In the days before interactive whiteboards, before Key Stages, before even OFSTED,someone found a way to summarise the basics of education. The basics, they said, are the three R’s: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic. As we keep Lent, and begin on February 18th the great cycle which runs through Lent to Easter, Ascension and Pentecost, we have a chance to refocus on some basics of our faith. We might summarise these as our own three R’s for this season: Reflection, Reconciliation, and Renewal.
My first R, ‘Reflection’, means making time, and making the effort, to spend time alone, or talking seriously and honestly with a ‘soul friend’. This might strike us as quite an easy thing to do, and also as rather optional. But in fact it is like letting light in to a space which is dark, and which needs to be explored, but where we are not sure what we will find. It is both frightening and necessary. When we stop and reflect, we begin to integrate our day-to-day
lives with a deeper sense of who we are and what our calling is. That is an act of courage, because we have to be willing to face what comes of it. It is also an act of patience, because some things which it reveals may take a while to work through.
We need to show this courage and patience, because we need reflection. It is the space we need to grow. Just as a plant cannot grow if it is overcrowded by other plants, so our spiritual lives cannot grow if they are always crowded out by the busy-ness of our day-to-day lives.
Tradition called this reflection ‘self-examination’, and it was traditionally done in Lent by candidates who were preparing for baptism at Easter, with the rest of the Christian community joining in, in solidarity. We might see it as a good preparation for renewing our baptismal vows at Easter.
My second R, ‘Reconciliation’, is one that many of us feel rather mixed about. The healing which it promises is something we yearn for. Yet the healing of reconciliation also requires the plain statement of our hurts, difficulties, and mistakes, and of the hurts we have suffered.
That is by no means easy to achieve. Some Christian traditions continue with the practice of each person examining his or her conscience and then sharing what is found with a Priest, and receiving a formal absolution. Other traditions aim for the same kind of reconciliation, but in more informal ways. What work is needed for reconciliation with our fellow human beings and with God will differ widely, depending on where we are in our journeys and what our experiences have been. Whatever the work of reconciliation is for us, Lent is the season when we are called to (re)start it.
My third R, ‘Renewal’, means being open to new starts, to being made new in Christ.
Another word for that is repentance, which is the way we translate the Greek word ‘metanoia’, a changing of our minds. Whoever we are, wherever we are in our lives, God offers us renewal, new opportunities, a new start, if we open ourselves up to God. In doing this we acknowledge that in ourselves we are limited, and incomplete: that our hearts are
restless until they find their rest in God.
Taking time to reflect, running the risk of reconciliation, opening ourselves up more completely to God: this is the way of Lent. The way of Lent is not an altogether easy way. It is a way which brings with it struggles – so that in a small way it is a sharing in Jesus’s own wilderness trials. The way of Lent is not, perhaps, a way which is much travelled. But it is the way of our calling, the way to wholeness and peace, and the way along which God’s grace,
going ever before us, leads us on.