Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Springing into the English Lent or Lenting into the English Spring?

It's quite interesting to note that Spring starts in Lent, though I suspect for some folk, that's hardly a surprise since they regard Easter only as a glorified pagan festival of New Life. The word "Easter" could be seen as rather embarrassing really to the Christian as Eostre (after whom "Easter" is named) was a Saxon goddess of the spring. There is some debate, though, as to whether this is true or whether Eostre existed only in the writings of St Bede. Yet, the fact of the matter is, this was indeed the time of year when Christ's sacrifice for us took place whatever other festivals may have been taking place at the time. That sacrifice took place for Pagan and for Hebrew alike, indeed the sacrifice was for all people, and it happened in the Spring which was a prominent time also for both Pagan and Hebrew.

Spring in the U.K. is rather a strange affair, usually punctuated with bouts of meteorological instability. In an English Spring ( I haven't the experience to talk about the Welsh, Scots or Irish Spring) it's quite typical for the heavens to throw anything they like at you. I've known heatwaves in February and Snow in May. Yet, despite this, there is something fundamentally beautiful about the Spring. For the Pagans, this was the centre of their world. They saw the new life growing, budding and blossoming into action.

And Lent falls right at the beginning of Spring. The season of spiritual austerity comes at the time of this turbulence as the bitterness of winter thaws and yet the land has not become jaded by the summer heat. Of course, there is a big cultural difference between the Britain and the Israel of the first Century, yet both have a reliance on the Natural World around them. Whether English or Israeli, the opening chapters of Genesis hold true: forces beyond our understanding have shaped the world around us; seasons turn and turn again each with a colour and an air that is unique and proper to them. Spring in Israel was not like Spring in England.

Of course, the English Church has put aside false Pagan beliefs, yet there are glimmers of how the two religions correlate still within the English soul. Pagans and Christians mean different things by the word "God". For the Pagan, gods can be plural, for the Christian there is only one God because there can only be one source of what it means to be. However, Celtic Christians kept up the Pagan high doctrine of Creation which is a perfectly orthodox Christian belief, that the World created by God is a beautiful place despite the evil that happens in it. This is something that beats still in the heart of the English Church, that the Church herself is organic, living, growing, budding and shooting.

As I've said before, the word "Anglican" simply means "English". It's a word that predates the Reformation by 300 years. However, words do indeed change their meaning, organically so. The word "resent" once meant to have strong feelings about. King Charles the First is on record on having "resented" the loyalty of his troops. However one interprets the word, "Anglican" possesses that sense of "Englishness", and for me takes me back to wandering around the outside of a Kent church in the spring and soaking the atmosphere of the ages. There will often be an ancient yew tree inside the church yard which brings back memories of Yggdrasil or the Tree of Life, and this tree itself is a metaphor of the Church, a particularly English metaphor perhaps.

So, for an Englishman as myself, the coincidence of Lent and Spring has a unique flavour. Lent smells of wet grass or tree blossom and sounds like the buzz of an early bee or the scuffles of the March Hares. Yes, this is a bit of a romantic idyll and you'll have to forgive me for waxing lyrical, but the English Lent is not about austerity or aridity. It's more about what could be if we stripped away the artificial things we have tacked on to life and remembered our roots. The English Lent is borne of meteorological turbulence, just as our lives are set in the maelstrom of society. Our cares and anxieties are the turbulence that shroud our lives,like the February rain clouds scudding along on the high March winds, and yet we, like the Yew Tree and like the Church have roots that go deep into God Himself.

Our Lord said that Lent has absolutely nothing to do with appearances. It is to do with realities and seeing what those realities truly are. Take away the artificial artifacts, and one has the Natural world in which we have our being. That's not to say that the work of our hands is inherently evil, but rather that it more often than not obscures our vision of God. Nor am I saying that it's necessary to turn into Tom and Barbara Good, but rather that we remember that we are the Creation of God albeit fallen from Him. The cross of Christ is our way back to God. It is as organic as the yew tree and as the Church should be. Of course, the wood of the cross was broken and nailed by man to form the instrument of torture on which Our Lord was broken and hung in order to save man.

Other Christian cultures have their own views of Lent of course, each equally valid and yet none that can be communicated easily across cultures. The Church is organic and no machine that can be broken into parts, nor is it artificial. One has to live the English Lent just as one has to live the Greek Lent, Roman Lent, Russian Lent, et c and to appreciate that the others resonate just as naturally and musically throughout all of Holy Christendom.

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