Vicar's Musings for Lent 2
24 February, 2013
It has been encouraging to hear a number of parishioners talk of their "Lenten Plan." As with everything in life, the more one puts into Lent the more meaningful it becomes. One discipline that a number of parishioners are taking up is membership of a Lenten Study Group. Two groups are already underway: Fr Samuel's theological study of "The King's Speech"; and meditative reflections on the Very Rev'd Dr Jane Shaw's book A Practical Christianity (2012) that I am leading. Next Sunday Bp Graeme will start his Lenten course "keeping the conversation going" based around his latest book Beloved Father, Beloved Son (2013) that was launched so successfully last week. It's not too late to join any of these groups, so do talk to one of us if you are interested in doing so.
Jane Shaw, the new Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, is clearly a fan of the great twentieth-century spiritual director and mystic Evelyn Underhill. In the introduction to Dr Shaw's Lenten reflections she quotes from one of Underhill's letters to a spiritual directee (The Letters of Evelyn Underhill, ed. Charles Williams, 1943):
"As to your Lent — no physical hardships beyond what normal life provides — but take each of these as serenely and gratefully as you can and make them your humble offerings to God. Don't reduce sleep. Don't get up in the cold. Practice more diligently the art of turning to God with some glance or phrase of love or trust at all spare moments of the day . . .. Be specially kind and patient with those who irritate you . . .. Instead of wasting energy in being disgusted with yourself, accept your own failures, and just say to God 'Well, in spite of all I may say or fancy, this is what I am really like — so please help my weakness.' This, not self-disgust, is the real and fruitful humility."
Sage advice indeed.
Dr Shaw has also served as Dean of Theology at New College, Oxford, and taught history and theology at Oxford for 16 years. Reflecting on the writings of the church fathers, Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa, she concludes that, "at the heart of their theology was the practice of prayer. They lived and wrote by the notion of lex orandi, lex credenti: out of the law of praying comes the law of belief." Prayer and theology go hand in hand; our God-words and God-practices run the risk of being empty and superficial if they are not imbued with prayer. Prayer, in particular contemplative prayer, can even be a connecting point between believers and atheists.
Bp Graeme's son and co-author, Jonathan, writes about the importance of meditation and contemplation and links this to the concept of simplicity. Towards the end of their chapter on "Spirituality" Jonathan writes (p. 119): "Dad! Holy mackerel we agree! And to my mind, it is the most important agreement. We both accept the need for greater simplicity at the individual and societal levels." So may our Lent this year be an act of simplicity, imbued with prayer, and by God's grace may each one of us grow in that love which passes all understanding.
The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster
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