Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and, for the first time in a few years, I decided to take action for Lent.
My relationship to organised religion is a bit mixed: I am a baptised and confirmed Christian, but I struggle with the history and, sometimes, the attitudes of formal religious bodies. I also can’t and don’t condemn many people who choose not to follow a formal religion or who have taken a step aside and follow their own faith.
Faith is an incredibly personal thing, it seems to me, and whether or whoever you worship and however you find your holiness in life, I choose not to judge you. God, the Creator, as I see it, is far beyond describing, limiting or defining by any man-made religion. Don’t believe in a God or Goddess? That’s cool, I’ll not argue with you. Just ask that you let others believe or not as they will.
But what is true is that we still live, in most Western countries, in a land where the major Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter define the school holidays and, by extension, the main holiday periods of the society. Whether you believe in Jesus or not, his birth and death have for centuries been the marker of our main Winter festival and our Spring festival, and both of those festivals have periods of preparation leading up to them that the modern world still uses to mark off time.
It sometimes seems like Advent, far from a season of preparation, has been swallowed up and become a part of the Christmas feast itself, while the traditionally observed Christmas season is lost in New Year, return to work and a return to diets, resolutions and regrets about too many parties and too much booze. I’d love a return to Christmas as the day that kicks off twelve proper days of parties, feasts and fun, but that’s not likely to happen as long as we rush into the next new thing.
Lent, however, is still a season leading into something. Hot cross buns aside (they went on sale in January, just as the selection boxes were put to one side), we still manage to have a lead in to Easter. I don’t know anybody who buys big Easter eggs and eats them during Lent, although I do know plenty who enjoy Cadbury’s mini eggs or cream eggs now. And there’s still a sense that many people use Lent as a time to do something, to forbear from pleasure or to take up an improving task. Although both prayer and fasting are requested or demanded by most major religions, meditation/stillness and controlled eating can be done by anyone of any faith and none.
So, all my mixed up and personal faith beliefs considered, what am I doing to mark Lent in my life this year?
- I have committed to a daily podcast, the Tearfund Lent Devotional, which takes only 3 or 4 minutes of my life. Today’s was about how I can’t hide from my Creator, but how valuable each of us is in working to improve the world around us.
- I am committed to writing a short journal post a day, based on the book Lent: 40 words for 40 Days by Trevor Hudson. Today’s word is Return, very apt on a day when I’ve been watching people fleeing a war zone and seeking sanctuary in the next door country in hopes of being able to return. We all have an earthly home, a sanctuary from life. What if we could not return to safety? Can we create a portable sanctuary? A place of safety we carry with us?
- I have signed up for a weightloss programme, Slimming World, and I am recording my eating. So far (3 days in) I’m doing okay, and 40 weekdays, if I take Sundays off, seems doable. This also means I’m automatically cutting back on takeaways, sweets, crisps and anything else sweet/sugary/salty I have been using to feed my emotional side. The traditional Lenten sacrifices, after all.
- I’m clearing a Thing a Day for 40 days and taking them to charity. A disused bag, a top I no longer love wearing, books… whatever. There’s a box at the side of my front door and I leave them there.
- I created a shrine. Although I’ve always decorated my house seasonally and, indeed, my mantelpiece and display table are now looking pretty spring-like, I haven’t created a shrine or an altar for ages. Mine is pretty small, so don’t blink or you’ll miss it. It’s a statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus, a candle to light as a devotional action, a photo of the people I love most and my Bible, journal and the book I’m reading on Sundays as a meditative act, Hope and the Nearness of God by Theresa White.
And that’s enough to be going on with. Some acts I’m consciously undertaking, some I’m consciously discarding. All with the aim of creating safe space, a sanctuary, in my life and taking that out to the people who need it. Do you keep Lent in any way? Are you spiritual, and how does that colour your life and approach to living? And, if you’re definitely not a believer or was once and have left (for very many reasons: believe me, I know plenty who will never enter a holy place willingly again) then what do you do to honour or enjoy creation? Would you consider joining in with something like a Lent challenge as long as it was resolutely un-holy, or is that completely anathema to you? I’m interested to know.
Some additional reading: In writing this post, I looked up some further information, on Lent and how it fits in a modern society. These articles aren’t specifically just for Christians, and I think fit in with my feeling: that in a busy, preoccupied, modern world we need to pause and, whether we make that pause spiritual or not, it is our spirits that get inspired.
Lent for Non-Christians: From 2013, but still applies to us today “In our hyper-connected, #firstworldproblem society, we could all benefit from practicing a little break from some aspect of our automatic consumerism. Even in this very wealthy society, nearly 20% of the population goes to bed hungry – yet for many of us, a slow internet connection and bad service at Starbucks gets our blood boiling.”
Explaining Lent to Non-Liturgical Christians: “Preparations are being made all around us for another growth cycle. Why should that be any different within our spiritual lives? Spiritual growth is more intentional than not. Jesus modeled that spiritual growth involves spiritual disciplines.” All spiritual growth, connected to a religion or not, requires us to be able to be disciplined. Lent, with its definite length and happening as the days lengthen, is a good period of time to take up a new habit, discipline or to stop an old habit that is bad for us.
Lent 2022: How the test of willpower is linked to the days getting longer: “Instead of giving up chocolate, fizzy drinks or chips, many others use Lent as a period to help others“. Are you thinking of abstaining, or taking something beneficial up? Lent is a good time to start.
6 Reasons to Observe Lent even if you’re not a Catholic: “Lent is a season for all of us. We can reflect, re-choose, and re-shape ourselves and our futures. Think about it.“
How to Hygge the British Way is my gift to the world. I don’t get paid for writing it, I’m not in it for the kudos, financial rewards, to become an influencer, work with brands or otherwise make any money from the blog. That’s why there are no ads, and any products I mention and recommend have either been gifted to me or bought by me with my everyday wages or donations from supporters. Every book I review has been bought and read by me, unless stated otherwise.
I do get a couple of pennies each time someone buys from the Amazon links on my page, as an Amazon Affiliate, but otherwise if you’d like to support me, I like to give something back in return. That’s why I write books. It always feels good if you get a book back in return for some money. You can find a full list of my books at my Author’s Page on Amazon, but especially recommended for this time of year are:
Cosy Happy Hygge: Setting up a rhythm to life and rituals to enjoy it to make for a more balanced life that handles waves and storms better. Lent is a season of rituals and resets. The book has small and easy ways to make your life flow with grace and happiness, which lead to more hygge.
Happier: Probably my most personal book, it’s the story of how I used hygge and the little things in life to help boost my happiness. I still go back and reread to remind myself what I need to do to be a happy human. And it’s always the little things.
Planning ahead, early, is How to Hygge Your Summer. It has ideas for taking your hygge with you out of winter and to any place you go in the summer… the beach, the park, your holidays. Hygge is an all-year feeling, so start preparing and let’s hygge the heck out of summer this year!
If you’d like to support me, but don’t want to buy a book, I have a Paypal.Me account as Hygge Jem. Every little helps, so even a few pence goes towards the books, goods and courses I use and recommend on the site. I’m grateful for every little bit that brings me closer to my dream of full-time writing, and I know I couldn’t still be writing if it weren’t for the support of many readers and friends out there. Thank you all for every little bit of support, emotional, physical and financial, you give me.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, don’t forget to share it or save it so others can enjoy reading, thinking about and living hygge as well.
The regular photo I’m currently using between text and my book promotions is a photo by Rinck Content Studio on Unsplash. I love the implied cosiness of the photograph: the two hot chocolate cups, the biscuits and squares of chocolate imply a good bit of chatting going on here. Plus I like the colours: red tartan and real wood. What’s not to like? And the header is by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash. I chose it because the subject matter, a straight path running through trees that are old and gnarly and, in a different light and at a different time, would cast complete shadow on the road appealed to me. The morning mist that has wound its way between them is slowly being burned off by a sun that, at first appearance over the horizon, has no true strength. We can see where we’re going, just about, but not clearly. Isn’t that life? We have a destination, and we hope to get there, but we don’t know everything in store for us. Sufficient unto the day, as my Nan would say. Let’s take it one step at a time.