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Haddon Willmer: A Suggestion for Lent

7 March 2014

Rising (567x600)Lent is a forty day fast starting after Shrove Tuesday and finishing with Holy week, Good Friday and Easter Day. It is modelled on the forty days Jesus was in the desert after his baptism and before his public work of teaching, healing, and saving started. Often Christian practice of this preparatory spiritual discipline involves giving up some luxury, like chocolate, or some trivial and questionable pursuit like gossip, but that hardly matches what Jesus did in the desert and it is doubtful how much good it really does.

Jesus did not go into the desert to be hungry, as though being hungry is a good thing or as though God is pleased by our hunger. Jesus went into the desert to clarify for himself what he was to do in his life for God and people and the hunger was merely an incidental consequence. So for us the point of Lent is not to give something up or make it hard for ourselves but to get our living more fully on course with God who comes to us in Jesus.

Seeing Lent in that perspective, I have a suggestion you might like to consider for how to use the next forty days. Read a novel. In particular, read R. C. Hutchinson, Rising.

It is 357 pages long, so 10 pages a day on average. 10 chapters, one every four days. £15 from Amazon, less than 50p a day and you get a great book to keep.

R C HutchinsonIt is a fascinating story which Hutchinson (pictured left) sites in Latin America in the 1890s. Here is a wide mixture of people, rich and poor, good and far from good, desperate for life and worthwhile existence, self-willed and cruelly indifferent. Getting to know them intimately is itself a testing and learning experience for the reader: what is my life, my humanity, my relation to God and to other people? All these sorts of questions and reflections come to us out of the story and its wonderful telling. This is not at all a book of sermons but a great novel.

A key figure in the story is a cruel hard man, with a deed of massive gratuitous cruelty on his record (we cannot say conscience, because he only comes to that late in the day). He drives the story forward with his single-minded inhumanity, until he is suddenly broken. And then, he is redeemed by an extraordinary unexpected, initially unwelcome and resisted encounter. I will not say more because I don’t want to spoil your reading and discovery.

I wonder whether the story of this encounter will remind you (as it does me) of Jesus and the outcomes of meeting the living Christ of the Gospel.

Does this give a clue as to why I recommend this for Lenten reading? There is a long haul through human sin, evil, suffering and frustration, coming down into the depths as at Good Friday and then the sudden surprising breakthrough, the Rising. It helps us to see all that in a new fresh way.

Read it for yourself. My telling can’t substitute for this great novel itself.

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