Wednesday, 25 February 2009


Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Yesterday we had such a great feast of pancakes. It was made extra special because for the first time everyone got to toss a pancake, even my five year old, half of it landed on the floor, but she was pretty pleased with herself nonetheless (please note, the DH picked the pancake up from the floor and ate it, this just goes to show that my floors are spotless, SPOTLESS, I tells ya...wink, wink). The traditional way to eat pancakes in the UK is to sprinkle them with caster sugar and squeeze lemon juice over them, apparently this is meant to represent the bitter-sweet nature of Lent, but I'm not sure whether that's a bit of Victorian fancy. Now, around my way there's been a riotous game of football going on every Shrove Tuesday for over 800 years. Here's a clip of the Atherstone Ball Game, we're so hard in North Warwickshire that we don't even realise when we've got a black eye! Grr!

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!

However, in more modern times the emphasis on a traditional fast has been replaced with the idea of "giving up" some treat or vice. So, many Christians may lay off the chocolate, cigarettes and wine over the Lenten period, and I think this is what the secular world see Lent as too, a time to "give up" a vice/treat/crutch. This idea of "giving up" isn't such a bad one, is it? In times of stress if you turn to chocolate, rather than Christ, then during Lent, when your focus is on prayer and penance, then it's probably a good idea to say goodbye to all choccy treats and pray that your relationship with Christ will be enriched by the experience. But this is all so personal. Whether you fast or "give up", whether you follow one of those green-ethical Lenten diaries, whether Lent is for prayer only, it is a personal decision, one which you must decide upon thoughtfully and prayerfully.

I am fasting today, because it is Ash Wednesday. I'm following the ABC's advice and praying for those who live in Zimbabwe, who are facing hard times such as I can never imagine. I shall also fast on Good Friday. But that's probably all the fasting I'll do this Lent. However, I read in the Church of England's booklet Love Life Live Lent, that if you fast/skip a meal during Lent then you should give the cost of the skipped meal to charity, this, I think, is a jolly good idea and is a good example of the balanced Christian life: that mixture of prayer and contemplation with social action and charity. It links back to the old fashioned idea that there should be no feasting and no festivity during Lent. If I refuse that glass of wine (or two) on a Saturday night then perhaps I should give that wine money to charity, if I refuse a trip to the cinema then I should put the cinema money in the Zimbabwe money jar. Simple prayer and humble action, but it does make a difference.

There are other tips included in the booklet, such as:

  • 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!


monix said...

what a lovely, inspiring post for the beginning of Lent. Our bishop has suggested that we should think about giving not just from our plenty but from what we consider to be our needs - that is a hard one for many of us. One idea was to go through our wardrobes and pick out all the clothes we don't wear any more to give to a local poverty action group and then to add one item we really would miss.

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Monix
That's such a toughy, and quite challenging really. I would find it hard to give up my beloved Monsoon jeans. It reminds me of that CS Lewis quote (having to paraphrase, here)

"When a Christian asks how much should I give to charity? It is probably safe to say what you can afford, and then just a little bit more."

Niki RuralWritings said...

regarding the ball game, they're all daft, as my dad would say. :)

I have never celebrated Lent, but you've given me food for thought. Beautifully explained.

You've described me perfectly by the way, that bit about not being a very brilliant Christian. Similar failings among most of us, I suppose.


Anonymous said...

Mmm pancakes went down well at our house too! :)

Gumbo Lily said...

Your thoughts about giving when you fast the wine or chocolate, reminded me of the the book by Maria Trapp, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. In her book she wrote about all the liturgical seasons and how they, as a Catholic family, celebrated. When Lent came, the family fasted meat for the entire time and saved up the money for the poor. The act of giving in this way gives so much practical understanding to Lent. Their Easter celebration is full of depth and holiness.

We always read through one of the Gospels together as a family and remember Jesus' life on earth. Today I am planting narcissus bulbs in tin cans covered with burlap and giving them as gifts for Lent. My hope is that the bulbs will be blooming by Easter. I'll blog it soon.


Zillah said...

We're doing the Christian Aid 'Count Your Blessings' during Lent this year. There are lots of thought provoking tasks and many things which I hope with give S, who is nearly five, pause for thought. Today, invited to give ten coins of our choice, we thought about how lucky we were to have an excess of money by finding coins we'd carelessly left around the house. Ten minutes, ten coins, nearly fifty pence. And a discussion about how little some people live on that that would be a small fortune.

Off to look at your other resources now.


Angela said...

Thanks for another informative post

If it's Lent, are we living on 'borrowed' time?

Tia said...

I shan't be fasting for Lent. Each year I try to give something up, I fail fairly early on and then avoid anything to do with Lent for the next 38 days or so (I usually fail very early on!).

This year I am working on that Clean Heart and Right Spirit in a different way. Handily, my daughter's medical needs now require me to drop everything every two hours during the day. This means that my day is now divided up into very set blocks of time.

It is my intention to use those two hourly blocks to keep my day and therefore my life focussed in the way it should be. Less drifting, less aimlessness and a firmer shape to the day. I am hoping that with the physical discipline will come a better mental discipline too - with more emphasis on God and my family, and less on myself.

I don't really do New Year Resolutions because again, I always fail at the first hurdle. So Lent is often my "New Beginning" too. Who was it who said it takes 40 days to form a habit?

We had a quiet Ash Wednesday Service this year. There was a big big service with the Bishop of Reading at another local church, so there were less than 30 of us rather than the usual 300 or so. And no songs or hymns except an a cappella "Father we adore you" at the end. It was somehow richer for the silence.

Left-Handed Housewife said...

Hi, Dulce--Just wanted to say that I enjoyed this post; good reading for the beginning of Lent! Also, many thanks for the links.


Anonymous said...

Oh I love visiting you! Your posts are always so generously written, not just the bare bones of a subject, but jam-packed with interesting info. Have you written any books? You ought to consider it, you're a born writer. Thanks for all the Lent info...very helpful.

By-the-way, my successful weightloss has a lot to do with your fab All-bran teabread (yes, I am still waxing lyrical about it!) I changed the sugar for honey and I use skimmed milk, but thanks to you I have a lovely, low fat snack every afternoon!

love, Tina :)

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Angela
I love it when you get all philosophical!

Hi Tia
Your Ash Wednesday Service sounds lovely. I didn't go to my usual church this year as the service was at our sister church...a very small village church, and the service had a wonderful intimate feel to it.

I know what you mean by aimlessness. But I have a problem with being "present" with my kids. I often spend time with them and talk with them, but I'm also thinking of and doing a million other things. I'd like to focus on being properly present with them this Lent.

Hi Frances
You're very welcome. I hope you found the links helpful.

Hi Tina
I haven't written a book, I'd love to, but I'm slightly chicken.

I'm so glad you're enjoying the All Bran loaf. It's fab, isn't it? I'll tell my friend you've been enjoying it. I too am trying to lose weight (hence the lack of baking posts up just recently).

Tia said...

Oh I'd count being present with the children as a very definite aim. Aimlessness for me is the half-hearted "yes dear, lovely" as I sit at the computer just tapping away pretending to be busy... But maybe that's too honest!

Just being, just enjoying being with the girls, that's something I have to remind myself is every bit as important as anything else I might need to do - and a lot more important than quite a lot of the things I choose to do. They're at such a precious age.

I'm sorry you're pox-ridden at the moment - please don't send it our way!

Nan said...

The thing I like about 'giving up' something for Lent is that it offers us a tiny, tiny, tiny glimpse of how Christ was tempted. The things I don't eat or drink during this time seem so small, but still they make me think.