Published on Wed, 1 Apr 2020 08:00

(Mike's article published in the village magazines)

When I was a younger man, not so long ago, I didn’t like Lent very much. It

seemed to me that all the emphasis on sin and repentance and discipline was

unnecessarily puritanical self-flagellation. Was it really necessary to bewail my

manifold sins and wickedness so fully? Surely my faults weren’t that grievous!

As I grow older, I still don’t like Lent very much, but for a very different reason.

The passing years increasingly bring me face to face with what Francis Spufford

calls the Human Propensity to Mess Things Up; specifically, my propensity to

mess things up. As Spufford notes, anyone who is unaware of their own ability

to take something good in life and destroy it is either young, extremely

virtuous, or not really paying much attention to the effects of their actions.

It’s not that I’ve come to this realisation because I’ve been particularly malign

or done something terrible in recent years. It’s just that I’m starting to

acknowledge that I’m not as good as I’d like to imagine. I never have been.

Lent is a time for us to do our best to face the reality of ourselves. It’s a time

for us to get ready to face the fullness of human weakness, cruelty and failure

when we get to Good Friday and look upon the cross.

It’s a time to look in the mirror with the most unflinching honesty we can


So that when we do finally get to Good Friday, and when we can bear to look

into the very depths of human brutality as Jesus – who did no wrong – hangs

on the cross, and when we see him gazing back at us, and loving us, in spite of

all of our faults, then we can know just how fully we are loved by God.

So, no, I don’t like Lent very much. And neither should you. If you’re doing it

properly it should be an uncomfortable time. It’s not an opportunity to parade

your virtuous discipline, but an invitation to excavate the darkest caverns of

your heart. It’s not easy or without risk.

I don’t like it, but I do encourage you to take this annual pilgrimage to walk

with your own faults. Take the time to look unsparingly into the mirror.

Because when you do, you’ll be able to face the cross on Good Friday and see

much better both “sorrow and love flow mingled down”.

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