February doesn’t receive the best of presses from our English poets and authors. Shakespeare speaks of a ‘February face, so full of frost, of storm and cloudliness.’ Then there is the poet William Barton:
February fills dikes, overflowing fields
And streams, turns paths to slippery ooze.’
February does, of course, boast St Valentine’s Day on the 14th, but this year it also clashes with Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. On the face of it this doesn’t seem to be a very happy coincidence, since it is hard to tell your beloved that you won’t be receiving chocolates this year, because you ought to give them up for Lent.
On the other hand St Valentine’s Day does link in with Lent through its celebration of life. As well as celebrating romantic love St Valentine’s Day is the day that birds traditionally start to mate. It is a celebration of the start of new life after winter. William Barton in the second stanza of his poem rejoiced in all the green shoots, buds and stems that February brings.
The term Lent literally means spring, which is why Eastern Orthodox Christians sing enthusiastically how, ‘The spring-time of the Fast has dawned, the flower of repentance begun to open.’ Spring is my favourite time of the year, because everything seems to be growing again and there is hope; the snowdrops, Candlemas bells give me especial pleasure
These days I also feel enthusiasm about Lent as a special time in which to grow in my love of God and neighbour. Jesus believed fasting was a good thing, which is why it has been linked into Lent. Sometimes we don’t take that as seriously as we should; one thinks of the parishioner who proudly announced that not only was he giving up lemon in his gin and tonic, but the tonic too! Neither should we avoid any suggestion of fasting by announcing that we have taken something extra on.
A good keeping of Lent, for most of us, involves putting something down and taking something up. Some moderation in food or drink remains a good thing, but there may be many other things we can put down for a while. I can’t help feeling that a bit of time off social media might encourage people to talk to those who are in the room with them.
The keeping of the forty days of Lent is based on the forty days Christ spent in the wilderness. He made time to be open to growing in God’s will. When He came out of the wilderness He was ready to preach the good news. Lent gives us the opportunity to confront what may be wrong in our lives and to start the springtime growth that will help us flourish.
Posted By: valerie