For the last ten years, I have given up coffee and chocolate for Lent.
Relinquishing things that give us pleasure is a time-honoured Lenten disciple, a way of creating space for sober reflection. Following these disciplines prompts us to stop and dwell for a moment on what truly matters.
It also creates longing. It’s a small act of solidarity with those who do not have access to so much that we take for granted.
This year, I’m adopting a different approach to Lent.
An article written by Peter Ormerod a few years ago has stayed with me, ‘Why I’ll be giving up Facebook for Lent, again.’ (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/08/giving-up-facebook-lent-online-self)
Ormerod writes that Facebook creates ‘online selves that are inflated and contrived.’ He notes in a refreshingly honest manner, ‘When I post on Facebook – and I don’t post very often – I’m far too eager to see how many likes I get.’
Facebook is not the only social mechanism that pushes us in that direction. Merely surviving and adapting to life fosters a contrived self. Ormerod suggests that ‘Lent is all about stripping away the stuff we use to puff ourselves up.’
Any avenue that helps us reflect on our ‘contrived’ or ‘puffed up self’ is both welcome and necessary.
I don’t use Facebook, so that’s not a challenge; however, there are others.
Recently, when the news of Cardinal Pell’s conviction became public, I was dismayed and angry.
Here was another example of the abuse of power, of suffering inflicted on children by someone well-known for trumpeting moral and sexual values. The trauma caused to victims by such actions is incalculable, not least the destruction of the innate human capacity and need to trust others.
Later, though, when I watched footage of George Pell leaving the court, bent over, abused by onlookers, I felt sorry for him.
Let me underline that my second response did not cancel out my anger at him or my concern for the victims.
Also, I stress that I support the justice system and its decisions concerning the perpetrators of child abuse.
What I refer to here are my subjective responses.
I’m not sure how to hold together anger and compassion.
Ormerod’s insights into the construction of a sense of self are pertinent because a sense of self is frequently buttressed by judging others.
I acknowledge that I pass judgement too quickly.
Concerning child abusers, such a response is very understandable
However, it may unwittingly deprive me/us of compassion.
Are there ways of being both compassionate and angry?
Lent fosters a new perspective on self.
This year, I’m not giving up coffee and chocolate. I’m giving up harsh judgements. I will seek to create sufficient space internally to consider carefully the many rapid impulses that push me to judgement.
(Some parishioners may be relieved about this change of focus; I have been told I am a grumpy minister when deprived of coffee!)
Recently at Revesby when we celebrated Pancake Sunday, we used some words in our liturgy that I’d like to conclude with:
Fast from greed,
feast on sharing
Fast from telling lies,
feast on telling the truth
Fast from teasing,
feast on kind words
Fast from hate,
feast on love.