Lent is about relationships


This February a new movement has popped up. Young people have contracted to swear off grog for the month after the excesses of Christmas and New Year. The practice is called the February Fast.
It would be hard not to applaud this initiative, and indeed any initiative that makes drinking a servant of sociability and not its master. It is also hard not to be reminded of Lent and of the practices of going without that we associate with it. It smells of the same return to sobriety. It goes just a little way under the skin of the daily pleasurable round to ask what we want out of life.
Lent is also a time in which Christians are encouraged to look beneath the daily routine to ask what’s what. It leads up to Easter and to the events of Jesus' death and rising. Here what's what goes deep — to matters of life and death. At this level what really matters are our relationships — with God and with other people. The small things we take on or give up make sense if they focus us more deeply on these relationships.
During this Lent more public matters may also take us beneath the surface of our everyday life to ask what matters. The general disturbance in financial markets, the uncertainties about the direction of the global economy and steadily rising interest rates in Australia suggest that we cannot take life for granted.
Some people who are heavily indebted and with limited resources to meet repayments will be forced to reflect painfully on their commitments. All of us will be led to reflect on what matters in Australian life. When the human face of greed looks less attractive and its human hands less sure, we return to other values.
Within days we await the apology to indigenous Australians. It returns us to look again, often uncomfortably, at the what’s what of our history. We confront the reality of the way in which white settlement meant indigenous dispossession and fractured and uncomfortable relationships between the original Australians and descendents of the settlers. It also offers the chance to ask how, in the light of an honest acknowledgment of our past, we want to relate in future. Frank Brennan has written of the need for the apology.
Lent has no exclusive rights to suffering. World news displays it all year long. In Eureka Street we have recently discussed the plight of Palestinians, of Burmese, and of the Dalits in India. The famous Manchester Guardian headline, 'We warn Russia…', reminds us that neither journals nor their readers can do much to stop wars and halt tyranny. But common decency compels us to attend to the people who suffer from these things. Lent brings us back to relationships, to the faces of the people whose sufferings are concealed behind the abstractions of politics, economics or brutal philosophies.
The February Fast is a good form of abstinence. Lent goes a bit further. It leads us to pay attention, not to what we are giving up, but to who we are giving up on.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is the consulting editor for Eureka Street. He also teaches at the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne.



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Bravo, Andy!

Simon Smith | 11 February 2008  

Thank you Andrew for your reflection on the call to deepen our relationships this Lent. As you observe, Lent is truly much more than a time of abstinence. It is a time to listen and respond to the suffering that surrounds us, but should we not also widen this to include an examination of or relationship with our planet and all life upon it. Let us listen carefully to its pain this Lenten season and respond by consuming less so that we may ease the burden upon our earth community.

Mark | 11 February 2008  

thanks andrew, the last line i will take into lent with me; WHO AM I GIVING UP ON?

guido | 11 February 2008  

Thanks to Andrew for a timely and pertinent reminder, specially liked the last paragraph. WHO are we giving up on??

Rosemary Keenan | 11 February 2008  

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