A labyrinthine Lent

Labyrinths are structures which the pilgrim people use to pray, to wonder, to contemplate.

The pilgrim people called Christians have just entered into their holiest season, that of Lent & Easter. Ash Wednesday is traditionally when Lent begins, but the preparation for Lent occurs the day before, on Shrove Tuesday or pancake day, or carnival. This is the day when all the rich foods in the larder are consumed in a frenzied feast of gluttony before the fast begins. 

I made pancakes for my family, only to have just one at the very end – not much of a feast for the cook! Shrove Tuesday is so-called because it is derived from the old English verb to shrive which means to confess. It was tradition that those who wanted to enter into a holy Lent needed to confess their sins and receive absolution from the Church, the worldly agent of God’s love and forgiveness. Confession was absolutely critical in order to sustain moral standards and provide common endeavours. Lent exposed the impact of sin upon the individual and the community. 

For us today, this talk of sin and all of the customs and traditions associated with it including confession and absolution, might appear to be quite perplexing and confusing. Although it is fascinating to delve into the past and understand how people, the church and society worked, it might well appear less than relevant today.  

Yet how many times have we battled in recent years over divisive moral and ethical issues over vast areas of human life such as abortion, climate change, knife control, Brexit, housing and social care. It seems to me that we are still in need of some sort of mechanism which enables us to say sorry for past mistakes and an opportunity to re-write the script, to make life better not only for ourselves but for others too. Lent is designed to do just that. We are even given tools to help our progress. One of these tools that we will be using at St Michael’s in Summertown is the labyrinth. 

Labyrinths have been used to exercise a form of holiness on these islands even before Christianity washed up here. Labyrinths are structures which the pilgrim people use to pray, to wonder, to contemplate. Ultimately the pilgrim is looking to walk with God. They might look like a maze but they are quite different. Mazes are designed to help you get lost! I remember taking my children to Blenheim Palace when they were quite small. They were desperate to run around in the maze. They wanted to see if they could get out on their own. Rather anxiously, I waited outside while they scrambled around into dead ends, retracing their route until finally they made it out! They would go back time after time trying to record a quicker exit, no doubt flinging people out of their path. 

The labyrinth set up at St Michael’s in readiness for the All Age Eucharist and the Labyrinth Workshop on 7th March starting at 10.30am – people are invited to come at any time during the day.

Labyrinths are different. The pathway is designed to promote stillness and calm. You cannot get lost in a labyrinth, there is no right or wrong way, it only has one path and that path leads to the centre. You can bring anything with you on this pilgrimage – your hopes, fears, questions, hurts, thanksgivings. It is a good exercise to do in Lent because it helps to open the mind and enlarge the heart. Its path is full of purpose and meaning as the pilgrim begins to become aware of their own journey. 

We are going to walk the labyrinth at St Michael’s at our 10am All Age service this Sunday. The children as well as adults will be invited to share this Lenten experience of walking closely with God. We are also inviting anyone who wants to discover more about labyrinths to join us at anytime next Saturday (7th March). The doors will be open from 10.30am. I hope that people do come and experience this ancient pathway. It might help us all realise that we can benefit from ancient traditions and customs. 

My reflection upon walking the labyrinth was that God is not interested in our sin (and for sin I mean the things we do which hurt us as well as others). God is far more invested in our fulfilment, especially our collective fulfilment as a much-cherished created order. God takes our confession and provides us with his forgiveness and peace. So come, bring a friend, take your time and experience the grace and beauty of this pilgrim pathway. 

8am Holy Eucharist; 10am Parish Eucharist; 6.30pm Taizé Prayer. Find out more about what’s going on and press this link: https://www.stmichaels-summertown.org.uk


Finding wonder in the ordinary

Now that we have crossed the threshold of Candlemas in the church’s pilgrimage through the Christian year, we have arrived in the green of the Ordinary Season. This is Ordinary Season (part 1) because it resumes after the long stretch of Lent, Holy Week and all the weeks after Easter. 

Nature is already working in our church garden.

Being in the ordinary is no bad thing, in fact this ordinariness is the stuff of discipline, vigilance, developing a sacred pattern in the humdrum of life itself. When we look closer at the ordinary we find wonderful things, God-given gifts. Even the colour green of the season gives us a clue about the workings of nature at this time of year. We have already been given the gift of snowdrops and crocuses and budding trees. A whole lot more creative work is being done in the unseen places of the soil, bushes and trees. 

Perhaps we should take this creative process for our sacred learning – to be aware of the growth which is taking place deep, unseen within us, the growth of the Holy Spirit which is waiting to ignite from a creative spark. What might be this spark, what could bring it about? My prayer is that you will discover that spark now in the ordinary where God dwells eternally.

Thor, waiting for the spark. Has it already happened?

I hope to see you at St Michael’s tomorrow. Make sure you wear weatherproof clothing, Storm Ciara is about to blow!

8am Holy Eucharist; 10am Parish Eucharist; 6.30pm Taizé Prayer. Find out more about what’s going on and press this link: https://www.stmichaels-summertown.org.uk or look at the Sunday notice: https://www.stmichaels-summertown.org.uk/-/docs/notices/20200209