What follows is the text of my Thought for the Day on BBC Radio Kent on Sunday 4th March:
Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return. It is with these stark and almost shocking words that for many Christians the season of Lent began a couple of weeks ago on Ash Wednesday.
Since the very early years of Christianity, Christians have taken Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness as a cue to spend a period of time every year in a more concerted focus on their spiritual life.
The number ‘forty’ occurs many times in the Bible: forty days of rain during the Flood, during which life was preserved by Noah in his ark; forty years spent by the Israelites in the wilderness after their liberation form Egyptian slavery and before they were allowed to see the promised land. Forty is associated with repentance, or opening ourselves to different ways of thinking
We often think of Lent as a time when we give things up. No chocolate, or perhaps more radically, no alcohol! But really, the point of Lent, like the point of the whole Christian life, is to try to become more aware of the existence of a deeper purpose, by realizing just how much of the time we hide behind things which are superficial and trivial, pretending to ourselves that we are made happy in any lasting way by these trappings.
The message of Lent is that it is only when we strip away our distractions, unplug our headphones, turn off the computer, that we begin to see life for what it really is.
As Rowan Williams writes in the introduction to Ruth Burrows’ book Love Unknown, which is his recommended reading for Lent this year, if can open our hearts in calm and stillness, “we can just allow God to be who he is, ‘love unknown’, the one who wants to live in us and pray in us, so that we … can come to life again, without anxiety.”
The best thing we can do this Lent is not necessarily to make a big show of giving something up, or even undertaking some extra religious practice, though they are not necessarily bad things to do in themselves, but try to make some minutes of stillness in our days to just let God “be who he is”.