What I appreciate about Lent
Posted by Simon Parke, 28 February 2017, 5.19pm
I’ve recently written an historical novel which reminds me what I appreciate about Lent.
A moment to explain.
My chosen century was the 17th, and in particular, the last months in the life of Charles 1, the only English king to be executed.
So its a book about a death.
On January 30th, 1649, he stood on a cold scaffold in Whitehall; and it was cold, the Thames had frozen over. He wore two shirts that day so that he did not shiver and appear afraid to the waiting crowd.
And then, having placed his head on the block, with one swing of the axe, he lost his head.
The king was dead.
It had not been an inevitable death, far from it. But as we follow the twists and turns of the narrative, the ever-shifting scenery of life, it somehow stands waiting for us, there at the end of the story.
As with the film ‘Titanic’, we know what’s going to happen, we can’t avoid it and can’t step round it… and it’s rather the same with Lent.
People use this season in a number of ways, choosing from various spiritual practices.
Not doing something/Taking up something…that just about covers it.
But however we use it, we know the destination of Lent: the Good Friday crucifixion of Jesus.
It’s there in our consciousness. Like a deep scratch in the window, whenever we look out, we see it.
So this is a walk through the wilderness.
We may not die for another fifty years, another seventy years…we may die in eighteen months or tomorrow.
But the ‘when’ doesn’t matter.
The genius of Lent is the reminder of death… and that strangely, life is best lived in its kind shadow, in the creative companionship of the daily letting go of our egos… and in our awareness, one day, of our physical death.
I call it a kind shadow, when it might seem unkind.
The valley of the shadow of death is not traditionally celebrated.
But an understanding of our brevity bestows life with energy, focus, awe and perspective.
We are passing through, brief travellers on earth, gasping in wonder, living a mystery.
And again and again death asks important questions like: How goes your journey? Is this the journey you want?
Sitting on the side in my kitchen is a card which says: ‘She decided to live the life she’d always imagined.’
It reminds me of the phoenix arising from the ashes.
It’s the sort of decision people take when something in their life has died; perhaps something they clung onto.
Something has died… and now something else can live.
Death, in its many guises, brings loss, letting go and pain… and grief needs its voice and its tears.
But it also brings space, fresh space, a different path, a new order.
The genius of Lent, like a deep scarring on the window we can’t ignore, is the bestowal of the wilderness on our lives, the sparse but kindly reminder of death – our small deaths, our big death…so we might live the life we imagined in the time given to us.
And should you be interested, my novel about the last days of Charles 1st is called ‘The soldier, the gaoler, the spy and her lover’ and published by Marylebone House.