Bishop of Grantham's letter for March 2017
As I sit down to write I am already beginning to turn over in my mind the words of the hymn that I am going to be using and praying throughout Lent. The season itself will have begun by the time that you receive this letter, but I hope that it will not be too late to ponder Cowper‘s sentiments once again and for us all to draw some inspiration from them.
"O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame,
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!"
He is describing loss and he is saddened by it:
"Where is the blessedness I knew,
When first I saw the Lord?"
Perhaps this is a feeling that we might all share at different times in our lives. Pressures crowd in, tragic events dominate the news, God himself can appear to be very distant, and as for the Church…?!!
With Cowper, we may well say:
"Where is the soul refreshing view,
Of Jesus and His Word?"
But I hope that with Cowper we shall have the courage and the strength to hang on, through a time that he describes as being an aching void‘, and also with him to look seriously at ourselves, to the extent that we tear even our dearest idols‘ from their thrones.
If we are able to do these things, then there will be light at the end of the tunnel, and the closer walk with God that we sought at the beginning.
Lent, then, is the time for having the courage to allow ourselves to enter the aching void‘ and to face our dearest idols‘, whatever they may be – things such as our dangerous dependencies or our covetousness or our self-righteousness or our sense of entitlement. These are difficult things, as I Lent has become a time in which, rather than giving something up, people have recently seen the value of taking something on. They give time to be good neighbours, for example, and don‘t fixate about refraining from chocolate or sweets, or whatever. I absolutely applaud this tendency to take on‘.
However, I also think the older, sterner, discipline of Lent has a great deal to commend it. By this, I don‘t mean simply the discipline that involves giving something up, but the discipline that is involved in taking a long hard look at oneself and at the world. This discipline, which can be uncomfortable, is to do with facing the void and tackling our idols.
It is what I shall be trying to do this Lent. Perhaps you might join me?
our lives are laid open before you:
rescue us from the chaos of sin
and through the death of your Son
bring us healing and make us whole
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
May God bless you this month,
Bishop Nicholas +
The Common Worship Additional Collect for Ash Wednesday is copyright © The Archbishops‘ Council 2004.