Last week the email about Grace Lent activities came around. My Grace attendance has been terrible for the last couple of years for lots of reasons I’m not going into but the Lent activities are all based on the themes of Soul, Soil and Society. I was looking at the list of planned activities and one of them is sowing potatoes and other seeds on an allotment that a couple of Grace members share. I thought looking at the list that I probably have the soil element of the theme covered but it did make me reflect on the way that soil and cultivation of it prepares you for a relationship with God. I have written before about how the plot helped me re-find my sense of relationship with God that went missing for a bit. I think that caring for land or a plot is, in its very nature an act of optimism and that is never more evident than in Lent. There’s a reason that the Church shifted the celebration of Lent and Easter to spring.
Before the plot, I always understood Lent as the preparation for Easter. “Prepare ye the way for the Lord” is a massive part of what we are trying to do during Lent, to make ourselves better Christians, to shape ourselves into the people that God means us to be. Lent’s focus on fasting or as my Grandad would have it ‘self denial’ fits really well into the idea of changing our sinful nature and living in a fallen world, which is still a massive part of much Christian theology. I’m not a huge believer in original sin or a fallen world (I know that I fall short but because I’m as human as God made me not because I’m inherently bad and I can’t believe in a loving God, who would punish us for being who He made us). But it also made a virtue out of there not being much growing that you can eat, of being towards the end of your winter stores so our idea of Lent is really shaped by Northern European agrarian life, fasting when the body has no other choice.
I knew that but what I also understand now is Lent as a season of hope, as a time of preparation for joy. Because this time of year on the plot is rough. Not much is growing and I’ve spent a lot of time on preparation, more so this year with the new half, but this time of year is all about getting the plot ready for growing. It all looks bleak but I’m trying to create the right conditions for growth without any guarantee that anything will work. You can’t harvest in summer, if you don’t plant in spring but the act of planting, guarantees nothing. It could be too dry, or too wet or a cold snap might kill all the newly emerged shoots, or the seeds might be duds, or the birds and might might eat them, or there could be an aphid attack, or the fox could use your plants as cushions, the list of things that could go wrong is long and scary.There is no choice if I want food except to try, to prepare the soil, to sow the seeds, to hope that it works. So during Lent, I can use the plot as mediation for my spiritual life. To see Jesus’ journey to the Cross in the same light. He’s sowing seeds, preparing the way, doing all this work and sacrifice, with no guarantee it’ll work and He’ll change us, that we’ll see more, do better, be God’s hands and help others.
Lent makes more sense to me, because I can understand how God feels about me because it’s what I’m trying to do to the plot.