Last weekend I took my 4 year old twins to the National Railway museum in York. The local schools were not yet on half-term, so the museum was really quiet. Nanny and the twins were fully immersed in the activity section, so I had a few quiet minutes to rest. I sat down at a table on the medic train and started reading beautiful letters that nurses had sent during the war. I was wearing my normal vintage attire, a faded flat cap and a very old and creased black shirt. A young couple came in to the carriage, by the sounds of their conversation I think they were on holiday from Japan. I carried on reading quietly, and sitting very still. Weirdly, the young guy slowly reached out towards me and then flinched and laughed (A LOT). It turns out he thought I was a wax work railway exhibit.
I left the carriage, chuckling and embarrassed, resisting the temptation to walk in a robotic fashion to further freak them out.
It is extremely counter cultural to be still.
So many of us have a propensity to fill time and space with noise and activity. We are addicted to productivity and consumption. We are slaves to the Pharaoh of consumerism. When it comes to busyness, our Churches often echo culture rather than stand against it. In many situations our Churches are making people too busy for God. Lent is a rare opportunity to stand still against the cultural flow.
The modern menu of Lent activities, courses, bible studies and initiatives is rich, diverse… and a bit overwhelming; ranging from ambitious commitments to 40 acts of kindness (engagement) to simply giving up chocolate (abstinence). I’m not suggesting these things aren’t good, I’m just reflecting theologically on their place in the season of Lent. Donald Alistair (The Bishop of Peterborough) recently said “If it is something you ought to give up anyway, then give it up altogether. If it is a matter of needing to reduce your consumption of something, then reduce it permanently – not just for Lent”. On reflection I feel the same way about activities of loving service too. Being a Christian means being aware of the Holy Spirit around us all the time, as we practice the way of Jesus in community throughout the whole year.
The Gospel accounts of the devil tempting Jesus in the wilderness were certainly dramatic, powerful and full of action, but sometimes we forget that this happened after 40 days of fasting. So my question is this – where in the season of Lent is there time and space for nothingness? For silence? For solitude? For stillness? For winter?
Winter is a bleak season, but it is also beautiful, and necessary. It is a prerequisite for spring, and can’t be rushed. The hard winter frosts break up the soil and create the conditions for new life. In winter the Holy Spirit stirs under the ground. This Lent, could you consider that the most life-giving thing you could do is nothing?
Just be still in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
What does that look like for you?
Chad – Children & Youth Missioner (Diocese of Peterborough)