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Vicar's Musings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

13 March, 2016

How is the season of Lent progressing for you? Last Sunday was Laetare or Refreshment Sunday, a time to relax our Lenten disciplines, just a little. It is now time to re-set our compass and solemnly make our final preparations for Holy Week and Easter. Prayer and fasting; these are traditionally the central elements of Lenten observance. I have to confess that I don't find either easy. But giving up is not an option either; they somehow draw me back each time I fail. It may be stating the obvious, but prayer and fasting are hard because they are spiritual disciplines. Like any discipline — playing the piano, juggling, running a company, building an intimate relationship, passing exams — there is no short cut; they require hard work; we falter and need to summon the strength and courage to renew our commitment. But the rewards are tangible and the discipline of prayer and fasting enriches us and others.

We all need help with our spiritual disciplines. That is why we have four Lenten Study groups this year, so that we can help one another along the way. But we also need to do the hard work alone, as Matthew's Jesus encourages us (6:6): "whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." This Lent I have found great help in Eamon Duffy's exquisitely edited prayerbook, The Heart in Pilgrimage: A Prayerbook for Catholic Christians (London: Bloomsbury, 2013). In the foreword, Bp Rowan Williams writes: "Our prayer must involve the whole of our own being — it must be worked out in disciplines of life, disciplines that make a difference to us as bodily beings, not only as creatures who have ideas and aspirations, and it must let us confront and confront and engage with the whole of our emotional life, so that we are not afraid or ashamed to bring to God the fear or doubt or the anger we may be feeling and expose it to his grace. And then our prayer must involve us in an awareness of the entire human race, its needs and hopes and God-given possibilities; it must keep our hearts open to all, involving us in the priestly intercession of Christ." George Herbert, cited in Duffy's introduction, put it like this:

Prayer the church's banquet, angel's age,
God's breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;
Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tow'r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood,
The land of spices; something understood.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster


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