I feel I should say that in all my 36 years I have never been to the ball game. My dad banned me from taking part way back, and being such a good girl I've done as I'm told. But it's not just we North Warwickshire folks that indulge in some medieval horseplay every Shrove Tuesday. According to Steve Roud's The English Year: there's a ball game in Sedgefield, County Durham; there's hurling in St Columb, Cornwall; there's rope-pulling in Ludlow, Shropshire. I imagine that there are all sorts of fun and games still going on throughout the towns and villages of the United Kingdom on Shrove Tuesday, and I feel so happy that every family makes pancakes, every child still gets slightly over excited about pancake day, that it's still a big deal.
So why do we feast and frolic on Shrove Tuesday? Well, it's because for the next forty days there will be no more feasting and no more festivities, and this lack of feasting and lack of festivity is the key to Lent. Lent, is traditionally, a time of mourning, penance, prayer, and this is very important, anticipation, a hyper-awareness. During Lent we contemplate Jesus Christ's forty days in the wilderness, we think about what happened in Christ's last days, we consider our own sins, we examine our personal walk with our Creator and we anticipate the magic and miracle of Easter. I think many Christians would say that they need a time in their year to do these things, and for us liturgical types this time of quiet hush is planned into the year for us.
Traditionally, Lent is marked by fasting. I have books from the 1930s which give menus for Lent, so it was not too long ago fasting was the norm, at least for those of us who are church rather than chapel! Generally, the fast consisted of giving up meat, poultry and rich dairy, but there seemed to be much libation of macaroni and cauliflower cheese, so I imagine that a little bit of cheddar was allowed!
- say something nice about somebody behind their backs
- make a real effort to recycle everything you throw away
- buy Fair Trade.
Of course, this all sounds ridiculously simple, and it's easy to discount these ideas, and say this is what Christians should be doing every day of their lives. This is of course true. However, I'm not such a brilliant Christian. I can gossip, be greedy, rather spend Sunday morning in bed, not make eye contact with my fellow church goers (lest they ask me to do something!), I can snap at those I love, be resentful, forget about prayer, forget about Christ and I can doubt. I am a human being and a work in progress, Lent gives me the time and quiet to help me work through my sins, act upon my Christian convictions, become closer to my Creator through prayer and fasting, and give thanks for all He has done for me, and this is no bad thing.
Now, I shall leave you with a few resources which may help you if you are considering following Lent this year.
First, here are the Quaker testimonies, the Christian life condensed down to five words. Peace, Truth, Equality, Simplicity, Earth. It helps me during Lent to become very aware of the meaning of these words.
Next, here's Lichfield Cathedral's Lenten diary. Very similar in tone to the Love Life Live Lent booklet, but free and online! Hurrah! Great suggestions for social action and very lovely prayers.
Here's a link to the Love Life Live Lent booklet, this is a free download (double hurrah) but it's not too late to buy it and it costs only £1.
Oh, and this resource, from Christian Aid, is absolutely smashing.
Well, I hope my exploration of Lent has been of help to you all, I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas on Lent, whatever they are!