That’s right. Not chocolate, coffee or telly (I don’t like coffee anyway, and I don’t have a telly). Religion. Hmm. Does that imply a 40 day period of heathen revels instead? Let’s consider…
I’ve already seen quite a lot about fasting, abstinence and giving things up. For some who reckon Christians are already a bit lacking in the fun department, Lent might amplify and confirm such preconceptions. But frankly, even as a card-carrying believer (one carrying other cards with some big questions on them by the way), on the face of it Lent doesn’t look like a barrel of laughs to me either.
Here’s the rub. Lent, and holiness, can easily sound narrow, spartan, dreary and hard. In a multi-faith, pluralistic society, they can also easily be considered the preserve primarily of the ‘Christian community’, a little island in a vast sea of other ways of looking at the world (though, to be fair, Lent does have a certain inclusivity in our culture; many take up the opportunity to detox in some way).
Being honest, there have been times and circumstances where I’ve felt like a tiny boat drifting ignored and irrelevant on this great sea. The world out there can be competitive, cool, brash and fierce. By contrast the church can sometimes feel small, weak, diffident – and badly dressed. And I can be tempted to perceive such apparent weakness as somehow reflecting the gospel itself – no traction or relevance in the world.
But I’m not sure these feelings match reality. Yes, Jesus did say the gate to eternal life is narrow, but I think he was addressing the difficulty such things as pride represent in keeping us from trusting and following. Actually, beyond the gate I believe the kingdom – spiritual life – is vast and full to overflowing with life and joy.
Lent traditionally recalls Jesus’ forty days of solitude and temptation in the desert. These insights together – narrow gate and desert – remind me of CS Lewis’s reimagining of spiritual reality in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. Young Lucy’s willingness to believe leads her through the ‘narrow gate’ of the wardrobe into the ‘desert’ of snow-bound Narnia under the white witch’s spell. But it’s a wilderness ready to spring to glorious new life when the lion Aslan finally breathes upon it.
Rules, law, religion, merely ‘believing the right things’ – I’m not interested either. But grace, favour and a vast undiscovered country to explore – yes please. And if Lent offers a chance to check THIS out a bit more – I’m in.