In her address broadcast on BBC1 on Sunday, March 22 the Dean of St David’s Cathedral spoke of the clear link between our current difficulties and this period of Lent. For of course many of us are struggling with the need for social distancing. Yet this is one of the key messages of Lent, as we remember how Jesus withdrew to a wild and remote area in order to be able to spend time alone and undistracted with God.
So here we are with an opportunity to really identify ourselves with this aspect of Christ’s ministry, and yet for most of us, it’s really difficult as there seems so little to do as we border on boredom – a totally new experience for which we’re completely unprepared.
But back in 1975, whilst working in Lebanon, I came across a similar situation, brought about not by disease, but by political unrest. It led to an absolute curfew for three weeks, the hour from eight to nine each morning alone permitted for the purchase of essential supplies.
So how can someone living alone in a rented apartment entertain themselves for that amount of time with just two books available? Well, those books were a Bible and an Atlas containing detailed maps of the entire area. So after a brief period of dismay, I settled down to reading the Bible right through, using the maps to bring the content alive. And what a difference those maps made!
Suddenly the stories of the Bible gained an extra dimension as I could visualize the terrain and the distances described. So if you’re bored with being holed up, I can only suggest using the internet to provide yourself with Bible and map and be prepared to become enthralled.
The second lesson for us today from Lent is, I suggest, that of Restraint. We tend to think of giving things up for Lent in a negative way, but in today’s climate, it’s actually a positive act. It’s not a case of ‘do without something you want as a form of penance’, but ‘restrict yourself to what you need so others can survive’.
Isn’t this what our society really needs today? So let’s learn from Lent and build true compassion.