Yesterday was the beginning of Lent - a part of the Christian calendar that is not usually a significant occasion in Salvation Army circles. However, I've always found Lent a fascinating concept. The idea of giving up something (even if only for a limited time) as a spiritual exercise challenges me - partly because I'm not sure I believe in it and partly because it has worked for me before.
A few years ago, when I was working as a Chaplain to a range of drug and alcohol programs, I decided that I would try to give up eating meat for the Lenten period. The first few days weren't too bad as I'd eaten vegetarian meals every now and then. It was somewhere after the first week that it began to get difficult as I became an obvious inconvenience to friends who had invited our family over to dinner. Then came the carnivorous cravings which were not appeased by my own amateur attempts to make tofu taste better!
Yet unexpectedly, in the midst of my own trivial battles with ego, I suddenly began to think about the people that I worked with who were struggling with far more difficult addictions - and not just for 40 days, for a lifetime. I gained a new appreciation for their position and was suitably humbled by the process. They say that God breaks into our lives often when we least expect it and this was certainly one of those moments.
This year I am giving up bread. I have been a bread lover for as long as I can remember. I can barely walk past the smell of a bakery without being drawn in to purchase some tasty morsel, so I expect this to be at least as much of a challenge as the meat year. I am thinking about friends I met in Kenya last year who are facing terrible turmoil as the political situation of their country continues to erupt in violence and bloodshed. At the same time, I am reminded of the place of bread in the Bible which signifies God's provision: from Manna to the feeding of the 5,000 and the breaking of bread which symbolises Jesus' body. Each time I hunger for this simple food, I intend to contemplate this space between desolation and God's inbreaking presence in which we all exist.