I don’t know about you, but my news feed contains a lot of bad news. Of course, there’s the endless Covid figures. But I also see public figures behaving badly: politicians speaking with arrogance and contempt; shock jocks spewing rubbish; news corporations lying through their teeth; and celebrities showing off. I see nations posturing and chronic injustice and climate denial and death; I see major industries ravaging land, water, sky and politics; I see blatant untruths and manufactured outrage driving the attention economy. And while it’s naive to deny that these things are happening, to focus on them and let them capture all my attention is deeply, deeply wearying.
The Apostle Paul knew all about bad news. He lived under Roman rule and experienced brutal military violence, corporal punishment, extortionate taxation, strict limitations on freedom of speech and religion, and constant propaganda. He was regularly imprisoned, and his saviour had been crucified. Yet he exhorts, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, contemplate these things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9).
Things worthy of praise might not generate much facebook traffic or sell much advertising space: but Paul knew that contemplating them and putting them into practice would be balm for the soul. In these troubled days, then, let us contemplate things which are worthy of praise: and this includes the fruit of the spirit. In another letter, Paul names the fruit, that is, the signs of the Spirit’s presence. They are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23), and their presence is a litmus test for whether God is at work in someone’s life.
Each year for Lent, we put together a booklet of readings written by you. In 2022, we invite you to focus on one element of the fruit of the spirit, and tell us something personal about it. Here are some questions to get you started:
- Which element are you particularly drawn to? (e.g. generosity or kindness or …)
- What gets in the way of expressing it?
- Who embodies it? Where do you see it in their lives?
- Tell a story about a time it was a powerful force in your own life.
Of course, these signs of the spirit don’t grow independently of each other; but by drilling down on one element, we should get some good insights. Remember, your aim is not to explain everything, but to tell a personal story. 400-800 words is ideal, but shorter or a little bit longer is also fine, too. Please also invite any children or young people in your house to contribute; we particuarly cherish the efforts of our youngest members who in the past have scrawled out a sentence or two, or dictated a story to their parents to transcribe.
Email your piece to me by Sunday 20 February at the latest, and I’ll collate the pieces into a booklet of readings for you to reflect on during the forty days of Lent. As in other years, your piece will be identified by first name in the booklet distributed to the congregation, but will be anonymous on the website. And be assured: this is not a test of your writing skills, but an opportunity to share faith and build up the congregation by sharing our true stories. Also, be mindful that many families read these reflections with their children. Conceptually challenging is fine; graphic descriptions of violence or trauma is not.
So that’s the Lent theme for this year. I hope to receive pieces by people of all ages reflecting on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control: because I at least very much want to spend time this Lent contemplating these things, that I might know the presence of the God of peace and be strengthened for the year ahead.
PS: Want examples of what other people have written? There are dozens of stories on our website from previous years; find them here.
Emailed to Sanctuary 2 February 2022 © Sanctuary, 2022. Concept from a conversation with my friend and colleague, Rev. Jude Waldron, at Armadale Baptist. Thanks, Jude! Image found here.
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