Eddie Gilmore has been reflecting on Lent with the help of a couple who run the local greengrocery shop.
A significant conversation for me was with the woman who runs my local green grocer. She and her husband are Muslims from Pakistan and they observe Ramadan, which means not eating or drinking during daylight hours for about four weeks. I was speaking to her one time in the first week of that holy month and she seemed quite joyful and serene (her husband slightly less so, and by Week 4 he was visibly feeling the strain!). She remarked to me, “It’s a time to be purified,” and I find that a lovely image for Lent: a time to be purified, from whatever it is we need to be purified from, whether that’s unhealthy food or unhealthy thoughts or images or habits or addictions. One of my favourite lines in the whole of the bible is one we hear read out in church on Ash Wednesday. It is found in Joel Chapter 2: ‘Come back to me with all your heart.’ What an invitation! However much we mess things up, God will be waiting for us with open arms. Come back to me with all your heart. And we’ll always be given another chance; if we don’t get it ‘right’ this Lent there will always be next Lent.
The woman at the green grocer gave me another valuable insight into Lent when she explained that Ramadan was also a time to do good deeds to those in the community in need. Again this has biblical echoes for me, in the book of Isaiah, Chapter 58: ‘Is not this the kind of fast that pleases me…to break unjust fetters and undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke, to share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor.’
As well as being filled with numerous occasions for temptation, Lent also happens to coincide, in the Northern Hemisphere at least, with the magical season of Spring. Indeed the word ‘Lent’ is simply derived from the old English word ‘lencten’ which means Spring season. As we enter Lent the world is quite literally exploding with new life. The snowdrops begin the show, closely followed by the crocuses and daffodils, then a little later some very brave early tulips. Meanwhile the first specks of yellow appear on the forsythia, the trees and bushes begin to bud, the days lengthen and the birdsong starts earlier…and finishes later.
So let us not in this Lent season be too harsh on ourselves. Let us perhaps instead hear anew the invitation to come back with all our heart. Let us find ways of reaching out to ‘the poor’, whoever and wherever they may be. And let us rejoice in this incredible annual miracle of creation.
To read more about Ramadan, we shared this post from the Missionaries of Africa, who live beside Muslims in Islamic lands.
A neighbourly gesture: solidarity between Muslims and Christians in Canterbury as we reported in another previous post.