Today is the first Sunday in Lent and last Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) signalled the beginning of a time when thousands of people decide to give up something they enjoy, such as chocolate, wine or cake for Lent. This despite the fact that often they’d say that they weren’t religious. I only discovered recently that some churches burnt the palm crosses from the previous years Palm Sunday and it is the ash from them that the priest would smear on penitents' foreheads at the start of Lent. I purchase the palm crosses for my church from a church in London, who see to the distribution of them throughout the country. They, in turn, buy them from a village in Africa called Masasi. They aren’t expensive but they provide a welcome income for the villagers who make the crosses from palm leaves.
When I was young growing up in Liverpool my parents weren’t churchgoers, although us children were sent to Sunday School with our penny collection clutched tightly in our hands. The one I went to was in Dawber Street, and was attached to St Chrysostom’s Church on Queens Road, Everton. Along with the stories my father told me, those Bible stories I learnt at Sunday School made a big impression on me as they were full of drama and courage and often humour. I also learnt to think of others worse off than myself. We used to collect halfpennies to help the Leprosy Mission, although I think in those days it was called Mission to the Lepers. It was a marvelous day years later when I heard about the drugs that had been developed to cure leprosy. There’s a wonderful novel by Victoria Hislop called “The Island” The title refers to Spinalonga, off the coast of Crete, that was a leper colony. The story stirs the emotions and deserved to be the million best seller that it was.
We kids also used to go to a Christian Endeavour hall on Breck Road where they would show films and sometimes lantern slides. It was there I saw my first photo of a chimpanzee so that when later we went to watch Tarzan films at the local cinema, I recognised Cheetah, Tarzan’s animal companion, straightaway.
This Lent I’m not really giving anything up but rather taking something up. There’s a book I read every now and again called “Finding Sanctuary” by Abbot Christopher Jamison who had an important role in the TV series THE BIG SILENCE and THE MONASTERY. "Finding Sanctuary" also has a sub title, Monastic Steps for Everyday Life. I grew up C of E but in the Seventies the ecumenical movement took off and, I’m glad to say, the different denominations of Christianity in our area came together during Lent and we got to see the inside of each other’s churches when we met to study aspects of our faith. So different to when I considered it daring to peep inside a Catholic church.
The book led me to a website called Sacred Space. It’s organised by Irish Jesuits and there is a Daily Prayer and reading for each day. You can also click on a Guide button and Looking for Inspiration button which is helpful for meditation. So I plan to visit the site everyday. The good ol’ C of E also has a good website with readings and prayers which I’ve often visited when leading the prayers in my church.
It’s good to mark off the year with special occasions. My mother always made pancakes on Shrove Tuesday which was often at half term and we always had fish on Fridays. Come the end of Lent no doubt it will be fish and hot cross buns in our house and chocolate eggs on Easter Sunday to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus and the new growth of Spring. One of the first pieces of writing I had published in MY WEEKLY magazine was about Easter Customs, come Easter, maybe I'll remember to blog part of the article.