than half a lifetime and so it was that Sunday, when I went up for Holy Communion, I couldn’t stop myself from crying. Goodness only knows what those administering must have thought, but on the way back down, a brother stopped to ask if I was alright, which was an act of kindness.

It is the abundance of these small acts of kindness, which are one of the signs marking a Christian community.

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 28 March 2018