Today’s the beginning of Lent, and if a recent YouGov survey for the Church Times is to be believed, 24% of the British population will be giving up something for the next forty days (nb: the YouGov link relates to a similar survey in 2012, which found that 12% of respondents had actually given up something – perhaps showing the gap between aspiration and follow-through?). One unexpected finding of the survey was that younger adults are noticeably more likely to intend to abstain than older generations (35% of 18-24s compared to 21% of over-55s). The vast majority of abstinence appears to relate to material consumption (giving up chocolate, alcohol, etc.) which perhaps partly reflects very traditional concerns but perhaps also the resurgence of interest in fasting in contemporary culture – if mainly as a well-being and weight-loss strategy rather than a conventionally religious discipline (Alison’s Red magazine contained a lengthy feature on fasting strategies this month). Whether it’s our straightened economic circumstances or a realisation that collective over-indulgence is catching up with us, what I don’t know, but there is a slightly ‘Puritan’ feel to some aspects of contemporary living at present.
(An aside: Puritans have tended to have a bad press in recent decades – although mostly as a caricatured trope to hit against rather than with much deep understanding of the variety of evangelical movements with which the term is often associated. However, I predict a revival of interest in church circles in the faith and spirituality of the era of the Reformations, not only because of the contemporary resurgence of moral seriousness in uncertain times, but also because having explored Celtic spirituality during the new-agey 1990s and medieval monasticism in the last ten years or so, it’s surely only a matter of time before trends in church life, spirituality and mission move onto the next historical period. If it happens, remember than you read it here first..)
In the survey, I’m particularly intrigued to know about the Lenten discipline of the 3% of those surveyed who were planning to give up something other than chocolate, alcohol and tobacco. Several of my friends take up (rather than give up) something for Lent, and there have been a number of recent booklets emphasising acts of goodness as a Lenten discipline (e.g., the C of E’s ‘Love Life, Live Lent‘). A growing number of friends opt to give up Facebook or Twitter for Lent – though this would never work for me, as I am completely rubbish at posting regularly anyway.
With that in mind, instead of giving up blogging for Lent, I am going to try and take it up, blogging on a spiritual topic every day. Blogging is often seen as a contemporary form of confessional, but even if the material itself is not ‘confessional’ material the fact of sharing one’s thoughts on a journey through Lent requires a good deal more intentionality and dedication (dare I say discipline) than merely deciding to follow a particular pattern of prayer and Bible study every day, and not really bringing the results of that out into the open, beyond the dreamy world of one’s inner thoughts.
Today, listed on Jonny Baker’s blog, I came across CMS’s ‘Forty Days of Yes’ resource for Lent, written by Anita Matthews. That seemed to offer the perfect focus (though of course the reflections here are my own and not those of CMS). So here goes with Day 1, and I hope it won’t be too much like Lenten penance to read this blog for the next 40 days…