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  Get out of Lent free cardHallo again to all.

It's Lent. And a very late Lent it is, but still we repeat the age-old cry, 'Lent already? I can't believe it.'

And yet we had a luxuriously long Epiphany to prepare. Surely we knew we were following that star from Bethlehem to the desert? Or perhaps not. It's so easy to push Lent out of mind. Yes, we think to ourselves, 'it's coming'; 'it's nearly here; 'Ash Wednesday is in a week', and so on. But even the night before we push the day away and have our pancakes. Lent is never here until that smudge of ash is once again pressed into our forehead.

Dust. Ashes. Desert dryness. Forty days. Giving up this? Taking on that? It's still just . . . tough. We want All Easter, All The Time. But the church firmly says no to that childish plea.

It was the custom in earlier times to date one's journal entries, for example, 'The 9th day of Lent', rather than using the day and date. We rather like that, for it weaves the 40 days through the humdrum work week, where the pressure of the quotidian can push the season to the side. To really live in Lent means being fully aware of it, through the days, the disciplines we take on, the naughty habits we try to let go, or the difference we build into our daily lives. It should be a season of difference.

So for a good part of this Lent, we've decided to focus on where best to put energy that builds up and enables. We'll watch for — and fight against — cynical criticism and negative energy. Giving up perusing strident Anglican blogs filled with irritable authors, angry responders, or just long-winded justifications of this position or that position sounds like one of the ways to achieve that. And the slow, deliberate day-by-day walking of those 40 days, with the realisation that Lent is a time we desperately need, is worthwhile in itself, even if we sometimes can't see it.

Once, at Mount Calvary Monastery in Santa Barbara, a house of the Order of the Holy Cross, an Anglican religious order, a young cleric sat down at a table with me* and a great bishop of the church, Daniel Corrigan. Dan was in his eighties at the time, retired, still strong as an ox. For most of his life, he had defied authority for the sake of compassion. [...]

As we were eating together, the young priest was suddenly overcome with earnestness.

"Bishop Corrigan," he asked, through a mouthful of French toast, "What would you die for?"

"Water rights," Dan replied, without missing a beat.

The boy sat back in his chair. Dan smiled. "Why not?" he asked. Then he continued, "You don't actually get up one morning and decide to die for something. You put your foot on a path and walk. One day, you look back, maybe fifty years, and say, "'That's what I gave my life for.'"

Championing water rights may not seem like dying a martyr's death, upside-down on a cross, or by gunshot, knife, or rope, as Christians die today in war-torn and persecuted areas of the world. But any dedicated life lived in love and service of our Lord, no matter what the sphere of activity, can at times be a Lenten-like journey. This spare season can help train us for the steady giving up of self for a larger cause, toward an end that we may never see, but which advances the Kingdom of Heaven a little more.

Welcome, dear feast of Lent.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 13 March 2011


* From Nora Gallagher's Things Seen and Unseen

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