One of the pictures that captures the meaning of Lent for me is the painting of Peter Bruegal the Elder, the fight between carnival and Lent, 1559. I do not intend to describe the contents of the painting in this reflection, other than to say that it is evident from the painting that religion was an integral part of the culture. We cannot say this about the world we live in today. Religion is seen as something odd, antiquated, a remnant from the past that we can learn to live without, certainly not something that is necessary. As a Lay Dominican, called to preach in the world, Lent can provide us with the means to engage with a world, that has lost sight of God, but longs for spiritual fulfilment.
The word Lent is a good starting point for thinking. Lent is an old English word, meaning ‘to lengthen’. We see the days are getting longer, there are new signs of life in our gardens and soon we will see spring lambs on our hills. All these signs, indicative of new life, fill us with a sense of joy. Joy, as William Blake observed in his poem of the same name, is not an attitude we experience in isolation: For ‘Joy and woe are woven fine, a clothing for the soul divine.’ To truly experience the joy of Lent, we must also experience the woe. So, we must ask the question, in what sense is Lent a time of ‘woe’?
Woe means, ‘great sorrow and distress’. We normally experience such emotion when we have lost something or someone. A common understanding of what people do, during Lent, is to give something up. Traditionally, this was meat and Ash Wednesday and Good Friday remain fast days. Pope Benedict, when speaking about fasting, spoke about how it needed to be linked to acts of charity. By linking giving something up, to acts of charity, we are entering into an action of voluntary poverty that we hope will in some way transform the world.
Lent is a time when we reflect on the life of Jesus, being driven into the desert by the Spirit, where He fasts and prays and is tempted by the devil, before beginning His public ministry. Unfortunately, like Jesus, we too are tempted. Unlike Jesus, however, we do not always resist the temptation. For this reason, especially during Lent, we are called to penitence. This should be something that resonates with all Lay Dominicans, as it reflects something of our origins in the order. One final idea is Confession. We think about this sacramentally, however, we should also remember that confession is about a journey through life, made in praise of God. Sometimes we forget to do this, either individually, or as a culture and Lent is an opportunity, to refocus on what is important in life. In Scarborough, on Shrove Tuesday, the roads will close and the children will skip!
Karol Grobicki (North West) February 2023