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Lenten survival

School Chaplain Jo Davis takes the time to remind the wider Bryanston community that any emotional response is acceptable during this unfamiliar situation we have all found ourselves in...

Bryanston’s Lenten season began in St Martin’s Church with pupils, staff and the local community joining in an Ash Wednesday service, receiving ash crosses on their hands. The command to “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ” was murmured over 300 times, as people came to the altar step. I explained that Lent was a period of time when we were asked to look at the world in a new way, maybe setting some activities and desires down, whilst using the time to reflect on what was most important in our lives. I was inspired by Jess M’s photo, which I had used on the front of our termly plan of services. I encouraged the pupils and staff to look up and around them to see different things in their surroundings, and to take photos to enter the Lent Photo Competition.

Little did we know then how much we would be asked to lay down, and what life would look like just a few weeks later. As one of my favourite memes about the current situation states: ‘This is the Lentiest Lent I have ever Lented’. Lent 2020 has brought us so much closer to the 40 days and nights of Jesus in the wilderness than any of us could have imagined. With church doors locked across the land, along with parks, beaches and tourist attractions, whilst the sun shines, we are asked to stay at home.

As with many crises, there are two extreme reactions: some people are thriving under the pressure, and others are struggling to get out of bed in the morning. Many of us, I’m sure, are somewhere in between, or swinging like a pendulum on different days. In this unfamiliar situation any emotional response is acceptable. It is definitely OK not to be OK.

Human survival responses are often referred to as fight or flight, forgetting the third: freeze. Many in our society are fighting this pandemic in their roles as key workers, and community volunteers, and my thoughts and prayers are with them every day. Others of us are called to flee, to retreat into our homes. But some people are facing freeze mode, feeling unable to carry on normal tasks. It is good to remember that this life is not normal, and make allowances for our bodies and minds in this time. We may need to sleep more, to just ‘be’ with our families and friends, whether in our homes or virtually. Listening to a friend explain this the other day, I was reminded that we do not have to compare ourselves to others. So many people seem to be smashing isolation – and social media is full of examples. As a new home-schooling mum, I’m inundated with ideas from the news, social media and friends of all of the amazing activities I should be doing with my children, whilst teaching them maths and English at two different levels. Some days, to be honest with you, I have found it paralysing, and I have made my peace with that. This morning a family hug was needed and healing for us all.

When I imagine Jesus in the wilderness, I don’t think that he was fasting under the hot desert sun whilst learning a new language, undertaking a master’s degree or teaching children. He was able to spend most of his time in prayer and contemplation, it was a spiritual retreat to prepare him to face the temptations of the devil and his ministry and death to come. I don’t think he found it easy – because if he did, it would have completely missed the point. It would have been hard, lonely and tiring on so many levels. Lent for Christians is a time of lament, and I believe God is always willing to hear our cries.

Remember, we have not chosen this time, it is not normal, and we cannot always expect ourselves to overachieve. Do what helps you. We are living in difficult times, find your security and peace as best you can. Lent is 40 days long, but we may be looking at longer in our new season; pace yourself and be kind to all, including you. Eventually, this too shall pass. We may never look at life the same way, we may well be changed, the world might be unrecognisable, but as Lent and Good Friday are followed by Easter Sunday, so our lives and our world will be good again, resurrected in the hope of Jesus Christ.