This is one of those years when Easter falls early, which means that Lent begins not much more than six weeks after Christmas. Apparently the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Patriarch have plans to avoid the disruption caused by this variability by fixing the date of Easter, and I suspect I’m not alone in feeling resistance to another attempt to push everything about our lives into neat boxes….. But this year, at any rate, we can still grumble about the earliness of Ash Wednesday and the fact that the clocks go forward on Easter Day – a particular challenge for those attending the Service of Light, at dawn. At least the daffodils should still be out.
As I hope you will have seen from the Lent leaflets, available in the churches the week before this issue of Haslemere Link appeared, this year our “pilgrimage of prayer and discipline” has a particular focus on the former, as the Wednesday evening sessions will be given over to sharing our own experiences of prayer and spending time praying together. (There will be a flavour of pilgrimage too, with a Thursday afternoon course considering Abraham, that great Old Testament traveller.) This is different from other courses when we have thought and talked about and practised different ways of praying. I’m sure we will hear about lots of different methods and styles, but the focus will be not on the theory but on the lived experience – on how people we know have managed to weave these together in their own lives: when and how and even where they pray, what they find hard and what comes more easily, and times of particular blessing or trouble. We’ll hear from two people at each Wednesday session – you will probably recognise all of them, and we are grateful to them for agreeing to share this quite personal aspect of their lives – and we will also spend time actually praying.
As some of you will have heard me say, I strongly believe that praying together is a wonderful way of building up the body of Christ. Churches where people regularly meet to pray for the needs of the world as well as the needs of their parishes often have powerful stories to tell of what God has done and how they have been strengthened to serve their communities better. It’s my hope that we might be able to establish a regular cycle of prayer meetings, and I’m praying that this Lent group will lay the foundations for that.
Returning to my remarks about the earliness of Lent, my preparations have been further curtailed by my imminent trip to the Holy Land, where I will be when this edition comes out. As you may know, I’m going once again with McCabe Pilgrimages as part of a group undertaking a sponsored walk around part of the Sea of Galilee – from the Mount of the Beatitudes to Capernaum, to be precise – in aid of the McCabe Educational Trust, which supports a number of organisations providing health care and education for people in the Palestinian areas which have been cut off from the rest of Israel, economically and socially, by the separation wall. As well as the walk itself, we will be spending three days in and around Bethlehem, visiting some of the institutions we’re supporting and also hearing from local people about life in the shadow of the wall, which divides Bethlehem and Bethany from Jerusalem, families from their traditional farmlands, and Muslims from their holy places in Jerusalem. After this I plan to stay for a few days in Jerusalem itself, to revisit some of the Christian holy sites in preparation for leading our pilgrimage in May and to balance the Palestinian perspective by spending a day at Yad Veshem, the Holocaust Museum.
Please do think about sponsoring my walk – and many thanks to those who have done so already. There are sheets in the churches or you can do it on line through justgiving.com – just search on “Mary Bowden”. I suspect that the experiences of the next ten days will provide much food for thought, especially as we approach Passiontide and Easter, and I look forward to sharing these with you. It’s a privilege to be able to visit the places where Jesus walked, taught, suffered, celebrated, and simply lived, and it has really made a difference to the way I approach and understand Scripture. I do wonder how much longer the opportunity will be there, and so I’m delighted to be able to take advantage of it twice over the next few months. So if you are able to come with us in May, or know someone who might be interested (all welcome!) I’d be delighted to hear from you – there are still some places available. Details are in the churches and on the website.
May our pilgrimage of prayer and discipline this Lent be blessed and transformative. With the assurance of my prayers as always,