Many people know Lent as the thing that happens between Pancake Day and Easter where you’re supposed to give something up. But Lent can serve a much deeper purpose if you explore it a little further. We thought it would be good to find out what Lent is all about, so we invited our good friend Richard Washington to join us for a chat.
Richard is training to be a vicar in the Church of England. This year he should be ordained as a deacon and then a priest. He is studying theology, as well as mission and evangelism, which how we tell the story of the church and Jesus Christ. Even if you’re not religious, or if you follow a religion that doesn’t mark Lent in the calendar, this can still be a really great period of time for changing your drinking. Here’s what he had to say.
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Shrove Tuesday (pancake day) comes from an old Anglo Saxon word, which means to have your sins forgiven. Your sins are ‘Shriven‘. It was a time when people used the last fat from Winter to make pancakes, have a celebration, and then their sins were forgiven. There is a 40 day period before Easter when folk didn’t have many provisions left. It was about giving in to the facts of the situation. But that also became symbolical. It became a time of reflection, a time to give up the bad things from the past and make amends. Easter represents rebirth, both in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in nature as Spring arrives. After this period of Lent and reflection and frugality comes this time of rebirth. A time when you choose to embrace life, and live in abundance, leaving the bad bit behind.
If we frame this in terms of changing our drinking it becomes quite useful. Often when people engage in Dry January or similar, they approach it in a ‘grin and bear it’ sort of way. Undoubtedly that does some good on a physical level. But if all you’re doing during that time is putting your drinking behaviour on hold, you may get to the end of that time and find that nothing’s changed at all. Lent isn’t just about giving something up, it’s about creating space for that inner work and reflection.
In a way, this period of lockdown during the pandemic is a very similar experience. We’ve been forced into a more limited world and dealing with that is is not easy. But one of the ways you can deal with it is to start trying to build yourself up spiritually, however you might do that. That may be through learning about meditation and breathing exercises, through religion, or through New Age spirituality. That has the capacity to provide you with some solid ground to stand upon as as as you go through life’s many tests and joys. We all know that life is never smooth, and we need that inner strength.
You can approach it in a much more positive way. See it as an opportunity to take your mind off drinking or whatever it is you’re stepping away from during Lent. You can bring in hobbies, you could spend those 40 days learning something new or doing something you enjoy each day. Personally, I’ve learned a lot more about sitting and meditating quietly and doing a lot less. I’m giving myself a point in the day where I really allow myself to turn inward. In our modern lives, we’re always under so much pressure to be doing something, to be filling space with activity. We also need to learn to fill time with doing nothing, to grow comfortable with silence and space.
Even if you’re not religious, the idea of giving yourself space and preparing the ground for what grows can be a very powerful process to engage with. If this particular period is a good one for you then why not? At the end of it you’ll be hitting Spring. Things are changing. This very dark period that we’ve gone through will lift and there will be beautiful things. More birds will start singing, there will be a beautiful colour of green of the trees that you get in the Spring. The things that you just lift your heart will be there. And if you can tap into that by using Lent as a process of renewal inside, that can be really wonderful.