This is definitely my favourite holiday in the religious calendar. For a load of reasons. Last week was of course Holy Week. The quieter time of Lent culminates in a week of traditional services all with different moods and significance. Moving through the week is like a gentle and very supported guide to emotions. It is a week of guided introspection, that follows six weeks of fasting, almsgiving and prayer.
I enjoy the sense of tradition, it makes me feel very grounded and somehow safe. Many of the services are attended by much the same people, so I have a real feeling of belonging to a wider community and being part of something bigger than me.
The music is unusual, not what we hear in the rest of the year, and yet familiar in it being the music of Holy Week. The services themselves are unusual, but the same every year. It’s a delightful mix of familiarity and difference all in one week.
It is wonderful to be encouraged to be quiet, to turn inwards for a few days. There is a lot of silence in the church services, Good Friday is a day of abstinence and fasting. I abstained from my phone and laptop for the day. It definitely changed the mood of the day, making it much more deliberate and thoughtful.
After a long winter, it felt good to have a week of reflection and quiet to bring it to a proper end. The weather was very compliant, starting the week with cold and wind and warming up as the week wore on. Lent and winter ended very well indeed.
Last week was full on, and writing this took a back seat. As did running and yoga. So this morning is a reassessment of what is important in the week ahead. But I am trying to be gentle with myself rather than looking at the yoga and run records for the month so far and beating myself up. Or looking back and realising it is five days since I wrote my ‘daily’ blog.
I have got into the bad habit of noticing what I have NOT done, but last week was hugely productive. I made contact with various people in Scouts and ended up having some very productive conversations. It is good to be back in touch with some really inspiring and dedicated people.
The Birmingham Children’s Book Group were at Bournville BookFest on Saturday and I spent the day in a rather chilly marquee, chatting to interesting, lovely people about children’s books and reading in families and schools. And publicising our monthly Book Swap (second Saturday of every month at Bournville Community Hub, 9.30 to 10.30).
Sunday morning was spent at church, collecting donations to CAFOD’s Fast Day and showing the film of Mahinur’s story . I met new volunteers to our Children’s Liturgy team and started their training. I caught up with some other friends at coffee after mass. A very sociable morning which felt useful.
Sunday afternoon included cooking lunch for the extended family, who we have not seen for an age. Time was spent reading and watching TV as a family. We had an evening dog walk to the pub to catch up with good friends.
Writing it all down helps me realise that it’s not that I have done nothing, I just chose to prioritise volunteering over exercise and blogging for a couple of days. And by blogging the list I get to start this week with a tick in the blog box on this week’s to do list. Two birds with one blog. Have a good week.
The last few months have definitely been a work and play focus. The sheer volume of work that happens in January and February takes me by surprise every year. But this year I got through very much by keeping very focussed on work and trying to do a lot of socialising and travelling at weekends in order to make sure I relaxed somewhat.
Now though I am ready to turn back to the various volunteer roles I hold in life. All of which I enjoy and have a different purpose. The CAFOD group at church is preparing for Lent Fast Day this Friday and a Fairtrade wine tasting in May.
The Birmingham Children’s Book Group is part of the Bournville Book Fest this weekend and next and I will be on the Book Swap stall that we run. If you are near Rowheath Pavilion this Saturday or Bluecoat School next Saturday, come and swap children’s books.
My Scout role definitely needs some more attention, although as always with my Scout role, a fair amount has gone on in the background even if its not as visible as it could be. Now though I need to set my sights back on recruiting others who can share their administrative, financial and management skills for the benefit of the hundreds of children who enjoy Scouts every week in Birmingham. How to do that is still puzzling me a bit though.
I have resigned as a children’s liturgist after some years of service. I leave at the end of Lent, but meanwhile am working hard to train and support some new liturgists so that they are ready to take over once I step down.
It is good to be back in the mix, even if all the meetings happening in one week along with a weekend full of volunteering is a bit of a leap back into it all.
We’re a couple of days into Lent already. I enjoy Lent, I appreciate the chance to slow down, spend more time in prayer, spend more time thinking about the world around me and how I can affect change in things that matter to me (almsgiving) and spend less time thinking about me and my needs (fasting). It’s an interesting mix of being more internal: my prayer means more time deliberately alone and quiet or in reflective prayer groups and church services and the external: fasting makes me realise how much I consume; almsgiving brings inequality and social injustice into sharp focus.
I find fasting is the element that is easiest to make happen, it is the part of Lent that most people have heard about. Fasting usually means giving up a type of food or drink, but I have also fasted from plastic use and from social media in the past. The challenge for me is to see it as a reset of my dependence on some sort of consumption, creating an ease and space in me that I can then devote to prayer. Not as a diet! But generally it is fairly easy to put in place.
More challenging is almsgiving. Never mind about giving up the chocolate, what do you do instead of eat chocolate? I need to look around and observe where I can see injustice or inequality and use the chocolate money to do something about it. And – add a bit to the chocolate money and also lend my voice to the cause. Today is International Women’s Day, so looking at an issue focussed on women seems to be in order today. If you can empower women you can change whole communities. The ongoing challenge is that I don’t think almsgiving is supposed to be about a one-off donation, it’s about being much more open to the injustice around you and knowing that you are part of the solution.
The most challenging for me is finding time every day for prayer. A proper chunk of reflection and listening to God – finding the requisite time feels ridiculously challenging. I worry I don’t pray properly. I worry I don’t hear what I should hear or see what I should see.
And that is the beauty of Lent. It is an annual challenge to stop, reset your priorities, move your focus outwards to the world and also to a higher power. It is a time to prioritise my spirit, not tick lists, not outward appearance, but the why of my life.