Another Lent approaches

    In the midst of a recent online row, one of the squabbling
    parties tweeted, ‘Lord help me to
    remember that not all my views need to
    be shared.’
    It’s easy to understand the
    frustration that lay behind that particular
    prayer. The ubiquity of social media
    with its insatiable appetite for content
    means people can feel pressured to
    broadcast every aspect of their lives
    instantly to the whole universe. We are
    in danger of becoming entirely public
    human beings. The radio programme,
    “Talk to Joe” ensures that even the most inane thoughts are given the
    oxygen of publicity. It reminds me of what one of his many critics
    said of the famous theologian, Hans Kung, some twenty years ago:
    “That man doesn’t have an unpublished thought.”
    Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the
    season of Lent. Too often we Christians approach Lent from a
    negative perspective. While ‘fast and abstinence’ have their valid
    place in Christian tradition, this is not the whole story. On Ash
    Wednesday, one of the Bible readings that Christians will hear read
    suggests a very different way of managing our lives.
    In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the need to give alms
    to the poor, but tells his followers to do so in secret so that, in that
    famous phrase, ‘their left hand
    does not know what their right
    hand is doing.’ He instructs them
    to pray but to do so unseen, in a
    private place. He asks them to
    fast, but to do so discretely so that
    nobody else would even know
    that they are fasting. . Rather than
    broadcasting every virtue or posting a selfie of every good deed, he
    invites them to build up the inner life in a secret place.
    Doubtless, as he spoke those words, Jesus was reflecting on
    his own experience for forty days in the desert, when he confronted
    his inner demons and rejected the blandishments of Satan. The forty
    days of Lent obviously echo the time that he spent in the privacy of
    the wilderness. That’s why, during this season, many Christians will
    seek to create what the English writer, Harry Williams, called ‘a
    wilderness of the heart’ as they live to a personal rule: fasting, giving
    alms, praying, and confessing. The idea is to make a secret space for
    quiet, intentional growth in Christian character and commitment.
    Perhaps though it’s not just people of faith who can benefit
    from this ancient practice. In ‘that secret space’ there is a chance to
    escape for a while from the public gaze. There is space to focus
    honestly on one’s own growth and development as a human being.
    And it seems to me that almost anyone can benefit from that.
    Moments of frank self-reflection can change behaviour and
    build up relationships. Acts of kindness which no one except the
    donor will ever know about can foster an ever richer generosity.
    Quietly letting go for a while of needless luxuries can undermine a
    lazy sense of entitlement. All these things can slowly serve to build
    up the interior life and foster character for the benefit of others.
    But this requires space. The secret place does not create
    itself. It need to be fashioned. Nor is it a physical room. Rather it is
    an attitude of the heart.. But within that private space, the best of
    humanity can flourish. –Dick Lyng OSA Ballyboden