IT IS not part of a
well-kept Lent to ask others what they are giving up. Nevertheless,
we commissioned research (
News, 8 February), feeling that an anonymous general survey did
not breach the underlying principle; and found that Lenten
abstinence was still relevant to a quarter of the respondents, and
more (35 per cent) of the younger ones (aged 18-24). With
hindsight, it would have been useful to stretch the budget to
include a question about motive. Abstinence for the sake of health
or personal appearance is clearly different from abstinence for
mortification - that is, as part of a wider aim of dying to self.
To give up chocolate for Lent, for example, is spiritually
worthless if it is the year's total investment in self-denial.
Giving up things for the love of God is central to the Christian
religion. Service, kind words and deeds, time spent simply being
faithfully alongside others in worship, and, equally, consideration
of the impact of habitual omissions are all part of this.
What Christians give up
for Lent is less important than what they try to give up for good.
The seven deadly sins are still a valid checklist. They often raise
a smile, because people have come to associate them with medieval
images of sinners receiving tailor-made punishments. They are
dismissed as ecclesiastics' bugbears. But the ecclesiastics had
their reasons. It is in the harm that these sins do to a community
that their power is seen. The ultimate impact of gluttony or greed
on the environment is increasingly grasped; avarice, too, has
become a sin to name again since the banking crisis. Given the
nature of current debates in the Church, the reality that pride,
anger, lust, and envy can put on their Sunday best and corrode the
Christian fellowship needs to be taken more seriously, not least
since so much ink is spilt on the positives for which they are
often mistaken. Sloth - with its partner, indifference - is a
subject that bishops and the Church of England's preachers rarely
tackle, for fear, no doubt, of appearing merely to scold those who
are least prone to it.
Ecumenical observers have
over the years detected a degree of superficiality in Anglican
church life, while identifying much that is good, including the
commitment to social issues. This superficiality may partly be due
to the decline of the traditional religious orders and their
influence - a decline that is not, of course, seen only among
Anglicans. But superficiality is just as likely to be contributor;
for it was the renewed study of the classics of Christian
spirituality by members of the clergy and laity living "in the
world" - besides other factors - that created the appetite for the
recovery of the religious life. May this Lent deepen the Church's
life for everyone's sake.