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Hallo again to all.

Carbon Fast 2009This week we thought we'd write about sensible, lovely pre-Lent things. We'd point you to George Herbert's trusty "deare feast of Lent". We'd make a clamour for a Lenten weblog-fast in which the monstrous regiment of bloggers would lay aside their fearmongering, slanderish keyboards and help us paint the rectory or make a quart of soup for a bereaved friend. We'd rhapsodize on Shrove Tuesday and the best traditions of a Full Homely Lent; we'd tell you what we're reading for Lent this year; we'd share our sincere excited anticipation of singing Herzliebster Jesu and Song 46 and St Theodulph; we'd reflect on one of the changes or chances of this life we see afresh this year sub specie æternitatis.

Instead, this year on the Sunday next before Lent—or Quinquagesima, if you like (and we do)—we thought it best to step aside and let a thoughtful bishop speak from his experience of what kind of fast he and we know to be really needful right now.

Talking about fasting is bad for the soul. Like giving away your money, it should be done quietly behind closed doors, certainly not in front of microphones and cameras. There are no rewards in heaven for turning the virtue of fasting into the vice of broadcasting about it. The point of fasting is to lay your life before God secretly and seriously. Fasting isn't dieting, though both can involve food. Dieting is usually about how you look on the outside. Fasting is about the shape of your soul. It's a form of praying which, if you were to put it into words, would sound like Psalm 139:

Try me, O God, and seek the ground of my heart.
Prove me and examine my thoughts.
Look well if there be any way of wickedness in me.

"The ground of my heart" is exactly what's up for inspection as we let God scrutinise what we really want out of life. "Look well if there be any way of wickedness in me." That might sound a little strong in a world where the words "right" and "wrong" have given way to "appropriate and "inappropriate." But perhaps we can allow ourselves a little wickedness for Lent. Although I fear—and I'll leave this to your imagination—that the scope of what we consider to be wicked is usually pretty narrow. Try the impact that our living has on other people's dying. I think that probably counts for wickedness.

If the scientists are right—and only a minority dissent—we're warming up the planet to a disastrous level. Whatever else is happening in the natural cycle, a larger-than-ever world population is putting into the atmosphere more carbon than there has ever been in the history of the planet. There's an ever-thickening blanket wrapping itself around the earth.

That doesn't on the face of it sound very wicked, but it feels it, if you're one of the millions whose life has already been threatened by the floods and droughts of a changing climate. I've sat with village elders in Africa and in India and watched their sorrow-stained faces as they told me stories of their children drowned in the floods.

It could just be that in fasting this Lent a still small voice might call us to think again about how we should now live. Instead of giving up chocolate or alcohol, we could cut out the one thing that is suffocating the planet. A fast of carbon could bless the earth as well as our soul. It could save the poor, as well as God's world.*

We share a planet and church with some who find the good Bishop of Liverpool's thoughts only a well-meaning substitution for more ecclesiocentric—perhaps even more excitingly wrathful—kinds of Christian activity. Rather, we find his approach a meet and right churchly response to the pressing needs of God's own world and people. Give the Carbon Fast a thought and a click.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 22 February 2009

* We heard this fine address by Bishop James Jones on BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme this morning. You can listen to it here.

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