Who needs Lent?
We had our pancakes this week. Actually we had them on Wednesday rather than on Tuesday - better late than never! Shrove Tuesday was the day when Christians were supposed to finish up left-overs of rich food in one big pancake before they started the six-week run-up to Easter. It was an opportunity to reflect on the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the desert. During Lent simple food would make fewer demands on your digestion and so leave your mind unclouded for thoughtful reflection on spiritual values.
But these days, Lent and ‘giving up stuff’ has been separated from religion. Even the most secular people recognise the benefits of giving up stuff – often after times of over-consumption! After Christmas, people give up alcohol or meat in Veganuary. People recognise intuitively that we over-consume – chocolate, alcohol, food in general – and all sorts of other resources. In our best moments, many of us recognise that our over-consumption is a ‘bad thing’.
This year, Lent has a different feeling about it. The last year or so has been one long enforced Lent, depriving us not necessarily of food, but of so many things which normally give us pleasure. Prolonged lockdown has given us plenty of opportunity to pause for thought. In the year-long Lent in which we’ve all been participants, a lot of natural wisdom is emerging as to why ‘less is more’.
One friend told us this week that during lockdown he has ‘stopped working for a living and started to find a life’. Others have described the benefits of spending hours usually spent commuting with their families, of being able to eat with their spouses and children, of walking together. Yet another has described the benefit of a change of diet to fit around lockdown patterns of working – and the clarity of mind that followed.
Of course these friends are among the more fortunate ones. None of them has lost their jobs. All have been able to work from home. But being brought up short to look at the frenetic nature of life and live more simply for the benefit of one’s community has clearly brought its own advantages.
The advantages of our long-term Lent have extended beyond us as individuals to the environment. The reduction in the pollution of the environment over the past year has been considerable. Some people have been asking whether we need to fly around the world for business meetings and holidays quite as much as have been used to? Many question whether we need those foods which reach us only after thousands of airmiles have been covered?
We can only hope, that more and more people in the West will recognize after our prolonged and enforced Lenten year that we simply have too much stuff. That we want too much stuff. That some people don’t have enough stuff and we need to think about a more equitable distribution of stuff – sharing resources with people on the margins of our societies – the immigrants, the homeless people who are growing in number.
One simple step forward would be to share our medical resources with people in parts of the global south whose access to the Covid vaccine is severely limited by the lack of facilities and expertise to produce it .
Our lives can easily get so cluttered with stuff. Not least in our heads.
An old adage comes to mind: Live simply that others may simply live.