Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lent and Love and Lenten love

It's very easy to dismiss the thirteenth chapter of St Paul's letter to the Corinthians due to its familiarity. If you've been to three hundred weddings or so in the CofE, this is always the text that gets read. But it is so worth sitting down and reading this carefully.

This is an excellent text to use to prepare oneself for Confession. Just try substituting your name for the word "Charity" (or "Love" if you're reading a newer translation) and then see what pricks the conscience. It's a text that can really smart!

This is one of the reasons that this text is given to us just before Lent. It's very easy to get caught up in the solemnity and fastidiousness of honouring our Lenten discipline that we forget its purpose of clear spiritual self-examination and preparation for Easter. What’s the point of giving up coffee if it makes us more of a crosspatch, or fasting if so doing focusses our attention from doing something Christian to the rumbling of our stomach. It’s surely better to eat normally and to do the will of God than to adopt an attitude of self-abnegation and narrow our vision solely to that discipline.

Of course, there is a happy medium and St Paul’s chapter on Love helps us to achieve that very balance between self-discipline and doing our Christian duty with a good attitude. Love is not passive: there is an activity to Love. It requires an object and therefore some way of affecting that object.

This is a mistake that people make when they relegate love to an emotion. Love is not just an emotion. We are told categorically that God is Love and God is by far the most active being. Love affects us at an emotional level and drives us to many actions which often apparently defy Reason. However, if Love is the Reason, then acts of Love are eminently reasonable!

This depends obviously on what we mean by Love and we could indeed traverse the familiar road discussing the four Greek words which we translate as love. Eros, Storge and Philios generate their own reasons which are largely selfish in their origin and selfish in their end. Agape does not originate in the self but has its origins in the Divine source which we acquire through God’s Grace and cultivate through our response to His agape for us.

If we therefore submit ourselves to a Lenten fast, then let it be out of Love for God and a desire to use it for the good of our neighbours. If our stomach rumbles, then let that rumble remind us of the hunger of our neighbours. If we are missing a favourite television programme, then let that sense of disappointment remind us of the how those less fortunate than ourselves find their lives thwarted by whatever poverty they suffer. If we find ourselves crosspatchy and irritable because we have a withdrawal symptom from what we have “given up for Lent” then let us think of the sadness of others and how they would welcome a cheery smile and some appreciation.

Once we have these thoughts then Love will spur us on, using our fast to address the needs of those around us. These need not be enormous acts of generosity, but rather seeds from which something more glorious can be allowed to grow in our society. Even if we reduce the levels of grudging complaint in which we often find ourselves, that will be something very positive for those around us.

What will be grown from our observation of Lent this year? Will it be Love?

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