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Less is More

By The Rev’d Phil Wales

The liturgical clock feels like it has gained time because this year Lent begins soon after Epiphany. Just as the memory of celebrating Christ’s birth recedes, we find ourselves propelled forward with Jesus into the desert for 40 days. We now enter into a period of self-denial and self-discipline. As well as fasting, this season can also be one in which we let go of patterns of behaviour which may have become limiting, deadening even.

Yet, focusing on personal austerity alone may stop us from becoming aware that Lent is a time for an intentional deepening of faith; an intensive spiritual workout if you will. We can make more room for God through focusing on our prayer life and creating opportunities for spiritual reflection. Additionally, we may choose to commit to practical ways of extending kindness to those around us. Whilst each of these three disciplines (fasting, prayer and acts of charity) is important we ought not to become fixated on our achievements at the cost of noticing where God is active in our lives.

Just before Lent I went on a guided silent retreat. I was hopeful that it would be a restorative time away but, as it drew nearer, I became increasingly concerned about the people and things on the ‘to do’ list I was leaving behind. No doubt I must have appeared preoccupied on my arrival. And as I climbed the stairs to my room with my heavy suitcase, I realised just how much I had overpacked; too many clothes, books, as well as assorted items of technological paraphernalia which have become indispensable (well, apparently so).

With all my kit eventually unpacked I thought I was finally ready. However, not only had I brought too many possessions, but my head was holding an unwieldy checklist of things I wanted to achieve during my time away! Mercifully, my over busy mind settled when our guide outlined the structure for the days ahead. Among his many pieces of guidance there were three which made me more conscious of the comforting, but limiting, boundaries of a few of my daily habits. First, he asked us all to try, wherever possible, to avoid using our smart phones and computers for the time we were there. This challenge gave me pause for thought, as I reflected on how much my ‘screen time’ had increased in the last year. He then encouraged us all to temporarily suspend our usual habit of daily private prayer with the intention that this might allow space for a new pattern to emerge either during the retreat or afterwards. Finally, whilst he was to suggest a Bible passage for each day, the passages were to be brief, as short as one or two verses (rather than the usual longer ones we are generally accustomed to). In these ways, and others, we were being reminded that less can be so much more.

Now that I have returned to my daily routines it is too soon to judge the long-term effect of these wise suggestions. But each of them, in their own way, has begun to alter my ‘default’ relationship with God for the better (if only just a little). May Lent be a time when God nudges each of us to discover how less can truly be more.