Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A True Lent

IS this a fast,—to keep  
    The larder lean,           
        And clean  
From fat of veals and sheep?     

Is it to quit the dish                 5
    Of flesh, yet still           
        To fill           
The platter high with fish?           

Is it to fast an hour,        
    Or ragg’d to go,                    10
        Or show     
A downcast look and sour?

No! ’t is a fast to dole
 Thy sheaf of wheat,   
        And meat,          15
Unto the hungry soul.   

It is to fast from strife,  
    From old debate         
        And hate,—              
To circumcise thy life.             20

To show a heart grief-rent;         
    To starve thy sin,         
        Not bin,— 

And that ’s to keep thy Lent.  

Robert Herrick 1591-1674

Herrick ponders here how to keep Lent and urges us strongly against the traditional ideas. Don't give up one thing such as meat (or chocolate, or wine) he says, only to compensate by piling your "platter high with fish". In fact don't fast at all, he says, unless it is from hatred and conflict, above all show your concern for others -"the hungry soul"- in Lent and starve your sin, and not your bin! 
A friend, who is actually a former monk but now an agnostic,once told me he saw Lent observances as egotistical and self indulgent. I am sorry to say he actually saw Christianity and most Christians as motivated by egotism. I didn't agree with him, but I listened to his arguments and he made a point we should consider seriously.
I don't really "do" Lent, at least not in the usual way and I won't be doing anything in particular this year. I wish I had something deep and meaningful to say to you about it at the moment but my focus is still on putting one foot in front of the other each day. I think that is going to be enough of a Lent for me but I hope you manage to keep your Lent in whatever way seems right and beneficial to you.


  1. I think you have said in your last paragraph what many people now recognise as the 'right' way to do Lent.
    If there is a right way it surely is to do with actively doing something we find difficult, (in your case getting through each day) and even if we fail the effort is what counts.
    I also give up my small but greedy indulgences, chocolate and crisps, with the benefits they bring of losing weight and increasing will power.
    My personal aim this year is to try not merely to be civil but to try to find common ground with someone I really dislike.
    My dislike is unreasonable and has no sound basis so the effort to overcome it will be my Lenten goal.
    Keep putting one foot in front of the other in the knowledge that Christ is walking with you.

  2. Everyone has to do what seems right for them, it just isn't right for me and is not something I've done for a while. I do rather admire people like my son's girlfriend undertaking the Ramadan fast and making no fuss about it, I suspect most Muslims put us to shame on this one!
    Good luck in finding the common ground with someone you dislike, you must be a better person than me, I would just avoid as much as possible:)

  3. That is what I have been doing so far, but I decided to try to confront my bias face-to-face, one attempt so far.
    It will take time (and effort) but that is what the whole exercise is about. Thanks for the 'good luck' I certainly need it.

  4. I suppose I might be a bit biased but I wonder if you do actually have some reasonable grounds to dislike this person? It is important we don't hate or actively nurture negative feelings towards others but it isn't always possible to like everyone.

  5. Suem, you do have enough to carry this spring and perhaps Lent will be experienced the other way round: by people tending to your needs before their own. Accepting kindness and sacrifices and rejoycing in every scrap of light brought to us, is a good way to keep Lent. Keeping peace and come to terms with old agonies and quarrels is a tricky one, but we have to try treating each other better. Blessings to you Suem, the Lord chose the hard road to walk, whatever darkness falls upon you falls upon him as well, as you are walking together.

  6. To my shame I was too inclined to wallow in my anxieties during Lent this year.